President Obama has laid out his vision for the direction of U.S. foreign policy in a speech to graduates at the West Point Military Academy in New York. Obama offered no major policy changes but said U.S. military force should be used more cautiously than it has in the past.
President Obama: “Here’s my bottom line: America must always lead on the world stage. If we don’t, no one else will. The military that you have joined is, and always will be, the backbone of that leadership. But U.S. military action cannot be the only—or even primary—component of our leadership in every instance. Just because we have the best hammer does not mean that every problem is a nail.”
Despite calling for restraint, Obama endorsed continuing a policy that allows for U.S. military action to defend what he called the nation’s “core interests,” not just in cases of self-defense, the international norm.
President Obama: “The United States will use military force unilaterally, if necessary, when our core interests demand it — when our people are threatened, when our livelihoods are at stake, when the security of our allies is in danger. In these circumstances, we still need to ask tough questions about whether our actions are proportional and effective and just.”
In the only new policy to come out of his speech, Obama proposed a multi-billion-dollar “Counterterrorism Partnerships Fund” to train U.S.-allied forces throughout the Middle East and Africa.
Egyptian General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is poised for an overwhelming victory in Egypt’s presidential elections, with partial returns showing him taking more than 90 percent of the vote. Sisi becomes the sixth military leader to run Egypt since the army overthrew the monarchy in 1952. Turnout was at just 44 percent, compared to the 52 percent that came out for the election of former President Mohamed Morsi in 2012. Sisi led the military coup that ousted Morsi last year. The Egyptian authorities scrambled to boost voter turnout when it appeared many Egyptians were staying home, extending voting for a third day and declaring a public holiday. Several Islamic and liberal political groups boycotted the election in protest of Sisi and the military regime.
Two teenaged girls have been found hanging in India following their gang rape by five men. The girls from the Dalit community in Uttar Pradesh state were 14 and 15 years old. Police say they believe the girls took their own lives after they were raped, but some reports say they may have been strangled to death. Three people have been arrested, two of them police officers.
A federal judge has ordered a three-month ban on all executions in Ohio following a botched killing earlier this year. The execution of Dennis McGuire in January lasted more than 30 minutes and saw him gasping for air. Ohio had planned on using higher doses of the same lethal injection drugs. But on Wednesday, District Judge Gregory Frost ruled Ohio’s new protocol is insufficient. The Ohio ruling is the latest in a series of developments challenging lethal injections in the United States. Three executions have been stayed nationwide in the weeks since Oklahoma botched the killing of Clayton Lockett, who died of a heart attack 43 minutes after the execution began.
A Supreme Court ruling striking down death row guidelines in Florida could halt scores of executions nationwide. The decision this week overturned a Florida law that limited how death row prisoners can prove they are mentally disabled. The law said prisoners must have an IQ below 70 before being allowed to present any additional evidence to prove their case. That meant despite a federal barring execution of the mentally disabled, a prisoner scoring just above the numerical threshold would be eligible for death. The ruling will now force Florida and eight other states to come up with new guidelines. The New York Times reports up to 20 prisoners could be eligible for new hearings challenging their death sentence.
The mayor of Chicago has unveiled a series of new measures aimed at making it harder to buy firearms in one the nation’s deadliest cities for gun violence. The proposal from Rahm Emanuel calls for videotaping all gun sales and limiting them to one per month. Retailers would be required to undergo background checks, complete training, and face quarterly audits of their inventory. Gun buyers would also face a waiting period of up to 72 hours. A city report blames lax gun laws in neighboring states for the spread of firearms in Chicago. Sixty percent of guns used to commit crimes were originally purchased out of state.
Georgia police are being accused of brutality after video emerged of an officer shoving an African-American writer and activist to the ground. Sixty-nine-year-old Dhoruba bin Wahad was being questioned by officers on his front porch. The tape shows an officer grabbing him by the wrist and pushing him down. At a rally outside the Clayton County Police Department, bin Wahad said he had been mistreated.
