News Wrap: U.S. transfers two Guantanamo detainees to native Saudi Arabia

In our news wrap Monday, two detainees that have been held at Guantanamo Bay since 2002 with no charges ever filed were transferred to their native Saudi Arabia. Also, the U.S. pledged more than $32 million in maritime aid to Southeast Asian countries as tensions grow with China over disputed islands in the South China Sea.


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GWEN IFILL: A federal judge ruled today that the National Security Agency's bulk collection of phone records is likely unconstitutional.

Judge Richard Leon said the massive roundup of calls was an unreasonable search and violated Americans' reasonable expectation of privacy. But he put his decision on hold pending a likely government appeal. We will have more on today's ruling right after the news summary.

The U.N. made a record $6.5 billion appeal today for aid to tackle Syria's refugee crisis. More than nine million Syrians have fled in the past three years as a civil war rages. Two million of them have escaped to nearby countries, including many who are now enduring unusually cold weather in tented camps.

The U.N.'s High Commissioner for Refugees said the money would go chiefly to countries who've taken in the largest number of fleeing Syrians.

ANTONIO GUTERRES, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees: We are addressing the needs of a potential number of 4.1 million refugees at the end of 2014, projecting the present trends until then, but also of 2.7 million vulnerable people in the host communities.

There is a tragedy in the plight of Syrian refugees. But let's not forget that they would have no place to go without the generosity of the neighboring countries.

GWEN IFILL: We will take a closer look at the Syrian refugee crisis as it's affecting one of those host countries, Bulgaria, later in the program.

Meanwhile, the war inside Syria rages on, with the death toll from yesterday's government air raids on opposition targets in Aleppo reaching 76. The victims included dozens of children.

A new wave of violence swept across Iraq today, from Mosul to Baghdad, leaving at least 65 people dead. Suicide bombers and gunmen mostly targeted Shiite Muslims in their attacks, some of them on a pilgrimage. In one, a parked car bomb left mangled metal in the street outside an outdoor market. No claims of responsibility have been made in any of the attacks, but they bore the mark of al-Qaida militants.

The Pentagon announced today two detainees at Guantanamo have been transferred to their native Saudi Arabia. The men had been held at the Cuban facility since 2002. No charges were ever filed against them. U.S. military documents allege one of the detainees was an al-Qaida courier and both fought in Afghanistan. President Obama has pledged to shut down Guantanamo, but has faced strong resistance from Congress.

The U.S. is boosting maritime aid to Southeast Asian countries as tensions grow with China. Secretary of State John Kerry pledged more than $32 million to help protect territorial waters in the South China Sea. Four countries have competing claims with China. During meetings with officials in Vietnam, Kerry did take the opportunity to criticize Chinese moves in the East China Sea, where they're setting up an air defense zone.

SECRETARY OF STATE JOHN KERRY: The United States doesn't recognize that zone and doesn't accept it. China's announcement will not change how the United States conducts military operations in the region. This is a concern about which we have been very, very candid, and we have been very direct with the Chinese. The zone shouldn't be implemented.

GWEN IFILL: Tensions over that airspace led to a close call between U.S. and Chinese warships. China's Global Times, an official government newspaper, today blamed the near-miss on the U.S., saying the American Navy was harassing the Chinese squadron in international waters.

The federal government is putting antibacterial soaps under the microscope to see if they actually prevent infection. Recent research suggests chemicals in the soaps can interfere with hormone levels and spur the growth of drug-resistant bacteria. The Food and Drug Administration is proposing that soap-makers prove their products are more effective than regular soap and water. We will hear more about that proposal later in the program.

An Ohio man was sentenced today to 28 years in prison for orchestrating a $100 million Navy veterans charity scam. John Donald Cody, who also goes by Bobby Thompson, defrauded donors in 41 states under the guise of his bogus charity: the U.S. Navy Veterans Association. Cody was also fined $6 million. His lawyers plan to appeal the verdict.

Stocks on Wall Street surged today, as they bounced back from last week's worst showing since the summer. The jump comes ahead of a two-day Federal Reserve meeting on the stimulus. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 129 points to close at 15,884. The Nasdaq rose 28 points to close at 4,029.

The Academy Award-winning actress Joan Fontaine has died at her home in California of natural causes. Fontaine became a major film star in the 1940s. She starred in two of Alfred Hitchcock's films, including his adaptation of Daphne du Maurier's gothic novel "Rebecca." Fontaine was 96 years old.

And Peter O'Toole, known best for his role in "Lawrence of Arabia," also died this weekend after a long illness. He was 81.