Torture Abroad, Coercive Tactics at Home: Looking at Toture and a Recent Supreme Court Ruling

By Kate Wheeler

On Wednesday, May 27, two events occurred that may, at first, seem unconnected. News hit the Internet that the Supreme Court had overturned Michigan v Jackson, the case that established that those arrested for crimes have the right to an attorney present during all questioning by the police. And Darius Rejali, an internationally recognized expert on torture and a professor at Reed College gave an interview on ABC in Australia.

In his Supreme Court decision, Justice Scalia wrote that Michigan v Jackson was “costly” because it delayed justice. Police could not use the methods they knew were effective to extract confessions and wrap up cases quickly enough. The money quote from the opinion was this: “….the principal cost of applying Jackson’s rule is that crimes can go unsolved and criminals unpunished when uncoerced confessions are excluded and when officers are deterred from even trying to obtain confessions.”

Although the opinion is laid out to emphasize that the states have the right to set questioning limits on their own, this last statement is chilling. Scalia seems to be giving a tacit green light to confessions that are extracted by the police using coercion. Coercion as in “to force, threaten, intimidate, and/or seriously harm, to deprive a person of the act of free will.” And Scalia’s opinion ensures it can be done without an attorney present as a witness and an advisor to the arrested party. If that doesn’t start creating some dark images in your mind, it should.

“A police torture crisis sometime in the next 10 to 20 years”

And now we segue to Professor Rejali in Australia, speaking to ABC on the issue of torture used during the so-called “war on terror.” Rejali did an incredible job in his interview of setting this current situation within a historical context. He explains why all the historical evidence shows “there is nothing that predicts future torture as much as past impunity,” adding, “…there’s always somebody who thinks the other guy’s got away with it; why not me, and that’s a dangerous prospect.”

But the part of the interview that really hit home, given the news that day in the US, was Rejali’s discussion of how torture becomes a culture of its own. He described how every time torture had been authorized in war, soldiers would return to their countries and enter into police work or private security work, “…and they bring to it the skills they learned out in the military.”

Rejali stated he believed the torture done in Iraq, Guantanamo Bay, and other sites would lead to the crisis in the US of “police torture” that would culminate “sometime in the next 10 to 20 years.” And when that happens, the groundwork will have been laid by Supreme Court decisions like the overturning of Michigan v Jackson. Can anyone say “perfect storm”?

Lying with labels

Here at home, the torture issue, triggered by the April 17 release of four memos from the Justice Department that approved CIA torture, is already disappearing from the news cycles. And when it does come up, it’s just as likely to as commentary by right-wingers like Pete Hoekstra, who refer to torture as “enhanced interrogation techniques” and explain to the American public why it was and is necessary and “legal.”

The word “enhanced” is a clever choice; it has been used relentlessly in marketing, always with a positive spin. Its original meaning was “to add to or make greater, as in value, beauty; to augment.” A more recent definition, grown out of its use in advertising, is “to provide with improved, more effective, or more sophisticated features.”

So we’re used to hearing about enhanced software, enhanced podcasts, enhanced cruise-line packages, enhanced facial cleansers.

And now, suddenly, there’s “enhanced interrogation techniques.” That phrase makes torture sound almost appealing, doesn’t it? It’s the type of spin that has marked and marred political discussion in this country. Think of the titles that have come out of Washington in the past decade. The Clear Skies Initiative, which weakened air pollution protections. The No Child Left Behind Act, which was never fully funded, leaving teachers scrambling and children in the dust. The Coalition of the Willing, which always made me think of a group of Boy Scouts, shiny-faced and enthusiastic, trooping off for some jamboree. The Patriot Act, which undermines the civil rights of every person in this country. And now, “enhanced interrogation techniques” to describe sadistic torture which a UN expert has stated as being far worse under the Americans than under Saddam Hussein. Mission accomplished.

“Looking forward” and what that means

Unfortunately, there’s another new catch-phrase that has popped up since April 17–President Obama’s assertion that now is “a time to look forward,” not back. He means he is not willing to initiate an investigation of those who deliberately contravened the Geneva Convention and illegally authorized torture as a questioning technique.

Well, I’d like to look forward, too–to a time when Americans examine and indict prisoners without violating the law; when the Constitution and our international commitments are upheld, and when the police are reined in from brutal misconduct. For that matter, I’d like to look forward to a time when we are no longer involved in a war of aggression that was spun in a web of lies to enhance our oil interests.

But if there’s no looking backward, there is no one held accountable. Without accountability, there’s only the kind of oncoming crisis that Professor Rejali described so eloquently in his ABC interview–our country hardening into a torture culture.

Looking forward is hard when the air is so murky with lies and cover-ups. And sometimes it seems to me that the very air is also polluted with these euphemisms created to drug us into inaction. The air needs clearing, and the bright lights brought in.

What can you do?

Amnesty International is providing several excellent resources. Educate yourself with their online training on torture. Then, use the web page they have set up to send letters to President Obama and your senators and representative. (In my case, the hopeless Vern Ehlers). The web page provides a sample text you can send automatically or you can edit it as you wish. Find it at http://takeaction.amnestyusa.org/siteapps/advocacy/index.aspx?c=jhKPIXPCIoE&b=2590179&template=x.ascx&action=12193

Amnesty International has also set up a special fund to campaign for an independent commission to examine the torture memos and those who conspired in this criminal action. So if you are able, a donation will also help.

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Headlines: White House Asks Court to Block Torture Photos’ Release; Nader: Ex-DNC Chair Offered Money to Drop Out of ’04 Race

Democracy Now Headlines: White House Asks Court to Block Torture Photos' Release; Nader: Ex-DNC Chair Offered Money to Drop Out of '04 Race

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.

White House Asks Court to Block Torture Photos’ Release

The Obama administration has formally requested the censorship of hundreds of photos of torture committed at U.S. prisons overseas. On Thursday, the administration asked a federal appeals court to block the photos on the grounds they would incite violence against U.S. troops. The administration’s court filing cited two secret statements from top U.S. generals David Petraeus and Ray Odierno, who have both lobbied for blocking the photos’ release.

Admin Denies Photos Depict Rape, Sexual Abuse

The move came one day after the head of the Abu Ghraib inquiry, Major General Antonio Taguba, said the photos include images of the rape and sexual abuse of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. soldiers. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs denied the claim.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs: “I think the Pentagon has been very clear in a statement saying that the story is not true. I want to speak generally about some reports I’ve witnessed over the past few years in the British media, and in some ways, I’m surprised it filtered down.”

Anti-Torture Activists Call for Prosecutions, Photos’ Release

Meanwhile here in New York, anti-torture activists with the group World Can’t Wait held a protest at Grand Central Station calling for the photos’ release. Protesters donned orange jumpsuits and black hoods similar to those worn by Guantanamo Bay prisoners. Samantha Goldman of World Can’t Wait rejected the Obama administration’s argument for censoring the photos.

Samantha Goldman: “What enflames anti-American sentiment is U.S. military bases around the world, what enflames anti-U.S. sentiment is torture, is what we’re actually going over there to do. That’s what enflames anti-American sentiment, prosecuting the criminals, which, to do that, you need the photos to be released, to actually prosecute Bush era criminals, you would need to have the photos as evidence.”

Report: Cables Indicate Doctor Role in Zubaydah Torture

The investigative website ProPublica is reporting a team of doctors may have been involved in monitoring the torture of suspected al Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah in August 2002. Secret CIA cables contain several ‘medical updates’ on Zubaydah’s interrogation, where he was waterboarded at least 83 times. The updates contain detailed information that suggests doctors actively monitored the waterboarding in what would be a violation of medical ethics.

Obama Renews Call for Israeli Settlement Freeze

President Obama hosted Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the White House Thursday for their first formal talks. Obama criticized the Israeli government for rejecting his call to stop expanding settlements in the occupied West Bank, but also expressed tacit support for the Palestinian Authority’s repression of opposition groups in the West Bank through its U.S.-trained security forces.

President Obama: “On the Israeli side those obligations include stopping settlements. They include making sure that there is a viable potential Palestinian state. On the Palestinian side it’s going to be important and necessary to continue to take the security steps on the West Bank that President Abbas has already begun to take, working with General Dayton. We’ve seen great progress in terms of security in the West Bank.”

The Israeli government has put itself at odds with Obama over its refusal to end settlement growth and accept the principle of Palestinian statehood. Abbas said the key to peace lies in Israeli withdrawal from occupied Arab lands.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas: “Mr. President, I believe that the entire Arab world and the Islamic world, they are all committed to peace. We’ve seen that through the Arab League Peace Initiative that simply talks about land for peace as a principle. I believe that if the Israelis would withdraw from all occupied Palestinian, Syrian, and Lebanese land, the Arab world will be ready to have normal relationships with the state of Israel.”

Report: 20,000 Civilians Killed in Sri Lanka Conflict’s Final Weeks

The Times of London is reporting more than 20,000 civilians were killed in the final days of Sri Lanka’s attack on Tamil Tiger rebels–three times the official figure. Citing what it says are secret UN documents, the Times says around 1,000 people were killed every day from late April until the conflict ended ten days ago. The Sri Lankan military was accused of indiscriminately shelling no-fire zones, including two attacks on a major hospital. Tamil Tiger rebels were accused of using civilians as human shields. The Times says the evidence strongly supports allegations most of the civilians were killed by Sri Lankan military attacks. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, has called for an independent probe of war crimes during the conflict.

