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WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been freed from a London jail after a High Court ruled he could be released on bail. Assange spent the past nine days in solitary confinement following his arrest on an international warrant to face sex crimes allegations in Sweden. After emerging from the courthouse, Assange addressed a crowd of supporters.
Julian Assange: "To all the people around the world who have had faith in me, who have supported my team while I’ve been away… I hope to continue my work and continue to protest my innocence in this matter and to reveal, as we get it—which we have not yet—the evidence from these allegations. Thank you."
Assange is staying at a country mansion where he will be subject to a curfew, an electronic tag to monitor his movements, as well as being required to report to the police every day. As he departed, Assange said he is ultimately worried about a U.S. attempt for his extradition.
Julian Assange: "I don’t have too many fears about being extradited to Sweden. There are much bigger concerns about being extradited to the United States. We have a rumor today from my lawyers in the United States, which is not confirmed yet, that there has been an indictment made against me in the United States."
As Assange was freed, the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the constitutional issues raised by WikiLeaks’ release of classified government documents. House Judiciary chair John Conyers said he is worried by the attacks on Assange and his group.
Rep. John Conyers: "There is no doubt that WikiLeaks is in an unpopular position right now. Many feel their publication was offensive. But unpopularity is not a crime, and publishing offensive information isn’t either. And the repeated calls from members of Congress, the government, journalists and other experts crying out for criminal prosecutions or other extreme measures cause me some consternation."
President Obama has announced the United States will sign on to the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples following years of opposition. Obama disclosed the U.S. reversal in a speech before tribal leaders at the White House.
President Obama: "And as you know, in April, we announced that we were reviewing our position on the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. And today I can announce that the United States is lending its support to this declaration. The aspirations it affirms, including the respect for the institutions and rich cultures of Native peoples, are one we must always seek to fulfill."
The U.N. General Assembly overwhelmingly passed the sweeping declaration granting Native peoples the "right to self-determination" in 2007 following over 20 years of debate. The U.S. was the last major country to sign on. In a video statement, Susan Masten of the Indian Law Resource Center hailed Obama’s announcement.
Susan Masten: "Governments across the world finally recognize that indigenous people are here and going to be here forever and that we have rights—property rights, resource rights and the rights for self-determination. So I want to commend President Obama for having a vision for human rights. And this piece — his efforts today is the most significant thing that’s happened in international human rights in the decades."
Congress has sent President Obama a controversial bipartisan tax deal following its approval in the House. Just before midnight, the House voted to 277 to 148 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. A group of House Democrats failed in their attempt to block a provision that reduces the estate tax; their proposal to increase the estate tax was defeated in a stand-alone vote of 233 to 194.
Republicans have prevailed in a standoff with Democrats on a $1.2 trillion government spending bill. On Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced he would shelve the measure in the face of a threatened Republican filibuster.
Sen. Harry Reid: "In the next 24 hours or so, Senator McConnell and I will work to try and come up with a CR [continuing resolution] to fund the government for a certain period of time. That’s where we are right now. I’m sorry and disappointed."
The move raises the likelihood Republicans will be able to push through a new spending bill with deeper spending cuts when they take over in the House and increase their standing in the Senate next month.
The Pentagon has issued new operational guidelines in Afghanistan rejecting President Hamid Karzai’s call for an end to nighttime raids. The Wall Street Journal reports the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, has issued a directive the U.S. claims will expand protections for civilians targeted in the raids. But the move rejects calls from Karzai and top Afghan officials for the raids to stop. A senior military official in Afghanistan also called the new rules "mostly administrative [with] no impact on operations."
The new guidelines come as President Obama unveiled a military strategy review claiming the United States is achieving its main war aims in Afghanistan.
President Obama: "I want to be clear: this continues to be a very difficult endeavor, but I can report that, thanks to the extraordinary service of our troops and civilians on the ground, we are on track to achieve our goals. It’s important to remember why we remain in Afghanistan. It was Afghanistan where al-Qaeda plotted the 9/11 attacks that murdered 3,000 innocent people. It is the tribal regions along the Afghan-Pakistan border from which terrorists have launched more attacks against our homeland and our allies. And if an even wider insurgency were to engulf Afghanistan, that would give al-Qaeda even more space to plan these attacks."
