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The New York Times is reporting President Obama personally oversees a "kill list" containing the names and photos of individuals targeted for assassination in the secret U.S. drone war. According to the Times, Obama signs off on every targeted killing in Yemen and Somalia and the more complex or risky strikes in Pakistan. National Security Adviser Thomas Donilon said, "He is determined that he will make these decisions about how far and wide these operations will go." Obama is also said to personally approve every addition to the expanding "kill list." Individuals on the list include U.S. citizens, as well teenage girls as young as 17 years old. The Times quotes former White House Chief of Staff William Daley about Obama’s decision to assassinate Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen, in Yemen. According to Daley, Obama called the decision to strike the U.S.-born cleric "an easy one." Since April, the United States has carried out at least 14 drone strikes in Yemen and six in Pakistan. Over the weekend, a U.S. drone strike in Yemen killed at least five people.
The Wall Street Journal reports the Obama administration plans to arm Italy’s fleet of Reaper drone aircraft, a move that could open the door for sales of advanced hunter-killer drone technology to other allies. The sale will make Italy the first foreign country besides Britain to fly U.S. drones armed with missiles and laser-guided bombs. Critics of the proposed sale include the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, who said, "I am concerned by the proliferation of these weapons systems and don’t think we should be selling them."
International pressure is mounting on the Syrian government following a massacre in the town of Houla that killed at least 108 people, almost half of them children. U.N. observers attributed the massacre at least partly to the Syrian army and pro-government militias, but the Syrian government blamed Islamist militants. Earlier today, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad met U.N. envoy Kofi Annan. On Monday, Annan said Syria must take bold steps to implement the U.N. peace plan.
Kofi Annan: "I urge the government to take bold steps to signal that it is serious in its intention to resolve this crisis peacefully and for everyone involved to help create the right context for a credible political process. And this message of peace is not only for the government, but for everyone, every individual with a gun. The six-point plan must be implemented comprehensively, and this is not happening to date."
On Sunday, the U.N. Security Council condemned the use of artillery and tanks in the Houla killings, but U.N. observers are now saying most of the dead were executed at close range. Meanwhile, U.S. General Martin Dempsey, the chair of the joint chiefs of staff, threatened military intervention in Syria during an interview on Fox.
Martin Dempsey: "There is always a military option, but that military option should always be wielded carefully, because, one thing we’ve learned about war, I have learned personally about war, is that it has a dynamic all its own, it takes on a life all its own. And so, you’ll always find military leaders to be somewhat cautious about the use of force, because we’re never entirely sure what comes out on the other side. But that said, it may come to a point with Syria because of the atrocities."
In news from Syria, reports have emerged that the young Syrian filmmaker Bassel Shahade was killed on Monday in the city of Homs. Bassel appeared on Democracy Now! in December. At the time, he asked to only be identified by his first name for security reasons. He described the fighting in Homs.
Bassel Shahade: "The violence in the city of Homs is like — what I saw the last week I was there ... like, it’s threatening to turn into like almost a civil war. A heavy crackdown on the city, punishing the rising area and killing the civilians, is forcing the locals to form like an armed resistance to the regime’s forces. And they are supported by army deserters. So the fight is between the locals and the security forces and the supporters of the regime. The rising areas are besieged by the regime forces."
Democracy Now! staff first met Bassel Shahade at Syracuse University. He was a Fulbright scholar there studying filmmaking. Again, Bassel Shahade, the young Syrian filmmaker, went back to Syria, was killed in Homs.
In news from Afghanistan, NATO officials say a coalition air strike has killed a Saudi man who is being described as al-Qaeda’s second in command in Afghanistan. Sakhr al-Taifi reportedly oversaw the transport of militants into Afghanistan. Meanwhile, Afghan authorities say at least eight family members, including six children, have been killed in a NATO air strike in the eastern province of Paktia. In other news from Afghanistan, 160 girls have been hospitalized after they were poisoned in their classrooms. A similar attack last week sent 120 girls and three teachers to a hospital. Afghan officials blamed the attacks on radicals opposed to the education of women and girls.
