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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Chemical Attack Kills Hundreds in the Outskirts of Damascus

Syria’s opposition activists say a chemical weapon attack killed hundreds of people on the outskirts of Damascus, in the suburb of Ghouta, early on Wednesday as part of a government attack on rebel forces. Footage showed dozens of bodies with no signs of injuries, including children, spread out on the floor of a clinic. “There are some kind of symptoms that tell us that this is phosphorus, which is a chemical weapon. It may be sarin, most probably it’s sarin. We don’t have the capability to treat all this number of people”, said Ghazwan Bwidany, a doctor interviewed by the BBC. Frank Gardner, the broadcaster’s security correspondent, wrote that “it would be almost impossible to fake so many dead and injured, including children and babies. They bear no visible wounds from gunshots; instead, many display the classic symptoms of a nerve agent attack, with startled, frozen expressions that experts say are reminiscent of Saddam Hussein’s 1988 attack on the Kurds at Halabja”. The attack comes exactly one year after US President Obama said that “a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilised”.

No. 10 Contacted the Guardian Over Leaks

British Prime Minister David Cameron ordered Sir Heywood, the UK’s most senior civil servant, to contact the Guardian over information it had published in connection with US intelligence whistleblower Edward Snowden. Guardian Editor Alan Rusbridger had previously written that “a very senior official claiming to represent the views of the prime minister” had contacted him to ask the newspaper to hand in or destroy information received from Snowden. A spokesman for Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, said that it was “reasonable” for the civil servant “to request that the Guardian destroyed data that would represent a serious threat to national security if it was to fall into the wrong hands”, adding that Clegg was “keen to protect the Guardian’s freedom to publish, while taking the necessary steps to safeguard security”.

Bradley Manning Sentenced to 35 Years for Leaking Secrets

US Army Judge Col. Denise Lind sentenced Pfc. Bradley Manning to 35 years in prison after he was convicted of twenty separate offences, including embezzling US government property and violating the Espionage Act, despite never being actually charged by the prosecution with operating as a spy or selling secrets to foreign nations or terrorist organisations. Judge Lind found that the information published by Manning through Wikileaks “would be accessible to the enemy” and that “at the time of the charged offence, al Qaeda and al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula were enemies of the United States. Pfc. Manning knew that al Qaeda was an enemy of the United States”. Manning will have more than three years deducted from his sentence for the time he has already spent in custody and a further 112 days discounted for the period he was held unlawfully in a military jail.

Japan Elevates Fukushima Water Leak to ‘Serious Incident’

Japanese authorities elevated a radioactive water leak at the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant to a “serious incident”, the worst level recorded since the magnitude 9.0 2011 Tōhoku earthquake. Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority said the upgrading of the threat had to be confirmed with the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN’s nuclear watchdog. A puddle of contaminated water at the site was found to be emitting 100 millisieverts of radiation. Masayuki Ono, general manager of the plant’s owner, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), said that the amount would be “equivalent to the limit for accumulated exposure over five years for nuclear workers; so it can be said that we found a radiation level strong enough to give someone a five-year dose of radiation within one hour”. While workers have been attempting to surround a leaking tank with sandbags, most of the water has already seeped into the ground.

Woman Held in Segregation in Squalid UK Cell for More Than Five Years”

A prisoner at the HMP Bronzefield women’s jail near Ashfield, in Surrey, was held in segregation in what was described as a “squalid” cell for more than five years. The chief inspector of prisons, Nick Hardwick, said that he found out about the case during a surprise inspection visit to the facility. “We were dismayed that the woman who had already been in the segregation unit for three years in 2010 was still there in 2013. Her cell was unkempt and squalid and she seldom left it”, he said. “Her prolonged location on the segregation unit amounted to cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment − and we use these words advisedly”, he continued. Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said the treatment amounted to “torture” and that it should “shame ministers who tolerate the overuse of custody for women and consequent poor treatment”.

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