Grand Rapids Press: Waterboarding is Illegal, but dont bother Prosecuting Anyone for It

Water Boarding Torture

Last week, The Grand Rapids Press gave space to Representative Pete Hoekstra to attempt to justify the United States use of torture.

Now, The Grand Rapids Press has weighed in with an editorial published Wednesday. In the editorial, The Grand Rapids Press acknowledges that the United States should not have used torture and that it was a “mistake” to have done so, even in light of the threat posed by al-Qaida:

Despite that compelling context, the decision to use water boarding and other “enhanced interrogation” was a mistake.

The harsh, sometimes brutal tactics lowered the nation’s moral standing, damaged international relations and likely put U.S. prisoners at risk for tougher treatment at the hands of enemies. Water boarding, in particular, is illegal under U.S. and international law.

However, while acknowledging that the conduct was illegal, The Grand Rapids Press simply doesn’t want to see anyone prosecuted for those crimes.

Although they acknowledge the use of torture was criminal, The Press says that “Authorizing torture as an officially sanctioned practice was a moral failure”–and ultimately one that should have no consequences.

For The Press, it would be too divisive to hold investigations:

Criminal investigations, professional censure or congressional hearings will only distract from the business of continued threats at home and abroad. Such action would send a chilling message to future government leaders and intelligence operatives seeking to protect the nation in moments of grave national threat.

However, if we don’t send a clear message that the use of torture will be prosecuted, we’re simply sending the message that torture is permissible. Agents can engage in those acts, they’ll just have to deal with a few strongly worded newspaper articles and some after-the-fact criticisms, but for the most part, they won’t face any consequences.

Headlines: Afghanistan Vet Says War Is “Big Mistake”; CIA Never Studied Whether Torture Was Effective or Necessary

Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

US Declares Public Health Emergency over Swine Flu Fears

The United States declared a “public health emergency” Sunday after twenty cases of swine flu were confirmed in the country, including eight in New York City. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said the emergency declaration sounds more severe than it really is. She said, “It’s like declaring one for a hurricane. It means we can release funds and take other measures. The hurricane may not actually hit.” Civilian and military stockpiles of antiviral drugs are being prepared for rapid distribution in the event that transmission of swine flu virus accelerates. All of the reported cases in the United States have been relatively mild. In Mexico, officials have confirmed just twenty-two cases of swine flu, but the flu is suspected of killing as many 103 people and infecting more than 1,600. The World Health Organization urged increased surveillance for influenza worldwide. There have been no confirmed cases outside of North America, but there are growing fears that the world may be entering a global pandemic.

Influenza Specialist Dr. John McCauley: “That’s how a pandemic will start: a new virus emerging in humans, spreading easily from humans to humans, and, with modern travel, being able to spread around the world really very quickly.”

Dr. Keiji Fukuda of the World Health Organization said the world is prepared for dealing with this situation.

Dr. Keiji Fukuda: “In the past five years, the world has spent a huge amount of effort, countries have worked very hard, to assess the threat of avian influenza. They have worked very hard on pandemic preparedness planning, and we have new tools, such as the international health regulations in place. We also have new defenses in place. We have better surveillance. We have stockpiles of anti-viral drugs that have been prepared at regions, as well as by internationally, in case of a pandemic situation.”

Clinton: US Troops May Stay in Iraqi Cities After July 1

In a surprise visit to Baghdad, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the US may put off plans to withdraw its troops from urban areas by July 1st if renewed violence continues to worsen. Troops will now likely remain in Mosul and Baghdad after the deadline. Over 155 Iraqis have died in recent days in a series of suicide attacks.

Al-Maliki Threatens to Prosecute US Troops Involved in Deadly House Raid

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is threatening to prosecute US troops involved in a pre-dawn house raid on Sunday that killed two Iraqis in the town of Kut. The incident marks the first time Iraq’s government has called for the prosecution of US soldiers. Under the new US-Iraqi security pact, US troops in Iraq are no longer allowed to conduct military operations without Iraqi approval and coordination. The wife of one of the Iraqis killed denounced the US raid.

Wife of Iraqi Man Killed: “His brain was scattered on the ground, and I tried to collect it. The woman killed in the raid was still alive, and I tried to help her, but they killed her. They did not call a doctor to treat her. They killed her.”

Afghanistan Vet Says War Is “Big Mistake”; Warns Against Troop Surge

A former Marine corporal who fought in Afghanistan testified last week on Capitol Hill and urged lawmakers to oppose President Obama’s escalation of the war in Afghanistan. Rick Reyes said the war has turned into a “big mistake.”

Rick Reyes: “In some respects, this entire occupation has become counterproductive. As a Marine, I was willing to give my life for my country and still am. But invading and occupying Afghanistan, sending more troops to solve what is a political problem, is not the answer. I urge these senators to rethink Afghanistan, while there is still time. I can almost guarantee that sending more troops will mean more civilian and US troop casualties, not for war, but for occupation. Sending more troops will not make the US safer; it will only build more opposition against us. I urge you on behalf of truth and patriotism to consider carefully and rethink Afghanistan. More troops, more occupation is not the answer.”

Former Marine Corporal Rick Reyes also said the US occupation has unjustly targeted innocent Afghan civilians.

Rick Reyes: “Because our mission was to capture suspected Taliban and had no successful way of being able to distinguish them, we had no other choice but to suspect the entire civilian population, innocent or not. One day we stopped at gunpoint, detained and beating and nearly killing an innocent man only to find out he was just traveling down the road to deliver milk to his children. Because of that day, those kids went without a father. There were hundreds of incidents like this one. Almost 100 percent of the time, we would find that suspected terrorists turned out to be innocent civilians. It began to feel we were chasing ghosts.”

At the same hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Retired US Army Colonel Andrew Bacevich said an escalation of troops will worsen the situation in Afghanistan.

Andrew Bacevich: “We may not believe that we are invading and occupying countries, but the people on the other end viewed, view themselves as being invaded and occupied. So, to some degree, to some measurable degree, in places like Afghanistan, increasing the US presence actually increases the dimensions of the problem.”

Sri Lanka Dismisses Tamil Tiger Ceasefire Offer

The Sri Lankan government has dismissed a unilateral ceasefire declared by the Tamil Tigers. Pro-Tamil websites say the Sri Lankan military is continuing to attack an area where at least 50,000 civilians remain trapped. But the Sri Lankan military claims it has stopped using heavy weapons in the region. The UN is estimating as many as 6,500 civilians may have been killed so far this year in Sri Lanka. Another 14,000 have been wounded.

Report: US Considering Deploying National Guard Troops to Mexico Border

The Washington Post reports the Pentagon and Homeland Security Department are developing contingency plans to send National Guard troops to the US-Mexican border under a $350 million initiative that would expand the US military’s role in the drug war. Last week, the governors of California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas sent a joint letter to Congress requesting additional troops for the four Southwestern border states under the National Guard Counterdrug Program.

2002 Military Memo Warned Torture Produces “Unreliable Information”

The military agency that provided advice on harsh interrogation techniques for prisoners referred to the application of extreme duress as “torture” in a July 2002 document and warned that it would produce “unreliable information.” This according to the Washington Post. In an unsigned memo, the military’s Joint Personnel Recovery Agency said, “The unintended consequence of a U.S. policy that provides for the torture of prisoners is that it could be used by our adversaries as justification for the torture of captured U.S. personnel.”

CIA Never Studied Whether Torture Was Effective or Necessary

The Los Angeles Times reports the CIA never sought a rigorous assessment of whether its use of torture during interrogations was effective or necessary. In 2003, the agency’s inspector general circulated drafts of a report that raised deep concerns about waterboarding and other methods, but the CIA ignored his recommendation to conduct a study by outside experts on whether the interrogation tactics worked.

Majority of Americans Favor Probe of Bush Administration over Torture

A new ABC/Washington Post poll has found 51 percent of Americans support an investigation of whether Bush administration officials broke the law. But on Sunday, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs suggested President Obama opposes the formation of an independent commission to investigate the Bush administration’s use of torture.

Robert Gibbs: “Well, I think the President had great fears that the debate that you’ve seen happen in this town on each side of this issue, at the extremes, has–that’s taken place, would be what would envelop any commission that looked backward. That’s why his focus, David, the whole time is how we look forward in this country.”

