U.S. Defense Secretary: Chances of Closing Guantanamo "Very Low"

Photo Courtesy - Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- United States Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said Thursday that the chances of closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba are remote.

“The prospects for closing Guantanamo, as best I can tell, are very, very low, given very broad opposition to doing that here in the Congress,” Gates told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Gates was testifying with Admiral Mike Mullen and answered questions on a variety of topics ranging from Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said on Wednesday that President Obama still remains steadfast about closing the facility.

"The president remains committed to closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay, because as our military commanders have made clear, it's a national security priority to do so," Carney said on his first day as White House press secretary.

Gates said Thursday that the mostly Republican opposition to closing the facility was not entirely without merit.

“One of the things we have discovered over time is that we’re not particularly good at predicting which returnee will be a recidivist,” he said. “Some of those we have considered the most dangerous have not, and some that we have evaluated as not being much of a danger, we’ve discovered in the fight.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio 


Canada Shuts off Internet Access After China-Based Cyber Attack

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(OTTAWA, Canada) -- Officials in Canada have traced a cyber-attack on government servers to China-based computer servers, forcing several agencies to cut Internet access to protect secret files, reports the BBC.

Cyber-security agents say the hackers had gained access to secret data, specifically in a security breach of a civil agency of the national defense department.

The breach forced both the Treasury Board and the finance department to cut Internet access.

Officials in Beijing Thursday denied any involvement in the attacks, which were first discovered in January. Canadian officials are working to determine whether the attacks actually originated in China, or if they were routed though the country.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Peruvian Potatoes Sent to 'Doomsday Vault?'

File Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(PERU) - Several species of Peruvian potatoes, some that date back to the Inca Empire, are being sent to a figurative "doomsday vault" amid fears that several varieties are at risk of disappearing, reports the BBC.

The ice vault, located inside a mountian in the Arctic circle, will soon house samples of around 1,500 varieties of potatoes from farmers in the country who want to protect certain South American highland species.

"Peruvian potato culture is under threat," Alejandro Argumedo, a plant scientist involved in the project, told the BBC. "Sending seeds to the [vault] will help us to provide a valuable back-up collection - the vault was built for the global community and we are going to use it."

The crops will join other samples of the world's food supply that have been sent to the Svalbard seed vault  to be protected from natural and human disaster.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Biggest Sun Storm in Five Years Passes Earth

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- A giant solar flare -- the biggest in four years -- leapt from the face of the sun on Monday and sent masses of charged particles outward into space, including toward Earth, according to NASA.

The radiation from Monday's flare, known as a Coronal Mass Ejection, was expected to pass Earth on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. The charged particles will speed by at around 560 miles per second.

However, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Space Weather Prediction Center in Boulder, Colo., says the Earth is well-protected by its atmosphere and magnetic field.

According to NOAA, when solar radiation picks up, the most dramatic effect is usually a brightening of the aurora borealis, the famous northern lights in the sky over Arctic regions.

A 2008 National Academy of Sciences report warned we are not prepared for the biggest -- albeit rarest -- solar storms, which it said could cause 20 times more economic damage than Hurricane Katrina.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


U.S. To Provide $150 Million to Egypt, Secretary Clinton Says

Photo Courtesy - The State Dept(WASHINGTON) -- United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced Thursday the U.S. would be providing $150 million in aid to help Egypt work into a new government following the departure of former President Hosni Mubarak.

Clinton made the announcement following a closed-door meeting with senators to bring them up to speed on recent events in the region. She said the aid would alow “to put ourselves in a position to support the transition there and assist with their economic recovery.”

“It’s very clear there is a great deal of work ahead to ensure an orderly democratic transition. It’s also clear that Egypt will be grappling with immediate and long term economic challenges. The United States stands ready to provide assistance to Egypt to advance its efforts,” Clinton said.

Although the State Department could not immediately announce where the money would come from, it was made clear that these funds would be reapportioned from another part of the department's budget.

