The release of the assassination memos to U.S. lawmakers was also announced on the eve of today’s confirmation hearing for CIA nominee John Brennan, who some have dubbed President Obama’s "assassination czar." Brennan is expected to be questioned on a range of controversial issues, including the assassinations and his role in the Bush torture program while at the CIA. Speaking this morning on MSNBC, Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon said U.S. citizens should be able to know why the government has targeted them for assassination.
Sen. Ron Wyden: "Every American has the right to know when their government believes it’s allowed to kill them. I don’t think that, as one person said, that is too much to ask. And this idea that security and liberty are mutually exclusive, that you can have only one or the other, is something I reject. So we’re now going to have to begin the heavy lifting of the congressional oversight process by examining the legal underpinnings of this program. And to make very clear, I am going to push for more declassification of these key kinds of programs. And I think we can do that consistent with national security."
Wyden has led the push for the White House to explain its rationale for targeting U.S. citizens and will be among the senators to question John Brennan today. After suggesting he would consider filibustering Brennan’s nomination, Wyden received a personal phone call from President Obama on Wednesday night to inform him of the memos’ release.
The ability of the U.S. government to jail people without charge or trial is back in court. A group of reporters, scholars and activists, including Noam Chomsky and Chris Hedges, are suing the Obama administration over the controversial provision in the National Defense Authorization Act, saying it could allow for the indefinite detention of journalists and others who interact with certain groups. On Wednesday, the Justice Department asked an appeals court to reverse a judge’s earlier decision blocking indefinite detention, saying the ruling would hamper its ability to fight terrorism. The Obama administration has already won an emergency freeze of the ruling while the case is appealed. Plaintiffs Tangerine Bolen and Daniel Ellsberg, the Pentagon whistleblower, spoke outside the courthouse on Wednesday.
Tangerine Bolen: "We’re trying to get people across the country to stand with us, because this is — this is the thin line between the last of our most fundamental civil liberties. The NDAA [National Defense Authorization Act] rolls back our rights to pre-Magna Carta days. Due process, we’ve had that for 800 years. It’s really basic. If you are for the U.S. Constitution, you should support our case."
Daniel Ellsberg: "I think that our Constitution has been under assault for 10 years now, mostly covertly. At first, they simply lied they were doing it, said they weren’t torturing anybody, weren’t sending anybody to rendition. Now they’re openly proclaiming it. I think they’ve laid down the gauge here, laid down the challenge to the American public as a whole."
The main umbrella group for immigrant youth activists is calling for an immigration overhaul that goes beyond the bipartisan proposals endorsed by President Obama last week. On Wednesday, the United We Dream network announced it will call for citizenship to all of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. — not just the granting of legal status, and not just to those who came to the country as children. Many of the youth activists, known as "DREAMers," have received temporary legal status under an Obama administration measure for immigrants below the age of 31 brought to the United States at a young age. Under their proposals, the DREAMers are also rejecting calls to link the granting of citizenship to border security benchmarks and are calling for the granting of residency to foreign-born partners in same-sex relationships.
The "DREAMers" issued their call one day after a meeting with President Obama and other progressive groups at the White House. Obama reportedly rejected calls to ease his record-breaking deportations of undocumented immigrants.
A group of DREAM activists interrupted House Republicans’ first congressional hearing on immigration reform, chanting "undocumented and unafraid." They were there to protest Republican opposition to the DREAM Act, focusing on Republican Rep. Darrell Issa of California. The Republican hearing comes as party leaders are floating a potentially softer stance on immigration in a bid to woo Latino voters. In a speech this week, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor announced for the first time he would support a path to citizenship for undocumented youths.
The Obama administration has announced a new expansion of sanctions against Iran. On Wednesday, the Treasury Department said it would pressure countries buying Iran’s oil to withhold direct payments and instead force Iran to purchase their goods. The Treasury also widened a sanctions list to include Iranian media groups involved in state censorship. Following the announcement, Iran’s top leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, announced his rejection of Vice President Joe Biden’s recent call for direct talks. Top Iranian leaders including President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had made favorable statements about the offer earlier in the week, but Khamenei said negotiations would do nothing to resolve U.S.-Iran differences. Iran, meanwhile, has also released what it says is surveillance footage extracted from a U.S. drone captured inside its borders in 2011.
Opposition activists in Syria are claiming new civilian casualties in the latest attacks on rebel strongholds around the capital Damascus. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says at least 55 people, including 19 civilians, have been killed in a roughly 24-hour period since the regime of President Bashar al-Assad launched a new offensive on Damascus suburbs. Overall, the group says at least 141 people were killed nationwide on Wednesday, including 36 civilians. At the United Nations, a spokesperson for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said Syria’s "catastrophic humanitarian crisis" threatens to worsen ahead of the conflict’s upcoming two-year anniversary.
Jens Laerke: "As we’re almost at the two-year mark of the beginning of the conflict, the catastrophic humanitarian crisis continues to deepen. This time we’re issuing a warning. If the violence continues unabated, we could, in the short term, see considerably more than the currently four million people in need of assistance, and more than the currently estimate of two million internally displaced."
The Royal Bank of Scotland has agreed to pay a $612 million fine in the United States and Britain over its role in the manipulation of global interest rates. RBS becomes the third bank to pay fines in the Libor scandal, which saw major companies take part in fixing the benchmark for rates on trillions of dollars in transactions across the globe. The rigging of Libor meant millions of borrowers paid the wrong amount on their loans. Announcing the settlement, RBS chief executive Stephen Hester apologized to the public.
Stephen Hester: "I am disgusted by this and hugely disappointed at the wrongdoing of 20 people in this institution. It’s no excuse that it was also across the industry. It is unacceptable. There’s no place in our industry for it. And worse than that, in many respects, the culture of selfishness, of self-serving, of which this is an extreme and unrepresentative example but is an example, taints our whole industry."
Senate Democrats have agreed to delay a vote on Chuck Hagel’s nomination as the next secretary of defense. Senate Armed Services Committee Chair Carl Levin says the panel’s vote will be moved until later in the month to address Republican concerns. Republican senators want Hagel to disclose the texts of private speeches he has delivered, as well as more information on his financial ties. Supporters of Hagel say he is being targeted over his deviation from the party line on issues, including Israel and Iran.
President Obama has tapped Sally Jewell to replace Ken Salazar as secretary of the interior. Jewell’s work history includes stints as an oil services company executive and as a commercial banker. She is also known as an avid campaigner for conservation and the outdoors. Obama unveiled her nomination on Wednesday at the White House.
President Obama: "She is an expert on the energy and climate issues that are going to shape our future. She is committed to building our nation-to-nation relationship with Indian Country. She knows the link between conservation and good jobs. She knows that there’s no contradiction between being good stewards of the land and our economic progress, that in fact those two things need to go hand in hand."
The Bureau of Land Management has announced it is delaying an auction for drilling leases in Colorado following a public outcry. Leases for more than 20,000 acres in the North Fork Valley were set to go on the block this month. But residents organized a campaign raising environmental concerns, including the impact of hydraulic fracturing on the quality of water and air.
The Boy Scouts of America has delayed a decision on whether to end its longstanding ban on gay members and leaders. The ban was put up for review at a board meeting this week, but Scout leaders now say the organization will decide at a national convention in May. Click here to watch our interview with a leading campaigner against the ban, Zach Wahls, founder of the group Scouts for Equality.