Pope’s staff decline to confirm or deny La Repubblica claims linking ‘Vatileaks’ affair and discovery of ‘blackmailed gay clergy’
A potentially explosive report has linked the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI to the discovery of a network of gay prelates in the Vatican, some of whom – the report said – were being blackmailed by outsiders.
The pope’s spokesman declined to confirm or deny the report, which was carried by the Italian daily newspaper La Repubblica.
The paper said the pope had taken the decision on 17 December that he was going to resign – the day he received a dossier compiled by three cardinals delegated to look into the so-called “Vatileaks” affair.
Last May Pope Benedict’s butler, Paolo Gabriele, was arrested and charged with having stolen and leaked papal correspondence that depicted the Vatican as a seething hotbed of intrigue and infighting.
According to La Repubblica, the dossier comprising “two volumes of almost 300 pages – bound in red” had been consigned to a safe in the papal apartments and would be delivered to the pope’s successor upon his election.
The newspaper said the cardinals described a number of factions, including one whose members were “united by sexual orientation”.
In an apparent quotation from the report, La Repubblica said some Vatican officials had been subject to “external influence” from laymen with whom they had links of a “worldly nature”. The paper said this was a clear reference to blackmail.
It quoted a source “very close to those who wrote [the cardinal's report]” as saying: “Everything revolves around the non-observance of the sixth and seventh commandments.”
The seventh enjoins against theft. The sixth forbids adultery, but is linked in Catholic doctrine to the proscribing of homosexual acts.
La Repubblica said the cardinals’ report identified a series of meeting places in and around Rome. They included a villa outside the Italian capital, a sauna in a Rome suburb, a beauty parlour in the centre, and a former university residence that was in use by a provincial Italian archbishop.
Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, said: “Neither the cardinals’ commission nor I will make comments to confirm or deny the things that are said about this matter. Let each one assume his or her own responsibilities. We shall not be following up on the observations that are made about this.”
He added that interpretations of the report were creating “a tension that is the opposite of what the pope and the church want” in the approach to the conclave of cardinals that will elect Benedict’s successor. Another Italian daily, Corriere della Sera, alluded to the dossier soon after the pope announced his resignation on 11 February, describing its contents as “disturbing”.
The three-man commission of inquiry into the Vatileaks affair was headed by a Spanish cardinal, Juli n Herranz. He was assisted by Cardinal Salvatore De Giorgi, a former archbishop of Palermo, and the Slovak cardinal Jozef Tomko, who once headed the Vatican’s department for missionaries.
Pope Benedict has said he will stand down at the end of this month; the first pope to resign voluntarily since Celestine V more than seven centuries ago. Since announcing his departure he has twice apparently referred to machinations inside the Vatican, saying that divisions “mar the face of the church”, and warned against “the temptations of power”.
La Repubblica’s report was the latest in a string of claims that a gay network exists in the Vatican. In 2007 a senior official was suspended from the congregation, or department, for the priesthood, after he was filmed in a “sting” organised by an Italian television programme while apparently making sexual overtures to a younger man.
In 2010 a chorister was dismissed for allegedly procuring male prostitutes for a papal gentleman-in-waiting. A few months later a weekly news magazine used hidden cameras to record priests visiting gay clubs and bars and having sex.
The Vatican does not condemn homosexuals. But it teaches that gay sex is “intrinsically disordered”. Pope Benedict has barred sexually active gay men from studying for the priesthood.
State’s entire supply of pentobarbital runs out on March 1 with Georgia seeking permission from courts to block legal delays
The state of Georgia is scrambling for legal permission to proceed with two scheduled executions before its supply of the drug that would be used to kill the prisoners reaches its expiration date on 1 March.
Georgia has death warrants currently served on Warren Hill and Andrew Cook, convicted murderers who have been on death row since 1991 and 1995 respectively. Hill’s death warrant runs until 26 February and Cook’s until 28 February – the final day before the state’s stock of pentobarbital runs out.
The attorney general of Georgia – the state’s chief prosecutor – is hurriedly trying to overturn stays of execution that have been imposed this week on the Hill and Cook executions. The courts intervened after it was found that pentobarbital was being ordered by the corrections department for use as a lethal injection without a prescription from a doctor – a breach of federal rules over the distribution of a controlled substance.
