The Obama administration is expected to announce today a new policy that would make it more difficult for the government to block lawsuits or withhold information by invoking so-called "state secrets privilege." The Bush administration was able to dismiss or limit dozens of lawsuits or information requests around rendition, torture and warrantless spying by asserting they could potentially compromise national security. Under the new rules, government agencies would now have to convince the Justice Department that disclosing sensitive information would pose "significant harm to national defense or foreign relations." The policy will take effect next month. The Washington Post reports it’s unlikely to change the Obama administration’s prior assertion of state secrets in opposing two key lawsuits involving an Islamic charity that says it was illegally spied on and a group of former CIA prisoners who claim they were tortured at a secret prison overseas. In a statement, Democratic Congress member Jerrold Nadler suggested the policy change won’t stop congressional efforts to overhaul how state secrecy claims are evaluated in courts, not just at the executive level. Nadler said, "Fixing the executive branch’s assertion of the privilege is only one part of the equation. Congress must still enact legislation that provides consistent standards and procedures for courts to use when considering state secrets claims."
In Honduras, the ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya remains holed up inside the Brazilian embassy in a standoff with the coup regime. On Tuesday, riot police dispersed a crowd of thousands who had gathered to support Zelaya after his defiant return from nearly three months in exile. Police fired tear gas and deployed water cannons to remove the crowd. One protester said he was brutally assaulted.
Protester: "I was hit on the head with a stick with nails. I wasn’t killed, thank God. The riot police grabbed me and acted like gorillas."
Over 100 people were arrested or injured in the police crackdown. The Brazilian government, meanwhile, is calling for an emergency session of the UN Security Council to address the Honduran crisis. Brazilian President Lula da Silva warned the coup regime against raiding the embassy.
Brazilian President Lula da Silva: "Brazil only did what any democratic country would do: when a citizen asks for asylum at our embassy, Brazil guarantees he stays there. It’s a right, I would say, international, and we expect the coup leaders not to touch the Brazilian embassy."
The coup regime, meanwhile, said it would agree to negotiations with Zelaya, but again ruled out allowing his return to office or dropping its intent to arrest him.
Speaking to reporters, Bolivian President Evo Morales blamed state capitalism for the onset of global warming and said the Copenhagen talks should include a focus on determining the climate debt owed by rich nations.
Bolivian President Evo Morales: "Climate change is not a cause, rather an effect. It is a product of the capitalist system, which favors the obtaining of the maximum profit possible. That is the purpose of the capitalist system, without taking into due consideration the lives of others. In Copenhagen, we should enter into a thorough analysis of what countries are the ones that are hurting the environment the most, and we should consider those damages and focus on the countries that bear a major responsibility for the payment of this climate debt, this obligation."
The Obama administration has effectively abandoned a demand that Israel freeze settlement expansion before the resumption of peace talks. President Obama signaled the shift on Tuesday as he met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. Obama urged both sides to "move forward" and enter final-status talks.
President Obama: "Despite all the obstacles, despite all the history, despite all the mistrust, we have to find a way forward. We have to summon the will to break the deadlock that has trapped generations of Israelis and Palestinians in an endless cycle of conflict and suffering. We cannot continue the same pattern of taking tentative steps forward and then stepping back. Success depends on all sides acting with a sense of urgency."
Israel has refused to abide by its Road Map obligations to halt the expansion of existing settlements in the occupied West Bank. Obama says the final status talks should begin immediately and focus on dealing with the conflict’s core issues.
Obama’s comments come as Hamas has renewed its acceptance of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders. In a letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh writes, "We would never thwart efforts to create an independent Palestinian state with borders [from] June 4, 1967, with Jerusalem as its capital." Israel has rejected a full withdrawal to the 1967 borders and is seeking to retain the large settlement blocs that carve up the West Bank. Meanwhile, on the West Bank Israeli troops shot dead an unarmed Palestinian motorist just hours before Tuesday’s talks. The Israeli military said the victim had failed to stop at a military checkpoint.
