Blog Posts by Olivier Knox, Yahoo News

  • Clinton scolds Pakistan for sentencing doctor who helped find bin Laden

    Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Thursday sharply criticized Pakistan for its "unjust and unwarranted" treatment of Pakistani doctor Shakil Afridi, sentenced to prison for 33 years on treason charges for his pivotal role in helping to hunt down Osama bin Laden.

    "The United States does not believe there is any basis for holding Dr. Afridi. We regret both the fact that he was convicted and the severity of his sentence," Clinton said as she met with New Zealand Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully.

    "His help, after all, was instrumental in taking down one of the world's most notorious murderers. That was clearly in Pakistan's interests as well as ours and the rest of the world," she said.

    The doctor, 48, was reportedly sentenced to 33 years in prison and fined 320,000 Pakistani rupees, equivalent to about $3,477, by a tribal court.

    Afridi had been accused of running a fake hepatitis B vaccination program, collecting DNA samples reportedly used by U.S. intelligence officers to track bin Laden to Abbottabad, where Navy SEALs killed him in a raid on his compound last year.

    "This action by Dr. Afridi to help bring about the end of the reign of terror designed and executed by bin Ladin was not in any way a betrayal of Pakistan.  And we have made that very well known and we will continue to press it with the government of Pakistan," Clinton said. "We are raising it and we will continue to do so because we think that his treatment is unjust and unwarranted."

    The White House echoed Clinton's remarks, saying it saw "no basis" for his detention. "I think it's an important point that any assistance rendered by anyone in the effort to bring Osama bin Laden to justice was assistance not against Pakistan, but against al-Qaida and against Osama bin Laden," spokesman Jay Carney told reporters aboard Air Force One.

    In retaliation for the sentence, the Senate Appropriations Committee voted Thursday to cut aid to Pakistan by $33 million—$1 million per year of his sentence—Agence France-Presse reported.

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  • Obama campaign recalls Romney’s ‘corporations are people’ comment

    President Barack Obama returns to the fairgrounds in the battleground state of Iowa on Thursday—and his campaign wants you to remember it as the place where Mitt Romney made his famous declaration that "corporations are people, my friend."

    The Obama campaign invited supporters to the president's campaign rally with a 34-second video that stars Romney (Obama never appears) in his Aug. 11, 2011, exchange with hecklers at the fair.

    "We can raise taxes on people," Romney says, only to be cut off with a cry of "corporations."

    "Corporations are people, my friend," the former Massachusetts governor replies. "No they're not," someone shouts. "Of course they are," Romney shoots back. "Everything corporations earn ultimately goes to people. Where do you think it goes?"

    Obama was due to speak at the fairgrounds at 6:55 p.m. local time.

    "See you there," his campaign video says.

    "Instead of spending the last three years making good on his campaign promises, President Obama has presided over an economy where millions of middle-class families are still struggling—and all he has to offer now are tired political attacks," countered Romney campaign spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg, who dismissed what she called Obama's "flailing attacks."

    "Mitt Romney is offering voters a positive vision for our country, and he will take action on day one of his presidency to get our economy moving again," she said in an email message to Yahoo News.

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  • Obama touts support for gay rights in Jane Lynch-narrated video

    Jane Lynch narrates. Lady Gaga claps. Barney Frank has a cameo. Same-sex couples embrace. President Barack Obama's reelection campaign released a new ad on Wednesday to court lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) voters.

    The video has playful moments. After Lynch says that Obama "counted us as friends," the spot features Obama speaking to the Human Rights Campaign's annual dinner in October 2011, telling them he held "talks with your leader, Lady Gaga. She was wearing 16-inch heels." The pop songstress is shown clapping.

    It also has some somber moments. Lynch says that in 2008, "we elected a man who understood our struggles," and the video cuts to Obama's message for the "It Gets Better" anti-bullying campaign, which was a response to the suicides of several teens picked on for being gay.

    Obama, the first sitting president to support same-sex marriage, credits "family and friends" for his evolution on gay rights as the video shows a photograph of him talking to Democratic Representative Barney Frank.

    "The fight for LGBT rights is consistent with that most important part of America's character, which is to constantly expand opportunity and fairness to everybody," Obama says in the ad. The president abruptly announced his backing for same-sex marriage on May 9 after Vice President Biden declared his support in a television interview a few days earlier.

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  • Obama: In Libya, U.S. ‘led from the front’

    In a wide-ranging, campaign-style rebuttal of Republican attacks on his handling of world affairs, President Barack Obama said on Wednesday that "exceptional" America had "led from the front" in the Libyan war.

