Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley

Dec. 21 2014 1:39 PM

Sony: We Will Release The Interview (Just Don’t Know When or How)

Any suggestions that Sony is getting ready to simply shelve The Interview after threats from hackers are mistaken, the company’s lawyer said on Meet the Press. What has happened was just a temporary setback. “Sony only delayed this,” David Boies said. “Sony has been fighting to get this picture distributed. It will be distributed. How it's going to be distributed, I don't think anybody knows quite yet. But it's going to be distributed. And what Sony has been trying to do is to get the picture out to the public.”

The statement follows along the same lines as what Sony Entertainment CEO told CNN on Friday, when he denied the company had “given in” to pressure from hackers and was considering a way to distribute the movie.

The New York Post cites unnamed sources saying that Sony is planning to release The Interview through Crackle, the streaming service it owns. No one else is confirming that report yet. 

On CNN’s State of the Union, President Obama said that he doesn’t consider the hack of Sony to be an “act of war” but rather “an act of cyber vandalism that was very costly.” The president also stuck by his criticism of the company, saying they should have contacted him directly for help in trying to get the movie distributed. “Had they talked to me directly about this decision, I might have called the movie theater chains and distributors and asked them what the story was,” Obama said.

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Dec. 21 2014 11:02 AM

Police Officer Shot and Killed in Tarpon Springs, Florida

Update, Dec. 21, 1:50 p.m.: The officer killed was Charles Kondek, a 45-year-old father of six and an 17-year veteran of the force.*

Original post, Dec. 21, 11 a.m.: A police officer was shot and killed in the early hours of Sunday morning in Tarpon Springs, Florida. Very little information has been released about the shooting that took place at 3 a.m. and is being investigated by the Pinellas County Sherriff’s Office and Tarpon Springs Police. A suspect in the shooting is in custody. Both the officer and the shooter are male, according to Bay News 9.

In addition to the crime scene, investigators are also looking into a nearby scene where the shooter apparently crashed his white Hyundai sedan after fleeing. He crashed into a power pole and a pickup car. There is no word on whether the suspect was injured.

"The crime scene area overlooks Spring Bayou in what is considered an affluent area of Tarpon Springs," notes the Tampa Tribune.

The officer is the fourth to die in the line of duty in the history of the Tarpon Springs Police Department. The last one died in 1969.

*Correction, Dec. 22, 2014: This post originally misspelled Charles Kondek's name, misstated how many children he had, and misstated the number of years he worked for the Tarpon Springs police department.

Dec. 21 2014 10:20 AM

NY Police Union: Blood of Murdered Officers Is on Hands of Mayor, Protesters

After two police officers were shot and killed in Brooklyn on Saturday afternoon, unions representing police officers did not hesitate to directly place blame on New York Mayor Bill de Blasio. One union extended the blame for the killings of Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu even further, saying protesters who had taken to the streets in recent weeks to demonstrate against police violence were also partly responsible.

“Mayor de Blasio, the blood of these two officers is clearly on your hands,” Ed Mullins, president of the Sergeants Benevolent Association said in a statement to his union members Saturday night, according to the New York Daily News. “It is your failed policies and actions that enabled this tragedy to occur.”

The sergeants association expressed a similar sentiment on Twitter:

Patrick Lynch, the head of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association agreed with the sentiment: “That blood on the hands starts on the steps of City Hall in the office of the mayor.” He then said that “those who incited violence on the street under the guise of protest that tried to tear down what NYC police officers did every day” are also to blame for the killings.

Former New York governor George Pataki also criticized de Blasio:

The criticism came after cops made their anger at the mayor clear on Saturday, when they turned their backs on de Blasio when he arrived at the hospital to pay his respect for the murdered officers. The tensions were clear from the beginning. The New York Post reports that when de Blasio arrived at the hospital he approached a group of police officers and said, “We’re all in this together.” One officer did not hesitate: “No, we’re not.”

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New York Police Officer Rafael Ramos, 40, is seen in an undated picture provided by the New York Police Department

Handout via Reuters

When he was asked about the reactions from the unions, the mayor’s press secretary said that it was “unfortunate that in a time of great tragedy, some would resort to irresponsible, overheated rhetoric that angers and divides people,” reports the New York Times.  

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New York Police Officer Wenjian Liu, 32, is seen in an undated picture provided by the New York Police Department

Handout via Reuters

Dec. 20 2014 6:18 PM

Man Shoots, Kills Two NYC Cops “Execution Style,” Apparently as Revenge for Garner, Brown

Update, Dec. 20 at 10:30 p.m.: "They were, quite simply, assassinated—targeted for their uniform," Police Commissioner William Bratton said at a news conference Saturday night. Bratton "looked pale and shaken" as he spoke to the press regarding the killings of Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu earlier in the day, reports the Associated Press.

The two officers were not targeted for any particular reason except that the gunman had a desire to kill police officers. The two were in the area for an anti-terrorism drill, according to the New York Daily News. "The perp came out of the houses, walked up behind the car and lit them up,” a police official tells the Daily News.

