A footnote in one of the newly declassified torture memos has revealed that CIA interrogators used waterboarding far more than had been previously reported. In August 2002, the CIA waterboarded Abu Zubaydah eighty-three times. The CIA also used waterboarding 183 times in March 2003 against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. In 2007, a former CIA officer publicly claimed that Abu Zubaydah had undergone waterboarding for only thirty-five seconds before agreeing to tell everything he knew.
Meanwhile, on Sunday, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel said the Obama administration opposes any effort to prosecute CIA interrogators who engaged in torture, as well Bush administration officials who authorized the use of torture. Rahm made the comment in an interview on ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos.
Rahm Emanuel: “He believes that people in good faith were operating with the guidance they were provided. They shouldn’t be prosecuted.”
George Stephanopolous: “But what about those who devised the policy?”
Rahm Emanuel: “Yeah, but those who devised the policy, he believes that they were — should not be prosecuted either. And it’s not the place that we go — as he said in that letter, and I would really recommend people look at the full statement — not the letter, the statement — in that second paragraph, 'This is not a time for retribution. It's time for reflection. It is not a time to use our energy and our time in looking back and in a sense of anger and retribution.’”
The UN special rapporteur on torture, Manfred Nowak, has said President Obama is in violation of international law for declining to prosecute CIA agents who used torture. Nowak said the US is bound by the UN Convention Against Torture, which requires prosecution in all cases in which there is evidence of torture.
Prosecution of Bush administration officials may still take place in Spain. On Friday, Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzón defied Spanish prosecutors and kept alive a criminal investigation into the actions of six high-ranking Bush administration officials, including former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and former Justice Department attorney Jay Bybee.
This comes as calls are increasing for Bybee’s impeachment as a federal judge. During an interview on Fox News Sunday, Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri questioned whether Bybee should be serving on the federal bench after approving the use of torture.
Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO): “What’s scary to me, Chris, is one of them got a lifetime appointment on the federal bench. Yikes! You know, a lawyer that’s responsible for this kind of advice that clearly went too far in terms of stretching what our law is, it worries me that he’s sitting on the federal bench right now.”
The United Nations Conference on Racism has opened in Geneva, but the United States and several other nations are boycotting the conference over concerns the conference will criticize Israel. In 2001, the US and Israel walked out of the UN racism conference in South Africa after Arab states sought to define Zionism as racist. During his opening talk, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said racism, including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, needs to be tackled. We’ll have more on the conference after headlines.
President Obama has returned to Washington after attending the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago, where he vowed to repair relations with Latin America. At the summit, Obama briefly met with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who gave Obama a copy of Eduardo Galeano’s book The Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent. At a news conference on Sunday, Obama responded to criticism of him for shaking Chavez’s hand.
President Obama: “It’s unlikely that as a consequence of me shaking hands or having a polite conversation with Mr. Chavez that we are endangering the strategic interests of the United States. I don’t think anybody can find any evidence that that would do so. Even within this imaginative crowd, I think you would be hard-pressed to paint a scenario in which US interests would be damaged as a consequence of us having a more constructive relationship with Venezuela.”
On Cuba, Obama acknowledged that the US policy of the past fifty years has failed. Obama’s comment came days after he eased travel restrictions on Cuban Americans. On Sunday, he called on Cuban President Raul Castro to take some steps if he wants to start a dialogue with the United States
President Obama: “And the fact that you had Raul Castro say he’s willing to have his government discuss with ours not just issues of lifting the embargo, but issues of human rights, political prisoners, that’s a sign of progress. And so, we’re going to explore and see if we can make some further steps. There are some things that the Cuban government could do. They could release political prisoners.”
A secret Iranian court has sentenced Iranian American journalist Roxana Saberi to eight years in prison for allegedly spying for the United States. Saberi had worked as a freelancer for the BBC, NPR and other outlets. Her father Reza Saberi spoke to NPR on Saturday.
Reza Saberi: “She is very weak and frail, the last time we saw, and she wanted to go on hunger strike, but we persuaded her not to do so. And after this, most probably she will, even though when we visit her we want to ask her not to do so. But she is quite depressed about this matter, and she wants to go on hunger strike. And if she does, she’s so frail it can be very dangerous to her health.”
The Obama administration has demanded Saberi be released. On Sunday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sent a letter to Tehran’s chief prosecutor instructing him to personally ensure that Saberi be allowed to offer a full defense during her appeal.
US drones have carried out another strike inside Pakistan killing as many as eight people in the Waziristan region. The News in Pakistan said all of the dead were civilians. However, other reports said the strike targeted a home used by al-Qaeda.