13 Killed in Pakistan Attacks

In Pakistan, thirteen people were killed Thursday in militant attacks targeting police officers. It was the second straight day of gun-and-bomb attacks from militant groups. The strikes are believed to be retaliation for the anti-Taliban offensive that has displaced more than two million people in the northwestern Swat valley. On Thursday, United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes called Pakistan’s internal refugee crisis “unprecedented” in recent years.

UN Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes: “This is a plan for I think for 543 million dollars to deal with the current very severe and dramatic humanitarian situation that has arisen there. The scale and the speed of the displacement that we’ve seen over the last few weeks are really unprecedented, certainly in Pakistan but also in recent memory anywhere.”

Iraq to Arrest 1,000 Officials on Corruption Charges

The Iraqi government says it plans to arrest more than 1,000 officials in a massive corruption scandal that has forced its Trade Minister to resign. Trade Ministry workers are accused of profiting from Iraq’s importing of food supplies for programs that feed 60 percent of Iraqis. Video has also surfaced of trade officials at a party drinking alcohol and insulting Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Amnesty: Human Rights Abuses Increasing in Mexico

In Mexico, Amnesty International says Mexican soldiers and police officers were involved in an increasing number of human rights abuses last year. Amnesty International’s Arturo Herrera criticized what he called growing impunity in Mexico.

Arturo Herrera: “Due to impunity, practically generalized also where authorities have not been at the height of circumstances, not only with regards to human rights abuses but also a situation of insecurity which prevails in the country which has not found an accurate response.”

Amnesty days the abuses have grown with the expansion of Mexico’s crackdown on drug cartel violence. Earlier this week, ten mayors of Mexican towns were arrested for allegedly collaborating with the cartels.

Pentagon to Launch Cyberspace Command

Back in the United States, the New York Times is reporting the Pentagon is planning a new military command focusing on cyberspace. The command would direct the military’s computer-based attacks. The news comes as President Obama is expected to announce a civilian office run by a ‘cyber-czar’ tasked with overseeing the protection of the nation’s computer networks later today.

Record 12% in Foreclosure, Behind on Payments

New figures show a record twelve percent of Americans are behind on their mortgage payments or in foreclosure. The Mortgage Banker Association says the first quarter results mark a four percent rise from the same period last year. Subprime loans accounted for more than 43 percent of delinquent mortgages.

Time Warner-AOL to Split

In business news, the media giant Time Warner has announced it will spin off internet stalwart AOL into a separate company. The two corporations merged nine years ago.

Study: Minimum Wage Hike Provides “Stealth Stimulus”

A new study says recent hikes to the U.S. minimum wage are acting as a “stealth stimulus” to the economy. The Economic Policy Institute says increases to the minimum wage will boost consumer spending by $4.9 billion dollars.

Creditors, Workers Approve GM Deal

Creditors of the auto giant General Motors have approved a deal that would see the U.S. government take at least 70 percent control of the company to save it from collapse. The Canadian government and the United Auto Workers union would also take up smaller ownership shares. On Thursday, a majority of UAW members also approved the ownership deal in return for major concessions on wages and benefits.

Study: Insured Families Pay Additional Costs for Uninsured

A new study says the average family with health insurance paid a hidden premium of more than $1,000 dollars to cover the medical costs of the uninsured. The group Families USA says $42 billion dollars, mostly in emergency room fees, was passed on to insurance companies by uninsured patients. The insurers in turn made up for the costs by imposing higher premiums on their customers.

Single-Payer Advocates Hold National Day of Action

A coalition of advocacy groups meanwhile is holding a national day of action Saturday for the establishment of a single-payer health care system. Events in more than 50 cities are set to include town hall meetings, rallies, vigils and protests outside insurance companies that profit from the medical system. The day of action is being organized by the Leadership Conference for Guaranteed Health Care.

Nader: Ex-DNC Chair Offered Money to Drop Out of ’04 Race

The consumer advocate Ralph Nader is accusing former Democratic National Committee chair Terry McAuliffe of trying to bribe him to stay off the presidential ballot in 2004. Nader says McAuliffe offered his campaign an unspecified amount of money if he withdrew in 19 battleground states. McAuliffe is currently running for the Democratic nomination in Virginia’s gubernatorial race.

N.Y. Police Kill Off-Duty Black Officer

And here in New York, an off-duty African-American police officer has been killed by a fellow officer who mistook him for a criminal. The slain officer, 25-year old Omar Edwards, had come across a man breaking into his vehicle. He chased the man with his gun drawn when three police officers came upon him and opened fire. Edwards was recently married and the father of two children.

Servants of War: Private Military Corporations and the Profit of Conflict

Click on the image to purchase this book through Amazon.com. Purchases help support MediaMouse.org.

Over the years, I’ve read a number of books on the private mercenary industry and the use of military contractors in the so-called “War on Terror.” Most often, these books have focused on one or two companies–for example Blackwater–and used them to draw conclusions about the industry as a whole.

Rolf Uesseler’s Servants of War: Private Military Corporations and the Profit of Conflict takes a different approach and focuses on the industry as a whole and uses short case studies of specific companies in order to illustrate broader points. Instead of focusing solely on the “War on Terror” and the most recent wars of the United States, Uesseler takes a much broader view and looks at private military companies around the world. This may owe to the fact that the book was translated from German, but whatever the reason, it offers a welcome break from the typically U.S.-centered literature on the topic.

Uesseler examines how governments, intelligence agencies, private companies, warlords, drug cartels, and rebel groups have come to rely on private military companies to support a wide variety of activities. Private corporations use them to support resource extraction and to police sweatshops, states use them to prop up weak governments and enforce their rule, and intelligence agencies use them to facilitate illegal arms trades. States also use private military corporations to circumvent national laws. For example, a state can hire a private military contractor to fight a war or support one side in a war without needing to officially enter the conflict.

Through all of these activities, private military companies often operate in a legal gray area. The pursuit of profit is their main goal and all other concerns–including law–are often superseded by this goal. That is why in countries like Iraq we see mercenaries run amok–all the companies really care about is the constant flow of lucrative contracts. In many cases, there are no local laws that govern the conduct of mercenaries–as was initially the case in Iraq when they were granted immunity from prosecution–and the countries that send contractors often have little legal oversight of their activities. Moreover, in many cases private military companies subvert democratic notions and are able to conduct their activities with limited oversight and transparency.

In addition his examination of the contemporary activities of private military corporations, Uesseler also includes a brief overview of the historical evolution of mercenaries. He looks at their origins in Ancient Greece through the French Revolution when they largely went out of favor. However, with the end of the Cold War, they have experienced a resurgence. This resurgence is owed to many factors, among those Uesseler highlights a security vacuum with the collapse of the Cold War, conflicts in the Third World, a national energy policy in the United States that demands access to oil regardless of the cost, the increasingly technological orientation of warfare and militaries’ inability to keep up with the technological advances of the private sector, and similar technological gains in the intelligence sector.

Overall, Servants of War is one of the most comprehensive books on private military corporations. It’s very thorough and well-researched, and while that is good, it does make for reading that is a bit on the dry side of things. You will certainly walk away having learned a lot, but there are sure to be times when you wished the author wrote in a more engaging style. Nevertheless, it’s an important book that deserves to be read, especially by those who consider themselves anti-war.

Rolf Uesseler, Servants of War: Private Military Corporations and the Profit of Conflict, (Soft Skull Press, 2008).

Headlines: Cheney: Obama Policies Endanger U.S.; Report: GM to Enter Bankruptcy

Democracy Now Headlines: Cheney: Obama Policies Endanger U.S.; Report: GM to Enter Bankruptcy

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.

Obama Backs Indefinite Jailing, Criticizes Bush Measures

President Obama has publicly acknowledged for the first time he supports the indefinite jailing of some prisoners without trial. Obama made the admission during a speech at the National Archives Thursday defending his plan to close Guantanamo.

President Obama: “Let me begin by disposing of one argument as plainly as I can: we are not going to release anyone if it would endanger our national security, nor will we release detainees within the United States who endanger the American people.”

Obama also went on to repudiate several Bush administration counterrorism policies and criticize the media and his own party for failing to oppose them.

President Obama: “I also believe that-too often-our government made decisions based upon fear rather than foresight, and all too often trimmed facts and evidence to fit ideological predispositions. Instead of strategically applying our power and our principles, we too often set those principles aside as luxuries that we could no longer afford. And in this season of fear, too many of us-Democrats and Republicans; politicians, journalists and citizens-fell silent.”

Cheney: Obama Policies Endanger U.S.

Just minutes after Obama spoke, former Vice President Dick Cheney delivered a speech at the American Enterprise Institute defending Bush administration policies. Cheney said Obama is endangering the United States.

Vice President Dick Cheney: “The administration seems to pride itself on searching for some middle ground on terrorism. They may take comfort in hearing disagreement from opposite ends of the spectrum. If liberals are unhappy about some decisions and conservatives are unhappy about some decisions, then it may seem to them that the president is on the path of sensible compromise. Half measures keep you half exposed.”

