The man who assassinated Robert F Kennedy has been granted parole after two of the former US attorney general’s sons spoke in his favor, paving the way for his possible release.
Sirhan Sirhan, 77, shot and killed the then-presidential candidate on 6 June 1968, moments after he delivered a victory speech for the California presidential primary.
Douglas Kennedy, who was a toddler when his father was killed, appeared at the parole hearing.
“I’m overwhelmed just by being able to view Mr Sirhan face-to-face,” he said. “I think I’ve lived my life both in fear of him and his name in one way or another. And I am grateful today to see him as a human being worthy of compassion and love.”
Friday’s decision is still subject to review by the California parole board and the governor. If Sirhan is released, he faces deportation to Jordan.
Read the full report here:
A new CDC case study details how an unvaccinated teacher with Covid-19 caused an outbreak at a school after they came to work while symptomatic and read aloud to students unmasked.
The outbreak occurred in May at an elementary school in Marin county, California, among students who were two young to be eligible for vaccination. The teacher developed symptoms on 19 May, but continued working until 21 May, when they tested positive for the Delta variant of Covid-19, which is highly transmissible.
The school required teachers and students to wear masks inside, but the teacher reportedly removed their mask while reading aloud to the class. Half of the teacher’s 24 students subsequently tested positive for Covid-19.
Notably, 80% of the students who sat in the rows of desks closest to the teacher caught Covid, compared to 28% of students who sat farther away from the teacher.
None of the affected people had to be hospitalized.
The authors of the study noted the “elevated risk” for schools as children are not yet eligible for vaccination. “New evidence of the Delta variant’s high transmissibility, even among fully vaccinated persons supports recommendations for universal masking in schools,” the wrote.
Opposing mask mandates in schools has become a partisan rallying cry for certain rightwing politicians and parents as schools embark on the third school year since the coronavirus pandemic began.
Earlier on Friday, a judge in Florida blocked governor Ron DeSantis’s order barring school districts from requiring masks. The Republican had said that parents should decide whether their children should wear face coverings. At least 10 school boards defied DeSantis’s order, which the judge ruled was not within his authority to make.
A US Marine Corps lieutenant colonel who posted a video demanding accountability from military leaders over the evacuation of Afghanistan has been relieved of his duties and will leave US service, the Marines and the officer involved said on Friday.
Stuart Scheller posted his video to Facebook and LinkedIn on Thursday, the day 13 US service members, 11 of them Marines, and reportedly as many as 170 Afghans, were killed in a suicide bomb attack at the airport in Kabul.
“I have been fighting for 17 years,” said Scheller, then commander of the advanced infantry training battalion. “I am willing to throw it all away to say to my senior leaders: ‘I demand accountability.’”
Scheller said he knew someone killed in Kabul, but was making his video “because I have a growing discontent and contempt for … perceived ineptitude at the foreign policy level, and I want to specifically ask some questions to some of my senior leaders.”
Scheller said he was “willing to risk my current battalion commander’s seat, my retirement, my family stability to say some of the things that I want to say”. Doing so, he said, would give him “some moral high ground to demand the same honesty, integrity, accountability for my senior leaders”.
White House deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre has released the latest numbers on evacuations from Afghanistan.
NEW: From 3:00 AM EDT to 3:00 PM EDT TODAY, roughly 4,200 people were evacuated from Kabul.
Since 8/14: roughly 109,200 people.
Since the end of July: roughly 114,800 people.
August 27, 2021
The 4,200 people who left over the 12-hour period flew on 12 US military flights and 29 coalition flights, Jean-Pierre said.
The Pulitzer Prize board has issued a special citation in honor of Afghan journalists “who have dedicated themselves at great personal risk to create and support journalism that has chronicled decades of life and war”.
“From staff and freelance correspondents to interpreters to drivers to hosts, courageous Afghan residents helped produce Pulitzer-winning and Pulitzer-worthy images and stories that have contributed to a wider understanding of profoundly tragic and complicated circumstances,” the board stated.
The board also donated $100,000 in emergency relief funds to assist journalists to either continue their work or seek resettlement, to be administered by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).
CPJ has reported numerous attacks on journalists by the Taliban in recent weeks, including raids on their homes, the forcing of female journalists off air, and beatings.
The Guardian has published a series of reports by female journalists across Afghanistan as they face peril both for their work and their gender. You can read more of their work here:
A category 4 hurricane with winds up to 140mph is expected to hit Louisiana and Mississippi on Sunday, prompting the mayor of New Orleans to order evacuations for people who live outside the city’s levees.
Hurricane Ida made landfall on Cuba on Friday afternoon, but it is expected to gain significant strength as it moves over the Gulf of Mexico tonight and tomorrow. In addition to dangerous winds, the storm could bring 8 to 16 inches of rain and 7 to 11 feet of storm surge in some areas, according to the AP.
“Ida is expected to be an extremely dangerous major hurricane when it approaches the northern Gulf coast on Sunday,” said the National Hurricane Center in an advisory.
