A high court in London has upheld a decision to grant bail to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Assange was granted bail earlier this week but has remained in prison in London after prosecutors appealed. Assange is fighting extradition to Sweden where he faces allegations of sex crimes. The Guardian of London reports that it was British prosecutors, not Swedish officials, who asked for Assange to remain behind bars. The British government had been thought to be acting on Sweden’s behalf in asking for Assange’s continued imprisonment. But Swedish officials say they never made the request. The disclosure could fuel suspicions Britain is seeking to detain Assange until the United States formally seeks his extradition.
According to the New York Times, U.S. prosecutors are looking for evidence of any collusion between WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and U.S. Army intelligence analyst Bradley Manning, who is suspected of leaking a trove of classified government documents released by WikiLeaks.
President Obama is set to unveil a new strategy review of the Afghanistan war today. The review is expected to claim progress in U.S. war aims and endorse Obama’s call for beginning to withdraw U.S. troops next year until a final handover in 2014. But the findings sharply differ from the most recent National Intelligence Estimates on Afghanistan and Pakistan. According to the New York Times, the nation’s intelligence agencies have concluded the United States cannot achieve its goals in Afghanistan unless Pakistan wipes out militants on its side of the border and ends covert support for the Afghan Taliban. The estimates represent the consensus view of 16 U.S. intelligence agencies.
As Obama prepares to claim progress in the war, the International Committee of the Red Cross is warning that the conditions it faces in Afghanistan are at their worst point in 30 years. In a rare public appeal, the Red Cross said the situation has worsened on each of the key measures of civilian casualties, internal displacement and access to medical care.
The U.S. Department of Justice has filed suit against the oil giant BP and eight other companies over the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. The government is seeking unspecified damages under the Clean Water Act and Oil Pollution Act for cleanup costs and environmental devastation. Attorney General Eric Holder unveiled the case yesterday in Washington.
Eric Holder: "The United States alleges violations of federal safety and operational regulations, including a failure to take the necessary precautions to secure the Macondo well prior to the April 20th explosion, failure to utilize the safest drilling technology to monitor the well’s condition, failure to maintain continuous surveillance of the well, and failure to utilize and to maintain equipment and materials that were available and necessary to ensure the safety and protection of personnel, property, natural resources as well as the environment."
The suit marks the federal government’s first legal filing in its ongoing probe into the spill. More lawsuits are expected as the investigation proceeds. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson said the government is seeking compensation for restoring the Gulf Coast region.
Lisa Jackson: "This is about getting a fair deal for the region that suffered enormous consequences from this disaster. And it’s also about securing the future of the Gulf Coast. Ensuring accountability strengthens our ongoing efforts to help Gulf Coast communities get their lives and livelihoods back on track. The government’s complaint seeks civil penalties against those responsible for the spill and will lay the foundation for securing what is needed to restore the Gulf."
The U.S. House of Representatives is set to vote on President Obama’s controversial tax deal with Republicans following its approval in the Senate. On Wednesday, senators voted 81 to 19 to extend the Bush-era tax cut for the wealthiest Americans and reduce the estate tax in return for a 13-month extension of jobless benefits and a handful of tax credits for low- and moderate-income Americans. At least a quarter of the tax savings under the deal will go to the wealthiest one percent of the population. The only group that will see its taxes increase are the nation’s lowest-paid workers. House Democrats are expected to approve the measure but with a higher estate tax that would require another Senate vote.
In Washington, the U.S. House of Representatives has voted to repeal the military’s ban on openly gay and lesbian servicemembers for the second time this year. The vote was held to push the repeal of the "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" policy as a stand-alone measure, instead of as part of a larger military spending bill. Senate Democrats say they intend to hold a vote on the measure before Congress adjourns this month.
The U.S. Senate has voted to begin debate on a long-stalled arms reduction treaty with Russia. The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or New START, calls for the United States and Russia to reduce their deployed arsenals of nuclear warheads, missile silos and bombers.
