HAVANA TIMES — We present today’s headline news from Democracy Now!
Syria: Clashes Erupt After Blast Kills Top Officials
Intense clashes are being reported across the Syrian capital of Damascus one day after the bombing that killed three members of President Bashar al-Assad’s inner circle, including his defense secretary, interior minister and brother-in-law. Damascus residents say some of the fighting is now within sight of the presidential palace and near government headquarters.
Israel Blames Iran for Deadly Bombing in Bulgaria
At least five Israeli citizens were killed in Bulgaria on Wednesday when a bomb detonated on their bus. It was the latest in a number of attacks targeting Israeli tourists in foreign countries over the years. Speaking in Israel, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak pointed the finger at Iran.
Ehud Barak: “Several hours ago, we had a terrorist attack in Burgas in Bulgaria on a Israeli tourist bus. We have several people killed and dozens of wounded people. This is clearly a terrorist attack initiated by probably Hezbollah, Hamas, jihad or any other group under the terror auspices of either Iran or other radical Muslim groups.”
Iran has denied involvement in the attack, calling Israel’s charges “ridiculous” and “sensational.”
Massive Iceberg Detaches from Greenland Glacier
An iceberg twice size of Manhattan has broken off from one of Greenland’s two main glaciers, the Petermann Glacier. It was the second time in two years that parts of the Petermann Glacier have broken off after an ice island four times Manhattan’s size cracked apart in August 2010.
U.S. Drought Scorches Crops, Drives Up Food Prices
The worst U.S. drought in more than half a century has sent food prices skyrocketing as millions of acres of Midwest crops endure scorching temperatures. Soybean prices reached a record high Wednesday, and corn prices approached the record as many farmers were forced to plow up desiccated corn fields. More than 60 percent of the continental United States is in a state of drought, with about 1,300 counties across dozens of states now officially declared natural disaster areas. Meat and dairy prices are also expected to rise, and the drought could continue to impact food prices into next year. On Wednesday, the Obama administration called on Congress to restore expired disaster programs to help respond. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack called the drought “the most serious situation” in about a quarter century and said he is praying for rain.
Capitol One to Pay $210 Million Fine for Misleading Customers on Credit Card Fees
The banking giant Capitol One has agreed to pay a fine of $210 million for deceiving customers into paying extra charges on credit cards. Under the scam, Capitol One targeted the unemployed or people with poor credit and misled them to believe additional credit card services were mandatory or free. Most of the money will go toward compensating the bank’s duped customers. The case marked the first enforcement action brought by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, established under the Obama administration in response to the financial crisis.
Admin Officials Sued for Drone Killings of U.S. Citizens in Yemen
The families of three U.S. citizens killed in a U.S. drone strike in Yemen last year have filed suit against the U.S. government. The lawsuit accuses Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, CIA Director David Petraeus, and two military commanders of unlawfully killing Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan in a drone strike, and then al-Awlaki’s teenage son, Abdulrahman, two weeks later. Filing the lawsuit on behalf of the victims’ families, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights say the assassinations were carried out with “vague legal standards, a closed executive process and evidence never presented to the courts.” In a video released in conjunction with the lawsuit’s filing, Abdulrahman’s grandfather, Nasser al-Aulaqi, called for justice in his murder.
Nasser al-Aulaqi: “A small boy being killed by an American drone away from his home, away from his family, and he didn’t get even the best burial we could have hoped for because his body was cut into pieces. So, for me and for my wife and my whole family, we were really in a very sad situation, and we are still suffering until today. So I hope that any American will look to what happened to my grandson as [an] injustice.”
Manning Lawyers Seek OK to Prove Evidence Leak Caused U.S. No Harm
Attorneys for the alleged U.S. Army whistleblower Bradley Manning are seeking a military court’s permission to cite evidence showing the leak, for which he is accused, caused no damage to the United States. On Wednesday, Manning’s attorneys said they should be allowed to present “damage assessment” reports that evaluated the impact of the publication of government diplomatic cables that Manning is accused of providing to WikiLeaks. Manning’s attorneys recently won access to the documents after accusing prosecutors of withholding information that could help Manning’s case. News reports have suggested internal government reviews have found the leak caused minimal damage, contradicting prosecutors’ contention that Manning harmed national security and aided U.S. foes.
Report: 110 African Americans Killed by Police, Security Guards and Vigilantes in 2012
A new report has found at least 110 African Americans have been killed by police, security guards and self-appointed vigilantes since the start of 2012. The group Malcolm X Grassroots Movement says African Americans were executed in “extrajudicial” killings at a rate of roughly one every 40 hours during the first six months of the year. Nearly half the victims were unarmed, while others were alleged to have “weapons” that included a cane and a toy gun. Racial profiling allegedly played a key role, with nearly 40 percent of police accounts citing “suspicious behavior or appearance” or traffic violations as the reason for attempting to detain the person they killed. New York, Texas and Florida were among the states with the highest number of killings. In Florida, where the unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin was shot to death by self-appointed neighborhood guard George Zimmerman, a dozen African Americans were killed.
