The Syrian government is continuing its deadly barrage of airstrikes and artillery fire against the rebel-held enclave of Eastern Ghouta, outside the capital Damascus. Aid workers report at least 200 people have been killed over the last 48 hours. Many of the victims are women and children. On Tuesday, the charity UNICEF released a nearly blank statement on the killings, writing, “No words will do justice to the children killed, their mothers, their fathers and their loved ones,” followed by quotation marks and 10 blank lines. State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert called Tuesday for an immediate ceasefire.
Heather Nauert: “We call on all parties to commit to the unconditional de-escalation of violence. Russia must end its support of the Assad regime and its allies. They’re responsible for the attacks, for the dire humanitarian situation in East Ghouta and for the horrendous civilian death toll. The United States supports the United Nations’ demand for a month-long cessation of violence to allow for the unfettered delivery of humanitarian supplies and the urgent medical evacuation of civilians in East Ghouta. The cessation of violence must begin now, and those needing emergency assistance should be allowed to evacuate immediately.”
In Florida, 100 students who survived the deadly shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have arrived in the Florida capital, Tallahassee, to demand action from lawmakers on gun control. This is Alfonso Calderon, one of the students.
Alfonso Calderon: “My friends and the families that are never going to have their kids come back to them again, that motivates me every single day, and it will never be a deterrent, for any reason. Nothing could bring me down, being reminded every single day of the horrific things I saw and, hopefully, no one ever has to see ever again.”
Their arrival came as the Florida Legislature voted down a measure to open debate on banning large-capacity magazines and semiautomatic rifles such as the AR-15 that was used by the shooter, a white former student named Nickolas Cruz. The student activists are planning to march to the Florida Legislature this morning.
Meanwhile, President Trump is calling for a ban on so-called bump stocks, which allow semiautomatic rifles to act like machine guns, capable of firing hundreds of rounds per minute.
President Donald Trump: “Just a few moments ago, I signed a memorandum directing the attorney general to propose regulations to ban all devices that turn legal weapons into machine guns. I expect that these critical regulations will be finalized, Jeff, very soon. The key in all of these efforts, as I said in my remarks the day after the shooting, is that we cannot merely take actions that make us feel like we are making a difference. We must actually make a difference.”
The National Rifle Association heavily lobbied for a rule change on the sale of bump stocks, rather than a congressional ban, following the Las Vegas massacre. Rule changes can be easily reversed and avoid Congress taking up regulations on the sale of bump stocks and other gun control measures. President Trump is also hosting a listening session at the White House today with high school students and teachers who have survived mass shootings. Meanwhile, in Florida, while the Legislature voted down a debate on gun control, it did approve a resolution declaring pornography a health risk, particularly for teenagers.
President Trump has again attacked one of the 19 women who have accused him of sexual harassment and assault, after her story was published in a front-page Washington Post article headlined “Is Anyone Listening?” Rachel Crooks accuses Trump of forcibly kissing her, without her consent, on the lips while she worked as a receptionist in Trump Tower in 2005. On Tuesday, President Trump called her a liar, tweeting, “A woman I don’t know and, to the best of my knowledge, never met, is on the FRONT PAGE of the Fake News Washington Post saying I kissed her (for two minutes yet) in the lobby of Trump Tower 12 years ago. Never happened! Who would do this in a public space with live security…” In response, Crooks called on Trump to release the security camera footage. This is Rachel Crooks recounting the incident at a news conference in December.
Rachel Crooks: “About 12 years ago, as a young receptionist in Trump Tower, I was forcibly kissed by Mr. Trump during our first introduction. Mr. Trump repeatedly kissed my cheeks, and ultimately my lips, in an encounter that has since impacted my life well beyond the initial occurrence, in feelings of self-doubt and insignificance I had. … That some men think they can use their power, position or notoriety to demean and attack women speaks to their character, not ours, which, believe me, is a tough lesson learned.”
Rachel Crooks is now running for a seat in the Ohio state Legislature. Click here to see our full interview with two of Trump’s other accusers.
