Syrian groups opposed to President Bashar al-Assad say they are facing a fresh wave of violence less than a week before a U.N.-backed ceasefire is scheduled to take effect. Clashes were reported in the suburbs of Damascus and in the central region of Homs, where government forces reportedly opened fire on a group of women, killing two of them. Thousands of refugees have poured across the border into Turkey to escape the violence. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the crisis appears to be deepening, even as the government says it is withdrawing troops to comply with a peace plan brokered by U.N.-Arab League special envoy Kofi Annan. On Thursday, Annan called for an end to the violence.
Kofi Annan: “We must silence the tanks, helicopters, mortars, guns, and stop all other forms of violence, too: sexual abuse, torture, executions, abductions, destruction of homes, forced displacement, and other abuses, including on children. We have explained to the opposition the immediate steps demanded of them if the government implements its obligations.”
Syrian National Council Executive Committee Member Samir Nashar voiced doubts that Assad’s regime would adhere to the ceasefire.
Samir Nashar: “Even if it announced its acceptance of the Kofi Annan initiative, we believe it is an attempt to buy time and an attempt to reorganize militarily. Bashar al-Assad will not adhere to the ceasefire, and Bashar al-Assad has, since the beginning of the revolution, been in charge of the only side that fired against the people.”
In news from Africa, a Tuareg rebel group has declared independence from Mali after it captured several key northern towns and cities, including Timbuktu, following last month’s coup. Naming their state “Azawad,” the Tuaregs are now calling for international recognition. They have nurtured the dream of secession since Mali’s own independence from France in 1960. Following last month’s coup, Mali is now roughly divided into a Tuareg-controlled north and junta-controlled south. Humanitarian groups have warned Mali is on the brink of catastrophe. Mossa Ag Attaher is a spokesperson for the Tuareg group, the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad.
Mossa Ag Attaher: “We are a liberation movement, and we support the principles and values of democracy. We distance ourselves completely from any Islamist movement and their fight for religious law. So our aim is liberation, which arrived today with the proclamation of independence. So there is no possible comparison between the MNLA and the Islamist movements.”
Investigative journalist Seymour Hersh has revealed the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command has trained operatives from an Iranian opposition group at a secret site in Nevada. Writing in The New Yorker, Hersh reports JSOC began training the Mujahideen-e-Khalq, or MEK, in 2005, even though the group is listed as a foreign terrorist organization by the State Department. The training included intercepting communications, cryptography, weaponry and small unit tactics. The training is said to have ended before President Obama took office. Last month, NBC reported members of the MEK have been involved in the assassinations of five Iranian nuclear scientists.
In Greece, protests continued for a second day after a retired pharmacist shot and killed himself near the Parliament building after writing a note that blamed his suicide on the economic crisis. Police fired tear gas and flash grenades at protesters in Syntagma Square Thursday near the site of the suicide. Under the tree where Dimitris Christoulas shot himself, many people left messages saying the government’s harsh austerity policies were to blame for his death.
In news from Japan, about 12 metric-tons of radioactive water have leaked from the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, possibly flowing into the Pacific Ocean. Officials say a leak was found in a pipe early Thursday and has since been plugged. The incident follows a series of other reported leaks at the Fukushima facility, which was damaged following a massive earthquake last year. Meanwhile, researchers at Dartmouth College say they have found radioactive iodine in New Hampshire that is a direct result of the Fukushima disaster.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, has called for an immediate investigation into the circumstances surrounding the killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. Pillay said she was shocked the gunman, George Zimmerman, was not arrested. She also expressed concern about Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, which allows the use of deadly force in situations where there is a belief of a threat.
Soda giants Coca-Cola and Pepsi have both dropped their memberships in the corporate-funded American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC. Coca-Cola’s announcement came hours after ColorOfChange.org launched an online drive calling on Coke to stop underwriting the ALEC agenda on voter ID laws in several states. ALEC has also been criticized in recent weeks for its support of so-called “Stand Your Ground” gun legislation.
