Former secretary of state and current Democratic hopeful Hillary Clinton underwent a marathon day of testimony Thursday before the House Select Committee probing the 2012 attack in Libya, which killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. Throughout the hearing, Clinton defended her record on Benghazi in the face of Republican criticism. Republicans say Clinton ignored pre-attack warnings and mishandled its aftermath, even though seven previous congressional probes have found no wrongdoing. Clinton handled Republican questions with a calm demeanor, and afterward panel chair Trey Gowdy, Republican congressmember of South Carolina, admitted the hearing failed to turn up anything new.
A U.S. soldier has been killed in Iraq during a rescue mission targeting the Islamic State. It’s the first known combat death of an American servicemember in Iraq since the U.S. withdrawal of 2010. U.S. forces officially re-entered Iraq last year under a training and advisory role. Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said the operation was a “unique circumstance,” not a signal of changing tactics.
Peter Cook: “I wouldn’t suggest you should look at this as some change in tactics on our part. This was a unique circumstance in which very close partners of the United States made a specific request for our assistance, and there was a deliberate process to analyze this situation and the circumstances, and that’s when the decision was made to move forward with this operation.”
The United States says the rescue mission freed 70 captives from an ISIL prison, saving them from potential execution.
Russian President Vladimir Putin says the United States could be open to joint cooperation on bombing missions in Syria. On Thursday, Putin said any military partnership with the U.S. could hopefully lead to a diplomatic opening for resolving the Syrian conflict.
Russian President Vladimir Putin: “I hope we will be able to. If the military people can come to an agreement between themselves, and they seem to be the most responsible people, it means that a certain agreement can also be reached at the political level.”
Putin’s comments follow a visit to Moscow by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Russia launched airstrikes in Syria last month, saying it was targeting the self-proclaimed Islamic State, although its attacks have hit Assad’s rebel foes. The group Physicians for Human Rights says Russian airstrikes have damaged six Syrian health facilities this month, killing at least four civilians and wounding six medical staffers. All the strikes were in rebel-held areas.
Secretary of State John Kerry says he’s cautiously optimistic on defusing the recent spate of violence in Israel and the Occupied Territories. Kerry spoke after meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Berlin.
Secretary of State John Kerry: “I come directly from several hours of conversation with Prime Minister Netanyahu, and I would characterize that conversation as one that gave me a cautious measure of optimism that there may be some things that could be, in the next couple of days, put on the table which would have an impact, I hope, on the perceptions of everybody engaged that there is a way to defuse the situation and begin to find a way forward.”
A funeral was held in the occupied West Bank Thursday for veteran Palestinian activist Hashem Azzeh. A medical doctor and olive grower, Azzeh died from inhaling tear gas fired by Israeli troops during a protest in Hebron. He was well known in activist circles for years of organizing against the Israeli occupation and harassment by Jewish settlers.
A more than week-long student protest over college tuition hikes continues in South Africa. On Thursday, thousands of students marched on the headquarters of the ruling African National Congress in Johannesburg. South African President Jacob Zuma has pledged to meet with student leaders and university heads to discuss protesters’ demands. Under the banner “fees must fall,” the demonstrations are among South Africa’s largest since the election of Nelson Mandela in 1994.
President Obama has followed through on a pledge to veto a $612 billion military spending bill passed by congressional Republicans. The measure lets the Pentagon sidestep mandatory “sequestration” budget cuts for the Defense Department, while the cuts remain in effect for domestic programs. The bill would also make it more difficult to close Guantánamo.
President Obama: “I’m going to be sending it back to Congress, and my message to them is very simple: Let’s do this right. We’re in the midst of budget discussions. Let’s have a budget that properly funds our national security as well as economic security. Let’s make sure that we’re able in a constructive way to reform our military spending, to make it sustainable over the long term. And let’s make sure that, in a responsible way, we can draw down the populations in Guantánamo, make sure that the American people are safe, and make sure that we’re not providing the kinds of recruitment tools to terrorists that are so dangerous.”
Republican Congressmember Paul Ryan has formally declared for the House speaker’s race. Ryan confirmed his bid on Thursday after securing support from the far-right House Freedom Caucus. Ryan had said he would only run if he could be assured of wide support from divided Republican factions. The House vote is expected next week.
