Russia has become the latest foreign government to launch airstrikes into Syria after carrying out a series of attacks Wednesday. The move has sparked concern from U.S. officials, who say the Russian attacks did not hit ISIL but instead hit the rebel groups fighting against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, including at least one group trained by the CIA. The United States and Russia have long disagreed about the strategy in Syria, with the U.S. calling for Assad’s departure and Russia backing the Syrian president. Russia became at least the 10th foreign government to launch airstrikes in Syria this year. Other countries include the United States, Britain, Canada, France, Australia, Turkey, Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan. We’ll have more on Syria with Columbia University professor Rashid Khalidi after headlines.
In Afghanistan, fierce fighting between the Taliban and Afghan government forces is currently underway in the northern city of Kunduz. Taliban seized Kunduz Monday, marking the first time the Taliban has taken over a major Afghan city since 2001. Afghan forces backed by U.S. airstrikes launched a counteroffensive to retake the city. The U.S. also dispatched American special operations forces to Kunduz Wednesday. This comes more than 10 months after President Obama declared an official end to the U.S. combat operation in Afghanistan.
In Oklahoma, Governor Mary Fallin has issued a last-minute stay of execution for death row prisoner Richard Glossip, after the prison mixed up the drugs for his lethal injection. Richard Glossip was slated to be executed at 3 p.m. Wednesday. But the execution was called off because instead of having the chemical potassium chloride, which stops the heart, the prison had potassium acetate. Fallin issued a 37-day stay while the state “ensures it is complying fully with the protocols approved by federal courts.” Glossip’s case dates back to 1997, when he was working as a manager at the Best Budget Inn in Oklahoma City when his boss, Barry Van Treese, was murdered. A maintenance worker, Justin Sneed, admitted he beat Van Treese to death with a baseball bat, but claimed Glossip offered him money for the killing. The case rested almost solely on Sneed’s claims. No physical evidence ever tied Glossip to the crime. By pointing the finger at Glossip, Sneed was spared the death penalty. We’ll have more on Glossip’s case with anti-death-penalty activist Sister Helen Prejean later in the show.
Meanwhile, a U.S. district court in Virginia will hold a last-minute hearing this afternoon to decide whether to halt temporarily the execution of Alfredo Prieto over concerns about the drug Virginia plans to use to execute him. The hearing is a response to an emergency motion filed by his lawyers after they learned Virginia obtained the drug pentobarbital for the execution not from a pharmacy but from the Texas prison system. Prieto, a Salvadoran national, has been convicted of multiple counts of murder. Alfredo Prieto is scheduled to be executed tonight.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced Wednesday the Palestinian Authority was no longer bound by peace agreements with Israel that were “continually violated.” This came the same day the Palestinian flag was raised in front of the United Nations for the first time. Abbas made the speech to the U.N. General Assembly.
President Mahmoud Abbas: “Here we declare that as long as Israel refuses to commit to the agreements signed with us, which renders us an authority without real powers, and as long as Israel refuses to cease settlement activities and to release the fourth group of Palestinian prisoners in accordance with our agreements, Israel leaves us no choice but to insist that we will not remain the only ones committed to the implementation of these agreements, while Israel continuously violates them.”
Meanwhile, a new report has documented hundreds of cases of Palestinian rights activists in the United States being harassed, disciplined, fired, sued, censored or threatened for their advocacy around Palestine. Eighty-five percent of these cases targeted students or scholars. The report was issued by the nonprofit organization Palestine Legal. Nashiha Alam of the Students for Justice in Palestine chapter at Loyola University Chicago spoke about facing harassment.
Nashiha Alam: “Administration at Loyola often subjected members of Students for Justice in Palestine to FBI-style interrogations which lasted hours.”
The United Nations Human Rights Council has abandoned a plan to launch an investigation into human rights violations and possible war crimes in the ongoing conflict in Yemen following aggressive lobbying from Saudi diplomats. A U.N. Human Rights Commission report has blamed the U.S.-backed, Saudi-led airstrikes for most of the civilian casualties in Yemen. This comes only days after U.S.-backed, Saudi-led airstrikes killed at least 130 civilians after mistakenly bombing a wedding party Monday.
In Oklahoma, Tulsa County Sheriff Stanley Glanz has been indicted following the fatal shooting in April of unarmed African American Eric Harris by a volunteer deputy. Sheriff Glanz was a close personal friend of Deputy Robert Bates, who says he fatally shot Harris after he mistook his gun for a taser. Bates is a wealthy insurance executive who donated heavily to the department. Reports later showed supervisors at the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office were ordered to falsify Bates’ training records before the shooting. On Wednesday, a grand jury indicted Sheriff Stanley Glanz on misdemeanor charges related to Glanz’s withholding of documents during the department’s internal investigation. Glanz’s attorney said the sheriff would resign before the November hearing.
Meanwhile, New York City Police Department Commissioner Bill Bratton is unveiling new rules today that will require the nation’s largest police department to document virtually every instance of force by officers. The rules will go into effect next year.
In West Virginia, former coal company CEO Don Blankenship is on trial over a 2010 explosion at a Massey Energy coal mine that killed 29 workers. The explosion at Upper Big Branch Mine was the worst coal disaster in the United States in 40 years. Blankenship faces 31 years in prison on charges of tipping off managers ahead of federal safety inspections and trying to cover up the company’s lax safety regulations.
Three more women have come forward with accusations against Bill Cosby. More than 50 women have accused Cosby of drugging and raping them in cases that go back decades. Brown University, Marquette University and Fordham University have all rescinded honorary degrees from Cosby over the allegations in recent days.
In Atlanta, cancer patient Zahara Heckscher disrupted negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership at the Westin Hotel Wednesday. The trade pact, which is being negotiated in secret, involves 12 Pacific Rim nations and about 40 percent of the global economy. Zahara Heckscher was arrested as she demanded access to the secret text to see whether it includes a “death sentence clause” — a U.S. proposal to extend de facto monopolies on medicines by up to eight years, which make the drugs unaffordable.
Zahara Heckscher: “I will not leave until the USTR shows me the secret death sentence clause, so I can verify that the TPP is not going to prevent women like me with cancer from accessing the medicines we need to stay strong and stay alive.”
The Vatican has confirmed that Pope Francis held a private meeting with Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis during the pope’s historic six-day visit to the United States. Kim Davis was briefly jailed in September for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples after the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize marriage equality nationwide. In response to the news, Marianne Duddy-Burke of LGBT Catholic group DignityUSA told The Huffington Post, “I fear that this meeting and claims that the pope told Ms. Davis to 'stand strong' will embolden the many U.S. bishops and others who continue to try to turn back support for LGBT people.”
And in Stockholm, Sweden, the Right Livelihood Award, known as the alternative Nobel Prize, has been awarded to four people: Ugandan LGBT rights activist Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera, Canadian Inuit activist Sheila Watt-Cloutier, Italian surgeon Gino Strada and Marshall Islands Foreign Minister Tony de Brum. At the Pride Parade in New York City this year, Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera spoke about the repression the LGBT community faces in Uganda, as well as the role U.S. missionaries have played in sowing violence against gay, lesbian and transgender people in her country.
Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera: “Today in Uganda, this crowd would be broken down by police. Our gatherings have been broken down by the government. And we are also suffering because of the American evangelicals that have come and planted homophobia and caused a panic in our society. And we are not just sitting, we are suing them here in America, because this must stop. They must not go around the world spreading hate, that they failed to plant here in your country.”