CIA veteran John Kiriakou has become the sixth whistleblower charged by the Obama administration under the Espionage Act. That’s more than all past administrations combined. In 2007, Kiriakou gave an on-camera interview to ABC News in which he disclosed that accused al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah was “waterboarded” and that waterboarding was torture. Kiriakou was one of the first CIA officers to label waterboarding as torture. He is also accused of leaking classified information to reporters. This is part of his 2007 interview with ABC’s Brian Ross.
John Kiriakou: “At the time, I felt that waterboarding was something that we needed to do. And as time has passed, and as September 11th has moved farther and farther back into history, I think I’ve changed my mind. And I think that waterboarding is probably something that we shouldn’t be in the business of doing.”
Brian Ross: “Why do you say that now?”
John Kiriakou: “Because we’re Americans, and we’re better than that.”
The phone- and email-hacking scandal inside Rupert Murdoch’s media empire is widening after it was revealed the British news channel Sky News had authorized a journalist to hack into email accounts on two separate occasions. The head of Sky News, John Ryley, defended the hacking in a statement, saying it was done in the public interest in order to “access the email of individuals suspected of criminal activity.” The news comes just days after Rupert Murdoch’s son, James Murdoch, resigned as chair of the Sky News parent company BSkyB, which is partly owned by News Corp.
The embattled director of the Mexican-American Studies program in Tucson has been awarded the 2012 Myles Horton Education Award for Teaching People’s History from the Howard Zinn Education Project. Sean Arce is receiving the award at a time when his job is on the line. The city of Tucson school board will vote on Tuesday on whether to renew his contract. Tucson’s Mexican-American Studies program has been under attack following the passage of a bill which prohibits schools from offering ethnic studies courses.
In sports news, an audio recording emerged Thursday revealing a football coach for the New Orleans Saints openly urged his players to injure the heads and other body parts of opposing players. Gregg Williams worked as defensive coordinator the Saints. He was recently suspended from the league indefinitely for being the architect of the Saints pay-to-injure bounty system.
Gregg Williams: “We’ve got a lot of guys up at the top. Kill the head, and the body will die. … Make sure we kill Frank Gore’s head. We want him running sideways. We want his head sideways. Little 32, we want to knock the (expletive) out of him. He has no idea what he’s in for.”
Police in Newport, California, drew their guns on all-star Major League Baseball player Torii Hunter outside his own home on Wednesday. The police arrived after an alarm had accidentally been activated at the home of the African-American player. Hunter tweeted, “They didn’t believe I lived here in Newport Coast so they walked me upstairs at gunpoint to get my ID.” Soon after, one of Hunter’s teammates tweeted, “That’s racist.” Hunter responded, ”LOL … Now you know I can’t say that.” Hunter is a winner of the Branch Rickey Award for service and a two-time finalist for the Roberto Clemente Award, which recognizes players for community involvement and sportsmanship.
The pioneering African-American television journalist Gil Noble has died at the age of 80. Since 1968, Noble hosted the award-winning public affairs program “Like It Is” on WABC in New York. Guests on Noble’s show included Fannie Lou Hamer, Bill Cosby, Muhammad Ali, Bob Marley, Michael Manley and Stokely Carmichael. He received seven Emmy Awards. The legendary actor, singer and activist Harry Belafonte appeared on the show many times.
Harry Belafonte: “Gil was really right on target, right on the money. He was uncompromising. He could have been, from a national and even an international perspective, one of the biggest broadcasters in America, but he chose to stay deeply committed to the community, to black history, to truth.”
In an interview in 2010 with the Visionary Project, Gil Noble talked about the importance of having voices from the black, Latino and Asian communities in positions of power within the world of journalism.
Gil Noble: “Who determines not only what gets in the funnel, but all that extra stuff that doesn’t? And what I’m saying is that the people who make that decision are neither black, nor brown, nor red nor yellow, or have they had any educational background that tells the truth about the people who are black or brown or red or yellow. So there’s a presumption that we’re getting the skinny on what happened today. That’s not so.”
Anchor: “Misinformation instead?”
Gil Noble: “Yes, I think misinformation is indeed a weapon of mass destruction.”