Appearing with Obama, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates addressed this week’s disclosure that the most recent National Intelligence Estimates on Afghanistan and Pakistan differ sharply from the Pentagon’s conclusions. The estimates conclude 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.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates: "Pakistan has committed over 140,000 troops to operations in extremist safe havens along the border in coordination with Afghan and coalition forces on the Afghan side. Though we believe the Pakistanis can and must do more to shut down the flow of insurgents across the border, it is important to remember that these kinds of military operations in the tribal areas would have been considered unthinkable just two years ago."
As the Afghan war review was released, an estimated 135 people were arrested outside the White House in an antiwar protest led by the group Veterans for Peace. The protesters were detained after chaining themselves to the White House fence. Iraq War veteran Mike Prysner urged continued civil disobedience to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Mike Prysner: "They’re not going to end the wars. And they’re not going to do it, because it’s not our government. It’s their government. It’s the government of the rich. It’s the government of Wall Street, of the oil giants, of the defense contractors. It’s their government. And the only language that they understand is shutting down business as usual. And that’s what we’re doing here today, and we’re going to continue to do until these wars are over. We’re going to fight until there’s not one more bomb dropped, not one more bullet fired, not one more soldier coming home in a wheelchair, not one more family slaughtered, not one more day of U.S. imperialism."
Among those arrested were the Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg and FBI whistleblower Colleen Rowley.
While the Obama administration touted the Afghan war in Washington, the International Committee of the Red Cross issued a rare public statement warning of a dire situation on the ground. The Red Cross says conditions for delivering aid in Afghanistan are at their lowest point in the 30 years since the group first entered the country under Soviet occupation. Red Cross spokesperson Bijan Farnoudi said he expects the suffering of Afghan civilians to increase next year.
Bijan Farnoudi: "Our assessment is that we’re worried. We’re worried about more displacement, we’re worried about more civilian casualties, we’re worried about more difficulties with people to access healthcare, and we’re worried about more armed groups being around. If you say that we’re expecting more of the same for 2011, that would be putting it mildly."
In Georgia, thousands of prisoners taking part in a strike against poor living and working conditions in at least seven prisons reportedly came out of their cells on Thursday after a week-long action. The nonviolent protest was organized through a network of banned cell phones. The prisoners are calling for better medical care and nutrition, more educational opportunities, just parole decisions, an end to cruel and unusual punishments, better access to their families, and payment for the work they do in the prisons. There have been reports some strike leaders have temporarily called off the strike to negotiate with prison officials while other prisoners are continuing their strike.
A federal appeals court has overruled the Obama administration’s appeal of a case challenging the constitutionality of the U.S. government’s use of cell phone records to track the movements of suspects or persons of interest in investigations. Investigators have been able to identify an individual’s movements and locations based on GPS technology in many cell phones or the nearby phone towers used to beam a given call. The Third Court of Appeals ruled that warrants may be required earlier this year, and a full panel reaffirmed the judgment this week.
And Blackwater founder Erik Prince is expected to announce today the sale of his private military firm to a group of investors with whom he’s closely tied. According to the New York Times, Prince has reached a deal to sell his company to a group of Los Angeles-based investors. The sale was reportedly prompted by a U.S. State Department threat to stop awarding contracts to Blackwater so long as Prince remained in charge. But Prince is expected to maintain a heavy stake in the company, with a clause that conditions payments on Blackwater’s financial performance over the next several years. One of the lead investors, Jason DeYonker of Forté Capital Advisors, helped advise Prince during Blackwater’s founding and helped negotiate the company’s first U.S. government training contracts. The other main investor is the New York-based private equity firm Manhattan Growth Partners. Bank of America helped finance the reported $200 million deal. Prince moved from the United States to Abu Dhabi earlier this year in what critics called a preemptive move to avoid possible criminal indictment.