The White House on Tuesday unveiled a congressionally mandated plan for how it would close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba – an original campaign promise of President Barack Obama that his administration says can be completed before he leaves office, but one that will meet red-faced opposition on Capitol Hill.
Guantanamo “is viewed as a stain on our broader record of upholding the higher standards of the rule of law,” Obama said in an address from the White House Tuesday. “As America, we pride ourselves on being a beacon to other nations, a model of the rule of law.”
The plan centers on transferring 35 of the 91 total detainees left at the prison facility who have been deemed eligible to foreign countries, in addition to continuing a “periodic review board” process to determine the legal futures of 46 others. The final 10 detainees remain in some form of judicial proceeding, such as suspected 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other alleged co-conspirators, or have been convicted and sentenced.
During a hearing Wednesday of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, promised to support NASA’s funding needs for space exploration but criticized the Obama administration for having lofty goals without concrete plans the next president can follow.
The overall cost for a mission to Mars could total at least half a trillion dollars, said John Sommerer, chairman of the technical panel of the congressionally mandated National Research Council Committee on Human Spaceflight. Other estimates have said it could take more than $1 trillion to make the trip possible. The need to shelter astronauts from radiation in space is a particular concern that could cost more money on a long journey to Mars, he added.
The biggest challenge facing a mission to Mars or any location in space is the need for government to show a consistent, long-term interest in traveling there, Sommerer said, adding that a return mission to the moon could be an alternative option.
A private, NASA-funded study supported by former astronaut Buzz Aldrin advocates that it would be affordable within the agency’s current budget to create an international colony on the moon as a staging area for further human exploration within a decade.
“It might be better to stop talking about Mars if there is no appetite in Congress and the administration for higher human spaceflight budgets and more disciplined execution by NASA,” Sommerer said.
Syrian peace talks gained a small measure of momentum Monday with the U.N. special envoy formally declaring the start of indirect negotiations, even as the opposition spokesman accused Russia of producing a “new Hitler” in Moscow and supporting another Hitler in Damascus.
Staffan de Mistura, the U.N. envoy, is now working to keep a wobbly process alive and compel world powers who helped set the stage for the talks to do more to bring about a cease-fire in a five-year Syrian civil war.
De Mistura said the mere arrival of a delegation from the main Syrian opposition group, the High Negotiations Committee, at the U.N. offices in Geneva was enough to allow him to declare the talks formally open. He previously met with a government delegation on Friday.
“We are actually listening with attention to the concerns of the HNC, and we are going to tomorrow discuss and listen to the concerns of the government,” de Mistura told reporters after Monday’s meeting.
The latest Gallup Poll finds that loyalty to the Democrats andRepublicans is at or near historic lows. In 2015, for the fifth straight year, “at least four in 10 U.S. adults identified as political independents,” a Gallup spokesman said. Forty-two percent said they were independent last year; 43 percent listed themselves that way in 2014, reflecting little change.
Twenty-nine percent said they were Democrats and 26 percent said they were Republicans.
The Democrats’ share was the lowest for that party in Gallup’s 65 years of asking about party identification. The previous Democratic low was 30 percent in 2014.
The Republicans also have cause for concern. The 26 percent who identified with the GOP was just 1 percentage point higher than the historical Gallup low of 25 percent self-identified Republicans in 2013.
An Islamic State affiliate in Egypt has claimed responsibility for an attack on a hotel near the Giza Pyramids the previous day that authorities said had left no casualties, according to a statement circulated Friday by sympathizers of the militant group.
Egypt’s Interior Ministry said no one was hurt in Thursday’s incident at the Three Pyramids Hotel, but the attack damaged the hotel’s facade and also a bus parked in front of the building. A group of about 15 attackers fired birdshot and flares at the hotel’s security post. A suspect was arrested and police were still searching for the rest of the group, the ministry said.
Arab Israeli tourists staying at the hotel said the attackers used flares and live bullets. Israel’s Foreign Ministry said no Israelis were hurt.
But a statement carried Friday by IS sympathizers on Twitter claimed there were dead and wounded among the tourists and security officers protecting the hotel.
North Korea’s leader has taken a victory tour of military headquarters to celebrate the country’s widely disputed claim of a hydrogen bomb test.
Kim Jong Un called the nuclear test “a self-defensive step for reliably defending the peace on the Korean Peninsula and the regional security from the danger of nuclear war caused by the U.S.-led imperialists,” according to a dispatch Sunday from state-run Korean Central News Agency.
“It is the legitimate right of a sovereign state and a fair action that nobody can criticize,” Kim was reported as saying during his tour of the People’s Armed Forces Ministry.
The tone of Kim’s comments, which sought to glorify him and justify a test that has been viewed with outrage by much of the world, is typical of state media propaganda.
But they also provide insight into North Korea’s long-maintained argument that it is the presence of tens of thousands of U.S. troops in South Korea and Japan, and a “hostile” U.S. policy that seeks to topple the government in Pyongyang, that make North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear weapons absolutely necessary.