Leftists Win Election in Iceleand

A coalition of leftist parties has won control of Iceland’s government for the first time in the country’s history. The coalition between the Social Democratic Alliance and the Left Green Movement took thirty-four seats in the sixty-three-member parliament. The previous government in Iceland fell after the country’s economy collapsed. The IMF is predicting Iceland’s economy will shrink by about ten percent this year.

Report: Obama Wants Aid to Go to PA Even If Hamas Joins Gov’t

The Los Angeles Times is reporting the Obama administration has asked Congress for minor changes in US law that would permit aid to continue flowing to Palestinians in the event Hamas-backed officials become part of a unified Palestinian government. Under the existing law, any US aid would require that the Palestinian government meet three longstanding criteria: recognizing Israel, renouncing violence and agreeing to follow past Israeli-Palestinian agreements.

Iranian Arms Ship Bound for Gaza Reportedly Destroyed Off Sudan

The Egyptian newspaper El-Aosboa is reporting an Iranian vessel laden with weapons bound for the Gaza Strip was torpedoed off the coast of Sudan last week, allegedly by Israeli or American forces operating in the area. Anonymous sources in Khartoum told the newspaper that an unidentified warship bombed the Iranian vessel as it prepared to dock in Sudan.

Gore Accuses Corporate Polluters of Fraud Larger than Madoff’s

Former Vice President Al Gore has accused the largest corporate carbon polluters in the country of committing a massive fraud. On Friday, the New York Times revealed an influential energy industry coalition went ahead in 1995 with an aggressive lobbying campaign to refute the idea that greenhouse gas emissions cause global warming in direct contradiction to the conclusion of its own scientists. Al Gore testified on Friday on Capitol Hill.

Al Gore: “These large polluters committed a massive fraud far larger than Bernie Madoff’s fraud. They are the Bernie Madoffs of global warming. They ordered the censoring and removal of the scientific review that they themselves conducted. And like Bernie Madoff, they lied to the people who trusted them in order to make money.”

US May Hold Informal Talks with Cuba

The New York Times reports informal meetings are being planned between State Department and Cuban diplomats in the United States in order to determine whether the two governments could open formal talks on a variety of issues. The Obama administration is also reportedly looking for ways to open channels for more cultural and academic exchanges between Cuba and the United States.

Rafael Correa Re-Elected in Ecuador

In other news from Latin America, voters in Ecuador have re-elected President Rafael Correa by a large margin. Preliminary results show Correa won 51 percent of the vote. His closest challenger won 29 percent.

Flight Carrying Journalist on US No-Fly List Diverted

And an Air France flight from Paris to Mexico was barred from flying over the United States last week because one of the plane’s passengers was a prominent reporter whose name appears on the US no-fly list. The plane was forced to divert to the French Caribbean island of Martinique before continuing its journey. The reporter, Hernando Calvo Ospina, is a Colombian-born journalist who writes for the French newspaper Le Monde Diplomatique. He has frequently written articles denouncing the government of Colombian President Alvaro Uribe and the role of the United States in Latin America.

Hoekstra Still Supporting Torture

042609-hoekstra.jpg

Unfortunately, it isn’t exactly news that Representative–and candidate for governor–Pete Hoekstra supports torture. He’s been a strong proponent of the Bush administration’s “enhanced interrogation” program and has said it was successful in preventing terrorist attacks.

However, Hoekstra has recently backed off a bit, still arguing that the interrogations produced useful intelligence, but speaking very carefully about his own support for the program.

In the Wall Street Journal, Hoekstra criticized President Obama’s release of government memos on torture and said their release makes it harder for intelligence agencies to function. He also said that their release was unnecessary, as Congressional support for the tactics was well known:

It was not necessary to release details of the enhanced interrogation techniques, because members of Congress from both parties have been fully aware of them since the program began in 2002. We believed it was something that had to be done in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks to keep our nation safe. After many long and contentious debates, Congress repeatedly approved and funded this program on a bipartisan basis in both Republican and Democratic Congresses.

Of Hoekstra’s current view on torture, The Grand Rapids Press reported:

In an interview Friday, Hoekstra stopped short of endorsing the interrogation technique, in which a person is made to experience the sensation of drowning.

“I didn’t go through the decision-making process back in 2003 when the president and the leadership decided it was an appropriate way to go,” Hoekstra said.

“I don’t know whether I would reach the same decision today.”

However, he added, “I think in total the process we used — enhanced interrogation techniques — kept America safer, prevented attacks and there are Americans alive today because of it.”

Clearly, Hoekstra believes the program worked–he’s just hoping to minimize it as an issue for both himself and Republicans. Hoekstra says he wasn’t aware of waterboarding being used when it happened, but he has supported its use. In the past, Hoekstra has voted against banning tactics including waterboarding, electric shock, beatings and mock executions and has said that those do not constitute torture because they do not inflict physical injury.

Levin Calls for Investigation into Torture

Carl Levin

Yesterday, Michigan Democratic Senator Carl Levin called for an independent panel to consider whether officials who authorized torture and other harsh interrogation tactics should be punished.

Over the past week, Senator Levin has been visible in the debate over whether or not to release Bush administration memos on torture to the public and whether or not to hold their authors accountable.

In response to a report released Tuesday, Levin says that:

In my judgment, the report represents a condemnation of both the Bush administration’s interrogation policies and of senior administration officials who attempted to shift the blame for abuse – such as that seen at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, and Afghanistan – to low ranking soldiers. Claims, such as that made by former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz that detainee abuses could be chalked up to the unauthorized acts of a “few bad apples,” were simply false.

The record established by the Committee’s investigation shows that senior officials sought out information on, were aware of training in, and authorized the use of abusive interrogation techniques. Those senior officials bear significant responsibility for creating the legal and operational framework for the abuses. As the Committee report concluded, authorizations of aggressive interrogation techniques by senior officials resulted in abuse and conveyed the message that physical pressures and degradation were appropriate treatment for detainees in U.S. military custody.

The report–released by Levin’s Senate Armed Services Committee–was based on a review of more than 200,000 classified and unclassified documents and interviews with more than 70 people with direct involvement in the issue.

As always with Senator Levin, his objections are framed within an imperialist argument that generally has a favorable view of U.S. power. Just with his criticism of the Iraq War–that was the Iraqis who just weren’t thankful for the U.S. presence–Levin says that abusive interrogation tactics make it difficult for the U.S. to “retain our status as a leader in the world.”

Headlines: Supreme Court Limits Warrantless Car Searches; In Reversal, Obama Leaves Open Prosecuting Bush Officials

Democracy Now Headlines: Supreme Court Limits Warrantless Car Searches; In Reversal, Obama Leaves Open Prosecuting Bush Officials

Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

Senate Report: Torture Planning Preceded Prisoners’ Capture, Legal Approval

An explosive Congressional report has revealed new details about the Bush administration’s torture program on foreign prisoners. According to the Senate Intelligence Committee, military and intelligence officials began developing the torture program in December 2001–well before any high-level al-Qaeda suspects had been caught. Bush administration officials have long maintained the so-called ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ were authorized only after standard questioning failed to yield intelligence. The report also shows the torture program was developed well before it received legal approval in the 2002 Justice Department memos de-classified last week. The report singles out top Bush administration officials for the torture of U.S. prisoners, saying they “solicited information on how to use aggressive techniques” and “redefined the law to create the appearance of their legality.”

Military Psychologist Proposed “Exploitation Facility”

The report also documents the role of the military psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen in developing the torture program. A memo written by Jessen in 2002 proposes creating what he calls an “exploitation facility” where prisoners would be subjected to a number of prescribed abuses, including physical violence, sleep deprivation, and waterboarding. Some of the techniques were based on torture used on American captives during the Korean war. Jessen proposed making the facility off-limits to outside observers, including the Red Cross. Soon after the memo, the suspected al-Qaida operative Abu Zubaydah was sent to a CIA prison where he was subjected to intense torture. Zubaydah’s attorneys have long contended the Justice Department memos were written in part to retroactively authorize the techniques used against him.

Drive to Invade Iraq Compromised Interrogations, Led to Abuses

Several army officials raised objections as the torture techniques were developed and taught. And in a development that traces back to the White House’s drive for invading Iraq, one Army major complained the interrogations were being compromised by an insistence on establishing “link between al-Qaeda and Iraq.”

