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Rice Withdraws Bid for Sec. of State over GOP Challenge

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, has withdrawn her name as a potential successor to outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton following weeks of Republican-led opposition. Republicans have campaigned against Rice’s potential appointment since her name surfaced earlier this year, accusing her of misleading the public about the deadly September 11th attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. In a letter to President Obama, Rice said: "I am fully confident that I could serve our country ably and effectively ... However, if nominated, I am now convinced that the confirmation process would be lengthy, disruptive and costly." Rice is expected to stay on as U.N. envoy while Obama could tap another rumored candidate, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry. While the partisan clash over Rice focused on Benghazi, progressive critics had pointed to Rice’s hawkish foreign policy record while serving under the Clinton and Obama administrations, as well her financial interests in the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline.

U.S. Approves Missile Batteries to Turkey

The Pentagon has approved a deployment of around 400 U.S. military personnel and two Patriot missile batteries to Turkey. NATO authorized Turkey’s request for the missiles earlier this month amidst cross-border tensions with neighboring Syria. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta confirmed the deployment during a visit to Turkey.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta: "We announced this morning that we are deploying two Patriot batteries here to Turkey, along with the troops that are necessary to man those batteries, so that we can help Turkey have the kind of missile defense it may very well need in dealing with threats that come out of Syria."

The U.S. batteries will coincide with another four from Europe, with all six expected to be operational by next month.

CIA Torture, Rendition Victim Wins Landmark European Court Case

A German victim of CIA rendition and torture has won a landmark victory in European court. Khaled El-Masri was seized in Macedonia in 2003 as part of the CIA’s secret extraordinary rendition program. He was beaten, sodomized and held in a secret prison in Afghanistan for months before being abandoned by the CIA on a hillside in Albania. On Thursday, the European Court of Human Rights condemned Macedonia’s transfer of Masri into CIA custody and ruled his treatment in U.S. custody "amounted to torture." European court judge Nicolas Bratza unveiled the verdict.

Nicolas Bratza: "There has been a violation of Article 3 of the convention by the respondent state on account of the inhuman and degrading treatment to which the applicant was subjected while being held in the hotel in Skopje. Five holds that the respondent state is responsible for the ill treatment to which the applicant was subjected at Skopje airport and that this treatment must be classified as torture within the meaning of Article 3 of the convention. Six holds that the responsibility of the respondent state is engaged with regard to the applicant’s transfer into the custody of the United States authorities, despite the existence of a real risk that he would be subjected to further treatment contrary to the Article 3 of the convention."

The ruling marked the first time a court of law has determined the CIA treatment of terror suspects constituted torture and the first time a European state has been held liable for being complicit. Masri attorney Darian Pavli welcomed the landmark decision.

Darian Pavli: "It has been nine years, and it has taken legal proceedings in three different countries, which provided no results for him. Today, this court has confirmed what we knew all along, that his story was true, that he was a victim of an offense of extraordinary rendition. And I think it’s a major victory for Europe and the cause of human rights in the world generally."

A previous effort by El-Masri to sue Bush administration officials for his capture and torture was dismissed by the Supreme Court in 2007. He has since brought a case against the CIA before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. In a statement, the American Civil Liberties Union said: "Today’s ruling makes it harder for the United States to continue burying its head in the sand and ignoring domestic and global calls for full accountability for torture. [And] this remarkable decision will no doubt put greater pressure on European nations to fully account for their complicity."

Britain to Pay $3.5 Million Settlement to Libyan Rendition Victim

In Britain, another victim of CIA-tied rendition has been given a $3.5 million settlement from the British government. Sami al Saadi, a leading opponent of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, was forcibly sent to Libya along with his wife and four children in 2004. In a joint operation between the United States, Britain and the Gaddafi-ruled Libya, Saadi and his family were forced onto a plane in Hong Kong and sent back to Libya, where they were all imprisoned and Saadi himself was tortured. Kat Craig, legal director of the British charity Reprieve, said Britain played a critical role in Saadi’s ordeal.

Kat Craig: "It was British intelligence that led to the rendition and British officers who interrogated these individuals whilst they were being detained under the Gaddafi regime and whilst they were being tortured. Mr. al Saadi’s only motivation now is to find accountability and justice and to ensure that this will not happen again to others, that the British government stays within the bounds of law, as they failed to do in the case where they rendered and were complicit in the rendering of him and his family."

Saadi was one of a number of Libyans rendered by the United States and Britain to Libya despite the knowledge they would be tortured. Evidence of the CIA’s collaboration with Gaddafi emerged after Gaddafi’s U.S.-backed ouster in 2011.