“Every New Yorker should feel they were attacked, that our entire city was attacked, by this heinous individual,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio. Despite his show of support, cops turned their back on the mayor as he entered the Brooklyn hospital where the two officers died. It was a striking demonstration of how they remain angry at his support for those who have been protesting against the decision not to indict any police officers in the death of Eric Garner. The move comes shortly after the largest police union circulated a letter in which officers could request the mayor not attend their funerals, notes the New York Times.

Rev. Al Sharpton, who has organized many of the protests against police violence in recent weeks, condemned the killings. “Any use of the names of Eric Garner and Michael Brown in connection with any violence or killing of police is reprehensible and against the pursuit of justice in both cases,” he said.

Original post: Two police officers were shot and killed Saturday afternoon when they were sitting in their patrol car in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood. The gunman apparently came up to the car and shot them both without warning before fleeing into a subway station, where he proceeded to shoot himself in the head. The New York Daily News identifies the gunman as Ismaaiyl Brinsley. Both the News and the New York Post claim the gunman shot the police officers hours after he shot his girlfriend in Baltimore. Brinsley's 29-year-old girlfriend was shot in the stomach, underwent surgery, and is expected to survive, one of her family members told the Daily News.*

The gunman appears to have traveled to New York specifically to kill police officers as he allegedly wrote Instagram posts in which he expressed a desire for revenge for the killings of Eric Garner and Michael Brown. “I’m putting wings on pigs today,” he wrote, according to the screen capture of the Instagram post. “They take one of ours … let’s take 2 of theirs #shootthepolice #RIPErivGardner (sic) #RipMikeBrown This may be my final post.”  He then signed off: “I’m putting pigs in a blanket.” Witnesses say the gunman did not appear to hesitate, shooting several rounds into the car. “The perp came out of the houses, walked up behind the car and lit them up,” a police official said. Another witness told the Daily News: “He just walked up and shot that cop in the head."

*Correction, Dec. 20, 2014, 9:03 p.m.: Responding to initial reports, this post originally misstated that Brinsley's girlfriend in Baltimore had been killed. It was updated upon news that she was expected to survive.

Dec. 20 2014 1:16 PM

Four Guantánamo Detainees, Including “Taliban Intelligence Chief,” Sent Home to Afghanistan

Four Afghans who have been imprisoned in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba for more than a decade were sent back home, the Pentagon said on Saturday. The repatriation brings down the number of detainees to 132. Although the number is still high considering that President Obama vowed to close Guantánamo when he took office almost six years ago, it is “more than two dozen fewer than a year ago,” details the Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg. Several more prisoners are likely to be transferred out of the detention camp over the next few weeks before Republicans take control of Congress.

The four men released overnight were sent to Guantánamo in 2003, and they were all cleared for release in 2009. In an illustration of just how badly some of the prisoners in Guantánamo had been misrepresented, one of the men—Abdul Ghani—was thought to have been a likely contender for a war crimes trial. Another one of the former detainees, Mohammad Zahir, had been described as a top intelligence official and weapons supplier, notes the Telegraph. But one administration official tells Reuters that “Most if not all of these accusations have been discarded and each of these individuals at worst could be described as low-level, if even that.”

The transfer is seen as a vote of confidence on new Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, who formally requested the four men be sent back to Afghanistan. Officials rushed to fulfill the request because they saw it as marking an era of improved relations between Afghanistan and the United States. An additional eight Afghans remain in Guantánamo.

Dec. 20 2014 1:12 PM

Same-Sex Marriages Will Begin in Florida on Jan. 6

Marriage equality is coming to Florida on Jan. 6 after the Supreme Court on Friday night refused Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s bid to extend a stay that prevented the state from recognizing the marriages of gay and lesbian couples. “The application for stay presented to Justice [Clarence] Thomas and by him referred to the Court is denied,” the Supreme Court announced Friday night. That would make Florida the 36th state, plus the District of Columbia, to recognize same-sex marriage. More significantly though, it means five of the country’s six most populous states will recognize same-sex unions, details the Washington Post.

The marriage equality fight in Florida, however, is not over. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals still has to hear legal arguments appealing a ruling that said the state’s ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. The Florida attorney general had said the state’s goal was to “have uniformity throughout Florida,” notes the Miami Herald. For now, it remains unclear whether all of the state’s 67 counties will start issuing marriage licenses. The state clerks association has warned members they could be violating Florida law if they issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples before the U.S. Supreme Court issues a definitive ruling on the issue.

Dec. 20 2014 11:47 AM

One of the Women Used to Create Zero Dark Thirty Character Was Key Architect of Torture Program

The Senate report on torture released last week does not identify her, but there was one top al-Qaida expert who comes up time and again as a “key architect” of the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation program” and as someone who repeatedly misrepresented the effectiveness of torture in gathering important information, according to NBC News’ Matthew Cole. The woman, whom the CIA requested not be named, was one of several female employees at the agency used to create Maya, the lead character in Zero Dark Thirty. And, according to the report, wrote the "template on which future justifications for the CIA program and the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques were based."

