The Obama administration has launched an internal review of the recent leak that has exposed a series of government surveillance programs. The White House says its probe will focus on potential damages to national security. The move was announced amidst new formal challenges to government spying and secrecy. A bipartisan group of senators has unveiled a measure that would declassify major decisions by courts operating under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The bill’s co-sponsor, Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon, said: “Americans deserve to know how much information about their private communications the government believes it’s allowed to take under the law.” Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit challenging the secret program collecting the phone records of millions of Americans. ACLU staff attorney Alex Abdo said the suit is being brought to stop dragnet surveillance on a massive scale.
Alex Abdo: “The very real aspiration of the NSA that we’ve now learned is to essentially record the Internet, to keep track of every time anyone says anything to anyone online, on the phone, through any kind of communication, and store it indefinitely in a government database in case at some point in the future it’s important. That’s not the role for government that our Constitution sets out. They have every tool they need to fight terrorism. They don’t need this one.”
Key tech giants implicated in the recent NSA surveillance revelations have asked the U.S. government for permission to prove they haven’t enabled wholesale spying. On Tuesday, Google, Facebook and Microsoft said they want to release info on how they respond to classified surveillance requests in response to the fallout over the surveillance program PRISM. According to leaked documents, the National Security Agency uses PRISM to gather data on foreign Internet users directly from the servers of nine major firms. It’s unlikely the government will grant the request. A former Justice Department prosecutor, Larry Klayman, says he plans to file a class action lawsuit today against all nine companies named in the leaked documents as PRISM participants.
The NSA whistleblower, Edward Snowden, remains out of public view after leaving his Hong Kong hotel on Monday. A report in a Hong Kong-based newspaper says he is trying to contact Hong Kong-based experts and lawyers for assistance as he faces the prospect of potential extradition efforts by the U.S. government. On Tuesday, the private military firm where Snowden worked, Booz Allen Hamilton, confirmed Snowden has been fired.
The Senate has overwhelmingly voted to take up the bipartisan immigration reform bill that would establish a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants while radically expanding border enforcement. The 84-to-15 vote will kick off what’s expected to be a month-long debate on the bill’s passage. At the White House, President Obama urged lawmakers to send him legislation by summer’s end.
President Obama: “The system’s still broken. And to truly deal with this issue, Congress needs to act. … They’ve got the support of a broad cross-section of leaders from every walk of life. So there’s no reason Congress can’t get this done by the end of the summer.”
Republican leaders followed the vote with a reminder their support for beginning debate doesn’t mean final endorsement of the bill’s passage. Republican co-sponsor Marco Rubio of Florida is now saying he won’t support the bill unless the already-strict border security provisions are expanded. Tuesday’s vote saw a historic moment from Democratic Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia. Kaine spoke in favor of the immigration bill with a 15-minute speech entirely in Spanish, the first ever on the Senate floor.
Turkish riot police have forcibly removed throngs of protesters from Istanbul’s Taksim Square after nearly two weeks of demonstrations. Beginning Tuesday and lasting overnight, officers fired tear gas and water cannons into a crowd of thousands of people, forcing them to disperse. Thousands of demonstrators also faced tear gas and water cannons in the capital Ankara. It was the most violent police crackdown since the initial protest against the razing of an Istanbul public park. The movement has since grown into a call for Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s resignation over what opponents call authoritarian and anti-secular tendencies. Turkish medics say around 5,000 people have been treated for injuries since the unrest began. In a statement, Amnesty International criticized the Turkish government, saying: “Instead of continuing to repress peaceful activists, Turkish authorities should look at the actions of their own police and bring to justice those responsible for the shocking abuse we have seen.” Erdogan had previously agreed to meet with protest leaders in a meeting set for today. Riot police continue to surround Taksim Square in a bid to prevent the demonstrators’ return.
At least 60 people have been killed in a rebel attack on a village in eastern Syria. The victims were reportedly Shiite Muslims fighting on the side of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The Syrian government is claiming the victims were mostly civilians.
The Obama administration is scaling back plans for trying Guantánamo Bay prisoners in military tribunals. Guantánamo’s top military prosecutor says up to 20 prisoners will now face trials, down from a previous estimate of 36. The move came in response to a recent appeals court decision that rejected the prosecution of “material support” allegations retroactively. The number of 20 prosecutions means just 3 percent of all Guantánamo Bay prisoners to date will ever stand trial. In a statement, the legal charity Reprieve said: “This shockingly low figure demonstrates what a terrible mistake Guantanamo has been, and just how many lives have been ruined for no good reason. … It is high time President Obama got his act together and deliver on his promise to close this prison.” More than half of Guantánamo Bay’s remaining prisoners have been cleared for release, and over 100 are on a hunger strike.
At least 17 people have been killed in Afghanistan in a suicide attack outside the country’s top court. The bomber hit a bus full of Afghan Supreme Court employees. Dozens were wounded.
The attack comes as the U.N. has disclosed Afghan civilian deaths are again on the rise. Last year marked the first time in six years that killings of Afghan civilians declined. But on Tuesday, U.N. envoy Jan Kubis said the civilian toll has jumped 24 percent, with over 3,000 killed in the first half of 2013.
Jan Kubis: “I have to note with regret that, unfortunately, due to the increase of different operations, perhaps prompted also by the activities of the insurgency, as declared in their campaign, the situation of civilians in the country and conflict-related civilian casualties are indeed not going in the right direction. On the contrary, the situation has worsened.”
According to the U.N., militants were responsible for 74 percent of the fatal attacks. The Taliban has reportedly agreed to hold talks with the U.N. on the issue of civilian deaths.
Around 300 workers on strike for better pay at a Nike factory in Cambodia have lost their jobs. A union spokesperson said the fired workers’ dismissal letters cited their involvement in the strike, which seeks a wage hike of $14 a month. Although the vast majority of the factory’s 5,000 workers have taken part in the strike, many have begun returning to work after over three weeks off the job. It’s the 48th strike by Cambodian garment workers this year, more than in the entire years of 2010 or 2011.
The trial of Army whistleblower Bradley Manning continues at Fort Meade, Maryland. On Tuesday, Manning’s aunt testified he told her of his initial hope that the video he released of a U.S. helicopter shooting dead Iraqi civilians would become “big news” in the United States. Prosecutors also elicited more testimony about WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. A Marine Corps security expert testified he attended a 2009 conference where he said Assange tried to encourage the release of secret military and corporate information.
Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union have filed a lawsuit challenging an Alabama law they say could shut down most of the state’s abortion clinics. The measure would force doctors at the five clinics to obtain admitting privileges at a local hospital, a step the lawsuit notes can be impossible in part because some hospitals oppose abortion. The law is set to take effect next month.
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