The attempt to execute Warren Hill, pictured, has provoked international condemnation because the prisoner has been diagnosed as intellectually disabled. A federal appeals court has also blocked the execution to allow time to consider the disability issue, and on Thursday the US supreme court denied Georgia’s request to overturn the stay.
Georgia confirmed to the Guardian that its entire supply of pentobarbital expires on 1 March. The expiration date leaves the state in a quandary: it still has 94 men and one woman on death row, including Hill and Cook, but with no obvious means by which to execute them.
A spokeswoman for the department of corrections insisted that it anticipated “it will be able to obtain sufficient supplies of the drugs necessary to carry out the court ordered lethal injection process.” But just how that could be done is not obvious.
Anti-death penalty campaigners are scathing about the unseemly haste with which Georgia appears to rushing to beat the deadline. “This highlights the nastiness of the process that the AG should be racing to kill prisoners ahead of an expiration date,” said Sara Totonchi, director of the Southern Center for Human Rights.
Georgia’s difficulties procuring execution drugs is a reflection of the gradual stranglehold that is being put on the US death penalty by authorities and companies around the world refusing to act as accomplices in the death sentence. The European Commission, following unilateral action by the UK, has imposed restrictions on the export of medicines to all US corrections departments.
As a result of the European squeeze, Hospira, the only US manufacturer of sodium thiopental, an anaesthetic that was used widely in the triple cocktail of lethal injections, ceased production in 2011. That, in turn, forced states including Georgia to revise their death protocols, shifting to a single injection of pentobarbital.
But now supplies of pentobarbital are also running out. One of the leading manufacturers of the drug, the Danish firm Lundbeck, has introduced tough restrictions on the distribution of the drug to prevent it falling into the hands of US executioners.
As legal routes for the procurement of medical drugs have been successively shut down, several of the 33 states that still practice the death penalty have resorted to shady methods for acquiring them. Georgia was exposed in 2011 as having been one of the states that bought lethal injection drugs from Dream Pharma, an unlicensed company that operated out of a driving school in west London.
Other corrections departments have looked to India for their supplies.
Maya Foa, an expert on execution drugs at the human rights group Reprieve, said that at the heart of the issue was a fundamental principle “that medicines should be used to save lives, not end them. The underhand, sordid practices we have seen in states trying to get hold of these drugs exposes their absolute disregard for human dignity.”
As Georgia struggles to find new sources of pentobarbital or alternatives, death penalty abolitionists will be watching closely for any signs that they are turning to compounding pharmacies to make up the drugs for them. In October, South Dakota executed Eric Robert using a batch of pentobarbital that it had obtained from a local pharmacy.
Tests that were done on the batch showed that it was contaminated with fungus, in an echo of last year’s outbreak of fungal meningitis that was tracked down to a compounding center in Massachusetts.
Court rejects child killer’s appeal for conditional release after his mother, Jeanine Dutroux, 78, warns her son will murder again
Belgium’s most notorious child killer, Marc Dutroux, will not be released from prison early, after a court rejected his request to be placed under house arrest.
The court’s decision came shortly after his mother, Jeanine Dutroux, 78, publicly called for him to remain in jail, telling Le Soir newspaper she was “certain he will start again” if freed.
It was the first time she had spoken since her son was convicted nine years ago of kidnapping and raping six girls, four of whom died.
“Marc is not ready to be released because he is still trying to blame others for what he did. I am certain he will start again. He has no sense of reality. He’s a repeat offender in his soul, as he has already proven throughout his life,” she told the paper.
She added: “Sooner or later he will be released, but I hope to be no longer in this world when that happens.”
Dutroux, 56, was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2004 for the kidnap and rape of six girls between June 1995 and 1996, and for the murder of four of them.
Belgian law allowed him to request conditional release on 30 April, when he will have served a third of his 45-year prison term, including the time spent in prison awaiting trial.
Dutroux, who was arrested in 1996, insisted he was no longer a danger and wanted to be released under house arrest with the condition that he wears an electronic bracelet.
The prospect of his release provoked outrage in Belgium, which is still affected by what many consider to be the worst sexual crimes in its history.
As well as outrage over the nature of Dutroux’s crimes, there was public fury over mistakes in the investigation. Belgian police had visited the property where Dutroux was holding two of his eight-year-old victims without finding them. The girls were later found to have starved to death.
In 1998 the killer escaped during a court visit. Although he was quickly recaptured, the country’s police chief, justice minister and interior minister resigned over the blunders.
