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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Hundreds Killed in Possible Chemical Weapons Attack

Syria’s regime bombarded rebel-held suburbs east of Damascus today, with what activists claim were “rockets with poisonous gas heads.” Estimates vary, with reports listing the death toll anywhere between 500 and 1,300; the victims were killed as they slept, including many women and children. If toxic gas has been used this will be the deadliest chemical weapons attack since the 1980s.

Images from the attack showed scores of bodies, many of small children, laid out on the floor of makeshift hospitals. There is no visible signs of injuries – no blood, no wounds. Some of the bodies had foam around their mouths. Other photographs show patients with oxygen masks on their faces. Doctors interviewed described symptoms they believe to be sarin gas.

The attack coincides with the arrival of the U.N. chemical weapons team to investigate previous allegations that the regime used toxic gas in its attacks. The government, of course, called the rebels’ claims “absolutely baseless.” It remains unclear why it would use chemical agents at this time.

Bradley Manning Sentenced to 35 Years in Prison

The prison sentence Bradley Manning was given today is the longest sentence ever handed down in a case involving the leak of US government information for the purpose of informing the public. Among other things, the files he leaked exposed the abuse of detainees and proved that civilian casualties were far higher than the official estimates.

Prosecutors had pushed for a minimum of 60  years, but many legal experts assumed he would get 25 years, after which the information he leaked would have automatically been declassified. Manning’s rank was reduced in grade, he will forfeit pay and allowances and be dishonorably discharged from the army. The 1,294 days Manning has already spent in military custody will count towards his sentence. 112 of those were taken off as part of a pre-trial ruling to compensate Manning for the ‘excessively harsh’ treatment he endured at Quantico.

The director of the ACLU noted: “A legal system that doesn’t distinguish between leaks to the press in the public interest and treason against the nation will not only produce unjust results, but will deprive the public of critical information that is necessary for democratic accountability.”

Fukushima Crisis Worsens

Japan’s nuclear watchdog, the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA), raised the severity level of Fukushima’s radioactive water leak from Level 1 to Level 3 (“serious incident”) on the seven-point International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale.  The leak is the fifth and worst since last year, raising concerns that more tanks might be leaking as well.

The current leak was not discovered for days or possibly even weeks; by then, 300 metric tons (80,000 gallons) of toxic water had already leaked into the soil. Latest reports suggest that some may have already made its way to the Pacific Ocean.The NRA said it feared that the disaster was beyond Tepco’s ability to cope “in some respects” and to assume that additional leaks were almost certain to happen.

Egypt Updates

An Egyptian judged ordered the release of former dictator Hosni Mubarak today, pending investigations on corruption charges. While the prosecutor has 48 hours to appeal the decision, it does not seem likely to. Mubarak has already served the maximum two-year time in pre-trial detention. He could leave prison as early as tomorrow, after which he would be put under house arrest.

Meanwhile, the EU has decided to suspend the export of all weapons and goods that could be used for internal suppression to Egypt, calling for the military-backed government to release the deposed president and begin negotiations. It did not, however, halt its aid programs out of fear of hurting ordinary Egyptians.

While it does not have the close relationship the US shares with Egypt, the EU is Egypt’s biggest trading partner as well as a major source of aid, loans and tourists. The US has not suspended any of its aid to Egypt as of yet. It is the lifeline of Egypt’s military, supplying $1.3 billion in military aid each year.

NSA Illegally Collected E-mails, Doesn’t Know What Snowden Has

A 2011 secret court opinion declassified today showed that the NSA unlawfully gathered tens of thousands of non-terrorist-related e-mails from Americans. In the ruling, the judge said the government had “advised the court that the volume and nature of the information it has been collecting is fundamentally different from what the court had been led to believe.” Other documents released today outlined the NSA’s revised collection methods.

It was revealed today that editors at The Guardian had been told to destroy their copies of the material Snowden leaked by two of Prime Minister David Cameron’s most senior aides.  The NSA, meanwhile, still doesn’t know how many documents Snowden took or even what they are, over two months after he started leaking documents.  All they are able to say is that it is “a lot.”


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