Pro-government forces in Syria are being accused of committing a new massacre with reports of more than 86 dead in Hama province. Hama residents say Syrian forces shelled a village before pro-government militants entered and killed dozens of civilians. The alleged attack comes less than two weeks after more than 100 civilians were reportedly killed in the village of Houla. The Syrian government has denied the latest allegations, and U.N. monitors say they are attempting to verify the death toll. The U.N. Security Council is due to hold a session on Syria later today.
Afghan officials and witnesses say the death toll from a U.S.-led NATO bombing in Logar province on Wednesday included 18 civilians. The victims had reportedly gathered to celebrate a wedding when NATO bombed the adjacent home, targeting alleged militants. At least five women and seven children were killed. Six of the alleged militants also died. Hours after the fatal attack, local villagers gathered to mourn the dead.
Sayed Ahmad: “In these houses, nobody has been left alive. All are martyred, whether they’re male, female or children. They were not Taliban. They haven’t fought with anyone, and they haven’t attacked anyone.”
Habibul Rahman: “We ask the government, if it is not able to avoid Americans killing civilians, it should order us to kick them out of our country.”
The bombing in Logar came as at least 22 civilians were killed in a suicide bombing in Kandahar, making Wednesday the deadliest day for Afghan civilians so far this year. Just last week, the U.N. reported Afghan civilian deaths declined in the year’s first quarter for the first time since 2007.
The alleged Army whistleblower Bradley Manning appeared in court Wednesday for the first day of a three-day pretrial hearing. Manning’s attorneys are seeking the dismissal of 10 of the 22 counts against him related to his alleged leak of a massive trove of government material to the online whistleblower site WikiLeaks. Manning’s defense team says the counts are either unlawfully vague or fall short of amounting to a prosecutable offense. Manning’s military trial is scheduled for September.
A federal appeals court has ruled a provision of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which bars federal recognition of same-sex couples, is unconstitutional. The ruling came in the case of prominent lesbian activist Edith Windsor of New York, who was forced to pay more than $350,000 in estate taxes because her marriage to Thea Spyer was not recognized under federal law. Spyer died in 2009. The two married in Canada in 2007 after 41 years as a couple. On Wednesday, the court ruled a statute defining marriage as an act between a man and a woman discriminates against gay couples by denying them federal benefits. It was the fourth time a federal court has ruled the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional.
The administration of Florida Gov. Rick Scott is vowing to continue a controversial purge of thousands of registered voters despite a Justice Department call for an immediate halt. The Justice Department warned last week the voter purge appeared to violate federal voting rights laws. But in a harshly worded letter on Wednesday, Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner defended the purge and said the federal government is illegally blocking Florida’s access to a citizenship database. Critics say 87 percent of suspected “non-citizens” targeted are people of color and say the purge is part of an effort to disenfranchise Democratic voters in a key election state.
A federal judge has finalized a ruling barring enforcement of a controversial statute that gave the government power to indefinitely detain anyone it considered a terrorism suspect anywhere in the world without charge or trial. Judge Katherine Forrest issued a preliminary injunction against the provision in the National Defense Authorization Act last month. But the Obama administration had asked the judge to reconsider her ruling and also said it would narrowly interpret the injunction to apply only to the plaintiffs in the lawsuit — a group of journalists, scholars and political activists, including Chris Hedges and Noam Chomsky. But on Wednesday, Judge Forrest said her injunction applies broadly, not just to the plaintiffs, “until further action by this [court], a higher court, or by Congress.”
New data shows the Obama administration is continuing to deport massive numbers of immigrants despite a review aimed at halting deportations for those with no criminal records and family ties to the United States. Top officials had previously promised to close backlogged deportation cases for immigrants with strong family connections. But out of hundreds of thousands of deportation cases, fewer than 2 percent have been closed so far. The Department of Homeland Security says it had identified more than 20,000 immigrants facing deportation who were eligible to have their cases closed, but that many cases have been stalled by the need for background checks. Immigration advocates say families are still being unjustifiably separated.
The Israeli government has announced a new round of illegal settlement construction in the occupied West Bank. On Wednesday, Israel said it plans to build more than 500 new housing units in various West Bank settlements. Speaking to lawmakers, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said no Israeli administration has been friendlier to the settlements than his.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: “There is no government that supports or will support settlements more than the government I lead. I also say that there is no government that withstood such heavy pressures that could harm settlement.”
The new settlement building continues Israel’s stance of flouting a U.S.-backed pledge to stop West Bank expansion. In Washington, State Department spokesperson Mark Toner criticized Israel’s plan.
Mark Toner: “We’re very clear that continued Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank undermines peace efforts and contradicts Israeli commitments and obligations, including the 2003 roadmap. You know, our position on settlement — settlements remains unchanged. We do not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity.”
A new study is warning the combined effects of global warming, population growth and continued environmental degradation could lead to the collapse of the ecosystem in just a few generations. A research paper published in the journal Nature says the world faces a “tipping point” of irreversible environmental damage as early as this century. On Wednesday, the head of the U.N. Environment Program, Achim Steiner, encouraged activists to seize on the report’s findings ahead of the key Rio+20 environmental summit in Brazil later this month.
Achim Steiner: “I would like those activists who are preparing to come to Rio+20 to protest and to also lament the inaction that they have seen, to open up a second fund and to take a report like this and say, 'Answer to the public: Why is it that we are not moving on these issues?'”
The Supreme Court has refused to hear a challenge to a case accusing four operatives with the private military firm Blackwater of killing civilians in the 2007 massacre at Baghdad’s Nisoor Square. An appeals court reinstated the case last year after a lower court dismissed it in 2009. The Blackwater operatives are charged for the deaths of 14 of the 17 Iraqi civilians who died when the operatives indiscriminately opened fire.
A reporter for the Chicago-based magazine In These Times has filed a lawsuit after he was prevented from questioning the CEO of the industrial giant Honeywell at an event on Capitol Hill. The reporter, Mike Elk, began asking about a gas leak at a Honeywell plant in Illinois when the microphone was seized from his hands.
Mike Elk: “On May 14, there was a seven-minute release of UF6 gas by an unqualified engineer working on the unit where they were operating. Sorry, I’m not done with my question. What I wanted to know — what I wanted to know is, is that a good cost to release UF6 gas in the atmosphere? Is that a good cost?”
Man: “Sir, if I can interrupt. This is to hear from entrepreneurs and business folks…”
Mike Elk: “I’m a member of the press, and I was invited here, and I want to ask the —”
Man: “Sir, sir —”
Mike Elk: “Excuse me, sir. I’m a member of the press. I’ve never been treated like that in Washington.”
Elk’s lawsuit accuses a Honeywell official, as well as a congressional staffer, of false imprisonment and assault after they allegedly held him against his will. In a statement, Elk said: “The U.S. Capitol is a public building open to reporters and private individuals should not be allowed to impede on freedom of [the] press.”
The Pentagon has replaced the commander of U.S. Special Operations in South Korea after he was quoted claiming United States and South Korean troops have been conducting spy missions in North Korea. A Japan-based magazine called The Diplomat reported that the commander, Brigadier General Neil Tolley, had revealed that the soldiers have parachuted into North Korea to conduct “special reconnaissance” on underground military sites. The Pentagon claims Tolley was misquoted, denies that the spying has taken place, and says his replacement as commander is unrelated.
The celebrated science fiction author Ray Bradbury has died at the age of 91. Bradbury authored more than 500 works, including the classic 1953 novel “Fahrenheit 451,” which warned of book censorship in a future society.