Afghan President Hamid Karzai has ordered U.S. special operations forces out of the province of Wardak for alleged involvement in crimes against civilians. In a statement, Karzai accused U.S. “special forces” of “harassing, annoying, torturing and even murdering innocent people.” Karzai aides say the allegations pertain to Afghan forces operating under U.S. command. The ban will take effect in two weeks.
The move comes days after NATO members wrapped up a key summit on the future of the occupation of Afghanistan after 2014. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta denied claims the U.S. plans to keep 8,000 to 12,000 troops in Afghanistan after its formal withdrawal in 2014. Panetta said those figures would comprise the total NATO force, not just the U.S. contingent.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta: “We want to be able to have the flexibility to look at a range of options that we ought to have for our enduring presence, but I want to make very clear that the range of options we were discussing was with regards to the NATO force, and the NATO force consists of both a U.S. presence plus NATO contributions.”
The Obama administration has increased the U.S. military deployment in the African country of Niger to at least 100 soldiers. President Obama told Congress on Friday the troops would be deployed under a mission of “intelligence sharing” with French soldiers in neighboring Mali. But Pentagon officials have confirmed the troops will help set up a previously reported U.S. airbase. The base will be used to fly drones for surveillance and potentially for missile strikes.
Outrage over Israel’s imprisonment of thousands of Palestinians is growing after the death of a prisoner in Israeli custody. The Israeli government claims the prisoner, Arafat Jaradat, died of a heart attack. But no signs of heart failure were found during the autopsy, and a Palestinian doctor who examined Jaradat’s body says he saw visible signs of torture. Jaradat was arrested in the occupied West Bank last week for throwing rocks at Israeli settlers. At a news conference in Ramallah, the Palestinian Authority minister for prisoner affairs said Israel is reponsibe for Jaradat’s death.
Issa Qaraqea: “There were visible marks in the autopsy that made it clear that the detainee Arafat Jaradat was badly tortured, which caused his immediate death. Israel bears responsibility for killing him during the interrogation.”
Jaradat’s death sparked protests across the occupied West Bank on Sunday. Around 3,000 Palestinian prisoners also refused to eat meals. It was the latest in a series of actions over the plight of Palestinians in Israeli jails. Clashes also erupted in the West Bank on Saturday after Israeli settlers shot two Palestinians. The settlers had reportedly encroached on the land of a Palestinian farmer. Israel is pressuring the Palestinian Authority to crack down on the protests ahead of President Obama’s visit next month. An Israeli government statement says it has relayed to the PA “an unequivocal demand to calm the territory.”
Tens of thousands of people rallied in Spain’s capital of Madrid on Saturday in the latest in a series of protests against economic austerity and political corruption. The demonstration was organized under the banner of “Citizen Tide,” a call for a grassroots uprising to stop a wave of privatizations, layoffs and cuts to public services. At least 45 people were arrested after clashes erupted between protesters and police.
Cuban President Raúl Castro has announced plans to retire at the end of his second term in 2018. In a surprise move, Castro told Cuban lawmakers he would step down from the Cuban presidency 10 years after replacing his brother Fidel in 2008. The Cuban National Assembly has named Miguel Díaz-Canel as first vice president, meaning he would replace Castro should he be unable to complete the rest of his term.
More radioactive leaking has been discovered at Washington state’s Hanford Nuclear Reservation, the nation’s most polluted nuclear weapons production site. At least six tanks are now leaking radioactive waste, up from last week’s disclosure of just one tank. Hanford currently houses more than 53 million gallons of radioactive waste. Washington state officials insist the leak poses no immediate risk to public health.
The oil giant BP squares off against the federal government in court today at a civil trial for damages arising from the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill. The Wall Street Journal reports the Justice Department has considered offering BP an out-of-court settlement under which it would pay $16 billion. But BP has insisted on taking the case to trial in the face of what it calls “demands that are excessive and not based on reality or the merits of the case.” BP now faces fines of up to $21 billion for penalties under the Clean Water Act and payments under the Natural Resources Damage Assessment. In November, BP agreed to plead guilty to criminal charges and pay a $4.5 billion fine.
The top Catholic leader in Britain has stepped down amidst allegations of homosexual behavior toward fellow church officials. Cardinal Keith O’Brien announced his resignation today after the disclosure three priests and a former cleric had launched complaints about him dating back 30 years. One of the complaints said O’Brien had made unwanted advances after a late-night drinking session. O’Brien has rejected the allegations, but in a statement he said: “For any failures, I apologize to all whom I have offended.” O’Brien is well known for his outspoken views against homosexuality. He opposed same-sex marriage and once said LGBT people are “captives of sexual aberrations.”
Cardinal Keith O’Brien had planned on attending the upcoming conclave in Vatican City to select Pope Benedict’s successor, but now says he will not be going. On Saturday, victims of church sex abuse gathered at a Los Angeles church to call on Cardinal Roger Mahony to also drop out of the conclave. Recently disclosed internal documents have confirmed Mahony and other top clergy officials at the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles deliberately hid evidence of child molestation for more than a decade.
Chris Pumpelly, Catholics United: “What I deliver today is a message of pain from thousands of Catholics. Cardinals, bishops and leaders of the Church, listen to the cries of your flock, respect the victims of abuse and cover-up, don’t run from it. Your scandal brings pain to the faithful.”
Joelle Casteix, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests: “Cardinal Mahony believes that he has the blessing of the people to go to the conclave, and Catholics United is here to say, 'No, he does not.' Victims are here to say, 'You have conducted criminal activity. You should not be anywhere near the conclave, because we believe that whatever pope he votes for is going to continue a cycle of abuse and cover-up.'”
The protest came on the same day Mahony was deposed in a civil lawsuit brought by child molestation victims. Mahony helped transfer abusive priests out of state to avoid prosecution and stopped them from confessing to therapists who would have been forced to inform police.
A public outcry has forced Yale University to suspend plans for a campus center to train special operations forces in interview techniques. The center would be funded by a $1.8 million grant from the Pentagon and was set to open as early as April. Dubbed an “interrogation center” by critics, the facility would be housed at the Yale School of Medicine and led by Charles Morgan, a professor of psychiatry who previously conducted research on how to tell whether Arab and Muslim men are lying. But citing the need to avoid “unethical treatment” as alleged by critics, Yale released a statement saying: “We are not moving forward on any such center until we have fully investigated all these issues [raised].” Click here to watch our report on the proposed center from a recent broadcast.
A three-year prosecution of the private military firm formerly known as Blackwater has ended in what critics are calling a slap on the wrist. Blackwater has reached a plea deal on an array of weapons charges, including illegal trafficking. They were accused of seeking to hide their weapons purchases and lying to federal officials. Three Blackwater officials saw all charges dismissed, while two others were sentenced to four months of house arrest and a small fine. Blackwater had defended itself by claiming it purchased the illegal weapons at the behest of the CIA.
A global day of action was held Saturday to mark Army Private Bradley Manning’s 1,000th day behind bars. Manning has been held for nearly three years, including many months in solitary confinement, for allegedly passing on U.S. diplomatic cables to WikiLeaks. Rallies and events in support of Manning were held in more than 70 cities across the United States and around the world.