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President Obama is set to announce his nomination of former Pentagon general counsel Jeh Johnson to become the next secretary of Homeland Security, replacing Janet Napolitano. Johnson played a key role in crafting policies used to guide the U.S. drone wars and the detention of terror suspects. During a speech at Oxford University last year, Johnson rejected the terms “indefinite detention” and “extrajudicial killings,” which are frequently used to describe how the administration detains and assassinates people without charge or trial. He said such terms might be appropriate in a law enforcement setting, but not in the context of what he called a war with al-Qaeda and its “associated forces.”
Jeh Johnson: “Viewed within the context of conventional armed conflict, as they should be, capture, detention and lethal force are traditional practices as old as armies. Capture and detention by the military are part and parcel of armed conflict. We employ weapons of war against al-Qaeda, but in a manner consistent with the law of war. We employ lethal force, but in a manner consistent with the law of war principles of proportionality, necessity and distinction.”
National parks and memorials have reopened, and hundreds of thousands of federal workers headed back to work Thursday following the end of a 16-day partial government shutdown. Lawmakers are now facing the next potential standoff over long-term budget negotiations, with a deadline of December 13 for the Budget Committee to report back to their House and Senate colleagues on a potential deal. Committee leaders include Republican Congressmember Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, who has pushed for gutting Medicare and Medicaid. Another budget landmark comes in mid-January when the next round of across-the-board spending cuts known as sequestration are due to kick in.
President Obama blasted Republicans over the government shutdown Thursday, saying it had damaged the credibility of the United States and “encouraged our enemies.” He urged Republicans to negotiate with Democrats on a number of stalled legislative efforts.
President Obama: “Passing a budget, immigration reform, farm bill — those are three specific things that would make a huge difference in our economy right now. And we could get them done by the end of the year, if our focus is on what’s good for the American people.”
Violence in Iraq killed at least 66 people on Thursday amid the worst period of bloodshed since 2008. Most of the victims reportedly died as a result of 11 car bombs that exploded in eight different areas in and around the capital Baghdad.
The Obama administration is pursuing new charges against four former operatives of the private military firm Blackwater for the 2007 Nisoor Square massacre that killed 17 Iraqi civilians, including women and children. An appeals court reinstated the case two years ago after a lower court dismissed it in 2009. Now a federal grand jury has issued a new indictment charging the men with voluntary manslaughter and other crimes. In a statement, the chief government prosecutor said, “these defendants abused their power through a relentless attack on unarmed civilians that recklessly exceeded any possible justification.” A hearing is set for next week.
A panel of U.S. Marine colonels has recommended a forcible discharge for an officer who oversaw a group of snipers shown on video urinating on the corpses of Afghans. Captain James Clement is the only officer to face criminal charges for the 2011 incident. Three marines accepted plea deals last year. A pair of lieutenant generals will now review the panel’s recommendation on Clement’s fate.
A Syrian government official says international talks to resolve the conflict in Syria could open in Geneva in late November. Qadri Jamil, a deputy prime minister in Syria, is the first official to mention a possible date for the talks. Meanwhile, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has appointed Sigrid Kaag, a Dutch expert on the Middle East, to lead the team charged with destroying Syria’s chemical arsenal under a deal to avert U.S. military strikes. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize last week, says its inspectors have made progress in visiting sites and destroying key equipment. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told NPR the weapons should be relocated.
John Kerry: “The fact is that these weapons can be removed, whether Assad is there or not there, because we know the locations. Locations have been declared. Locations are being secured. And my hope is that much of this material will be moved as rapidly possible into one location, and hopefully on a ship, and removed from the region.”
Syrian rebels meanwhile have reportedly shot dead a top general in an eastern province. General Jamea Jamea was the military intelligence chief in the province of Deir ez-Zor.
National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden says he has ensured there is a “zero percent chance” either China or Russia could obtain access to the secret NSA documents he has given to journalists. Writing over encrypted chat, Snowden told The New York Times’ James Risen he did not keep any copies of the files after handing them to Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras in Hong Kong. He says he was able to prevent China from accessing the files because he was familiar with their systems after targeting them as an NSA contractor. Snowden told Risen: “So long as there’s broad support amongst a people, it can be argued there’s a level of legitimacy even to the most invasive and morally wrong program, as it was an informed and willing decision. However, programs that are implemented in secret, out of public oversight, lack that legitimacy, and that’s a problem.” Snowden also disputed an earlier New York Times report about a warning regarding his behavior placed in his personnel file in 2009 by a supervisor at the CIA. Snowden said the supervisor was retaliating against him after he warned about a software vulnerability. The CIA has also disputed The New York Times’ account.