Even though the 49-year-old senior CIA officer repeatedly made mistakes and lied, she was constantly promoted rather than sanctioned. She is now the head of the Global Jihad unit. She also participated in the torture of self-professed Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, going to such lengths that he ended up confirming things that were false and sent agents on a wild goose chase in Montana. She was also responsible for ordering the detention of someone who ended up being unrelated to al-Qaida.

Her failures apparently begin even before the Sept. 11 attacks, when a subordinate refused to share the names of two of the hijackers with the FBI before the attacks. "She should be put on trial and put in jail for what she has done," an unnamed former officer tells Cole.

The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer picks up on the story, noting that the expert’s role appears to at least partly explain why the CIA was so adamant that the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence not use pseudonyms in its report, as is common practice. If it had done so, her role in the failures would have been evident from the beginning, and “it might not have taken a painstaking, and still somewhat cryptic, investigation after the fact in order for the American public to hold this senior official accountable.” Mayer explains:

Readers can speculate on how the pieces fit together, and who the personalities behind this program are. But without even pseudonyms, it is exceedingly hard to connect the dots. It seems entirely possible—though, again, one can only speculate—that the CIA overcompensated for its pre-9/11 intelligence failures by employing overly harsh measures later. Once they’d made a choice that America had never officially made before—of sanctioning torture—it seems possible that they felt they had to defend its efficacy, despite mounting evidence to the contrary. If so, this would be worth learning. But without names, or even pseudonyms, it is almost impossible to piece together the puzzle, or hold anyone in the American government accountable. Evidently, that is exactly what the CIA was fighting for during its eight-month-long redaction process, behind all those closed doors.

Dec. 20 2014 10:24 AM

North Korea to U.S.: Let’s Work Together to Figure Out Who Hacked Sony

Pyongyang is adamant, stating once again Saturday that it had nothing to do with the cyberattack on Sony, and that President Obama’s statements to the contrary amount to nothing more than “groundless slander.” In fact, North Korea is so convinced it had nothing to do with the hack that it wants to launch a joint investigation with the United States into the incident to figure out the real culprit, according to the Reuters translation of a story published by the state-run Korean Central News Agency. What’s more, a spokesman of North Korea’s Foreign Ministry warned of “serious consequences” if Washington refuses to cooperate in the probe, and if the U.S. continued to insist North Korea was responsible for the attack it only recently had called a “righteous deed” by its “supporters and sympathizers.”

“The U.S. should bear in mind that it will face serious consequences in case it rejects our proposal for joint investigation and presses for what it called countermeasures while finding fault with [Pyongyang],” the unnamed spokesman said. "We have a way to prove that we have nothing to do with the case without resorting to torture, as the CIA does.”

North Korea is a fan of proposing joint investigations it knows will be rejected in a bid to sound sincere, an analyst tells the Associated Press. In 2010, for example, Pyongyang said it wanted to carry out a joint investigation with South Korea, which blamed the North for a torpedo attack that killed 46 of its sailors. "They are now talking about a joint investigation because they think there is no conclusive evidence," Koh Yu-hwan, a professor at Seoul's Dongguk University, said. "But the U.S. won't accede to a joint investigation for the crime."

Dec. 19 2014 4:41 PM

Appeals Court Rules People Institutionalized for Mental Illness Still Have Right to Guns

A federal appeals court in Cincinnati has ruled unanimously that a federal law barring people who have been committed to mental institutions from owning guns is unconstitutional. The court found that the ban, which prevented 73-year-old Michigan resident Clifford Charles Tyler from owning a gun because he was institutionalized for a month in 1986, is a violation of his Second Amendment rights. From the Wall Street Journal:

“The government’s interest in keeping firearms out of the hands of the mentally ill is not sufficiently related to depriving the mentally healthy, who had a distant episode of commitment, of their constitutional rights,” wrote Judge Danny Boggs, an appointee of President Ronald Reagan, for the panel.

Laws limiting mentally ill individuals' access to guns generally face the opposition of both gun rights activists and advocates for the mentally ill, who worry that bans will intensify the stigma people with psychiatric issues face in society. (Advocates of the laws point out that while it may not be a perfect predictor, serious mental illness has been found to correlate with an elevated likelihood that someone will engage in violent behavior.) The appeals court's ruling follows a legislative trend away from such restrictions—as a 2011 New York Times piece reported, a number of states have created rights-restoring programs under which petitioners with past disqualifying mental illnesses can submit documentation to show that they've recovered and are fit to own a gun. Michigan never set up such a program, though, so Tyler had no means of proving himself fit.

Dec. 19 2014 3:57 PM

Video Shows NYPD Officer Punching Young Black Suspect Being Held by Three Other Cops

The New York Daily News reports that the NYPD is investigating an incident recently caught on video in which a plainclothes police officer can be seen punching a black boy who is being held by three other officers. An onlooker can be heard yelling "He's twelve! He's twelve" and identifies herself in the video as a lawyer. The video, which was uploaded to YouTube Wednesday and is embedded above, has the following description:

This happened today on my way to the post office. The kids were 12. They had supposedly pushed one of their classmates down. However when the victim was asked, he said those weren't the guys. They were still taken away. 12. Years. Old.

The Daily News was unable to verify the age of the boy being punched in the video.

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