A newly disclosed court order shows the telecom giant Verizon is handing over the phone records of millions of subscribers to the U.S. government without individual warrants. The Guardian of London reports the FBI obtained the three-month authorization from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in April. It compels Verizon to provide “metadata” of all subscriber phone calls: who they spoke to, where and at what time they made the call, and for how long. This appears to mark the broadest act of government surveillance known to date. In a statement, the American Civil Liberties Union denounced the program as “beyond Orwellian,” adding: “From a civil liberties perspective, [it] could hardly be any more alarming.”
A U.S. soldier accused of massacring 16 Afghan civilians last year has pleaded guilty to murder and other charges, thereby avoiding execution. On Wednesday, Staff Sgt. Robert Bales formally admitted to killing nine children and seven adults during a nighttime attack on two Kandahar province villages in March 2012. Defense attorneys say Bales may have suffered a traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder from four tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Appearing before a military judge, Bales expressed regret for the massacre, saying: “There’s not a good reason in this world for why I did the horrible things I did.” His trial last year featured the video testimony of more than a dozen Afghan witnesses and victims. The witnesses, including several children, recalled being shot at and seeing their loved ones murdered. A hearing is set for August to determine if Bales will be sentenced to life in prison with or without the chance of parole.
The U.S. military is sending a massive new contingent of guards to help contain the revolt of hunger-striking prisoners at Guantánamo Bay. The Miami Herald reports the Army Reserve is deploying 125 troops to assist the holding of prisoners in solitary confinement and the force-feeding of 39 hunger strikers.
President Obama has formally unveiled his latest picks for top foreign policy posts: the new national security adviser, Susan Rice, and her would-be replacement as U.N. ambassador, Samantha Power. Appearing with Obama at the White House, Rice and Power each voiced excitement to take on their new roles.
Susan Rice: “I am deeply honored and humbled to serve our country as your national security adviser. I’m proud to have worked so closely with you for more than six years, and I’m deeply grateful for your enduring confidence in me.”
Samantha Power: “As the most powerful and inspiring country on this Earth, we have a critical role to play in insisting that the institution meet the necessities of our time. It can do so only with American leadership. It would be an incomparable privilege to earn the support of the Senate and to play a role in this essential effort, one on which our common security and common humanity depend.”
Power served as Obama’s senior foreign policy adviser during his first run for the White House before she was forced to resign for calling Hillary Clinton “a monster.” She could face a tough confirmation process from Republicans opposed to her foreign policy views. Right-wing opponents have begun circulating a 2003 article where she called for “a historical reckoning with crimes committed, sponsored, or permitted by the United States.” Power added: “Instituting a doctrine of the mea culpa would enhance our credibility by showing that American decision-makers do not endorse the sins of their predecessors.” On the other side of the spectrum, she has faced charges from progressive critics over the years of selectively ignoring U.S.-backed atrocities while supporting humanitarian intervention abroad. (Related: see our 2008 interview with Samantha Power as well has her debate with investigative reporter Jeremy Scahill about Kosovo, Iraq sanctions and interventionism. )
Police in Turkey are continuing a crackdown on mass anti-government protests. On Wednesday, police fired tear gas and water cannons at a large crowd rallying in the capital Ankara. At least 3,300 people have been arrested in five days of protests. One Turkish activist said the protesters are undeterred.
Ömer Madra: “Today we have the third person who was killed and the more than 2,000 people who got injured, wounded and so on. But the number of attendees, the number of people who are taking part in this huge thing doesn’t get less at all. Nobody is afraid anymore.”
The United States and Venezuela have launched a new bid to improve ties with the most high-level meeting in months. On Wednesday, Secretary of State John Kerry sat down with Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elías Jaua at a summit in Guatemala. Kerry said the talks will continue.
Secretary of State John Kerry: “We agreed today, both of us, Venezuela and the United States, that we would like to see our countries find a new way forward, establish a more constructive and positive relationship and find the ways to do that.”
The sit-down came as Venezuela released a U.S. filmmaker it had held for over a month on accusations of seeking to destabilize the government. The filmmaker, Tim Tracy, returned to the United States on Wednesday. He has rejected Venezuela’s allegations, which were never specified, and maintained he was in the country making a documentary film.
At least six people have been killed and another 14 wounded in the collapse of a building in Philadelphia. The rescue effort continued overnight as workers looked for survivors beneath the rubble. The building was under demolition when it crumbled onto a neighboring thrift store. Concerns have been raised it may have lacked proper oversight.
Colorado has become the eighth U.S. state to grant driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants. Gov. John Hickenlooper signed the measure into law on Wednesday following its passage last month. The move comes days after Florida Gov. Rick Scott vetoed a measure that would have allowed driver’s licenses for young undocumented immigrants. The law would have applied to all those granted a reprieve under President Obama’s “deferred action” program for immigrants who came to the United States as children. In Washington, the Senate is set to begin consideration of the bipartisan immigration bill next week.
A federal appeals court has ordered the Obama administration to immediately comply with an earlier court order to make certain forms of emergency contraception available without a prescription and without other restrictions to women of all ages. The administration had requested a stay while it fights to preserve restrictions on how “morning-after” pills are sold. One of the attorneys suing the Obama administration for unfettered access to emergency contraception called Wednesday’s ruling a “watershed moment in the fight for reproductive rights.”