The United States has announced plans to deploy a new laser attack weapon prototype on a ship in the Persian Gulf near Iran. The U.S. Navy has released video of the laser weapon system setting fire to a drone during a test run. In addition to burning through drones or ships, the laser can produce blinding bursts to disable sensors. The announcement of its future deployment is an apparent warning to Iran after an impasse was hit during talks on Iran’s nuclear program and the possible lifting of Western sanctions. Iran said today it had begun operating two new uranium mines and a processing plant.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry continued the Obama administration’s harsh rhetoric against Iran during a visit to Israel. Speaking in Jerusalem Monday, Kerry assured Israeli President Shimon Peres that no option would be taken off the table.
John Kerry: “We understand the nature of the threat of Iran, and as the president has said many times, he doesn’t bluff. He is serious, and we will stand with Israel against this threat, and with the rest of the world, who have underscored that all we are looking for is Iran to live up to its international obligations.”
Kerry met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Monday night. The two claimed progress has been made toward possible peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
The company that runs Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant has signaled its temporary storage pits may be failing, but says it does not have another option for containing radioactive water. Three out of seven storage pits at the nuclear facility are now leaking in the latest setback for the plant since an earthquake sparked an historic nuclear disaster there two years ago. The company admitted 32,000 gallons of contaminated water leaked from two pits over the weekend. The plant’s cooling system has also failed twice in the past two weeks. A spokesperson for Tokyo Electric Power Company spoke at an emergency press conference today.
Masayuki Ono: “There is a possibility of a new leak, and that is what we are here to explain to you today. We understand that we have caused tremendous worry to the people of Fukushima and the wider public, and we apologize for that.”
President Obama traveled to Connecticut on Monday to meet with families of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting victims and repeat his call for tighter gun control. During a speech at the University of Hartford, Obama pushed for a number of reforms, including a ban on assault weapons, but focused on universal background checks for gun buyers, which he says are supported by 90 percent of people in the United States. Obama urged Congress not to delay on gun control.
President Obama: “Some folks back in Washington are already floating the idea that they may use political stunts to prevent votes on any of these reforms. Think about that. They’re not just saying they’ll vote 'no' on ideas that almost all Americans support. They’re saying they’ll do everything they can to even prevent any votes on these provisions. They’re saying your opinion doesn’t matter. And that’s not right.”
Obama’s speech came as Senate Democrats took steps to advance a gun-control package for debate this week. A group of Republican senators, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, have vowed to filibuster it.
Two U.S. senators — Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Republican Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania — are reportedly negotiating a bipartisan deal on gun background checks. Aides told the Associated Press the deal might require checks for sales made at gun shows and online but exempt certain other transfers, such as those between close family members. Current law only covers sales at federally licensed gun vendors.
In the Syrian capital Damascus, at least 15 people are dead after a suicide bomber drove a vehicle into a compound that houses the central bank and finance ministry. The Syrian government blamed opponents for Monday’s attack and said 53 people were also wounded.
Italy’s president has pardoned a U.S. Air Force colonel convicted in absentia for his role in the kidnapping of an Egyptian cleric who was secretly flown to Egypt and tortured under the CIA’s rendition program. Joseph Romano was one of 23 U.S. officials to be sentenced to jail terms for the kidnapping of Abu Omar, who was seized from the streets of Milan in 2003 and imprisoned in Egypt for four years without charge.
Lawyers for the son-in-law of Osama bin Laden have asked for his landmark civilian trial to be delayed because of automatic government budget cuts known as sequestration. During a hearing Monday, attorneys for Sulaiman Abu Ghaith said a potential September trial could be impacted by five-week mandatory furloughs of federal defenders. U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan called the prospect of a delay due to the cuts “stunning” and “extremely troublesome.” Abu Ghaith has been accused of conspiring to kill Americans, although he is not accused of taking part in the 9/11 attacks or any other terror plots. A lawyer signaled Monday the defense may ask for his trial to be held outside of New York, citing concerns he may not get a fair trial in the city hardest hit by the 9/11 attacks.
