The Occupy Wall Street protests continue in Lower Manhattan along with parallel actions across the country. On Wednesday, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg told demonstrators they will need to clear Liberty Plaza on Friday for the square to be cleaned. In response, Occupy Wall Street organizers have issued a mass call for cleaning supplies and say they intend to clean the space themselves. Meanwhile, four protesters were arrested during a march to Chase Manhattan Plaza. Witnesses claim the arrests were arbitrary and unnecessarily forceful.
Witness: "OK, they had three or four guys with masks on. The cops just swarmed them, and they chased them and threw them on the floor. Then they arrested an old man and an old lady right now, for nothing, for absolutely nothing. And now they’re trying to push us around, and, you know, they’re just harassing us."
Hundreds of office workers, including cleaners, guards and other building service workers, joined with the Occupy Wall Street marchers on Wednesday to demand better pay and working conditions. Protesters have reportedly planned major actions for this Saturday, including a march on banks in the Financial District, a student meet-up in Washington Square Park and a demonstration in Times Square.
In San Francisco, roughly 200 supporters of the Occupy Wall Street movement temporarily shut down the headquarters of the Wells Fargo Bank Wednesday morning, leading to 11 arrests. The demonstrators reportedly posted blown-up foreclosure notices on the doors of the bank, held up by stickers reading, "We are the 99 percent."
Carl Finamore, labor activist: "I was just asking these police officers how they felt, at this stage in their life, of protecting the banks against the people. And they’re trying to take the pensions from these cops, the same as they’re trying to do to us. United Airlines, I worked for. They took my pension. They took the pension of all the employees when they went into bankruptcy and they terminated it. So the last thing in the world I’d be doing is standing at the doorway interfering with the right of these peaceful, young people, with the right of assembly to protest what these banks have done to this society."
At least seven people have been killed in a pair of U.S. drone attacks inside Pakistan. At least one of the victims was alleged to be a leader within the Haqqani network. The United States is known to have carried out at least 30 drone strikes inside Pakistan since the killing of Osama bin Laden in May.
A new study says the U.S.-led NATO coalition in Afghanistan is exaggerating its stated gains over the Taliban. A review by the Afghanistan Analysts Network shows that NATO’s use of the word "leader" to describe an alleged top militant is "so broad as to be meaningless." The report also notes that for every alleged militant "leader" killed in nighttime raids, eight other people have also died.
The Obama administration is calling for intensified international sanctions on Iran in the wake of its allegations the Iranian government plotted to carry out an attack inside the United States. Two alleged operatives were indicted this week on charges they sought to hire a Mexican drug cartel to assassinate the Saudi ambassador. At the White House, Press Secretary Jay Carney refused to rule out the use of military force on Iran, but said the United States will press for sanctions.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney: "In this arena, we take no options off the table. But in dealing with Iran, we are clearly focused on working through economic measures, sanctions, as well as diplomatic measures, to isolate Iran. And we’ve had, we think, substantial success doing that. For the first time in a long time, the Iranian economy is not growing."
The Iranian government has dismissed the allegations as a fraud. Elsewhere in Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton backed the push for sanctions, calling the alleged plot "a dangerous escalation."
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: "This plot, very fortunately disrupted by the excellent work of our law enforcement and intelligence professionals, was a flagrant violation of international and U.S. law and a dangerous escalation of the Iranian government’s longstanding use of political violence and sponsorship of terrorism."
As the Obama administration pushes for new sanctions on Iran, widespread doubts are emerging about the plot and the U.S. claims of Iranian government involvement. According to the Washington Post, the scheme was so poorly organized that investigators had major doubts from the beginning of their probe. One U.S. official said the transparent actions of the suspects, including a $100,000 wire transfer from Iran, were "inconsistent with the high [Iranian intelligence] standards we’ve seen in the past." Gary Sick, an Iran expert and former National Security Council official, said: "It is difficult to believe that [Iran] would rely on a non-Islamic criminal gang to carry out this most sensitive of all possible missions. In this instance, they allegedly relied on at least one amateur and a Mexican criminal drug gang that is known to be riddled with both Mexican and U.S. intelligence agents. … Whatever else may be Iran’s failings, they are not noted for utter disregard of the most basic intelligence tradecraft." Some experts have speculated the plot was staged by opponents of the Iranian government in order to frame Tehran.
A Syrian-born U.S. citizen has been indicted on charges of spying on Syrian government opponents inside the United States. Mohamad Anas Haitham Soueid is accused of acting as an agent of the Syrian intelligence service to monitor activists within the U.S. protesting the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The indictment alleges Soueid recruited others for the spying and also passed on his intelligence to Syrian officials in Damascus and Washington, D.C. The Syrian government has denied the claims.
