© 2023 Blue Ridge Public Radio
Main Banner Background
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Morning news brief

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

In Israel, weeks of protests took a major turn yesterday.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Shouting in non-English language).

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

In particular, police used force for the first time against the crowds. Also, for the first time, thousands of Israeli protesters blocked major intersections throughout the day. They even besieged a salon where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's wife was getting her hair done. This protester opposes the Israeli government's attempts to weaken the powers of the judiciary.

DVORA COHEN: We don't want to lose our country. And we know this is the last fight. If we're going to lose now, that's it. It's done.

INSKEEP: Of course, this comes after a violent time in the occupied West Bank.

FADEL: NPR's Daniel Estrin has been speaking to protesters and joins us from Tel Aviv. Good morning, Daniel.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Good morning, Leila.

FADEL: So these protests have been going on for weeks. What made yesterday's protests so significant?

ESTRIN: Israel hasn't seen anything like what happened yesterday. The Jewish mainstream disrupted the country all day long. I mean, we're talking about people who call themselves patriots, elite military veterans. Some protesters stopped trains, blocked roads. A lot of that was actually coordinated with the police. But then the far-right security minister told police to crack down, and officers did. They used stun grenades, water cannons. Some protesters and officers got lightly injured. And Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the protesters anarchists. He actually compared them to the Israeli settlers who went on a violent rampage earlier this week in the West Bank, where Palestinian homes were burned and a Palestinian man was killed.

FADEL: It seems like an unfair comparison. These protesters were not setting buildings on fire, right? What do the protesters want to achieve?

ESTRIN: No, they weren't setting buildings on fire. They were trying to get the government to stop advancing legislation that limits the Supreme Court's ability to strike down laws that don't guarantee basic freedoms. These protesters are fearing for Israel's future, and all of this is affecting Israel's strong economy, Leila. The shekel has depreciated this past month, and that protester we heard at the beginning, Dvora Cohen - she is a financial adviser. I met her on the street, and she says her Israeli clients are losing confidence. Let's listen.

COHEN: Twenty, 30% of my clients are calling me and asking me what to do. They ask me if they should go and open a bank account abroad, if they should withdraw their pensions, 'cause this is the situation that we are at. But every day something new is happening, something more extreme, more shocking.

ESTRIN: You know, she's referring there also to the recent violence in the West Bank.

FADEL: So, Daniel, with these protests in Israel and the recent violence in the occupied West Bank, where do you see all this heading?

ESTRIN: Well, Netanyahu says he's ready for dialogue with the opposition. There are some attempts for compromise on this controversial legislation to weaken the judiciary. Netanyahu also has defended his comparison of the protesters to the West Bank settlers who went on a rampage. He said he's just against lawbreakers. But, you know, there is some friction in Netanyahu's governing coalition. That makes some people here wonder if the government's days are numbered. And in the West Bank, there have been very few arrests of those hundreds of settlers from the rampage. Israel's far-right finance minister actually said that the Palestinian village should be erased. The State Department said Netanyahu should avow those comments. He hasn't yet.

FADEL: NPR's Daniel Estrin in Tel Aviv. Thank you so much, Daniel.

ESTRIN: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FADEL: Back in 2016, CIA officers at the American embassy in Cuba began reporting the sudden onset of symptoms that included dizziness, headaches, balance problems.

INSKEEP: And then cases spread to other U.S. officials and other locations overseas. Suspicions grew that a U.S. adversary was responsible.

FADEL: But that's not what the U.S. intelligence community found in a new report. NPR's Greg Myre is here to explain. Good morning, Greg.

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Good morning, Leila.

FADEL: So U.S. intelligence officials briefed a small number of journalists on the report yesterday, including you. What did they say?

MYRE: They said they did not find evidence linking any foreign country like Cuba or Russia or China to any of these episodes. Now, seven different intelligence agencies took part. Five said it was highly unlikely a foreign country was to blame. One said it was unlikely, and one didn't take a position. Now, the intel officials went further, saying this report found no credible evidence that a foreign adversary even had a weapon that could have inflicted this kind of harm.

FADEL: OK, so if this was not an attack by an adversary, a foreign government, and there's no evidence a weapon was used, then what was causing this mystery illness?

MYRE: Well, exactly. No, that's the big question. Now, the two intelligence officials said that the individual cases vary. There was a range of symptoms, and this suggested there was no single cause for these health problems. Now, the report found the ailments are most probably related to preexisting medical conditions, conventional illnesses or environmental factors. And they acknowledge this won't be persuasive to those who have suffered and are still suffering very real health issues. The official said the report put the intel community in a position where it feels it knows much more about what didn't happen, but they still don't have all the answers to what did happen.