In August last year there were angry demonstrations when Dutroux’s ex-wife Michelle Martin, convicted as an accomplice, was given a conditional release after serving 16 years of a 30-year sentence She now lives in a convent.
Several of Dutroux’s victims have protested to the European court of human rights against the country’s rules on conditional release of prisoners.
Laetitia Delhez, held for six days by Dutroux in 1996 when she was 14, her mother and Jean-Denis Lejeune, whose daughter Julie was found dead in Dutroux’s home, want courts to be forced to consult victims before agreeing to the release of sex offenders.
Dutroux and Martin were jailed in the 1980s over the kidnap and rape of five young girls. They were freed early on good behaviour but went on to attack again.
According to Belgian newspapers citing official documents, Dutroux’s appeal involved several issues: the likelihood that he would not find work, the question of where he would live, the risk that he would contact his victims given his “lack of compassion towards them” – Belgian newspapers reported that Dutroux told detectives he had “treated the little ones with humanity” – and the risk that he would reoffend.
Knowing that he is unlikely to find anyone to employ him, Dutroux has said he wants to become a freelance plumber or panel beater if released.
Remarks by senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham signal an end to Republican blockade of defence secretary nomination
Republican opponents to president Barack Obama’s pick for defence secretary indicated on Sunday that the time for blocking the nomination was over, despite insisting that Chuck Hagel remained unsuitable for the Pentagon.
“No, I don’t believe he’s qualified,” Senator John McCain told NBC’s Meet the Press. “But I don’t believe that we should hold up his nomination any further.”
Meanwhile on Fox News Sunday, Senator Lindsay Graham – who alongside McCain had spearheaded the campaign to block Hagel – said he had now accepted a denial from the defence secretary nominee over remarks he allegedly made critiquing the power of the pro-Israel lobby in Washington.
“If that is true, that would end the matter,” Graham said.
Echoing McCain’s comments, the Graham said he believed Hagel to be “one of the most unqualified, radical choices for secretary of defence in a very long time”.
“But at the end of the day,” Graham continued, “this is the president’s decision. I give him great discretion.”
The remarks signal that a Senate vote on the nomination will be allowed to go ahead.
It also indicates a softening in the position of Republican opponents, who last week vowed to hold up a confirmation vote. An up-and-down ballot is now expected to take place sometime after Congress returns on 25 February.
The delaying tactics came amid complaint by some Republicans that Hagel – a former Republican senator himself – was not supportive enough of Israel. They also questioned his stance on Iran and his opposition to the troop surge in Iraq.
The blocking move had drawn an angry response from the White House. Obama’s chief of staff, Denis McDonough, told ABC’s This Week that it was of “grave concern” to the administration.
McDonough added that Hagel, a Vietnam combat veteran, was the right person to lead the Pentagon, and “has one thing in mind: how do we protect the country?”
Merger between the two companies would create the world’s biggest carrier, fuelling fears of higher ticket prices for customers
American Airlines and US Airways executives met Wednesday as they appear close to finalising their long-awaited merger.
The merger, which could be announced as early as Thursday, will create the US’s largest airline and the latest in a series that has reshaped the industry. The combined company would have a fleet of 1,500 aircraft, $39bn in revenues and employ 100,000 people. If approved, it will be the third major US airline merger since 2008, fueling fears of higher ticket prices and fewer choices for consumers.
The two sides are reportedly discussing how the company will be divided between shareholders. Also under discussion is the future role of Tom Horton, chief executive of AMR, American Airline’s parent company.
AA has been in bankruptcy since 2011. Its three main unions are on the creditors’ committee and last year threw their weight behind the merger after AA brushed off US Airways’ original offer.
US Airways chief executive Doug Parker is reportedly keen to take over as both chief executive officer and chairman of the new company. Last year AA’s unions said Parker’s merger plan would save more jobs that AMR’s plan to restructure as a standalone business.
The Justice Department has not challenged an airline merger since 2000′s proposed United-US Airways merger. Since then United and Continental have merged alongside Delta and Northwest.
The nonprofit group American Antitrust Institute (AAI) has called for an investigation of the merger, arguing it will substantially reduce competition on a number of routes, create regional strongholds at key airports driving traffic to their hubs and depriving smaller communities of air service.
The group published a study with the Business Travel Coalition that concluded ticket prices rose 20% on some key Delta routes and 30% on some United-Continental routes following their mergers.