    Delivering the commencement speech at the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Obama was clearly taking aim at conservative criticisms that he does not believe in American exceptionalism and that he has settled for a "lead from behind" strategy in Libya and elsewhere.

    Obama recited some of what he considers his top foreign policy achievements, including "preventing a massacre in Libya with an international mission in which the United States—and our Air Force—led from the front."

    "The United States has been, and will always be, the one indispensable nation in world affairs," he told the cadets. "America is exceptional."

    "I see an American Century because no other nation seeks the role that we play in global affairs, and no other nation can play the role that we play in global affairs," Obama said.

    "No other nation has sacrificed more—in treasure, in the lives of our sons and daughters—so that these freedoms could take root and flourish around the world," the president said. "And no other nation has made the advancement of human rights and dignity so central to its foreign policy."

    Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney has repeatedly made an issue on the campaign trail of Obama's relationship to "American exceptionalism."

    "Our president doesn't have the same feelings about American exceptionalism that we do," Romney said as he stumped in Wisconsin in March. "And I think over the last three or four years, some people around the world have begun to question that."

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  • Obama aides gave Hollywood team rare CIA, Pentagon access on bin Laden raid info

    Barely one month after Navy SEALs staged the daring raid that killed Osama bin Laden, Hollywood came knocking at the Pentagon. "Hurt Locker" screenwriter Mark Boal's late-night June 5, 2011, email to a Defense Department spokesman led to unlocked doors at the Pentagon, the White House and the CIA—even getting him access to a SEAL planner closely tied to the raid. The remarkable cooperation on the development of a movie about the raid has a top congressional Republican crying foul and angrily asking whether administration officials inappropriately shared the nation's secrets. The White House denies any wrongdoing.

    The conservative activist group Judicial Watch obtained reams of documents related to the filmmakers' access with a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed earlier this year. The movie, tentatively titled "Zero Dark Thirty," is scheduled for release in December 2012.

    Boal and Kathryn Bigelow, who directed the Oscar-winning "Hurt Locker," sat down on July 15, 2011, with a handful of Pentagon officials, including Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Michael Vickers. According to a transcript of the meeting, Vickers simultaneously offered up the SEAL planner and warned that the Pentagon couldn't seem too forthcoming because of the repeated official warnings against talking to the media. Specifically, Vickers said, Adm. William McRaven, the head of the Joint Special Operations Command and the man in charge of the May 2011 raid, wanted to avoid the appearance of a double standard.

    "Now, on the operators side, Adm McRaven and Adm Olson do not want to talk directly, because it's just a bad, their [sic] just concerned as commanders of the force and they're telling them all the time—don't you dare talk to anybody, that it's just a bad example if it gets out—even with all sorts of restrictions and everything," Vickers explained to Boal and Bigelow.

    Instead, "the basic idea is they'll make a guy available who was involved from the beginning as a planner; a SEAL Team 6 Operator and Commander," Vickers said.

    "That's dynamite, by the way, " Boal replied, in a transcript of the exchange, one of the documents Judicial Watch posted online.

    "That's incredible," added Bigelow.

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  • Obama spokesman warily welcomes reported nuclear deal with Iran

    The White House on Tuesday warily welcomed word that the United Nations' nuclear watchdog agency was close to a breakthrough agreement with Iran to allow international inspectors to get a look at key sites in Tehran's nuclear program, which world powers say is a secret effort to obtain atomic weapons. Spokesman Jay Carney said the international community would keep tightening tough economic sanctions on Iran.

    "We will continue to pressure Tehran, continue to move forward with the sanctions that will be coming online as the year progresses, and we expect those to have the kind of effect on Iran in terms of making it clear to the regime what the price of a continued failure to meet its obligations will mean for that country and for its economy," he said.

    Still, Carney told reporters that the possible deal between the Islamic republic and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was "a step forward" in diplomatic efforts to end the tense standoff. President Barack Obama pointedly said that "all options are on the table" -- diplomatic talk for not ruling out the use of military force.

    "The president has made clear that there is not an infinite amount of time here for the Iranians to act.  That's why it is so important for them to take seriously these negotiations, to take seriously the opportunity created here for Iran to rejoin the community of nations if the leadership so chooses to," Carney said at his daily briefing.

    "We will make judgments about Iran's behavior based on actions, not just promises or agreements," he stressed.

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  • Obama spokesman praises departing ambassador to Afghanistan

    Veteran diplomat Ryan Crocker's decision to step down as the United States ambassador to Afghanistan will not derail President Barack Obama's strategy there, White House press secretary Jay Carney said on Tuesday.

