U.S. Army Private Bradley Manning has admitted to being the source behind the largest leak of state secrets in U.S. history. Nearly three years after his arrest, Manning told a military court he leaked the classified documents to the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks in order to show the U.S. public the "true costs of war." Manning also said: "I believed that if the general public, especially the American public, had access to the information ... this could spark a domestic debate on the role of the military and our foreign policy in general." Manning also said he had first approached The New York Times and The Washington Post before finally giving the files to WikiLeaks. He pleaded guilty to some reduced charges that could carry a maximum of 20 years in prison, but could still face a life sentence on other counts.
President Obama is expected to formally order sweeping spending cuts to take effect today after repeated failures by lawmakers to reach a deal averting the sequester. Obama is meeting this morning with congressional leaders, but a last-minute deal is not expected. The Senate on Thursday rejected two proposals brought by each party to address the cuts before today’s deadline. The plan backed by Obama would have closed a tax loophole benefiting the wealthy, among other provisions, while the Republican plan would have compelled Obama to determine how to make $85 billion in cuts. White House spokesperson Jay Carney criticized the Republican proposal.
Jay Carney: "What’s true about that proposal is true with the general Republican position, which is that they would rather see sequester take effect, with its job loss, with its negative effect on economic growth, than ask a single wealthy individual to pay a little bit more, to give up a special tax break, to ask some big corporations or industries to forgo their loopholes or limit their deductions. And that’s just not a position that is sustainable, we believe, and it’s not fair to the American people."
One of the most direct impacts on federal employees will be forced furloughs, which are not expected to hit for at least 30 days pending union talks. Obama described the more immediate impact of the cuts during a business event on Wednesday.
President Obama: "This is not a cliff, but it is a tumble downward. It’s conceivable that in the first week, the first two weeks, first three weeks, first month, that unless your business is directly related to the Defense Department, unless you live in a town that is directly impacted by a military installation, unless you’re a family that now is trying to figure out where to keep your kids during the day because you just lost a Head Start slot, a lot of people may not notice the full impact of the sequester. But this is going to be a big hit on the economy."
The Obama administration has urged the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn California’s ban on same-sex marriage, saying it violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution. In a brief submitted Thursday, the administration stopped short of explicitly urging the court to overturn similar bans in seven other states. The Supreme Court will hear arguments on the ban, known as Proposition 8, later this month.
House lawmakers have approved the Senate’s version of the Violence Against Women Act, reauthorizing the landmark bill after it was held up for months by Republican objections. House Republicans sought to exclude new protections for LGBT victims and Native American women from their version of the bill. But a Senate version that includes those provisions ultimately passed the House Thursday with 138 Republicans opposing the bill and 87 siding with Democrats in favor of it. The bill now awaiting Obama’s signature will allow tribal courts to try non-Native men who assault Native American women on reservations. Arizona Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, a Democrat who represents many Native Americans, spoke in favor of the expanded protections before the vote.
Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick: "Our Native American women, who need resources and protection, face great hardships. They often live in very remote areas. Unfortunately, Native American women are two-and-a-half times more likely to be assaulted in their lifetimes than other women. This legislation strengthens protections for Native American women and so many others."
Authorities in South Africa say they have suspended a group of police officers who were caught on video dragging a black taxi driver behind a van in an incident that’s sparked outrage across the country. The victim, Mido Macia, was later found dead of head injuries in his jail cell. In the video, police in Daveyton, near Johannesburg, are seen securing Macia’s hands to the back of the vehicle before it begins moving and accelerates, pulling him across the pavement as onlookers attempt to intervene. The victim was a 27-year-old from Mozambique who was reportedly accused of parking illegally. South African President Jacob Zuma called the incident "horrific, disturbing and unacceptable."
In news from Iraq, twin explosions hit a cattle market in a mainly Shiite city today, killing at least five people and injuring dozens of others. The attacks came after a series of blasts targeting Shiite areas killed at least 22 people on Thursday.
China is accusing the United States of routinely hacking its military websites. Defense Ministry spokesperson Geng Yansheng said the United States has carried out nearly two-thirds of the recent attacks.
Geng Yansheng: "The Defense Ministry and China Military Online websites have faced a serious threat from hacking attacks since they were established, and the number of hacks has risen steadily in recent years. According to the IP addresses, the Defense Ministry and China Military Online websites were, in 2012, hacked on average from overseas 144,000 times a month, of which attacks from the U.S. accounted for 62.9 percent."
The Defense Ministry spokesperson also denied reports that a Chinese military unit is likely behind a wave of hacks targeting U.S. firms and government agencies.
In Haiti, former dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier has faced questioning in court for the first time over abuses committed during his rule in the 1970s and 1980s. Last year a judge rejected human rights charges against Duvalier, but lawyers for the victims have appealed that decision. Duvalier could now potentially face trial for illegal arrests, torture and politically motivated murders under his regime, which was backed by the United States. Nicole Phillips, an attorney with the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, described one of the victims.
Nicole Phillips: "I was sitting next to, for part of the hearing, Bobby Duval, who was one of Duvalier’s thousands of victims in this regime. He said that he had spent about 17 months in prison and that he counted, himself, 180 prisoners die while he was in prison, while he was being tortured."
Maryland’s state Senate has approved a sweeping gun-control bill that would make it the first state to mandate fingerprinting, training and background checks for gun buyers. The bill would also ban assault weapons and magazines holding more than 10 bullets.
A ban on assault weapons at the federal level is facing a delay after Republicans said they needed more time to examine it. The Senate Judiciary Committee postponed consideration of the ban and several other gun-related bills for one week.
In Texas, a public school employee was accidentally shot and injured during a class aimed at preparing teachers to carry concealed handguns on school grounds. The Van Independent School District had voted to arm school workers following December’s mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
A protester in Houston, Texas, has been arrested after disrupting a presentation by TransCanada in the latest direct action against the company’s Keystone XL oil pipeline. Ethan Nuss locked his neck to a projector screen and decried the project’s impact on the climate and communities of color for several minutes before he was removed.
Ethan Nuss: "I protested. I’ve signed petitions. I stood in line. I testified at public hearings. Nothing else has seemed to work, so today—today I am here to do nonviolent civil disobedience to have my voice heard."
Event coordinator: "OK, everybody, folks, I would like say, why don’t we all take a break and go off. We’ll take a break here. We have a police officer here, and we’ll put this man in custody and arrest him. So, I apologize for all this."
Ethan Nuss: "You can no longer hide from us, because we are everywhere. We will continue to show up at your functions. We will no longer allow business to continue that brings this kind of climate chaos."
A decision from President Obama on the pipeline, which would carry tar sands crude from Canada to Texas, is expected in the coming months after a series of delays.
In Minnesota, a company is facing resistance over its oil pipelines. Members of the Red Lake Nation have occupied the land above pipelines run by Enbridge, saying the company has been operating them without their permission.
A new study says the wealth gap between African Americans and whites in the United States has nearly tripled over the last quarter century. Researchers at Brandeis University who tracked households over time say the median wealth of white families grew to become more than $236,000 higher than that of black families by 2009. They cited homeownership as a top cause and urged policies to ensure "that the legacy of residential segregation no longer confers greater wealth opportunities to white homeowners than it does to black homeowners."