More than 100 detainees held in the U.S. military prison at Guantánamo Bay are reportedly entering their fifth week of a hunger strike sparked by deteriorating conditions. News of the hunger strike first emerged last week but it appears the action involves far more prisoners than previously thought. The unrest comes as U.S. military officials have confirmed a guard fired rubber bullets at detainees in January for the first time in the prison’s history.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai says his government plans to take full control of the Bagram prison from the United States by next week. The U.S. military has stalled the transfer amidst disputes over Karzai’s vow to hold trials and release innocent prisoners. Speaking at a gathering of tribal elders in Helmand province, Karzai urged public support for his standoff with the United States.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai: “I am sure you are all aware of the arguments about the Bagram prison handover. I urge you all to stand with me and say that Karzai is right, and we want to take responsibility of the prison, and those who are innocent should be released. God willing, this demand will be implemented practically, by Saturday or Sunday next week.”
The CIA is reportedly increasing its operations inside Iraq. According to The Wall Street Journal, CIA operatives are replacing U.S. military forces in working with Iraq’s counterterrorism service. The purported aim is to help fight al-Qaeda in Iraq and prevent a spillover from Syria’s internal conflict. The CIA’s role in the Middle East appears to be expanding overall. The agency is operating a drone base in Saudi Arabia and training Syrian rebels in Jordan.
A new report is warning Syria’s children are perhaps the greatest victims of their country’s civil war. The group Save the Children says more than two million Syrian children are facing disease, malnutrition, severe trauma and early marriage from two years of unrelenting conflict. Studies of Syrian children in refugee camps found high incidences of physical abuse and of experiencing the death of a family member. At the United Nations, Patrick McCormick of the children’s agency UNICEF warned a generation of Syrian youths are at risk.
Patrick McCormick: “Millions of children inside Syria and across the region are witnessing their past and their future disappear amidst the rubble and destruction of this prolonged conflict. We must rescue them from the brink, for their sake and for the sake of Syria and future generations.”
According to Save the Children, increasing numbers of children are being recruited by armed groups on both sides. Child recruits have been used as porters, guards, informers, fighters and even human shields.
A top United Nations investigator is accusing Iran of a “systemic and systematic” crackdown on human rights. In a report to the U.N. Human Rights Council, U.N. rapporteur Ahmed Shaheed said Iran has employed torture and other abuses in order to stifle dissent.
Ahmed Shaheed: “A majority of human rights defenders, including those that defend the rights of women, religious and ethnic minorities, as well as those that work to advance protections for the environment, workers and children, continue to be subjected to harassment, arrest, interrogation and torture and are frequently charged with vaguely defined national security crimes, which is seemingly meant to erode the frontline of human rights defense in the country. My current report also presents what appears to be unimpeachable forensic evidence that torture is occurring in Iran on a geographically widespread and systemic basis.”
Shadeed says that Iran spared the lives of at least a dozen people after their plight drew international attention, suggesting the Iranian government is responsive to global pressure. Iran has dismissed the report as “a compilation of unfounded allegations … initiated by the United States of America and its European allies.”
Israeli forces have killed another unarmed Palestinian in the occupied West Bank. Twenty-five-year-old Mahmoud Titi was among a group of people fired on by Israeli forces during a raid near the city of Hebron. A witness said the soldiers opened fire after being hit by rocks.
Witness: “Suddenly the soldiers raided the (refugee) camp in three vehicles, and you know how it will be in the camp, so the youths started to throw stones, and the soldiers opened the fire randomly. They fired tear gas grenades and fired at the houses and at everything that was moving in the camp.”
The Palestinian Authority says Titi was the sixth Palestinian killed by the Israeli occupation force in the West Bank this year. Eight other Palestinians were wounded in the attack. President Obama is due to visit the region a week from today.
Tensions between the United States and Venezuelan governments are flaring one week after the death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. The Obama administration has expelled two Venezuelan diplomats, an apparent retaliation for Venezuela’s expulsion of two U.S. military attachés last week. The attachés were accused of planning to destabilize Venezuela. On Tuesday, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elías Jaua renewed the claim, accusing the United States of plotting to topple Chávez before his death.
