A British judge has blocked the extradition of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to the United States, where he could have faced up to 175 years in prison. In an extraordinary decision, Judge Vanessa Baraitser said Assange would not be safe in U.S. prisons due to the state of his mental health and the increased risk of suicide. Judge Baraitser said, “I find that the mental condition of Mr. Assange is such that it would be oppressive to extradite him to the United States of America.” Supporters of Assange celebrated outside the London courthouse.
John Rees: “Do celebrate that the American prison system is so bad that even this judge wouldn’t send Julian Assange into it.”
In 2019, Julian Assange was indicted in the United States on 17 counts of violating the Espionage Act related to the publication of classified documents exposing U.S. war crimes in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. We’ll have more on the story after headlines
President Trump repeatedly pressured Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to change the results of the presidential election in Georgia during an hour-long call Saturday. The Washington Post published audio of the stunning conversation, in which Trump suggested Raffensperger announce that officials “recalculated” votes. Raffensperger responded to Trump, “The data you have is wrong.” This is an excerpt of that call.
President Donald Trump: “I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have, because we won the state. … This is a faulty election result. And honestly, this should go very fast. You should meet tomorrow, because you have a big election coming up, and because of what you’ve done to the president — you know, the people of Georgia know that this was a scam, and because of what you’ve done to the president, a lot of people aren’t going out to vote.”
Trump tried to get Raffensperger to agree that thousands of ballots had been destroyed, threatening consequences if he did not support the baseless claim — a possible attempt at extortion.
The audio was released just days before the two Georgia runoff races Tuesday which will determine control of the U.S. Senate. Over 3 million Georgia residents have already cast their ballots, in a record turnout for runoff elections. On Thursday, incumbent Republican Senator David Perdue said he was quarantining after possible exposure to the coronavirus. He is facing off against Democrat Jon Ossoff. Incumbent Republican Senator Kelly Loeffler is running against Reverend Raphael Warnock.
Trump is campaigning in the conservative stronghold of Dalton, Georgia, today, while President-elect Joe Biden will be in Atlanta. Vice President-elect Kamala Harris campaigned in Savannah on Sunday.
In more election news, as many as 140 Republican congressmembers and at least 12 senators plan to contest the official counting of the Electoral College vote Wednesday. Ted Cruz is spearheading the effort among senators in the latest desperate attempt to overturn Joe Biden’s victory and buoy Trump’s baseless claims of widespread voter fraud. Congress will still have a majority of lawmakers to certify Joe Biden’s win.
On Sunday, the 117th Congress was sworn in amid the worsening coronavirus pandemic and Trump’s attempts to overturn the election. Cori Bush, a Black Lives Matter activist and formerly unhoused single mother, was sworn in to represent Missouri’s 1st Congressional District. She tweeted, “I’ve survived sexual assault, police abuse, domestic violence, and being unhoused and uninsured. That’s not a unique pain I carry. It’s one that so many of us live with each day.
Today, I take my seat in Congress to fight for a world where nobody has to endure that pain.”
Nancy Pelosi was reelected as House speaker by a narrow margin, with Democrats holding the slimmest majority in 20 years with 222 seats to Republicans’ 211, with two seats undecided.
In its last major act, the 116th Congress voted on New Year’s Day to override President Trump’s veto of the $740 billion military budget bill. Senate Republican leaders did not allow an up-or-down vote on a House bill to increase coronavirus stimulus checks to $2,000 per person.
The U.S. has topped 351,000 COVID-19 deaths and 20.6 million confirmed cases as hospitals brace themselves for an even greater surge due to holiday travel and social gatherings. California remains an epicenter in the U.S., with over 45,000 news cases reported Sunday. Ambulances are reporting wait times of up to eight hours to transfer patients to hospitals, which are already near their breaking point, in turn leading to a shortage of paramedics and longer 911 response times. Los Angeles morgues say they cannot keep up with the mounting daily death toll, which has averaged 178 over the past week — or one death every eight minutes. Funeral homes have had to turn away grieving families. Shelters and services for unhoused people in L.A. are reporting being overwhelmed by new spikes in cases.
In Tacoma, Washington, police evicted housing activists who had occupied a Travelodge motel since Christmas to shelter over 40 unhoused people. The group Tacoma Housing Now has been requesting city officials take advantage of a federal funding program to cover the costs of housing people in unused hotel rooms during the pandemic. Baltimore recently announced it is extending contracts with hotels to accommodate unhoused people using FEMA funds through March.
Meanwhile, the coronavirus variant first identified in Britain, which is believed to be significantly more contagious but not more deadly, has now been reported in over 30 countries and three U.S. states: Colorado, California and Florida.
As frustrations mount over the slow rollout of vaccines, the U.S. will consider cutting Moderna doses in half for adults up to the age of 55. The U.S. has vaccinated just over 4.2 million people, falling far short of its original goal of vaccinating 20 million by the end of 2020.
In international news, India has approved two vaccines against COVID-19: the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine and Bharat Biotech’s domestically developed Covaxin. Indian health experts and politicians expressed alarm that Covaxin was approved without any published data on its efficacy. India aims to inoculate 300 million frontline workers, elderly and vulnerable people, out of its 1.35 billion population, by August.
Britain became the first country today to start administering doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.