Diana Moss, vice-president of the AAI, said: “We have had two big legacy mergers in the past 10 years. It’s really time that the Department of Justice looked at how these mergers have affected the market.”
Allison Smith, a former deputy assistant attorney general in the antitrust division of the Department of Justice, said she expects regulators to take a “close look” at the merger.
Smith, now an antitrust lawyer with McDermott Will & Emery, said: “The Department of Justice has allowed mergers where the networks have been complimentary and there are not too many overlapping routes.”
When United merged with Continental the combined entity had to sell slots at Newark airport to satisfy regulators. Smith said AA and US may have to make similar concessions.
Award-winning satirist Yan Lianke says Chinese intellectuals and writers must push leaders to embrace social reform
Chinese writers have shirked their responsibilities in the face of tougher censorship over the past 10 years, one of the country’s authors has said.
Yan Lianke, whose bleakly humorous novel Lenin’s Kisses is published in Britain on Thursday, had two books banned in the past decade. He said it had been easier to publish in the five years before that.
He also criticised the intelligentsia – including last year’s Nobel literature prize-winner Mo Yan – for failing to speak out on important issues. “Chinese intellectuals haven’t taken enough responsibility. They always have an excuse, saying they don’t have a reason to talk or don’t have the environment … If they could all stand up, they would have a loud voice,” he told the Guardian.
Reformers pushed hard for change in the runup to the decennial power transition last year, suggesting the country’s new leaders may be willing to embrace political as well as economic reform. So far, however, there is no indication of such a shift.
“Each time, during the transition of China’s political leaders, Chinese people always have great hopes and then are disappointed. This time, as before, people have hope for the new generation, but it will take time to see whether they will disappoint the Chinese people again,” said the novelist, who was shortlisted last month for the Man Booker International Prize.
He added: “One book being published doesn’t tell you the whole system is getting better; one book being banned doesn’t mean publishing is [more] strongly controlled.”
Yan spent 26 years as a writer in the army and has won China’s foremost literary honours. Yet he is one of the country’s fiercest satirists. In his novella Serve the People, a young soldier and his superior’s wife fuel their illicit passion by smashing and desecrating the words and images of Chairman Mao. Its ban cannot have been a great surprise.
More intriguing is that Lenin’s Kisses escaped the same fate. The book details the ordeal of villagers in the Maoist era, and their suffering as greed and consumerism replace political imperatives. Its redoubtable heroine realises her community is better off outside both official control and heartless modern capitalism.
Its absurd plot is oddly plausible to anyone familiar with the grand schemes and great scandals of Chinese officialdom. An ambitious, narcissistic cadre organises disabled villagers into a travelling freak show, raising money to buy Lenin’s embalmed corpse and turn his county into a tourist destination.
“Chinese people probably would buy Lenin’s body, or even the dead body of a minister from England,” Yan said. “As long as it’s for development, everything is reasonable and could happen in China, such as forced demolitions of people’s homes [which happened to Yan] … Corruption also looks reasonable in Chinese eyes.”
Some hope Chinese literature may break through to a wider international readership after Mo’s Nobel prize last year, but Yan said its prospects depended on the quality of the work rather than a short-term boost.
He added: “I was very complimentary about Mo Yan’s work, but as an author and intellectual I don’t think he has done enough.”
Mo has been criticised for his closeness to authorities, sparking a debate about writers’ responsibilities. Yan added: “He was quite free to write before he won the Nobel. Afterwards he had pressure [from inside China]. The world expected him to say something that he didn’t say.”
Asked if he meant the belief that Mo should address political pressure, censorship or Liu Xiaobo, the jailed Nobel peace prize laureate, Yan replied: “All of those things.”
He said he had also fallen short, noting: “I understand the Chinese political and cultural environment well. I understand people who don’t use their voice. As an intellectual and author I should require myself to do it first. If I don’t do enough, I can’t require other authors to do so. There’s always a reason. There’s always one book or another; timing. But I think as an author I could have taken more responsibility and I didn’t.”
He still regrets self-censoring when he wrote Dream of Ding Village, which deals with the blood-selling scandal that led to mass HIV infections in Henan province. He wanted to ensure it was published, he said; but now his priority was reaching the highest literary standard.
A recent novel was turned down by 26 mainland publishers. His work in progress – “probably the most absurd but most real that I have written” – is unlikely to please the Chinese public anyway, Yan noted. In part, it explores their love-hate relationship with developed countries such as Japan and western nations.
