West Virginia officials have now disclosed a second chemical was part of the spill that contaminated the state’s water supply last week. Some 300,000 people had to go without tap water for days after MCHM, an agent used in coal extraction, leaked into the Elk River. On Wednesday, the company behind the spill, Freedom Industries, told authorities the chemical leak also included PPH, which includes dangerous glycol ethers. Freedom Industries had never reported PPH in its previous filings with the state. West Virginia’s water has been declared safe to drink in all areas since the weekend, except for pregnant women, but tests are still ongoing.
The first day of the U.N.-backed Syrian peace conference ended with deep divisions between all sides. Syria’s foreign minister described rebel groups as “terrorists” while an opposition leader called the regime of Bashar al-Assad a “disease” that should be finished. Bashar Jaafari, Syria’s ambassador to the United Nations, criticized the United Nations for bowing to the U.S.-led call for withdrawing Iran’s invitation.
Bashar Jaafari: “We had today 40 countries seemingly preselected in a way that most of them would be anti-Syrian delegations, meaning that they are coming from governments who do have hostile policies towards the Syrian government. But at the same time, coincidentally, paradoxically, let me say it, the secretary-general excluded Iran. So we add 10 new countries, and we exclude Iran at the same time.”
Speaking after the Syria talks concluded, Secretary of State John Kerry renewed his backing of the departure of Bashar al-Assad and said the United States is prepared to increase support for the rebel opposition.
Secretary of State John Kerry: “There is no one who has done more to make Syria a magnet for terrorists than Bashar al-Assad. He is the single greatest magnet for terrorism that there is in the region, and he has long since, because of his choice of weapons, because of what he has done, lost any legitimacy. … I will just say to you that lots of different avenues will be pursued, including continued support to the opposition and augmented support to the opposition.”
The United Nations will attempt to mediate the first direct talks between the Syrian regime and the opposition on Friday in Geneva. The negotiations could last up to 10 days if they are able to get off the ground. Special Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi said both sides are prepared to discuss confidence-building measures, including humanitarian access and the release of prisoners.
Lakhdar Brahimi: “We’ve had some fairly clear indications that the parties are willing to discuss issues of access to needy people, liberation of prisoners and local ceasefires, but certainty is a very rare commodity in our kind of business.”
Opposition leaders in Ukraine have issued a 24-hour ultimatum for the government to respond to their demands for political change. Speakers told a crowd of tens of thousands packed into Kiev’s Independence Square that they plan to “go on the attack” unless President Viktor Yanukovych makes concessions. Clashes have escalated this week after government forces attacked several camps housing demonstrators. Yanukovych has faced a number of demands including forging closer ties with the European Union instead of Russia and calling early elections.
In Egypt, hundreds of people marched in Cairo on Wednesday in a show of protest against the military regime. The rally came days before the anniversary of the launch of the 2011 uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak. The head of the Egyptian military, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, is expected to run in upcoming elections after ousting Muslim Brotherhood president Mohamed Morsi in July.
Texas has executed a Mexican national despite objections from the State Department, the Mexican government and the World Court. Edgar Arias Tamayo was convicted of killing a Houston police officer after a robbery in 1994. But the World Court later ruled he was entitled to have his case reviewed because he was never informed of his right to diplomatic assistance from the Mexican consulate. In killing Tamayo, Texas ignored pleas from the State Department that it would violate international law. A Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesperson announced the execution.
Jason Clark: “Edgar Tamayo was executed tonight for the January 1994 murder of Houston Police Officer Guy Gaddis. Tamayo pulled a pistol while in the back of a police cruiser and fired multiple rounds, killing Officer Gaddis. When asked if he wanted to make a last statement, Tamayo said he did not. He was pronounced deceased at 9:32 p.m., 17 minutes after the lethal dose began.”
Tamayo is the third Mexican national to be executed in Texas whose case was part of the World Court order. In addition to challenging his execution on consular grounds, defense attorneys had also argued he was ineligible for the death penalty because of mental disability.
The American Psychological Association has rejected a complaint against a psychologist involved in the torture of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay. Dr. John Leso took part in the interrogation of Mohammed al-Qahtani, whose terror charges were later dropped because of the brutality he endured. Speaking to Democracy Now! in 2011, Dr. Steven Reisner of the Coalition for an Ethical Psychology said Leso helped design the harsh techniques applied during Qahtani’s interrogation.
Dr. Steven Reisner: “The increasingly harsh techniques included isolation, sleep deprivation, extreme cold, sexual and religious humiliation — the whole gamut of techniques used individually and together. And the interrogation lasted for about a month and a half.”
In its decision, the American Psychological Association did not deny Leso’s involvement in torture, saying only, “we have determined that we cannot proceed” with the case. A number of Leso’s colleagues had campaigned for his censure.
A federal appeals court has ruled potential jurors cannnot be rejected based on their sexual orientation. The decision will force the retrial of a case decided after a gay juror was left out. It could also bolster challenges against laws that discriminate against LGBT people.
Thousands of anti-choice activists braved freezing temperatures on Wednesday to march against abortion rights in Washington, D.C. The so-called March for Life is held every year on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion. The march comes amidst new setbacks for anti-choice measures at the state level. Last week a federal judge struck down a North Carolina law forcing doctors to perform ultrasounds on women seeking an abortion. The Supreme Court also declined to overturn a ruling striking down Arizona’s ban on abortions after 20 weeks. Over the past three years, states have passed some 200 restrictions on abortion, more than in the entire previous decade.