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The hunger strike by prisoners at Guantánamo Bay has entered its 100th day. The U.S. military now says 102 out of 166 prisoners are on strike, while lawyers for the prisoners maintain the number is higher. Thirty hunger strikers are being force-fed through nasal tubes pushed into their stomachs. Three have been hospitalized. The prisoners launched their protest against indefinite detention in early February. Most have been held for more than a decade without charge or trial.
The United Nations refugee agency says the number of people fleeing the conflict in Syria has topped 1.5 million. That is an increase of half a million over the past 10 weeks alone. Turkey and Jordan have borne the brunt of the refugee flow; roughly 10 percent of Jordan’s population is now Syrian refugees. One refugee camp has become Jordan’s fifth-largest city.
President Obama addressed the crisis in Syria Thursday after meeting with Turkey’s prime minister in Washington. He said the United States would not take unilateral action to address claims the government of President Bashar al-Assad has used chemical weapons.
President Obama: “There are a whole range of options that the United States is already engaged in, and I preserve the options of taking additional steps, both diplomatic and military, because those chemical weapons inside of Syria also threaten our security over the long term, as well as our allies and friends and neighbors.”
U.S. officials, meanwhile, say Russia has sent sophisticated anti-ship cruise missiles to Syria in an apparent show of support for the Assad regime.
During his remarks Thursday, Obama also confronted a number of controversies that have rocked his administration recently. He addressed the fatal attack on the U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya, last year by calling for an increase in funding for embassy security. He criticized the IRS for allegedly giving extra scrutiny to tea-party and other right-wing groups, but defended his administration’s decision to secretly subpoena the phone records of roughly 100 Associated Press reporters. The Justice Department took the action in response to a May 2012 article that revealed information about CIA activity in Yemen. While the seizure has been widely condemned as a violation of press freedom, Obama said it was necessary for national security.
President Obama: “I make no apologies, and I don’t think the American people would expect me, as commander-in-chief, not to be concerned about information that might compromise their missions or might get them killed. Now, the flip side of it is, we also live in a democracy where a free press, free expression and the open flow of information helps hold me accountable, helps hold our government accountable and helps our democracy function.”
The Justice Department has released 15 pages of completely blacked-out material in response to a request for information about how text messages from cellphones are intercepted. The American Civil Liberties Union says the Obama administration is reading emails and other electronic communications without a warrant, despite a court ruling against the practice. In response to a recent Freedom of Information Act request on the issue, the Justice Department released a memo with black rectangles covering every bit of text except the title, sender and recipient. ACLU spokesperson Josh Bell told ABC News: “We got very little information about the policy on text messages. [The document] does not even show the date, let alone what the policy is.”
President Obama has appointed a new acting commissioner to lead the Internal Revenue Service a day after the former acting commissioner was fired over the tax agency’s targeting of right-wing groups. Daniel Werfel is currently controller of the Office of Management and Budget. Meanwhile, another top IRS official has announced his departure. Joseph Grant says he will retire next month as acting commissioner of the agency’s tax exempt and government entities division.
The Obama administration took another public hit Thursday when a Justice Department inspector general’s report found gaps in record keeping for terror suspects who entered the federal witness protection program. According to the report, the program failed to disclose participants’ new identities to the agency that maintains the government’s “no-fly” list. That meant an unknown number of people who changed their names may have been able to fly despite being on the list. Only two people with suspected terrorism connections have joined the witness protection program in the past six years.
CBS News is reporting Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev left a note describing the attack as a response to the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Tsarnaev reportedly scrawled the note on the inside wall of a boat in the Boston-area driveway where he was found hiding from police days after the attack. In the message, he reportedly referred to the victims of the bombing as “collateral damage,” writing: “When you attack one Muslim, you attack all Muslims.”
The death toll from a suicide car bombing in the Afghan capital of Kabul Thursday has reached at least 16. The blast targeted U.S. military vehicles. Six of the dead were reportedly Americans. Nine Afghan civilians were also killed. An insurgent group claimed responsibility, saying it has launched a new cell in response to reports U.S. troops could remain in Afghanistan far beyond next year.
Officials investigating the cause of the deadly explosion at a fertilizer plant in the town of West, Texas, say they have still not ruled out the possibility the fire was caused intentionally. Possible triggers under investigation include a problem with the plant’s electrical system, a battery-powered golf cart, or arson. A pair of blasts that happened almost simultaneously killed 14 people and leveled a residential area around the plant exactly one month ago today. Many of the dead were first responders who reacted to the initial fire.
