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HeadlinesMay 15, 2012

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Palestinian Prisoners Approve Deal to End Hunger Strike

May 15, 2012

Palestinian prisoners have voted to end a mass hunger strike that challenged Israel’s policy of indefinite detention without charge. On Monday, around 2,000 jailed Palestinians approved an Egypt-brokered deal that will see Israel end solitary confinement for 19 prisoners, drop a ban on visits from relatives living in the Gaza Strip, and no longer hold prisoners without charge once they complete their terms. The Palestinian minister for prisoner affairs, Issa Qaraqe, confirmed that a deal had been reached.

Issa Qaraqe: “We announce that the leadership of the prisoners, the higher committee leading the hunger strike, has signed an agreement this evening in Ashkelon jail, based on Cairo’s understandings yesterday.”

Palestinians Mark “Nakba” with Day of Protest

May 15, 2012

As the prisoner hunger strike comes to an apparent end, Palestinians across the Occupied Territories are holding protests today to mark what they call the Nakba, or “catastrophe,” when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were displaced from their homes during the period Israel declared statehood in 1948. A mass rally is expected in the Gaza Strip, along with a number of smaller protests across the West Bank. Clashes have already been reported, with Israeli troops firing tear gas and rubber bullets at stone-throwing Palestinian youth.

Colorado Lawmakers Nix Same-Sex Union Bill

May 15, 2012

Lawmakers in Colorado have defeated a measure that would allow civil unions for same-sex couples. The proposal was rejected after it was moved to a special legislative session. But instead of going to a vote before the full State House, Republicans successfully transferred it to the State Veterans and Military Affairs Committee, where it lost along party lines in a 5-to-4 vote. A number of House Republicans had broken ranks to voice support for the measure, which had also passed the State Senate. One of the Republican senators who voted to defeat the bill has a gay son.

Obama Delivers Commencement Address to Women Graduates

May 15, 2012

President Obama delivered the commencement address Tuesday at New York’s all-female Barnard College. Obama urged women graduates to look to the history of social struggle in the United States for inspiration in the fight to ensure gender equality and reproductive justice.

President Obama: “The trajectory of this country should give you hope. Young folks who marched and mobilized and stood up and sat in, from Seneca Falls to Selma to Stonewall, didn’t just do it for themselves, they did it for other people. That’s how we achieved women’s rights. That’s how we achieved voting rights. That’s how we achieved workers’ rights. That’s how we achieved gay rights. That’s how we’ve made this union more perfect.”

Obama Hailed for Same-Sex Marriage Stance at Campaign Fundraiser

May 15, 2012

President Obama later appeared at a campaign fundraiser hosted by the Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender Leadership Council. The pop singer Ricky Martin praised Obama for his recent backing of same-sex marriage.

Ricky Martin: “We admire his courage, like the courage he showed last week in affirming his belief in marriage equality. That is the kind of courage we expect from our president, and that’s why we support him.”

In his remarks, Obama drew applause after explaining how he came to declare his public support for same-sex marriage.

President Obama: “I want everybody treated fairly in this country. We have never gone wrong when we expanded rights and responsibilities to everybody. That doesn’t weaken families, that strengthens families. It’s the right thing to do. At root, so much of this has to do with a belief that not only are we all in this together, but all of us are equal in terms of dignity and in terms of respect, and everybody deserves a shot.”

Report: NATO Failed to Fully Investigate Civilian Deaths in Libya Bombing

May 15, 2012

Human Rights Watch is accusing NATO of failing to properly investigate at least 72 civilian deaths in the bombing of Libya last year. In a new report, HRW says NATO “took important steps to minimize civilian casualties,” but adds that NATO has yet to properly examine the air strikes that killed dozens of civilians, including 24 children. Seven out of eight bombing sites were found to lack clear military targets. The report’s author, Fred Abrahams, called on NATO to account for the killings of Libyan civilians.

Fred Abrahams: “We have questions that NATO has not yet answered, and we’re calling for prompt, credible and thorough investigations to understand why these 72 civilians died. And until now, NATO has taken a position of denial. They refuse to acknowledge that civilians died. They refuse to give information about how they died. And they refuse to investigate. And it’s this lack of transparency that’s deeply troubling. And I think it will lead to unnecessary civilian deaths in the future, if NATO refuses to look at what went wrong and make corrections.”

As part of its investigation, Human Rights Watch interviewed survivors of an August 2011 bombing that killed 30 civilians east of the capital Tripoli.

Ali Hamid Gafez: “Why did they bomb me? The NATO forces came to fight in order to protect civilians. Because Libya is under satellite surveillance, it’s right in front of them. They can see everything. So we wonder, how is it possible that they could have bombed us? How could they bomb us?”

