The U.S. military has acknowledged for the first time the number of prisoners on hunger strike at Guantánamo has topped 100. About a fifth of the hunger strikers are now being force fed, a practice widely viewed as a form of torture. David Remes, a lawyer for the prisoners, says even more people are taking part than the military admits.
David Remes: “The military at first denied that there was a hunger strike. The only hunger strikers it acknowledged was the hunger strikers — were the hunger strikers who had been striking before February. Our clients told us that nearly 130 of them were hunger-striking. And it’s interesting, because gradually, week by week and day by day, the Gitmo authorities have been acknowledging higher and higher numbers, to the point where now they are acknowledging that 100 men are on hunger strike — we said about 130 — and 20 are being force-fed.”
About 400 people are now confirmed dead after a building collapse last week in the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka. On Sunday, a fire broke out at the site even as hundreds of people remained unaccounted for in the wreckage. Firefighters were reportedly seen weeping on live TV after a garment worker they had been attempting to rescue apparently died in the fire. Meanwhile, four people were reportedly pulled from the ruins alive on Sunday after being trapped since Wednesday. The building housed factories that made garments for a number of international brands, including Joe Fresh, The Children’s Place, JC Penney, Benetton and others. The New York Times has noted: “In recent days, different Western brands have expressed sorrow over the accident but none, as yet, has endorsed proposals for tougher independent safety inspection programs.” The owner of the factory was arrested on Sunday. Authorities said he was attempting to flee to India.
Syria’s prime minister has survived an apparent assassination attempt after a car bomb detonated near his convoy in a neighborhood of the capital Damascus. Prime Minister Wael Nader Al-Halqi was reportedly unhurt. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a bodyguard was killed in the attack.
Pakistan has been hit by a series of deadly attacks ahead of general elections set for next month. Earlier today, a suicide bomber killed at least seven people and wounded more than two dozen others on a busy road in Peshawar. Meanwhile, the Taliban has claimed responsibility for bombings at the campaign offices of two independent political candidates that killed at least nine people on Saturday. Human Rights Watch reports at least 70 people have died in election-related attacks by the Taliban and others since early April. In the city of Karachi, residents said the violence would likely prevent people from going to the polls.
Mohammed Ehtesham: “If this situation of blasts continues, then it will be difficult for people to come out and cast their vote. Everyone will look for their safety first.”
Naseer Soomro: “These bomb blasts and firing incidents are scaring people. Every normal person will get frightened. Fear is a normal thing. Why would someone take a risk, and what for? Voting is not so important to me that I would sacrifice my life; I get killed for it.”
Iraqi authorities have suspended the licenses of Al Jazeera and nine other satellite TV channels, accusing them of fueling sectarian violence. Iraq’s media commission said the stations broadcast “clear calls for disorder” and endorsed “banned terrorist organizations.” In a statement, Al Jazeera said it was “astonished” by the move. “We cover all sides of the stories in Iraq, and have done for many years. The fact that so many channels have been hit all at once though suggests this is an indiscriminate decision,” it said. The move follows a wave of violence in Iraq that has killed roughly 200 people since last Tuesday when security forces raided a Sunni protest encampment. It’s the bloodiest chapter since demonstrations by Sunnis against the Shiite-led government began four months ago. Earlier today, three car bombs hit two cities in the Shiite-dominated south of Iraq, killing at least 19 civilians.
The New York Times is reporting the CIA has been delivering vast troves of cash to the Afghan regime of President Hamid Karzai, handing off tens of millions of dollars that has been used to fuel corruption and empower warlords. A former top Karzai aide told the Times Afghan officials referred to the cash as “ghost money,” because “It came in secret, and it left in secret,” he said. The Times concluded: “Much of the CIA’s money goes to paying off warlords and politicians, many of whom have ties to the drug trade and, in some cases, the Taliban. The result, American and Afghan officials said, is that the agency has greased the wheels of the same patronage networks that American diplomats and law enforcement agents have struggled unsuccessfully to dismantle, leaving the government in the grips of what are basically organized crime syndicates.” The report comes as the United States is seeking to turn over more power to Afghan authorities ahead of a planned troop withdrawal next year.
In Afghanistan, at least four U.S. servicemembers died Saturday when a surveillance plane crashed in the southern part of the country. A local police chief told Reuters the crash was caused by bad weather.
President Obama is urging Congress to take action to roll back sweeping budget cuts known as the sequester that have hit government agencies and programs. His remarks came after Congress passed a bill Friday to send air traffic controllers back to work following furloughs that left passengers waiting for hours at airports across the country.
President Obama: “This week, the sequester hurt travelers, who were stuck for hours in airports and on planes and are rightly frustrated by it. And maybe because they fly home each weekend, the members of Congress who insisted on these cuts finally realized that they actually apply to them, too. So Congress passed a temporary fix, a Band-Aid. But these cuts are scheduled to keep falling across other parts of the government that provide vital services for the American people.”