Senate Approves War Funding

The Senate has approved a $91 billion dollar measure funding the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. The measure passed by a vote of 86 to three.

Ex-Soldier Gets Life Sentence in Iraq Rape, Murder Case

A former U.S. soldier has been sentenced to life in prison for the 2006 rape and murder of an Iraqi teenager and the killing of her family. Steven Green was found guilty earlier this month of being the ringleader in raping and killing fourteen-year-old Abeer Kassem Hamza al-Janabi and killing her parents and five-year-old sister. Green was given the life term after jurors couldn’t come to unanimous agreement on sentencing him to death. Three other soldiers have also been sentenced to life in prison in the case.

UN Launches Appeal for Pakistan Refugees

In Pakistan, the UN is appealing for more than $500 million dollars in aid to help the hundreds of thousands displaced by clashes between government troops and Taliban fighters. Some two million people have fled their homes in the Swat valley following last month’s collapse of a government-Taliban truce. UN humanitarian coordinator Martin Mogwanja said the displacements have caused “incredible suffering.”

Adm. Mullen: Afghan Occupation Could “Further Destabilize” Pakistan

Meanwhile, the Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen, has admitted the escalation of the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan could end up worsening Pakistan’s internal unrest. Speaking before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Mullen said: “We may end up further destabilizing Pakistan without providing substantial lasting improvements in Afghanistan.” He continued*: “Can I… [be] 100% certain that won’t destabilize Pakistan? I don’t know the answer to that.”

Anti-War Protesters Disrupt Senate Hearing

The hearing was briefly interrupted by four anti-war activists protesting the occupation of Afghanistan. The protesters threw money stained with blood and shouted “stop pouring blood money into warfare.” One demonstrator stood up to repeat the words of committee chair Senator John Kerry when he testified as an anti-war veteran during the Vietnam war*: “How do you ask someone to be the last American soldier to die for a mistake?” The activists are members of the National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance.

Obama to Sign Credit Card Bill

President Obama is expected to sign a bill today imposing new regulations on the credit card industry. The final measure excludes stronger proposals that would have capped interest rates and fees. The bill has drawn criticism from gun control advocates over an amendment that would allow people to carry loaded guns in national parks.

15 Anti-Coal Activists Arrested in Sit-In

In other news from Washington, fifteen people were arrested Thursday protesting Democratic Congressmember Rick Boucher over his support for the coal industry. The activists say Boucher has led efforts to weaken the Waxman-Markey climate and energy bill while inserting billions of dollars in incentives for coal companies.

Spanish Judge Reinstates Charges Against U.S. Troops in Bouso Killing

In Spain, charges have been reinstated against three U.S. soldiers in the killing of the Jose Couso. A Spanish journalist, Couso died when U.S. troops shelled Baghdad’s Palestine Hotel in April 2003. Ukrainian cameraman Taras Protsyuk also died in the attack. On Thursday, a Spanish judge revived the case against Sgt. Shawn Gibson, Capt. Philip Wolford and Lt. Col. Philip DeCamp over what he called new evidence. Initial charges were dropped after Spain’s National Court dismissed the case. Jose Couso’s brother, Javier Couso, welcomed the reinstatement.

Javier Couso: “The success of what’s happening today is thanks to a joint effort not just of the justice system but of the civil testament in our country. This case was very important here. Jose gave a face to the victims in the Iraq war. It made many very indignant and we all saw it. It was an attack against the press.”

The judge, Santiago Pedraz, says the new evidence includes eyewitness testimony contradicting U.S. claims the tank that attacked the Palestine Hotel came under fire. One year ago, former Army Sergeant Adrienne Kinne told Democracy Now! she saw the Palestine hotel on a military target list and said she frequently intercepted calls from journalists staying there.

Morales Calls for Shift in U.S.-Bolivia Ties

In Bolivia, President Evo Morales is calling for a new phase in relations with the United States. The Bush administration funneled tens of millions of dollars to Morales’ opponents in an effort to destibilize his government. Bolivia expelled the U.S. ambassador last year over allegations of conspiring with opposition groups. On Thursday, Morales held talks with Thomas Shannon, the assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs.

Bolivian President Evo Morales: “On the issue of cooperation, whatever cooperation that is undertaken must be from state to state. On the issue of investment, the investment must be orientated towards having partners, and the investment must not just made to guarantee the plunder of groups, without any benefit for the people of Bolivia.”

Netanyahu: Israel Won’t Allow Division of Jerusalem

In Israel and the Occupied Territories, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has declared Israel will never cede control over all of Jerusalem. Palestinians have called for sovereignty over East Jerusalem as part of any future peace deal. But on Thursday, Netanyahu said Jerusalem will remain undivided.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: “A united Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. Jerusalem was and will always be ours. It shall never be divided and split again.”

Netanyahu’s comments come just three days after his White House meeting with President Obama where he pledged to seek peace with Palestinians.

Report: GM to Enter Bankruptcy

Back in the United States, the Washington Post is reporting the Obama administration plans to steer General Motors into bankruptcy as early as next week. The move would enable GM to take out nearly $30 billion dollars in additional government loans. Meanwhile the government has increased the bailout of GM’s financing arm, GMAC, with an additional $7.5 billion dollars in taxpayer money on top of the $5 billion it’s already poured in.

Fed Closes Florida’s BankUnited FSB

Federal regulators have shut down the Florida-based savings bank BankUnited FSB. The bank was the largest banking institution headquartered in Florida, and the 34th federally-insured financial institution shut down this year.

AIG CEO to Step Down

And the bailed-out insurance giant AIG has announced Edward Liddy will resign as chair and CEO. Liddy has led AIG since the U.S. government bailed it out last September with what’s grown to a $180 billion dollar commitment.

Headlines: Court Rules U.S. Can Hold Prisoners Without Charge; Gaza War Crimes Probe to Hold Public Hearings

Democracy Now Headlines: Court Rules U.S. Can Hold Prisoners Without Charge; Gaza War Crimes Probe to Hold Public Hearings

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.

60 Killed in Multiple Iraq Bombings

At least 60 people have been killed in several attacks around Iraq over the last day. Earlier today at least 12 Iraqi civilians were killed when a suicide bomber hit a U.S. convoy in Baghdad. Seven members of a U.S.-backed Sunni militia died when a suicide bomber attacked their base in Kirkuk. The attacks come one day after 41 people were killed and another 70 wounded in a car bomb attack on a Shiite neighborhood in Baghdad.

8 Afghan Civilians Killed in NATO Attack

In Afghanistan, at least eight civilians have been killed in a NATO bombing in the southern Helmand province. NATO says its forces were responding to nearby insurgent gunfire. The attack came after Afghan President Hamid Karzai renewed a demand for an end to U.S.-led air strikes following last month’s bombing deaths of an estimated 140 people. The Pentagon meanwhile is now reviving its attempt to downplay the toll, saying between 20 to 30 civilians were killed.

Report: Afghan Insurgents Demand Timetable for U.S. Withdrawal

Meanwhile the New York Times reports leaders of the Taliban and other groups are discussing a potential peace agreement through intermediaries. The militant groups are reportedly demanding a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops as a precondition for laying down their arms.

Senate Removes Gitmo Closure Funding

Senate Democrats have followed through with a pledge to block funding for the closure of the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay. On Wednesday, the Democratic-led Senate voted 90 to six to remove $80 million dollars from a war appropriations bill that would have gone towards closing Guantanamo Bay and investigating torture there. Lawmakers have called on Obama to submit details on his plans for closing Guantanamo. Democratic Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois was one of the six to vote against stripping the funds.

Sen. Dick Durbin: “What happened in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo has sullied the reputation of the United States and has endangered alliances which we have counted on for decades. President Obama is trying to change that. By closing Guantanamo and responsibly allocating those detainees to safe and secure positions he is going to send a message to the world that it is a new day in terms of American foreign policy.”

Obama Considers “Preventative Detention” for Indefinite Jailings

The Obama administration meanwhile is reportedly considering a “preventive detention” system that would indefinitely jail terror suspects in the United States without bringing them to trial. The New York Times reports President Obama discussed the proposal at a meeting with human rights advocates at the White House. Two anonymous advocates told the Times that Obama indicated he favored applying the system to future cases, not prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay. Obama is set to deliver a speech later today outlining his plans on how to deal with closing Guantanamo.

Court Rules U.S. Can Hold Prisoners Without Charge

A federal judge has ruled the government can continue to indefinitely jail prisoners without charge. In a ruling this week, U.S. District Judge John Bates said anyone determined to have engaged in clashes with the U.S. military or its allies, or to have belonged to the Taliban or Al Qaeda can be held without trial. But Bates also rejected the Obama administration’s assertion it can jail anyone who “supports” those groups. The ruling came in a case challenging the jailing of several Guantanamo prisoners.