    "That strategy will continue, obviously. The leadership team is strong and the president looks forward to the further implementation of his strategy," Carney told reporters.

    Obama's strategy -- endorsed by NATO -- calls for training and equipping Afghanistan's army and police, giving them the lead in combat operations by mid-2013. NATO's combat troops will withdraw by the end of 2014, though the alliance is expected to play a role advising and training Afghan security forces beyond that point.

    Carney stressed that Obama was "enormously grateful" for Crocker's decision to come out of retirement in 2011 to accept the post. He also praised the "extraordinary job" the envoy had done in Kabul and the "hugely valuable" work of a long career in places like Beirut, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

    Crocker's decision to leave came shortly after the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, Cameron Munter, announced that he would step down. This changing of the diplomatic guard comes at a time when NATO has ratified plans to withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of 2012, and when relations between Washington and Islamabad are sorely strained.

    The American embassy in Kabul said earlier on its official Twitter feed that Crocker had announced his plans "with regret."

    The soft-spoken but steely diplomat, 62, cited health reasons for his departure.

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  • Obama daughters’ school hit with prank email about sex, contraception

    The upscale Washington private school that counts Sasha and Malia Obama among its students was hit Tuesday with a prank email advising parents that, among other things, their children would receive "a voucher that may be redeemed for their choice of contraception" at the prom this year.

    Washingtonian magazine broke the news of the fake message, which purported to be a missive sent from the Sidwell Friends School administration. It is unclear how many families at the Quaker day school received the message, which was addressed to "Parents of the Sidwell Friends School Community."

    Contacted by Yahoo News, the school had no immediate comment. The person designated to handle media inquiries, Ellis Turner, was unavailable. Washingtonian said upper-school principal Lee Palmer had emailed parents to disavow the message as a fake.

    Among the gems in the prank message, which Washingtonian reprinted in full:

    • "With the influence of today's media—often as morally corrosive as it is entertaining—many Sidwell students believe that it is OK to engage in mature sexual relationships at a young age, and even at school."
    • The school will ensure "availability of free condoms in all restrooms and distribution of condoms at school dances, sporting events, theatre productions, and other school-sponsored activities."
    • Regarding the prom: "As students board the chartered buses that will transport them from Sidwell Friends to the Four Seasons Hotel, they will each receive a voucher that may be redeemed for their choice of contraception at the conclusion of the Prom and After-Party event. This option will be provided free of charge."
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  • GOP anti-Bain quotes used in ad from pro-Obama super PAC

    One day after President Barack Obama vowed to attack Mitt Romney's private equity record through to November, a super PAC supporting his re-election unleashed a new ad that enlists the former Massachusetts governor's erstwhile primary rivals to do just that.

    There's Newt Gingrich, lumping Romney in with financiers who "loot companies, leave behind broken families, broken towns, people on unemployment." Here's Rick Perry, hitting those who "wait until they see a distressed company and then they swoop in and you know pick the carcass clean and then fly away." Jon Huntsman, seizing on Romney's out-of-context quote that he likes to fire people? Sure. Why not? Didn't get it the first time? Here's Perry weighing in against "vulture capitalists." John Brabender, Rick Santorum's chief strategist, also criticizes Romney.

    Former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin has a cameo taken from a Fox News Channel appearance in which she calls on Romney to substantiate his claim to have created 100,000 jobs while at Bain Capital. "That's fair, that's not negative campaigning," she says. "That's fair to get a candidate to be held accountable."

    Gingrich, who has swung from being one of Romney's chief antagonists over Bain to endorsing him, predicted in an interview with CNN late Monday that Obama's attacks on Bain would fail.

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  • NATO clarifies Afghan attack figure

    It sounded like an eye-popping figure. It also turns out to have been a misunderstanding.

    Briefing reporters at the NATO Summit in Chicago on Sunday, Gen. John Allen was describing how the NATO-led forces he commands in Afghanistan, and their local counterparts, have adapted to so-called "green-on-blue" attacks by Afghanistan military or police on alliance troops. He talked about expanded screening of local recruits and a deeper Afghan intelligence presence at training and recruitment centers.

    And then Allen said: "Now, there's a good-news story here, and that is that the Afghans have arrested more than 160 individuals in the last several months that they believe could have been in the throes of planning for an attack on ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] forces."

    Because of the context, Yahoo News concluded that Allen was saying the 160 people arrested were insiders planning attacks, which sounded much more alarming than reassuring. But ISAF spokesman Col. Gary Kolb

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