Levin Calls for Probe of Bush Officials

In a statement, Senate Intelligence Committee chair Carl Levin said the new evidence provides a direct line from top Bush officials to abuses at prisons such as Abu Ghraib. Levin said: “Senior officials sought out information on, were aware of training in, and authorized the use of abusive interrogation techniques…[They] bear significant responsibility for creating the legal and operational framework for the abuses.” Levin went on to call on Attorney General Eric Holder to establish a high-level commission to investigate high-level Bush officials.

In Reversal, Obama Leaves Open Prosecuting Bush Officials

The report’s release came hours after President Obama reversed course on ruling out the prosecution of Bush administration officials who wrote the legal memos authorizing torture. The White House had previously said it opposes any legal action against both the officials who provided legal cover for torture and the CIA interrogators who carried it out. But on Tuesday, Obama said now he won’t preclude legal action against the memos’ authors.

President Obama: “For those who carried out some of these operations within the four corners of legal opinions or guidance that had been provided from the White House, I do not think it’s appropriate for them to be prosecuted. With respect to those who formulated those legal decisions, I would say that that is going to be more of a decision for the attorney general within the perimeters of various laws, and–and I don’t want to prejudge that. I think that there are a host of very complicated issues involved there.”

UN Racism Conference Passes Declaration

In Geneva, delegates at the UN Conference on racism adopted a final declaration on Tuesday without the support of the United States. The U.S. and several other Western nations have boycotted the conference over concerns it would include criticism of the Israeli government. The conference president, Amos Wako, criticized the boycott.

Amos Wako: “What we have decided shows the outcome when you remain engaged in the process, it shows that boycotts do not assist, it shows that one can remain constructively engaged and reach a consensus.”

Bowing to U.S.-Israeli concerns, the declaration avoids any references to Zionism. Instead, it reaffirms a conference text from 2001 that recognizes the Palestinian right to self-determination and calls for a Palestinian state alongside Israel. The text also urges signatories to fight all forms of racism, in particular naming anti-Semitism, anti-Arab racism and Islamophobia.

Reports: Ahmadinejad Deleted Holocaust Denial from Speech

The declaration came one day after nearly two dozen diplomats walked on a speech by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad after he called Israel a “cruel and repressive racist regime.” According to several reports, Ahmadinejad omitted prepared comments denying the Nazi Holocaust from his final speech. Instead, he appeared to acknowledge it, referring to the “abuse of the Holocaust.” Ahmadinejad has previously denied the Nazi Holocaust and questioned the number of Jewish victims.

Israeli FM: “America Accepts All Our Decisions”

Israel’s new foreign minister is claiming the Obama administration will only pursue peace initiatives with the Palestinians if Israel gives its approval. In his first extensive since taking office, Avigdor Lieberman said: “Believe me, America accepts all our decisions.” The Washington Post is reporting the Israeli government is now telling the U.S. it will condition any willingness to enter peace talks with Palestinians on U.S. policy towards Iran. The Israeli government has long advocated military action against Iran.

Poll: Most Palestinians, Israelis Support Two-State Solution

The developments come as a new poll shows a majority of both Palestinians and Israelis would support a two-state solution. According to the group One Voice, 74% of Palestinians and 78% of Israelis say they would accept the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza alongside Israel. Palestinian leaders including Hamas have accepted the two-state solution. Successive Israeli governments have rejected returning Palestinian land and have instead expanded Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank while maintaining the stranglehold over the Gaza Strip.

Report: Prosecutors Mull Dropping AIPAC Spy Case

The Washington Post is reporting prosecutors are considering dropping charges against two former pro-Israeli government lobbyists accused of violating the Espionage Act. Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman, formerly of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, are accused of conspiring to obtain and disclose classified national defense information to journalists and the Israeli government. The review follows a series of court rulings that prosecutors say could hinder their prospects at winning a trial, including allowing the defense to use classified information and forcing the government to prove the accused knew they would be harming the United States. Prosecutors say the review has nothing to do with recent controversy surrounding Democratic Congresswoman Jane Harman. It was revealed this week Harman was overheard on an NSA wiretap telling a suspected Israeli agent she would lobby for reducing the espionage charges in return for AIPAC support in her bid to chair the House intelligence committee.

Bailed-out Firms Spend Millions on Lobbying

Newly-disclosed records show some of the top recipients of the federal bailout continue to spend millions on political lobbying. According to the Washington Post, the top bailed-out firms spent more than $10 million dollars in the first three months of this year, $22 million dollars over the last six months. The lobbying included efforts to block initiatives such as executive pay caps and new financial regulation.

IMF: Financial Crisis Losses Total $4.1T Worldwide

The International Monetary Fund is estimating banks and financial institutions have lost an estimated $4.1 trillion dollars during the financial crisis. Of the losses, $2.7 trillion originated in the United States. Testifying on Capitol Hill, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said banks’ vast amount of toxic assets is limiting their ability to lend and borrow.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner: “The cost of credit is still very high. Reports on bank lending show significant declines in lending for consumer loans and for commercial and industrial loans, although mortgage refinancing has picked up considerably. We may have to adapt and expand them over time, but they represent the foundation of any credible strategy to help ensure the financial system is working for, rather than against, economic recovery.”

Court Hears Arguments in Iraq War Suit

In New Jersey, a federal court heard arguments Tuesday in a case seeking to have the U.S. invasion of Iraq declared unconstitutional. An Iraq war veteran and two mothers of soldiers filed the case last May. They argue then-President George W. Bush violated the constitution by failing to formally declare war and attacking a country that didn’t threaten the United States.

Colorado House Votes to Abolish Death Penalty

In Colorado, the state House has passed a measure to abolish the death penalty. Tuesday’s measure passed by a single vote. The bill now goes to the Colorado state Senate.

Somali Pirate to Be Tried as Adult

The lone surviving Somali pirate involved in the kidnapping of an American cargo captain earlier this month was charged Tuesday in a New York courtroom. The pirate, Abduhl Wal-i-Musi, surrendered before US Navy snipers shot his three accomplices aboard their boat. Musi will be tried as an adult, even though his family claims he is only fifteen years old. He appeared to weep during his arraignment. Defense attorney Deirdre Von Dornum called Musi “young and terrified.”

Deirdre Von Dornum: “Judge Peck may have found for today that he is of the age of majority, but as you could tell he is extremely young, injured and terrified. We’re pleased that he will have the protection of the United States Constitution, and that the government chose to bring him to an open court and not to a secret prison or any other form of non-public proceeding.”

Supreme Court Limits Warrantless Car Searches

The Supreme Court has issued a ruling to make it more difficult for police to conduct warrantless car searches. On Tuesday, justices ruled five to four police must seek a warrant to search a vehicle if the suspect has been removed from the vehicle and poses no threat to others.

On Earth Day, Reports Warns of Growing Numbers Endangered by Global Warming

And today is Earth Day. Millions of people around the globe are expected to take part in events honoring the protection of the environment. A new report from the Oxfam aid agency warns relief groups will be overwhelmed within the next six years by people affected by climate-related disasters. More than 375 million people are expected to be effected each year until 2015, up from the 250 million people today. Oxfam is calling for greater support for aid groups to offset the dangers. Oxfam says: “There is nothing inevitable about a future in which greater numbers of people die and are made destitute by natural hazards and conflict.”

Headlines: Obama Won’t Prosecute Bush and CIA Officials for Torture; EPA: Greenhouse Gasses Endanger Human Health and Welfare

Democracy Now Headlines: Obama Won't Prosecute Bush and CIA Officials for Torture; EPA: Greenhouse Gasses Endanger Human Health and Welfare

Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

CIA Used Waterboarding 266 Times

A footnote in one of the newly declassified torture memos has revealed that CIA interrogators used waterboarding far more than had been previously reported. In August 2002, the CIA waterboarded Abu Zubaydah, 83 times. The CIA also used waterboarding 183 times in March 2003 against Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. In 2007 a former C.I.A. officer publicly claimed that Abu Zubaydah had undergone waterboarding for only 35 seconds before agreeing to tell everything he knew.

