The Justice Department is planning on trying self-proclaimed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four co-defendants in a New York federal court instead of a military commission. The announcement comes three days before the Obama administration’s self-imposed deadline to determine how to try the five suspects’ cases. Administration officials say up to thirty-five other Guantanamo Bay prisoners will face federal trial, leaving the fate of another seventy-five prisoners unresolved. The lead suspect in the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, will be tried at a military commission. The decision comes as the top administration official for the Guantanamo prison, Gregory Craig, is expected to step down later today.
Federal prosecutors have moved to seize four mosques and a New York skyscraper belonging to a non-profit foundation with alleged financial ties to Iran. On Thursday, prosecutors in Manhattan began legal action seeking the forfeiture of more than $500 million in the assets of the Alavi Foundation, which describes itself as a charitable foundation. The move is believed to be one of the largest property seizures in the name of "counterterrorism" in US history. The confiscation of the four mosques is expected to raise a number of legal issues surrounding the First Amendment right to freedom of religion. The move came as President Obama announced he would extend a number of sanctions against Iran for another year.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates has issued a rare criticism of Obama administration colleagues for a series of leaks detailing a split over the escalation of the US occupation of Afghanistan. On Thursday, Gates said he was "appalled" internal discussions on Afghanistan had been publicly revealed. Administration sources revealed this week the US ambassador to Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry, had warned against deploying additional troops. Eikenberry’s stance puts him at odds with the top US commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, who has requested around 40,000 additional soldiers. At a war cabinet meeting, President Obama also reportedly asked for revisions to all four of the troop options he was presented and echoed Eikenberry’s concerns about corruption in the Afghan government.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, meanwhile, has said US allies in NATO may add another 5,000 troops in Afghanistan. Brown made the comment in an interview with the BBC earlier today.
President Obama is in Japan today in the first stop of his inaugural visit to Asia since taking office earlier this year. Obama is set to hold talks with Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, whose party was elected in August on a platform that included revisiting Japanese-US military ties. Hatoyama has suggested he wants to move a US military base off the island of Okinawa, while the US says it wants to relocate to a different location. Before his arrival, Obama rejected an invitation to visit the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, site of the US atomic bombing sixty-four years ago that killed an estimated 220,000 Japanese. Obama’s call for ending nuclear weapons and his recent Nobel Peace Prize win had raised expectations in Japan that he would become the first sitting US president to visit the two cities. Asked about his refusal earlier today, Obama said he would visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki at a later date.
The US Army has charged the suspect in the killings of thirteen people at Fort Hood, Texas with premeditated murder. On Thursday, US Army spokesperson Chris Grey unveiled the charges against Major Nidal Malik Hasan.
Chris Grey: "Today, I’ve confirmed that US Army Major Nidal Malik Hassan, a thirty-nine-year-old psychiatrist assigned to Darnall Medical Center here at Fort Hood, has been charged with thirteen specifications of premeditated murder under Article 118 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. These are initial charges, and additional charges may be preferred in the future, subject to the ongoing criminal investigation."
Hasan will face the death penalty if convicted. No active-duty US troops have been executed in nearly fifty years.
The top oversight official for the $700 billion Wall Street bailout says the program will "almost certainly" result in a loss for US taxpayers. Special Inspector General Neil Barofsky also says he’s conducting sixty-five probes into possible fraud by bailout recipients. Barofsky’s comments came on the tenth anniversary of the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, a key deregulatory move widely seen as helping lead to the nation’s financial collapse. The repeal ended the separation of commercial and investment banking. In this clip from before the 1999 vote, Senator Byron Dorgan of South Dakota predicted how the repeal would be remembered on its tenth anniversary.
Sen. Byron Dorgan: "We are, with this piece of legislation, moving towards greater risk. We are almost certainly moving towards substantial new concentration and mergers in the financial services industry, that is almost certainly not in the interests of consumers. And we are deliberately and certainly, with this legislation, moving towards inheriting much greater risk in our financial services industries. And so, I come to the floor to say that I regret that I cannot support the legislation. I think we will, in ten years’ time, look back and say we should not have done that, because we forgot the lessons of the past."
The Federal Reserve has unveiled new rules that would bar banks from charging overdraft fees on automated teller machines or credit cards without consumer consent. Banks collected an estimated $37 billion in overdraft fees last year.
On Capitol Hill, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is considering a plan to increase the Medicare payroll tax on high-income earners to help fund the expansion of healthcare insurance to lower-income Americans. The Senate could begin debate on its healthcare bill as early as next week.
The nation’s largest health insurer is recruiting employees to lobby against congressional proposals for healthcare reform. Newly released emails show UnitedHealth Group wrote 75,000 employees this week to ask them to lobby their senators against inclusion of a public insurance option in the Senate healthcare bill. Form letters provided to employees also call for imposing higher financial penalties on Americans who choose not to buy health insurance.
The Republican National Committee has ordered its health insurer to drop a provision allowing RNC employees to receive insurance for abortions. The website Politico.com revealed that RNC employees are covered for abortion just days after House Republicans voted en masse for sweeping anti-abortion restrictions as part of the healthcare reform bill. The restrictions would bar federal subsidies to women who enroll in an insurance plan that covers abortion and also rule out abortion coverage under the proposed government-run insurance plan.
A federal jury has convicted the former manager of a kosher slaughterhouse in Postville, Iowa, where nearly 400 immigrant workers were arrested in the largest immigration raid in US history. Sholom Rubashkin was convicted on eighty-six counts of financial fraud. He faces a sentence of hundreds of years in prison and a second trial on immigration charges. The slaughterhouse owned by Agriprocessors has since closed down, taking with it hundreds of jobs.
The Washington Post is reporting China provided Pakistan with enough weapons-grade uranium for two atomic bombs in 1982. Written accounts by the Pakistani nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan say the Chinese government also provided a blueprint that helped speed up Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program. The cooperation is said to have resulted from a secret 1976 agreement between the two countries. In a statement, the Pakistani foreign ministry denied the report, calling it "baseless."
In Colombia, an independent commission has presented its findings to a UN inquiry on human rights abuses on Colombian soil. The Colombian Human Rights Coalition studied torture, murders and other political crimes dating from 2003 to 2008. Inquiry head Ana Maria Diaz said the vast majority of abuses were carried out by government or paramilitary forces.
Ana Maria Diaz: "Torture in the country is being presented in a systematic and generalized way. According to the records we have from 2003 to 2008, 93 percent of the torture is perpetrated directly by the government or by agents of the state or by the paramilitary. About seven percent of the torture acts in Colombia are perpetrated by guerrilla groups."
Colombia is the largest recipient of US military aid in the Western Hemisphere.
Back in the United States, President Obama has announced plans for a summit on unemployment next month. Obama spoke Thursday at the White House.
President Obama: "The economy is now growing again for the first time in more than a year and faster than at any time in the past two years. But even though we’ve slowed the loss of jobs, and today’s report on the continued decline in unemployment claims is a hopeful sign, the economic growth that we’ve seen has not yet led to the job growth that we desperately need."
And in environmental news, the Washington Post is reporting the Obama administration is considering a plan to endorse a limited, short-term climate pact instead of a long-term deal at next month’s global talks in Copenhagen. European nations and developing countries have been pushing for a comprehensive agreement that would impose mandatory cuts on emissions of greenhouse gases.