The political firestorm is continuing over the rescue of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in exchange for five Guantánamo prisoners. The deal has come under partisan attack amidst reports Bergdahl voluntarily left his base after growing opposed to the war in Afghanistan. The New York Times has revealed a classified military report found Bergdahl most likely walked away from his Army outpost in June 2009 on his own free will, but it stops short of concluding that there is solid evidence that he intended to permanently desert. The report also revealed Bergdahl had wandered away from assigned areas while in the Army at least twice before his capture, including once in Afghanistan. On Thursday, President Obama defended the swap.
President Obama: “I’m never surprised by controversies that are whipped up in Washington. Alright, that’s — that’s par for the course. But I’ll repeat what I said two days ago. We have a basic principle: We do not leave anybody wearing the American uniform behind. We had a prisoner of war whose health had deteriorated, and we were deeply concerned about it, and we saw an opportunity, and we seized it. And I make no apologies for that.”
Administration officials defended their decision not to give Congress advance notice of the swap, saying the Taliban threatened to kill Bergdahl if word of the deal leaked. New reports show Bergdahl actually escaped from his captors on at least two occasions, once in the fall of 2011 and again sometime in 2012. We’ll have more on the story after headlines with Matthew Farwell, a former U.S. soldier in Afghanistan who helped the late Michael Hastings write his groundbreaking article on Bowe Bergdahl.
In northeastern Nigeria, Boko Haram militants have slaughtered hundreds of people in three villages in Borno state. The gunmen reportedly posed as soldiers arriving to protect the villagers, before rounding them up and opening fire. More than 2,000 people have been killed this year alone by Boko Haram, which kidnapped more than 200 schoolgirls in April.
In Canada, a suspect has been arrested after a shooting rampage that left three police officers dead in the city of Moncton, New Brunswick. Police shut down swaths of the city and told residents to remain inside as they searched for Justin Bourque. Roger Brown, commanding officer of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, spoke on Thursday.
Roger Brown: “This has been perhaps the darkest day in the history of the RCMP in New Brunswick. The RCMP family has lost three of our colleagues and three of our friends. Two more of our officers are in hospital at present and are undergoing surgery. I met with the families this morning prior to coming here, and as you can all imagine, they are hurting. There’s actually no way to describe the level of hurt.”
In the United States, a student opened fire at Seattle Pacific University, killing one person before a student monitor used pepper spray to subdue him. Three other people were wounded in the shooting, one of them critically.
In Afghanistan, the frontrunner in the presidential race has survived an assassination attempt in Kabul. Two explosions went off as Abdullah Abdullah was leaving a campaign event. Six people were killed, including a bodyguard and police officer.
The European Central Bank has taken steps to boost the economy, including cutting its bank deposit rate to below zero. The move seeks to spur lending by effectively charging banks for storing money. Inflation across the eurozone fell just 0.5 percent last month, far below the bank’s target, and unemployment remains more than 25 percent in Spain and Greece.
Egyptian prosecutors have called for the maximum possible prison terms for three Al Jazeera journalists at their trial in Cairo. Prosecutors delivered their closing arguments Thursday, accusing the journalists of producing false reports and giving a platform to the Muslim Brotherhood. Peter Greste faces up to seven years in prison while Baher Mohamed and Mohamed Fahmy face up to 15. They have been imprisoned since December. The Obama administration, meanwhile, has said it “looks forward to working with Abdel Fattah el-Sisi,” Egypt’s former army chief, who won the presidential election in a landslide. International monitors criticized the election and the environment of repression in Egypt.
Israel has announced 1,500 new settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem in retaliation for a new Palestinian unity government backed by Hamas. The settlements are considered illegal under international law, but Israel’s housing minister called them a “fitting Zionist response” and said they were “just the beginning.”
General Motors says it has dismissed 15 employees and vowed to start a compensation fund for victims of an ignition switch defect tied to at least 13 and potentially hundreds of deaths. An internal report cites a “pattern of incompetence and neglect” but denies an intentional cover-up of the defect, which took GM more than a decade to address. A former federal prosecutor hired by GM to conduct the report found multiple groups within GM reviewed the problem but “failed to take action or acted too slowly.” GM CEO Mary Barra called the results “troubling.”
