Purported Chemical Attack in Syria Kills Hundreds
Syrian activists are reporting that hundreds of people were killed in a chemical weapons attack carried out by government forces in a rebel-held area east of Damascus. Rockets carrying chemical agents reportedly struck three suburbs, and the dead included women and children. The alleged chemical weapons use came as part of a larger government offensive against rebel-held areas Wednesday. Numerous photos and videos released from the area show scores of lifeless bodies laid out in rows, awaiting burial. Others showed some victims twitching uncontrollably; still others gasping for air.
George Sabra, a representative of the Syrian National Coalition, one of the leading opposition organizations, described the attack as a “coup de grace that kills all hopes for a political solution in Syria”.
The Syrian government vehemently denied using chemical weapons, and Syrian ally Russia accused rebel forces of causing the civilian deaths with an errant chemical attack of their own. The purported attacks come only days after the arrival in Syria of a United Nations inspection team, tasked with examining for evidence of alleged chemical weapons attacks by both sides in the bloody two-year civil war.
Force-Feeding Approved for California Inmates on Hunger Strike
The hunger strike among inmates of the California prison system is now in its seventh week, and a federal judge has approved a request by the state to begin force-feeding some participants, despite do-not-resuscitate (DNA) orders some have signed. Prison officials argued that many of those DNA orders were completed under duress and potential coercion from other participating inmates, as the hunger strike was beginning, and should thus be disregarded. U.S. District Court Judge Thelton Henderson agreed. Carol Strickman, an inmate advocate, questioned the coercion claims. “They’re exaggerating this. As much as I don’t want to see anybody die, some people were choosing to sign those requests and some were not.”
Dr. Steven Tharratt, who helps oversee medical care for state prisons, said that if force-feeding is necessary for some inmates, it would most often be done intravenously. “It doesn’t evoke images of Guantanamo Bay or anything like that. It’s actually a totally different setting.”
There are 136 inmates still taking apart in the hunger strike, which began July 8th. Inmates are protesting the extensive use of solitary confinement units, which both prisoners and advocacy groups, including Amnesty International, have described as ‘inhumane’. Inmates can be housed in those units for indefinite lengths of time, and they’re frequently used for keeping suspected gang leaders separated from the larger prison population.
NSA Reaches 75% of U.S. Internet Traffic
When it comes to revelations about the U.S. government’s surveillance programs, the hits just keep coming. In the latest, the Wall Street Journal reports that the National Security Agency (NSA) has access to up to 75% of all U.S. Internet traffic, thanks to their partnerships with major telecom providers. That coverage, unsurprisingly, is significantly greater than the government has previously acknowledged. The NSA’s data filtering is focused on communications either originating from, or are received abroad, along with any entirely foreign communications passing through U.S. servers. The NSA defended their approach, telling the Journal that its mission “is centered on defeating foreign adversaries who aim to harm the country. We defend the United States from such threats while fiercely working to protect the privacy rights of U.S. persons.”
Bradley Manning Sentenced to 35 Years in Prison
Along with a dishonorable discharge from the United States Army, whistleblower Bradley Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison today, for his role in providing thousands of pages of classified documents to Wikileaks. With good behavior, Manning would be eligible for parole in ten years. Military prosecutors had called for a harsher 60-year term, and Manning faced a potential maximum of 90 years in jail for his convictions. The American Civil Liberties Union condemned the sentence. Ben Wizner, an ACLU director, said “When a soldier who shared information with the press and public is punished far more harshly than others who tortured prisoners and killed civilians, something is seriously wrong with our justice system.”
Japan Ups Warning Over Fukushima Radiation Leaks
Japan has issued an elevated warning over the continuing leaks of radioactive water at the Fukushima nuclear power plant. This is the first such warning from the government since three reactors melted down following the region’s devastating 2011 earthquake. It comes on the heels of an announcement by the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), that at least 300 tons of radioactive water had leaked recently from a steal storage tank at the plant. The water managed to soak into the ground, despite use of the tanks, surrounding concrete walls, and sandbags. Just a week ago, TEPCO had declared the leak an ‘anomaly’, but has now admitted that the problem is more serious than initially thought.