MARINES DESECRATING TALIBAN DEAD?
The Marine Corps is investigating that video that appears to show four Marines joking while urinating on the bodies of three Taliban men. Dressed in full combat gear and holding rifles at their sides, the four Marines stand over the corpses outside, near an overturned wheelbarrow. The warriors start urinating on the bloodied bodies, and one says, "Have a great day, buddy." Another says, "Golden - like a shower." The whole thing lasts only 39 second video went viral on the Internet s and it's already gone viral, sparking comparisons with the photos of soldiers posing with naked captives at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison. Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Thursday condemned a video depicting what appears to be four U.S. Marines urinating on the corpses of Taliban fighters. A presidential statement described the act as "completely inhumane" and called on the U.S. military to punish the Marines. A Taliban spokesman said that while the images were shocking, the tape would not affect talks or a rumored prisoner release. "This is not the first time we see such brutality," said spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid. Meanwhile, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan described the acts depicted in the video as "disrespectful" and "inexplicable." "This behavior dishonors the sacrifices and core values of every service member representing the 50 nations of the coalition," ISAF said in a statement, adding that a U.S. criminal investigation had been launched.
TALKING TO THE TALIBAN
More from Luis MARTINEZ: The Obama administration has decided to talk about the secret talks it has had with the Taliban over the past year, perhaps to help get Afghan President Karzai on board. Various articles published today (WSJournal, NYTimes, WPost) all note how the U.S. has been struggling to get the Taliban and Karzai's government to come to the table. And as Kirit RADIA adds, Secretary Clinton announced Senior Representative for Afghanistan-Pakistan Marc Grossman will head to Afghanistan to see if Karzai will give his blessing for the talks. Meanwhile, the Taliban said today it is ready to enter peace talks - but that the armed struggle will continue. Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said the militants had been fighting for 15 years to establish an Islamic government in Afghanistan "We have increased our political efforts to come to mutual understanding with the world in order to solve the current ongoing situation," Mujahid said in an emailed statement. "But this understanding does not mean a surrender from Jihad."
-JAPAN AGREES TO REDUCE OIL IMPORTS…Japan announced today it will start to reduce oil imports from Iran "as quickly as possible", in support of US sanctions against Tehran over its disputed nuclear program. Finance Minister Jun Azumi made the announcement after a one-hour meeting with visiting U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. Akiko FUJITA reports Tokyo has asked the U.S. to waive sanctions for Japanese banks in exchange for curbing oil imports.
-THE "SHADOW WAR"…As arguments flare in Israel and the United States about a possible military strike to set back Iran's nuclear program, an accelerating covert campaign of assassinations, bombings, cyberattacks and defections appears intended to make that debate irrelevant, according to current and former American officials and specialists on Iran. The NY Times writes that the campaign, which experts believe is being carried out mainly by Israel, apparently claimed its latest victim in that Wednesday attack on a 32-year-old nuclear scientist in Tehran's morning rush hour. He was at least the fifth scientist with nuclear connections to be killed since 2007; a sixth scientist, Fereydoon Abbasi, survived a 2010 attack and was put in charge of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization
-AHMADINEJAD'S LATIN AMERICA TOUR…The Iranian President is expected in Quito today, on the final leg of a Latin American visit that has seen him stop in Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba, and now Ecuador. Ahmadinejad meets his counterpart Rafael Correa.
PAKISTAN: PRESIDENT LEAVES COUNTRY AMID HIGH TENSIONS
Habibullah KHAN reports Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari left for Dubai today on a scheduled one-day trip amid growing tensions over a memo that emerged last October seeking U.S. help in preventing a military coup. Zardari could face impeachment proceedings if a judicial commission in Pakistan's Supreme Court finds a link between him and the memo.
-BACK TO THE BIRTHPLACE - ONE YEAR LATER…It all began in Tunisia one year ago - when a street vendor named Mohammed Bouazizi set himself on fire - and today a disturbing look at one of the aftershocks in that country. The BBC says the head of the burns unit in a Tunis hospital told them that 137 Tunisians have set themselves on fire in the year after the revolution. Self-immolations have increased 500% since Bouazizi lit the match.
-SYRIA ON THE FRENCH JOURNALIST…Alex MARQUARDT reports: An "I told you so" from Syria, which said today (via SANA), "The Ministry of Information stresses that the act [that killed French reporter Gilles Jacquier] is an extension of the terror chain Syria is exposed to, adding that it comes in the context of the terrorists' bid to distort the real image of what is happening in Syria." Meanwhile, a second Arab League observer tells Reuters that he is ready to walk out. "I am trying to leave on Friday…because the mission is unclear…It does not serve the citizens. It does not serve anything." This comes a day after Algerian Anwar Malek called the mission a "farce."
-YEMEN: THE FIGHT AGAINST THE WEED…From MARQUARDT again: The ubiquitous leafy drug Qat is the target of a Yemeni campaign today aimed at stemming its engrained and widespread use. #NoQatJan12 is the hashtag being used on Twitter. Critics of Yemen's most popular plant and important cash crop say it destroys productivity in the poverty-stricken country, takes up too much land and water.
NORTH KOREA: KIM JONG IL'S BODY TO BE LIE IN STATE PERMANENTLY; PUNISHMENT FOR THOSE WHO DIDN'T MOURN ENOUGH?
It's now official: The Dear Leader Kim Jong Il will lie in state at Pyongyang's Kumsusan Memorial Palace, where the embalmed body of his father has been lying since 1995. Meanwhile, the Daily NK reported North Korean authorities have begun to punish citizens who did not display enough sadness at his death.