Rahm Emanuel: Bush Officials, CIA Interrogators Will Not Be Prosecuted

Meanwhile on Sunday, White House chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel said the Obama administration opposes any effort to prosecute CIA interrogators who engaged in torture as well Bush administration officials who authorized the use of torture. Rahm made the comment in an interview on ABC’s This Week With George Stephanopoulos.

Rahm Emmanuel: He believes that people in good faith were operating with the guidance they were provided. They shouldn’t be prosecuted.

George Stephanopolous: What about those who devised policy?

Rahm Emmanuel: Yes, but those who devised policy, he believes that they were–should not be prosecuted either, and that’s not the place that we go–as he said in that letter, and I would really recommend people look at the full statement–not the letter, the statement–in that second paragraph, “this is not a time for retribution.” It’s time for reflection. It’s not a time to use our energy and our time in looking back and any sense of anger and retribution.

UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Says Obama Violating International Law

The UN special rapporteur on torture Manfred Nowak has said President Obama is in violation of international law for declining to prosecute CIA agents who used torture. Nowak said the US is bound by the UN Convention Against Torture, which requires prosecution in all cases in which there is evidence of torture.

Spanish Judge Garzon Keeps Alive Case Against “Bush Six”

Prosecution of Bush administration officials may still take place in Spain. On Friday, Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon defied Spanish prosecutors and kept alive a criminal investigation into the actions of six high-ranking Bush admininistration officials including former attorney General Alberto Gonzales and former Justice Department attorney Jay Bybee.

Calls Increase For Bybee’s Impeachment

This comes as calls are increasing for Bybee’s impeachment as a federal judge. During an interview on Fox News Sunday, Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri questioned whether Bybee should be serving on the federal bench after approving the use of torture.

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO): “What’s scary to me, Chris, is that one of them got a lifetime appointment on a federal bench. Yikes! You know, a lawyer that’s responsible for this kind of advice that clearly went too far in terms of stretching what our law is. It worries me that he’s sitting on the federal bench right now.”

More Nations Boycott UN Conference on Racism

The United Nations Conference on Racism has opened Geneva but the United States and several other nations are boycotting the conference over concerns the conference will criticize Israel. In 2001 the U.S. and Israel walked out of the UN racism conference in South Africa after Arab states sought to define Zionism as racist. During his opening talke, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said racism including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia needs to be tackled. We’ll have more on the conference after headlines.

Chavez Gives Obama Eduardo Galeano Book on History of Latin America

President Obama has returned to Washington after attending the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago where he vowed to repair relations with Latin America. At the summit Obama briefly met with Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez who gave Obama a copy of Eduardo Galeano’s book “The Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent.” At a news conference on Sunday Obama responded to criticism of him for shaking Chavez’s hand.

President Obama: “It’s unlikely that as a consequence of me shaking hands or having a polite conversation with Mr. Chavez that we are endangering the strategic interests of the United States. I don’t think anyone can find any evidence that that would do so. Even within this imaginative crowd, I think you would be hard-pressed to paint a scenario in which U.S. interests would be damaged as a consequence of us having a more constructive relationship with Venezuela.”

Obama Says 50 Year U.S. Policy Toward Cuba Has Failed

On Cuba, Obama acknowledged that the U.S. policy of the past 50 years has failed. Obama’s comment came days after he eased travel restrictions on Cuban Americans. On Sunday he called on Cuban President Raul Castro to take some steps if he wants to start a dialogue with the United States

President Obama: “And the fact that you had Raul Castro say that he is willing to have his government discuss with our not just issues of lifting the embargo but issues of human rights, political prisoner, that’s a sign of progress. And so we’re going to explore and see if we can make some further steps. There are some things that the Cuban government could do. They could release political prisoners.”

Iran Sentences U.S. Journalist to Eight Years

A secret Iranian court has sentenced Iranian-American journalist, Roxana Saberi, to eight years in prison for allegedly spying for the United States. Saberi had worked as a freelancer for the BBC, NPR and other outlets. Her father Reza Saberi spoke to NPR on Saturday.

Reza Saberi: “She is very weak and frail, last time we saw…and she wanted to go on hunger strike but we persuaded her not to do so. And after this most probably she will, even though when we visit her we will ask her not to do so. But she is quite depressed about this matter and she wants to go on hunger strike. And if she does she’s so frail it can be dangerous to her health.”

The Obama administration has demanded Saberi be released. On Sunday Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sent a letter to Tehran’s chief prosecutor instructing him to personally ensure that Saberi be allowed to offer a full defense during her appeal.

U.S. Drone Attack in Pakistan Leaves 8 Dead

U.S. drones have carried out another strike inside Pakistan killing as many as eight people in the Waziristan region. The News in Pakistan said all of the dead were civilians. However other reports said the strike targeted a home used by Al Qaeda.

Israeli Troops Kill Unarmed Palestinian Protesting Wall

Israeli forces have killed another unarmed Palestinian during a protest against the Israel separation wall in the West Bank. 30-year-old Basim Abu Rahmah died Friday after he was shot with a high velocity tear gas canister. Abu Rahma is the third Palestinian to be killed in the past three months alone during protests against the Wall.

Congressional Quarterly: Wiretap Recorded Rep. Harman Promising to Intervene for AIPAC

Congressional Quarterly is reporting Democratic Congresswoman Jane Harman of California was overheard in 2005 on an NSA wiretap speaking with a suspected Israeli agent. During the call Harman reprotedly said she would lobby the Justice Department to reduce espionage-related charges against two officials of AIPAC, the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee.

In exchange for Harman’s help, the suspected Israeli agent reportedly pledged to help lobby Nancy Pelosi to appoint Harman chair of the Intelligence Committee after the 2006 elections. The conversation is said to have been picked up on a court-approved NSA wiretap directed at alleged Israel covert action operations in Washington. Congressional Quarterly reports then Attorney General Alberto Gonzales decided to stop a probe of Harman because he wanted Harman to be able to help defend the administration’s secret domestic spy program that the New York Times was about to expose.

35,000 Civilians Flee as Sri Lankan Military Intensifies Assault on Tamil Tigers

In Sri Lanka, more than 35,000 civilians have fled the last area controlled by the Tamil Tigers as the Sri Lankan military intensifies its assault on the separatist group. The United Nations says up to 100,000 civilians are trapped in the sliver of coastal jungle controlled by the Tamil Tigers and are living in “dire humanitarian conditions.” Channel 4 in Britian and Al Jazereera have aired some footage from the area that has been closed off to journalists. The video, which was shot by an aid group, showed scores of civilian victims killed last week in fighting. An estimated 4,500 civilians have been killed in Sri Lanka in the last three months.

EPA: Greenhouse Gases Endanger Human Health and Welfare

The Environmental Protection Agency said Friday greenhouse gases endanger human health and welfare, opening the door for the EPA to to possibly regulate carbon dioxide as a pollutant. The EPA found that rising levels of greenhouse gases are “the unambiguous result of human emissions, and are very likely the cause of the observed increase in average temperatures and other climatic changes.”

Bloomberg Sues Fed Reserve

In economic news, Bloomberg News has filed a lawsuit to force the Federal Reserve to disclose information about the $2 trillion it has lent to financial institutions. The Fed has refused to name the borrowers or the amounts of loans. The biggest recipients of taxpayer aid made or refinanced 23% less in new loans in February than in October. Goldman Sachs reduced lending by 50 percent.

London Police Questioned in Man’s Death During G20 Protest

In news from Britain, A London Police officer is being questioned on suspicion of manslaughter following the death of a British man during the G20 protests. An autopsy has found Ian Tomlinson died from internal bleeding, not a heart attack. Tomlinson was a newspaper seller who got caught up in the middle of the G20 protest. Video has emerged showing a baton-wielding British police officer hitting Tomlinson and shoving him to the ground shortly before he collapsed and died. The Independent Police Complaints Commission is also investigating at least two other assaults committed by the police during the protest.

Swedish Court Sentences Founders of File-Sharing Website

A Swedish court has sentenced the four founders of the file-sharing website Pirate Bay to one year in prison and to pay a $3.5 million fine for violating copyright laws. The men were convicted even though they did not host copyrighted works on their own servers. Instead the site indexed and tracked torrent files. Attorney Per Samuelson represented the founders of Pirate Bay.