A diplomatic cable posted by the whistleblowing site WikiLeaks on Monday shows the Vatican dismissed reports of violence under the brutal rule of Chile’s Augusto Pinochet as “Communist propaganda.” In a cable sent to U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in 1973, five weeks after democratically elected President Salvador Allende was toppled in a U.S.-backed coup, a Vatican official was quoted expressing “his and the pope’s grave concern over successful international leftist campaign to misconstrue completely realities of Chilean situation.” Thousands of people were killed under Pinochet’s regime, and many more were tortured. The cables show the Vatican later realized the abuses were taking place, but continued diplomatic relations with Chile and refused to criticize Pinochet publicly. The documents were released by WikiLeaks in a new searchable database dubbed “The Kissinger Cables.” The files also include notes from a 1975 conversation where then-Secretary of State Kissinger is quoted saying: “The illegal we do immediately; the unconstitutional takes a little longer.”
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange spoke about the release of “The Kissinger Cables” Monday from his refuge inside the Ecuadorean embassy in London, where he remains holed up to avoid extradition to Sweden on allegations of sexual assault. He is concerned if he is extradited to Sweden he might then he extradited to the United States. In a video address, Assange called the release “the single most significant geopolitical publication that has ever existed.”
Julian Assange: “Orwell once said that 'He who controls the present controls the past. And he who controls the past controls the future.' Our analysis shows that the U.S. administration cannot be trusted with its control of the past. We have pulled together two million documents, 250,000 documents from our previous release Cablegate, 1.7 million documents pulled from the National Archives, and put them together into an integrated format, a search system that we are very proud of.”
Chilean forensic experts have exhumed the body of the legendary poet Pablo Neruda to probe allegations he was poisoned under Augusto Pinochet’s rule. While cancer has been the accepted cause of Neruda’s death for nearly four decades, the poet’s driver has claimed he was poisoned by a stomach injection administered by doctors. Neruda, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971, was a close friend of the ousted president, Salvador Allende.
The Philippines is billing the United States $1.5 million for the destruction of a pristine coral reef by a Navy minesweeper. The fine is less than expected after a report found at least 2,300 square meters had been damaged, less than an earlier estimate of 4,000. The Navy’s U.S.S. Guardian was stranded in the Tubbataha Reef Marine Park for 10 weeks after its commanders ignored warnings from park rangers. The park’s superintendent called fine a “slap on the wrist,” noting the cost of salvaging the ship was estimated at about 30 times the requested fine.
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is pressing Congress to alter military law in order to prevent commanders from overturning sexual assault convictions made in military court. The move follows public outcry after Air Force Lt. Col. James Wilkerson was reinstated and his conviction for aggravated sexual assault overturned. The military has been accused of failing to address an epidemic of assaults in its ranks. Recent statistics show fewer than one-in-10 perpetrators were held accountable after their attacks were reported. Advocates for military victims said Hagel’s proposed change is only a small step toward addressing the systemic problem.
Maryland is set to become the newest state to legalize the use of marijuana for medical purposes. State lawmakers approved medical marijuana on Monday, and Gov. Martin O’Malley has said he will sign the bill. Nineteen other states and Washington, D.C., already allow marijuana use for medical purposes.
Israeli journalist Amira Hass has suffered a torrent of hate mail and calls for her prosecution after she wrote an article defending the rights of Palestinians to resist violent occupation. In the article, Hass defended the throwing of stones by Palestinian youth at Israeli soldiers, calling it “the birthright and duty of anyone subject to foreign rule.” Hass said Israelis remain in denial about “how much violence is used on a daily basis against Palestinians. They don’t like to be told that someone has the right to resist their violence,” she wrote. Tune in to Democracy Now! on Wednesday when Amira Hass will join us.