In more news on sexual harassment and assault, a woman who has accused Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment is calling for his impeachment from the bench. Journalist Angela Wright-Shannon says Thomas repeatedly pressured her to date him and made comments about her breasts when they worked together at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in the mid-1980s. She’s one of multiple women who have accused Thomas of sexual harassment, including renowned law professor Anita Hill.
The co-founder of the fashion brand Guess, Paul Marciano, has stepped down after supermodel Kate Upton accused him of forcibly groping her breasts after a photo shoot in 2010. Guess’s stocks have dropped more than 20 percent since Upton publicly accused Marciano a few weeks ago.
President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner is reportedly facing off against White House Chief of Staff John Kelly over his limited interim security clearances. Kushner has been tasked with overseeing a Middle East peace process, in addition to an array of other high-profile responsibilities, including U.S.-China relations. Yet he is one of dozens of White House officials who have been accessing classified information using limited interim security clearances, as the FBI has refused to grant them full security clearances due to issues in their background checks. Among others denied full security clearance was former Staff Secretary Rob Porter, whose clearances were held up because of serious accusations of domestic abuse against both of his ex-wives. Chief of Staff John Kelly came under massive fire after it was revealed the White House knew for months that domestic violence accusations were holding up Porter’s security clearance. Now Kelly is issuing new guidelines that include revoking top clearances for all officials, including Kushner, whose background checks are still pending.
At the United Nations, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has called for an international conference to restart the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. In his speech, Abbas said the United States could no longer preside over the peace process because it had “contradicted itself and its own commitments and has violated international law.” Last year, President Trump sparked widespread international outrage after he announced the United States was recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
In Bahrain, human rights activist Nabeel Rajab has been sentenced to five years in prison for tweeting about the U.S.-backed, Saudi-led bombing campaign’s killing of civilians in Yemen, and alleged torture in Bahrain’s notorious Jaw prison. Amnesty International said, “This sentence demonstrates the authorities’ ruthless determination to crush all forms of dissent and leaves no room for doubt about the extreme lengths to which they are willing to go to in order to silence peaceful critics.” Rajab has been imprisoned multiple times in recent years for participating in pro-democracy protests and for criticizing the Bahraini government.
The United Nations refugee agency is warning hundreds of thousands of people have been forced from their homes in the Democratic Republic of Congo amid an escalation in violence in the country’s southeast region in recent months. Survivors report killings and rape by armed militias. This is Congolese human rights activist Christine Schuler Deschryver.
Christine Schuler Deschryver: “It’s an economic war, you know, for coltan. That’s something we have in our cellphones and in our computer. And I think like all the countries, you know, like in all the Western countries, they don’t want this war to end, because they want a mess, so they can continue to plunder Congo. And rape was and is still using as terror. If you look at a map and you see where rape are committed, it’s all around mines.”
Back in the United States, the state of Minnesota has reached a $850 million settlement with the company 3M over allegations the company contaminated drinking water by dumping toxic chemicals called PFCs in landfills for decades. The high-profile case was expected to go to trial today. The Minnesota state attorney general says the PFCs caused higher rates of cancer and premature births after it contaminated the drinking water.
And journalism’s prestigious George Polk Awards have been announced. Among the winners were Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey of The New York Times and Ronan Farrow of The New Yorker, who won for exposing Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein’s decades of rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment. Another winner was The Intercept’s Iona Craig, who won for her exposé of a deadly Navy SEAL raid on a village in Yemen. This is Craig, talking about the raid on Democracy Now!
Iona Craig: “There were 26 people in that village who were killed. As you’ve already mentioned, many of those were women and children. That village has essentially been abandoned now, because not only—after that raid happened, not only was the entire village strafed and more than 120 livestock were killed, but the U.S. went back a month later, at the beginning of March, and bombed it for four consecutive nights, both with drone strikes and helicopter gunfire, and killed two more children and several more adults. So the last person that I spoke to who was living there, Sheikh Aziz al Ameri, he then left the village and is now living under trees several miles away.”