A U.S. drone strike killed two people in Yemen on Saturday. According to the Associated Press, the United States has now carried out nine drone strikes there in two weeks, killing 38 people. McClatchy says the surge has marked the most concentrated series of drone strikes in Yemen in more than a decade. While Yemeni officials say the dead are suspected militants, many have not been identified. A senior Yemeni official told CNN the number of strikes is actually 12 and that nearly a dozen of those killed are believed to have been innocent. Yemeni activist Farea al-Muslimi tweeted the names of three civilians he said were injured in Saturday’s attack in the south of Yemen.
The United States has reopened 18 of the 19 diplomatic posts in the Middle East and Africa that were shuttered for the past week due to an alleged al-Qaeda threat. The U.S. embassy in Yemen will remain closed, as will the U.S. consulate in Lahore, Pakistan, which was closed late last week due to an unrelated threat.
The Guardian newspaper has revealed the National Security Agency has a secret backdoor into its vast databases allowing it to search for the emails and phone calls of U.S. citizens without a warrant. According to documents leaked by Edward Snowden, a previously undisclosed rule change allows NSA operatives to hunt for individual Americans’ communications using their names or other identifying information. The article was published hours before President Obama held a news conference to propose a series of reforms in response to mounting criticism of the NSA’s sweeping spy programs.
President Obama: “It’s not enough for me, as president, to have confidence in these programs; the American people need to have confidence in them, as well. And that’s why over the last few weeks I’ve consulted members of Congress who come at this issue from many different perspectives. I’ve asked the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board to review where our counterterrorism efforts and our values come into tension, and I directed my national security team to be more transparent and to pursue reforms of our laws and practices.”
The National Security Agency recently said it is in the process of eliminating about 90 percent of its system administrators in order to limit access to secret information.
Scores of people are dead and hundreds wounded following a weekend of violence in Iraq. A series of bombings aimed mainly at Shiites killed more than 70 people across Iraq on Saturday. The blasts targeted markets, busy streets, parks and residential areas as families were celebrating Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan. Some officials put the day’s death toll as high as 91. According to a private U.S. monitoring group, an al-Qaeda affiliate has claimed responsibility for the bombings. On Sunday, at least seven people died in more attacks. Last month was the deadliest to hit Iraq in more than five years.
Three U.S. soldiers died in Afghanistan on Sunday. A U.S. official told Reuters the soldiers were killed by insurgents in Paktia province which borders Pakistan.
Attorney General Eric Holder is set to unveil a key new policy aimed at curbing lengthy sentences for drug violations and reducing the overcrowding of U.S. prisons. The policy shift will bar prosecutors from noting the specific quantity of drugs involved when drafting indictments for minor drug cases. By omitting the number at that stage, the policy may help low-level drug offenders avoid harsh mandatory minimums triggered by certain amounts. Holder will also announce policies aimed at turning more crimes over to state courts and expanding drug-treatment programs as an alternative to prison.
The actor Matt Damon has spoken out against President Obama’s policies on drone strikes and NSA surveillance. Damon made the comments in an interview with BET when he was asked how Obama is doing in his second term.
Matt Damon: “He broke up with me. There are a lot of things that I really question. You know, the legality of the drone strikes and these NSA revelations are — it’s like, Jimmy Carter came out and said we don’t live in a democracy. That’s a little intense when an ex-president says that. So, he’s got some explaining to do, particularly for a constitutional law professor.”
In Egypt, supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsi have remained in two Cairo protest camps, despite reports the interim government plans to break up the sit-ins today. There were reports authorities would descend just before dawn, but no such activity has been reported yet.
The Israeli government has approved the construction of nearly 1,200 new settlement homes on occupied Palestinian land. Sunday’s approval of new homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem came three days before peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority are due to resume in Jerusalem. The last talks in 2010 broke down over the issue of settlements. Meanwhile on Saturday, Israeli troops fatally shot an unarmed Palestinian along the border with Gaza. An Israeli army spokesperson said the man had attempted to cross the border fence carrying an unknown object. No weapons were found.
Bahrain has barred leading human rights activist Maryam Alkhawaja from entering the country amid a government crackdown ahead of pro-democracy protests planned for this week. On Friday, British Airways blocked Alkhawaja from boarding a flight home due to a request from the Bahraini government. Alkhawaja is acting president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, which released a statement saying she wanted to visit Bahrain in order to help monitor the situation on the ground and to see her father and sister, activists Abdulhadi and Zainab Alkhawaja, who are both in prison. Click here to see our recent interview with Maryam Alkhawaja.
Police in Canada have arrested two people in connection with the case of Rehtaeh Parsons, a 17-year-old who committed suicide after a photo of her alleged rape was posted online. Parsons was taken off life support in April. Police originally said there was not sufficient cause to charge anyone. They have now arrested two 18-year-olds on child pornography charges.