Per Samuelson: “My comment is that the Swedish legal system did not stand against the political pressure from the whole of the world, from the whole of the power and it’s very hard for them to acquit, but they should have done that, so this is the proof that the legal system doesn’t work when you put enough pressure on it.”

Time Warner Scraps Pricing Model to Charge for Bandwidth

In other tech news, Time Warner Cable has announced it will stop testing a new pricing model where customers were being charged for how much Internet bandwidth they used. Time Warner had proposed charging as much as $150 per month for unlimited web downloads.

Goldman Environmental Prizes Awarded

The 2009 Goldman Environmental Prizes are being awarded today in San Francisco. Recipients include the Indonesian activist Yuyun Isamawati who developed a community-based waste management system to stem her island nation’s overwhelming waste infrastructure problems. I spoke to her last week in San Francisco.

Yuyun Isamawati: “We need more efforts from all countries. But it has to be a better mechanism how developed countries can channel support to developing countries to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions. [Inaudible] mechanisms should be reformed because the complicated and difficult mechanism cannot be implemented in the field to reach the target of reduction.”

The other recipients of the Goldman prize are West Virginian anti-coal mining activist Maria Gunnoe; the Russian physicist Olga Speranskaya who is campaigning to rid the former Soviet Union of toxic chemicals; the Bangladesh environmental attorney Rizwana Hasan; two anti-logging activists from the South American nation of Suriname and; conservationist Marc Ona Essangui from the African nation of Gabon.

Marc Ona Essangui: “The forest that we are defending in Gabon isn’t only for Gabon-it’s in the interest of the entire planet. Climate change, the destruction of the ozone layer-it’s not only about Gabon, it’s about the planet. A tree that is saved in Gabon will in the future save many lives in many countries.”

Vigils Mark 10th Anniversary of Columbine Massacre

And in Colorado, hundreds attended a vigil Sunday to mark the 10th anniversary of the Columbine High School when two students killed 12 students and a teacher.

Headlines: Former Bush Admin. Official Says He Should Have Resigned Over Torture; Obama Backtracks on Release of Torture Memos

Democracy Now Headlines: Former Bush Admin. Official Says He Should Have Resigned Over Torture; Obama Backtracks on Release of Torture Memos

Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

Report: Recent NSA Spying Exceeded Guidelines

The New York Times is reporting that recent National Security Agency domestic spying has gone beyond the broad legal limits established by Congress last year. The NSA, meanwhile, also reportedly attempted to wiretap a member of Congress, without court approval, on an overseas trip in 2005 or 2006. The plan was ultimately blocked amidst concerns about spying on a member of Congress.

Obama Backtracks on Full Release of Torture Memos

The Obama administration has reportedly decided to censor portions of three secret Bush administration torture memos it had previously vowed to release. The Justice Department memos were written to give legal backing to the CIA’s interrogation program. The Wall Street Journal is reporting the Obama administration will redact the prisoners’ names as well as details on how particular techniques were used. The administration is expected to make the announcement later today under a court-imposed deadline in a case brought by the ACLU.

Spanish Prosecutors Recommend Dropping Torture Probe Against Bush Admin Lawyers

In Spain, prosecutors are planning on asking a Spanish court to drop a criminal investigation into whether six Bush administration lawyers, including former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, violated international law by providing the legal framework to justify the Bush administration’s use of torture at Guantanamo. Spanish law allows it to claim jurisdiction because five citizens or residents say they were tortured while imprisoned there. Earlier today, Spanish prosecutor Candido Conde-Pumpido said the case has no merit because the Bush officials weren’t physically present when the torture occurred. The suit could still go forward despite the prosecutors’ stance. The presiding judge, Baltasar Garzon, pursued the case against former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet over prosecutors’ advice.

Armitage: I Should Have Resigned over Torture

Former Bush administration official Richard Armitage has said he would have resigned had he known what he knows now about the torture committed on his watch. In an interview with Al Jazeera’s Avi Lewis, Armitage admitted the Bush White House authorized forms of torture.

Avi Lewis: “So when you knew that the administration, of which you were a part, was departing from the Geneva Conventions and sidelining them, why didn’t you quit?”

Richard Armitage: “In hindsight, maybe I should have. But in those positions, you see how many more battles you have. You maybe fool yourself. You say how much worse would X, Y, or Z be if I weren’t here?”

Armitage went on to say, “I hope, had I known about it at the time I was serving, I would’ve had the courage to resign.” Armitage served as Deputy Secretary of State from 2001 to 2005.

Interpreter: FBI Interrogators Beat Kenya Bombing Suspect

A former FBI interpreter is claiming she witnessed the beating of a suspect in the 1998 bombing of the US embassy in Kenya. The unidentified translator says she became so upset by the interrogation that she fled the room. The translator couldn’t see the prisoner but could hear him behind a partition. According to her account, the suspect, Mohamed al-Owhali, begged her to ask the interrogators to stop beating him. Al-Owhali later confessed to the bombing and was sentenced to life in prison. His lawyers have maintained his confession was coerced.

Obama Admin Appoints Mexico “Border Czar”

The Obama administration has appointed a so-called “border czar” to oversee drug-related law enforcement along the US-Mexico border. Alan Bersin held a similar post under the Clinton administration. Speaking to reporters in El Paso, Texas, Bersin vowed to cooperate with the Mexican government.

Alan Bersin: “We now have an opportunity between the United States and Mexico to construct a foundation of cooperation that will result in benefits for the future of both sides of the border. I believe we have the opportunity and we must act on it.”

US Army Sergeant Convicted of Iraqi Prisoner Killings

A US Army sergeant has been convicted of murder for the murder of four bound and blindfolded Iraqi prisoners. The killings took place in Baghdad in 2007. The sergeant, John Hatley, was found guilty of conspiracy to commit premeditated murder. Two other soldiers have already been convicted, and another two have pleaded guilty in the case.

Afghan Women Protest Rape Law

In Afghanistan, dozens of women were attacked earlier today as they tried to protest a recent law that legalizes rape within marriage. The law bans women from refusing to have sex with their husbands and also says they can only seek work, education or medical care with their husbands’ permission. The women were pelted with stones as they gathered in the Afghan capital Kabul. It was the second straight day of protest against the law following another protest on Wednesday.

Venezuela to Seek Posada Extradition

Venezuela says it will again ask the US for the extradition of the Cuban militant and former CIA operative Luis Posada Carriles. Posada is wanted in Cuba and Venezuela for a 1976 airliner bombing that killed seventy-three people. But the US has harbored Posada and rejected calls for his extradition. Earlier this month, Posada was indicted on charges of lying about his role in several 1997 bombings at tourist areas in Cuba. The new charges mark the first time the US government has formally acknowledged Posada’s role in carrying out attacks. Venezuela says it will present the renewed extradition request before the opening of tomorrow’s Americas summit in Trinidad and Tobago.

Jurors Criticize Deportation Proceedings Against Egyptian Student

In Florida, four jurors who acquitted an Egyptian student of explosives charges earlier this month have condemned a US government attempt to deport him, apparently on the same allegations. Youssef Megahed was arrested just three days after a Tampa jury found him not guilty of possessing explosives that could be used for building a destructive bomb or rocket. He’s now being held in an immigration jail. Megahed is a legal permanent resident here in the United States. He’s lived here since he was eleven years old with his family. In a statement, the jurors said the government is putting Megahed in “double jeopardy.” They continued, “More troublesome is the government’s seeming blatant disregard for the will of its own people.”

UNC Students Disrupt Tancredo Speech

In North Carolina, clashes broke out Tuesday night at a student protest against former Republican Congress member Tom Tancredo at the University of North Carolina. Hundreds of protesters converged on a lecture hall where Tancredo was speaking on opposing education benefits for undocumented immigrants. The protesters disrupted Tancredo’s speech and raised banners saying “No dialogue with hate” and “No one is illegal.”

Report: US Hate Groups Up 34% Since 2000

A new report says the number of violent hate groups in the US has increased more than 34 percent since 2000. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, 926 groups were active last year, up from 602 nine years ago. The report comes on the heels of a warning from the Department of Homeland Security that right-wing extremist groups are gaining new recruits by exploiting fears about the economy and the election of the nation’s first black president.

