At least 25 people have been killed and more than 50 wounded in a car bombing in the Iraqi city of Diwaniya. The attack targeted a crowded market. It came hours after four people were killed and more than 20 were wounded in another bombing in the Iraqi city of Kerbala. With sectarian attacks on the rise, at least 237 people were killed in Iraq last month, making June one of the bloodiest since U.S. forces withdrew late last year.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has expressed regret for the downing of a Turkish air jet that stoked tensions with neighboring Turkey last month. Speaking to a Turkish newspaper, Assad said he would not allow the incident to escalate into combat between the two countries. In other Syria news, dozens of members of Syria’s opposition met in Cairo on Monday to formulate a new transition from Assad’s rule. Syrian rebels boycotted the gathering, calling it a potential front for foreign intervention.
Syrian forces continue to bombard the Damascus suburb of Douma with heavy shelling. At the United Nations, the U.N.’s top human rights official, Navi Pillay, said the arming of both sides of the Syria conflict is creating a dangerous situation.
Navi Pillay: “There is a risk of escalation. The provision of arms to the Syrian government and to its opponents is fueling the violence. Any further militarization of the conflict must be avoided at all costs.”
In Syria news, Human Rights Watch has released a report accusing the Assad regime of widespread torture. Human Rights Watch researcher Ole Solvang said interviews with Syrian torture victims pointed to a “network of torture centers” across Syria.
Ole Solvang: “What’s absolutely clear from this report is that torture is widespread and systematic. The amount of information that we have collected shows—indicates a clear state policy and a clear tolerance of the use of torture. And really, the Syrian authorities is running a network of torture centers, a network of torture chambers, scattered across Syria. And the widespread and systematic nature of this network makes it clear that it constitutes crime against humanity.”
In Mexico, students took to the streets on Monday to protest the election of PRI candidate Enrique Peña Nieto and call for an investigation of voter fraud. Peña Nieto’s main opponent, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, is still refusing to concede the race, leaving open the possibility of a court challenge.
In remarks on Monday, Peña Nieto pledged to continue with a crackdown against drug cartels in a drug war that has seen tens of thousands of deaths. Peña Nieto has tapped General Oscar Naranjo, the former head of Colombia’s national police, to be his security adviser, signaling he will likely continue the U.S.-backed drug war in the same vein as his predecessor, President Felipe Calderón. Naranjo helped orchestrate a U.S.-backed crackdown against cocaine trafficking in Colombia that led to the demise of drug lord Pablo Escobar. More than 47,000 people have died since Calderón took power in 2006 and announced a crackdown on drug cartels. Speaking in Washington, State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland congratulated Peña Nieto for his apparent victory and said the U.S. expects continued drug war cooperation from the Mexican government.
Victoria Nuland: “We’re not going to get ahead of a formal seating of a new government and predict changes in policy one way or the other, but we are committed to working in partnership with Mexico to meet the evolving challenges posed by transnational criminal organizations, and we expect that that great cooperation is going to continue with a Peña Nieto administration when it is seated.”
In Afghanistan, at least three British soldiers have been killed in a shooting by an Afghan police officer. It was the latest in a wave of attacks by members of the Afghan forces against foreign troops with the U.S.-led NATO occupation.
Pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline has agreed to a $3 billion fine and a guilty plea on criminal charges in what has been described as the biggest case of healthcare fraud in U.S. history. A Justice Department-led probe found the company promoted antidepressants Paxil and Wellbutrin for unapproved uses, including marketing Paxil to children when it was only approved for adults. Prosecutors say GlaxoSmithKline promoted the drugs by distributing a misleading journal article and giving doctors perks that amounted to illegal kickbacks. Prosecutors also contend the company failed to give the U.S. Food and Drug Administration safety data about the diabetes drug Avandia, which has been linked to heart risks. Deputy Attorney General James Cole unveiled the settlement on Monday.
