The United Nations has demanded access to a Palestinian refugee camp in Syria invaded by the self-proclaimed Islamic State, warning of a humanitarian catastrophe. About 18,000 people have been trapped in Yarmouk, just a few miles outside the capital Damascus, the stronghold of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. There were reports of sporadic fighting Monday between Palestinian fighters and ISIL militants. ISIL is reportedly collaborating with rivals from the al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front to maintain its siege of the camp. Before boarding a flight earlier today, Christopher Gunness, spokesperson for the the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, spoke to Democracy Now! and described the situation.
Christopher Gunness: “The situation in Yarmouk is beyond inhumane. The camp has descended into levels of inhumanity which are unknown even in Yarmouk, and this was a society in which women died of childbirth for lack of medicine, and children died of malnutrition. Now ISIS have moved into the camp, and people are cowering in their battered homes, too terrified to go outside. We, in UNRWA, have not had access since the fighting has started, so there’s no U.N. food, no U.N. water, no U.N. medicine. Electricity is in very, very short supply. It is astonishing that the civilized world can stand by while 18,000 civilians, including 3,500 children, can face potential imminent slaughter and do nothing.”
Fierce fighting between Houthi rebels and forces loyal to ousted President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi have continued to rage in southern Yemen, including in Hadi’s former stronghold of Aden. Agence France-Presse reports that more than 140 people were killed in a period of 24 hours. The International Committee of the Red Cross has warned of a dire humanitarian situation and demanded access to besieged areas. According to the World Health Organization, the violence has killed some 540 people and injured about 1,700 in less than three weeks. About 100,000 have been displaced. Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, has asked Pakistan to provide soldiers, heightening the possibility of a ground invasion. We will have more on Yemen after headlines.
Kenya has launched another round of airstrikes in Somalia targeting the militant group al-Shabab after it claimed responsibility for the massacre of 148 people, mainly Christian students, at Kenya’s Garissa University College. Kenyan authorities say they destroyed two al-Shabab camps on Monday. But a resident told the Associated Press the strikes appeared to hit grassland used to graze animals.
Officials in Iraq say investigators have begun combing through mass graves in the city of Tikrit after it was reclaimed from the self-proclaimed Islamic State. The graves may contain the bodies of up to 1,700 soldiers who were captured by the Islamic State as they swept into the city in June.
In the United States, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter has urged Congress to give President Obama fast-track authority to seal the secret Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal currently being negotiated between the United States and 11 [other Pacific Rim] countries. Speaking at Arizona State University ahead of a trip to Asia, Carter touted the Obama administration’s so-called rebalance toward the Asia-Pacific region, saying it should include both new, high-end weaponry and the trade deal, which covers 40 percent of the global economy. Carter compared the deal to a new aircraft carrier.
Ashton Carter: “But TPP also makes strong strategic sense, and it’s probably one of the most important parts of the rebalance, and that’s why it has won such bipartisan support. In fact, you might not expect to hear this from a secretary of defense, but in terms of the rebalance in its broadest sense, TPP is as important to me as another aircraft carrier. It would deepen our alliances and partnerships abroad and underscore our lasting commitment to the Asia-Pacific. And it would help us promote a global order that reflects both our interests and our values.”
Six environmentalists with the group Greenpeace have boarded a Shell oil rig in the middle of the Pacific Ocean to protest Shell’s plans to drill in the Arctic. The activists climbed aboard the Polar Pioneer as it was transported to Seattle before heading out to Alaskan waters. They plan to occupy the rig and unfurl a banner showing the names of people opposed to Arctic drilling.
A new study in the journal Nature Geoscience predicts glaciers in western Canada will shrink by 70 percent by the end of the century as a result of climate change. Researchers say the results may be applicable to other glaciers around the world.
The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board has called for urgent steps to prevent oil train explosions, including the retrofitting or replacing of tank cars over the next five years. A series of explosions in the United States and Canada have highlighted the risks posed by the so-called bomb trains. The Obama administration is expected to release new rules for oil tank cars next month.
