An explosive congressional report has revealed new details about the Bush administration’s torture program on foreign prisoners. According to the Senate Intelligence Committee, military and intelligence officials began developing the torture program in December 2001, well before any high-level al-Qaeda suspects had been caught. Bush administration officials have long maintained the so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques" were authorized only after standard questioning failed to yield intelligence. The report also shows the torture program was developed well before it received legal approval in the 2002 Justice Department memos declassified last week. The report singles out top Bush administration officials for the torture of US prisoners, saying they "solicited information on how to use aggressive techniques" and "redefined the law to create the appearance of their legality."
The report also documents the role of the military psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen in developing the torture program. A memo written by Jessen in 2002 proposes creating what he calls an "exploitation facility" where prisoners would be subjected to a number of prescribed abuses, including physical violence, sleep deprivation and waterboarding. Some of the techniques were based on torture used on American captives during the Korean War. Jessen proposed making the facility off-limits to outside observers, including the Red Cross. Soon after the memo, the suspected al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah was sent to a CIA prison, where he was subjected to intense torture. Zubaydah’s attorneys have long contended the Justice Department memos were written in part to retroactively authorize the techniques used against him. Watch/Listen Democracy Now! segment on Mitchell & Jessen from 4/21/09
Several Army officials raised objections as the torture techniques were developed and taught. And in a development that traces back to the White House’s drive for invading Iraq, one Army major complained the interrogations were being compromised by an insistence on establishing a "link between al-Qaeda and Iraq."
In a statement, Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Carl Levin said the new evidence provides a direct line from top Bush officials to abuses at prisons such as Abu Ghraib. Levin said, "Senior officials sought out information on, were aware of training in, and authorized the use of abusive interrogation techniques…[They] bear significant responsibility for creating the legal and operational framework for the abuses." Levin went on to call on Attorney General Eric Holder to establish a high-level commission to investigate high-level Bush officials.
The report’s release came hours after President Obama reversed course on ruling out the prosecution of Bush administration officials who wrote the legal memos authorizing torture. The White House had previously said it opposes any legal action against both the officials who provided legal cover for torture and the CIA interrogators who carried it out. But on Tuesday, Obama said now he won’t preclude legal action against the memos’ authors.
President Obama: "For those who carried out some of these operations within the four corners of legal opinions or guidance that had been provided from the White House, I do not think it’s appropriate for them to be prosecuted. With respect to those who formulated those legal decisions, I would say that that is going to be more of a decision for the attorney general within the parameters of various laws, and — and I don’t want to prejudge that. I think that there are a host of very complicated issues involved there."
In Geneva, delegates at the UN Conference on Racism adopted a final declaration on Tuesday without the support of the United States. The US and several other Western nations have boycotted the conference over concerns it would include criticism of the Israeli government. The conference president, Amos Wako, criticized the boycott.
Amos Wako: "What we have decided shows the outcome when you remain engaged in the process. It shows that boycotts do not assist. It shows that one can remain constructively engaged and reach a consensus."
Bowing to US-Israeli concerns, the declaration avoids any references to Zionism. Instead, it reaffirms a conference text from 2001 that recognizes the Palestinian right to self-determination and calls for a Palestinian state alongside Israel. The text also urges signatories to fight all forms of racism, in particular naming anti-Semitism, anti-Arab racism and Islamophobia.
The declaration came one day after nearly two dozen diplomats walked out on a speech by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad after he called Israel a "cruel and repressive racist regime." According to several reports, Ahmadinejad omitted prepared comments denying the Nazi Holocaust from his final speech. Instead, he appeared to acknowledge it, referring to the "abuse of the Holocaust." Ahmadinejad has previously denied the Nazi Holocaust and questioned the number of Jewish victims.
Israel’s new foreign minister is claiming the Obama administration will only pursue peace initiatives with the Palestinians if Israel gives its approval. In his first extensive comments since taking office, Avigdor Lieberman said, "Believe me, America accepts all our decisions." The Washington Post is reporting the Israeli government is now telling the US it will condition any willingness to enter peace talks with Palestinians on US policy toward Iran. The Israeli government has long advocated military action against Iran.
