A federal appeals court has ruled the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of millions of Americans’ phone records is illegal. The program was exposed by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden; the ACLU filed its lawsuit based largely on Snowden’s revelations. In a unanimous decision Thursday, a three-judge panel of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York called the bulk phone records collection “unprecedented and unwarranted.” The ruling comes as Congress faces a June 1 deadline to renew the part of the PATRIOT Act that authorizes the NSA’s bulk data surveillance. Another measure, the USA FREEDOM Act, would reform some of the NSA’s programs.
The Justice Department has confirmed it will investigate the Baltimore Police Department for a potential pattern of unconstitutional policing in the wake of the death of Freddie Gray. The move comes one day after a request for such a probe from Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. Six officers were indicted for Gray’s death on Friday. Federal investigators are already looking into whether Gray’s civil rights were violated. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said the federal government has a responsibility to look into potential abuses.
Attorney General Loretta Lynch: “When there are allegations of wrongdoing made against individual officers and police departments, the Department of Justice has a responsibility to examine the evidence and, if necessary, to help them implement change.”
Justice Department reviews of other police forces nationwide have led to consent decrees that mandate changes.
The footwear giant Nike has announced it will create 10,000 jobs in the United States if the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, or TPP, is approved. The 12-nation pact would encompass 40 percent of the global economy and is being negotiated in secret. Critics say the deal would hurt workers, undermine regulations and expand corporate power. But Nike says the agreement would allow it to invest in U.S.-based production. The announcement coincides with President Obama’s visit today to Nike headquarters in Oregon. Dozens of protesters rallied against the TPP at a fundraiser attended by Obama in Portland Thursday night. In a statement, the group Public Citizen said: “As Obama tries to sell a pact that many believe would lead to more U.S. job offshoring and lower wages, why would he honor a firm that has grown and profited not by creating U.S. jobs but by producing in offshore sweatshops with rock bottom wages and terrible labor conditions?”
Britain’s Conservative Party has won an unexpected victory in national elections, setting the stage for an overall majority in Parliament and a second term for Prime Minister David Cameron. Polls had expected a tight race with the Labour Party, but Conservatives scored a series of surprising wins. Labour’s Ed Milliband is widely expected to step down as the party’s leader. In Scotland, the Scottish National Party won a vast majority of seats after losing a referendum on independence from Britain last year.
Saudi Arabia has proposed a five-day ceasefire in Yemen to allow for the delivery of desperately needed humanitarian aid. The Saudi kingdom says it will only comply if Houthi rebels also accept the pause. The Saudi-led bombing campaign has helped worsen a humanitarian crisis that has left large parts of the country in dire need. Speaking during a visit to Saudi Arabia, Secretary of State John Kerry welcomed the proposal.
Secretary of State John Kerry: “Today, we particularly welcome a new Saudi initiative to try to bring about a peaceful resolution through the announcement of their intent to establish a full five-day renewable ceasefire and humanitarian pause — no bombing, no shooting, no movement or repositioning of troops to achieve military advantage.”
Houthi sources say they expect their side to accept the ceasefire. A new report from Human Rights Watch meanwhile says the Houthis may have committed war crimes in the deaths of two women and the kidnapping of aid workers in the besieged city of Aden.
The Senate has approved legislation that would give Congress a say in the final nuclear deal with Iran. The measure calls for a Senate review of a final agreement and a potential congressional vote on blocking the lifting sanctions. Democratic Senator Ben Cardin praised the bill as a step forward.
Sen. Ben Cardin: “We understand that this country is stronger when we can find a way to work together. And we did — the proper role for Congress in this process. And today we’re one step closer to getting this bill done, and I believe we’re closer to being able to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear weapons state. And we would like — our preference is to do that through the diplomatic means. And that is a much more likely result as a result of the action the United States Senate has taken today.”
President Obama is expected to sign the bill if the House gives final approval. Obama withdrew his opposition last month in the face of a bipartisan rebuke.
The U.S. has begun training Syrian rebel fighters as part of a program aimed at confronting the self-proclaimed Islamic State. A group of around 90 rebels are training at a base in Jordan, to be followed by similar efforts in Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced the move.
Defense Secretary Ashton Carter: “We’re announcing today that combat training has begun for a company-sized group from the new Syrian forces. This program is critical and a complex part of our counter-ISIL (Islamic State) efforts. We expect a second group to begin training in the next few weeks. They are being trained and equipped to fight ISIL. That is the purpose, and that is the basis upon which they’re being vetted and trained.”
Omar Khadr, once the youngest prisoner held on terror charges at Guantánamo Bay, has been released on bail from a Canadian prison. The Toronto-born Khadr was detained in 2002 by U.S. forces in Afghanistan before being transferred to Guantánamo Bay at the age of 16. Khadr became the first person since World War II to be prosecuted in a war crimes tribunal for acts committed as a juvenile. After eight years at Guantánamo, he confessed in 2010 to throwing a grenade that killed an American soldier. His lawyers say his statements were illegally obtained through torture and cruelty. As part of a plea deal, the United States later allowed his transfer back to Canada. On Thursday, Khadr briefly spoke with reporters after his release.
Omar Khadr: “I would like to thank the Canadian public for trusting me and giving me a chance. It might be some time, but I will prove to them that I am more than what they thought of me. And I’ll prove to them that I’m a good person.”
Reporter: “Omar, what do you what the American people to know about you? Do you have any message for the United States?”
Omar Khadr: “Well, I can just say I’m sorry for the pain I might cause the families of the victims. And there’s nothing I can do about the past, but I hope that the future can — I can do something about the future.”
Khadr will remain free while he appeals his war crimes convictions in the United States.
The global level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has topped 400 parts per million for the longest time in recorded history. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says the grim milestone was reached on average for the entire month of March. The 400 parts per million threshold has been an important marker in U.N. climate change negotiations, widely recognized as a dangerous level that could drastically worsen human-caused global warming. The environmentalist group 350.org takes its name after the 350 parts per million threshold that scientists say is the maximum atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide for a safe planet.
The news comes as the Republican-controlled House Science Committee has voted to cut over $320 million in funding for the study of climate change. The money would come out of the budget for NASA’s Earth science research.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has formally unveiled his effort to raise the pay of the state’s fast-food workers. On Thursday, Cuomo said he will ask the state labor commissioner to convene a panel on increasing the fast-food industry’s minimum wage. Cuomo said taxpayers are subsidizing the industry’s low wages through public assistance to its workers.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo: “I announce today, as the governor of the state of New York, that I want to get out of the hamburger business. I don’t want the taxpayers of New York subsidizing the profits of McDonald’s anymore, and this has to end. I think the fast-food industry should live up to the spirit of the law and pay a minimum wage that is truly a minimum wage and a livable wage. I think their situation is a fraud. I think their profits are based on unpaid wages and unpaid employee expenses and costs that have been improperly transferred to government. And if the Republican Senate doesn’t want to hear it, then I will use the power I have.”
The panel’s findings are expected in three months. Cuomo’s announcement comes just weeks after thousands of fast-food workers staged a national protest calling for a $15 minimum wage, their largest such action to date.
And the jailed Army Private Chelsea Manning has proposed legislation that would help future whistleblowers follow in her footsteps. The National Integrity and Free Speech Protection Act would amend several laws, including the Freedom of Information Act and Espionage Act, to help protect journalists and their sources. Manning is serving a 35-year sentence for leaking U.S. government cables to WikiLeaks.