FADEL: Now, I know we've been hearing about the so-called Havana syndrome for years, but if you could remind us how serious, how long-lasting some of these ailments have been.

MYRE: Right. Many of these U.S. intelligence officials and diplomats recalled the exact moment when they suffered sharp, piercing pain in their head, often accompanied by a loud noise or ringing. Many remain convinced this was a targeted attack and they were hit with some sort of energy weapon, perhaps a microwave device. Many say they were healthy, but since that day, they've suffered just years of physical problems that include migraines and vision trouble, memory loss. A number of them have had to retire. I've been in contact with two of them. They didn't want to speak on the record, but I did speak with attorney Mark Zaid. He's representing about 25 clients. He says he's had access to some classified information and believes that more information will emerge.

MARK ZAID: I can at least say the U.S. government has a lot more information than what it is publicly revealing today, and that is where a lot of the unanswered questions arise from.

FADEL: Unanswered questions - so will there be answers? Is this essentially settled now?

MYRE: Well, not entirely, Leila. Many - sorry, more cases are being reported, including some this year, though the numbers have slowed. There's about 1,500 cases reported since 2016, though the cases with the most serious unexplained illnesses appear to be around two dozen or so. People who suffered these ailments are receiving medical treatment and in some cases have been receiving financial compensation.

FADEL: NPR's Greg Myre. Thank you, Greg.

MYRE: My pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FADEL: Jurors in the South Carolina murder trial of former attorney Alex Murdaugh are expected to start deliberations later today.

INSKEEP: The prosecutor spent almost three hours presenting their closing arguments on Wednesday. They are trying to convince jurors that this once-prominent attorney murdered his wife and son in the summer of 2021.

FADEL: South Carolina Public Radio's Victoria Hansen has been inside the courtroom for this nearly six-week-long trial and joins us live from Walterboro. Hi, Victoria.

VICTORIA HANSEN, BYLINE: Good morning. How are you?

FADEL: Good morning. Quite the case you're covering. People are fascinated. It's the subject of a Netflix docuseries. Could you break down what Murdaugh is accused of and what you are - what you've been hearing in court?

HANSEN: Yeah, sure. I mean, where do I begin? It is a long, complicated case. As the lead prosecutor, Creighton Waters, explained early on, you know, Murdaugh is not only charged with murdering his loved ones, but has yet to be tried on charges he embezzled millions from his family's law firm and tried to stage his own death so his surviving son could collect life insurance money. What's more, Murdaugh's slain son had recently been charged in a deadly boating accident which Murdaugh was being sued civilly. Now, prosecutor Waters had to spell this all out to prove motive - that is, Murdaugh was a desperate man when he killed his loved ones to try to create a distraction and get sympathy.

FADEL: So how does the prosecution say Murdaugh murdered his wife and son?

HANSEN: Well, Waters says Murdaugh lured Maggie and Paul to the family's rural hunting property, where weapons were readily available. He says Paul was shot first with a shotgun near the dog kennels, and he didn't see it coming.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CREIGHTON WATERS: Same with Maggie, because Maggie sees what happens, and she comes running over there, running to her baby - probably the last thing on her mind, thinking that it was him who had done this.

HANSEN: Now, Waters says Maggie was then shot multiple times with an assault-style rifle, which at the time the family owned three. Two are now missing. But the key moment came when the prosecution played a video recovered from Paul's phone - cell phone, I should say - just last year. It reveals Paul, Maggie and Murdaugh's voice just minutes before they were killed. The video shattered Murdaugh's alibi. He had long said he was never at the crime scene.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WATERS: Why in the world would an innocent, reasonable father and husband lie about that and lie about it so early? 'Cause he didn't know that was there.

HANSEN: Murdaugh later took the witness stand, admitting he was there briefly, but said he quickly got out of there. Waters pointed to that lie and testimony from dozens of colleagues and clients who say Murdaugh also lied to them to steal millions, including the family of his late housekeeper.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WATERS: And he fooled Maggie and Paul too. And they paid for it with their lives. Don't let him fool you, too.

FADEL: Wow. A lot to digest there. So that's the prosecution side. What is the defense expected to say as it presents closing arguments today?

HANSEN: The defense says it will take just about two hours - it's really pointing to (ph) time in this case - to argue the motive is what they call ludicrous. The family had a loving relationship. There are no murder weapons that have been found, bloody clothing or fingerprints. And Murdaugh could not have possibly done this alone. But the prosecution has pointed out repeatedly Murdaugh is a skilled attorney and a part-time solicitor from a long line of solicitors who knows how to hide evidence.

FADEL: That's South Carolina Public Radio's Victoria Hansen. Thank you so much.

HANSEN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.