The sentencing hearing for Army whistleblower Bradley Manning began Wednesday with a prosecution witness undermining the state’s own claims Manning’s disclosures to WikiLeaks harmed the United States. On Wednesday, retired Brigadier General Robert Carr, who oversaw the Pentagon task force assessing the leaks’ impact, admitted that not a single person lost their lives as a result of the WikiLeaks disclosures. Pressed by Manning’s defense on deaths resulting from the WikiLeaks cables, Carr said: “I don’t have a specific example.” Carr suggested the WikiLeaks cables’ main harm to the United States was in souring relations with foreign governments and villagers in Afghanistan. Manning is facing 136 years in prison after being found guilty on 20 counts for leaking hundreds of thousands of government documents to WikiLeaks. He was acquitted on the most serious charge against him, aiding the enemy. The prosecution is expected to call up to 20 witnesses during the sentencing phase.
The Senate held a long-awaited hearing on government surveillance Wednesday just as new details emerged on the government spying exposed by National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden. The Guardian newspaper reports a secret NSA program called XKeyscore has allowed analysts to search with no prior authorization through vast databases containing emails, online chats and the browsing histories of millions of people. According to a slide presentation provided by Snowden, XKeyscore gives NSA analysts real-time access to “nearly everything a typical user does on the internet.” While the program is supposed to target overseas Internet users, The Guardian reports XKeyscore provides the technological capability, if not the legal authority, to target even U.S. persons for extensive electronic surveillance without a warrant. Speaking before the Senate Intelligence Committee, NSA Deputy Director John Inglis conceded that the bulk collection of phone records of millions of Americans under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act has been key in stopping only one terror plot, not the dozens officials had previously said.
National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden has been issued travel papers and has formally entered Russia after leaving the Moscow airport where he’s been stranded for over a month. Snowden had remained at the airport despite reports last week Russia had granted him temporary asylum. Snowden’s attorneys say he’ll remain in Russia at a secure location.
Edward Snowden’s father has revealed the FBI tried to enlist him in traveling to Russia to convince his son to return to the United States. Speaking to a Russian television network, Lonnie Snowden said he refused.
Lonnie Snowden: “To be an emotional tool for the FBI to use against my son — to say 'your father's out on the aircraft, why don’t you come talk to him’ — I wasn’t interested in that. I wanted to make sure there was value to my son. Ed, I hope you’re watching. Your family is well, and we love you. We hope you’re healthy. We hope you’re well. I hope to see you soon. But most of all, I want you to be safe.”
Egypt’s interim government has authorized a new crackdown on protests backing ousted President Mohamed Morsi. On Wednesday, the government vowed “gradual steps” to remove the crowds that have occupied Cairo squares in a call for Morsi’s return. The protests continued overnight in defiance of the interim government’s threat.
The United States and Pakistan have agreed to re-establish a “full partnership” damaged by rifts over U.S. drone strikes and the 2011 NATO attack that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. Secretary of State John Kerry spoke today after talks with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
Secretary of State John Kerry: “I’m pleased to announce that today, very quickly, we were able to agree to a resumption of the strategic dialogue in order to foster deeper, broader and more comprehensive partnership between our countries. And this revitalized dialogue will address in a realistic fashion all of the many key issues between us, from border management to counterterrorism, to promoting U.S. private investment, and to Pakistan’s own journey to economic revitalization.”
Kerry has invited Sharif to Washington for talks with President Obama. Speaking alongside Kerry, Sharif’s adviser on foreign affairs, Sartaj Aziz, said his government still wants the United States to end the drone attacks on Pakistani soil.
Sartaj Aziz: “We have registered our concern, and we continue to do so, that drone attacks are counterproductive in terms of our relationship. So in the light of today’s discussion, we will continue this dialogue on how to stop this policy of drone attacks as far as the U.S. is concerned. … We are asking them to stop it, not just contain it.”
The United Nations is warning violence against Afghanistan’s civilian population has increased 23 percent over the same period last year. The head of the United Nations’ Afghan mission, Georgette Gagnon, disclosed the figures on Wednesday.