Senate Intel Committee Approves "Startling" Rendition Report

In related news, the Senate Intelligence Committee has approved a sweeping report on CIA rendition and torture under the Bush administration. The committee’s chair, Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, said the nearly 6,000-page report provides "startling details" about U.S. kidnapping operations and secret prisons overseas, including "details of each detainee in CIA custody, the conditions under which they were detained, how they were interrogated, the intelligence they actually provided and the accuracy — or inaccuracy — of CIA descriptions about the program." It’s unclear if the report will be publicly released.

Suicide Bomber Kills 3 in Afghanistan

In Afghanistan, a suicide bomber has killed two Afghan civilians and a U.S. soldier in an attack outside the Kandahar Airfield base. Another three people were wounded.

Panetta, Karzai Discuss "Enduring" U.S. Troop Presence After 2014

The attack outside the Kandahar Airfield base came shortly after a visit by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who was in Afghanistan to discuss the future role of U.S. troops beyond the 2014 withdrawal date. In a joint appearance with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Panetta repeated a U.S. vow to maintain an "enduring presence" in Afghanistan.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta: "We are going to maintain an enduring presence in Afghanistan beyond 2014. We will be drawing down our forces. Obviously the Afghan army will assume full responsibility for the security of the country, but we will be there to provide support, to provide training, to provide assistance, to provide help on counterterrorism and to provide support for the forces that are here. So we will be maintaining an enduring presence."

Israeli Soldiers Attack Journalists in Hebron

In Israel and the Occupied Territories, Israeli troops have attacked two journalists with the news service Reuters as they covered the aftermath of the fatal shooting of a Palestinian boy. Camera operators Yousri Al Jamal and Ma’amoun Wazwaz were on their way to the Hebron military checkpoint where Israeli troops had shot the boy dead when they were stopped by an Israeli military vehicle. According to their account, the Israeli soldiers punched them, forced them to strip in the street, and then fired off a tear gas canister. Wazwaz was overcome by the tear gas fumes and treated in a local hospital. Two other Palestinian journalists working for local outlets were also stopped and accosted.

Venezuela: Chávez Suffers Internal Bleeding Following Surgery

The Venezuelan government says President Hugo Chávez has suffered internal bleeding following his cancer surgery in Cuba earlier this week but is still showing signs of recovery. It is unclear if Chávez will be healthy enough to return to Venezuela in time for his swearing-in ceremony scheduled for January 10th. Predicting a "complex and difficult" recovery process, Venezuelan Vice President Nicolás Maduro called for national unity while Chávez is on the mend.

Venezuelan Vice President Nicolás Maduro: "It is very clear that we present the need for our people to accompany him in his treatment, but also that our people be serenely prepared to face these hard, complex and difficult days that we will have to live through. These are situations that are complex and difficult that can only be faced with the people’s unity."

Michigan Approves New Emergency Managers Law Following Repeal by Voters

Lawmakers in Michigan continue to push through controversial measures before the new legislature convenes next month. On its final day of voting, Michigan’s Senate has approved a new law allowing Michigan areas to declare bankruptcy or fall under the control of an unelected emergency manager enabled to fire public officials and shed union contracts. State Republicans advanced the measure after voters repealed a similar initiative on Election Day last month. Critics have described it as Michigan’s "local dictators" law.

Anti-Abortion Bill Advances as Michigan Lame-Duck Session Ends

Michigan lawmakers have now also approved a sweeping anti-abortion bill considered to be among the most extreme in the country. The bill imposes a number of burdensome and complicated requirements that critics say could force the state’s abortion clinics to close. It also prohibits the use of telemedicine to prescribe medication abortions in a blow to access for rural women. The measures are part of a wave of bills in a lame-duck session that also saw the enactment of two controversial anti-union laws making Michigan a so-called "right-to-work" state earlier this week.

North Carolina Judge Voids 3 Death Sentences over Racial Bias

A North Carolina judge has voided the death sentences of three prisoners after determining their ethnicity played a major role in their sentencing. Tilmon Golphin and Quintel Augustine, who are both African American, and Christina Walters, who is Native American, were each given life sentences without parole on Thursday after Judge Gregory Weeks ruled they were covered by the state’s Racial Justice Act. Judge Weeks wrote: "In the writing of prosecutors’ long buried in case files and brought to light for the first time in this hearing, the court finds powerful evidence of race-consciousness and race-based decision making."

Obama Signals Federal Gov’t Won’t Challenge Colorado, Washington Pot Laws

President Obama has signaled for the first time his administration will not try to override recently approved laws in Washington and Colorado approving the recreational use of marijuana. Both laws have recently taken effect following their approval in ballot measures on Election Day. In a yet-to-air interview with ABC News, Obama says: "We’ve got bigger fish to fry ... It would not make sense for us to see a top priority as going after recreational users in states that have determined that it’s legal." Obama’s comments mark his first on the issue following widespread speculation the White House would try to challenge the Colorado and Washington laws.

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