Mary Barra: “I can tell you this report is extremely thorough, brutally tough and deeply troubling. For those of us who have dedicated our lives to this company, it is enormously painful to see our shortcomings laid out so vividly. As I read the report, I was deeply saddened and disturbed.”
In a statement, Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut called for an independent inquiry into GM’s failures, calling the internal review “the best report money can buy.” “It absolves upper management, denies deliberate wrongdoing, and dismisses corporate culpability,” Blumenthal said.
The scandal over veterans’ healthcare is deepening. The acting secretary of Veterans Affairs says 18 additional veterans who were kept off official waitings lists have died while awaiting appointments in Arizona. The deaths add to 17 others reported last month. The news comes as Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders reached a deal with Republican Sen. John McCain on a bill that would allow veterans facing lengthy waits to seek private medical care.
The Senate has confirmed Obama’s pick to lead the Department of Health and Human Services. Sylvia Mathews Burwell has served as White House budget director for the past year. She takes over for Kathleen Sebelius, who stepped down in April following the rocky rollout of Obamacare.
In Mexico, a journalist has been found murdered with his body bearing signs of torture, four days after he was kidnapped by unknown gunmen. Jorge Torres Palacios was a spokesperson for the health department in the resort city of Acapulco and wrote a political column for a weekly newspaper. One of his final reports described protests against violence and extortion by local and federal authorities. Reporters Without Borders ranked Mexico 152 out of 180 in its most recent press freedom index.
Protests are continuing in India after two cousins, ages 12 and 14, were raped and hanged from a tree last week in Uttar Pradesh. A state minister from the party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi fueled the outrage with his comments about rape.
Babulal Gaur, home minister in Madhya Pradesh: “Rape is a social crime. It is sometimes right, sometimes wrong. It is difficult to stop rapes completely, as a rapist does not reveal his intentions before committing the crime. We take action only when it is reported.”
The suspects in the double murder are from the same social caste as the police, who reportedly insulted and refused to help the 12-year-old victim’s father when he reported her disappearance. The victims are from a lower caste.
In the United States, three star athletes have been arrested on charges of raping an 18-year-old girl at a post-prom party in rural Georgia. Authorities say the three men, who were seniors at Calhoun High School, used a foreign object to rape the young woman, “causing tearing and severe trauma.”
A fugitive bank director who faked his own suicide and vanished before being discovered by authorities last year has pleaded guilty in a multi-million-dollar fraud scheme. Aubrey Lee Price is accused of embezzling money from a Georgia bank that later collapsed and of lying to clients as he lost tens of millions of dollars in risky transactions. Price disappeared after leaving suicide notes and was declared legally dead until he was arrested in a traffic stop. He faces up to 30 years in prison.
Federal regulators probing the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history are warning a failed safety device could pose a risk of future catastrophic spills. A report by the Chemical Safety Board cites improper testing and other key issues surrounding the blowout preventer, an emergency device that should have staunched the flow of oil during the 2010 BP oil spill. Devices with the same design are currently in use on at least 30 other drill rigs around the world.
A new study ties the plummeting monarch butterfly population to the rise of genetically modified crops in the United States. Research in the Journal of Animal Ecology finds monarch populations are far more sensitive to the threat of declining milkweed in their U.S. breeding grounds than they are to the loss of their winter habit from deforestation in Mexico. Milkweed plants have declined more than 20 percent in the U.S. corn belt, a key breeding area, largely because of GMO crops, the study found.
New York state has adopted a policy change allowing transgender people to change the gender specified on their birth certificate without undergoing sex reassignment surgery. The shift follows a decade-long campaign by the Silvia Rivera Law Project and other groups, who say it will help transgender people access IDs which accurately reflect their gender and overcome barriers to jobs, housing and services. However, the change currently excludes prisoners, youth and people born in New York City. New York is the sixth state — along with Washington, D.C. — to lift the surgery requirement.