In related news, the World Health Organization listed Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use Thursday, which should allow less wealthy countries to expedite their own regulatory approval process for the treatment.
In the Middle East, over 1 million Israelis, or over one-tenth of the population, has already received their first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech shot, the highest rate of vaccination against the coronavirus in the world. But human rights groups say Israeli authorities are excluding Palestinians in the Occupied Territories from the vaccine rollout, even as settlers in those regions receive the shots. Palestinian authorities say they plan to use COVAX — the U.N.’s mechanism to ensure fair distribution of vaccines — to vaccinate some of its population.
A deadly blast at the Aden airport in Yemen Wednesday killed at least 26 people and injured dozens. The attack came as a plane carrying members of a newly formed, Saudi-backed Cabinet was landing at the airport. Three International Red Cross workers and at least one journalist were killed. Yemeni officials blamed Houthi rebels, who denied they were responsible. Saudi air raids were launched in Houthi-controlled Sana’a following the blast.
On Friday, an explosion in the port city of Hodeidah killed five women at a wedding hall. Government and Houthi forces both blamed the other side for the attack.
In Afghanistan, Bismellah Adel Aimaq, a 28-year-old radio journalist from Ghor province, was shot dead in a car ambush Friday. He is at least the fifth media professional to be killed in Afghanistan in under two months. No group has claimed responsibility for his killing. In a separate attack, civil society activist Abdi Jahid was also reported killed. Intra-Afghan peace talks are set to resume this week in Doha amid an ongoing surge in violence.
In Pakistan, the Islamic State has claimed responsibility for Saturday’s attack on a coal mine in the western province of Balochistan, which left 11 miners dead. The killings sparked protests among members of Pakistan’s Hazara Shia Muslim minority. This is Hazara lawyer Mohammad Raza.
Mohammad Raza: “The government has failed to control these terrorists. The Hazara community reserves the right to protest this, and federal and provincial governments both are responsible for this.”
In Iraq, thousands of protesters flooded Baghdad’s Tahrir Square Monday to mark the first anniversary of President Trump’s assassination of Qassem Soleimani, the Iranian general killed in a U.S. drone strike near Baghdad International Airport. The protests came as Iranian leaders warned the Trump administration may be planning an attack before Joe Biden is sworn in on January 20. The U.S. has flown B-52 bombers over the Persian Gulf at least three times over the past month, and over the weekend the Pentagon reversed plans to withdraw the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier from the region.
In Nigeria, prominent journalist and activist Omoyele Sowore was beaten and arrested with other protesters at a peaceful New Year’s Eve gathering in the capital Abuja. The protesters were airing grievances against Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari when members of a police unit known as the Rapid Response Squad descended on their candlelight procession. Sowore reported he suffered a broken nose, and was denied bail for allegedly violating COVID-19 protocols. Sowore is a former presidential candidate in Nigeria and the founder of the New York-based news outlet Sahara Reporters. He was arrested in 2019 on charges including treason after he organized peaceful nationwide protests against Nigeria’s government. Click here to see our last interview with Omoyele Sowore.
Police in Minneapolis have released body camera footage of the killing of Dolal Idd, a 23-year-old Somali American who was shot to death by officers in a gas station parking lot last Wednesday. It was the first killing by Minneapolis police since the death of George Floyd on May 25. The Minneapolis Police Department says the video shows Idd fired at the officers first, but the footage is inconclusive and family members dispute the claim.
About eight hours after the shooting, just past 2 a.m. on New Year’s Eve, Hennepin County sheriff’s deputies raided the home of Idd’s family, where they zip-tied the hands of the adults as terrified children looked on. Video of the raid shows officers did not explain the reason for their search warrant and only told the family that Dolal Idd had been killed as they were making their exit. The killing has sparked new protests in support of Black lives in Minneapolis.
A panel of federal judges has reinstated the execution of Lisa Montgomery, the only woman on federal death row, for January 12. The decision reversed a ruling one week earlier allowing for the postponement of Mongomery’s execution because her lawyers contracted COVID-19. Montgomery’s attorney is asking the court to reconsider the ruling. She was convicted for the gruesome 2004 murder of a pregnant woman, but advocates have been asking for clemency and say Montgomery suffers from mental illness caused by a life of abuse. If the execution goes ahead, Lisa Montgomery will be the first woman to be executed by the federal government in nearly 70 years.
Samuel Little, a serial killer who confessed to committing 93 murders between 1970 and 2005, died last week at the age of 80. Little’s victims were mostly young Black women who were estranged from their families or struggling with poverty or other issues, and their deaths did not receive widespread attention. Many of the murders were attributed to overdoses or accidental or undetermined causes. The FBI described Little as the “most prolific serial killer in U.S. history.”
In Texas, authorities are investigating the death of Drill Sergeant Jessica Mitchell, whose body was found in a bullet-riddled car in San Antonio on New Year’s Day. Authorities are also investigating the death of soldier Asia Graham in Texas, who was discovered dead in her military barracks on New Year’s Eve.
The Census Bureau missed its December 31 deadline to produce its final counts for 2020. Those numbers will determine representation in Congress and the number of electoral votes in each state. If the results are not ready before Trump leaves office, his attempt to exclude undocumented people from the final count is expected to fail.