Argentina’s last dictator, Reynaldo Bignone, has been given a new life sentence over the kidnappings and disappearances of political opponents and the deliberate theft of babies from political prisoners. Bignone and two other defendants were convicted on Tuesday for crimes at the Campo de Mayo, a military base used by the dictatorship during its rule from 1976 to 1983. The three are already serving jail sentences for other abuses under their military regime. Bignone is currently being tried in another case focusing on Operation Condor, a coordinated effort by Latin American military rulers to target their political opponents in the 1970s and 1980s.
The nation’s top intelligence officials are warning cyber-attacks from abroad now pose a greater threat to national security than al-Qaeda and other militant groups. For the first time ever, an annual review of threats to the United States lists the risk of foreign computer attacks on the networks of U.S. infrastructure and institutions higher than terrorism, organized crime and weapons of mass destruction. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper discussed the finding in testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee.
James Clapper: “When it comes to distinct threat areas, our statement this year leads with cyber, and it’s hard to overemphasize its significance. Increasingly, state and non-state actors are gaining and using cyber-expertise. They apply cybertechniques and capabilities to achieve strategic objectives by gathering sensitive information from public and private sector entities, controlling the content and flow of information and challenging perceived adversaries in cyberspace. These capabilities put all sectors of our country at risk.”
In response, the Pentagon’s new Cyber Command has unveiled plans to create 13 offensive teams to counter computer attacks from overseas by the fall of 2015. The teams would be used for cyber-operations against foreign countries linked to computer attacks on the United States.
The Senate Judiciary Committee has advanced two new gun violence measures to the Senate floor. The measures would expand background checks to private gun sales and create a task force on improving safety at schools. A vote on the most contentious gun control measure among Washington lawmakers — banning assault weapons — was postponed.
A six-month-old baby girl shot in a drive-by attack in Chicago has died of her wounds. Johnylah Watkins and her father were shot on Monday afternoon while he was changing her diaper in a parked minivan. The baby underwent surgery overnight, but died on Tuesday morning. Her father remains hospitalized in critical condition. A spokesperson for the family, Reverend Corey Brooks, said: “The city of Chicago should be outraged that in our city a six-month-old baby could be shot and killed.”
A witness to the police shooting of an African-American teenager in Brooklyn, New York, is challenging the New York City Police Department’s claim he was armed. Sixteen-year-old Kimani Gray was walking down a street in the neighborhood of East Flatbush when two plainclothes officers approached him in an unmarked car. The officers got out to approach Gray and opened fire when, they claim, they saw him reach for a gun in his waistband. But speaking to the New York Daily News, a Brooklyn woman who watched the shooting from her window said Gray never had a gun in his hand and could not believe the officers had opened fire. Police say they recovered a gun next to Gray’s body. On Tuesday night, supporters held a protest in Brooklyn for the second consecutive night to denounce Gray’s killing. Community organizer Fatimah Shakur was among the speakers to address the crowd.
Fatimah Shakur: “Kimani Gray was only 16 years old. Parents should not bury their children. Police brutality is not decreasing, it’s increasing. So I need to hear — your power is in your voice. We don’t got to bash nobody’s store, nothing like that. We more better than that. But your voice is your weapon. Kimani Gray doesn’t have no voice no more. We have to be his voice.”
Tuesday’s protest was peaceful after several stores were vandalized following a rally the day before. New York City Councilmember and community activist Charles Barron said the killing of Gray has triggered anger over the marginalization of African Americans.
Charles Barron: “People are angry and frustrated. We’re living in poverty. We’re living in unemployment. In the richest country in the history of the planet earth, we have poverty that equals Egypt’s poverty, that caused a revolution. And then to have these police officers using deadly force to take the lives of our children, our youth out here, it’s just unacceptable. So this is the least that the community could do is to respond and resist. We always got to resist. We always got to provide vehicles that allow for the ventilation of our anger. And we must resist until we can figure out a strategy for victory.”
Colorado is set to legalize same-sex civil unions following final approval by the state House. Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper has vowed to sign the measure into law. It would take effect on May 1.