An Italian court has increased the sentences of 23 CIA operatives convicted of kidnapping a Muslim cleric under the U.S. program of "extraordinary rendition." The cleric, Abu Omar, was seized from the streets of Milan in 2003 and taken to U.S. bases in Italy and Germany before being sent to Egypt, where he was tortured during a four-year imprisonment. The Americans were all convicted in absentia last year after the United States refused to hand them over. On Wednesday, their sentences were upped to seven to nine years in prison from five to eight years. The operatives were also ordered to pay Abu Omar $2 million in damages.
Arab states are ratcheting up pressure on the Obama administration to take substantive steps on a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. On Wednesday, the Arab League voted to suspend involvement in Mideast peace talks until the U.S. proposes a comprehensive peace plan to resolve the conflict. The Israeli government has long rejected a 2002 Arab plan that offers Israel peace and normal relations in return for withdrawal from all territory captured in the 1967 war. The Obama administration has also refused to fully endorse the proposal. Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa said U.S.-brokered talks have become "useless" in the absence of a clear U.S. stance.
Amr Moussa: "The committee sees that the negotiation efforts are useless and decided not to resume any negotiations, and its resumption will be conditioned on receiving a serious offer that puts an end to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict as part of the peace process. This is our decision, and we might now appeal to the Security Council and other international organizations."
The U.N. Security Council has voted to end a number of restrictions on Iraq dating back nearly 20 years. On Wednesday, the council approved measures allowing Iraq to develop a civilian nuclear program and formally ending the oil-for-food program that restricted Iraqi purchases of basic goods. Vice President Joe Biden presided over the council’s session.
Vice President Joe Biden: "As a founding member of the United Nations, Iraq seeks and deserves the opportunity to resume its rightful role in the community of nations. Toward that end, this session formally acknowledges the significant steps Iraq has taken toward fulfilling its obligations to the United Nations incurred in the lead-up to the 1991 Gulf War."
The top human rights court in the Western Hemisphere has ordered Brazil to overturn a law granting amnesty for crimes committed under two decades of military dictatorship. In a ruling this week, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights held Brazil responsible for the forced disappearance of 62 alleged Amazonian rebels in the 1970s. The ruling also called on the Brazilian government to stop blocking prosecution for abuses between 1964 to 1985 under Brazil’s 1979 amnesty law. Criméia de Almeida, an activist whose husband disappeared under the dictatorship, hailed the decision.
Criméia de Almeida: "This is very significant, and I hope that, as of this sentence, Brazil may enter a process of re-democratization by getting rid of the authoritarian rubble which has been kept alive during all these years."
A previously undisclosed federal plan to stem gun trafficking to Mexico is reportedly languishing in Washington out of fear of public opposition from the National Rifle Association. According to the Washington Post, agents at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives have proposed a system that would force gun dealers to report sales of multiple rifles and shotguns. But the plan has stalled at the U.S. Department of Justice for months amidst fears the NRA will mobilize members and lobbyists to thwart it in Washington. An estimated 80 percent of weapons used by Mexican drug traffickers come from the United States.
The right-wing network Fox News is under scrutiny over newly disclosed directives to its on-air reporters. The group Media Matters has released a leaked memo showing a top Fox News editor ordered journalists to always state that climate change data has been called into question when discussing the topic. The directive originated during the U.N. Climate Change Conference talks last year in Copenhagen when a Fox News correspondent reported the U.N.’s data that the last decade was the warmest on record. Minutes later, Fox News Washington managing editor Bill Sammon sent out a memo questioning the "veracity of climate change data" and ordering correspondents to "refrain from asserting that the planet has warmed (or cooled) in any given period without IMMEDIATELY pointing out that such theories are based upon data that critics have called into question." The revelation follows disclosure of another memo ordering Fox News reporters to avoid use of the term "public option" in favor of "government option" when discussing healthcare. The directive echoed advice from a Republican pollster on ways to sway public opinion against healthcare reform. The news comes on the heels of a poll from the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland showing that Fox News viewers are more misinformed on key issues than audiences of other news sources. Over 60 percent of Fox News viewers believe President Obama either was not or may not have been born in the United States.
The group Veterans for Peace is holding a protest at the White House today to oppose the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Demonstrators are expected to chain themselves to the White House fence in what organizers call the largest act of veteran-led protest since the wars began.