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Justice Dept. Clears Holder, Faults Top Officials on "Fast and Furious"

The Justice Department’s inspector general has issued a long-anticipated report faulting top federal officials over the controversial gun-sting operation known as "Fast and Furious" while exonerating Attorney General Eric Holder. The operation saw U.S. agents allowing the sale of thousands of guns to middlemen for Mexican drug cartels in an attempt to gain access to senior-level figures within Mexico’s criminal organizations. The nearly 500-page report, issued Wednesday, accuses federal prosecutors and agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms of allowing the botched sting to continue through a "series of misguided strategies, tactics, errors in judgment and management failures." Holder has faced a number of Republican attacks over the program, culminating in a contempt vote by the House earlier this year. While the report exonerates Holder, it condemns Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer and an aide who promptly resigned on Wednesday. More than a dozen officials are singled out in the report for possible discipline.

U.S. Threatens Iraq over Alleged Iran Flights

Iraq is denying reports it’s allowed Iran to fly shipments of weapons and military personnel to aid the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad over Iraqi airspace. According to Reuters, the transfers have been authorized under a deal between top Iraqi and Iranian officials. On Wednesday, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts warned Iraq that the alleged flights could jeopardize U.S. aid. Meanwhile, at the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Syria would top the agenda at the General Assembly in New York City next week.

Ban Ki-moon: "Every morning when I watch TV and images, whenever I see many people, particularly young children, who are hurt with all this blood in their bodies, I couldn’t start my day with peace of mind. That really affects me very deeply. As you know — and unfortunately, the both sides, government and opposition forces, seem to be determined to see the end by military means. I think military means will not bring an answer. That should be resolved through political dialogue."

Italy Upholds Sentences of 23 CIA Agents for 2003 Kidnapping

Italy’s top court has upheld 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 after the United States refused to hand them over. The Italian government will now be obliged to make a formal request for their extradition; however, it is all but assured the Obama administration will continue its rejection.

Counterterrorism Official: Consulate Killings a "Terrorist Attack"

The head of the National Counterterrorism Center appeared before Congress Wednesday to update lawmakers on the investigation into last week’s deadly attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. Matthew Olsen said although the perpetrators remain unknown, it’s clear the assault was a premeditated "terrorist attack."

Matthew Olsen: "Certainly on that particular question I would say, yes, they were killed in the course of a terrorist attack on our embassy. A number of different elements appear to have been involved in the attack, including individuals connected to militant groups that are prevalent in eastern Libya, particularly in the Benghazi area. As well, we are looking at indications that individuals involved in the attack may have had connections to al-Qaeda or al-Qaeda’s affiliates, in particular al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb."

France Closes Sites in 20 Countries over Cartoon Mocking Islam

France has ordered the closure of embassies and other official sites in 20 countries after a French magazine published offensive caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad. The latest issue of satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo features a depiction of Muhammad in pornographic poses.

Virginia Regulations Could Shutter Abortion Clinics

Abortion clinics in Virginia are facing a major setback after the state’s board of health reversed an earlier decision that exempted them from stringent building codes. The regulations in question are akin to those imposed on hospitals, governing everything from the size of the janitors’ closets to the width of hallways. Some Virginia clinics say the rules may force their closure due to the costs of remodeling. The board’s reversal follows what critics call bullying by the state’s attorney general, who rejected a decision in June exempting existing clinics from the rules and said the board had overstepped its authority. Ken Cuccinelli had told board members they could not exempt clinics and warned them they would be personally liable for legal fees if they were sued after rejecting his advice. The Virginia law is part of a nationwide wave of so-called Targeted Regulation of Abortion Provider, or TRAP, laws aimed at ending access to abortion.

Arctic Sea Ice Reaches All-Time Low

In the latest sign of global warming’s impact, sea ice in the Arctic has melted to its smallest surface area since record keeping began. Arctic ice naturally melts to some degree at this time of year, but this year’s minimum is nearly 50 percent less than the average from 1979 to 2000. The sea ice reached its apparent low point for the year on Sunday, when it covered just 24 percent of the surface of the Arctic Ocean. The previous record low from 2007 was 29 percent. Scientists have long viewed Arctic sea ice as a key indicator of global warming. On Wednesday, the environmental group Greenpeace hosted a "Polar Emergency" event in New York City. Inupiat leader Caroline Cannon, from Point Hope, Alaska, and the environmental activist Bill McKibben both addressed the unprecedented melting of Arctic sea ice.

Caroline Cannon: "We knew something was happening with the climate change, but I think, more so now, it’s critical that we take it to heart that it’s happening. There are people that rely on that Arctic Ocean. If the ice melts, it’s a scary thought, because it’s who we are, you know, it’s where the animals migrate. And my elders rely — the community elders rely on their vitamins and the traditional food that the oceans supply."

Bill McKibben: "There’s no place on earth where we see the essential irony of our moment playing out more perfectly than in the Arctic. We have melted much of the sea ice in the Arctic. Our response to that has been not alarm, not panic, not a sense of urgency. Our basic response as a civilization to that has been, 'Well, let's go up there and drill for oil.’"


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