The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments today in the first of two historic cases that could determine the future of same-sex marriage. Today the court will take up California’s same-sex marriage ban, Proposition 8, and consider whether same-sex couples have a constitutional right to get married. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court will hear a second case that challenges the Defense of Marriage Act, signed by President Bill Clinton in 1996, which denies federal benefits to married same-sex couples.
The United States has formally handed control of Bagram Prison to Afghanistan following more than a year of delays. The detention center has been dubbed “the other Guantánamo” after reports of prisoners being tortured and abused there. The exact terms of the transfer deal remain shadowy, but the United States has reportedly received assurances from Afghan officials they will not release prisoners deemed to pose a security threat. The United States will continue to play a role in determining which prisoners are released and will maintain custody of some unknown number of Afghan prisoners and about three dozen non-Afghan prisoners. At Monday’s ceremony, U.S. General Joseph Dunford, commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, stressed the enduring U.S. role there.
Gen. Joseph Dunford: “This ceremony to transfer the detention facility is important, and it’s meaningful. But what’s most significant is it’s part of a broader political and security transition process. It’s a small step towards a transformation that will occur in the years ahead. And let there be no doubt: Transformation, for those that wear the uniform of the United States, does not mean the end of the mission or abandonment. Our mission is changing, but our commitment is enduring.”
Within hours of the transfer, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry appeared alongside Afghan President Hamid Karzai during an unannounced visit to Afghanistan. He said the Bagram deal protects both U.S. interests and Afghan sovereignty.
John Kerry: “As of today, we don’t have prisoners. Whatever is occurring here is under the control of the Afghan people, and the United States will cooperate with the government of Afghanistan.”
John Kerry’s visit to Afghanistan appeared aimed at easing public tensions following allegations of abuses by U.S. special forces in Wardak province and President Karzai’s widely reported suggestion the U.S. is colluding with the Taliban. President Karzai said Monday his words had been misinterpreted.
President Karzai: “Now, the media took that to say that I said there is a collusion. I never used the word 'collusion' between the Taliban and the U.S., and those were not my words. Those were the [words] picked up by the media.”
Afghanistan was rocked by explosions today on the second day of surprise visit by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. At least eight suicide bombers reportedly attacked a police force headquarters in the eastern city of Jalalabad, killing five police officers.
The United Nations is removing half of its 100 international staff from Syria following heavy fighting in the capital Damascus. An additional 800 Syrian staffers have been told to work from home temporarily. Martin Nesirky, spokesperson for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, made the announcement Monday.
Martin Nesirky: “Yesterday and today, a number of mortar shells fell in close proximity to and on the grounds of the hotel in Damascus housing U.N. staff. The mortar fire caused some damage to the building and some cars, including one U.N. vehicle. The United Nations Security Management Team has assessed the situation and decided to temporarily reduce the presence of international staff in Damascus due to security conditions.”
A Syrian opposition leader is calling on the United States to intervene more directly in the conflict by using missiles to protect rebel-held areas. Moaz al-Khatib made the comments at the Arab League summit in Doha as he took over a seat previously held by the Syrian government. The league had transferred the seat to the opposition Sunday. Al-Khatib attended the summit despite announcing days ago he was quitting as head of the Syrian National Coalition due to a lack of global action on Syria.
Two jailed Bahraini activists are on hunger strike and refusing fluids after being denied visits from their family. Zainab Alkhawaja was sentenced to three months in jail earlier this month for insulting a public official. She has been on hunger strike for more than a week and began refusing fluids Sunday, putting her life at imminent risk, according to the Bahrain Center for Human Rights. Zainab’s father, Abdulhadi Alkhawaja, who is serving a life term for his role in the pro-democracy uprising, is also said to be on hunger strike. Zainab released a letter from jail, writing: “Not wearing the convicts’ clothes, because I have committed no crime, that became my small act of civil disobedience. Not letting me see my family and my three-year-old daughter, that has been their punishment. That is why I am on hunger strike.”
The United States and South Korea have signed a new military pact outlining future responses to North Korea. The pact reportedly promises U.S. support if South Korea retaliates for maritime border incursions and other low-level offenses. North Korea, meanwhile, has issued a new round of threats against U.S. military bases over the flying of U.S. B-52 bombers during military drills with South Korea.
