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Friday, December 27, 2013

NSA’s Mass Phone Surveillance Ruled Legal

A federal judge in New York ruled today that the NSA’s program that systematically collects and stores the phone records of all Americans is lawful, conflicting with a previous ruling, and making it likely the issue will be resolved by the Supreme Court. Judge William H. Pauley III argued that although the program “imperils the civil liberties of every citizen” if unchecked, it possibly might have stopped 9/11 had it been in place in 2001. He then claimed (incorrectly) that there was no evidence the government had used the data “for any purpose other than investigating and disrupting terrorist attacks.”

Pauley ruled that the NSA program does not violate the 4th Amendment because “the right to be free from searches and seizures is fundamental but not absolute.” He said the question of whether the program should be conducted at all was not for the judicial branch to decide.

Beirut Bomb Kills Prominent Critic of Assad and Hezbollah

A powerful car bomb killed at least six people in central Beirut today, including Mohamed Chatah, former finance minister and ambassador to the US, who was a vocal critic of the Assad regime and Hezbollah. At least 70 people were wounded. Officials linked the bombing to Damascus and Hezbollah, although both have denied involvement.

Chatah was a prominent member of the Future bloc, a mainly Sunni party and part of the March 14 Alliance, named after the protest movement that ended Syria’s 29-year military presence in Lebanon following the 2005 assassination of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. The opening session of the Hariri assassination trial is due to begin in less than three weeks in The Hague, where five Hezbollah members have been indicted over their alleged involvement.

South Sudan Government Agrees to Ceasefire

At the end of a crisis summit with East African leaders in Nairobi, the government of South Sudan has agreed to an “immediate cessation of hostilities.” Former Vice President Riek Machar – the alleged leader of the rebels – was urged to “make similar commitments” although he was not represented at the summit. The regional leaders who make up the eight-member bloc known as IGAD also announced that they would not accept any bid to overthrow the current democratically elected government. The government said it would release 8 of the 11 senior politicians arrested over the alleged coup plot as an olive branch.

The army also announced today that it had taken back full control of Malakal, the administrative center of Upper Nile state, which supplies all of South Sudan’s crude oil.

Turkey’s Political Chaos Continues

In a setback for Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s efforts to contain the fallout from the ongoing corruption scandal, a Turkish court blocked the government’s attempt to force police to disclose all investigations to their superiors. The Erdogan government has purged some 70 police officers as a result of this investigation into illicit money transfers to Iran and bribery on construction projects, including the prosecutor overseeing the inquiry as a whole. Erdogan’s son was named on a summons leaked to the press Thursday evening.

After a minister implied that the graft inquiry was an attempt to trigger a military coup, the Turkish army (which has a history of takeovers) issued a statement saying it would not get involved.

Riot police fired tear gas and water canons at of protesters demanding Erdogan’s resignation in Taksim Square.

Colombia Kills FARC Rebels

The Colombian military announced it has killed at least 10 members of the FARC rebel group, including a major regional commander. The government and FARC are currently holding peace talks and the rebels had declared a one-month unilateral ceasefire beginning December 15th. The government has refused to enter into a ceasefire, saying it would continue to target the rebels until a peace deal had been signed.

Weekend Read: The Search for the Lost Marines of Tarawa

Seventy years after three of the bloodiest days in modern American history, the battle continues to bring the missing men back home. Via The New York Times Magazine.

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