NWS New Orleans
4PM CT Ida Update – The time to act is NOW. Hurricane Ida is now forecast to make landfall as a category 4 hurricane. This will bring SIGNIFICANT impacts to Southern Louisiana and Southern Mississippi. No major changes to the track at this time, moved just a touch to the east. pic.twitter.com/MRIiBaHTFt
August 27, 2021
The hurricane comes as states across the south are struggling with a surge of Covid-19 infections. New Orleans officials decided against evacuating the city’s hospitals since there is little room for patients in nearby states, the AP reported.
Hello everyone, this is Julia Carrie Wong in Oakland, California, picking up the blog for the rest of the afternoon.
The US intelligence community remains divided and uncertain about the origins of the virus responsible for Covid-19, though it has reached “broad agreement” that it “was not developed as a biological weapon” and that “Chinese officials did not have foreknowledge” of it prior to the initial outbreak.
In May, Joe Biden ordered a 90-day review of intelligence about the origins of the virus that has killed nearly 4.5m people worldwide. At the time, the two leading hypotheses were either a natural spillover from animals to humans or an accidental leak from a lab.
The various intelligence agencies remain divided over the two hypotheses, which all say are plausible, according to an unclassified summary of the review released Friday.
Four agencies and the National Intelligence Council lean toward the natural spillover theory “with low confidence”, while one agency assesses with “moderate confidence” that the first human infection occurred by accident at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, according to the summary. Three other agencies were unable to choose.
The report notes that it will be impossible to reach a more definitive conclusion without new information, such as clinical samples and further information about the earliest Covid-19 cases, which would require cooperation from the Chinese government.
“Beijing, however, continues to hinder the global investigation, resist sharing information and blame other countries, including the United States,” the report states. “These actions reflect, in part, China’s government’s own uncertainty about where an investigation could lead as well as its frustration the international community is using the issue to exert political pressure on China.”
Today so far
That’s it from me today. My west coast colleague, Julia Carrie Wong, will cover the blog for the next few hours.
Here’s where the day stands so far:
- The White House warned “another terror attack in Kabul is likely,” a day after a suicide bombing killed 13 US servicemembers and dozens of Afghan civilians. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris received a briefing this morning from their national security team on the situation in Afghanistan. The president said of the ongoing evacuation effort in Kabul, “We will complete the mission.”
- Pentagon press secretary John Kirby pledged that the US military would “fly out evacuees right up until the last moment” of the Kabul operation, which is still expected to end by August 31. The Pentagon also offered a correction to its reports on the attack yesterday. Officials now believe there was only one suicide bomber at the Kabul airport. “We do not believe that there was a second explosion at or near the Baron Hotel, that it was one suicide bomber,” Maj Gen Hank Taylor said.
- The Biden administration denied reports that the Taliban has taken control of parts of the Kabul airport, as the US military looks to leave the city in the next few days. “I saw that report. It’s false,” Kirby said. “The Taliban are not in charge of any of the gates.” White House press secretary Jen Psaki also claimed there was no truth to the reports.
- A Florida judge has blocked Republican governor Ron DeSantis’ order against mask mandates in schools. Leon county circuit Judge John C Cooper said DeSantis’ order, which gave parents the sole right to decide whether their children would wear masks in school, “is without legal authority”.
- The Texas House passed a sweeping elections bill that would impose restrictions on voting access The bill’s passage ends a weeks-long standoff between Texas House Republicans, who are in the majority, and their Democratic colleagues, some of whom fled the state to block the legislation. The bill now heads to the Texas Senate and then to the desk of Republican governor Greg Abbott, who has already indicated he will sign it.
Julia will have more coming up, so stay tuned.
Biden accuses China of stonewalling investigation into Covid origins
Joe Biden has accused the Chinese government of stonewalling a US investigation into the origins of coronavirus, after the office of the director of national intelligence released an unclassified summary of its report.
“This week, I received the report on the 90-day sprint I asked our intelligence community to conduct into the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the president said in a new statement.
“I am grateful for the thorough, careful, and objective work of our intelligence professionals, and while this review has concluded, our efforts to understand the origins of this pandemic will not rest.”
Biden accused Beijing of withholding vital information that could provide much-needed insight into the early days of the pandemic.
“Critical information about the origins of this pandemic exists in the People’s Republic of China, yet from the beginning, government officials in China have worked to prevent international investigators and members of the global public health community from accessing it,” Biden said.
“The world deserves answers, and I will not rest until we get them.”
Biden pledged that the US would “continue working with like-minded partners around the world” to urge China to share information with the World Health Organization as it investigates the origins of coronavirus.
“We must have a full and transparent accounting of this global tragedy,” Biden said. “Nothing less is acceptable.”
At the Pentagon, General Glen VanHerck, the head of the US Northern Command, has been briefing journalists on the military’s role in hosting the inflow of Afghan refugees.
He said over 6,000 Afghans have arrived in the US and are being housed in four military bases: Fort Lee in Virginia, Fort Bliss in Texas, Fort McCoy in Wisconsin and Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey.
VanHerck said his command had been instructed to build capacity to host 50,000 Afghans.