Varying Agendas Present in Tax Day Protests

Tax Day was Wednesday, and with it came dozens of protests of varying political stripes. In several major cities, right-wing groups protested government spending in rallies modeled after the 1773 Boston Tea Party. In Washington, D.C., hundreds rallied near the White House.

Protester #1: “I think it’s time to let people know that we are upset with some of the spending that’s going on. The amount of spending is unheralded in the history of this country.”

Protester #2: “And I don’t think that our elected officials are really listening to our views about what’s going on and what we feel. They just want to follow what the administration is doing.”

Protests were also held by opponents of government spending on the military and war. The National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee says protests and vigils were held in more than twenty states.

Potential Foreclosures Rise 24%

And in housing news, new figures show the number of Americans facing the loss of their homes grew 24 percent in the first three months of this year. According to RealtyTrac, more than 800,000 homes received at least one foreclosure-related notice from January through March.

Headlines: U.S. Committed Torture at CIA Black Sites; Obama: U.S. Can Detain Prisoners Indefinitely Without Charges

Democracy Now Headlines: U.S. Committed Torture at CIA Black Sites; Obama: U.S. Can Detain Prisoners Indefinitely Without Charges

Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

AIG to Pay Out $450 Million in Bonuses

The failed insurance giant AIG is preparing to pay out $450 million in bonuses to top executives and other employees despite receiving a $173 billion government bailout. The bonuses include over $165 million to executives in the Financial Products unit, which lost $40 billion last year and played a major role in the meltdown of the global financial system. AIG is paying out the bonuses even though it is now 80 percent owned by the US government. On Sunday, Lawrence Summers, the director of the White House National Economic Council, described the bonuses as outrageous, but he said the bonuses are part of a contract.

Lawrence Summers: “We are a country of law. There are contracts. The government cannot just abrogate contracts. Every legal step possible to limit those bonuses is being taken by Secretary Geithner and by the Federal Reserve system.”

AIG’s new chief executive Edward Liddy justified the bonuses, saying AIG would have trouble attracting and retaining talent “if employees believe their compensation is subject to continued and arbitrary adjustment by the US Treasury.”

AIG Lists Banks It Gave Bailout Money To

Meanwhile, AIG has disclosed for the first time the names of the financial institutions that benefited from the government’s $173 billion bailout. Goldman Sachs was the largest recipient at nearly $13 billion. Over $35 billion was also paid out to foreign banks including Societe Generale of France, Deutsche Bank of Germany, Barclays of Britain and UBS of Switzerland.

FMLN’s Mauricio Funes Wins El Salvador Election

In El Salvador, leftist presidential candidate Mauricio Funes has claimed victory, ending twenty years of conservative rule. Funes’s party, the FMLN, is a former guerrilla group that fought El Salvador’s US-backed military government for close to twenty years. Funes defeated Rodrigo Avila of the ARENA party by three percentage points. During a victory speech, Funes promised “safe change” in the mold of Brazil’s president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

Mauricio Funes: “That is why I invite, from this moment, different social and political forces to help us build this unity, which should be based on tolerance, on respecting differences and the identification of common objectives.”

Pakistan Reinstates Sacked Chief Justice

In an attempt to defuse a growing political crisis, the Pakistani government has announced the reinstatement of Iftikhar Chaudhry, the deposed chief justice. The move comes as Pakistan was facing mass streets protests against the rule of President Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of Benazir Bhutto. On Friday, Zardari ordered Pakistan’s main opposition leader, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, to be placed under house arrest. Sharif defied the order and held a large protest in Lahore on Sunday. Sharif was threatening to march to Islamabad, but the protest was called off after the government announced the reinstatement of Chaudhry. Chaudhry and sixty other judges were dismissed in 2007 by former president General Pervez Musharraf.

Israeli Troops Shoot US Activist in West Bank

An American activist from Oakland, California was critically injured Friday when Israeli soldiers fired a tear gas canister directly at his head during a weekly nonviolent protest against the wall in the West Bank village of N’alin. Thirty-seven-year-old Tristan Anderson is the fourth member of the International Solidarity Movement to be critically injured or killed by the Israeli military since 2003.

Jonathan Pollack of the ISM: “He was shot at directly with a tear gas projectile, with an extended range tear gas projectile from about fifty to sixty meters. And the impact caused several condensed fractures to his skull and collapsation of his eye socket. He was operated on in the hospital a few hours later in critical condition, and large portions of his frontal lobe had to be removed, because it was splattered with bone fragments as a result of the impact of the tear gas canister.”

During their weekly demonstrations since last April, four unarmed N’alin residents have been killed and over 400 injured by the Israeli Defense Forces.

Red Cross Report: US Committed Torture at CIA Black Sites

The International Committee of the Red Cross concluded in a secret report two years ago that the Bush administration’s treatment of prisoners “constituted torture” in violation of the Geneva Conventions. The findings were based on interviews with prisoners once held in the CIA’s secret black sites. The Red Cross said the fourteen prisoners held in the CIA prisons gave remarkably uniform accounts of abuse that included beatings, sleep deprivation, extreme temperatures and, in some cases, waterboarding. The author Mark Danner published parts of the secret Red Cross report in the New York Review of Books. Danner said the Red Cross’s use of the word “torture” has important legal implications. Danner said, “It could not be more important that the ICRC explicitly uses the words ‘torture’ and ‘cruel and degrading.’ The ICRC is the guardian of the Geneva Conventions, and when it uses those words, they have the force of law.”

Cheney: Obama Policies Are Making US Less Safe

Hours after excerpts of the Red Cross report were published, former Vice President Dick Cheney appeared on CNN. He was asked whether he believed President Obama was making Americans less safe by abandoning some of the Bush administration’s counterterrorism techniques.

Dick Cheney: “I do. I think those programs were absolutely essential to the success we enjoyed of being able to collect the intelligence that let us defeat all further attempts to launch attacks against the United States since 9/11. I think that’s a great success story. It was done legally. It was done in accordance with our constitutional practices and principles. President Obama campaigned against it all across the country. And now he’s making some choices that, in my mind, will in fact raise the risk to the American people of another attack.”

Obama: US Can Detain Prisoners Indefinitely Without Charge

Dick Cheney’s comments came days after the Obama administration said it will no longer consider prisoners at Guantanamo Bay to be enemy combatants. Despite abandoning the label, the administration claims it still has the right to hold prisoners indefinitely without charge even if the individual is captured far from any battlefield and has not directly participated in hostilities.

Madoff Lawyers File an Appeal for his Release

Attorneys for Bernard Madoff have filed an appeal to challenge a judge’s decision to keep the former chairman of NASDAQ in jail until his sentencing in June. On Thursday, Madoff pleaded guilty to running the biggest Ponzi scheme in history, defrauding investors of $64 billion. He faces up to 150 years in prison. Meanwhile, newly released court documents show Madoff and his wife had a net worth of over $800 million at the end of last year. Their assets included homes in Manhattan, Palm Beach and the French Riviera, a $7 million yacht, a $2 million fishing boat and $2.6 million in jewelry. Madoff’s wife is trying to keep nearly $70 million worth of assets, including a penthouse Manhattan apartment, claiming her money has nothing to do with her husband’s scheme.

China Expresses Concern over Safety of US Investments

In other economic news, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao has publicly expressed concern about the security of China’s trillion-dollar investment in US government debt. Wen said, “We have lent a huge amount of money to the US. Of course we are concerned about the safety of our assets.” China is America’s biggest foreign creditor.

European Lawmakers Meet with Hamas Leader in Syria

On Saturday, a European delegation met with Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal in Damascus in the first announced visit of a European delegation to meet with Hamas leaders. Members of the delegation included British Parliamentarian Clare Short.

Clare Short: “We’re very clear that to make progress we need to talk to Hamas, because they represent a big proportion of the Palestinian people. So we’re trying, by our visit, to bring more and more parliamentarians to open up discussion with Hamas in order to move things forward in the hope that we can, in the end, get a just peace.”

Two Israeli Police Officers Shot Dead in West Bank

Two Israeli police officers were shot dead on Sunday near the settlement of Masu’a in the northern West Bank. An organization calling itself the “Imad Mughniyeh Group” claimed responsibility for the attack.

Taliban Bomb Kills Four US Soldiers

In Afghanistan, the Taliban has claimed responsibility for setting a roadside bomb that killed four US soldiers on Sunday. Meanwhile, the mayor of Kandahar survived an assassination attempt Sunday when a remote-controlled bomb was place on a wheelbarrow near his office. The bombing killed one person and injured six others.