Jury deliberations begin today in the trial of accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Defense attorneys have acknowledged Tsarnaev’s role in the bombings, which killed three people, but sought to pin the blame on his older brother, Tamerlan. Tsarnaev could face the death penalty.
The Justice Department has voiced support for a transgender prisoner in Georgia who is suing state prison officials over deprivation of medical care. Imprisoned since 2012, Ashley Diamond has been ordered to strip with male prisoners, has been raped at least seven times, held in solitary confinement for “pretending to be a woman,” and deprived of hormone treatments. In a statement of support, the Justice Department said Diamond has “received a constitutionally inadequate level of medical care for her gender dysphoria.” The news comes just days after a federal judge ordered prison officials in California to allow a transgender prisoner to undergo sex reassignment surgery.
In Illinois, an autopsy has revealed a 17-year-old African-American teen killed by a Zion police officer was shot twice in the back. Justus Howell was shot dead Saturday. Police say they were responding to a report of a fight and possible gunshot, and recovered a handgun at the scene. But witnesses have contradicted that account, saying Howell was unarmed.
A fraternity chapter at the University of Virginia which was accused of hosting an alleged gang rape in Rolling Stone’s retracted article has announced plans to sue the magazine. Following a report from the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism that found multiple reporting and editing errors, Rolling Stone has continued to place blame on the alleged victim at the center of the article, a woman named “Jackie.” Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner told The New York Times she was a “really expert fabulist storyteller” who manipulated the magazine. But Columbia journalism school dean Sheila Coronel said the report placed responsibility on Rolling Stone.
Sheila Coronel: “There were problems of methodology. There were problems of newsroom standards and procedures. Those were the key issues of our report. We don’t believe that in this case 'Jackie' was to blame.”
The New York Times reports presumed Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush inaccurately listed himself as “Hispanic” on a 2009 voter-registration form. Bush tried to laugh off the move Monday, tweeting, “My mistake! Don’t think I’ve fooled anyone.” But the Florida Democratic Party tweeted, “Hey @JebBush, did you know it’s a third degree felony to submit false information on your voter registration form?”
CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou has revealed new details about the CIA’s internal debate over the arrest, rendition and torture of Canadian citizen Maher Arar. Kirakou told The Canadian Press news agency numerous colleagues warned against arresting Arar, saying he was innocent. But Kiriakou said an unnamed female officer insisted on pressing ahead, saying Arar had links to al-Qaeda. Arar was arrested at New York City’s John F. Kennedy International Airport in 2002, while traveling through to Canada after a family vacation. He was sent to Syria, where he spent nearly a year being tortured, interrogated and imprisoned in a “grave-like cell.” Canada formally apologized to Arar and paid a $10 million settlement after an inquiry found he was totally innocent. But the United States, which was responsible for his rendition, has never apologized. Kiriakou, meanwhile, remains under house arrest after revealing the identity of a covert officer to a reporter who did not publish it. Kiriakou exposed the Bush-era torture program and became the only official to be jailed in connection with it.
In New York City, a group of artists have erected a 100-pound bust of National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden atop a monument to Revolutionary War soldiers in a park. Video published by the website Animal New York shows the unidentified artists under cover of night placing the bust on top of a column in Brooklyn’s Fort Greene Park. One of the artists speaks in the video, using voice distortion.
Artist: “If you engage in polite debate, touting your disdain for the way the system is, it kind of just stays at the status quo. Without risk, there really is no reward. We look at this as a gift to the city, but gifts are sometimes not accepted.”
By Monday afternoon, city authorities had covered the statue with a tarp and removed it.
Former New York City labor leader Victor Gotbaum has died at the age of 93. Gotbaum led the country’s largest municipal workers’ union for over two decades, beginning in 1965. Under his leadership, District Council 37 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, or AFSCME, became one of the first unions to publicly oppose the Vietnam War, and saw its membership more than triple. Known for his militant organizing, Gotbaum is also credited with helping to save New York City from financial ruin by striking deals with bankers and City Hall. He died after a heart attack on Sunday.