Georgette Gagnon: “The number of civilians killed or injured rose by 23 percent compared to the same period last year. UNAMA (United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan) documented 1,319 deaths and 2,533 injuries, a total of 3,852 civilian casualties. This marked an increase of 14 percent in deaths and 28 percent in injures over the same period in 2012.”
The U.S.-led NATO occupation force is due to end its formal mission in Afghanistan next year. A new report from the Pentagon says the Afghan military will need “substantial training, advising and assistance — including financial support,” long after the December 2014 withdrawal date. The United States and Afghan government continue to hold talks on whether U.S. troops will remain when the mandate expires.
Presidential elections were held in Zimbabwe on Wednesday in the latest challenge to longtime President Robert Mugabe. Mugabe’s main challenger, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, called the elections a “huge farce” and accused Mugabe supporters of rigging the vote. A local observer group says up to a million people were prevented from casting their ballots. The African Union has voiced initial support for the vote, saying the elections appeared to be “peaceful, orderly, free and fair.”
The United Nations is threatening to forcibly disarm rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The United Nations has given members of the M23 militant group in the eastern city of Goma a deadline of today to turn in their weapons or face a military offensive. In a video statement, the head of the new U.N. force for the DRC, General Carlos Alberto dos Santos Cruz, said his troops will establish a new security zone surrounding Goma.
Gen. Carlos Alberto dos Santos Cruz: “The M23 has used indiscriminate fire, include by heavy weapons, resulting in civilian casualties. The M23 has also targeted U.N. installations with its fire. In light of the risks to the civilian population in Goma, Sake, MONUSCO will support the FARDC in establishing a security zone in Goma and its northern suburbs.”
The U.N. force is operating under an unprecedented Security Council mandate authorizing “offensive” capability against the rebel M23 and other groups operating in the DRC’s border regions with Rwanda and Uganda. Rwanda has been accused of backing the M23’s operations in the DRC. On Wednesday, the Rwandan government said the U.N. ultimatum risks undermining ongoing peace talks in Uganda between the DRC government and M23 representatives.
A national strike for a living wage and the right to unionize in the fast food and retail sectors continued Wednesday when hundreds of workers walked off the job in Chicago, St. Louis, Kansas City, Detroit and Flint, Michigan. Joined by supporters, Chicago workers rallied outside locations of McDonald’s and Whole Foods. McDonald’s employee Tyree Johnson spoke to the Chicago Tribune.
Tyree Johnson: “We’re trying to accomplish $15 an hour and the right to form a union without retaliation from our employers, and respect on our jobs. We can’t support our families on what we make, and we’re coming together and trying to form a union.”
The strike continues with walkouts at more than a dozen Chicago stores today as well as in Milwaukee. It follows earlier actions this week by fast food and retail workers in the same cities, as well as in New York City.
President Obama paid a rare visit to Capitol Hill on Wednesday for a meeting with congressional Democrats. Obama sought to rally support before Congress takes a five-week summer recess on issues including immigration reform, the implementation of “Obamacare,” economic proposals, and a renewed budget showdown with Republicans this fall. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said the meeting was productive.
Rep. Nancy Pelosi: “We had a very enthusiastic meeting with the president of the United States. He reiterated some of the message that has gone out across the country about jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs, seeing everything we do through the eyes of how we can responsibly and in a balanced way reduce the deficit to create jobs to build a better future for our children.”
At least one major disagreement emerged from the meeting when talk turned to Obama’s pending nominee to replace outgoing Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke. Democratic lawmakers say they raised objections to one of the top frontrunners, Larry Summers, President Obama’s former economic adviser and treasury secretary under President Clinton. Summers’ name has sparked opposition from progressive critics over his role in pushing deregulatory policies that helped cause the financial crisis. According to one lawmaker who attended Wednesday’s meeting, Obama “was defending Summers from attacks in the left and in the media that he felt were very unfair.” Some 20 Senate Democrats and 37 House Democrats have urged Obama to nominate Bernanke’s current deputy, Janet Yellen. The White House said this week a decision would not come until the fall.