The Obama administration is warning Puerto Rico faces a humanitarian crisis unless Congress takes steps to address its crushing debt. The White House wants lawmakers to approve bankruptcy protection for the U.S. territory, expand Medicaid and impose a control board to oversee Puerto Rico’s finances. U.S. Treasury counselor Antonio Weiss made the appeal before a Senate panel.
Antonio Weiss: “I can tell you with total confidence that Puerto Rico’s fiscal crisis is escalating and it is very real, and that without federal action it could easily become a humanitarian crisis, as well. Congress should pass legislation, already introduced, that provides Chapter 9 protection to Puerto Rico’s municipalities and public corporations. But Congress should also authorize a broader legal framework that allows for a comprehensive restructuring of all of Puerto Rico’s outstanding debt.”
Another church has been set on fire in St. Louis, the seventh in a spate of arsons over the last two weeks. The blaze at the Shrine of St. Joseph follows deliberate fires at six predominantly black churches this month. St. Joseph is the first that is primarily white. St. Louis Fire Department Chief Dennis Jenkerson said officials are expanding their search for whoever is responsible.
Dennis Jenkerson: “We recognized a pattern a week ago. Like I said, it’s starting to disturb a lot of people. We’ve got a lot of people on the street. We handbilled today up in the north area, making sure people were aware of the rewards that are being offered by various organizations, whether it’s the state of Missouri or Crime Stoppers. So we’ll be back out again in the morning, making sure we’re going to expand our area of focus, because it looks like who’s ever doing this has expanded theirs.”
In Florida, family and friends are seeking answers about a plainclothes officer’s fatal shooting of African-American musician Corey Jones. Police say officer Nouman Raja was in an unmarked cruiser when he stopped to investigate Jones’ car, which had broken down. Police said the officer was “suddenly confronted by an armed subject” and opened fire, killing Jones. Jones’ family says he was carrying a gun but never fired it, and at one point tried to run away. On Thursday, Cory Jones’ brother and father demanded accountability.
Clinton Jones Jr.: “He was the kindest, the closest, the happiest person ever, any person can ever imagine.”
Rev. Clinton Jones Sr.: “So today I need some answers. I need to know why, why my son is gone today. Why?”
Jones had been waiting for a tow truck when Officer Raja approached him. The family says they believe Raja failed to identify himself as an officer. Later on Thursday, the family led a march of hundreds of protesters on Palm Beach Gardens City Hall.
Clinton Jones Jr.: “Everybody knows Corey, and know Corey would never ever, ever, ever, ever go against the law.”
Tyrone Miller: “For me, personally, I don’t believe what they say he did happened. I believe the story is not right. So we’re looking for the truth. We want answers, and we want justice.”
President Obama has voiced support for the Black Lives Matter movement for campaigning over the police treatment of African Americans. Speaking at a panel discussion in Washington, Obama said activists pointing to discrimination against African-American communities are raising a “legitimate issue.”
President Obama: “I think the reason that the organizers use the phrase 'Black Life Matters' was not because they were suggesting nobody else’s lives matter; rather, what they were suggesting was there is a specific problem that is happening in the African-American community that’s not happening in other communities. And that is a legitimate issue that we’ve got to address. We as a society, particularly given our history, have to take this seriously. And one of the ways of avoiding the politics of this and losing the moment is everybody just stepping back for a second and understanding that the African-American community is not just making this up, and it’s not just something being politicized, it’s real, and there’s a history behind it, and we have to take it seriously.”
The Federal Communications Commission has voted to reduce the cost of prison phone calls for inmates and their families. The move imposes rate caps for in-state and long-distance calls. It follows a campaign from advocacy groups seeking to end predatory phone costs for prisoners and their loved ones. Some firms with prison phone contracts have charged up to $14 a minute, on top of other fees. The group Free Press hailed the decision, saying: “[This] will make a difference for millions of people who struggle to stay connected to loved ones. Now they can do it without getting fleeced by unprincipled companies.”
And Mexico is bracing for the worst-ever hurricane recorded in the Western Hemisphere. The Category 5 Hurricane Patricia is expected to make landfall on Mexico’s southern Pacific Coast. Experts warn the storm could be “potentially catastrophic.” The World Meteorological Organization says it’s as strong as Typhoon Haiyan, which killed 6,300 people in the Philippines in 2013.