Three more bases have been authorised to house more Afghans as they arrive: Marine Corps Base Quantico, Fort Pickett in Virginia and Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico.
Pentagon denies reports that the Taliban has taken control of parts of Kabul airport
The Pentagon is also holding a press briefing this afternoon to provide an update on the evacuation mission in Kabul.
Pentagon spokesman, John Kirby, denied reports and claims that the Taliban had taken over parts of Kabul airport.
“I saw that report. It’s false,” Kirby said. “The Taliban are not in charge of any of the gates. They are not in charge of any of the airport operations. That is still under US military control.”
The White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, also denied the reports during her daily briefing this afternoon.
Ned Price, the state department spokesman, said that “the vast majority” of Afghan staff at the US embassy and their families “are now safely out of Afghanistan or at the airport compound for evacuation”.
Price said the state department was in touch with some 500 American nationals still in Afghanistan about leaving the country.
“They are making these decisions and sometimes reversing these decisions, multiple times a day,” Price said, stressing that the US obligation to extricate US citizens would not stop on 31 August.
Ned Price, the state department spokesman, has been briefing journalists on the situation in Afghanistan this afternoon.
On the question of whether there will continue to be a US diplomatic mission in Kabul after 31 August, Price said the Taliban had asked for US diplomats to stay but no final decision had been taken.
“They have made very clear to us in our communication, they would like to see an American diplomatic presence remain,” Price said.
“Ultimately of course it’s not up to the Taliban, it’s a determination that we will need to make consistent with our overriding responsibility and that is the safety and security of American officials. It is a decision we plan to discuss with our allies and partners as well.”
Joe Biden shared a photo from his one-on-one meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett at the White House earlier today.
“It was an honor to welcome Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to the White House today,” Biden said on Twitter.
“We strengthened the enduring partnership between our two nations and underscored the United States’ unwavering commitment to Israel’s security.”
It was an honor to welcome Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to the White House today. We strengthened the enduring partnership between our two nations and underscored the United States’ unwavering commitment to Israel’s security. pic.twitter.com/nZYxp9zsWd
August 27, 2021
Bennett and Biden were originally scheduled to sit down yesterday, but their meetings were postponed because of the terrorist attack at the Kabul airport.
At the start of their meeting, the president said of Bennett, “We’ve become close friends. He’s ridden the Amtrak train a lot, from New York down to Wilmington, Delaware.”
Biden is, of course, a well known fan of Amtrak.
at 3.33pm EDT
Texas house passes sweeping voting restrictions bill
The Guardian’s Sam Levine reports:
The Texas house of representatives has passed a sweeping elections bill that would prohibit 24-hour and drive-through voting, block election officials from sending out absentee ballot applications, set new restrictions on providing assistance to voters, impose new identification requirements on mail-in ballots, and give more leeway to partisan poll watchers at voting sites.
The bill passed 80-41. It now moves to the Texas senate, which has already passed a similar version. The senate can either concur with the house legislation or produce a final version using a conference committee. After that, it will go to the desk of the Texas governor, Greg Abbott, who is likely to swiftly approve it.
The legislation comes amid a nationwide effort by Republicans, who control state government in Texas, to enact legislation that imposes new restrictions on voting access.
The Texas bill exploded into the national spotlight after Democrats in the state legislature repeatedly blocked it by walking out of the state legislature, denying Republicans the ability to move forward with legislative business. The standoff, which lasted a little over a month, ended last week when enough Democrats returned to the state capitol to allow the process to move forward.
Read the full report:
at 3.26pm EDT
Jen Psaki was asked whether Joe Biden believed he was given bad advice from his generals on Afghanistan and if the president will be requesting any resignations.
“No to both of those questions,” the White House press secretary replied.
Psaki added that Biden continues to have confidence in his secretary of state Antony Blinken, despite the chaotic nature of the evacuation mission in Kabul.
The daily White House briefing has now concluded.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki was asked to respond to Democratic criticism of how the Kabul evacuation mission has been carried out.
“It is easy to throw stones or be a critic from the outside,” Psaki said. “It is harder to be in the arena and make difficult decisions.”
Responding to a follow-up question, Psaki acknowledged that the Biden administration did not anticipate how quickly the Afghan government would fall or how completely the Afghan military would fold.
“There are consequences to any of these difficult choices and decisions,” Psaki said. “That is what faces you as commander-in-chief.”
at 2.40pm EDT
Jen Psaki summarized her earlier statement on Joe Biden’s meeting with his national security team this morning, during which senior advisers warned the president that “another terror attack in Kabul is likely”.
“The threat is ongoing, and it is active,” the White House press secretary said at her daily briefing.
“Our troops are still in danger. That continues to be the case every day that they are there. This is the most dangerous part of the mission.”
.@PressSec Jen Psaki: “The National Security Team the president met with this morning advised the president and vice president that another terror attack in Kabul is likely…The threat is ongoing and it is active. Our troops are still in danger.” pic.twitter.com/4FR9cgt48A
August 27, 2021