Review Category : Poltics

State Department Declines Comment on Reports of Intelligence Flights over Syria

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — The U.S. State Department reiterated that the U.S. has not yet committed to a course of action regarding the presence of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria militants within Syria.

State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said on Monday that the U.S. is working diligently to protect Americans. “I’m not going to get ahead of decision-making that the president hasn’t made yet, or rule any option on or off the table,” Psaki said, “but we’re not going to be restricted by borders.”

Earlier on Monday, Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid Mouallem said that any efforts by outside countries to fight terrorism within Syria must be coordinated with the Syrian government, state news agency Sana said. Mouallem condemned the execution of American journalist James Foley, but said that any action by other nations cannot violate Syrian sovereignty.

The New York Times is reporting that President Obama has authorized surveillance flights over Syria, a move that ABC News military consultant Steve Ganyard says is an integral part to gathering intelligence. “It does not mean it’s going to happen,” Ganyard said, “but it’s the first step if the Administration wants to do anything militarily. We have to build an intelligence picture, we have to see who is where, who holds what cities, who holds what key checkpoints.”

Still, Ganyard says such intelligence flights always come with some danger, but that the Syrian regime is unlikely to be the source of that danger, as any Syrian government-sponsored attack on U.S. aircraft would be “very foolish.” Ganyard also denied that intelligence flights would represent mission creep.

During Monday’s briefing, Psaki said that even if the U.S. did make the decision to fight ISIS within Syria, it would not place them on the same side as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. “Certainly we would not view it as being on the same side just because there is a common enemy,” she said.

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Biden Speaks to Iraqi Leaders to Discuss ISIS, Iraqi Government

The White House(WASHINGTON) — Vice President Joe Biden spoke with Iraqi Prime Minister-designate Haider al-Abadi on Monday to discuss the ongoing battle against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Biden and al-Abadi discussed the continuing U.S. airstrikes against ISIS militants and equipment, with the vice president noting the progress brought about through the steps taken towards a unity government. That work, Biden said, is an “integral component of Iraq’s broader fight against [ISIS].”

Biden reiterated his support for the formation of a new government and urged all Iraqi leaders to work together to do so.

Biden also spoke with Iraqi Council of Representatives Speaker Salim al-Jabouri, discussing the same topics. Biden praised Jabouri’s leadership in response to recent attacks.

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Oklahoma Sued for Drawing the Blinds on Botched Execution

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(OKLAHOMA CITY) — Prompted by the botched execution of Oklahoma death row inmate Clayton Lockett, the ACLU on Monday filed a lawsuit alleging that state prison officials violated reporters’ First Amendment rights when they drew the shade nearly 30 minutes before Lockett’s death.

“Because of the State’s use of the viewing shade … the press and public received only government-edited access to an important government proceeding,” the suit asserts.

Lockett, 38, who was writhing on his gurney, “appeared to be in pain” before the blinds were drawn, the petition says. Afterward, sounds from inside the chamber “indicated pain and suffering,” but journalists were “deprived of the opportunity to verify the nature and source of the sounds.”

The drawn blinds also made it impossible for reporters to determine whether the state tried to provide medical care after the execution was called off, 10 minutes before Lockett’s April death, according to the suit.

Filed on behalf of the Oklahoma Observer, its editor, The Guardian and a freelance journalist who covered the execution, the lawsuit asks the court to forbid the state from drawing the blinds prior to an official declaration of death.

The suit also asks for an injunction requiring state-made audio/video recordings of execution proceedings, including IV insertion, which might have been a factor in Lockett’s death.

“When things go wrong, the state can’t willy-nilly decide to close the proceedings. We’re the public’s eyes and ears,” Oklahoma Observer editor Arnold Hamilton, a named plaintiff, said in a statement to ABC News. “The issue isn’t whether you’re for or against the death penalty. The issue is the public’s right to know fully and completely how the death sentence is carried out, particularly whether it is being carried out in a lawful and humane way.”

ACLU staff attorney Lee Rowland added in a statement that the state should not be allowed to “use … the execution shade like a Photoshop tool.”

The Oklahoma Department of Corrections refused to comment, citing a policy against speaking about pending legal action.

The lawsuit comes on the heels of several problematic executions — and one judge’s controversial suggestion that the justice system return to execution by firing squad.

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Former FBI Director Louis Freeh Seriously Injured in One Car Crash in Vermont

Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images(BARNARD, Vt.) — Former FBI Director Louis Freeh was injured in a single-car accident in Vermont on Monday afternoon.

According to the Vermont State Police, an initial investigation indicated that Freeh had been driving south on Vermont Route 12 in a 2010 grey GMC Yukon when his vehicle went off the side of the roadway and struck a mailbox and a row of shrubs before stopping against a tree. Freeh, who was wearing his seatbelt at the time, was seriously injured.

State police say Freeh was transported to Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center in New Hampshire by helicopter to receive treatment for his injuries. No further details about Freeh’s condition was released.

Freeh served as the Director of the FBI from 1993 to 2001.

Current FBI Director James Comey released a statement Monday night, saying that, “the thoughts and prayers of the entire FBI remain with former Director Freeh and his family tonight.”

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Sen. Tim Kaine Says Obama Administration Must Get Congressional Approval for ISIS Strikes

Office of Senator Tim Kaine(WASHINGTON) — Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Virginia, said in a statement on Monday that President Obama must seek Congressional approval for airstrikes against militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

Kaine, a former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, said that he agrees that ISIS, “poses a significant terrorist threat to U.S. interests and partners in the region,” but that he doesn’t believe that recent administration action is covered by the existing authorization from Congress. He urged the Obama administration to request additional approval from Congress, so that U.S. leaders remain “united on U.S. policy going forward.”

