The Obama administration is expanding the criteria to decide which prisoners jailed for drug crimes can obtain clemency. The Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 reduced sentencing disparities between users of crack cocaine and powdered cocaine to address a racial imbalance in prison terms. But the law did not apply retroactively. On Monday, Attorney General Eric Holder said the administration will announce new guidelines to help close the gap.
Attorney General Eric Holder: "There are still too many people in federal prison who were sentenced under the old regime and who, as a result, will have to spend far more time in prison than they would if sentenced today for exactly the same crime. This is simply not right. The White House has indicated it wants to consider additional clemency applications to restore a degree of justice, fairness and proportionality for deserving individuals who do not pose a threat to public safety. The Justice Department is committed to recommending as many qualified applicants as possible for reduced sentences."
The new criteria could mean early parole for thousands of prisoners. Details of the new policy are expected on Thursday.
A federal appeals court has ordered the release of a secret government memo that authorized the killings of Americans overseas. The American Civil Liberties Union and The New York Times had filed a lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act seeking the legal basis for drone strikes. The lawsuit came after the United States killed the American-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, his 16-year-old son Abdulrahman, and Samir Khan in Yemen, despite having never charged any of them with a crime. In a unanimous ruling, a three-judge panel on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the release of the memo and other related documents. In a statement, the ACLU said the ruling marks a "resounding rejection of the government’s effort to use secrecy and selective disclosure to manipulate public opinion about the targeted killing program."
The death toll from three days of U.S. drone attacks inside Yemen has reached at least 55. The victims were described as suspected al-Qaeda militants, except for three civilians who were killed in Saturday’s initial attack. The Yemeni government says the militants were plotting violence against civilian and military targets. At the White House, Press Secretary Jay Carney refused to offer details.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney: "Again, without speaking about specific operations, I can tell you that in May 2013 President Obama spoke at length about the policy and legal rationale for how the United States takes direct action against al-Qaeda and its associated — associated forces outside of areas of active hostilities, including with drone strikes. And as the president made clear, we take extraordinary care to make sure that our counterterrorism actions are in accordance with all applicable domestic and international laws and that they are consistent with U.S. values and policy."
Yemeni forces also reportedly took part in the operation with ground raids. The drone strikes appear to be the largest carried out in Yemen this year.
The United Nations says the death toll from a rebel attack in South Sudan last week is in the hundreds. Rebel militants reportedly hunted down men, women and children after overrunning the oil town of Bentiu. Scores of dead bodies were found in the streets. The number of deaths could surpass 400, with hundreds more wounded. A U.N. spokesperson denounced the attack.
Stéphane Dujarric: "The mission strongly condemns these targeted killings. It also condemns the use of Radio Bentiu FM by some individuals associated with the opposition to broadcast hate speech. Between April 15th and 17th, the mission extracted hundreds of civilians who were facing threats of violence in several places in Bentiu and Rubkona where they had taken refuge. Over 500 civilians, including many wounded, were extracted from the Bentiu Hospital and other places, while thousands were escorted as they walked to the UNMISS base."
More than one million people have fled their homes since clashes erupted between government troops and supporters of the country’s sacked vice president late last year. The United Nations has warned up to a million people in South Sudan are at risk of famine.
The international deal to contain the conflict in eastern Ukraine is in jeopardy with both sides trading blame. Pro-Russian separatists remain in control of several government buildings they have seized over the past two weeks. The United States says it will hold Russia responsible and impose new sanctions "within days" if the separatists don’t withdraw. In Washington, a State Department spokesperson said Secretary of State John Kerry has relayed a new warning to Russia.
Jen Psaki: "The government of Ukraine put forward a broad amnesty bill for separatists to give up buildings and weapons, and has sent senior representatives to the east with the OSCE to help implement the agreement, and have called an Easter pause in its counterterrorism operations. He asks that Russia now demonstrate an equal level of commitment to the Geneva agreement in both its rhetoric and its actions. As noted in Geneva, without implementation, the joint statement is only a piece of paper, and what is needed is true de-escalation."
Russia has rebuffed U.S. calls, saying it wants Ukraine to rein in right-wing militants blamed for a deadly attack on a separatist checkpoint over the weekend.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has announced new elections for early June. Assad will seek another seven-year term as his country remains mired in a three-year civil war that has killed tens of thousands. A spokesperson for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the election will undermine efforts for a political solution to the Syrian crisis.