A third U.S. military official whose job was to prevent sexual harassment and assault has been accused of carrying out precisely the type of behavior he was supposed to stop. Army Lt. Col. Darin Haas ran the sexual harassment and assault response program at Fort Campbell in Kentucky. He turned himself in late Wednesday on charges of violating a protection order and stalking his ex-wife. Just one day earlier, it was revealed the Army coordinator of sexual assault prevention at Fort Hood, Texas, is being investigated for alleged sexual assault. There were reports Sgt. First Class Gregory McQueen had also been running a small-time prostitution ring. Just days before that, Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski, head of the Air Force Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, was arrested for allegedly groping a woman in a Virginia parking lot. President Obama met with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and top military leaders Thursday to address what he termed the “scourge” of sexual assault in the military. His remarks came the same day lawmakers including New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand introduced legislation to strip military commanders of the ability to prosecute sexual assault, instead placing decisions about whether to try such cases in the hands of independent military prosecutors. According to last week’s Pentagon report, the conviction rate for sexual assault in the military was less than 1 percent in the last fiscal year. Gillibrand cited the report’s estimate that 26,000 servicemembers were assaulted last year.
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand: “Congress would be derelict in its duty of oversight if we just shrugged our shoulders and did nothing, did nothing for these 26,000 sons and daughters, husbands and wives, mothers and fathers. We have to do better by them. When a person in charge of preventing sexual assault in their ranks is himself arrested on charges of alleged sexual assault, clearly we have a strategy in place that is not working.”
President Obama’s picks to lead the Environmental Protection Agency and Labor Department both inched closer to confirmation Thursday. A Senate panel voted with no Republican support to advance Gina McCarthy’s EPA nomination, while another Senate panel backed the nomination of Thomas Perez for labor secretary — again, with no Republicans voting in favor. Both nominees face uphill battles before the full Senate.
House lawmakers have reportedly reached an “agreement in principle” for immigration reform that they plan to introduce next month. The House bill is expected to be even more restrictive than the Senate’s, with a path to citizenship that could take 15 years.
Seven people are still missing after a series of tornadoes ripped through the Texas town of Granbury, killing at least six. Dozens of people were injured. The area hardest hit by the storms included many homes for low-income people built by the nonprofit Habitat for Humanity.
In Britain, four computer hackers have been sentenced to jail terms ranging from 20 months to nearly three years for carrying out cyber-attacks as part of the global network known as LulzSec. The four, who range in age from 18 to 26, pleaded guilty to attacking targets including the CIA, Sony and Rupert Murdoch’s News International. Another LulzSec hacker, Jeremy Hammond, has been jailed in the United States, where he faces a potential life sentence for allegedly hacking into the computers of the private intelligence firm Stratfor and giving the files to WikiLeaks.
Authorities in Florida have dropped the criminal case against an African-American teenager who was arrested for conducting a science experiment that caused no injuries or damage. The case of 16-year-old Kiera Wilmot had provoked national outrage after she faced two felonies for mixing together toilet bowl cleaner and aluminum foil in a plastic bottle, causing a tiny explosion. Nearly 200,000 people had signed an online petition to have the case dropped.
Today marks the 45th anniversary of the landmark anti-Vietnam War protest carried out by a group of activists who came to be known as the Catonsville Nine. On May 17, 1968, Father Daniel Berrigan, his brother Philip, and seven others went to the draft office in Catonsville, Maryland, where they removed hundreds of draft records and torched them. They were sentenced to three years in prison. Their action helped ignite a wave of direct actions against the draft and the Vietnam War.
A 22-year-old woman in El Salvador has asked the Supreme Court to save her life by granting her access to an abortion. Abortion is banned in El Salvador even when the mother’s life is danger. More than 600 women have been jailed there for having abortions over the past 15 years. The woman, who uses the pseudonym “Beatriz,” suffers from lupus and kidney problems that her doctors say could kill her if she cannot end her pregnancy. Moreover, the fetus is missing major parts of the brain and would almost certainly die after birth. The case of Beatriz has drawn international attention with tens of thousands petitioning the government of El Salvador to save her. This is Beatriz.
Beatriz: “I want to live, and I ask them to do it, from my heart, to do it. The doctors in the hospital, they have all been very nice to me. They’re also worried for my life. They also want to do it, but they can’t, because they’re afraid they will be arrested.”