The online whistleblower group WikiLeaks is facing an intensified backlash as it continues to release secret U.S. diplomatic cables. Crippling cyber-attacks and U.S. government pressure have forced WikiLeaks to change its website address after the firms Amazon.com and EveryDNS dropped it from their servers. The popular online payment site PayPal has cut off a vital funding channel by closing WikiLeaks’ account, which it used to collect donations. PayPal accused WikiLeaks of violating a policy barring users that "encourage, promote, facilitate or instruct others to engage in illegal activity." WikiLeaks has denounced the moves as U.S.-backed censorship and says its supporters have established over 355 "mirror" sites to ensure the cables remain online.
The latest cables include a document providing a list of installations described as vital to U.S. interests and national security worldwide. The list is expansive, including everything from power plants supplying U.S. grids to a cobalt mine in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The U.S. State Department has criticized the list’s publication as "irresponsible," while the British government called it "damaging to national security." In response, WikiLeaks said the list has been available to over 2.5 million people including military officials and private contractors, and that it does not include specific locations and vulnerabilities.
The cables also provide new evidence that U.S. allies in Europe strongly doubt the war in Afghanistan. In a memo from last year, European Union President Herman Van Rompuy is quoted suggesting European troops are only in Afghanistan to please the U.S. government. Van Rompuy says, "Europe is doing it and will go along out of deference to the United States, but not out of deference to Afghanistan." He continues, "No one believes in Afghanistan any more. But we will give it 2010 to see results. If it doesn’t work, that will be because it is the last chance." The disclosure comes just days after President Obama made a surprise visit to U.S. troops in Afghanistan. In an address to a crowd of troops, Obama said the United States has made progress in its war goals.
President Obama: "You are protecting your country. You’re achieving your objectives. You will succeed in your mission. We said we were going to break the Taliban’s momentum, and that’s what you’re doing. You’re going on the offense, tired of playing defense, targeting their leaders, pushing them out of their strongholds. Today we can be proud that there are fewer areas under Taliban control, and more Afghans have a chance to build a more hopeful future."
Other leaked files show Afghan President Hamid Karzai has been asking the United States to end deadly night raids on Afghan homes for almost two years. The United States has ignored Karzai’s calls, increasing the raids fivefold since 2009. The cables also warn the raids have become so unpopular the U.S. risks public resentment similar to that against Soviet occupiers in the 1980s.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is said to remain in a secret location in Britain amidst an international warrant for his arrest. Assange is wanted for questioning on allegations of inappropriate sexual contact in Sweden. Reports have emerged in the last week that Assange’s two accusers bragged about their separate encounters with him and that prosecutors are targeting him for having consensual sex without a condom. One of the accusers has also been described as having ties to a right-wing Cuban exile group linked to the CIA. Assange meanwhile says he’s received hundreds of death threats, including some directed at his children. Assange’s attorney, Mark Stephens, said Swedish prosecutors had yet to make contact with Assange or his legal representatives.
Mark Stephens: "[Swedish prosecutor Marianne Ny] knows how to do that, so the question you have to ask yourself is 'Why would she run away from the opportunity to interview Julian in Stockholm, an opportunity to meet him at a Swedish embassy, or indeed to do it by video conference, where she records the evidence in Sweden, so Swedish evidence?' All of those are perfectly normal and proper approaches, yet she has thrown them out of the window. This doesn’t seem to be about an attempt to get at truth or justice; it seems to be a persecution, not a prosecution."
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange continues to come under attack from top U.S. officials and politicians. Appearing on NBC’s Meet the Press, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell called Assange a "high-tech terrorist."
Sen. Mitch McConnell: "I think the man is a high-tech terrorist. He’s done an enormous damage to our country, and I think he needs to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. And if that becomes a problem, we need to change the law."
Other newly released classified cables from WikiLeaks show that U.S. diplomats reported that the Qatari government has tried to use the satellite network Al Jazeera as a bargaining tool in international diplomacy. The cables say Qatar offered Egypt to stop broadcasting Al Jazeera for a year in return for a more forceful Egyptian role in seeking an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal. In a statement, Al Jazeera dismissed the claims and said it remains "guided by the principles of a free press."
Republicans are closing in on winning their effort to preserve the Bush-era tax cut for the wealthiest Americans. On Saturday, Senate Republicans blocked a measure to renew the tax cut only for individuals with an annual income of $200,000 or less and married couples earning no more than $250,000. Five Democrats joined with Republicans in opposition. The White House and Republican leaders are reportedly close to a deal that would extend the cuts for the most wealthy for two years in return for extending jobless aid to the unemployed. Speaking on the Senate floor, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid blasted the Republican stance.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid: "It’s a tax cut many admit they don’t need, a tax cut billionaires like Warren Buffett say they don’t even want. Mr. President, when was the last time you heard an investor ask for less money? But what did the Republicans do? They pulled away the football and said, 'Rather than reduce the deficit, we'd really rather give an unnecessary, unwanted, unaffordable handout to the richest of the rich.’"
The Senate vote came one day after new figures showed the official unemployment rate has jumped to 9.8 percent, the fifth highest it has been since the economic crisis began. Some two million people are poised to lose unemployment benefits this month, with more to come in the following months. Hours after the Senate vote, President Obama criticized Republicans for insisting on a tax cut for the most wealthy.
President Obama: "I am very disappointed that the Senate did not pass legislation that had already passed the House of Representatives to make middle-class tax cuts permanent. Those provisions should have passed. Now, I continue to believe that it makes no sense to hold tax cuts for the middle class hostage to permanent tax cuts for the wealthiest two percent of Americans."
The White House panel on reducing the deficit has failed to recommend the controversial proposals of its co-chairs to Congress. Panel co-chairs Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson want to raise the retirement age for Social Security to 69 by 2075, decrease the cost of living benefits for Social Security recipients, impose new limits on the Medicare health insurance program, and end several middle-class tax breaks while reducing income taxes for corporations. On Friday, the proposals failed to gain the 14 votes needed from the panel’s 18 members to be sent to Congress. Panel member and former Service Employees International Union head Andy Stern voted against the recommendations.
Andy Stern: "And this plan deserves a vote, and this president needs to make sure that by the State of the Union he also has his own plan and his own leadership, because this is the issue of our time that must be solved. Now, I voted no, and it was despite my admiration for the effort. And I just feel strongly that we have two deficits in this country: a fiscal deficit and an investment deficit. And the investment deficit we also need to create a competitive, dynamic and growing economy."
Despite the vote’s outcome, the panel’s recommendations could still be incorporated into President Obama’s budget plan early next year.
Top military leaders are voicing opposition to an immediate repeal of the military’s ban on gay and lesbian servicemembers known as the "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" policy. On Friday, the heads of the U.S. Army and Marine Corps appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee to argue against a repeal before the end of the year. The Army chief of staff, General George Casey, contradicted the testimony of Defense Secretary Robert Gates one day earlier.
Gen. George Casey: "Implementation of the repeal of ’Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ would be a major cultural and policy change in the middle of a war. It would be implemented by a force and leaders that are already stretched by the cumulative effects of almost a decade at war. It would be implemented by a force in which a substantial number of soldiers perceive that repeal will have a negative impact on unit effectiveness, cohesion and morale, and that implementation will be difficult."
International talks have begun in Geneva today between Iranian officials and global powers including the United States. The two sides will hold their first formal negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program in 14 months. Ahead of the talks, Iran announced it had delivered its first domestic concentrated uranium powder, known as "yellowcake," for enrichment. Yellowcake can be used to fuel nuclear reactors, but also can be used for nuclear weapons.