Libya’s interim government says a son of toppled leader Col. Muammar Gaddafi has been captured in the embattled city of Sirte. Mo’tassim Gaddafi was reportedly seized while trying to flee the city with his family. National Transitional Council forces have captured most of Sirte over the past week. In other Libya news, Amnesty International claims the NTC is holding some 2,500 detainees in the capital city of Tripoli alone, many without access to lawyers or judicial proceedings. The rights group says many of the prisoners have been subjected to beatings and other abuses, with black Africans particularly targeted.
A Nigerian man has pleaded guilty to attempting to carry out the failed jetliner attack on Christmas Day in 2009. On Wednesday, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the so-called "underwear bomber," admitted to trying to blow up a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit. Abdulmutallab’s court-appointed attorney said he had advised against the guilty plea.
Anthony Chambers: "It’s a decision that was against the advice of counsel. But it’s a decision that he chose to make and he believed to be the right thing to do today, based upon his own feelings. Certainly, we have been involved in what we would consider a very contested litigation at this point in time. That’s what we do. We wanted to continue the trial, but we respect his decision."
Some of the passengers aboard the 2009 flight were on hand for the trial. Outside the courtroom, two passengers said the guilty plea would help bring closure.
Dimitrios Bessis: "It was a horrible experience. I have nightmares from it. I know the children that were there will probably be scarred for the rest of their lives. But it’s over with, thank God. We all made it, including the good Lord let him live, and he made the proper decision and pleaded guilty."
Lori Haskell: "I’m completely and totally shocked that he pled guilty. But I’m glad that this is over with. It’s been something that my family and I have been dealing with for the past year and a half. And I’m glad it’s done with, and hopefully I don’t have to think about it much longer."
The military junta in Burma has begun freeing a limited number of political prisoners as part of a recently announced general amnesty. Amnesty International says about 120 prisoners have been freed so far, a fraction of the estimated 2,000 believed to be behind bars.
Congress has approved a long-delayed, so-called "free trade" pact with South Korea, Panama and Colombia. The deals had been stalled in part due to objections from labor groups over the effect on U.S. workers, as well as Colombia’s record on the killings of union activists. In the Senate, Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio criticized the agreements.
Sen. Sherrod Brown: "We should be ashamed of ourselves for passing these agreements, period, and especially for passing them under these provisions. I hope the administration learns something from this. I hope the administration decides on these trade agreements, instead of being on the side of the largest corporations in the country and in the world, which don’t always look out for American interests, I hope the administration and the members of the House and Senate will decide they want to be on the side of American families, American communities, of American workers, of American small companies that make stuff and want to sell it all over the world."
At least eight people have been killed and another person has been left critically injured in a shooting rampage at a hair salon in Seal Beach, California. The unidentified suspect was arrested shortly after fleeing the scene. Seal Beach Police Sergeant Steve Bowles announced the attack.
Sgt. Steve Bowles: "At 1:21 this afternoon, the Seal Beach Police Department responded to the hair salon behind me, responding to a 'shots fired' call inside of the hair salon. Our officers arrived on scene and found nine critically injured parties. It was later discovered that six of those nine were deceased, and three were transported to a local medical center as critical traumas."
The U.S. Department of Interior has formally cited the oil giant BP, as well as the contractors Transocean and Halliburton, for the April 2010 explosion that caused the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history. The move marks the first time the government has moved to take action against Transocean and Halliburton for the spill. The violations could lead to millions of dollars in fines.
A coalition of civil rights groups has filed a lawsuit seeking to block South Carolina’s anti-immigrant law from taking effect next year. The measure requires police to check suspects’ immigration status and orders businesses to do the same for new workers. Lawsuits have been filed against similar suits in Alabama, Arizona, Utah, Indiana and Georgia. In Alabama, a number of plants and other businesses were forced to close their doors on Wednesday after Hispanics across the state staged walk-outs in protest of their state’s anti-immigrant law. The law’s provisions require police to arrest anyone they suspect of being in the country without legal status, prevent courts from enforcing contracts involving undocumented immigrants, and allow public schools to determine the immigration status of enrolled students.
Pennsylvania’s capital city of Harrisburg has filed for bankruptcy amidst a long-running debt crisis. The Harrisburg city council approved the filing, calling it the lone alternative to selling off city assets to pay Wall Street creditors. Democratic Mayor Linda Thompson has declared the move illegal after refusing to sign the bankruptcy papers. If the filing proceeds, Harrisburg would be the largest municipality to declare bankruptcy since the California town of Vallejo did so in 2008.
Amnesty International has called on the Canadian government to arrest former President George W. Bush when he arrives in the province of British Columbia next week. In a 1,000-page memo to Canadian authorities, the human rights group accuses Bush of international crimes, including torture, and asks that Canada either prosecute or extradite the former president for violations alleged to have taken place during the CIA’s secret detention program between 2002 and 2009. Bush is visiting British Columbia to address an economic forum. Earlier this year, he was forced to cancel a planned trip to Switzerland after human rights attorneys threatened to take legal action against him for sanctioning the use of torture.