James Cole: “This action constitutes the largest healthcare fraud settlement in United States history. We are determined to stop practices that jeopardize patients’ health, harm taxpayers and violate the public trust.”
Consumer advocacy group Public Citizen said the $3 billion settlement does not go far enough because the fines “pale in comparison” to the drug company’s profits. In a statement, Public Citizen said: “Until more meaningful penalties and the prospect of jail time for company heads responsible for such activity become commonplace, companies will continue defrauding the government and putting patients’ lives in danger.”
A New York judge has ordered the social media site Twitter to hand over the account details and message history of an Occupy Wall Street protester. Twitter had been called on to provide prosecutors with tweets written by Malcolm Harris, a protester who was arrested with hundreds of others during the Occupy march across the Brooklyn Bridge on October 1. But Twitter had sought to avoid the order, saying it constitutes an undue burden and a violation of freedom of speech. In a statement, the American Civil Liberties Union criticized the ruling, saying: “Do individuals give up their ability to go to court to try to protect their free speech and privacy rights when they use the Internet? … The answer has to be no.”
Twitter has revealed U.S. law enforcement agencies account for the vast majority of requests for its users’ private information. Of around 850 government requests for user information worldwide, 80 percent came from the United States.
Less than a week after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld key parts of President Obama’s healthcare law, Florida Gov. Rick Scott says his state will take advantage of the Court’s ruling that states can opt out of the law’s Medicaid expansion. The Court said in its landmark decision last week that states could choose not to expand Medicaid to cover more low-income people and that the federal government could not punish states by withholding Medicaid funds. Florida is the largest state so far to firmly declare it will take advantage of that ruling. Gov. Scott also said the state would decline to set up a health insurance exchange under the new law, opting not to provide a regulated market where people can purchase insurance. More than one-fifth of Florida’s residents currently lack health insurance.
Three peace activists are appearing in court today following their arrest last week outside the Hancock Field Air National Guard Base near Syracuse, New York. The three were among 15 people jailed for protesting U.S. drone attacks on Thursday, but they remain behind bars for noncompliance with their sentencing requirements under a conviction for a previous anti-drone protest earlier this year. During Thursday’s action, the protesters displayed images of young victims of U.S. drone strikes as they blocked the base’s main entrance.
Nearly 40 protesters have been arrested in Vermont at the gates of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant. Vermont lawmakers have tried to shutter the plant, but it is still in operation after its parent company, Entergy Corporation, won an extension from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and a subsequent court battle. The Vermont Yankee facility is one of the oldest in the country and has had a series of radioactive tritium leaks. On Sunday, anti-nuclear activists approached the Yankee plant with a 600-pound, handmade “Trojan Cow” filled with renewable energy devices. Organizers say they plan to launch a flotilla next month to raise awareness about the plant’s polluting of the Connecticut River.
The oil giant Shell has obtained what critics are calling a “protest-free zone” around a drilling vessel set to begin operations off Alaska’s Arctic coast later this month. The U.S. Coast Guard has granted Shell’s Noble Discoverer vessel “a 500-meter safety zone” that no demonstrators will be allowed to enter. The environmental group Greenpeace says it plans to defy the restrictions, despite the threat of penalties. Shell’s bid to begin exploratory drilling in the Arctic was approved last month over the objections of indigenous and environmental groups.
A Singapore physician and peace activist who has been working in Afghanistan has been denied permission to enter the United States. Doctor Wee Teck Young of the Afghan Peace Volunteers has been invited to speak on an antiwar caravan across the United States beginning in September. But last week, U.S. consular officials in Singapore denied Dr. Young’s visa request. The group Voices for Creative Nonviolence is urging supporters to protest the move.
The psychiatrist and gay rights advocate Dr. Richard Isay has died at the age of 77. Dr. Isay came out as a gay man as a married father in his forties and went on to lead a pivotal effort to stop his profession from treating homosexuality as a disease.