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A United Nations panel is accusing both sides of the Syrian conflict of reaching “new levels of brutality” after more than two years of fighting between the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and rebels seeking his ouster. U.N. panel chair Paulo Pinheiro accused government forces of murder, torture, rape, forcible displacement and other acts, many of them carried out systematically against civilians. But he said anti-Assad rebels were guilty of similar atrocities.
Paulo Pinheiro: “Anti-government armored groups have also committed war crimes, including murder, sentencing and execution without due process, torture, hostage taking and pillage. They continue to endanger the civilian population by positioning military objectives in civilian areas. And as we said in the past, there is a disparity between the violations or the crimes committed by the government forces and those committed by the rebels. But this is a disparity in intensity. It’s not a disparity in the very nature of the crimes and violations. They are the same.”
The United Nations panel also found there were “reasonable grounds” to believe limited amounts of chemical weapons have been used in Syria, but said it was not able to determine who was responsible.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights now says more than 96,000 people have died in the Syrian conflict. According to the tally provided to McClatchy Newspapers, more than 40 percent of those killed were government soldiers or pro-government militia members. The United Nations has put the total number of dead at about 80,000. McClatchy is also reporting the United States is withholding more than $60 million in aid to Syria’s main opposition group out of concern about its lack of organization. While the United States has publicly defended the group, unnamed officials said large portions of aid pledged by the United States have not been delivered because the group is in disarray.
In Syria’s besieged western town of Qusayr, doctors are begging for help for hundreds of wounded residents after weeks of fierce fighting between the army and rebels. One doctor told the Associated Press the wounded are being treated in private homes after the main hospital was destroyed. Medical supplies, food and water are reportedly running out, and bids to evacuate the wounded have stalled, after a convoy was attacked and 13 people killed last week. The International Committee of the Red Cross has sought access to the town but has not received a direct response from the Syrian government.
The trial for Army whistleblower Bradley Manning opened Monday at Fort Meade, Maryland. Manning is accused of giving a cache of diplomatic cables and government documents to WikiLeaks in the largest leak of state secrets in U.S. history. In an opening statement Monday, a U.S. government prosecutor accused Manning of “dumping” hundreds of thousands of documents “into the lap of the enemy.” The lawyer, Captain Joe Morrow, attempted to establish close ties between Manning and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, citing chat logs he said showed a “familiarity” between them. He also said email records show Manning directly participated in the editing of the “Collateral Murder” video which showed a 2007 U.S. helicopter attack in Iraq that killed two Reuters employees. Manning could face life in prison for the leaks. His trial is expected to run all summer.
One of Turkey’s largest union confederations has launched a two-day strike in solidarity with anti-government protests that have ignited the country. The union accused the Turkish government of carrying out “state terror” in its brutal crackdown against demonstrators. On Monday, a 22-year-old protester was reportedly shot and killed in the southern city of Antakya. Abdullah Cömert is the second person killed in the protests. The first was reportedly hit by a car the day before. On Monday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the Obama administration trusts the Turkish government will “appropriately work through this situation.”
Jay Carney: “We believe that the vast majority of the protesters have been peaceful, law-abiding, ordinary citizens exercising their rights. The United States has serious concerns about the reports of excessive use of force by police and large numbers of injuries and damage to property. We call on these events to be investigated and urge all parties to refrain from provoking violence.”
A military judge says the U.S. Army psychiatrist accused of massacring 13 people at Fort Hood, Texas, in 2009 can represent himself at his trial. Major Nidal Hasan could face the death penalty for allegedly opening fire on fellow soldiers. Hasan says he will defend himself based on a so-called defense of others argument, which would require him to prove he was protecting others from imminent harm. There is speculation Hasan might try to argue he was protecting potential victims of the U.S. war in Afghanistan from soldiers at the fort who were set to deploy there. Hasan’s defense strategy will allow him to question the people he is charged with wounding during the rampage.
More than 65 countries have signed the first-ever treaty regulating the global arms trade. The United States, which is the world’s top arms exporter, has delayed signing it after being accused of weakening the treaty before its approval last month. Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday the United States would sign as soon as the official translation process is complete. The treaty would not control domestic weapons use but still faces a tough battle for ratification in the U.S. Senate. On Monday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged countries that export arms to embrace the treaty.
Ban Ki-moon: “I particularly appeal to major arms trading countries to be first movers. The eyes of the world are watching arms traders, manufacturers and governments as never before. I call on all governments to bring national legislation and procedures in line with the requirements of the treaty so that it becomes a strong force for security and development for all.”