Microsoft has admitted the FBI is using secretive National Security Letters to spy on its customers without obtaining a warrant. The news follows a similar announcement by Google earlier this month, which marked the first time a U.S. company has admitted receiving the secretive requests for user data. The letters come with a gag order that bars the recipient from talking about them. Earlier this month, a federal judge ordered the government to stop issuing the letters, ruling they are unconstitutional and giving the Obama administration 90 days to appeal.
Military officials say three Guantánamo prisoners have been hospitalized for dehydration amid a nearly two-month-long hunger strike that defense lawyers say includes the overwhelming majority of prisoners. The military said Monday 28 prisoners have now refused enough meals to be officially deemed on hunger strike. Ten are being force-fed. Lawyers contest those numbers, saying most of the prison’s 166 prisoners are on hunger strike over intrusive searches and their continued detention without charge following unmet promises by Obama to close the prison. The lawyers say multiple prisoners have lost roughly 30 pounds. Army Captain Jason Wright told the Associated Press an Afghan prisoner named Obaidullah has lost 36 pounds and appeared dizzy and fatigued last week. “It seemed like he didn’t have any hope of getting out of Guantánamo Bay,” Wright said.
A new study commissioned by NATO says a joint U.S.-Israeli cyber-attack launched on Iran’s nuclear facilities was an “act of force” that likely violated international law. A group of 20 international researchers reportedly agreed unanimously that the launch of the cyberworm Stuxnet several years ago constituted an act of force, which is prohibited under the United Nations Charter except in cases of self-defense. Some even thought the worm constituted an “armed attack,” which would mark the start of a conflict and entitle Iran to use force to defend itself.
Human rights groups are criticizing the United States and other countries for acting to weaken a draft of what could be the first-ever global arms treaty. Negotiations began at the United Nations in New York City last week for a treaty to regulate the $70 billion trade. Earlier talks collapsed last year when the United States — which leads the world in global arms exports — as well as Russia and China said they needed more time. On Monday, Anna MacDonald, head of arms control for Oxfam, said the new draft is too weak.
Anna MacDonald: “This treaty is not good enough. This is not the treaty that we have been campaigning for, for 10 years. This is not the treaty that’s going to save lives and protect people. The loopholes must be closed, and the president of the conference must listen to the voices of the majority, who have been saying repeatedly during this first week of negotiations — and indeed in informal sessions continuing discussions over the weekend — what they want to see in the treaty and why this must be a treaty with a very comprehensive scope of weapons covered and very tough and clear rules by which governments assess whether or not to authorize an arms transfer.”
A new study confirms how deeply gun deaths in the United States are shaped by race. The Washington Post reports African Americans are more than 10 times as likely to be shot dead as white people. Whites are five times more likely to commit suicide with a gun than to be killed with a gun. But for each African American who uses a gun to commit suicide, five are shot dead by other people. Meanwhile, a poll by The Washington Post and ABC News says three-quarters of African Americans support stronger gun control versus half of white people.
Hundreds of people protested at the state capitol building in Bismarck, North Dakota, on Monday over a series of anti-choice measures that could end abortion in the state. Republican Gov. Jack Dalrymple has until Thursday to decide whether to enact the country’s strictest abortion ban, barring abortion after an embryonic heartbeat can be detected — something that happens so early many women have not realized they are pregnant yet. Also on his desk is a measure mandating hospital-admitting privileges for abortion providers and another measure that would make North Dakota the first state to ban abortions performed because of genetic problems with the fetus.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is drawing attention for saying the use of domestic surveillance drones by New York City authorities — and the erosion of privacy that could entail — are inevitable. Bloomberg made the comments in a radio interview.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg: “It’s just we’re going into a different world, uncharted. And like it or not, what people can do or governments can do is different, and you can to some extent control, but you can’t keep the tides from coming in. We’re going to have more visibility and less privacy. I don’t see how you stop that. And it’s not a question of whether I think it’s good or bad. I just don’t see how you could stop that, because we’re going to have them.”
A new analysis by the Congressional Research Service says the United States spent nearly $4 million last year on expenses incurred by former presidents. The government covers pensions, office space, staffing, travel, postage and other costs for all ex-presidents. The biggest spender last year was George W. Bush, who cost taxpayers $1.3 million, including roughly $400,000 for an office in Dallas. Former President Bill Clinton spent even more than that on his New York office space and cost the nation just under $1 million in total last year.