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President Obama has vowed a renewed push to shut down the military prison at Guantánamo Bay more than four years after first pledging its closure. Speaking at a White House news conference, Obama called the indefinite imprisonment of more than 100 people unsustainable but defended the ongoing force-feeding of those on a hunger strike to win their freedom.
President Obama: “The idea that we would still maintain forever a group of individuals who have not been tried, that is contrary to who we are, it is contrary to our interests, and it needs to stop. I’m going to go back at it, because I think it’s important.”
Reporter: “Are you going to continue to force-feed these folks at Guantánamo?”
President Obama: “Well, I don’t want these individuals to die. Obviously the Pentagon is trying manage the situation as best as they can. But I think all of us should reflect on why exactly are we doing this. Why are we doing this?”
In a statement, a group representing Guantánamo Bay prisoners welcomed Obama’s closure pledge but urged him to take immediate action. The Center for Constitutional Rights says Obama should immediately release 86 people already cleared for transfer and lift his self-imposed moratorium on returning Yemeni nationals to their home country.
The Obama administration is reportedly close to providing Syrian rebels with “lethal weaponry” in their fight against President Bashar al-Assad. The Washington Post reports Obama will make a final decision in the coming weeks on what one official described as “assistance that has a direct military purpose.” Syrian rebels have already asked Western backers for anti-tank weapons and surface-to-air missiles. At his White House news conference, Obama suggested confirmation of Syrian chemical weapons use could trigger U.S. intervention in some form but said he’s still awaiting more evidence.
President Obama: “What we now have is evidence that chemical weapons have been used inside of Syria, but we don’t know how they were used, when they were used, who used them. We don’t have a chain of custody that establishes what exactly happened. And when I am making decisions about America’s national security and the potential for taking additional action in response to chemical weapon use, I’ve got to make sure I’ve got the facts.”
Speaking at the United Nations, Syria’s U.N. Ambassador Bashar Jaafari repeated the Assad regime’s vow to not use chemical weapons “against its own people.”
Bashar Jaafari: “The Syrian government has always emphasized in Damascus, the capital, as well as in here, that it will not use — if it possesses — any chemical weapons against its own people. And I stress this point, which has been highly controversial and manipulated by the enemies of Syria to serve their hidden agendas.”
The United States has deployed a small contingent of soldiers in Mali to assist the operations of French and African troops. The Pentagon says around 10 U.S. operatives are in Mali providing the international force there with “operational support.” The Obama administration had previously ruled out putting “boots on the ground” to aid the fight against Mali rebels in the north.
Protests are being held around the world on this May 1st to mark May Day, or International Workers’ Day. In Bangladesh, thousands of workers marched through central Dhaka to demand workplace safety following last week’s factory collapse where more than 400 people died — mostly female garment workers. Across Europe, thousands of people have taken to the streets to protest austerity measures that have cut wages, benefits and social services. In Greece, train and ferry service has been canceled as public sector workers take part in a series of strikes and rallies. In Turkey, riot police fired water cannons at a large crowd of demonstrators in Istanbul. In Spain, more than 80 protests are being held nationwide. And here in the United States, the Occupy Wall Street movement is planning a series of New York City actions including a “Rally for Labor & Citizen’s Rights” at City Hall.
The genocide trial of former U.S.-backed Guatemalan dictator Efraín Ríos Montt has reopened under legal uncertainty. Ríos Montt is accused of overseeing the slaughter of more than 1,700 people in Guatemala’s Ixil region after he seized power in 1982. Guatemala’s top court annulled much of the case last week, sending it back to the earliest stages. The trial resumed on Tuesday, but Ríos Montt’s lawyers said the case has been thrown out and should not continue. The testimony of four witnesses from the initial trial was also thrown out. The case has been recessed until Thursday.
The Arab League has apparently softened its long-standing peace offer to Israel of recognition in return for the creation of a Palestinian state. The 2002 Arab Peace Initiative pledges normalized relations and full recognition if Israel withdraws completely from the occupied territories seized in 1967. But at a meeting in Washington this week, the Arab League said it is open to a deal that would see Israel retain part of the West Bank under land swaps with the Palestinians. Israel has long dismissed the original Arab peace offer because it wants to keep the large, illegal settlement blocs in the occupied West Bank. In Washington, Secretary of State John Kerry praised the new initiative.
John Kerry: “The Arab community — and I think they should be thanked for this — saw fit to come to the United States as a delegation of the Arab League to make it clear that they are relaunching the Arab Peace Initiative. All of them have agreed, number one, that they would consider the conflict ended; number two, that they would establish the normalization of relations with Israel; number three, that they would enter into peace agreements with Israel; and number four, that they would provide security for all states in the region.”
The Food and Drug Administration has approved making the emergency contraceptive pill “Plan B One Step” available without a prescription to women 15 and older. The move will allow the pill to be placed on drugstore shelves instead of behind the pharmacy counter. The pill had previously been available without a prescription only to those 17 and older. The FDA announcement follows a federal judge’s order earlier this month that the “morning-after pill” be made available over-the-counter to all women, with no age limit, within 30 days. The FDA says its approval is independent of that decision. Reproductive justice advocates have long said any age limit can bar access to immigrants and others who lack ID, confuse pharmacists, and delay access for all women.
The suspect in the killing of the unarmed African-American teenager Trayvon Martin has waived a pretrial hearing. George Zimmerman was entitled to immunity proceedings under Florida’s controversial “Stand Your Ground” law. But doing so would have provided a preview of his defense and placed the burden of proof on Zimmerman instead of the prosecution. The case is set to begin in June.
A controversy has erupted around the San Francisco Gay Pride Parade after its organizers reversed a decision to make the U.S. Army whistleblower Bradley Manning an honorary grand marshal. Manning’s nomination was approved last week, but was soon rescinded after coming under criticism from gay Republicans and military servicemembers. A protest was held outside the San Francisco Pride Office to oppose the reversal earlier this week. Referring to Manning’s ongoing military trial, the demonstrators chanted: “They say court-martial, we say grand martial.”
Colorado has enacted a new law legalizing same-sex civil unions. Same-sex couples and their guests flocked to municipal buildings in Denver and Boulder to perform ceremonies shortly after the law went into effect at midnight. Colorado is the eighth state to legalize civil unions or similar laws. The legalization of civil unions marked a victory for LGBT activists in Colorado, which banned gay marriage in 2006 and discrimination protection for gays and lesbians in 1992.