A Bulgarian diplomat has been elected the first woman to head the United Nations agency for culture and education, UNESCO. Irina Bokova won the fifth and final round of voting on Tuesday, beating out Egyptian Culture Minister Farouk Hosni.
Irina Bokova: "Of course I am very happy with the end of these elections. I feel a lot of responsibility with the decision of the executive board to recommend my candidacy to the general conference. First, my respect and my friendship to Mr. Farouk Hosni, the Minister of Culture of Egypt, and to all the other candidates during these elections."
Hosni’s candidacy had come under opposition from an unlikely pairing of right-wing pro-Israeli government groups as well as pro-democracy Egyptian activists. Supporters of the Israeli government denounced Hosni for once vowing to burn Israeli books, while Egyptian activists accused him of complicity in government censorship and spying. Hosni has retracted his comments on burning Israeli books, saying they reflected his anger at Israeli treatment of Palestinians.
Back in the United States, the Massachusetts Senate has approved a measure that would let Governor Deval Patrick appoint an interim successor to the Senate seat left vacant by the death of Edward Kennedy. The successor would fill the seat until Massachusetts holds a special election in January. The Massachusetts House approved its version of the measure last week. Patrick is expected to sign the bill and appoint a successor in the coming days.
The congressional effort to defund the anti-poverty group ACORN has taken a new turn. The Huffington Post is reporting the House measure targeting ACORN approved last week is so broad it could apply to scores of large military contractors. The Defund ACORN Act covers "any organization" charged with breaking election laws, lobbying disclosure laws, campaign finance laws, or filing fraudulent paperwork with government agencies. The Project on Government Oversight says military contractors Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman easily qualify, with over twenty fraud cases between them. Scores of other military firms could also ostensibly be targeted under the new measure.
The US sealed off a border crossing with Mexico Tuesday after a shootout involving alleged Mexican human traffickers. On Tuesday, armed assailants opened fire on US agents in an incident at the San Ysidro crossing between Tijuana and San Diego. The agents had stopped three vans believed to be carrying undocumented immigrants. Three people in the vans were wounded along with a motorist in another vehicle.
On Capitol Hill, the Senate Finance Committee has taken up committee chair Max Baucus’s healthcare reform legislation unveiled last week. The marked-up bill includes more than 500 amendments that Baucus says will help make healthcare more affordable. The measure has attracted criticism from progressives for excluding a public option in favor of an approach that mandates Americans carry health insurance.
Meanwhile, the White House has released data showing insurance premiums have outpaced inflation in every US state over the last decade. While average consumer prices have risen 28 percent, insurance costs have risen between 90 to 150 percent.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is claiming he’ll seek "maximum leniency" for three American hikers jailed after mistakenly hiking into Iran from Iraq. The detained Americans have been identified as Shane Bauer, Sarah Shourd and Joshua Fattal. The prisoners’ families have stepped up calls for their release with Ahmadinejad’s attendance at the UN General Assembly.
And in New York, the corporate pranksters the Yes Men held a news conference Tuesday to unveil their fake climate change product known as the Survivaball.
Mike Bonanno: "What you’re seeing here are Survivaballs, and they are self-contained units that will allow somebody to survive no matter what happens to the climate. So, basically, they, in the future, will contain all of these survival systems that are going to allow these people to live, even if everybody else out there dies."
Andy Bichlbaum: "They can survive six months of drought, Category 4 hurricanes, any kind of tornado."
Yes Men member Andy Bichlbaum stressed the Survivaball’s importance in the lead-up to the Copenhagen talks on climate change.
Andy Bichlbaum: "It’s a scenic, mediagenic way to call attention to what our leaders need to do in the run-up to Copenhagen. The US is far behind everybody else in the world. We need to get our act together and actually institute civilized limits on carbon emissions the way the rest of the world has done. And these balls are part of the effort to draw attention to that."
Bichlbaum was later arrested by police on charges apparently stemming from an old bicycle fine. The action came one day after the Yes Men distributed thousands of copies of a fake edition of the New York Post focused on the climate change crisis.