Last autumn, amid anti-Japanese protests over the territorial dispute about the Senkaku, or Diaoyu islands, he praised Japanese author Haruki Murakami’s warnings against nationalism and said he felt ashamed of his slow response.
“Chinese people have become richer and China is stronger than before, but Chinese people think about the history of China being treated badly by other countries; by the US, the UK and Japan … China can’t beat the US or other countries; they can only wave a fist at Japan,” he said.
“This feeling has been suppressed, you could say, for 100 years. China is on the way towards pride, but also arrogance.”
Disclosure comes as architect of programme, John Brennan, prepares for Senate confirmation hearing to become CIA director
The CIA is secretly using an airbase in Saudi Arabia to conduct its controversial drone assassination campaign in neighbouring Yemen, according to reports in the US media.
Neither the Saudi government nor the country’s media have responded to the reports revealing that the drones that killed the US-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki and his son in September 2011 and Said al-Shehri, a senior al-Qaida commander who died from his injuries last month, were launched from the unnamed base.
Iranian state media highlighted the story, which is also likely to be seized upon by jihadi groups. Saudi Arabia has previously publicly denied co-operating with the US to target al-Qaida in Yemen. Evidence of Saudi involvement risks complicating its relationship with the government in Sana’a and with Yemeni tribal leaders who control large parts of the country.
Disclosure of the Saudi co-operation comes the day before the architect of the drone programme, John Brennan, appears before the US Senate for a confirmation hearing to become the CIA director.
The drone issue is sensitive in Saudi Arabia because of the unpopularity of US military bases, which were thought to have been largely removed after the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Saudi Arabia is home to the Muslim holy cities of Mecca and Medina and the continued presence of US troops after the 1991 Gulf war was one of the stated motivations behind al-Qaida’s 9/11 terrorist attacks and the Khobar Towers bombing five years earlier.
The date of the 1998 US embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania was eight years to the day after US troops were first sent to the kingdom. Osama bin Laden interpreted the prophet Muhammad as banning the “permanent presence of infidels in Arabia”.
The last significant US military presence was at the King Sultan airbase in Khobar in the eastern province. The forces there were relocated to Qatar.
The revelation is unlikely to make significant waves inside the kingdom. Saudi Arabia has no independent media but there is no sympathy for the jihadis of al-Qaida targeted in Yemen. Saudi Arabia conducted its own successful campaign against al-Qaida, in effect destroying it by 2004. Its remnants moved to Yemen and formed al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), perhaps the most active of the group’s “franchises”.
“These planes are unmanned so there will not be the same impact as when American planes were flying from the Prince Sultan base,” Mustafa Alani of the Gulf Research Centre in Dubai told the Guardian. “No one will say that the Americans are occupying the country.
“I don’t think people care about this any more. Generally it is accepted in the region that the planes operated by the Americans are not doing a bad job taking out al-Qaida leaders. There is no sympathy with al-Qaida except a very small minority. Even in Yemen – apart from the collateral damage where civilians lose their life – there is no objection to this type of operation.
“It has been rumoured for years that drones were taking off from the Arabian peninsula so this is not shocking news except for the Iranians and jihadis. Otherwise it is not going register in public opinion.”
US government requests to American media to refrain from disclosing the location of the CIA base were made in part because it could potentially damage counter-terrorism collaboration with Saudi Arabia.
Shehri, deputy leader of AQAP, died last month of injuries sustained during a US drone strike in 2012.
Over three terms, charismatic leader saw city through near-bankruptcy but also presided over a spike in violent crime
Ed Koch, a former New York mayor admired for his fiscal discipline and beloved for his big mouth, died Friday morning of congestive heart failure, a spokesman said. He was 88.
“New York City has lost an irrepressible icon and our most charismatic cheerleader,” the current mayor, Michael Bloomberg, said in a statement. “Ed Koch was a great mayor, a great man, and a great friend.”
Koch was admitted to a city hospital Monday with shortness of breath and was moved to intensive care Thursday. He had battled heart disease since leaving office in January 1990.
“I’m not the type to get ulcers. I give them,” he wrote in Mayor, his autobiography, in a passage quoted by the Associated Press.