Clinton made the announcement alongside Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General James Cartwight. Two administration officials will be traveling to Egypt next week to speak with Egyptian officials about how the funds will be used.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


As Tensions Rise in Bahrain, US & Britain Speak Out 

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Following a night with a military lashout at anti-government protesters that left three dead and over 200 injured, leaders from the United States and European officials spoke out Thursday against the violence in Bahrain.

Opposition leaders have said Bahrain is a "country in crisis" and should not be treated differently from Egypt. They say the United States needs to emphasize zero tolerance for use of force, and must push for reform through peaceful activity.

"The United States strongly opposes the use of violence in Bahrain," an administration official tells ABC News. "Wherever they are, people have certain universal rights -- including the right to peaceful assembly. We continue to urge the government of Bahrain to show restraint in responding to peaceful protests."

State Department officials also indicated that Secretary Clinton would be calling Bahrainian officials to urge restraint and try to offer guidance as to how to proceed.

The United States has a significant military presence in the country, along with concerns over the
possible democratic future of the nation.

There are 4,200 military personnel, but there are also additional DOD civilians and contractors on the base who boost the total number of Americans working there to 6,100.  
The sentiment for a peaceful transition was echoed by officials in Europe, as well.

"This morning I have spoken to the Bahraini Foreign Minister and our Ambassador has spoken to the Bahraini Minister of the Interior to stress the need for peaceful action to address the concerns of protesters, the importance of respect for the right to peaceful protest and for freedom of expression. It is also essential that all those injured have immediate access to medical treatment. We also urge all sides to avoid violence and the police to exercise restraint," said William Hague, England's Foreign Secretary.

"The High Representative strongly deplores the loss of life and violence and calls for calm and restraint in this situation. She also calls on the Bahraini authorities to fully respect and protect the fundamental rights of their citizens, including the right to assemble peacefully.  The peaceful expression of people's concerns should be met through dialogue," said a representative for European Union High Representative Catherine Ashton.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is expected to issue further word on the matter Thursday afternoon.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


'Freedom Fever' Spreading in Middle East

Photo Courtesy - ABC NewsReporters Notebook

(NEW YORK) -- As protests unfold Thursday in the Middle East, we are seeing a freedom fever spreading across the region that will not easily be broken.

It is happening for many different reasons in different parts of the world but with an important similarity: the demand for freedom.

They have shaken off the shackles of fear.  They are coming out.  How far it goes in each different place is uncertain at the moment.  But unless the militaries do come in and really crack down, these protests will continue.

In Iran, you saw on Monday that they did crack down but nonetheless they came out in the hundreds of thousands.

In Bahrain, we are seeing protests that have been at times quite violent.  And while Bahrain's protests are similar to Egypt, there are some important differences.

In Bahrain, we have a Shiite majority that is demonstrating for more rights.  For many years they have been living under a Sunni minority in power and what they want are more economic rights, more rights to be in a position of power.

The Bahraini royal family is Sunni and very close to the U.S.  In fact, the U.S. 5th fleet is there.  Bahrain is pro-Western and they had just recently been touting their progress in parliamentary and free assembly.  The Sunni king even went on television and allowed people to protest peacefully; so this crackdown is quite bad.

Over in Libya, where 14 people are already dead in protests this week and demonstrators are calling for a day of rage in several cities, again we see a leader who has been there for the last 40 years -- Moammar Gadhafi.

And then, in Yemen, we are seeing the seventh consecutive day of protests.  There, they did get the attention of the president -- another key U.S. ally in the fight against al Qaeda.  He said he wouldn't run again for election and his son wouldn't run.  But now protesters are upping their demands for regime change.

Will we see regime change as we saw last week in Egypt?  It is too soon to say.

These countries are different, but by and large the protesters are there for the same reason: freedom, the ability to assemble, speak and choose their leaders.

The crucial differentiator will be, as ever, the willingness of the authorities to crackdown and crush the dissent. 

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Police Attack Sleeping Bahrain Protesters in Pearl Square

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(MANAMA, Bahrain) -- At least four people were killed and hundreds more wounded Wednesday after police swept in to disperse protesters camped out in Pearl Square in Manama, Bahrain's capital.  The police descended on the demonstrators -- many of whom were sleeping -- with rubber bullets, tear gas and billy clubs.