Zimmerman: Trayvon Martin Killing Was “God’s Plan”; No Regrets
The report comes as George Zimmerman appeared on Fox News Wednesday night for his first nationally televised interview. Speaking to Fox News host Sean Hannity, Zimmerman said he has no regrets for killing Trayvon.
Sean Hannity: “Is there anything you regret? Do you regret getting out of the car to follow Trayvon that night?”
George Zimmerman: “No, sir.”
Sean Hannity: “Do you regret that you had a gun that night?”
George Zimmerman: “No, sir.”
Sean Hannity: “Do you feel you wouldn’t be here for this interview if you didn’t have that gun?”
George Zimmerman: “No, sir. I” —
Sean Hannity: “You feel you would not be here?”
George Zimmerman: “I feel that it was all God’s plan and for me to second-guess it or judge it” —
Sean Hannity: “Is there anything you might do differently, in retrospect, now that time has passed a little bit?”
George Zimmerman: “No, sir.”
Zimmerman also briefly addressed the new allegations made by a female relative that he had molested her over a 10-year period and that he and his family harbored racist views. In his comments, Zimmerman avoided the molestation allegations directly but said he finds it “ironic” that the sole witness to come forward to accuse him of racism is also someone who’s accusing him of molestation.
Former Mubarak VP Omar Suleiman Dies in U.S.
Omar Suleiman, the longtime former intelligence chief of ousted Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak, has died at the age of 76 while undergoing medical treatment in the United States. Suleiman headed Egypt’s intelligence services for more than 18 years and was a close U.S. ally, playing a key role in the Bush administration’s extraordinary rendition program. During the Egyptian uprising last year, Mubarak appointed Suleiman as his first-ever vice president, and Suleiman later tried to run for president after Mubarak’s ouster.
U.K. Panel: U.S. “Vulture Fund” Can’t Collect Massive Sum from DRC
A British government panel has ruled a so-called U.S. “vulture fund” cannot collect a more than $100 million judgment from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Peter Grossman of the firm FG Hemisphere had claimed the money after spending a fraction of the total to buy up an old debt. He is among a number of vulture investors who have demanded African nations pay over half a billion dollars for old debts, for which the investors paid only a few million. But on Wednesday, the British Privy Council granted the Democratic Republic of Congo’s appeal of Grossman’s award. The case was exposed by investigative reporter Greg Palast last year.
Texas Conducts 1st Single-Drug Execution
Texas has carried out its first execution using a single lethal drug instead of three. Thirty-three-year-old Yokamon Hearn was killed Wednesday with a dose of the sedative pentobarbital, despite concerns from death penalty opponents that it takes prisoners longer to die with the single-drug method. Hearn was also killed despite claims by his lawyers he had mental impairments due to fetal alcohol syndrome. He was pronounced dead 25 minutes after the injection began. At least four other states, including Ohio, Arizona, Idaho and Washington, also use a single drug for executions. Earlier this week, Georgia postponed the execution of another death row inmate as it also prepares to execute prisoners using a single drug.
Passenger’s Naked Airport Security Protest Deemed Protected Speech
A man who stripped naked at an airport security checkpoint in Portland, Oregon, earlier this year to oppose airport screening measures has been found not guilty of indecent exposure. John Brennan was arrested and charged at Portland International Airport in April when he was pulled aside after going through a metal detector and a pat-down, prompting him to remove his clothes in protest. His actions came amid mounting criticism over airport security measures, including concerns over the health impacts of full-body scanners used in many airports. On Wednesday, a circuit court judge ruled Brennan’s action was one of protest and, in turn, protected speech.
Muslims Allowed to Worship at Embattled Tennessee Mosque
A federal judge has sided with efforts by Muslims in Tennessee to begin worshipping at an Islamic center and mosque in Murfreesboro, 35 miles outside of Nashville. The Islamic Center of Murfreesboro has come under repeated attacks including arson and vandalism and was denied a critical building permit in June. But on Wednesday, Judge Todd Campbell of Federal District Court in Nashville issued an order granting worshippers access to the mosque in time for Ramadan, which begins on Thursday.
Democrats Drop “Bank of America” from Name of National Convention Site
Democrats organizing the party’s upcoming national convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, have quietly stopped calling the host venue by its name, “Bank of America Stadium.” In fundraising appeals ahead of the September event, Democrats have referred to the site as “Panthers Stadium,” even though Bank of America purchased the sponsorship rights in 2004. The move appears to mark an effort by the Democratic National Committee to distance itself from symbols of the Wall Street bailout like Bank of America after reneging on a pledge to stage the convention without corporate donors.