The Obama administration is reconsidering plans for a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin next month after Russia granted a year of temporary asylum to National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden. On Thursday, Snowden left the Moscow airport, where he had been sheltering for more than a month while the United States sought his return to face espionage charges for revealing NSA spy programs. In a statement released by WikiLeaks, Edward Snowden said: “Over the past eight weeks we have seen the Obama administration show no respect for international or domestic law, but in the end the law is winning. I thank the Russian Federation for granting me asylum.” A Russian lawyer for Snowden said he is set to begin a new life in Russia.
The United Nations says Iraq has closed out its deadliest month in more than five years following a wave of sectarian bombings and shootings. In total, the violence killed 1,057 Iraqis and injured more than 2,300 in July. Many of the attacks focused on Iraq’s Shiite majority which leads the government.
In Egypt, supporters of former President Mohamed Morsi are launching new protests today to call for his return to power almost exactly a month after he was ousted by the military. Despite a pledge by the interim government to gradually clear out Morsi supporters who have been occupying Cairo squares, protesters said Thursday they would remain in place.
Morsi supporter: “We will not evacuate this square until Mohamed Morsi is returned to power, and legitimacy and the Parliament return. That’s all. Even if they come with tanks, we will remain peaceful. Our peacefulness is more powerful than bullets. Our peacefulness is more powerful than bullets.”
President Obama and Yemeni President Abdo Rabu Mansour Hadi met at the White House Thursday and pledged to work together to repatriate Yemeni prisoners held at Guantánamo. Human rights groups criticized Obama for failing to lay out concrete steps for the transfers. Of the 86 Guantánamo prisoners cleared for release or transfer, 56 are from Yemen.
The meeting between Obama and President Abdo Rabu Mansour Hadi came just hours after a U.S. drone strike in Yemen killed four people. A Yemeni security official said the victims were al-Qaeda suspects. It was the third U.S. strike in Yemen in five days.
Secretary of State John Kerry told Pakistanis on Thursday that he hopes the United States will stop carrying out drone strikes in their country “very, very soon.” Kerry made the remarks in a television interview following a meeting with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. He claimed President Obama has a “very real timeline” for ending drone strikes.
An investigation by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism solidifies claims the CIA targeted rescuers at the scenes of earlier drones strikes in Pakistan. A report by a Pakistani journalist commissioned by the Bureau found five so-called double-tap strikes took place in mid-2012, one of which also struck a mosque. In total, the attacks killed 53 people and injured 57. A parallel investigation by the legal charity Reprieve found eight civilians died in one double-tap strike in Pakistan last July.
Afghan officials say an aircraft belonging to the NATO-led coalition that was called to assist Afghan police at a highway checkpoint opened fire and mistakenly killed five Afghan police officers. A spokesperson for the governor in the eastern province of Nangarhar said the police officers had come under fire and called for air support from the U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force. Coalition spokespeople provided a slightly different version of the incident to the Associated Press, saying it occurred during an operation involving both international and Afghan troops. They said an investigation is underway. [Please note: This headline has been updated to reflect a correction issued by the Associated Press.]
The news comes as the U.S. Army has launched a new investigation into allegations its special forces have abducted and killed Afghan civilians. Afghan President Hamid Karzai briefly ordered a ban on U.S. troops in the province of Wardak earlier this year over claims of the abuse and disappearance of nine Afghan prisoners. The U.S. military has denied involvement in the abductions, but has withheld the findings of an earlier probe. An Afghan translator recently arrested for his alleged involvement has accused the U.S. forces he worked with of committing the abuses. The translator, Zakaria Kandahari, says he knows of three Afghan civilians who were handed over to U.S. forces alive only to later turn up dead.
The United States is closing a number of its diplomatic posts around the world on Sunday, citing unspecified security concerns. Deputy State Department spokesperson Marie Harf did not elaborate on the nature of the threat against U.S. facilities, but said it is possible some may remain closed for more than a day.
Marie Harf: “The Department of State has instructed certain U.S. embassies and consulates to remain closed or to suspend operations on Sunday, August 4th. The Department has been apprised of information that, out of an abundance of caution and care for our employees and others who may be visiting our installations, that indicates we should institute these precautionary steps.”
The United Nations says chemical weapons inspectors are poised to enter Syria after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad agreed to allow them to gather first-hand evidence of alleged chemical attacks for the first time. The inspectors will investigate three sites of alleged chemical use, including one outside Aleppo where at least 30 people died in March. The Assad regime and anti-government rebels each blame each other for the attack.
On Thursday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a rocket attack by rebels on an arms dump killed at least 40 people in the central city of Homs.
A prominent blogger has been arrested in Bahrain days after the ruling monarchy vowed to intensify a crackdown on anti-government protests. The blogger, Mohamed Hassan, has also worked as an assistant to foreign journalists visiting Bahrain. Earlier this week, the Bahraini regime backed a proposal to ban demonstrations in the capital Manama and impose penalties including revoking citizenship on protesters convicted of violence.