Pentagon Report Says 1 in 7 Freed Gitmo Prisoners Engage in Militancy

A newly-disclosed Pentagon report says that about one in seven of the 534 prisoners released from Guantanamo Bay have gone on to engage in militant activity. Opponents of due process rights are expected to use the report to advance their arguments in favor of the continued indefinite jailing of Guantanamo prisoners. But as with prior claims, the Pentagon report offers few details and prevents independent verification. Of the 74 prisoners said to have engaged in militancy after their release, only five can be independently verified to have actually engaged in or threatened to carry out militant acts. The report also fails to say how many of the former prisoners were believed to have gone on to militant activity as a result of their torture at Guantanamo. The most deadly act by a former Guantanamo prisoner was carried out by Kuwaiti national Abdallah al-Ajmi, who drove a bomb-laden truck into an Iraqi army base in March 2008, killing thirteen 13 people. Al-Ajmi’s attorney has said he was radicalized and left mentally unstable following his four years at Guantanamo.

Blackwater Contractors Flee Afghanistan to Avoid Charges

Two US contractors with the private military firm formerly known as Blackwater have reportedly fled Afghanistan to avoid prosecution for a fatal unprovoked shooting earlier this month. The two fleeing contractors and another two colleagues reportedly fired on a vehicle in Kabul after a night of drinking. One Afghan civilian was killed and another two wounded in the attack. The contractors say Blackwater supplied them with guns even though the Pentagon hadn’t granted them authorization. Defense attorney Daniel Callahan identified the two fleeing contractors as Steve McClain and Justin Cannon. Callahan says they fled their compound on Saturday and have now made it back to the United States.

Probe: U.S. Gave KBR $83M in Bonuses Despite Electrocutions

A Congressional probe has found the U.S. Army paid more than $83 million dollars in bonuses to the military contractor KBR despite its responsibility for the electrocution deaths of at least four troops in Iraq. On Wednesday, Senate Democratic Policy Committee chair Byron Dorgan accused the military of ‘stunning incompetence’ for rewarding KBR. In addition to the four electrocution deaths, hundreds of troops have received electrical shocks because of KBR’s electrical work in Iraq. The committee’s probe says more than half of the bonuses were awarded after the Pentagon first heeded warnings about the electrocutions. KBR is a former subsidiary of Halliburton, the company formerly run by Dick Cheney.

Gaza War Crimes Probe to Hold Public Hearings

A United Nations commission says its facing obstacles from the Israeli government ahead of its probe of alleged war crimes during Israel’s three-week assault on Gaza earlier this year. The commission is probing allegations of war crimes committed by both Israeli forces and Hamas fighters. But inquiry head Richard Goldstone says his team will likely have to enter Gaza through Egypt because Israel has refused to cooperate.

Richard Goldstone: “It would have been our wish to start there, to visit southern Israel, Sderot, to go into Gaza through the front door to go to the West Bank, which is also included in our mission. I made a number of approaches to the Israeli ambassador in Geneva even a direct approach to Prime Minister Netanyahu, but we’ve really received no official response.”

Goldstone says his team plans on holding public hearings for Gaza residents to share their testimony. More than fourteen hundred Palestinians were killed during the Israeli attack, most of them civilians. Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said Israel will ignore the inquiry’s mission.

Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon: “We have shown the U.N. all the documents, all the data and I think we’ll put this issue behind us. And certainly, there should never be a moral equivalency drawn between terrorists and those who fight terrorism and any attempt to try to single out Israel and to investigate this preposterous suggestion of war crimes is just ridiculous and of course Israel will not cooperate with such an idea.”

U.S. Pledges $110M for Pakistani Refugees

In Pakistan, the UN is warning the exodus of Swat valley residents fleeing government-Taliban clashes could turn into the worst displacement crisis since the Rwandan genocide. Around 2 million people have fled their homes since fighting broke out three weeks ago. The Obama administration meanwhile has pledged $110 million dollars in humanitarian aid for the displaced refugees. Critics have called the pledge a PR move as the U.S. has put increasing pressure on the Pakistani government to engage in the fighting that has caused the displacements.

Bolivia, U.S. Hold First Talks Since Ambassador Row

In Bolivia, U.S. and Bolivian officials have held their first talks since last year’s expulsion of a U.S. ambassador on allegations of aiding the opposition to President Evo Morales. On Wednesday, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Thomas Shannon met with Bolivia’s foreign minister in La Paz.

Bolivia to De-Classify Dictatorship Records

In other news from Bolivia, lawmakers have voted to declassify archives that could hold information on victims of Bolivian dictartorships from 1960 to 1980. A group of relatives of those disappeared under the dictatorships have been on a hunger strike seeking the documents’ release. Olga Flores Bedegal is one of three women on the fifteenth day of the hunger strike.

Olga Flores Bedegal: “Right now we think it’s a clear sign that the government intends to clear up this dark time in Bolivia’s history and answer our questions about where our relatives are. Once we see the results and it’s what we want we will lift the strike. If not, we are willing to die. What we are asking for, no less or no more, is that they follow the law, that they comply with the Inter-American convention against the disappearance of people.”

4 Arrested in Synagogue, Air Base Bombing Plot

Here in New York, four people have been arrested over an alleged plot to bomb two Jewish synagogues and a National Guard air base. The suspects were arrested after planting what they believed to be bombs outside a synagogue. New York police commissioner Ray Kelly said the bombs were actually fake and had been supplied by an FBI informant.

Ray Kelly: “In essence, four individuals were arrested for planting bombs in front of two synegogues in the area. The bombs had been made by the FBI technicians–they were totally inert, no one was ever at risk or danger of being injured this evening. This was a year-long investigation and Director Demeris can give you some information about that.”

Kelly says the suspects have been under investigation for over a year. All four are Muslim. One of the suspects is of Afghan descent and reportedly said he was motivated by anger over the U.S. invasion and occupation of Afghanistan.

Missouri Executes Dennis Skillicorn

In Missouri, the death row prisoner Dennis Skillicorn was executed Wednesday after a last failed attempt at clemency. Skillicorn was convicted for the 1994 murder of a commuter who had stopped to help him and two other men. But the court that tried him never got to hear that Skillicorn didn’t actually commit the murder and that the killer claimed Skillicorn didn’t know it was going to take place. I interviewed Amnesty International USA executive director Larry Cox about Dennis Skillicorn on Tuesday’s broadcast.

Larry Cox: “This illustrates one of the central truths about the death penalty, that the person you kill is often not the same person who committed the crime. He has become a model prisoner. He has reached out to the victims of crime, to restorative justice. He’s worked in a hospice. He has helped young offenders. And that’s the reason why you have this incredible assembly of people from the Corrections Department, you have Republicans, you have Democrats, you have people of faith, all speaking out, saying, “What purpose could possibly be served by killing this man, who has become, by all accounts, a very good man?”

Judges, Attorners Back Troy Davis Appeal

And a group of 27 former judges and prosecutors is asking the Supreme Court to grant an appeal by the Georgia death row prisoner Troy Anthony Davis. Davis, an African American, was convicted for the 1989 killing of a white police officer. Seven of the nine non-police witnesses have recanted their testimony since the trial. Three witnesses say another man later admitted to the killing. There is also no direct physical evidence tying Davis to the crime scene. In a filing to the Supreme Court, the group urged the Supreme Court to accept a final appeal from Davis’ attorneys to have the case sent back to a federal judge to hear from the witnesses who recanted their testimony. The signatories include former Deputy U.S. Attorney General Larry Thompson; two former state Supreme Court chief justices; and nine former U.S. attorneys, including former Georgia Congressmember Bob Barr and former FBI Director William Sessions.

Headlines: Obama Unveils Vehicle Mileage, Emissions Standards; Senate Democrats Block Funds to Close Guantanamo Bay Prison

Democracy Now Headlines: Obama Unveils Vehicle Mileage, Emissions Standards; Senate Democrats Block Funds to Close Guantanamo Bay Prison

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 Dems Block Funds for Gitmo Closure

Senate Democrats are refusing to finance the closure of the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay until the Obama administration submits a detailed plan. On Tuesday, Democratic leaders said they would reject an $80 million request to relocate Guantanamo’s 240 prisoners and vowed to block the transfer of any prisoners into the United States. The move follows a similar action by House Democrats last week. It could mean delaying President Obama’s promise to close the Guantanamo Bay prison by at least several months.

Senate Approves Credit Card Bill

The Senate has voted to impose new regulation on the credit card industry. The measure would give credit card companies a nine-month deadline to comply with new rules including a 45-day notice and an explanation before raising customers’ interest rates. They’d also be forced to post agreements on the internet and allow online bill payments without added fees. The measure is weaker than original versions that included an amendment to cap interest rates at fifteen percent. Other defeated proposals would have protected consumers from spending money they don’t have and limited how companies impose new fees. Meanwhile the New York Times reports banks are now considering a series of measures to recoup their anticipated lost profits from the new rules. The moves include imposing new annual fees and curbing cash-back and rewards programs to sterling borrowers. The House is expected to vote on the credit card bill as early as today. A final version could be held up by an amendment added to the Senate bill that would allow people to carry loaded guns in national parks. House leaders say they might vote separately on that proposal.

Admin Mulls New Regulatory Body for Financial Products

The Obama administration is reportedly mulling proposals for a new regulatory commission overseeing financial products and services including mortgages, credit cards and mutual funds. The proposed commission would be tasked with ensuring loans and other financial products are structured and marketed fairly.

Obama Unveils Vehicle Mileage, Emissions Standards

President Obama has unveiled new national emissions and mileage requirements for cars and light trucks. The rules aim to cut emissions by 30 percent and require passenger cars to average thirty-nine miles per gallon by 2016. On Tuesday, Obama noted the rules are the first to impose federal regulations on car emissions in the United States.