Rebekah Brooks Charged in Murdoch Phone-Hacking Scandal

May 15, 2012

In Britain, the former editor of the now-defunct News of the World tabloid has been charged in the phone-hacking scandal that has engulfed the media empire of Rupert Murdoch. Rebekah Brooks is accused of hiding documents, computers and other materials from the police, as well as conspiring to remove records from Murdoch’s London headquarters. Beyond the allegations that reporters at the now-defunct tabloid routinely hacked the phones of public figures, police are also investigating whether staff hacked into computers and made illegal payments to police and other officials. Brooks, who had a close relationship with Murdoch, had previously admitted receiving messages of support from British Prime Minister David Cameron and former Prime Minister Tony Blair. Her husband and four staff members are also facing charges.

Head of Anti-Whaling Group Sea Shepherd Arrested in Germany for 2002 Confrontation

May 15, 2012

The founder of the anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd has been arrested in Germany and is facing possible extradition to Costa Rica on charges stemming from a confrontation over illegal shark finning a decade ago. According to a statement from the group, the charges relate to a confrontation in Guatemalan waters with the crew of a Costa Rican vessel after activists reportedly uncovered an illegal shark finning operation. Shark finning involves slicing the fins off sharks and returning them to the water, where they usually die. Paul Watson, head of Sea Shepherd, is reportedly facing an attempted murder charge stemming from the incident. In its statement, the group said the Costa Rican crew had falsely accused the group of trying to kill them.

Malaysian Tribunal Finds Bush, Cheney Guilty of War Crimes

May 15, 2012

An ad hoc tribunal in Malaysia has found former President George W. Bush, former Vice President Dick Cheney and six other members of their administration guilty of war crimes. A panel of five judges heard testimony from victims who were tortured at U.S. military prisons around the world. The tribunal says it will send transcripts of its proceedings to the International Criminal Court.

California Governor Unveils Cuts, Tax Hikes to Overcome Budget Shortfall

May 15, 2012

California Gov. Jerry Brown has unveiled a new fiscal proposal to address a $16 billion budget shortfall — $7 billion more than previously thought. Brown’s plan calls for a 3 percent tax hike for California’s wealthiest earners, a sales tax increase and cuts to public services.

Ron Paul to Suspend Campaigning, Focus on Delegates

May 15, 2012

Texas Rep. Ron Paul has announced he is suspending campaigning for the Republican presidential nomination, but will instead focus on amassing delegates ahead of the end-of-summer Republican National Convention. Paul lags far behind presumptive nominee Mitt Romney in the delegate count.

Democrats Accept Corporate Funds for Convention

May 15, 2012

The Democratic National Committee has reneged on a pledge to stage its convention in Charlotte this summer without corporate donors. The Wall Street Journal reports Democrats have established a fund called New American City to accept convention money from companies including Wells Fargo, Bank of America and Duke Energy. Meanwhile, an online petition is now urging the DNC to move the convention out of North Carolina following the state’s rejection of same-sex marriage last week.

Report: Attorney in Clarence Aaron Drug Pardon Case Withheld Vital Information

May 15, 2012

New information has emerged in the case of a former college student who was denied a presidential pardon after being sentenced to three life terms for a first-time, nonviolent drug offense. An investigation by ProPublica shows the pardon attorney in the case of Clarence Aaron omitted critical information when recommending that President George W. Bush deny Aaron’s pardon request. The report found Ronald Rodgers, who remains in the post of pardon attorney under President Obama, did not disclose the fact that the prosecutor and judge in the case had advocated for Aaron to receive an immediate commutation — his only chance to avoid life behind bars. Clarence Aaron, who is African American, was in his early twenties when he was sentenced to three life terms for a nonviolent drug offense — despite the fact that he had no criminal record and did not buy, sell or supply the drugs involved. A recent investigation by ProPublica and the Washington Post found that white applicants were nearly four times as likely to receive presidential pardons as people of color between 2001 and 2008.

Activists Protest Resumption of Controversial Immigration Policy in New York

May 15, 2012

Protesters rallied in New York City on Monday to oppose the resumption of a controversial federal immigration enforcement policy that requires local police to forward fingerprints of every person they arrest to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The program, Secure Communities, allows federal immigration officials to pursue deportation against those found to be undocumented or a non-citizen with a criminal record. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo suspended involvement in the program last June, but it goes back into effect today. Juan Martinez is with New York’s Project Hospitality.

Juan Martinez: “This is going to harm us a lot. We can no longer calmly go to work. We have to take precautionary measures because we know the program will be prejudiced toward us. We can no longer live tranquilly, because we have children born here, and what would happen to them if one day they deported us? The government doesn’t care about that. They just care about these times of raids because it brings them more money.”

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