The United States is for the first time offering bounties for information leading to the location of terror suspects in West Africa. On Monday, the State Department offered a total of $23 million to help locate five top militants from groups including al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. The largest bounty is $7 million for the leader of the Nigeria-based group Boko Haram.
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in a narrow 5-to-4 decision that police can collect DNA samples from people they arrest even before they are convicted of a crime. The ruling upholds a practice already in use in most U.S. states where DNA samples are collected by cheek swab and used to solve crimes. In a dissenting opinion, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote, “Because of today’s decision, your DNA can be taken and entered into a national database if you are ever arrested, rightly or wrongly, and for whatever reason.” Some advocates for rape victims voiced support for Monday’s ruling, saying DNA evidence is the best tool available to prosecute sexual violence.
In North Carolina, roughly 140 people were arrested Monday during a weekly protest against the agenda of the Republican-controlled legislature. The local NAACP has been leading demonstrations on so-called Moral Mondays to protest cuts to social programs, restrictions on voting rights and the forgoing of Medicaid expansion under Obama’s healthcare law. Monday’s protest was the largest to date.
Hundreds of people protested today outside a Chinese poultry plant where at least 120 people perished in a fire Monday. The blaze in the country’s northeast marked one of China’s worst industrial disasters. Survivors said they rushed to emergency exits that turned out to be locked; only a single exit was open. More than 300 workers, most of them women, were in the factory at the time. Scores were injured. Local officials said the cause was an excess of ammonia gas. Relatives of the victims blocked traffic, clashed with police and called for answers about the deaths of their loved ones.
Yang Xiuya: “My daughter worked there. After the incident happened, they haven’t given us any explanation. It was time for my daughter to leave work, but the door was locked, so they were all burnt to death. The government isn’t giving us an explanation. We’re not moving until they give us an explanation”
Zhao Zhenchun: “I don’t think safety was being managed properly. They need to work harder on this. This should never happen again. They paid the price with their blood. So many of these big disasters in China are caused by lax supervision.”
An Egyptian activist and blogger has been given a six-month suspended jail sentence for criticizing President Mohamed Morsi. Ahmed Douma is the first well-known critic of Morsi to be convicted among several whose arrests were ordered in March. He was found guilty of insulting the president and spreading false news after calling Morsi “a killer” following a deadly crackdown in Port Said in February.
The Obama administration has imposed another round of sanctions on Iran in the latest attempt to force concessions over its alleged nuclear weapons program. The new sanctions target Iran’s auto industry and its currency, the rial, in a bid to make the currency unusable outside of Iran.
In El Salvador, a woman denied an abortion by the Supreme Court has undergone a C-section to end the pregnancy doctors said threatened her life. The woman known as “Beatriz” suffers from lupus and kidney problems and had begged for an abortion for weeks. Last week the health minister granted permission for surgery. As predicted by doctors, the roughly 27-week-old baby died shortly after it was removed because it lacked major portions of the brain.
A Mississippi man has been indicted for allegedly sending letters containing the poison ricin to President Obama, Senator Roger Wicker and a state judge. James Everett Dutschke was arrested in April. He could face up to life in prison.
Democratic Rep. Carolyn McCarthy of New York has announced she will begin treatment for lung cancer. McCarthy has been a leading advocate for gun control after her husband was killed and her son wounded in a mass shooting on the Long Island Railroad in 1993. She said Monday her form of lung cancer is “treatable.”
New Jersey Democratic Sen. Frank Lautenberg has died at the age of 89. During his five terms in the Senate, Lautenberg was known for championing gun control, environmental regulations, public transportation, consumer protections, investigations of Wall Street malfeasance and curbs on smoking and alcohol consumption. He was the Senate’s last surviving veteran of World War II. In 2004, Lautenberg delivered a memorable speech blasting what he dubbed the “chicken hawks” in the George W. Bush administration, such as Vice President Dick Cheney, who led the way to war in Iraq, but who at the time were criticizing Democratic presidential candidate and Vietnam War veteran John Kerry.
Sen. Frank Lautenberg: “We know who the chicken hawks are. They talk tough on national defense and military issues and cast aspersion on others. When it was their turn to serve, where were they? A-W-O-L, that’s where they were.”
Lautenberg died Monday in Manhattan of complications from pneumonia. His death is likely to decrease the Democratic majority in the Senate since New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie will appoint his replacement.