WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange could learn as early as today whether his request for asylum in Ecuador has been approved. Assange spent a second night at the Ecuadorian embassy in London on Wednesday after seeking refuge in a last-ditch bid to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he faces questioning on allegations of sexual assault. Ecuador’s deputy foreign minister has said a decision is expected within 24 hours. In an interview with the news network TeleSUR, Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa said Assange has every right to seek asylum in a foreign country and rejected concerns that approving his bid would harm relations with the United States.
Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa: “If an asylum request affects the relationship with Great Britain, the relationship between the United States and Latin America should be very affected, because all the corrupt Ecuadorians — the bankers who bankrupted our country — asked for asylum in the United States. Journalists who defame go to the United States to ask for asylum. I think it’s established in international law, and every country has the perfect right within its sovereignty to analyze the possibility of giving asylum.”
Police in London have said Julian Assange could face arrest for violating the terms of his bail. Citing the case of Bradley Manning, a WikiLeaks spokesperson said Assange ultimately fears extradition to the United States.
Kristinn Hrafnsson: “The big worry is an extradition to the United States. We all know what has happened to Bradley Manning there. He was held in a situation that is equal to torture. That is even — you can find in a statement by the United Nations rapporteur on torture. And so that is a true, true worry.”
In Afghanistan, at least 16 civilians and three foreign troops have been killed in a suicide bombing in the eastern province of Khost. Another 30 people were wounded in the attack, one of the worst Afghanistan has seen in weeks.
The New York Times is reporting CIA officers are secretly aiding the struggle against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad by helping decide which anti-government fighters will receive arms. A small number of CIA officers are operating in southern Turkey, where weapons are being funneled across the border into Syria. The Obama administration has denied giving arms to the rebels, and a U.S. official said the CIA is there in part to prevent the wrong people from getting their hands on the weapons. One Arab intelligence officer told the paper, ”CIA officers are there and they are trying to make new sources and recruit people.”
In Syria, government forces continue to shell the city of Homs despite a temporary deal to grant aid workers access to wounded civilians. Officials with the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Syrian Red Crescent are waiting to enter the city after both the Syrian government and rebel groups agreed to suspend clashes. A Red Cross spokesperson had announced the deal on Wednesday.
Hicham Hassan: “We have received an official agreement from the Syrian government to enter some districts of the city of Homs and the old city. We have also had assurances and guarantees from the Syrian opposition, and this is what we want to carry out now alongside the Syrian Red Crescent so we can enter and evacuate victims who are wounded or ill, as well as the elderly, women and children, while taking in food supplies that are needed today in the city of Homs.”
The Guardian is reporting the United States and Britain could offer clemency and safe passage to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in order to convene possible U.N.-sponsored talks on a political transition in Syria. The paper reports U.S. and UK leaders received encouragement at the G20 summit in private talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, a Syrian ally, around the possibility of negotiating a Syrian transition. Under the deal, Assad could be offered safe passage to attend a conference on the country’s future.
Egypt has delayed the results of its presidential runoff amid mounting protests against the country’s military rulers. Both candidates — the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi and former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafik — have claimed victory. The results could be announced as early as this weekend.
New details have been revealed on the massive U.S.-Israeli cyberweapons operation against Iran. The Washington Post reports the United States and Israel have used a virus named Flame that secretly mapped Iran’s internal computer networks and sent back intelligence to be used for a sustained effort to disrupt Iran’s nuclear activities. Flame was developed with the involvement of the National Security Agency, the CIA and the Israeli military. It was used alongside “Olympic Games,” another cyberweapons program targeting Iran that unleashed the global computer virus Stuxnet. The Obama administration’s cyber-campaign in Iran is believed to be the first sustained effort by one country to destroy another’s infrastructure through computer attacks.
U.S. troops who burned Korans in Afghanistan earlier this year appear likely to avoid criminal charges. Military investigators are recommending administrative punishment for as many as seven troops involved in the burnings, the lowest possible reprimand for their actions. The burning of Korans at Bagram Air Base sparked violence that killed at least six U.S. soldiers and dozens of Afghans.