President Obama: “For the first time in history, we have set in motion a national policy aimed at both increasing gas mileage and decreasing greenhouse gas pollution for all new trucks and cars sold in the United States of America.”

The White House estimates the regulations would reduce emissions of greenhouse gases by 900 million metric tons over the lifetime of more efficient vehicles. Appearing with Obama at the White House, California Governor Arnold Schwarzeneger praised the new rules.

California Governor Arnold Schwarzeneger: “We are very happy this has happened because it means a reduction of one-third of greenhouse gases and one-third of oil consumption. As you have heard the President said–this is reducing oil consumption by 1.8 billion gallons of oil. This is staggering. It’s the equivalent of taking 55 million cars off the road.”

U.S.-Russia Panel Says Missile Shield Wouldn’t Work

A joint American-Russian commission has concluded the proposed U.S. missile defense system in Eastern Europe would be ineffective against the types of Iranian missiles it would purportedly aim to stop. The Bush administration launched the program under the pretense it would protect Europe against Iran, but it’s widely seen as a far-strike weapon. The commission of U.S.-Russia scientists bolsters that perception. In their report for the EastWest Institute, the scientists say Iran is highly unlikely to produce a nuclear-tipped missile, and the proposed defense shield wouldn’t be able to stop one anyway. The scientists say Iran is years away from producing a nuclear warhead and could only do so with major and highly visible foreign assistance. It also notes Iran would be further unlikely to launch an attack because doing so would assure its own destruction through U.S. retaliation. The Obama administration has so far continued with the missile program but hinted it could be open to its cancellation.

Sri Lanka Blocks Aid Workers from Reaching Displaced

In Sri Lanka, the government continues to prevent aid workers from reaching some 300,000 people displaced in the fight with Tamil Tiger rebels. Earlier this week the Sri Lankan government declared victory after a twenty-six year war. The Times of London reports Sri Lanka is blocking the UN from reaching government run-camps housing refugees. There are fears camp populations will be hit with an outbreak of contagious diseases including hepatitis and dysentery.

Palestinian Authority Installs New Cabinet

In the Occupied Territories, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has sworn in a new cabinet to head the Palestinian Authority. Former Prime Minister Salam Fayyad was re-instated to his old post, along with several other members of the Fatah faction. Fayyad denied reports of renewed talks between Palestinian officials and Israeli leaders despite ongoing Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank.

Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad: “I don’t think it’s really the right time to be talking about negotiation, when in fact there are understandings and agreements that have been reached that require immediate implementation. I don’t think Mr. Netanyahu set the right tone by clearly avoiding any reference to the possibility of a solution concept that has become a matter of the national consensus, namely the two-state solution.”

Meanwhile in Gaza, Hamas spokesperson Fawzi Barhoum rejected the cabinet as illegitimate amidst ongoing national unity talks brokered by Egypt.

Fawzi Barhoum: “The formation of the government by Abu Mazen in the West Bank will reinforce the political chaos, judicial and legislative, which he is carrying out over there in the West Bank. This is considered to be a deliberate sabotage of the internal Palestinian dialogue and threatens the negotiations slated to take place in the future in Cairo.”

2 Americans Killed in Afghan Attack

In Afghanistan, two Americans have been killed in a roadside bombing near Kabul. The Pentagon says the victims were a U.S. soldier and a military contractor.

Pentagon: Blackwater Contractors Weren’t Allowed to Carry Weapons

In other news from Afghanistan, the Pentagon says four US contractors with the company formerly known as Blackwater weren’t authorized to carry weapons when they fired on an approaching vehicle in Kabul earlier this month. At least one Afghan civilian was killed and another two wounded in the attack. The contractors were off-duty at the time and had been reportedly drinking. The contractors now say Blackwater officials had supplied them with the guns in violation of their military contract.

Spanish Lawmakers Vote to Restrict Foreign Probes

In Spain, lawmakers are trying to block their judiciary’s war crimes investigations of foreign governments including the United States. On Tuesday, Spain’s Congress voted to limit judges’ jurisdiction to cases with a clear Spanish connection. Spain’s National Court is currently investigating 13 foreign cases under the principle of universal jurisdiction. They include the torture of U.S. prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip. The Spanish vote follows weeks of pressure by foreign governments seeking to curb the investigations. It’s unclear whether the vote will apply to the current cases or only to future ones.

Obama Envoys Disclose Speaking, Consulting Fees

Newly-disclosed financial statements show two top Obama administration envoys received hundreds of thousands of in consulting and speaking fees last year. Dennis Ross, who serves as special advisor for Iran, received more than $200,000 in speaking fees from pro-Israeli government groups. Ross refused to disclose how much he earned for appearances on the cable news network Fox News. Meanwhile, Obama’s envoy for Pakistan and Afghanistan, Richard Holbrooke, reported $1.7 million in income last year. Holbrooke’s earnings included more than $300,000 as a consultant for Coca-Cola and $10,000 for serving as a director on the board of the bailed-out insurance giant AIG.

U.S. Priest Slain in Guatemala

A U.S. priest who helped expose abuses by the Brazilian military dictatorship during the 1970s has been killed in Guatemala. The Reverend Lawrence Rosebaugh died Monday in a robbery attack by masked gunmen. He was 74 years old. In 1977, Rosebaugh hand-delivered a letter to First Lady Rosalynn Carter detailing his abuse at the hands of Brazilian forces, helping to bring international attention on the Brazilian dictatorship.

Uruguyan Writer Mario Benedetti Dies at 88

And the Uruguyan writer Mario Benedetti has died at the age of 88. A popular novelist and playwright, Benedetti was also an outspoken political commentator, criticizing U.S. intervention in Latin America and the Cuban embargo.

Headlines: Obama Criticized for Reviving Military Commissions; Obama Administration OKs New Mountaintop Removal Permits

Democracy Now Headlines: Obama Criticized for Reviving Military Commissions; Obama Administration OKs New Mountaintop Removal Permits

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.

Tamil Tiger Leader Killed; Sri Lanka Claims Victory

Sri Lanka’s quarter-century long civil war is in its final throes, with the militant Tamil separatist group, the Tamil Tigers almost completely defeated. The leader of the Tamil Tigers, Velupillai Prabhakaran, was reportedly killed earlier today while trying to flee in an ambulance. Several other senior Tamil Tigers have also been found dead. On Sunday the Sri Lankan military claimed victory after the Tamil Tigers said it was “prepared to silence its guns” and admitted that the fighting had reached a “bitter end.” An estimated 8,000 civilians have been killed in Sri Lanka since January when the military intensified it attack on the separatist group. We’ll have more on Sri Lanka after headlines.

Rumsfeld Covered Briefing Papers in Biblical Texts

GQ Magazine has revealed former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld repeatedly placed Biblical quotes on President Bush’s top-secret briefings during the early days of the invasion of Iraq. One briefing paper showed an image of a U.S. soldier in Baghdad below the Biblical quote: “Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed.” Another briefing paper included a photograph of a U.S. tank next to the quote “Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.” A third briefing paper showed U.S. tanks entering an Iraqi city alongside the quote “Open the gates that the righteous nation may enter, the nation that keeps faith.” Some Pentagon officials were concerned that, if Rumsfeld’s top secret briefings were ever leaked, they could be interpreted as a suggestion that the war was a battle against Islam. One Pentagon official warned the fallout “would be as bad as Abu Ghraib.”

Obama Criticized For Reviving Military Commissions

Human rights organizations are criticizing President Obama’s decision to revive the military tribunal system for Guantanamo Bay prisoners despite the administration’s pledge to grant prisoners expanded legal rights.

Stacy Sullivan of Human Rights Watch: “This has been tried before. The first round of military commissions were struck down by the Supreme Court. They were revived under slightly improved rules and once again they were still profoundly unfair. They allowed coerced evidence into the courtroom and they had terrible hearsay rules, the judges didn’t even know what the rules were. The proceedings were totally chaotic. This will be the third time that there is an effort to resurrect the military commissions and we have absolutely no faith that they are going to be any better, even if you do improve the rules slightly.”

On Friday President Obama unveiled new legal protections for prisoners in the renewed system. These include bans on hearsay evidence and evidence obtained through torture, as well as giving prisoners more leeway in selecting their military counsel.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs defended the tribunal system.

Robert Gibbs: “The president, as I said, during the debate said that properly structured military commissions had a role to play. The changes that he is seeking, he believes, will ensure the protections that are necessary for these to be conducted in order to reach that certain justice, as well as live up to our values.”

Report: U.S. Special Forces Sent Into Pakistan

The Wall Street Journal reports the U.S. is sending Special Forces into Pakistan to train Pakistan’s Frontier Corps, a paramilitary force responsible for battling the Taliban and al Qaeda fighters. Twenty-five to fifty Special Forces personnel are deploying to two new training camps in Baluchistan, a Taliban stronghold on the Afghan-Pakistani border. A senior American military officer said he hoped Islamabad would gradually allow the U.S. to expand its training footprint inside Pakistan’s borders.