Koch won office in 1977 as the city struggled to recover from a bankruptcy bailout, a power blackout and a looting crisis. Through three terms, Koch cut city programs while improving popular services such as the subway. His sure leadership inside City Hall was sometimes invisible in the streets, however, as crime spiked with the crack cocaine epidemic and homelessness and the Aids crisis spread.
Koch bustled through each crossroads by force of personality. “I met him right after elected mayor,” Jonathan Alter, the journalist, wrote Friday. “He gave New York its swagger back.”
“RIP to one of NYC’s great political characters,” Tina Brown, the former New Yorker editor, wrote on Twitter Friday. “Koch made the Big Apple bigger.”
The mayor’s mischievous side is apparent in a video obituary produced by the New York Times with his participation. In the opening scene an elderly Koch turns to the camera, smiling, and asks, “Do you miss me?”
As part of a video Q&A series, Koch was asked what it was like to guest star alongside the Muppets in the 1984 movie Muppets Take Manhattan. “Better than playing with human beings,” he answered. “Much more decent.”
At times Koch’s penchant for unvarnished speech drew the wrong kind of publicity. During the 1988 presidential race Koch, mayor of a city with ethnic and racial fault lines, said Jews would have “to be crazy” to vote for Jesse Jackson, the black candidate. Norman Mailer, the novelist, wrote that Koch “may have succeeded in blasting the last rickety catwalk of communication between Jews and blacks in this city” with the comment.
On Friday the Rev Al Sharpton, head of the National Action Network, said Koch was “never a phony or a hypocrite. He would not patronize or deceive you. He said what he meant. … May he rest in peace.”
In his ninth decade the mayor kept a Twitter account. One of the last messages posted was a happy birthday wish for himself – and a note of reciprocation for the affection his hometown had shown.
“Citizens, thank you for all your birthday wishes. I am 88 years old today and still lucky to live in the greatest city in the world.”
Angry senators accuse secretary of state of incompetence but Clinton insists she did not withhold information from US public
Hillary Clinton faced accusations of incompetence, evasion and obfuscation by angry Senators at a hearing into the deaths of the US ambassador to Libya and three other Americans in Benghazi last year.
Although the US secretary of state was roundly praised for her “extraordinary” work as she prepares to leave office, she came under strong criticism over her handling of the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi on September 11.
Some of the strongest criticism came from Senator John McCain, who has been at the forefront of challenging the Obama administration’s account of the assault. He was particularly critical of Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the United Nations, who was initially put up by the White House to say that the attack on the consulate followed a demonstration outside over an anti-Muslim video made by a California resident, which prompted protests in Cairo and other cities.
McCain accused the administration of continuing to withhold information. “People don’t bring RPGs and mortars to spontaneous demonstrations. That’s a fundamental,” he told Clinton. “Here we are, four months later, and we still don’t have the basic information.”
Clinton said that the Benghazi attack did not happen in isolation and that she was dealing with other “very serious threats” at the time. “There were so many protests happening, and thousands of people were putting our facilities at risk,” she said.
Later Clinton said that “we were very focused on our embassy in Cairo” at the time. “There were crowds that were intent upon trying to scale the wall, and we were in close communication with our team in Cairo,” she said.
The secretary of state dismissed suggestions she had not reacted firmly enough, saying that she told American diplomats in Tripoli to “break down the doors of Libyan officials to get as much support as possible”.
Senator Ron Johnson riled Clinton by repeatedly challenging her account of the events leading up to the attack. He said that “we were misled that there were supposedly protests” before the assault and wanted to know why the secretary of state hadn’t made “a simple phone call” to ascertain the truth.
“With all due respect, the fact is we had four dead Americans,” the secretary of state responded, clearly irritated. “Was it because of a protest, or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided they’d go kill some Americans? What difference at this point does it make? It is our job to figure out what happened and to do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again, senator.”
Clinton said it would have been inappropriate to bypass the usual procedures. Johnson responded: “I realise that’s a good excuse”.
The secretary of state shot back: “No, it’s a fact”.
After the hearing, Johnson accused Clinton of staging her outburst with “theatrics”.
“I’m not sure she had rehearsed for that type of question,” he told BuzzFeed. (http://www.buzzfeed.com/mckaycoppins/ron-johnson-hillary-clinton-planned-to-get-emotio) “I think she just decided before she was going to describe emotionally the four dead Americans, the heroes, and use that as her trump card to get out of the questions. It was a good way of getting out of really having to respond to me.”