Same-sex marriages are underway in two more states today with the enacting of marriage equality laws in Minnesota and Rhode Island. Dozens of LGBT couples have already tied the knot in Minnesota after courthouses across the state began holding ceremonies at the stroke of midnight. The first same-sex marriages in Rhode Island are being held just hours later. Twelve U.S. states, along with Washington, D.C., now allow same-sex marriage.
Congress has given final approval to a bipartisan measure lowering student loan rates for now, only to hike them in just a few years. The interest rate for Stafford loans climbed to 6.8 percent last month after Congress failed to reach a deal to avoid the hike. Under the new measure passed by the Senate last week and the House on Wednesday, students will pay a lower rate through 2015, but then see those rates jump as they become attached to financial markets. The bill now goes to the White House for President Obama’s signature.
The Senate has voted to confirm all five members of the National Labor Relations Board, the government body that oversees labor complaints. The vote was held after the Senate reached a deal last month to approve President Obama’s nominees in return for preserving the filibuster. The vote to fill the NLRB gives the panel a quorum of five confirmed members for the first time in a decade. The panel has been slowed in recent years by a Republican refusal to confirm new Democratic members, threatening U.S. workers’ main recourse to defend their right to organize and to protect themselves against anti-union activity by employers.
A federal court has dismissed a lawsuit from a group of immigration agents challenging the Obama administration’s policy suspending deportations for undocumented residents who came to the United States as children. The lawsuit claimed the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program prevents agents from detaining immigrants who could threaten public safety. But on Wednesday, a federal district judge in Texas threw out the case, saying his court does not have proper jurisdiction to decide it.
Democratic Rep. Luis Gutiérrez of Illinois spoke out on the House floor Wednesday in support of a group of jailed young immigrants known as the “Dream 9.” The Dream 9 remain in an Arizona detention center more than a week after attempting to re-enter the United States in protest of record deportations under President Obama. Addressing House colleagues before they leave for the summer recess, Gutiérrez urged support for the Dream 9’s release.
Rep. Luis Gutiérrez: “For those who are in detention, like the 'Dream 9' in Arizona, and the many others, who, because of their status, a trip to the hospital or getting a traffic ticket could mean they never see their children again, the American dream will end for 44,400 immigrants who will be deported between now and September 9. I hope they are in your thoughts. Mr. Speaker, I ask unanimous consent to insert this letter from Jared Polis of Colorado and myself to the president of the United States asking for the release of the 'Dream 9' held in detention in Arizona and entered into the record.”
At least two “Dream 9” activists remain in solitary confinement after launching a hunger strike and attempting to collect the stories of fellow migrants. The “Dream 9” have asked for humanitarian asylum in the United States, and several hearings are reportedly underway.
In Florida, a group of activists camped out at the offices Republican Gov. Rick Scott are continuing their push for a special session to repeal the state’s “Stand Your Ground” law. The law impacted instructions to the jury that acquitted George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin last month. The Dream Defenders have entered the third week of their occupation. Earlier this week, they held a mock session of the Florida Legislature, where they were joined by Rev. Jesse Jackson. During his visit, Rev. Jackson compared their struggle to the civil rights movement, saying Florida is the “Selma of our time.” Gov. Scott has so far rebuffed the activists’ demands and on Wednesday called for Jackson to apologize for his remarks.
A North Dakota judge has temporarily blocked a law that opponents say would have shut down the state’s only remaining abortion clinic. Due to take effect today, the law requires doctors who provide abortions to obtain admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. Such requirements can be impossible because abortion providers do not admit enough patients to meet hospital minimums and because some hospitals oppose abortion. Judge Wickham Corwin blocked the law while a legal challenge proceeds, saying “there is obviously no need” for it. Pro-choice activists who departed from San Francisco and New York City last week as part of a nationwide Abortion Rights Freedom Ride gathered at the courthouse Wednesday in support of the Red River Women’s Clinic.