Uruguay is set to become the first country to fully legalize marijuana. The plan passed by Uruguay’s lower house would create a state-controlled legal marijuana market where Uruguayans would be allowed to grow a limited amount of marijuana in their homes and purchase it from pharmacies after entering their names in a national registry. The bill now goes to the Uruguayan Senate where it is expected to pass. Uruguayan President José Mujica has touted the bill as a way to undermine the illegal drug trade which he termed a “monopoly of mafias.”
In Washington, D.C., dozens of immigrant leaders and allies were arrested Thursday after blocking a major intersection near the Capitol to call for the passage of comprehensive immigration reform as Congress prepares for summer recess. More than 40 people were detained, including some who are undocumented, as they protested Republican efforts to increase border security without providing a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants. Later in the day, more protesters were arrested for blocking the hallway outside the office of Republican House Speaker John Boehner, who has so far refused to take up a Senate bill that includes a path to citizenship. This week Democratic Rep. Luis Gutiérrez of Illinois noted 44,000 people will be deported before Congress reconvenes early next month.
The Senate has confirmed Obama nominee Samantha Power as the next U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Power served as Obama’s senior foreign policy adviser during his first run for the White House before being forced to resign for calling Hillary Clinton a “monster.” She won a Pulitzer Prize in 2003 for her book, “A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide.” Progressives have accused Power of selectively ignoring U.S.-backed abuses while supporting humanitarian intervention abroad.
President Obama has tapped a retired corporate restructuring expert to oversee the Internal Revenue Service. John Koskinen oversaw the overhaul of mortgage buyer Freddie Mac following its near crash during the financial crisis and served as deputy director of the Office and Management and Budget under President Clinton. In a statement, Obama called Koskinen “an expert at turning around institutions in need of reform.” The IRS has faced scandal over its scrutiny of certain political groups who applied for tax-exempt status.
An Ohio man who held three women captive for a decade while repeatedly raping them has been officially sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Ariel Castro pleaded guilty last week to hundreds of kidnapping and rape charges in the forced imprisonment of Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight, who all escaped in May. On Thursday, Castro delivered a rambling statement before his sentencing, apologizing to his victims but also claiming they consented to sex with him. Survivor Michelle Knight confronted him in court.
Michelle Knight: “Ariel Castro, I remember all the times that you came home talking about what everybody else did wrong, and acted like you wasn’t doing the same thing. You said, 'At least I didn't kill you.’ You took 11 years of my life away, and I have got it back. I spent 11 years in hell. Now your hell is just beginning. I will overcome all this that happened, but you will face hell for eternity.”
A federal jury in New York has found a former Goldman Sachs vice president dubbed “the Fabulous Fab” liable for fraud in a civil case over a mortgage-backed securities deal that cost investors $1 billion. Jurors found Fabrice Tourre intentionally misled investors in the lead-up to the financial crisis by secretly working with a hedge fund on an investment scheme destined for implosion. One of the more notorious pieces of evidence was an email Tourre wrote to a girlfriend saying, “the whole building is about to collapse anytime now … the only potential survivor, the fabulous Fab.” Tourre could now face a fine or be banned from the industry.
Florida has rejected calls for an independent probe of the FBI’s fatal shooting of an unarmed Chechen man questioned for his ties to the Boston Marathon bombers in May. Agents were questioning Ibragim Todashev at his Orlando apartment when he allegedly tried to attack them. After multiple anonymous claims that Todashev was armed, it emerged that he had neither a knife nor a gun. In a statement, the American Civil Liberties Union, which had asked for the rejected probe, said: “Secrecy fosters suspicion and the people of Florida deserve better than to be left without an explanation from their government about what led to a person being shot to death.”
A federal court is weighing a bid by jailed civil rights attorney Lynne Stewart to obtain compassionate release from prison. A 73-year-old grandmother, Stewart is fighting stage IV cancer that has metastasized, spreading to her lymph nodes, shoulder, bones and lungs. She is serving a 10-year sentence in federal prison after being found guilty of distributing press releases on behalf of her jailed client, Egyptian cleric Omar Abdel-Rahman, also known as the “Blind Sheikh.” The Federal Bureau of Prisons recently denied her transfer to a hospital despite the recommendations of her prison warden. In a new court filing, Stewart’s attorneys write: “[She] is dying and her ability to function is rapidly deteriorating every day.” On Wednesday, supporters in New York rallied outside a federal courtroom where arguments in the case were heard. Robert Boyle, an attorney with Lynne Stewart’s defense team, said he expects a decision as early as next week.
Robert Boyle: “Lynne Stewart, even from the time she was arrested, even the government, even the government has never said she was a threat to anyone’s safety. And so, what really basis can they have in her condition to keep her incarcerated? It’s inhumane. It’s cold. It’s all of that. I could go on and on. But I think that the judge today, in giving an expedited scheduling, is treating it seriously, at a very minimum, and hopefully will do the right thing next week.”
According to doctors, Stewart may have less than a year to live.