Imprisoned Bahraini human rights activist Abdulhadi Alkhawaja ended his hunger strike Monday after not eating for 110 days. His lawyer said the hunger strike successfully helped shed light on the plight of political prisoners in Bahrain. While Alkhawaja remains locked up, his colleague Nabeel Rajab was released on bail after being held for nearly a month. Rajab, the president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, still faces a travel ban and criminal charges for allegedly "inciting" protests and "defaming" security forces. Rajab vowed to keep fighting for democracy in Bahrain.
Nabeel Rajab: "I’m going to continue my struggle no matter how much they’re going to cost me, no matter how many days they’re going to put me or how many months or how many years. I believe that’s the cost of the struggle, that’s the cost of the freedom that we are fighting for, and I’m willing to pay that cost."
A Turkish court has approved an indictment seeking multiple life sentences for four former Israeli military commanders over their alleged involvement in the 2010 killing of nine Turks on the Gaza-bound aid ship, the Mavi Marmara. The indictments name Israel’s former military chief, Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, as well as the former heads of Israel’s navy, air force intelligence and military intelligence. Wednesday marks the second anniversary of the deadly Israeli raid.
The Obama administration has asked a federal judge to reverse her order barring enforcement of part of the National Defense Authorization Act that permits indefinite military detention. Earlier this month, Judge Katherine Forrest struck down part of the NDAA that allows the government to indefinitely detain anyone it considers a terrorism suspect anywhere in the world without charge or trial, including U.S. citizens. The judge’s ruling came in a lawsuit filed by a group of journalists, scholars and political activists including Chris Hedges and Noam Chomsky.
In campaign news, Mitt Romney is expected to unofficially clinch the Republican presidential nomination today with a win in the Republican primary in Texas. Meanwhile, the Obama campaign continues to criticize Romney over his record at the private equity firm Bain Capital. Obama’s senior campaign adviser Robert Gibbs appeared on Face the Nation Sunday.
Robert Gibbs: "What Bain Capital never did was focus on job creation. That’s not what Bain Capital does. It loads up companies with debt. It takes money out of those companies and pays those investors. It’s not about job creation. And that’s what Mitt Romney is running on."
Researchers have found radioactive bluefin tuna off the coast of California that were contaminated by last year’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant disaster in Japan. The discovery marks the first time radiation from the disaster has been found in fish that migrated into California waters. Researchers say the levels of radioactive cesium in the tuna are 10 times higher than normal, but they said the amounts are still below levels considered unsafe for humans. The ocean off Japan was contaminated last year after thousands of tons of seawater were used to cool reactors in an attempt to prevent a total nuclear meltdown following an earthquake and tsunami.
The headquarters of a New Orleans group that advocates for poor women of color and transgender people has been heavily damaged in an apparent arson attack. The group, Women With a Vision, provides advocacy, health education and support to marginalized women. A room containing materials used for sexual health education was targeted in the attack, according to one report. The group’s executive director, Deon Haywood, said she believes the attack was intentional, but that it would not stop them from helping those without a voice.
The U.S. Justice Department is investigating allegations of widespread sexual abuse by male guards at a women’s prison in Alabama. The probe comes after the legal aid group Equal Justice Initiative filed a complaint based on interviews with more than 50 women. The group found sexual assault and harassment had become a way of life for women prisoners who were routinely punished and often placed in segregation if they reported the abuse. One former inmate said male guards had unrestricted access to showers and would follow women to the bathroom in the middle of the night.
In Peru, the government has declared a "state of emergency" in the highland province of Espinar, saying two people were killed and dozens of police officers injured in anti-mining protests. Protesters have halted production at a copper mine owned by a Swiss-based company, Xstrata plc, saying the mine is contaminating local water supplies. The 30-day "state of emergency" places the military in charge and allows for the suspension of civil liberties.
In news from Britain, an antiwar activist disrupted former prime minister Tony Blair’s testimony Monday before the judicial inquiry investigating the Rupert Murdoch spying scandal. The activist, David Lawley Wakelin, was removed from the proceedings after he called Blair a war criminal.
David Lawley Wakelin: "This man should be arrested for war crimes. JPMorgan paid him off for the Iraq war three months after he invaded Iraq. He held up the Iraq Bank for 20 billion. He was then paid $6 million every year, and still is, from JPMorgan, six months after he left office. The man is a war criminal."
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