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Wiki wars

2010 News of the Year | December

Issue: "2010 News of the Year," Jan. 1, 2011

WikiLeaks began releasing portions of 250,000 diplomatic cables after Thanksgiving to select newspapers and via its own website. The messages rocked international relations as well as the United States' intelligence-gathering operations. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the "attack" endangered human-rights activists and others working with the U.S. government. The organization also leaked classified information including a list of infrastructure sites around the world vital to U.S. security. Bradley Manning, an Army intelligence specialist currently in military detention, is allegedly responsible for providing all the files to WikiLeaks.

The organization's leader, Julian Assange, said the documents would show that the United States had broken international laws, but they prominently contained embarrassing assessments of various government officials. The first week of December, British authorities arrested Assange, wanted for questioning on sexual offenses in Sweden, but two weeks later, appeared near to releasing him on bail. The U.S. Justice Department is pursuing a criminal investigation against him, and may press espionage charges that could cover other 2010 leaks of classified material: more than 76,000 documents related to the war in Afghanistan released in July, and 400,000 documents concerning the Iraq War released in October.

Amazon, which hosted WikiLeaks' website, cut off service, and PayPal, Mastercard, and Visa cut financial ties with the organization. Then a global coalition of hackers supportive of WikiLeaks, known as Anonymous, retaliated, launching denial-of-service attacks on websites for the State Department, Amazon, PayPal, Mastercard, Visa, and even websites for politicians who had denounced the organization, like Sen. Joe Lieberman and Sarah Palin. U.S. agencies, which began sharing more information on central databases in the wake of 9/11, are tightening access to classified data.

Deeper in debt

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The 2010 federal budget deficit hit a near-record $1.294 trillion, only slightly less than 2009's overspending. The Congressional Budget Office projected the national debt would reach a level equal to 90 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product by 2020-up from just 40 percent two years ago. In a December report, the bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform warned that "if the U.S. does not put its house in order, the reckoning will be sure and the devastation severe."

Status upgrade

The tiny Christian population of Bhutan awaited an end-of-the-month meeting in December that could change its status in this remote nation in the eastern Himalayas. The religious minority figures at less than half of a percent of the population in the predominantly Buddhist nation, but the government authority that regulates religious organizations is set to discuss whether a Christian organization can be registered to represent its community. Currently only Buddhist and Hindu organizations can be registered and openly practice their religion, and earlier this year a Christian worker from Nepal was sentenced to three years in prison for "attempting to promote civil unrest" by showing films on Christianity.

For more than a century, Bhutan has been ruled as an absolute monarchy, but it became a con­stitutional monarchy two years ago. Asked if Christians were likely to win the same rights as Buddhists and Hindus, official Dorji Tshering told Compass Direct News, "Absolutely."

In absentia

In 2009 leaders and heads of state clamored to see Sweden's Nobel committee award its annual Peace Prize to President Barack Obama. This year 20 countries boycotted the event-and the head of the Nobel committee placed this year's prize on an empty chair Dec. 10 as he called on Beijing to free the 2010 laureate Liu Xiaobo from his Chinese prison cell. Liu, an author and former professor who helped lead the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, has been in jail for the past year for co-authoring Charter 08, a manifesto calling for political reform and greater freedom in China. Chinese authorities censored live broadcasts by CNN and the BBC of the Oslo award ceremony.

"We regret that the laureate is not present here today," Thorbjoern Jagland, chairman of the committee, said, standing on a flower­covered podium in Oslo's city hall under a large smiling portrait of the absent laureate. Liu is in isolation in a prison in northeastern China, and authorities did not allow the laureate's wife Liu Xia or relatives to travel to Oslo in his place. It was only the second time in the 109-year-old history of the prize that a Peace Prize laureate failed to attend. Jagland said Liu's medal, diploma, and prize money ($1.5 million) will be awarded "at a later date."

House censure

Once the House Ethics Committee found veteran Rep. Charlie Rangel, D-N.Y., guilty of 11 counts of ethics violations, he received the harshest punishment short of expulsion from Congress: censure, a largely symbolic measure that requires Rangel to stand on the House floor while the censure is read aloud, which he did defiantly on Dec. 2. Congress has censured only 22 lawmakers in its history. According to the 11 guilty counts, Rangel left about $600,000 in income and assets unreported over the course of 17 years, and the committee ordered him to pay the back taxes owed. He also leased a rent-controlled apartment for his campaign offices, and used congressional letterhead to raise money for a foundation in his honor.

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