Dhoruba bin Wahad: “I was not out of control. I was not a flight risk. I was not cussing them out. And let’s assume that I did cuss them out. Let’s assume that I was verbally uncooperative. Let’s just assume all those things. Does that justify me being slammed on the ground while I’m sitting there after being searched?”
A former Black Panther, Dhoruba bin Wahad was wrongly imprisoned for 19 years after being convicted based on fabricated evidence in a police shooting case.
The House has passed a bipartisan measure that would impose new sanctions on the Venezuelan government. The resolution follows weeks of protests that have left dozens of people dead from both sides of Venezuela’s political divide. Democratic Rep. Gregory Meeks of New York spoke out against the measure, calling it counterproductive.
Rep. Gregory Meeks: “I know that there are high emotions on all sides of this issue, and I understand why. But the House should not act emotionally. It should act judiciously. This bill does not advance U.S. interests. It will not help the people of Venezuela. And it sends the message to our regional allies that we don’t care much about what they think.”
The National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden has spoken out in his first interview with an American television network. NBC aired an hour-long interview with Snowden Wednesday night conducted by anchor Brian Williams in Moscow last week. Snowden told Williams he believes his disclosures of mass surveillance had helped his country rather than caused harm.
Edward Snowden: “We’ve had the first open federal court to ever review these programs to declare it likely unconstitutional and Orwellian. And now you see Congress agreeing that mass surveillance, bulk collection, needs to end. With all of these things happening, that the government agrees, all the way up to the president, again, make us stronger, how can it be said that I did not serve my government? How can it be said that this harmed the country when all three branches of government have made reforms as a result of it?”
The first of Snowden’s disclosures were revealed one year ago next week. In his interview, Snowden blamed the State Department for forcing him to remain in Russia after revoking his passport.
Brian Williams: “What are you doing in Russia?”
Edward Snowden: “All right, so this is a really fair concern. I personally am surprised that I ended up here. The reality is I never intended to end up in Russia. I had a flight booked to Cuba, onwards to Latin America, and I was stopped because the United States government decided to revoke my passport and trap me in the Moscow airport. So, when people ask, 'Why are you in Russia?' I say, 'Please, ask the State Department.'”
Edward Snowden’s temporary asylum in Russia is due to expire in August. He faces up to 30 years in prison in the United States for multiple charges under the Espionage Act. Speaking to CBS’ “This Morning,” Secretary of State John Kerry lashed out at Snowden’s comments, telling him to “man up” and return to face charges in the United States.
Secretary of State John Kerry: “The bottom line is this is a man who has betrayed his country, who is sitting in Russia, an authoritarian country, where he has taken refuge. You know, he should man up and come back to the United States. If he has a complaint about what’s the matter with American surveillance, come back here and stand in our system of justice and make his case.”
In Iraq, the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad has moved to destroy vehicles that were supposed to be preserved as evidence in the case of five former Blackwater guards accused of massacring Iraqis at Nisoor Square. Politico reports an FBI agent stopped the destruction just weeks before the guards are set to go on trial next month for the 2007 shootings, which killed 17 Iraqis. Government prosecutors say several of the vehicles were damaged and one was “substantially crushed,” even though embassy personnel had been repeatedly “admonished” to retain them. It is the latest in a series of accusations about government mishandling, which caused the judge overseeing the case to remark last month: “If the Department of State and the Diplomatic Security Service had tried deliberately to sabotage this prosecution, they could hardly have done a better job.”
New documents show the FBI monitored South African leader Nelson Mandela during his visit to the United States in 1990. Mandela had just been released after 27 years in prison. The released files show the FBI was primarily concerned with Mandela’s security amidst a number of threats from right-wing extremists. But the FBI also redacted 169 pages of documents, citing national security. The records were obtained by transparency activist Ryan Shapiro, who has sued the U.S. government to release information on its role in Mandela’s initial capture in 1962 and on why it took until 2008 for Mandela to be removed from the U.S. terrorist watch list.