A 22-year-old Bangladeshi man has been sentenced to 30 years in prison for attempting to blow up the Federal Reserve Bank in New York City with a fake bomb as part of an elaborate FBI sting. Quazi Nafis pleaded guilty to terrorism charges in February. His case drew claims of government entrapment after the FBI supplied the inert explosives, the van used to carry them, the detonator and even the storage facility where an agent helped Nafis assemble the fake bomb.
The right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council has wrapped up its 40th annual conference in Chicago, Illinois. The meeting hosts corporate lobbyists who vote alongside state lawmakers on model legislation that is then introduced in state legislatures nationwide. According to the Center for Media and Democracy, 466 ALEC-influenced bills were introduced in 2013. The secretive group has come under increasing scrutiny partly for its backing of Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law which initially helped shield George Zimmerman from prosecution for killing Trayvon Martin and was later used in instructions to the jury that acquitted him. Thousands of protesters gathered during ALEC’s three-day meeting last week to protest the group’s stance on workers’ right, education, the environment and other issues. At least six people were arrested on Thursday.
Florida Republican Gov. Rick Scott is reviving his controversial bid to purge supposed non-citizens from the voter rolls. The purge began before last year’s presidential election but stalled amid claims of discrimination against Latinos and reports of multiple eligible voters being targeted. The probe initially involved a list of 180,000 suspected non-citizens, which was eventually reduced to 200 and ultimately resulted in just one prosecution for fraud. The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in June striking down a key part of the Voting Rights Act has enabled several states to forge ahead with restrictions on voting. In Florida, the group Dream Defenders is vowing to fight back with a voter drive aimed at reaching 61,500 people — the margin of votes by which Scott won in 2010. The Dream Defenders have been camped out in the governor’s suite for nearly a month demanding changes including the repeal of Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law. Executive director Phillip Agnew announced their latest campaign.
Phillip Agnew: “We intend to register the people that are forgotten: the black, the brown, the indigent, the poor, the LGBTQ community. And we will meet them where they are: in their classrooms, at the mall, at the club, on the corner, at the bus stop. And we will encourage them to vote in the name of their issues, not in the name of any candidate. We will encourage them to use their power at the ballot, not for any party, not for promises and pandering, but in a way that builds power for young people, for people of color, for poor people in the state of Florida.”
A new report says sheriffs in Oklahoma spied on a training camp for activists opposed to the enviromental impacts of tar sands oil. In March, the spying allowed authorities to thwart a planned blockade of TransCanada’s oil reserves in Cushing, Oklahoma, pulling over some participants even before they reached the protest site. Documents obtained by Earth Island Journal show at least two law enforcement officers infiltrated the Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance camp and wrote a detailed summary about the people there. According to a report published today, the infiltration is part of a wider pattern of surveillance by government officials who routinely share information about activists with TransCanada — the firm behind the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry Canadian tar sands oil to Texas if approved by the Obama administration.
A federal judge has denied a request for compassionate release from jailed civil rights attorney Lynne Stewart, who is dying from stage IV breast cancer. Stewart has served almost four years of a 10-year prison sentence for distributing press releases on behalf of her jailed client, Omar Abdel Rahman, an Egyptian cleric known as the “blind Sheikh.” On Friday, Judge John Koeltl rejected a request that would have allowed her to die surrounded by her loved ones. The judge said he could not order her release unless it was first requested by the Bureau of Prisons, which recently turned down Stewart’s bid for release, saying she is not sick enough. Since then, her doctor has said she has less than 18 months to live. Stewart’s lawyers have resubmitted her application to the Bureau of Prisons, and Judge Koeltl said he would give “prompt and sympathetic consideration” if the Bureau approves that request.
New York City’s Pacifica radio station WBAI, where Democracy Now! has broadcast for the past 17 years, has laid off two-thirds of its staff, including the entire news department, following a series of crippling financial problems. Summer Reese, the interim head of Pacifica, told The New York Times the layoffs include 19 out of 29 employees. WBAI lost its studios on Wall Street during Superstorm Sandy and has struggled to pay rent on its transmitter, which sits atop the Empire State Building. Summer Reese announced the layoffs in an on-air address to listeners following union talks on Friday.
Summer Reese: “With a very heavy heart and very great difficulty, we will be laying off virtually everyone whose voice you recognize on the air who is a paid programmer. This includes the vast majority of paid programming in the daytime. It will include the news broadcast, which I know from a great deal of feedback from the listening public is very important to the New York City audience. We do not have the ability to continue payroll at this station without making these layoffs.”
WBAI is one of five stations in the nationwide Pacifica network. Donated to Pacifica by philanthropist Louis Schweitzer, WBAI went on the air in 1960. Andrew Phillips, former general manager of Pacifica’s Berkeley, California, station KPFA, is taking over as interim program director of WBAI.