House Democratic leaders have reached a deal with a group of conservative Democrats that critics say would weaken a public insurance option in healthcare reform. The agreement with the Blue Dog Coalition preserves the public option, but without requirements linking payment rates to Medicare. Without rules capping payments to hospitals and doctors, the government-run public option would have higher costs. Speaking in North Carolina, President Obama said his healthcare reform plan would stop insurance companies from denying coverage to patients with preexisting health problems or who become gravely ill.
President Obama: "What we need and what we will have when we pass these reforms are health insurance consumer protections to make sure that those who have insurance are treated fairly and insurance companies are held accountable."
Congressional leaders hope to hold a vote on healthcare legislation in September.
The Obama administration has OKed the release of a young Afghan prisoner at Guantanamo Bay. The prisoner, Mohamed Jawad, was as young as twelve at the time of his capture seven years ago in Afghanistan. Last week, the Obama administration admitted it could no longer hold Jawad as an enemy combatant after a federal judge ruled his confession was obtained through torture. Jawad’s confession that he threw a grenade at a US soldier reportedly came after an interrogator threatened to kill him and his family. On Thursday, Justice Department lawyers said Jawad will be freed from Guantanamo Bay next month. His lawyers expect him to be sent back to Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, several former Guantanamo Bay prisoners have founded a group to help other freed prisoners deal with life after their release and lobby for those still jailed. The Guantanamo Justice Center says it hopes to help the hundreds of freed prisoners find work and obtain medical treatment to deal with their ordeal. It will also try to sue former Bush administration officials for authorizing torture. The group’s founders include the Al Jazeera journalist Sami al-Hajj, who was jailed at Guantanamo for more than six years.
A British court has heard evidence Secretary of State Hillary Clinton tried to prevent the disclosure of details on the alleged torture of a Guantanamo Bay prisoner. Newly revealed British government documents show Clinton warned British officials the Obama administration would end intelligence sharing if it revealed evidence in the case of Binyam Mohamed. Mohamed was released from Guantanamo in late February after seven years in US custody. He says he was repeatedly tortured at a secret CIA prison and at Guantanamo.
In Honduras, the coup regime has indicated a new openness to allow the return of elected president Manuel Zelaya but now claims it needs the backing of Honduran business leaders. On Wednesday, Roberto Micheletti said he now personally backs a Costa Rican plan for Zelaya’s return but hasn’t been able to convince other government officials or the Honduran business elite. Costa Rican President Oscar Arias said Zelaya’s return is non-negotiable.
Costa Rican President Oscar Arias: "There is no possibility that the accord will be passed with President Zelaya being reinstated as the president of the Hondurans. One can modify or maybe slightly change some of the other points, but not the reinstatement of President Zelaya until January 26."
The US Coast Guard has called off a search for dozens of missing Haitian migrants whose boat sunk off the Turks and Caicos Islands earlier this week. At least fifteen people have been confirmed dead, and another sixty-seven people remain missing. More than 100 were rescued.
The House Judiciary Committee has approved a measure that would end the disparity in sentencing between offenses for crack and powder cocaine. The Fairness in Cocaine Sentencing Act of 2009 would remove the five-year minimum sentence for possessing crack cocaine. The bill now moves to a vote by the full House.
In Washington state, a Quaker pacifist has filed a federal lawsuit accusing the US government of discrimination for not recognizing his status as a conscientious objector on military draft forms. Tobin Jacobrown says he has not filled out a federally required Selective Service form, because there is no space to note that he is a conscientious objector. The Selective Service forms collect information on young Americans in the event of a reinstatement of the military draft. The American Civil Liberties Union has brought the case on Jacobrown’s behalf.
President Obama is scheduled to host President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo of the Philippines today at the White House. Filipino activists are calling on President Obama to raise human rights concerns, including torture and abductions by government forces. Melissa Roxas, a United States citizen of Filipino descent, recently spoke out about her kidnapping by alleged Filipino soldiers.
Melissa Roxas: "I was never left alone. There were always men watching me. I was constantly interrogated, and during the interrogations, they would ask me repeatedly if I knew why I was there. And I was told by them that I was abducted because I was a member of the CPP-NPA [Communist Party of the Philippines New People’s Army]. I also repeatedly told them that I have rights and that I demanded for my lawyer. I told them that I was just a writer and a volunteer. They told me that even if a year passes, I would never see a lawyer, that in there I had no rights. Although it is still very difficult to talk about the incident, I wanted to tell the truth about what happened to me, because I don’t want what happened to me to happen to anyone else ever again. I want the world to know what happened, because the Philippine government and military should not get away with what they did to me, to Juanito, to John Edward. And they cannot get away with what they did to many other people."
The Obama-Arroyo meeting comes as Congress begins debate on extending US military aid to the Philippines. Advocates have called for the funding to be cut in half and for increased requirements on protecting human rights.
After meeting Arroyo, Obama will host both the prominent African American scholar Henry Louis Gates and the white police officer who arrested him earlier this month. The White House says the three will join their families for a picnic outside the Oval Office. The gathering comes one week after Obama said the police officer had acted "stupidly" in arresting Gates, who entered his home after struggling with a jammed front door.