However, for all the drama of the hearing, the issue of the Benghazi attacks appears to be losing its political sting. With the election out of the way, Clinton about to leave office and the state department already implementing reforms following a highly critical report, there did not appear to be anywhere for the senators to take the criticisms
Earlier, Clinton attempted to put the Benghazi attack into context, noting that 65 US diplomats have been killed since 1977, and that American overseas posts have endured attacks from the Iran hostage siege to the bombing of US embassies in east Africa.
Her voice broke as she spoke about attending the arrival of the bodies of ambassador Chris Stevens and the other officials back in the US, and of comforting their relatives.
But Clinton angered some senators when she distanced herself from one of the most contentious aspects of the crisis: namely the state department’s failure to heed requests for additional security for US diplomats in Benghazi because of a series of attacks, including one on British diplomats.
“I do feel responsible. I feel responsible for the nearly 70,000 people who work for the state department. I take it very seriously. But the specific security requests pertaining to Benghazi were handled by the security professionals in the department. I didn’t see those requests. They didn’t come to me. I didn’t approve them. I didn’t deny them,” she said.
Senator Rand Paul, who suggested to Clinton that her stepping down from the secretary of state role was a sign of her accepting “culpability for the worst tragedy since 9/11″, said she deserved to be sacked over her handling of the security issue.
“Had I been president at the time, and I found that you had not read the cables … I would have relieved you of your post,” said Paul. “I don’t suspect you of bad motives, but it was a failure of leadership not to be involved. It was a failure of leadership not to know these things. I’m glad you’re accepting responsibility – because no one else is.”
Paul then baffled Clinton by asking her whether the US is shipping weapons from Libya to Turkey, presumably for onward transfer to Syrian rebels – a claim based on a report by Fox News.
“I will have to take that question for the record. No one’s ever raised that with me,” she said.
Clinton attempted to shift some of the responsibility for weakened security to Congress by saying it consistently failed to provide the funds requested by the state department.
Other senators weighed in. Bob Corker described the Obama administration’s handling of the Benghazi crisis as the “worst of Washington”, and said that a “bizarre” briefing he was given at the time was “worse than nothing”.
College advises staff and students to take immediate shelter and other schools go into lockdown after argument escalates
Three people were injured in a shooting at a college campus in Texas on Tuesday, after an argument escalated into violence.
The incident took place between 12.30pm and 12.50pm CT at a Lone Star College campus to the north of Houston, according to the Harris County sheriff’s office. Eyewitness accounts suggest that two men began arguing and both suffered gunshot wounds during the altercation. A maintenance man who was an innocent bystander was also shot, in the leg. A fourth person, a woman, was taken ill at the scene. All were hospitalised.
Police said that both suspects were in custody. One was detained at the campus then taken to hospital while the other was on the loose for more than an hour before reportedly turning himself in at a medical center.
“We do have two people of interest that we have detained and are questioning at this time but we haven’t determined their exact involvement, who did what,” Captain Ken Melancon of the Harris County Sheriff’s Office told a news conference. “We don’t believe any other suspects are out there… we do believe we have the people of interest.”
Aerial footage from local television showed police and paramedics tending to two injured people on the campus and more than a dozen police cars blocking surrounding roads as students were evacuated from the premises. In the immediate aftermath of the shooting an alert posted on the college’s website had advised students and staff to take immediate shelter where they were. Four nearby schools were placed on lockdown as a precaution.
“I saw two dudes basically get into an altercation and… the dude that shot, he basically got angry and, you know, started shooting the other guy. A lot of people heard a lot of shots,” Brittany Mobley, a student, told KHOU local news.
The North Harris campus near George Bush Intercontinental Airport is one of six run by Lone Star College, which has a total of 90,000 students, making it the city’s biggest higher-education institution.
It is the fifth shooting incident at a US educational establishment since 10 January. However, many Texas politicians have criticised President Obama’s plans for increased gun controls following the Newtown massacre last December.
Rick Perry, the Texas governor, said last week that prayer, rather than tighter firearms restrictions, was the best response to combat violence in society.
“Our office remains in contact with state law enforcement and Governor Perry has been briefed on what is known so far about the situation. His thoughts and prayers are with those that have been impacted,” a spokesman for Governor Perry told the Guardian.
Texas prohibits concealed handguns on campuses but the state’s politicians are debating a bill that would allow university students and staff members with concealed handgun permits to carry their weapons on college premises, including in classrooms.