STUNNING NEW TOLL FOR MEXICO'S DRUG WAR
The New York Times reports there's dispute over the accuracy of the Mexican government's report that 47, 515 people have been killed in drug-related violence since late 2006. The numbers are staggering, but some believe they may be even higher.
RANKING COUNTRIES ON NUCLEAR SECURITY
While we worry about nuclear programs from Tehran to Pyongyang, a new study measures precautions taken by countries to protect nuclear materials. The study is full of surprises and potential embarrassments: for instance, Australia takes first place in nuclear security and Japan comes in at #23, behind nations like Kazakhstan and South Africa.
FUKUSHIMA TO TEST FOR RADIATION IN BREAST MILK
Akiko FUJITA reports Fukushima will begin taking breast milk samples from 10,000 mothers to test for radiation. Specifics have not been released, but the test will be offered to concerned mothers, and will be paid for by the prefecture. The government has conducted similar tests before, though on a much smaller scale. Last summer, the Health Ministry found traces of radioactive cesium in breast milk samples taken from 7 of 21 tested. The AP recently reported that more than 200 nationwide parent network groups have popped up, to demand stricter standards - an incredible number, in a country where activism is frowned upon.
From Alexandra NADEZHDINA in Moscow: Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has proposed greater accountability of the government, promised liberalization of society, higher wages and pensions, and a proactive foreign policy ahead of presidential elections slated for March 4, which he is determined to win. Putin called for the creation of a system of administrative courts to be set up to hear complaints by citizens against the state. "We will simplify the review of complaints by citizens against the state, and create administrative courts for this," Putin stated on Thursday in his preelection manifesto posted on the new putin2012.com website. "We will guarantee the accountability of the state to the citizens its serves. We will create an effective mechanism of civil control over the activities of the state in these spheres most vulnerable to corruption: state purchases, domestic utility charges, road construction, [and] law enforcement."
More from NADEZHDINA: In an article published in The Guardian, Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov said the era "of managed democracy" in Russia is dead and recent protests against allegedly fraudulent parliamentary elections prove that the country is "undergoing a true awakening." "The genie is out of the bottle and it's not going back in." Speaking about the possible transition of power in Russia, Prokhorov said he hoped that revolution would not be an option adding that he is for "evolution, not revolution."
FALLING TO EARTH
The Russian Federal Space Agency is getting specific about that Phobos-Grunt Mars probe: the latest - it will fall into the Indian Ocean at 1:18 p.m. Moscow time on January 15. Some 20-30 fragments with a total weight of roughly 400 pounds may reach earth.
EUROPE'S HOMELAND SECURITY CHIEF SLAMS OBAMA
Clark BENTSON flags this: European Union Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom has in her first-ever tweet attacked Barack Obama for keeping Guantanamo Bay's prison open for 10 years after it was launched. She said it is "a disgrace that prisoners are still held [without] trial. President Obama, time to live up to your promise." She is @MalmstromEU - and as Clark notes, Ms. Malmstrom is a well respected member of the commission from Sweden a potential candidate to be the President of the EU someday.
TWO YEARS AFTER THE QUAKE, HAITI STILL REBUILDING
Two years ago today, a 7.0 magnitude quake shook the small Caribbean country for 35 seconds and created 10 million cubic meters of rubble and killed an estimated 300,000 people. It's a sober day - and a national holiday - in Port-au-Prince. The Wall Street Journal looks at how the country is still plagued by disorganization and government inaction. Meanwhile, the Guardian reports UN figures show that only half of the promised aid has been delivered. NGOs and aid agencies warned this week of a "severe funding shortage…threatening recovery programs in the country." Still there are optimists on the ground - notably the doctor and great Haiti advocate Paul Farmer, who tells the Washington Post: "Recovery is here. It is painfully slow, it is agonizing to watch, but it is recovery." Farmer's group, Partners in Health, is opening a modern, 320-bed public teaching hospital an hour north of the Haitian capital. Meanwhile, Matther MOSK and Brian ROSS update a story we broke on the claims that UN relief workers may have brought cholera to the quake-ravaged nation.
CONTINENTAL MAY ADD FUEL TANKS TO MAKE TRUE "NON-STOPS"
The Wall Street Journal writes Continental Airlines has few options for stemming a spate of unscheduled fuel stops on its flights from Europe to the U.S. short of adding auxiliary fuel tanks. The airline previously considered doing that, but ultimately rejected the plan because it would cut into luggage storage space.
JAPAN PRISONER ESCAPES - IN HIS UNDERWEAR
Akiko FUJITA reports a 40-year-old Chinese convict escaped from a Hiroshima prison Wednesday, climbing over two walls, one of them a 16 foot fence, and ran off - in his underwear. It took the prison an hour to realize the man had escaped because there was only one office monitoring 98 surveillance cameras. The escaped prisoner is still missing and there are no updates on his whereabouts, but nearly 800 officers have been looking for him. Akiko also notes the Japanese police have had to answer to a series of blunders already this month. They initially turned away the country's most wanted fugitive when he tried to surrender New Year's Eve. Earlier this week, a Taiwanese man wanted for the murder of 2 Taiwanese students in Japan committed suicide shortly after he was arrested. He was apparently carrying a knife with him, but authorities failed to search him properly, and did not handcuff him.
"PHONE BOOTH OF THE FUTURE"
From Phoebe NATANSON in Rome: La Stampa reports that Turin will soon build a prototype of what is being billed as the phone booth of the future…now that most phone booths have been removed from cities. The phone booth of the future will allow one to phone, use internet, charge electric scooters and cars and will be powered by solar panels.