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A newly released prisoner from Guantanamo Bay has accused US officials of torturing him and beating him dozens of times at a secret CIA prison and later at Guantanamo. The Ethiopian-born Binyam Mohamed returned to Britain on Monday after becoming the first Guantanamo prisoner freed under President Obama. In a statement read by his attorney, Clive Stafford Smith, Mohamed called for his captors and jailers to be held accountable.
Clive Stafford Smith: "For myself, the very worst moment came when I realized in Morocco that the people who were torturing me were receiving questions and materials from British intelligence. I had met with British intelligence in Pakistan. I had been open with them. Yet the very people who I had hoped would come to my rescue, I later realized, had allied themselves with my abusers. I am not asking for vengeance, only that the truth should be made known so that nobody in the future should have to endure what I have endured."
Mohamed was arrested in Pakistan in 2002 and taken to Morocco and Afghanistan before going on to spend more than four years at Guantanamo Bay.
The torture allegations came as a White House-backed Pentagon investigation said conditions at Guantanamo have met the standards of the Geneva Conventions. Lead investigator Admiral Patrick Walsh.
Adm. Patrick Walsh: "Common Article 3 of the Geneva convention prohibits the following acts: violence to life and person; taking of hostages; outrages of personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment; passing of sentences without judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court. Any substantiated evidence of prohibited acts discovered in the course of the review would have warranted a finding of noncompliance with Common Article 3. We found no such evidence."
Walsh touted himself as an impartial investigator even though he’s a high-ranking Navy official. Human rights groups and attorneys for the prisoners immediately dismissed the report as a sham.
The Obama administration has taken further steps toward the possible nationalization of troubled banks. On Monday, the White House changed the terms of government bailouts to allow financial firms to repay loans with common stock instead of cash. That would increase the government’s chances of taking controlling ownership. The government has already invested nearly $200 billion in over 400 banks, including $45 billion in Citigroup.
The talk of a larger government role in the financial system comes as President Obama continues to tout his pledge to cut the federal deficit in half by the end of his first term despite the fiscal stimulus package. Obama spoke Monday at a White House economic summit.
President Obama: “The pay-go approach is based on a very simple concept: you don’t spend what you don’t have. So if we want to spend, we’ll need to find somewhere else to cut. This is the rule that families across this country follow every single day, and there’s no reason why their government shouldn’t do the same."
The Obama administration, meanwhile, says it intends to make healthcare reform its top fiscal priority this year. No details were announced on specific proposals. The pledge comes as a new government report says healthcare costs will rise to average more than $8,000 per American this year. That amounts to a per-person increase of $365 from 2008. The Department of Health and Human Services warns the Medicare hospital trust fund continues to lose money and could become insolvent within seven years. Bureaucratic costs as a result of the insurance-based private healthcare systems continue to account for a significant percentage of healthcare spending. Meanwhile, the number of uninsured has also grown. A new report from the Kaiser Family Foundation says 48 million Americans don’t have healthcare coverage.
In cabinet news, President Obama has reportedly settled on former Washington Governor Gary Locke to become Commerce secretary. Locke would be Obama’s third Commerce nominee after Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico and Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire. A formal announcement could come this week.
The Obama administration has again sided with former President George W. Bush on a case involving government secrecy. The White House has already continued Bush stance’s on seeking dismissal of a lawsuit by former CIA detainees and to prevent a federal court from reviewing the Bush administration’s warrantless spying program. Now it’s refusing to reverse the government position on opposing a suit seeking access to millions of missing White House emails over Bush’s two terms in office. The groups Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and the National Security Archive want the emails publicly released.
In Israel and the Occupied Territories, the Obama administration has announced plans to send some $900 million in aid to the Gaza Strip. The physical damage to Gaza from the recent US-backed Israeli attack is estimated to be at least double that, at more than $2 billion. The $900 million would go to aid and non-governmental organizations in line with Obama’s continuation of the Bush administration’s isolation of the democratically elected Hamas government. Some of the money would also go to Palestinian leaders in the occupied West Bank. Israel is the largest recipient of American foreign aid and military assistance, with the US giving at least $3 billion annually.
Meanwhile, outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has dismissed his top negotiator on Gaza for criticizing the Israeli stance on reopening Gaza’s borders. Last week, the Israeli government formalized its refusal to even discuss easing the humanitarian blockade of Gaza without the release of the captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Shalit was seized in 2006 in a raid on an Israeli army post used for attacks on Gaza. In an interview last week, the fired negotiator, Amos Gilad, said he opposed conditioning any truce deal on Shalit’s release. Hamas has said it would free Shalit, but only in the context of a prisoner exchange. Israel has previously negotiated several prisoner exchanges. Some 10,000 Palestinians are currently jailed in Israeli prisons.
The State Department has made official its appointment of Dennis Ross as special adviser on developing strategy toward Iran. During his previous stint as US envoy to the Middle East, Ross was widely criticized for backing Israeli settlement expansion and refusing to address Palestinian grievances.
In Iraq, three US troops and their interpreter were killed Monday in Diyala province. They were reportedly struck by a roadside bomb.
A new report from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee urges major changes to US policy toward Cuba. After reviewing the US embargo and restrictions on travel there, the report concludes “we must recognize the ineffectiveness of our current policy and deal with the Cuban regime in a way that enhances U.S. interests."
The report comes on the heels of a new campaign from hundreds of artists and educators to urge President Obama to maintain his campaign pledge to ease travel restrictions to Cuba. In a statement, the group says "U.S. policies towards Cuba…have prevented us from engaging in critical communication and collaboration with our Cuban counterparts…preventing cultural interchange between two societies that share a historic relationship lasting over two centuries." Signatories include Carlos Santana, Herbie Hancock, Danny Glover and Harry Belafonte.
A new study has found Western countries continue to play a major role in China’s status as the leading emitter of greenhouse gases. The Oslo-based Centre for International Climate and Environmental Research says half of China’s recent increase in carbon dioxide pollution is caused by producing goods for other countries. Nearly one-third of Chinese emissions result from manufacturing products for export. Nine percent of the total resulted from goods for the US, compared to six percent for all of Europe.
And back in the United States, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg returned to the Supreme Court bench Monday, less than three weeks after undergoing surgery for pancreatic cancer. The cancer has been diagnosed as early stage.
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