US Missile Strike Kills Four in Pakistan

The US has carried out another missile strike inside Pakistan. A US Predator drone fired two hellfire missiles at a home near the Afghan border. The strike reportedly killed four militants.

Hilda Solis Sworn in as Labor Secretary

Former California Congresswoman Hilda Solis has been sworn in as Labor Secretary. In her first day in office, Solis announced the suspension of Bush administration rules that made it easier for companies to hire immigrants as so-called guest workers. Solis said today’s economic climate makes educating workers more important.

Hilda Solis: “In times of economic crisis, giving Americans the tools they need to find and keep good jobs must be our priority. Now, more than ever, we must help workers by prioritizing job training and assistance. Retooling our workforce not only helps workers but supports high growth industries by ensuring they have the adequate skills that workers need.”

New Mexico Votes to Abolish Death Penalty

New Mexico has moved a step closer to abolishing the death penalty. On Friday, the state senate voted 24-to-18 to end capital punishment, but it is unclear if Democratic Governor Bill Richardson will sign the repeal bill.

Vermont Considers Legalizing Same-Sex Marriage

In Vermont, hearings begin today on whether the state should legalize same-sex marriage.

14 Anti-Coal Activists Arrested in Tennessee

In Tennessee, fourteen anti-coal activists were arrested Saturday as they participated in a die-in in front of the Tennessee Valley Authority’s headquarters in Knoxville. Organizers said the action was held to show solidarity with communities affected by the destructive impacts of mountaintop removal coal mining and the survivors of the recent coal ash disaster outside of Knoxville.

Arizona’s Oldest Newspaper, Tucson Citizen, to Close

And in Arizona, the state’s oldest newspaper, the Tucson Citizen, has announced its final issue will be on Saturday. The paper is owned by the Gannet chain. Meanwhile, members of the San Francisco Chronicle’s largest union have agreed to contract concessions that parent company Hearst Corporation says are essential to keeping the newspaper open.

Headlines: Freed Guantanamo Prisoner Allges Torture; Obama Continues Bush Email Policy

Democracy Now Headlines: Obama Continues Bush Policy on Afghanistan Detainees; US Working with Pakistan's Military

Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

Freed Gitmo Prisoner Alleges Torture in US Captivity

A newly released prisoner from Guantanamo Bay has accused US officials of torturing him and beating him dozens of times at a secret CIA prison and later at Guantanamo. The Ethiopian-born Binyam Mohamed returned to Britain on Monday after becoming the first Guantanamo prisoner freed under President Obama. In a statement read by his attorney, Clive Stafford Smith, Mohamed called for his captors and jailers to be held accountable.

Clive Stafford Smith: “For myself, the very worst moment came when I realized in Morocco that the people who were torturing me were receiving questions and materials from British intelligence. I had met with British intelligence in Pakistan. I had been open with them. Yet the very people who I had hoped would come to my rescue, I later realized, had allied themselves with my abusers. I am not asking for vengeance, only that the truth should be made known so that nobody in the future should have to endure what I have endured.”

Mohamed was arrested in Pakistan in 2002 and taken to Morocco and Afghanistan before going on to spend more than four years at Guantanamo Bay.

White House-Backed Inquiry: Gitmo Conforms with Geneva Conventions

The torture allegations came as a White House-backed Pentagon investigation said conditions at Guantanamo have met the standards of the Geneva Conventions. Lead investigator Admiral Patrick Walsh.

Adm. Patrick Walsh: “Common Article 3 of the Geneva convention prohibits the following acts: violence to life and person; taking of hostages; outrages of personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment; passing of sentences without judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court. Any substantiated evidence of prohibited acts discovered in the course of the review would have warranted a finding of noncompliance with Common Article 3. We found no such evidence.”

Walsh touted himself as an impartial investigator even though he’s a high-ranking Navy official. Human rights groups and attorneys for the prisoners immediately dismissed the report as a sham.

Admin Paves Way to Nationalizing Banks

The Obama administration has taken further steps toward the possible nationalization of troubled banks. On Monday, the White House changed the terms of government bailouts to allow financial firms to repay loans with common stock instead of cash. That would increase the government’s chances of taking controlling ownership. The government has already invested nearly $200 billion in over 400 banks, including $45 billion in Citigroup.

Obama Unveils Deficit Pledge

The talk of a larger government role in the financial system comes as President Obama continues to tout his pledge to cut the federal deficit in half by the end of his first term despite the fiscal stimulus package. Obama spoke Monday at a White House economic summit.

President Obama: “The pay-go approach is based on a very simple concept: you don’t spend what you don’t have. So if we want to spend, we’ll need to find somewhere else to cut. This is the rule that families across this country follow every single day, and there’s no reason why their government shouldn’t do the same.”

Ex-Wash. Gov. Rumored for Commerce Post

In cabinet news, President Obama has reportedly settled on former Washington Governor Gary Locke to become Commerce secretary. Locke would be Obama’s third Commerce nominee after Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico and Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire. A formal announcement could come this week.

Obama Mirrors Bush in Opposing Release of White House Emails

The Obama administration has again sided with former President George W. Bush on a case involving government secrecy. The White House has already continued Bush stance’s on seeking dismissal of a lawsuit by former CIA detainees and to prevent a federal court from reviewing the Bush administration’s warrantless spying program. Now it’s refusing to reverse the government position on opposing a suit seeking access to millions of missing White House emails over Bush’s two terms in office. The groups Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and the National Security Archive want the emails publicly released.

US to Spend $900M on Gaza Aid

In Israel and the Occupied Territories, the Obama administration has announced plans to send some $900 million in aid to the Gaza Strip. The physical damage to Gaza from the recent US-backed Israeli attack is estimated to be at least double that, at more than $2 billion. The $900 million would go to aid and non-governmental organizations in line with Obama’s continuation of the Bush administration’s isolation of the democratically elected Hamas government. Some of the money would also go to Palestinian leaders in the occupied West Bank. Israel is the largest recipient of American foreign aid and military assistance, with the US giving at least $3 billion annually.

Israeli Negotiator Dismissed After Criticizing Stance on Truce, Prisoner Exchange

Meanwhile, outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has dismissed his top negotiator on Gaza for criticizing the Israeli stance on reopening Gaza’s borders. Last week, the Israeli government formalized its refusal to even discuss easing the humanitarian blockade of Gaza without the release of the captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Shalit was seized in 2006 in a raid on an Israeli army post used for attacks on Gaza. In an interview last week, the fired negotiator, Amos Gilad, said he opposed conditioning any truce deal on Shalit’s release. Hamas has said it would free Shalit, but only in the context of a prisoner exchange. Israel has previously negotiated several prisoner exchanges. Some 10,000 Palestinians are currently jailed in Israeli prisons.

Ross Named to Advisory Post on Iran

The State Department has made official its appointment of Dennis Ross as special adviser on developing strategy toward Iran. During his previous stint as US envoy to the Middle East, Ross was widely criticized for backing Israeli settlement expansion and refusing to address Palestinian grievances.

3 US Troops, Interpreter Killed in Iraq

In Iraq, three US troops and their interpreter were killed Monday in Diyala province. They were reportedly struck by a roadside bomb.

Senate Report Faults Cuban Embargo

A new report from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee urges major changes to US policy toward Cuba. After reviewing the US embargo and restrictions on travel there, the report concludes “we must recognize the ineffectiveness of our current policy and deal with the Cuban regime in a way that enhances U.S. interests.”

Artists, Educators Call for Lifting Cuba Restrictions

The report comes on the heels of a new campaign from hundreds of artists and educators to urge President Obama to maintain his campaign pledge to ease travel restrictions to Cuba. In a statement, the group says “U.S. policies towards Cuba…have prevented us from engaging in critical communication and collaboration with our Cuban counterparts…preventing cultural interchange between two societies that share a historic relationship lasting over two centuries.” Signatories include Carlos Santana, Herbie Hancock, Danny Glover and Harry Belafonte.