Report: 1,000 Suspected Taliban Killed in Pakistan

The Pakistani military is now claiming it has killed more than 1,000 suspected Taliban fighters along the Afghan border. Pakistan is considering widening its offensive to outside of the Swat Valley. Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari told the Sunday Times of London: “Swat is just the start. It’s a larger war to fight.” The military offensive in the Swat Valley has already displaced more than a million people.

29 Killed in U.S. Drone Strike in Pakistan

Meanwhile the U.S. has carried out another drone strike inside Pakistan, killing as many as 29 people Saturday in South Waziristan.

Brother of Afghan President Survives Attack

In Afghanistan, gunmen attacked the convoy of President Hamid Karzai’s brother earlier today. Ahmad Wali Karzai survived but the gunmen killed one of his bodyguards.

Blackwater Guards Shot Civilian Car In Afghanistan

Four U.S. contractors affiliated with the company formerly known as Blackwater fired on an approaching civilian vehicle in Kabul earlier this month, wounding at least two Afghan civilians. The contractors were off duty at the time and had been reportedly drinking.

Obama Addresses Abortion Debate At Notre Deame

During his commencement address at the University of Notre Dame, President Barack Obama called on both sides of the abortion debate to tone down their rhetoric and search for common ground.

President Obama: “The fact is that at some level, the views of the two camps are irreconcilable. Each side will continue to make its case to the public with passion and conviction. But surely we can do so without reducing those with differing views to caricature.”

About 40 people were arrested at Notre Dame Sunday protesting President Obama’s support of abortion rights.

Aung San Suu Kyi Put on Trial in Burma

Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi went on trial today on charges of breaking the conditions of her house arrest after a US man swam to her home. If convicted she faces a further five years in detention. Aung San Suu Kyi has spent most of the last 19 years in detention. We’ll have more on Burma later in the show.

Obama and Netanyahu to Meet in Washington

President Barack Obama is meeting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Washington today. Obama is expected to ask Netanyahu to freeze Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank while Netanyahu is expected to stress that “time is running out” for stopping Iran’s nuclear program. The meeting comes as reports emerge that Israel has begun constructing a new settlement in the northern West Bank for the first time in 26 years. Tenders have been issued for 20 housing units in the new Maskiot settlement and contractors have arrived on site to begin foundational work.

The group Israeli Peace Now movement called the move proof that “Netanyahu is not ready to commit to a two-state solution” and is striving to “prevent the creation of a Palestinian state.”

Four Kuwaiti Women Elected to Parliament

In Kuwait, a group of women have won election to the Kuwaiti parliament for the first time. The U.S.-educated economist Roula Dashti is one of four women who won seats.

Roula Dashti: “Change is coming to Kuwait; we want a culture of solutions to many issues we can cooperate in. We want a constructive debate and if it’s God’s will this period will be the period for building a nation”

Women in Kuwait gained the right to vote and to run for office in 2005.

Russian Police Break Up Gay Rights Parade

In Russia, riot police police broke up a peaceful gay rights parade in Moscow Saturday and detained 40 people. The march had been outlawed by Moscow authorities.

Obama Taps Republican Governor To Be China Envoy

President Obama has named Utah Governor Jon Huntsman to be the next U.S. ambassador to China. Huntsman is a Republican who had been mentioned as a potential Republican presidential candidate in 2012. Huntsman, who speaks Mandarin, served as deputy U.S. trade representative in the administration of President George Bush from 2001-2004. He also served as co-chair of Senator John McCain’s presidential campaign.

Jon Huntsman: “You have my commitment that we will take the U.S.-China relationship to new heights- focused on not just that which divides us but more importantly, that which unites us knowing that this will be critical for lasting peace and prosperity for citizens on both sides of the Pacific. I’m reminded of my favorite Chinese aphorism, it goes something like this: ‘Together we work, together we progress.’ This more than anything else I think captures the spirit of our journey going forward.”

General Electric Begins Dredging Hudson River

General Electric has begun dredging for PCBs in the Hudson River, 25 years after the contamination was deemed a federal Superfund site. GE discharged as much as 1.3 million pounds of PCBs into the Hudson before PCBs were banned in 1977. The contaminated sediment will be transported by train to a hazardous waste site in Andrews Texas near the New Mexico border. The Sierra Club in Texas has opposed the plan. Neil Carman said: “All they’re doing is relocating toxic waste, They’re moving a problem from one location to another [and] creating problems for future generations to solve.”

While GE is paying to clean up the river, the company is still challenging the constitutionality of the Superfund law in federal court.

Obama Taps GE Attorney To Be Nation’s Top Environmental Litigator

Meanwhile President Obama has tapped a top attorney at General Electric to be the nation’s top environmental litigator. If confirmed Ignacia Moreno would lead the Justice Department’s efforts to enforce environmental laws and defend federal regulations in lawsuits. Her selection has concerned many environmental groups. Frank O’Donnell of Clean Air Watch said: “It seems as if she has spent maybe more time defending polluters than prosecuting them.”

Obama Administration OKs New Mountaintop Removal Permits

In other environmental news, the Obama administration has given the green light for 42 more mountaintop removal permits dealing a victory for the coal industry. Mountaintop mining involves blowing off the tops of mountains to get at the coal underneath.

FBI Spied on Iowa Protesters Before Republican Convention

The Des Moines Register has revealed an FBI informant and an undercover Minnesota sheriff’s deputy spied on political activists in Iowa City last year before the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn. Confidential FBI documents obtained by paper provide in-depth descriptions of more than a dozen Iowa political activists. This includes personal information such as names, height, weight, place of employment, cell phone numbers and e-mail addresses. Some of the surveillance occurred when the activists met last year at the Iowa City Public Library.

Peruvian Indigenous Groups Fight Plans to Develop Natural Resources

And the Peruvian government has sent troops into the Amazon to squash protests by Peruvian indigenous groups who oppose plans develop the region’s natural resources. On Friday the Interethnic Association for the Development of the Peruvian Jungle called for an insurgency against new laws that open up natural resource sectors like gas, lumber and oil to private investors.

Indigenous leader Alberto Pizango: “The national committee for the struggle appointed by all of you has decided by expressed mandate to prepare itself to declare our (indigenous) communities as an insurgency against the government of Mr. Alan Garcia Perez… Insurgency means disobeying the government because of the mistreatment. They abuse us. They are killing our communities.”

Local/Michigan Headlines: Granholm Supreme Court News; Hoekstra Doesn’t Think Waterboarding is Torture

Grand Rapids and Michigan headlines from the past twenty-four hours:

  • Bias crime legislation vote put off by state House – Sponsors of a bias crime bill are delaying action in order to allow time to assess a series of amendments that have been proposed.
  • With governor as possible stealth nominee, legal observers ponder Justice Granholm – Michigan Messenger looks at what kind of Supreme Court Justice Governor Granholm would be. It’s difficult to predict since she doesn’t have a record of scholarly work or judicial opinions to review.
  • Right Michigan Calls Granholm a Tax Cheat–without Checking with the IRS – The conservative blog Right Michigan has been aggressively referring to Governor Jennifer Granholm as a “tax cheat,” saying that it will prevent her from being nominated for the Supreme Court while also asserting that it puts her in a similar category as other Obama nominees that had to bow out because of tax problems. However, the tax lien they take issue with was released last year according to Michigan Liberal. Ooops!
  • Hoekstra: Some waterboarding was legal – Representative Pete Hoekstra–and Republican candidate for governor in 2010–is now asserting that the waterboarding used by the United States in 2002 and 2003 was legal. Of course, he doesn’t mention that it has always been against U.S. law.
  • With contract ending in June, Dematic Corp. tells union workers it is considering moving their jobs to Memphis – A United Autoworkers (UAW) union contract is expiring in June and management has issued a letter threatening to move the facility to Tennessee. It’s a familiar script–try to force concessions from unions by threatening to move.
  • Police use of Tasers resparks debate following death of Bay City teen – Reading the headline, this story looked like it had potential. Perhaps the Grand Rapids Press would solicit comment from local law enforcement agencies on their usage of Tasers, talk to critics, and attempt looked into the issue in detail. Instead, the story is just a brief summary with the majority of comments focusing on an officer who trains other law enforcement officials in the use of Tasers. Oh, and it also has the seemingly obligatory selection of comments from The Press’ MLive.com website and an invitation for readers to join the discussion online.
  • FHA credit will give first-time home buyers $8,000 toward down payment – The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) is soon going to allow the $8,000 first-time home buyer tax credit to be used as a down payment towards a new home. It’s potentially very exciting news for people looking to purchase their first home. The Grand Rapids Press has reaction from local lenders and realtors.
  • State budget forecast: Cuts may grow to 8% – Lawmakers are saying that more cuts may be necessary in light of declining tax revenues, continued unemployment, and uncertainty over the future of the auto industry.

If we missed anything, leave a comment below.

Headlines: Healthcare Reform Discussed; Obama to Revive Military Commissions

Democracy Now Headlines: Healthcare Reform Discussed; Obama to Revive Military Commissions

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.