Three protesters arrested at the NATO summit in Chicago last month have been indicted on 11 counts, including four terrorism-related charges. Jared Chase, Brent Betterly and Brian Jacob Church — the so-called ”NATO 3” — were arrested for an alleged plot to attack President Obama’s campaign headquarters and other sites around Chicago. Police say they recovered materials for making Molotov cocktails, but defense attorneys say they were set up by government informants who planted the explosives. A grand jury has indicted the three on charges including conspiracy to commit terrorism and material support for terrorism, for which they could spend decades in prison. The three were arrested under a sweeping anti-terrorism law in Illinois that had never been previously used.
A House panel has voted to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt for failing to meet Republican demands in a congressional probe into the controversial gun-sting operation known as “Fast and Furious.” The operation saw U.S. agents encouraging 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. On Thursday, Republicans on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee voted to reprimand Holder over his failure to hand over documents about the program. The committee’s chair, Darrell Issa, said Holder’s refusal to cooperate led to the vote.
Rep. Darrell Issa: “The subpoenas are eight months old. We have not received a credible reason for them not being supplied, and in fact no constitutional assertion has occurred. Rather, it is the duty of the executive branch and its agencies to represent itself honestly before Congress and to make available such transparency as is necessary for us to fund and authorize, now and in the future, the request of this and future presidents.”
In a bid to circumvent the House effort against Attorney General Eric Holder over the “Fast and Furious” program, President Obama asserted executive privilege over the documents hours before the vote was held. It was Obama’s first use of executive privilege in response to a congressional investigation. Democrats have called the reprimand of Holder a political stunt. The Oversight Committee’s ranking Democrat, Elijah Cummings, said Republicans were uncooperative in seeking a resolution.
Rep. Elijah Cummings: “It did not have to be this way. It really didn’t. We could have postponed today’s vote, accepted the attorney general’s offer and worked with the department to obtain additional documents and information. Instead, by not honoring the Constitution’s charge to seek accommodation when possible, the position and prestige of this committee has been diminished, and the result should concern us all.”
The contempt charges against Holder will now go for a vote before the full House.
Republican Congressmember Peter King of New York is holding the latest in his series of House Homeland Security Committee hearings into the “radicalization” of Muslim Americans. Critics have described the hearings as a modern-day form of McCarthyism designed to stoke fear against and amongst Muslims in the United States. During Wednesday’s session, Democratic Congressmember Al Green of Texas criticized King for focusing solely on one religious group.
Rep. Al Green: “I do not — N-O-T — I do not oppose hearings on radicalization. I do oppose hearings that don’t focus on the entirety of radicalization. And if you agree that we have Christians, as has been mentioned by more than one member, Christians who become radicalized, they become a part of Islam, and they become radicalized, as is being said, why not have a hearing on the radicalization of Christians?”
In Florida, the Sanford City Commission has fired embattled police chief Bill Lee after months of controversy surrounding his handling of the killing of Trayvon Martin. Lee had previously submitted his resignation in April, but the city council had refused to accept it. On Wednesday, city leaders switched course, voting to dismiss Lee from his job. The Sanford Police Department has come under intense criticism for failing to arrest George Zimmerman on the night he fatally shot Trayvon Martin.
A group of New Orleans public school employees fired in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina have won a lawsuit alleging wrongful dismissal. On Wednesday, a Louisiana judge awarded plaintiffs $1 million in damages after ruling some 7,000 school employees wrongfully lost their jobs. The ruling clears the way for more damages, although the decision will likely be appealed.
Two Iranian Americans in Georgia have come forward to reveal they were barred from making purchases at local Apple stores after employees overheard them speaking Farsi. Nineteen-year-old Sahar Sabet was prevented from buying an iPad after an employer overheard her speaking to her uncle. Zack Jafarzadeh, the other would-be customer, had a similar experience at a different Apple store. Apple employees cited U.S. export laws on Iran in justifying their actions. A group of Iranian Americans plan to hold a “flash mob” protest at an Apple Store in New York City today.
The epidemiologist and environmental activist Dr. Rosalie Bertell has died at the age of 83. Bertell won the 1986 Right Livelihood Award for her work on the threats to the planet posed by radiation. Known as the “anti-nuclear nun,” she served on commissions investigating the disasters in Bhopal and Chernobyl and worked extensively with their victims.