Stéphane Dujarric: "I think both the secretary-general and the joint special representative, Lakhdar Brahimi, have repeatedly warned that the holding of elections in the current circumstances amid the ongoing conflict and massive displacement will damage the political process and hamper — and hamper the prospects for a political solution that the country so urgently needs. Such elections are incompatible with the letter and spirit of the Geneva communiqué."
The Obama administration is reportedly considering limiting the deportations of undocumented immigrants who do not have criminal records. Recent figures show two-thirds of those deported under President Obama had committed minor infractions, such as traffic violations, or had no criminal record at all. The Associated Press reports the change is being considered as part of a Department of Homeland Security review launched amidst rising criticism of Obama’s record two million deportations.
Plaintiffs seeking damages for the faulty ignition switches in General Motors cars have filed a class action suit to block the auto giant’s effort to avoid liability. On Monday, GM formally asked a bankruptcy judge to protect it from all claims that predate its 2009 bankruptcy and taxpayer bailout. GM wants the court to distinguish the "Old GM" from the post-bankruptcy "New GM," exempting it from Old GM’s liabilities. The plaintiff’s lawsuit says: "GM’s argument suggests that the government would have agreed to extend $40 billion of taxpayer money, and supported shielding it from liability, had it known of GM’s intentional misconduct." The ignition switch defect has been linked to 13 and possibly hundreds of deaths as well as the recall of more than 2.6 million vehicles.
The United Auto Workers has dropped a challenge to a failed union-organizing vote at a Volkswagen plant in Tennessee earlier this year. In a blow to organized labor, Volkswagen workers in Chattanooga rejected unionization, declining to make their plant the first unionized foreign-owned car factory in the United States. The union faced intense opposition from Republican lawmakers who suggested the plant might miss out on future subsidies or on a new SUV line if the union was approved. The National Labor Relations Board was due to hear the UAW’s challenge on Monday, but the union dropped its bid just before the hearing was set to begin. The UAW says it made the decision after top Republicans and anti-union activists vowed to ignore subpoenas to testify.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has issued a sweeping order barring agencies under his watch from almost all unauthorized contact with the media. The ban applies to discussion of all intelligence-related matters, whether they are classified or not. Violators face a minimum security violation and potential prosecution. Clapper’s directive comes just months after he told the Senate he would seek to "lean in the direction of transparency, wherever and whenever we can."
The Oklahoma Supreme Court has stayed the executions of two death row prisoners who are challenging the secrecy around the drugs to be used in their deaths. A state judge last month struck down a law that hides information on the drugs used in lethal injections. The judge ruled the law violated the prisoners’ constitutional rights by failing to disclose the name of the drug supplier, the combination of chemicals and the dosages used in executions. Monday’s ruling by Oklahoma’s high court stays the executions until all legal challenges in the case have been resolved. The rulings could help delay executions in other states where prisoners are challenging similar laws.
A controversy has erupted at a Kentucky prison where an inmate has starved himself to death. James Kenneth Embry began refusing meals months after he stopped taking anti-anxiety medication around a year ago. A prison doctor has been fired and two other staffers face dismissal after failing to give him proper treatment and oversight. Embry was 57 years old. He had three years left on a nine-year sentence for drug offenses.
And mourners gathered in Mexico and Colombia on Monday to celebrate the life of the novelist Gabriel García Márquez, who died last week at the age of 87. In Mexico City, the presidents of Mexico and Colombia were among the speakers at a memorial ceremony at the Palace of Fine Arts. Amongst the crowds, Colombian writer Ana Maria Jaramillo, a friend of the late writer, spoke to Democracy Now! about his legacy.
Ana Maria Jaramillo: "His work marked a change, a change in our standards. He helped us relax in a world that is so difficult and cruel. He gave us the license to dare and taught us that anybody could arrive to be the person most important in the world, which is what he did. The son of a telegraph operator in Aracataca is today being celebrated by many presidents, but also by the people who love him and are here paying tribute."
In Gabriel García Márquez’s hometown in Colombia, residents held a memorial of their own, marching through the streets and placing messages to him in an urn.