The military judge presiding over the court-martial of U.S. Army Private Bradley Manning has upheld the most serious charge against him — that he knowingly aided the enemy by giving hundreds of thousands of classified documents to WikiLeaks. Manning’s defense team had asked Col. Denise Lind to dismiss the charge, which could see Manning sentenced to life in prison without parole plus an additional 154 years. But on Thursday Lind ruled there was enough evidence to show that in giving information to WikiLeaks, Manning had knowingly provided it to enemy groups, such as al-Qaeda. Last week, Harvard Law Professor Yochai Benkler testified that that argument "essentially means that any leak to a media organization that can be read by any enemy anywhere in the world becomes automatically aiding the enemy." Arguments are expected to continue today.
The National Security Agency says it is implementing new security measures following the leaks by Edward Snowden that revealed its massive spying operations. NSA chief General Keith Alexander said the agency has developed a "two-man rule" requiring two systems administrators to work simultaneously in order to access key information. During remarks at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado, Alexander also discussed the Obama administration’s development of cyberweapons, saying roughly 4,000 people in Pentagon units were assigned to conduct cyber-offense and defense. Alexander also suggested for the first time that President Obama had raised questions early in his tenure about the number of "mistakes" resulting in what Alexander framed as the accidental collection of data about U.S. citizens. When asked about the impact of the leaks that unveiled how the NSA conducts surveillance on communications both at home and abroad, Alexander condemned them in harsh terms.
Gen. Keith Alexander: "I think it’s significant and irreversible damage to our nation. And we’ve got to be clear on that. The purpose of these programs and the reason we use secrecy is not to hide it from the American people, not to hide it from you, but to hide it from those who walk among you who are trying to kill you."
Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter has gained attention for strongly criticizing the National Security Agency’s spying this week during an event in Atlanta. According to the translation of a quote that appeared in the German magazine Der Spiegel, Carter said, "America has no functioning democracy at this moment."
Detroit, Michigan, has become the largest city in the United States to file for bankruptcy. Detroit’s emergency manager, Kevyn Orr, says the city’s debt could be as high as $20 billion. The exact consequences of Detroit’s bankruptcy will be determined in court, but they could include dramatic cuts to pensions for city workers.
In Egypt, supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsi are taking to the streets again today for mass rallies more than two weeks after Morsi was toppled by the military amid a popular uprising. Morsi’s opponents are holding rival protests. Ahead of today’s actions, interim President Adly Mansour gave his first national address, pledging to protect Egypt from those he says are seeking chaos and violence.
President Adly Mansour: "I reaffirm to you all my commitment and the government’s commitment to restore security and stability in our country. We will not be scared or alarmed, and we will not go easy on those who kill the innocent. We will fight a battle for security until the end. We will protect the revolution. We will build the nation, and we will move forward without hesitation."
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has been released from prison pending an appeal a day after he was sentenced to five years in prison for embezzlement. Navalny’s supporters had flocked to the streets to condemn his conviction, saying it was motivated by his criticism of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Navalny helped launch mass protests around Putin’s re-election last year.
The U.S. military says the number of prisoners on hunger strike at Guantánamo Bay has dropped to 75 from more than 100 last week. A lawyer for the prisoners said he believes the drop is due to threats the prisoners would be deprived of prayer rights during the holy month of Ramadan if they did not eat. Earlier this week, a federal judge denied a motion by prisoners seeking to end the force-feeding of hunger strikers. Forty-six hunger strikers are still listed for force-feedings performed with nasal tubes.
Italian officials say an ex-CIA base chief convicted in absentia for the extraordinary rendition of an Egyptian cleric has been detained in Panama. Robert Seldon Lady, who ran the CIA’s station in Milan, was convicted in Italy and sentenced to nine years in prison for the kidnapping of an imam known as Abu Omar, who was snatched from the streets of Milan in 2003 and taken to U.S. bases in Italy and Germany before being sent to Egypt, where he says he was tortured. Omar was eventually freed without being charged with a crime. A Panamanian police official told Reuters Robert Seldon Lady had been handed over to Interpol.
The top U.S. military officer says the Obama administration is considering the use of military force in Syria. General Martin Dempsey, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee Thursday he has provided President Obama with military options for the conflict between President Bashar al-Assad and rebel fighters. Dempsey responded to heated questions on Syria from Arizona Sen. John McCain.
Sen. John McCain: "I’m asking for your opinion."
Gen. Martin Dempsey: "About the use of kinetic strikes. That issue is under deliberation inside of our agencies of government, and it would be inappropriate for me to try to influence the decision with me rendering an opinion in public about what kind of force we should use."