Calling Congressional approval, “what the framers of the Constitution intended,” Kaine nonetheless applauded the U.S. military’s ability to push back ISIS forces, but urged the president to request additional clearance and allow Congress to, “vote up or down on it.”

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Biden Speaks to Iraqi Leaders to Discuss ISIS, Iraqi Government

The White House(WASHINGTON) — Vice President Joe Biden spoke with Iraqi Prime Minister-designate Haider al-Abadi on Monday to discuss the ongoing battle against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Biden and al-Abadi discussed the continuing U.S. airstrikes against ISIS militants and equipment, with the vice president noting the progress brought about through the steps taken towards a unity government. That work, Biden said, is an “integral component of Iraq’s broader fight against [ISIS].”

Biden reiterated his support for the formation of a new government and urged all Iraqi leaders to work together to do so.

Biden also spoke with Iraqi Council of Representatives Speaker Salim al-Jabouri, discussing the same topics. Biden praised Jabouri’s leadership in response to recent attacks.

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Senate Campaign Criticized for Use of Photo of James Foley’s Executioner

Credit: Architect of the Capitol(WASHINGTON) — In a video posted to his campaign’s YouTube account Monday, New Mexico Senate candidate Allen Weh uses a brief still image of American journalist James Foley’s executioner — a move that critics say is “offensive.”

The image of Foley’s executioner, with a knife in his hand, is clearly recognizable from the video that shocked America and much of the West last week, prompting new calls for action against ISIS and a hunt for Foley’s killer.

The video criticizes the foreign policies of President Obama and, by extension, Weh’s opponent, incumbent U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M. It makes liberal use of footage of Obama playing golf as international crises unfold.

There is no indication that the campaign is airing the one-minute video as a TV ad. The campaign has not yet returned an ABC News inquiry on whether the campaign will spend money to air it.

Udall’s campaign says the use of Foley’s execution video is inappropriate.

“James Foley’s death is a tragedy, and to use his killer’s horrific image for personal gain in a campaign ad is reprehensible and appalling,” Udall campaign manager Daniel Sena wrote in a statement. “If Allen Weh wants to talk about the issues with New Mexico voters, he should find a way to do it that is respectful and substantive. Using James Foley’s horrific and tragic death for shock value is offensive to Mr. Foley’s family, New Mexico voters and the rest of our country.”

Weh’s video appears to be the first campaign ad to make reference to Foley’s killing, and it’s one of few to focus so heavily on Obama’s foreign policies.

Weh is a former Marine and state party chairman who, at this point in the election year, is not expected to pose a serious threat to Udall’s re-election chances.

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White House: No Ransom Paid for Release of US Hostage in Syria

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — No ransom was paid for the release of American journalist Peter Theo Curtis, who was freed Sunday after being held hostage for two years by Syrian terrorist group Jabhat Al-Nusrah, the White House said Monday.

“Providing ransoms to terrorist organizations only gives those terrorist organizations more funds and resources. It also makes American citizens more likely targets to terrorist organizations,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters Monday.

Earnest added that the U.S. urged Qatar not to pay a ransom either as it helped negotiate the release.

Curtis was handed over to United Nations peacekeepers in Al Rafid village in the Golan Heights Sunday evening, local time, according to the U.N. He received a medical check-up before he was handed over to U.S. officials.

Curtis’ family had been working with the State Department over the past two years to bring Curtis home.

“My heart is full at the extraordinary, dedicated, incredible people, too many to name individually, who have become my friends and have tirelessly helped us over these many months,” said Theo’s mother, Nancy Curtis. “Please know that we will be eternally grateful.”

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Rick Perry’s Lawyers Seek to Get Charges Dismissed

Stewart F. House/Getty Images(AUSTIN, Texas) — Lawyers for Texas Gov. Rick Perry filed a motion Monday, trying to get his criminal charges dismissed. His legal team said prosecuting Perry would violate the separation of powers.

The 60-page writ of habeas corpus was filed Monday in Travis County District Court.

“By seeking to criminalize not merely the veto itself, but the Governor’s explanation for it as well, this prosecution also violates the Governor’s rights under Free Speech Clauses of the United States and Texas Constitution,” the pretrial motion says.

“Subjecting any sitting Governor to a criminal prosecution and injecting the judiciary into a political dispute would be an unprecedented assault on this cherished separation of powers, and would impose an intolerable and incalculable chilling effect on the free exercise of legitimate constitutional powers by future governors,” the motion says.

A judge will decide whether the is sufficient evidence for the case to move forward.

Perry was indicted by a grand jury earlier this month on two felony counts — abuse of official capacity and coercion of a public official. The charges originate from Perry threatening to veto $7.5 million in funding for the state’s public integrity unit unless District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg resigned following a DWI conviction in 2013.

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British Embassy Commemorates Burning the White House 200 Years Ago, Apologizes

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — After joking about the anniversary of British troops invading Washington, D.C. and burning the White House in 1814, the British embassy in D.C. apologized Sunday night.

“Apologies for earlier Tweet. We meant to mark an event in history & celebrate our strong friendship today,” read a message posted to the embassy’s official Twitter account.

Here’s the original tweet:

Commemorating the 200th anniversary of burning the White House. Only sparklers this time! pic.twitter.com/QIDBQTBmmL

— British Embassy (@UKinUSA) August 24, 2014

Still, U.S. officials took the post in stride, with State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf responding with a good-natured tweet:

The difference 200 years can make in foreign relations: 8/24/1814: #ItsComplicated vs 8/24/2014: #SpecialRelationship pic.twitter.com/pKGzT8FNr5

— Marie Harf (@marieharf) August 24, 2014

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