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The Obama administration is seeking to contain a congressional backlash over a prisoner exchange that saw the release of American soldier Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl for five Taliban leaders. On Wednesday, top intelligence and military officials held a closed-door briefing for the entire Senate, showing them a recent video of Bergdahl in declining health. The administration says the video helped spur action to win his release over fears his life was in danger. Opponents of the deal say the White House failed to give Congress proper notice and may have endangered American lives by encouraging the capture of U.S. soldiers. The criticism has exploded following news Bergdahl may have left his base after turning against the war spread through right-wing media. On Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid defended the prisoner swap.
Sen. Harry Reid: “President Obama, as commander-in-chief, acted honorably in helping an American soldier return home to his family. Sergeant Bergdahl’s release is an answer to many American’s prayers. I can’t imagine how relieved his parents and family must feel. Unfortunately, though, Mr. President, opponents of President Obama have seized upon the release of an American prisoner of war — that’s what he was — using what should be a moment of unity and celebration for our nation as a chance to play political games.”
Sgt. Bergdahl’s hometown of Hailey, Idaho, meanwhile, has canceled a celebration for his release, citing public safety concerns. In recent days, angry phone calls and emails poured into Hailey over the town’s support for the soldier. We’ll have more on this story after headlines.
In the aftermath of the U.S.-Taliban prisoner exchange, the family of an American woman and her Canadian husband held captive in Afghanistan since late 2012 are calling for renewed efforts to win their release. On Wednesday, relatives shared a video they say came from the Taliban of Caitlan Coleman and Joshua Boyle pleading for their freedom. Coleman was pregnant at the time of their capture and gave birth in captivity.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has declared a landslide victory in elections dismissed by rivals as a sham. The Syrian government says Assad took more than 88 percent of the vote, which was held mostly in areas under his control. At the United Nations, Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos appealed to Assad for greater access to besieged areas.
Valerie Amos: “If I were able to speak to him right now, I would say, 'Put the people of Syria first.' I mean, that has been my message from day one. And if you put the people of Syria first, then I think the rest falls from that, in terms of our ability to make sure the people are properly fed, that they have enough water, that they have proper sanitation, that they have healthcare, that they’re able to educate their children, and crucially, that they have peace, security and stability.”
The United Nations has confirmed Assad will fail to meet a deadline later this month for the removal and destruction of his regime’s entire chemical stockpile. But Sigrid Kaag, head of the joint mission overseeing the stockpile’s removal, said major progress has been made.
Sigrid Kaag: “The deadline will not be met. But it is important, however, that all the materials are out of harm’s way, and the destruction can start as soon as possible aboard the U.S. ship, as considerable time has lapsed, and considerable cost and time and investments have been made to get the job done. Equally so, I’d like to underline that significant progress has been attained over an impossible period of time, nine months.”
In other news from Syria, more than 150 Kurdish students are being held captive following their kidnapping by rebels in a northern province last week. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria is said to be holding the students at a prison in the town of Manbij. It is one the worst mass kidnappings in Syria’s three-year civil war.
Thousands of protesters have marched in the Brazilian city of São Paulo in protest of public spending on the upcoming World Cup. The Homeless Workers’ Movement led Wednesday’s march to São Paulo’s main stadium ahead of the World Cup’s opening a week from today.
Jusue Rocha, protest organizer: “Today we want to get the attention of the government, marching to the stadium, saying that we want to negotiate and open a channel of dialogue with the government to negotiate our demands. If they do not attend to our needs, we already know the way to the stadium — and on the 12th, we will be there again.”
A federal appeals court has overturned a lower court’s rejection of a proposed $285 million settlement between Citigroup and the Securities and Exchange Commission over Citigroup’s sale of toxic mortgage debt. In a major decision three years ago, District Court Judge Jed Rakoff said the proposed settlement was “neither reasonable, nor fair, nor adequate, nor in the public interest” and “pocket change to any entity as large as Citigroup.” The SEC had accused Citigroup of selling $1 billion of deceptive mortgage-backed securities in 2007 just as the nation’s housing bubble was about to burst. Citigroup made $160 million in profits on the transaction, while investors lost $700 million. Rakoff’s decision stood to have a major impact on how the SEC settles cases with major banks. But on Wednesday, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Rakoff “abused [his] discretion by applying an incorrect legal standard.” The overturning of Rakoff’s decision means the settlement will likely be approved.
The oil giant BP is facing new fines for its 2010 Gulf oil spill following a new court ruling. On Wednesday, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a 2012 decision that BP and the company Anadarko Petroleum should be fined under the Clean Water Act. BP and Anadarko had large stakes in the well that blew out and caused the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history. The ruling could lead to billions more in fines.
The relatives of three Americans killed in U.S. drone strikes in Yemen without trial say they would not appeal the dismissal of their lawsuit against Obama administration officials. The families of Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, his teenage son, Abdulrahman, and of Samir Khan had filed the suit accusing top U.S. officials of unlawful killings. But in April, a federal judge ruled the victims’ constitutional rights were never violated, and said the U.S. officials involved cannot be held liable. In a statement, the Center for Constitutional Rights and the American Civil Liberties Union said: “The U.S. government killed three Americans without due process. Getting answers in court should not be too much to ask in a democracy, but our system of checks and balances failed these families.”
A federal judge has given class-action status to a lawsuit challenging solitary confinement at California’s Pelican Bay State Prison. The plaintiffs say over a decade in solitary has subjected them to cruel and unusual punishment and violated their right to due process. Thousands of prisoners took part in a statewide hunger strike against long-term solitary confinement last year. The class-action lawsuit could cover hundreds of prisoners.
Activists and tech companies are holding a day of action today to promote greater online privacy. The “Reset the Net” campaign from the group Fight for the Future calls for increased website encryption and privacy tools for users. Today marks the one-year anniversary of the publication of the first Guardian story based on the leaks of National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden.