The Obama administration has granted itself the right to launch a preemptive cybermilitary strike on foreign targets. The New York Times reports the cyber-attacks would be carried out should the White House deem it necessary to preempt an imminent and highly dangerous computer attack from abroad. The authorization was approved as part of a pending set of rules for U.S. cyberwarfare similar to those for drone strikes. It would fall under the operations of the Pentagon’s recently created Cyber Command. The Obama administration’s lone publicly known cyber-attack to date was “Olympic Games,” which sabotaged computer systems at Iran’s nuclear facilities and accidentally unleashed a global computer worm known as Stuxnet.
The Obama administration has proposed a compromise to resolve a standoff with opponents of contraception coverage under the Affordable Heath Care Act. The measure would allow church and religious groups to exclude birth control from the insurance they provide employees. A separate insurance company would then provide birth control coverage, and insurance companies would cover the cost by paying higher fees for access to the new customers created under the new healthcare law. In a statement, the group NARAL Pro-Choice America said it is optimistic “that these new draft regulations will make near-universal contraceptive coverage a reality.”
At least 35 people were killed in northwest Pakistan on Saturday when militants attacked an army base. The dead included 10 civilians who died when rockets struck their nearby home. The Pakistan Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, calling it revenge for a recent U.S. drone strike that killed two Taliban commanders. The violence comes after a monthly record for U.S. drone strikes inside Pakistan in more than a year.
At least 33 people were killed in Iraq on Sunday when suicide attackers struck police headquarters in the city of Kirkuk. Another 90 people were wounded.
France continues to bomb areas of northern Mali three weeks into its military offensive to oust Islamist rebels. French forces have launched a number of aerial attacks in a bid to secure control of the rebel holdout of Kidal. A top rebel commander known as Mohamed Moussa was reportedly arrested earlier today near the border with Algeria. The human rights group Amnesty International, meanwhile, is calling for an independent probe of civilian deaths in Mali. Amnesty’s Gaetan Mootoo cited the case of four civilians killed in a recent air strike without warning.
Gaetan Mootoo: “We asked if there had been any warnings addressed to the civilians who were there, and the civilians told us there had been no warning at all. We sent a letter to the defense minister and asked him to launch an independent, impartial inquiry regarding the death of those four people.”
In addition to the air strikes, Amnesty is also seeking a probe of dozens of reprisal killings carried out by French-allied Malian forces, most of them targeting Tuaregs and Arabs, the ethnic groups linked to the rebels in the north.
Iran has expressed its willingness for a renewed offer of direct talks with the United States. Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said Sunday Iran is receptive to Vice President Joe Biden’s call for direct bilateral negotiations. Both were attending an international conference in Munich, Germany, ahead of six-party talks on Iran’s nuclear program to be held in Kazakhstan later this month.
Egyptian forces have sparked a new outrage with the release of video showing the brutal beating of a protester. On the tape, the victim, Hamada Saber, is seen being stripped naked, dragged across the ground and repeatedly beaten by a half dozen officers. His beating capped a week of unrest in which some 60 people were killed in protests against the government of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi.
In the Philippines, the damage caused by a U.S. Naval ship to a pristine coral reef is reportedly far worse than previously thought. The USS Guardian has been stranded in the Tubbataha Reef Marine Park since mid-January after its commanders ignored warnings from park rangers. The Navy says it will be forced to dismantle the ship into separate pieces in order to safely remove it. The reef is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. At least 4,000 square meters have been damaged, four times the initial estimate.
New figures show the suicide rate for U.S. veterans has increased about 20 percent since 2007. A study by a researcher with the Department of Veterans Affairs says close to 22 veterans take their own lives each day.
The new suicide figures come as a U.S. Army veteran has been arrested in Texas for allegedly shooting dead two men on a gun range. The suspect, Eddie Ray Routh, had gone shooting with the victims, Christopher Kyle and Chad Littlefield. Kyle was a famed former Navy SEAL who gained a reputation as an expert sniper while serving in Iraq. He recently spoke out against increased gun control in the aftermath of the Newtown massacre. Christopher Kyle reportedly had a routine of taking troubled U.S. veterans to gun ranges as a form of therapeutic release. Routh, the suspect, had served in Iraq and Haiti, and reportedly suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.
A Somali-American man has been found guilty of trying to detonate a bomb supplied by undercover agents at a crowded Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Portland. Attorneys for Mohamed Osman Mohamud had accused the FBI of entrapment. Undercover FBI agents orchestrated much of the bomb plot, supplying Mohamud with money, providing materials to construct the fake bomb, and blocking Mohamud from leaving the Portland area to take a job in Alaska. Mohamud could face life in prison.
Outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has played down the role of CIA torture in gathering the intelligence that led to locating Osama bin Laden. Speaking on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Panetta said that while torture techniques were used, their role was minimal and bin Laden would likely have been found without them.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta: “In order to put the puzzle of intelligence together that led us to bin Laden, there was a lot of intelligence, there were a lot of pieces out there that were part of that puzzle. Yes, some of it came from some of the tactics that were used at that time — interrogation tactics that were used. But the fact is we put together most of that intelligence without having to resort to that. I think we could have gotten bin Laden without that.”
The family of an unarmed African-American teen shot dead by New York City police in his own home has filed a lawsuit one year after his killing. Ramarley Graham was shot at close range on February 2, 2012, after being chased by narcotics officers into his building. Police say Graham was trying to empty a small bag of marijuana into the toilet before he was killed. In their lawsuit against the NYPD, Ramarley’s family says the officers threatened to kill Ramarley’s distraught grandmother in the moments after she witnessed the shooting. The officer who killed Ramarley, Richard Haste, was charged with manslaughter last year. On Saturday, hundreds of people marched to a Bronx police precinct to mark the first anniversary of Ramarley Graham’s death.
A federal appeals court has ruled the government can continue to keep secret its efforts to pursue the private information of Internet users without a warrant as part of its probe into the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks. The case involved three people connected to WikiLeaks whose Twitter records were sought by the government, including computer security researcher Jacob Appelbaum and Icelandic parliamentarian Birgitta Jónsdóttir. The court rejected a request to unseal all orders relating to the three individuals that may have been sent to companies other than Twitter.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was honored in New York this weekend with the Yoko Ono Lennon Courage Award for the Arts. Assange remains holed up in the Ecuadorean embassy in London fighting extradition to Sweden. In a ceremony at the Museum of Modern Art, artist and activist Yoko Ono paid tribute to Assange in absentia.
Yoko Ono: “This 2013 Courage Award for the Arts is presented to Julian Assange. With your courage, the truth was revealed to us — thank you — and gave us wisdom and power to heal the world. On behalf of the suffering world, I thank you. Yoko Ono Lennon. Thank you.”
Yoko Ono turns 80 on February 18th.