McCain has vowed to block Dempsey’s reconfirmation over what he says are inadequate responses on Syria. The U.S. announced plans to arm the rebels last month, but the effort has stalled amid questions by Congress. Reuters, meanwhile, reports Britain has dropped its plans to arm the rebels due to public opposition and fear the weapons it provides could end up in the wrong hands.
Secretary of State John Kerry is wrapping up a visit to the Middle East today after his plans to advance peace talks between Palestinians and Israelis stalled. Palestinian negotiators had called for Israel to agree to guarantees regarding its future borders in order to ensure peace talks would be productive. This week, the Israeli government approved the building of more than 700 homes outside of its internationally recognized 1967 borders.
A judge in Fulton County, Georgia, has indefinitely extended a stay of execution for the mentally disabled prisoner Warren Hill over a new state law that makes the suppliers of lethal injection drugs a "state secret." In an order issued Thursday, the judge said the secrecy law likely violates the Constitution. But she allowed prosecutors to immediately appeal to the state Supreme Court. If her injunction is overturned, Hill could still be executed tonight. Hill was sentenced to death for killing a fellow prisoner while serving a life sentence for another murder. His lawyers say his execution would violate a Supreme Court ban on the execution of prisoners with mental disabilities.
Trayvon Martin’s parents have spoken out for the first time since George Zimmerman was acquitted in the fatal shooting of their son. In a series of network television interviews Thursday, Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin responded to the verdict. This is Martin on NBC’s Today Show.
Tracy Martin: "Still shocked, still in disbelief. We felt in our hearts that we were going to get a conviction. We thought that the killer of our unarmed child was going to be convicted of the crime that he committed."
Trayvon Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, also spoke out on NBC’s Today Show about the wider implications of Zimmerman’s acquittal and the message it sends to youth.
Sybrina Fulton: "I mean, it’s sending a terrible message to other little black and brown boys that you can’t walk fast, you can’t walk slow. So what do they do? I mean, how do you get home without people knowing or either assuming that you’re doing something wrong? Trayvon wasn’t doing anything wrong."
"Justice for Trayvon" actions are set to take place in more than 100 cities this weekend. On Saturday, Sybrina Fulton will join a vigil outside the New York City Police Department headquarters while Tracy Martin attends a similar vigil in Miami, Florida.
The U.S. Senate has officially confirmed Thomas Perez as labor secretary and Gina McCarthy as head of the Environmental Protection Agency. The votes came after Republicans agreed to drop their blockade of a number of President Obama’s nominees in order to preserve their ability to filibuster.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry has signed into law a bill that could shutter nearly all the state’s abortion clinics. The bill inspired a people’s filibuster and a stand from Texas State Senator Wendy Davis that shut down an initial attempt by the Legislature to pass it last month. But Perry announced victory in a signing ceremony on Thursday as protesters chanted "Shame!" outside the room.
Gov. Rick Perry: "It is our responsibility and duty to give voice to the unborn, the individuals whose survival is at stake. This bill lives up to that responsibility."
The law holds abortion clinics to the same standards as hospital-style surgery centers and requires hard-to-obtain admitting privileges for abortion doctors at nearby hospitals. It also bans abortion at 20 weeks post-fertilization and imposes restrictions on access to the pill form of abortion. Opponents are expected to file a lawsuit against the restrictions before they come into effect.
In Virginia, the state’s largest abortion provider has closed under pressure from anti-choice restrictions. NOVA Women’s Healthcare in Fairfax tried to change locations after new state regulations forced clinics to meet hospital-style building standards. But its permit application to upgrade a new space was denied by officials citing inadequate parking. When the Fairfax City Council learned of NOVA’s plans to move, they approved changes forcing clinics to go through extra layers of approval and expensive permitting. The clinic had also agreed to leave its former location following lawsuits from its landlord over complaints including the "unreasonable annoyance" caused by anti-choice protesters. A local NARAL spokesperson told The Washington Post that in addition to abortion, "thousands of women also relied on [the clinic] for birth control and other healthcare, and they went to NOVA because they could not afford care otherwise. Now they are left without their trusted healthcare provider, in part due to politicians." Virginia’s harsh new regulations forced another clinic in Norfolk to close in April.
Saturday marks the first anniversary of the mass shooting in Aurora, Colorado, when a gunman opened fire on a movie theater audience, killing 12 people and wounding scores of others. The group Mayors Against Illegal Guns is gathering today to remember the victims in Aurora’s Cherry Creek State Park, while the group Rocky Mountain Gun Owners holds a counter-rally in the same park.