Tens of thousands are gathered inside a Johannesburg soccer stadium for a memorial to Nelson Mandela today as millions watch from around the world. Mandela died last week at the age of 95. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was among the speakers to pay tribute. Nearly 100 heads of state traveled to South Africa for the memorial, including President Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro. In an unprecedented exchange, Obama shook Castro’s hand as he made his way to speak at the podium. Joining Obama in the U.S. delegation are former Presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter. Jay Naidoo, a close friend of Mandela’s and one of his first government ministers, told The New York Times he is choosing to watch the memorial from the crowds, saying: “This is a day for the people, not the powerful. What Nelson Mandela stood for most of all was solidarity with the downtrodden of the world, and for them he is a symbol of social justice and human rights. That is why I am saying my goodbye from the ranks of the people.”
The United States is providing an airlift of African troops into the Central African Republic amidst sectarian violence that has left hundreds dead. French troops entered the C.A.R. last week after fighting between Christians and Muslims claimed more than 400 lives. The country has faced a spiraling crisis after the ouster of President François Bozizé by Muslim rebels in March. On Monday, fighting continued between French soldiers and rebels around the capital Bangui.
Congressional lawmakers have reached agreement on a new Pentagon policy bill that will keep military sexual assault cases within the chain of command. Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand had led a campaign to strip military commanders of authority over sexual assault cases and place it in the hands of an independent military prosecutor. But a compromise between House and Senate negotiators will ensure commanders retain control over the court-martial process. But new protections will be added that include barring officers from overturning sexual assault verdicts. The Pentagon bill also rejects President Obama’s call for the closure of the military prison at Guantánamo Bay, extending a ban on transferring prisoners to the United States.
Eight major technology giants have joined together to call for tougher controls over U.S. government surveillance exposed by Edward Snowden. In an open letter to President Obama and the Congress, firms including Apple, Google and Facebook write: “This summer’s revelations highlighted the urgent need to reform government surveillance practices worldwide. The balance in many countries has tipped too far in favor of the state and away from the rights of the individual — rights that are enshrined in our Constitution. This undermines the freedoms we all cherish. It’s time for a change.” The companies have formed a website outlining their stance at ReformGovernmentSurveillance.com.
The latest disclosures from Edward Snowden show U.S. spying has extended to video gamers around the world. U.S. and British spies have been deployed to search for informants or terror suspects among the millions who play video games such as “World of Warcraft.” The targeting was based on suspicions terror groups use the games’ internal messaging systems to avoid detection. It is unclear how much personal information of video game players was collected.
Eighteen current and former Los Angeles sheriff’s deputies have been charged for the alleged abuse of prisoners and other offenses in county jails. Federal prosecutor André Birotte unveiled the indictments.
André Birotte: “The federal investigation found that these incidents did not take place in a vacuum. In fact, the examples of illegal conduct alleged in these indictments demonstrated that certain of the individuals and certain of that behavior had become institutionalized. Some members of the sheriff’s department considered themselves to be above the law.”
At least 16 officers, some high-ranking, were arrested in Monday’s sweep. The charges follow a multi-year investigation into the systemic abuse of prisoners in Los Angeles County jails.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel was in Pakistan Monday for talks with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif amidst ongoing tensions over the U.S. drone war. Protests against the drone strikes forced NATO to suspend ground shipments through Pakistan last week. U.S. officials say Hagel warned Sharif the anti-drone blockades could jeopardize U.S. aid. The party of opposition politician Imran Khan, PTI, has vowed to continue the blockade until the drone strikes stop.
The Russian government is reportedly preparing to grant mass amnesty to a number of prisoners, including members of the punk group Pussy Riot and the Greenpeace Arctic 30. Leaked documents reported in the Russian media say around 25,000 people will be freed under an initiative from Russian President Vladimir Putin. The amnesty will apparently go before Russian Parliament before the end of the year and be put into effect within the next six months. Two of three Pussy Riot members remain behind bars after protesting in a Moscow church nearly two years ago. The Greenpeace Arctic 30 were arrested in September after trying to stop Russian oil drilling in the Arctic. Also set for apparent release are the Bolotnaya prisoners, opposition activists detained for a protest against Putin’s inauguration last year.
Russian President Vladimr Putin has announced the dissolution of a Russian news agency, as well as its international radio broadcaster. The two agencies will be merged into a new state media organization run by an executive known for homophobic remarks and conspiracy theories about Russia. The news agency, RIA Novosti, had operated since World War II. It had correspondents in dozens of countries and was known for presenting a diversity of views.
Three people have been arrested at Hancock Air Field in upstate New York protesting the U.S. drone war. The activists were detained outside the base’s gates as they tried to deliver a “people’s order of protection” for Afghan civilians.
Ellen Grady, Ithaca Catholic Worker: “We are here today to bring the voices of the children of Afghanistan, the children who are being terrorized by these drones, the children who are being killed by these drones, the children who are being maimed by these drones. We’re here to say no and to bring an order of protection for the children of Afghanistan.”
A protest was held in New York City on Monday against incoming Mayor Bill de Blasio’s appointment of William Bratton as the next police commissioner. Bratton returns to the job after leading the New York City Police Department in the mid-1990s, embracing a controversial strategy of cracking down on low-level offenses. De Blasio campaigned on a promise to curb the NYPD’s controversial stop-and-frisk policy, but Bratton actually expanded the program while heading the Los Angeles police. As demonstrators rallied outside, Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman asked Bill de Blasio at The Nation magazine’s annual gala if he will drop Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s appeal of a ruling that the enforcement of stop-and-frisk has been unconstitutional.
Amy Goodman: “Will you be dropping the appeal on the stop-and-frisk case?”
Bill de Blasio: “I’ve said repeatedly I intend to drop the appeal.”
Residents of Newtown, Connecticut, have issued an appeal for privacy from visitors and the media ahead of this week’s one-year anniversary of the mass killing at Sandy Hook Elementary School. JoAnn Bacon, whose daughter was among 20 children killed in the massacre, asked that well-wishers focus on their own communities.
JoAnn Bacon: “On the one-year mark of this horrific day, we know that many people across the country will be thinking of our children and educators so tragically taken from us and wondering how to help. We ask that you consider performing an act of kindness or volunteering with a charitable organization in your own local community. We hope that some small measure of good may be returned to the world.”
The U.S. government has sold its remaining stake in the auto giant General Motors after bailing it out during the economic crisis. The Treasury Department says it has recouped $39 billion of its $50 billion investment, a loss for taxpayers of $11 billion. Overall, the Treasury says its bailout program has turned a profit, recovering $433 billion on investments of $422 billion.
The Nobel Prizes are being handed out today in Sweden. The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons is receiving the Nobel Peace Prize as its staff work to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal. Nobel Prizes for the other five categories are being handed out in a separate ceremony.