Edward Snowden’s father, Lon Snowden, has returned from visiting his son in Russia. He told reporters back in the United States that Edward Snowden is doing well.
Lon Snowden: “Given where we were in June, I can’t imagine a better scenario today, because what this allows is time to continue to push these issues forward, to make sure that the story is — the true story is told, is not spun within the media, about Edward Snowden, who is a whistleblower. He is not a fugitive. He’s a legal asylee of the Russian federation.”
The White House has confirmed that the director of the National Security Agency, General Keith Alexander, will step down early next year. Alexander has led the NSA since 2005. His deputy, John Inglis, is also expected to leave soon. An NSA spokesperson denied General Alexander’s departure was tied to recent revelations about the NSA’s sweeping spy programs.
In New Brunswick, Canada, dozens of people were arrested and several police cars were set ablaze as protesters resisted efforts by police to clear an anti-fracking blockade. For more than two weeks, members of the Mi’kmaq First Nation and other area residents have blocked a road near the village of Rexton, cutting off access to an equipment compound used by the Texas-based firm Southwestern Energy. The company is seeking to explore the area for natural gas. Residents say they don’t want their water supplies poisoned by gas fracking, which involves blasting a chemical cocktail deep into shale rock. Scores of Royal Canadian Mounted Police descended on the encampment early Thursday morning to enforce an injunction won by the company. Protesters Mona Lisa Clair and Mark Corbiere described what happened.
Mona Lisa Clair: “We were all in our tents sleeping, and then my sister hollers out, ’They’re coming in!’ And all I could do was rush to get my clothes on. And I come out onto the road, and I could see them starting to come in through the fence.”
Mark Corbiere: “They came in through the far exit, the far entrance, near the highway, with probably about 75 to 100 cops on that end. They are armed with semi-automatic long rifle weapons. There were shots fired at one point. I believe one of the people in camo was firing in the air.”
Police fired pepper spray at protesters, some of whom reportedly hurled Molotov cocktails, setting five police cars on fire. At least 40 people were arrested by the police count. The crackdown has sparked widespread solidarity protests across Canada and in the United States.
Chevron says it has suspended its search for natural gas in northeast Romania following massive civil disobedience against fracking. This week hundreds of people occupied a field in the village of Pungesti to block Chevron from drilling. Protests also erupted in the capital Bucharest.
Romanians have also taken to the streets by the thousands to protest plans by a Canadian firm to construct what would become Europe’s largest gold mine. The protesters say cyanide used in the mining process could poison animals and water supplies.
In the United States, the new government health insurance marketplace continues to be plagued with glitches. Now there are reports the new federal healthcare exchange was made using decade-old technology that may require a complete overhaul. USA Today reports: “Recent changes have made the exchanges easier to use, but they still require clearing the computer’s cache several times, stopping a pop-up blocker, talking to people via Web chat who suggest waiting until the server is not busy, opening links in new windows and clicking on every available possibility on a page in the hopes of not receiving an error message.” The Wall Street Journal says the federal healthcare marketplace website is feeding insurers flawed data, including “duplicate enrollments, spouses reported as children, [and] missing data fields.” One analytics firm said just over a fourth of more than 200,000 people who started the registration process on Monday and Tuesday actually finished. That’s up from 10 percent of people in the first week.
In California, public transit workers have gone on strike after talks broke down between Bay Area Rapid Transit and union negotiators. It’s the second time in four months the transit workers have gone on strike. They say they are approaching a deal to resolve issues related to healthcare and pensions but remain at odds on work rules. SEIU Local 1021 President Roxanne Sanchez said, “We made concessions, but you can only bend so far before you break.”
The World Health Organization has classified outdoor air pollution as a leading cause of cancer deaths among humans worldwide. The move places the air we breathe in the same top category as cigarette smoke, plutonium and ultraviolet radiation. Air pollution from sources including cars, factories and power plants caused more than 220,000 deaths from lung cancer worldwide in 2010, more than half of them in East Asia.
A new report by the Walk Free Foundation has found there are nearly 30 million people living in slavery around the world. Today people are enslaved as forced laborers and sex workers, as child soldiers and child brides in forced marriages. Mauritania and Haiti have the highest proportion of slaves compared to population size, while India and China have the highest overall numbers. Ten countries in Asia and Africa account for 76 percent of the enslaved population, but there were enslaved people found in every single one of the 162 countries investigated. An estimated 60,000 enslaved people are living in the United States today.