The developments come as a new poll shows a majority of both Palestinians and Israelis would support a two-state solution. According to the group One Voice, 74 percent of Palestinians and 78 percent of Israelis say they would accept the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza alongside Israel. Palestinian leaders, including Hamas, have accepted the two-state solution. Successive Israeli governments have rejected returning Palestinian land and have instead expanded Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank while maintaining the stranglehold over the Gaza Strip.
The Washington Post is reporting prosecutors are considering dropping charges against two former pro-Israeli government lobbyists accused of violating the Espionage Act. Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman, formerly of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, are accused of conspiring to obtain and disclose classified national defense information to journalists and the Israeli government. The review follows a series of court rulings that prosecutors say could hinder their prospects at winning a trial, including allowing the defense to use classified information and forcing the government to prove the accused knew they would be harming the United States. Prosecutors say the review has nothing to do with the recent controversy surrounding Democratic Congresswoman Jane Harman. It was revealed this week Harman was overheard on an NSA wiretap telling a suspected Israeli agent she would lobby for reducing the espionage charges in return for AIPAC support in her bid to chair the House Intelligence Committee.
Newly disclosed records show some of the top recipients of the federal bailout continue to spend millions on political lobbying. According to the Washington Post, the top bailed-out firms spent more than $10 million in the first three months of this year, $22 million over the last six months. The lobbying included efforts to block initiatives such as executive pay caps and new financial regulation.
The International Monetary Fund is estimating banks and financial institutions have lost an estimated $4.1 trillion during the financial crisis. Of the losses, $2.7 trillion originated in the United States. Testifying on Capitol Hill, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said banks’ vast amount of toxic assets is limiting their ability to lend and borrow.
Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner: "The cost of credit is still very high. Reports on bank lending show significant declines in lendings for consumer loans, for commercial and industrial loans, although mortgage refinancings have picked up considerably. We may have to adapt and expand them over time, but they represent the foundation of any credible strategy to help ensure that this financial system is working for, rather than against, recovery."
In New Jersey, a federal court heard arguments Tuesday in a case seeking to have the US invasion of Iraq declared unconstitutional. An Iraq war veteran and two mothers of soldiers filed the case last May. They argue then-President George W. Bush violated the Constitution by failing to formally declare war and attacking a country that didn’t threaten the United States.
In Colorado, the State House has passed a measure to abolish the death penalty. Tuesday’s measure passed by a single vote. The bill now goes to the Colorado State Senate.
The lone surviving Somali pirate involved in the kidnapping of an American cargo captain earlier this month was charged Tuesday in a New York courtroom. The pirate, Abduhl Wal-i-Musi, surrendered before US Navy snipers shot his three accomplices aboard their boat. Musi will be tried as an adult, even though his family claims he is only fifteen years old. He appeared to weep during his arraignment. Defense attorney Deirdre von Dornum called Musi "young and terrified."
Deirdre von Dornum: "Judge Peck may have found for today that he is of the age of majority, but as you could tell, he is extremely young, injured and terrified. We’re pleased that he will have the protection of the United States Constitution and that the government chose to bring him to an open court and not to a secret prison or any other form of non-public proceeding."
The Supreme Court has issued a ruling make it more difficult for police to conduct warrantless car searches. On Tuesday, justices ruled five-to-four police must seek a warrant to search a vehicle if the suspect has been removed from the vehicle and poses no threat to others.
And today is Earth Day. Millions of people around the globe are expected to take part in events honoring the protection of the environment. A new report from the Oxfam aid agency warns relief groups will be overwhelmed within the next six years by people affected by climate-related disasters. More than 375 million people are expected to be affected each year until 2015, up from the 250 million people today. Oxfam is calling for greater support for aid groups to offset the dangers. Oxfam says, "There is nothing inevitable about a future in which greater numbers of people die and are made destitute by natural hazards and conflict."