The protesters have occupied Pearl Square for three days demanding jobs, the release of political prisoners, and constitutional reforms with hopes to end the monarchy that has ruled the island nation for 200 years.

ABC News correspondent Miguel Marquez was among those beaten during the military crackdown at Pearl Square.  He is the latest Western journalist to be attacked while covering protests in the region.  While being hit with billy clubs, Marquez yelled, "Journalist, journalist!" trying to show that he was not a protester. 

He was on the phone to ABC News in New York when it happened.

"There was a canister that looked like -- No! No! No!," he said as the police moved in.

"Hey! I'm a journalist here! I'm going! I'm going! I'm going! I'm going! ... I'm hit," he said. "I just got beat rather badly by a gang of thugs. I'm now in a marketplace near our hotel where people are cowering in buildings." He paused. "I mean, these people are not screwing around. They're going to clear that square, tonight, ahead of any protest, on Friday. The government clearly does not want this to get any bigger."

After the attack by what he called "thug police," Marquez said he was not badly injured.

King Hamad Al Khalifa took the extraordinary step of going on television to call for an investigation into the deaths and ordered police to back off.

"The result," said Marquez, "thousands of protesters, who say they won't leave the square until they get what they want."

"On Friday there is a call for an even bigger demonstration. Organizers expect tens of thousands -- maybe more than 100,000 people to show up. At this point, this protest is only growing stronger."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Pakistan Court Adjourns Raymond Davis' Immunity Case

Photo Courtesy - Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images(LAHORE, Pakistan) -- The decision on whether Raymond Davis, the U.S. government official accused of killing two Pakistani men in Lahore last month, will receive diplomatic immunity will have to wait another three weeks.

Deputy Attorney General Naveed Inayat Malik, representing Pakistan's government, asked Lahore High Court Chief Justice Ijaz Ahmad Chaudhry for the extension Thursday in order to prepare their case on whether Davis qualifies for immunity.  Chaudhry granted the extra time, saying the case is premature until the government can establish Davis' status.

The case is now adjourned until March 14.

At Thursday's hearing, a number of lawyers argued that the name Raymond Allen Davis is an alias and that his passport has been issued under a false name.  They prayed before the court that, therefore, his picture should be placed on record and that Davis should be placed on the Exit Control List, which prohibits him from leaving the country.

The lawyers asked why an espionage case had not been registered against Davis, and also prayed for additional cases to be filed, including a case against Davis for illegally entering Pakistan.

They also argued that former Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, who recently met with Sen. John Kerry, should also be summoned to the court.  Qureshi had stated that Davis does not enjoy immunity and is willing to appear before the court in this regard.
One of the emotionally charged lawyers argued that Davis has access to alcohol, a cell phone, a television and other things of pleasure, and said these commodities should be stopped immediately and that Davis should be treated like an ordinary prisoner.

Davis is now in a judicial lock up in Lahore.  He has been placed on the Exit Control List, the judge confirmed.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


US Officials: Immigration Agents Were Targeted in Mexican Ambush

Jaime Zapata. Photo Courtesy - U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement(MEXICO CITY) -- Based on the evidence, two U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agents were deliberately targeted in a shooting in Mexico Tuesday that left one dead and the other wounded.

U.S. officials say that ICE Special Agent Jaime Zapata and a fellow agent were attacked by ten gunmen while traveling between Mexico City and Monterrey.  The car they were driving bore diplomatic license plates.

Zapata, who was part of the ICE Human Smuggling and Trafficking Unit as well as the Border Enforcement Security Task Force, suffered fatal wounds, while the other agent is expected to fully recover.

Their armored vehicle was tailed by others, with one vehicle cutting them off in an ambush.

In response to the shooting, believed to be the work of Mexican drug cartels, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Attorney General Holder said they were creating a task force headed by the FBI to work with the Mexican government in finding the assailants.

Zapata is the first U.S. agent slain in Mexico since a Drug Enforcement Agency officer was murdered in 1985.

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