Health Industry Says Obama Overstated Pledge to Cut Costs

Health care industry leaders are now claiming President Obama substantially overstated their pledge this week to reduce costs. On Monday, President Obama stood by a group of executives and lobbyists from hospitals, insurance companies and drug manufacturers at the White House and said they’d agreed to cut health care costs by 1.5% per year, or $2 trillion over the next decade. But on Thursday, the companies said they never agreed to specific yearly cuts, but only vague, voluntary goals. According to the New York Times, the director of the White House Office of Health Reform, Nancy-Ann DeParle, initially said Obama had “misspoke” in announcing the pledge. But one hour later she reversed herself and said Obama accurately summarized the industry groups’ commitment. The meeting was held as part of industry efforts to stave off a single-payer universal health care system. It’s widely acknowledged a single-payer system would put insurance companies out of business because they wouldn’t be able to compete with its cheaper costs.

Obama Questioned on Single-Payer

At a town hall-style event in Rio Rancho, New Mexico Thursday, local resident Linda Allison asked President Obama why the White House and the Democratic-led Congress have ruled out single-payer.

Linda Allison: “My question is, so many people go bankrupt using their credit cards to pay for health care. Why have they taken single-payer off the plate? (Applause.) And why is Senator Baucus on the Finance Committee discussing health care when he has received so much money from the pharmaceutical companies? Isn’t it a conflict of interest?”

President Obama: “If I were starting a system from scratch, then I think that the idea of moving towards a single-payer system could very well make sense. That’s the kind of system that you have in most industrialized countries around the world. The only problem is that we’re not starting from scratch. We have historically a tradition of employer-based health care. And although there are a lot of people who are not satisfied with their health care, the truth is, is that the vast majority of people currently get health care from their employers and you’ve got this system that’s already in place. We don’t want a huge disruption as we go into health care reform where suddenly we’re trying to completely reinvent one-sixth of the economy.”

Obama did not address the second part of Linda Allison’s question about Democratic Senator Max Baucus, who has excluded single-payer advocates from Senate Finance Committee hearings. Allison says she was partly inspired to ask the question after viewing Democracy Now!’s coverage on Wednesday of single-payer advocates who disrupted Baucus’ hearing.

House Dems Propose Government-Run Health Plan

In other health care news, House Democrats have drafted a proposal that would require all Americans to buy health insurance and provide government subsidies for premiums to families with household incomes of up to $88,000 dollars. Employers would be forced to offer health coverage to employees or help fund it through a payroll tax. The proposal also calls for the creation of a new government insurance plan to compete with private companies. The proposed government plan would be run by the Department of Health and Human Services.

House Passes $97B War Funding Bill

The House has approved a nearly $97 billion dollar spending bill funding the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. The measure includes $1 billion dollars in military and economic assistance to Pakistan. Lawmakers stripped a provision that would have granted $80 million dollars towards the closure the US prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The final vote was 368 to 60, with a bloc of 51 anti-war Democrats voting in opposition. The Senate Appropriations Committee meanwhile has approved a $93 billion dollar version of the bill that includes the Guantanamo funding but bars the transfer of any prisoners to U.S. soil.

Obama to Revive Military Comissions

President Obama is expected to announce today plans to revive the military tribunal system for a small number of Guantanamo Bay prisoners. Obama shut down the military trials shortly after taking office as part of his repudiation of Bush administration policies in the so-called war on terror. According to the Associated Press, Obama will unveil new legal protections for prisoners in the renewed system. These include bans on hearsay evidence and evidence obtained through torture, as well as giving prisoners more leeway in selecting their military counsel. As a Senator, Obama supported an earlier proposal for establishing the military commissions but later opposed the final version approved by Congress. Human rights groups are criticizing Obama’s reversal. Jonathan Hafetz of the American Civil Liberties Union said: “There’s no detainee at Guantanamo who cannot be tried and shouldn’t be tried in the regular federal courts system… This is perpetuating the Bush administration’s misguided detention policy.”

Pelosi Accuses CIA of Misleading Congress on Torture

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is accusing the CIA of deliberately misleading Congress about the torture of foreign prisoners. Pelosi made the charge Thursday in acknowledging she first learnt of the waterboarding of CIA prisoners in 2003. Republicans have pointed to Pelosi’s involvement in torture briefings to deflect scrutiny of Bush administration officials. This week the CIA released documents showing Pelosi was briefed on CIA waterboarding in September 2002. But Pelosi insisted she was told waterboarding wasn’t being used then and said secrecy rules forced her to remain silent when she learnt more details several months later.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi: “The CIA briefed me only once on enhanced interrogation techniques in September 2002, in my capacity as ranking member of the intelligence committee. I was informed then that the Department of Justice opinions had concluded that the use of Enhanced Interrogation Techniques were legal. The only mention of waterboarding at that briefing was that it was not being employed.”

Pelosi has called on the CIA to release detailed records of her 2002 briefing. The CIA meanwhile has denied a request from former Vice President Dick Cheney to release full records of prisoner interrogations to prove Bush administration torture tactics yielded valuable intelligence. Critics have dismissed Cheney’s call as political posturing because of the likelihood the CIA would reject his request.

Insurance Firms to Receive Billions in Taxpayer Aid

The Treasury Department has confirmed six major insurance companies are poised to receive billions of dollars in new taxpayer aid. The Treasury has given preliminary approval for granting assistance to Hartford Financial Services Group, Prudential Financial, Lincoln National, Allstate, Ameriprise and Principal Financial Group. Hartford says it could receive up to $3.4 billion.

Foreclosure Notices Hit Record in April

New figures show a record number of homes faced foreclosure last month. According to RealtyTrac, 342,000 homes received foreclosure notices in April, a one percent increase from March. Nearly 64,000 homes were repossessed, bringing the total number to more than 1.3 million since August 2007.

Chrysler, GM to Close Dealerships Nationwide

The auto giant Chrysler has announced plans to close nearly 800 dealerships across the country, or one quarter of its retail chain. General Motors is expected to follow suit today with the announcement of 1,000 dealerships it plans to fold. Taken together, the announcements could affect an estimated 89,000 workers.

Palestinians Mark 61st Anniversary of Al-Nakba

In Israel and the Occupied Territories, Palestinians marked the 61st anniversary of Al-Nahba Thursday, the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians during the founding of the state of Israel in 1948. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Palestinians maintain their national aspirations despite more than six decades of dispossession and occupation.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas: “We are clinging to our national beliefs, to establish our own independent state, with Jerusalem as its capital, and the right of return for refugees in the framework of a just and agreed solution, based on U.N. resolution 194.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meanwhile is set to meet with President Obama at the White House on Monday.

Suu Kyi Faces Trial, Loss of Home

In Burma, the pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi is set to go on trial Monday for an uninvited visit by a US citizen who swam across a lake to reach her home. The Burmese junta says John Yettaw spent two days in Suu Kyi’s home before he was captured as he made his way out. Suu Kyi’s attorneys say Yettaw ignored her pleas to leave and spent a night sleeping on a ground floor. On Thursday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemned the charges.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: “We oppose the regime’s efforts to use this incident as a pretext to place further unjustified restrictions on her. Therefore we call on the Burmese authorities to release her immediately and unconditionally along with her doctor and the more than 2100 political prisoners.”

The trial appears to come as part of an effort by the junta to force Suu Kyi to give up her home. She has spent 13 of the last 19 years under house arrest.

Houston Spiritual Leader Freed on Bail

Back in the United States, the Houston-based spiritual leader Sheikh Zoubir Bouchikhi has been released on bond after four months in a private immigration jail. Imam Zoubir has lived in the U.S. for the past eleven years. He was jailed in December after U.S. immigration rescinded his green card approval and rejected his application for permanent residency status as a religious minister. Immigration officials arrested him at his home and led him away in handcuffs in front of his wife and four children. I interviewed Imam Zoubir last month after he called in from the private jail.

Sheikh Zoubir Bouchikhi: “I strongly believe that I am targeted because of my political views, especially I was against the war in Iraq, against bombing innocent civilians in Lebanon in 2006, and for my clear stance that I am pro-democracy and values that this country was founded on. And they don’t want for somebody who is free-minded and outspoken.”

Imam Zoubir’s release follows a grassroots campaign to pressure immigration officials to set him free. He is out on a $20,000 dollar bond.

N.H. Governor to Sign Gay Marriage Bill

And in New Hampshire, Governor John Lynch has vowed to sign a bill legalizing gay marriage. State lawmakers passed the measure earlier this month. Lynch says he’ll endorse it after legislators make changes to protect churches from lawsuits if they decline to officiate over gay marriages.

Headlines: Obama Reverses Pledge to Release Photos of Prisoner Abuse; Senate Defeats Proposal to Cap Credit Card Rates

Democracy Now Headlines: Obama Reverses Pledge to Release Photos of Prisoner Abuse; Senate Defeats Proposal to Cap Credit Card Rates

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: Admin Mulling Indefinite Jailing of Gitmo Prisoners in US

The Wall Street Journal is reporting the Obama administration is considering holding foreign prisoners indefinitely and without trial following the planned closure of the US military jail at Guantanamo Bay. The plan would revive the military commission tribunals that President Obama ended shortly after taking office. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham says current proposals include establishing some form of national security court that would authorize the indefinite imprisonment.

Obama Reverses Pledge to Release Photos of Prisoner Abuse

The Obama administration, meanwhile, has reneged on a pledge to release several dozen photos showing the torture and abuse of prisoners at overseas CIA and military jails. Last month, the Justice Department chose not to challenge an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit seeking the photos’ release. But after indications he was having second thoughts, President Obama confirmed Wednesday he will block the photos’ release.