Study: Western Demand Boosts Chinese CO2 Emissions

A new study has found Western countries continue to play a major role in China’s status as the leading emitter of greenhouse gases. The Oslo-based Centre for International Climate and Environmental Research says half of China’s recent increase in carbon dioxide pollution is caused by producing goods for other countries. Nearly one-third of Chinese emissions result from manufacturing products for export. Nine percent of the total resulted from goods for the US, compared to six percent for all of Europe.

Justice Ginsburg Returns to Supreme Court Bench

And back in the United States, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg returned to the Supreme Court bench Monday, less than three weeks after undergoing surgery for pancreatic cancer. The cancer has been diagnosed as early stage.

Admin: Healthcare Reform Top Fiscal Priority

The Obama administration, meanwhile, says it intends to make healthcare reform its top fiscal priority this year. No details were announced on specific proposals. The pledge comes as a new government report says healthcare costs will rise to average more than $8,000 per American this year. That amounts to a per-person increase of $365 from 2008. The Department of Health and Human Services warns the Medicare hospital trust fund continues to lose money and could become insolvent within seven years. Bureaucratic costs as a result of the insurance-based private healthcare systems continue to account for a significant percentage of healthcare spending. Meanwhile, the number of uninsured has also grown. A new report from the Kaiser Family Foundation says 48 million Americans don’t have healthcare coverage.

Headlines: Obama Continues Bush Assertion of “State Secrets” in Torture Case; $9.7 Trillion Govt. Tab in Financial Crisis

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Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

Senate to Vote on $838B Stimulus

The Senate is set to vote today on its version of the economic stimulus package. The final price tag is said to be $838 billion. Senate backing would lead to talks with the House, which passed a larger bill last week. On Monday, President Obama continued to press for congressional approval. Speaking at his first presidential news conference, Obama again warned of “catastrophe” absent the bill’s passage.

President Obama: “Now, my administration inherited a deficit of over $1 trillion, but because we also inherited the most profound economic emergency since the Great Depression, doing little or nothing at all will result in even greater deficits, even greater job loss, even greater loss of income, and even greater loss of confidence. Those are deficits that could turn a crisis into a catastrophe, and I refuse to let that happen. As long as I hold this office, I will do whatever it takes to put this economy back on track and put this country back to work.”

Just three Republicans joined Democratic senators in moving to cut off debate for today’s final vote. Earlier in the day, President Obama traveled to Indiana, where he spoke at a campaign-style town hall in Elkhart.

President Obama: “The situation we face could not be more serious. We have inherited an economic crisis as deep and as dire as any since the Great Depression. Economists from across the spectrum have warned that if we don’t act immediately, millions of more jobs will be lost, the national unemployment rates will approach double digits, not just here in Elkhart, all across the country.”

Report: $9.7 Trillion Government Tab in Financial Crisis

Bloomberg News estimates the economic stimulus package would raise the government tab in addressing the financial crisis to $9.7 trillion. In addition to the Wall Street bailout and the current stimulus plan, the US government is believed to have lent or spent more than $8 trillion through the Federal Reserve, Treasury Department and Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. The $9.7 trillion figure would nearly be enough to pay off every mortgage in the nation.

New Bailout Measures Include Public-Private Financing for Toxic Assets

The Obama administration is set to announce further bailout measures later today. These include a program for a public-private partnership in refinancing purchases of toxic bank securities as well as freeing up more money for the auto and banking industry. The Washington Post reports the costs of the new provisions could top $1.5 trillion. More on the economy after headlines.

Obama Responds to Leahy Proposal on Probing Bush Admin Crimes

Back at the White House, President Obama took several other questions on domestic and foreign policy at his inaugural news conference. Obama was asked about Senator Patrick Leahy’s proposal for a truth and reconciliation commission to investigate Bush administration crimes.

President Obama: “My view is also that nobody is above the law, and if there are clear instances of wrongdoing, that people should be prosecuted just like any ordinary citizen, but that, generally speaking, I’m more interested in looking forward than I am in looking backwards. I want to pull everybody together, including, by the way, the–all the members of the intelligence community who have done things the right way and have been working hard to protect America and I think sometimes are painted with a broad brush without adequate information. So I will take a look at Senator Leahy’s proposal, but my general orientation is to say let’s get it right moving forward.”

Obama Ducks Question on Israeli Nukes

The veteran correspondent Helen Thomas was also able to ask her first question of Obama’s presidency. In a clear reference to Israel, Thomas pressed Obama on nuclear weapons in the Middle East. Obama tried to ignore that part of her question.

President Obama: “All right. Helen? This is my inaugural moment here. I’m really excited.”

Helen Thomas: “Mr. President, do you think that Pakistan and–are maintaining the safe havens in Afghanistan for these so-called terrorists? And also, do you know of any country in the Middle East that has nuclear weapons?”

President Obama: “Well, I think that Pakistan–there is no doubt that in the FATA region of Pakistan, in the mountainous regions along the border of Afghanistan, that there are safe havens where terrorists are operating. And one of the goals of Ambassador Holbrooke, as he is traveling throughout the region, is to deliver a message to Pakistan that they are endangered as much as we are by the continuation of those operations and that we’ve got to work in a regional fashion to root out those safe havens…With respect to nuclear weapons, you know, I don’t want to speculate. What I know is this: that if we see a nuclear arms race in a region as volatile as the Middle East, everybody will be in danger. And one of my goals is to prevent nuclear proliferation generally. I think that it’s important for the United States, in concert with Russia, to lead the way on this.”

Thomas is the most senior member of the White House press corps. She has now questioned ten presidents, dating back to John F. Kennedy.

Dismissing Torture Case, Obama Continues Bush Assertion of “State Secrets”

The Obama administration has decided to continue a Bush administration policy of invoking “state secrets” to dismiss a lawsuit accusing a Boeing subsidiary of helping the CIA secretly transport prisoners to torture chambers overseas. On Monday, a San Francisco appeals court heard arguments on the American Civil Liberties Union’s attempt to reinstate the case against Jeppesen International Trip Planning on behalf of five former prisoners. The lawsuit accused Jeppesen of arranging at least seventy flights since 2001 as part of the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program. The Bush administration successfully won the case’s dismissal on the grounds it would risk exposing “state secrets.” On Monday, Obama administration lawyers told judges the government’s stance is unchanged. ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero said, “The] Justice Department stood up in court today and said that it would continue the Bush policy of invoking state secrets to hide the reprehensible history of torture, rendition and the most grievous human rights violations committed by the American government. This is not change. This is definitely more of the same.”

4 US Troops Killed in Iraq

In Iraq, four US troops and an interpreter have been killed in a suicide bombing in Mosul. It was the deadliest attack on US troops in Iraq since May.

Poll: Afghan Opposition to US Grows

In Afghanistan, a new poll shows growing opposition to the US occupation. According to ABC News, a quarter of Afghans now support attacks on US troops, double the number from two years ago. 32 percent said US troops are performing well, down from 68 percent in 2005. One in five Afghans said US-led forces have killed civilians in their area in the past year.

Israel Holds National Elections

In Israel, a tight leadership race is being decided today in national elections. Polls show a close match between Kadima, headed by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, and the front-running Likud, led by former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Livni could emerge victorious if she gains enough votes to form a coalition with Labor, headed by Defense Minister Ehud Barak. All three candidates support attacking and blockading Gaza and the continued takeover of Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank. In Gaza, Hamas spokesperson Ayman Taha dismissed the outcome of the elections.

Ayman Taha: “We see them all as war criminals, and we do not tie our policies to the Israeli elections. We draw our policies in accordance with our national interests. Therefore, the Israeli election does not concern us at all. They were all involved in shedding our blood.”

Egyptian-German Activist Disappears Following Arrest

Meanwhile, in Egypt, a Egyptian-German student and peace activist has been arrested after taking part in a protest in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza. Friends and relatives say they haven’t heard from Philip Rizk since Egyptian security forces nabbed him Friday night. He had just completed a six-mile walk in protest of Egypt’s closure of its border with Gaza. Egyptian forces also reportedly tried to arrest Rizk’s parents but were deterred by German embassy officials.

California Ordered to Reduce Prison Overcrowding

And back in the United States, a federal court has ordered the California prison system to reduce overcrowding within the next three years. A three-judge panel says California should reduce its prison population by as many as 55,000 through measures including shortening sentences and diverting nonviolent prisoners. California Attorney General Jerry Brown says he plans to appeal.