An Iranian scientist who was held in the United States for more than a year for allegedly violating U.S. sanctions has reportedly returned home to Iran. Mojtaba Atarodi, who is an assistant professor of engineering, was detained in late 2011 on accusations of buying high-tech U.S. laboratory equipment. Atarodi said he had tried to buy the equipment to conduct personal research in his lab.
Mojtaba Atarodi: “U.S. authorities knew all about my academic background. Even the prosecutor general told me I should never have been arrested, jailed or tried in the first place. He said he was embarrassed to put me on trial, but he had no choice. He said he did it after receiving orders from Washington.”
Hundreds of people marched in the Mexican state of Veracruz Sunday to demand an end to the killings of journalists, scores of whom have been slain in recent years, many targeted for their reporting on the drug war. The protesters were demanding justice for Regina Martínez, who wrote about drug trafficking and the links between traffickers and the authorities for the news magazine Proceso before being murdered in her home. Sunday marked one year since her death. State officials claim Martínez was the victim of a robbery, but the man convicted of killing her says he confessed after days of torture, and Proceso says the real culprits have not been identified.
President Obama entertained journalists, celebrities and political elites at the annual White House correspondents’ dinner on Saturday night. In one of the more remarked-upon lines of the evening, Obama poked fun at the Republican Party.
President Obama: “I know Republicans are still sorting out what happened in 2012. But one thing they all agree on is they need to do a better job reaching out to minorities. And look, call me self-centered, but I can think of one minority they could start with. (Waves his hand.) Hello.”
New data indicates African-American voter turnout surpassed white turnout for the first time in history during the 2012 election that brought Obama back into power. African Americans also voted at a higher rate than other people of color.
President Obama is reportedly planning to nominate Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx to succeed Ray LaHood as secretary of transportation. Foxx would be the first African American nominated for Obama’s second-term Cabinet. He has sought to expand public transit as mayor of Charlotte and was in the national spotlight last year when the city hosted the Democratic National Convention.
In upstate New York, 31 people were arrested Sunday at the Hancock Air Force Base as they protested the killing of innocent civilians by drone strikes they say violate the U.S. Constitution. The base is a departure point for U.S. drones. Roughly 300 people held a funeral procession to condemn the use of drones in Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan and Afghanistan. The protesters were members of the Upstate Coalition to Ground the Drones and End the Wars. They attempted to deliver an indictment charging President Obama, the military and servicemembers at Hancock Air Base with crimes against humanity.
A Russian court has rejected a petition for early release from one of two jailed members of the Russian feminist punk group Pussy Riot. Nadia Tolokonnikova has been imprisoned in a penal colony known for its harsh treatment as she serves a two-year sentence for the group’s protest against Russian leader Vladimir Putin at a Moscow cathedral last March. Nadia, who reportedly suffers from persistent headaches and has been hospitalized, was denied early release after a judge said she had not always adhered to the prison’s rules. A list of offenses provided by the penal colony included refusing to say hello to a prison official and refusing to go for a walk. Nadia’s husband spoke after the ruling Friday.
Pyotr Verzilov: “We didn’t expect that a court in Mordovia, which refused to grant an early conditional release to Svetlana Bakhmena who was in late-term pregnancy, would suddenly let Nadia go. This is a court which serves the prison system, and its decision was completely expected.”
A mosque in Oklahoma City has been vandalized in what is being investigated by the FBI as a potential hate crime. The walls, doors and sidewalk of the American Muslim Association building were spray-painted with bizarre images including what appeared to be faces and pentagrams. The head of the state’s chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations said: “We call on the FBI to determine whether or not there was a bias motive for this vandalism and if it is linked to anti-Muslim backlash resulting from the Boston Marathon bombings.” At least two people were victimized by violent anti-Muslim attacks following the Boston bombings on April 19. The mosque in Oklahoma was the subject of a prior attack last year when it was hit with paintballs.
Today marks six months since Superstorm Sandy blasted New York City, the Jersey Shore and New England. The storm killed 72 people along the East Coast, and another 87 died from indirect causes such as hypothermia and carbon monoxide poisoning. Despite a massive recovery effort, including a grassroots mobilization that filled in the gaps left by government aid, tens of thousands of people still remain homeless, with businesses and homes in many areas still boarded up or in ruins. Click here to see our reports on the immediate aftermath of Superstorm Sandy.
The prominent feminist journalist, author and editor Mary Thom has died at the age of 68. Thom was a early editor of Ms. Magazine, where she rose to the rank of executive editor. She wrote several books, including a history of Ms. Magazine, and was editor-in-chief of the Women’s Media Center, whose co-founder, Gloria Steinem, told The New York Times, “[Mary Thom] was a lodestone for the women’s movement nationally, and a center of trust, common sense and creativity.” Thom died when her motorcycle crashed on Friday evening in Yonkers, just north of New York City.
In Wilcox County, Georgia, high school students attended the school’s first-ever racially integrated prom on Saturday night. Organized by students fed up with the local history of holding two proms — one for white students and the other for students of color — the integrated prom drew an outpouring of support from around the world. Click here to see our interview with two students and a mom who helped plan the prom.