Army Private Bradley Manning has been sentenced to 35 years in prison for leaking more than 700,000 classified files and videos to WikiLeaks. The sentence is much longer than any punishment given to previous U.S. government officials who have leaked information to the media. Under current guidelines, Manning could be released on parole in about seven years. After the hearing, Manning defense attorney David Coombs read a statement from Manning asking President Obama for a pardon.
David Coombs: "I understand that my actions violated the law. I regret if my actions hurt anyone or harmed the United States. It was never my intent to hurt anyone. I only wanted to help people. When I chose to disclose classified information, I did so out of a love for my country and a sense of duty to others. If you deny my request for a pardon, I will serve my time knowing that sometimes you have to pay a heavy price to live in a free society."
Manning will begin serving the sentence at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Speaking to reporters, defense attorney David Coombs described Manning’s initial reaction after the prison term was announced.
David Coombs: "Myself and others were in tears, because this means a lot to us. And so you get this guy, and he looks to me, and he says, ’It’s OK. It’s all right. Don’t worry about it. It’s all right. I know you did your best. It’s going to be OK. I’m going to be OK. I’m going to make — I’m going to get through this.’ So, I’m in a position where my client is cheering me up, and that shouldn’t happen. I should be, as the attorney, cheering him up, but he is a resilient young man. If nothing else, he is resilient."
In a statement just released this morning, Bradley Manning thanked supporters and announced plans to live as a woman under the name Chelsea Manning. Manning said: "As I transition into this next phase of my life, I want everyone to know the real me. I am Chelsea Manning. I am a female. Given the way that I feel, and have felt since childhood, I want to begin hormone therapy as soon as possible. I hope that you will support me in this transition."
Hours after Bradley Manning’s sentencing, a group of activists gathered outside the White House to demand that President Obama grant the pardon request.
Protester: "I was not surprised, but I was horrified, heartbroken, disappointed. It was horrible to hear that sentence."
Dr. Margaret Flowers: "We’re here to, one, be in solidarity with Bradley Manning, who was sentenced today to 35 years in prison for reporting war crimes, and, two, we’re here to send a message to President Obama."
Estimates of the death toll from the reported chemical weapons attack in Syria range anywhere from 100 to up to 1,600. The Syrian government has denied opposition claims it used nerve agents in bombing the rebel-held area of Ghouta, east of Damascus. Video footage uploaded to YouTube shows frantic scenes of overwhelmed hospitals, wounded children, and lifeless bodies. Doctors who treated the victims report injuries consistent with nerve gas. If confirmed, it would stand to be the most violent incident in Syria’s more than two-year civil year and one of the worst toxic attacks in decades. But there has been no independent verification so far. The Syrian government would have launched the attack just days after international chemical weapons inspectors arrived in the country. At the United Nations, Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson said the Syrian government should allow inspectors to visit the site of the reported attack.
Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson: "This represents, no matter what the conclusions are, a serious escalation with grave humanitarian consequences and human consequences. We very much hope that we will be able to conduct the investigation. Dr. Sellström and his team are in place in Damascus. We hope that they will be given access to the area by the government."
The Syrian regime is reportedly continuing its bombing of Ghouta today, making any immediate visit by U.N. inspectors highly unlikely.
The potential chemical attack in Syria comes around one year after President Obama declared that the Assad regime’s use of toxic weapons would cross a "red line." At the White House, deputy spokesperson Josh Earnest said the U.S. will consult with its allies and await further evidence.
Josh Earnest: "We have seen these reports. We have consulted with some of our partners in the region about these reports. But that is why we are calling for this U.N. investigation to be conducted. There is an investigation team that’s on the ground in Syria right now, and we are hopeful that the Assad regime will follow through on what they have claimed previously, that they are interested in a credible investigation that gets to the bottom of reports that chemical weapons have been used. So, again, it’s time for the Assad regime to live up their rhetoric in this regard."
Outside the White House on Wednesday night, a group of Syrian Americans opposed to the Assad regime gathered to urge a strong international response to the alleged attack.
Yehia Saad: "The problem is, the longer President Obama takes to act or do something, more extremists are going to come into my county, more people are going to ruin my country, and the longer Assad and his regime and Iran and Hezbollah and Russia and China have to destroy my country. So, action needs to be taken now."
Sima Abed Rabboh: "This is injustice, and it’s been happening at the eyes and ears of the international community, and nobody has been doing anything. These children could be your children, could be my children."
Former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has been ordered released from prison after over two years behind bars. Mubarak is serving a life sentence for failing to prevent the killing of demonstrators during the 2011 uprising that toppled his regime, but a court has accepted his appeal for a new trial. He has also been cleared in separate corruption cases, although he will still face three others upon his release. Egyptian officials say they expect Mubarak to be transferred to a hospital followed by house arrest. Mubarak’s release comes amidst ongoing tensions between Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and the interim Egyptian government, which includes remnants of Mubarak’s regime. On Wednesday, the European Union announced it will limit military exports to Egypt in response to the recent attacks by state forces on Muslim Brotherhood supporters.
The operator of Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant says new areas of high radiation near storage tanks holding contaminated water have been discovered. The announcement raises fears of new leaks two days after the plant disclosed 300 tons of contaminated water have leaked from a storage tank into the ground, reportedly the worst such leak to date. That leak prompted the plant to raise its severity level from one to three. Crews of workers are now rushing to check for leaks in hundreds of other tanks holding radioactive water. Speaking to the BBC, Mycle Schneider, a nuclear expert who authors the World Nuclear Industry status reports, said he believes the Fukushima leaks are "much worse than we have been led to believe."
The National Security Agency illegally collected tens of thousands of domestic emails before being stopped in 2011. The disclosure was made Wednesday in a newly declassified order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which oversees NSA spying. The FISC ordered the NSA to change its procedures after the agency admitted to wrongly collecting up to 56,000 emails a year over a three-year period. The NSA says the illegal email collection resulted from technical error, not deliberate snooping.
The Obama administration continues to operate a secret post-9/11 program that grants federal authorities powers to profile and deny immigration benefits to foreign Muslims and nationals of Muslim countries. In a new report called "Muslims Need Not Apply," the American Civil Liberties Union says the previously unknown program began in 2008. It designates Muslim immigrants as "national security concerns" and subjects them to immigration criteria beyond those established by law. The Controlled Application Review and Resolution Program, or CARRP, also hands the FBI extensive authority to investigate applicants and even delay their cases for lengthy periods, putting thousands in immigration limbo. The program also may have been used to recruit informants and deny the bids of those who refuse.