President Obama: “The publication of these photos would not add any additional benefit to our understanding of what was carried out in the past by a small number of individuals. In fact, the most direct consequence of releasing them, I believe, would be to further inflame anti-American opinion and to put our troops in greater danger. Moreover, I fear the publication of these photos may only have a chilling effect on future investigations of detainee abuse.”

Around forty-three photos had been set for release. The military is believed to have as many as 2,000 photos depicting prisoner abuse. Amrit Singh, an ACLU lawyer who argued the case, said, “This essentially renders meaningless President Obama’s pledge of transparency and accountability that he made in the early days after taking office… [The Obama administration] has essentially become complicit with the torture that was rampant during the Bush years by being complicit in its coverup.”

FBI Agent, Ex-State Dept. Official Detail Torture Objections

The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the interrogation of foreign prisoners Wednesday, the first such hearing since President Obama released the Bush administration legal memos authorizing torture. Testifying behind a wooden screen to protect his identity, former FBI agent Ali Soufan said the Bush administration’s so-called enhanced interrogation techniques were “slow, ineffective, unreliable and harmful.”

Ali Soufan: “From my experience, I strongly believe that it is a mistake to use what has become known as enhanced interrogation techniques, a position shared by professional operatives, including CIA officers who were present at the initial phases of the Abu Zubaydah interrogation. These techniques, from an operational perspective, are slow, ineffective, unreliable and harmful to our efforts to defeat al-Qaeda.”

Also testifying was former State Department counselor and 9/11 Commission head Philip Zelikow. Zelikow said Bush administration officials ordered him to destroy a memo he wrote criticizing the approval of torture. Subcommittee chair Senator Sheldon Whitehouse criticized the censorship of Zelikow’s objections.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse: “We were told that waterboarding was determined to be legal, but were not told how badly the law was ignored, bastardized and manipulated by the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel.”

Senator Whitehouse went on to call for the establishment of a “truth commission” to further probe the Bush administration torture programs.

US Shares Drone Intelligence with Pakistan

The Pentagon says it’s provided Pakistan for the first time with surveillance material gathered by US drones. It’s unclear whether the intelligence sharing will continue beyond this one instance. Pakistani officials have recently increased calls for the US to share control of the drones, which have killed hundreds of Pakistanis in a series of bombings.

Obama Seeks New Regulation of Derivatives

The Obama administration is proposing new regulatory powers over derivatives, the complex financial instruments that played a major role in the nation’s economic collapse. Derivatives include credit default swaps, the controversial insurance contracts that led to the government bailout of insurance giant AIG. The White House wants new rules that would have credit default swaps traded on public exchanges and backed by existing capital. On Wednesday, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said the proposals would bring urgently needed oversight.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner: “Part of our approach will be not just getting the better rules, more sensible rules, more conservative rules across–risk taking across the financial system, but a cleaner, more simple, more consolidated oversight structure so that there’s less opportunity for arbitrage. It’s less easy for risks to just migrate around and move around the parts of the system where regulation is carefully designed.”

Senate Defeats Proposal to Cap Credit Card Rates

The Senate has defeated an amendment that would have capped credit card interest rates at 15 percent. Independent Senator Bernie Sanders tried to include the measure in a bill imposing new regulation on the credit card industry. Democratic lawmakers have vowed to protect consumers and crack down on the credit card companies’ abusive practices. But Sanders’ proposal drew just thirty-three votes, with a bipartisan group of sixty senators voting against. Sanders said, “When banks are charging 30 percent interest rates, they are not making credit available. They’re engaged in loan-sharking.”

Geithner-Led NY Fed Knew of AIG Bonuses

Newly released documents show federal officials were aware of the large bonus payments at the insurance giant AIG more than five months before they became a major public controversy. The bonus details were provided to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, then headed by Timothy Geithner, before he became President Obama’s Treasury Secretary.

Drug Czar Calls for End to “War on Drugs”

The nation’s new drug czar is calling for an end to the so-called “war on drugs.” In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Gil Kerlikowske said, “People see a war as a war on them. We’re not at war with people in this country.” A former Seattle police chief, Kerlikowske has emphasized treatment and harm-reduction approaches to curbing drug use rather than standard US methods of criminalization. Kerlikowske also says he supports needle-exchange programs as part of viewing drugs as an issue of public health.

Pope Criticizes Israel’s Separation Wall

In Israel and the Occupied Territories, Pope Benedict XVI continued his visit with a trip to Israel’s separation wall around the Palestinian town of Bethlehem. The Pope called for the establishment of a Palestinian state and decried the wall as “tragic.”

Pope Benedict XVI: “I have seen, adjoining the camp and overshadowing much of Bethlehem, the wall that intrudes into your territories, separating neighbors and dividing families. Although walls can easily be built, we all know that they do not last forever. They can be taken down.”

Mother of Slain Soldier Cites War Zone Stress, Poor Mental Health Treatment

The mother of a US servicemember killed by another soldier in Iraq has said the war zone conditions and a lack of proper mental health services are partly responsible for her son’s death. Shawna Machlinski’s son Michael Edward Yates, Jr., was one of five US servicemembers who died in Monday’s shooting by Sergeant John Russell at a US military clinic in Baghdad.

Shawna Machlinski: “As much as I have a lot of anger towards him, I also have some sympathy, because I know he must have been going through a lot as well. That doesn’t excuse the fact that he murdered my son. But I believe that if he would have gotten the help that he was there to get maybe sooner or gotten more help, and other people recognized the signs, because there are signs, and you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure those signs out.”

Russell is being held on five counts of premeditated murder and one count of aggravated assault. The Pentagon says Russell’s gun had been taken away and that he opened fire at the clinic where he’d been urged to receive counseling.

Suu Kyi Jailed, Charged for Uninvited Visit from US National

In Burma, the military junta has charged the confined pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi for an uninvited visit from a US citizen who swam across a lake to reach her home. The junta says John Yettaw spent two days in Suu Kyi’s home before he was captured as he made his way out. Her attorneys say Yettaw ignored Suu Kyi’s pleas to leave and spent a night sleeping on a ground floor. Earlier today, Suu Kyi and two aides were taken to a prison near the former capital of Rangoon. Suu Kyi has spent thirteen of the last nineteen years under house arrest. She’s being charged with violating the terms of her detention.

Red Cross Worker Killed in Sri Lanka Bombing

In Sri Lanka, a Red Cross worker has become one of the latest victims of Sri Lankan government shelling on a tiny strip held by Tamil Tiger rebels. The attack followed the Sri Lankan military’s two separate bombings of a crowded hospital, killing fifty civilians. On Wednesday, President Obama called on both sides to end the violence.

President Obama: “First, the government should stop the indiscriminate shelling that has taken hundreds of innocent lives, including several hospitals. The government should live up to its commitment to not use heavy weapons in the conflict zone. Second, the government should give United Nations humanitarian teams access to the civilians who are trapped between the warring parties so that they can receive the immediate assistance necessary to save lives.”

7 Afghans Killed in Bombing Near U.S. Base

In Afghanistan, at least seven people were killed and another 21 wounded in a suicide bombing near a U.S. military base in the city of Khost. The victims were all Afghan workers employed at the base.

90 Hospitalized in Poison Attack at Afghan Girls’ School

In other news from Afghanistan, around 90 Afghan school girls were hospitalized this week following a poison attack at their school in Kapisa province. It was the third attack on an all-girls’ school in Afghanistan in as many weeks. Afghan police have blamed the Taliban but the group has denied responsibility.

Illinois Senate Opposes Escalation of Afghan Occupation

President Obama’s escalation of the war in Afghanistan is facing opposition in his home state of Illinois. The Illinois State Senate has passed a resolution calling for the withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Afghanistan instead of Obama’s plans to increase the occupation.

Low Pay led to Fatigue for Co-Pilot in Buffalo Plane Crash

Federal transportation officials have revealed the Continental airlines plane that crashed near Buffalo earlier this year was co-piloted by a sleep-deprived twenty-four year old who made just $16,000 a year. Because of her low pay, Rebecca Lynn Shaw was forced to live with her parents in Seattle and commute by plane across the country to her Newark-based job. Fifty people were killed in the crash of Continental Flight 3407 on February 12th. The victims included Alison Des Forges, one of the world’s foremost experts on Rwanda and Beverly Eckert, who had become an advocate for 9-11 families after losing her husband in the attacks on the Twin Towers.

Denied Honoray Degree, Obama Delivers Commencement Address at ASU

President Obama delivered the commencement address at Arizona State University Wednesday, his first since becoming president. The school has sparked controversy over its refusal to award Obama an honorary degree, with officials explaining that Obama’s “body of work” has yet to come. During his address, Obama used the apparent snub to make the point that recognition shouldn’t be conferred based solely on titles or celebrity status. Obama is set to deliver the commencement address at Indiana’s Notre Dame University Sunday where he’s expected to face protests for supporting abortion rights.

Video Shows Police Officer Kicking Suspect’s Head

And in California, a police officer has been videotaped kicking a man in the head who had led police on a high-speed chase. The video shows the man voluntarily lying on the ground before the officer approaches and strikes him with his foot. The officer then high-fives another officer after the man is handcuffed.