Israeli forces have killed another unarmed Palestinian during a protest against the Israel separation wall in the West Bank. Thirty-year-old Basim Abu Rahmah died Friday after he was shot with a high-velocity teargas canister. Abu Rahmah is the third Palestinian to be killed in the past three months alone during protests against the wall.
Congressional Quarterly is reporting Democratic Congresswoman Jane Harman of California was overheard in 2005 on an NSA wiretap speaking with a suspected Israeli agent. During the call, Harman reportedly said she would lobby the Justice Department to reduce espionage-related charges against two officials of AIPAC, the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee. In exchange for Harman’s help, the suspected Israeli agent reportedly pledged to help lobby Nancy Pelosi to appoint Harman chair of the Intelligence Committee after the 2006 elections. The conversation is said to have been picked up on a court-approved NSA wiretap directed at alleged Israel covert action operations in Washington. Congressional Quarterly reports then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales decided to stop a probe of Harman, because he wanted Harman to be able to help defend the administration’s secret domestic spy program that the New York Times was about to expose.
In Sri Lanka, more than 35,000 civilians have fled the last area controlled by the Tamil Tigers as the Sri Lankan military intensifies its assault on the separatist group. The United Nations says up to 100,000 civilians are trapped in the sliver of coastal jungle controlled by the Tamil Tigers and are living in “dire humanitarian conditions.” Channel 4 in Britain and Al Jazeera have aired some footage from the area that has been closed off to journalists. The video, which was shot by an aid group, showed scores of civilian victims killed last week in fighting. An estimated 4,500 civilians have been killed in Sri Lanka in the last three months.
The Environmental Protection Agency said Friday greenhouse gases endanger human health and welfare, opening the door for the EPA to possibly regulate carbon dioxide as a pollutant. The EPA found that rising levels of greenhouse gases are “the unambiguous result of human emissions, and are very likely the cause of the observed increase in average temperatures and other climatic changes.”
In economic news, Bloomberg News has filed a lawsuit to force the Federal Reserve to disclose information about the $2 trillion it has lent to financial institutions. The Fed has refused to name the borrowers or the amounts of loans. The biggest recipients of taxpayer aid made or refinanced 23 percent less in new loans in February than in October. Goldman Sachs reduced lending by 50 percent.
In news from Britain, a London police officer is being questioned on suspicion of manslaughter following the death of a British man during the G20 protests. An autopsy has found Ian Tomlinson died from internal bleeding, not a heart attack. Tomlinson was a newspaper seller who got caught up in the middle of the G20 protest. Video has emerged showing a baton-wielding British police officer hitting Tomlinson and shoving him to the ground shortly before he collapsed and died. The Independent Police Complaints Commission is also investigating at least two other assaults committed by the police during the protest.
A Swedish court has sentenced the four founders of the file-sharing website Pirate Bay to one year in prison and to pay a $3.5 million fine for violating copyright laws. The men were convicted even though they did not host copyrighted works on their own servers. Instead, the site indexed and tracked torrent files. Attorney Per Samuelson represented the founders of Pirate Bay.
Per Samuelson: “My comment is that the Swedish legal system didn’t stand against the political pressure from the whole of the world, from the whole of the power, and it’s very hard for them to acquit, but they should have done that. So this is a proof that the legal system doesn’t work when you put enough pressure on it.”
In other tech news, Time Warner Cable has announced it will stop testing a new pricing model where customers were being charged for how much internet bandwidth they used. Time Warner had proposed charging as much as $150 per month for unlimited web downloads.
The 2009 Goldman Environmental Prizes are being awarded today in San Francisco. Recipients include the Indonesian activist Yuyun Ismawati, who developed a community-based waste management system to stem her island nation’s overwhelming waste infrastructure problems. I spoke to her last week in San Francisco.
Yuyun Ismawati: “We need more efforts from all countries. But it has to be a better mechanism how developed countries can channel support to developing countries to reduce the greenhouse gases emissions. Clean development mechanisms should be reformed because the complicated and difficult mechanism cannot be implemented in the field to reach the target of reduction.”
The other recipients of the Goldman Prize are West Virginian anti-coal mining activist Maria Gunnoe; the Russian physicist Olga Speranskaya, who is campaigning to rid the former Soviet Union of toxic chemicals; the Bangladesh environmental attorney Rizwana Hasan; two anti-logging activists from the South American nation of Suriname; and conservationist Marc Ona Essangui from the African nation of Gabon.
Marc Ona Essangui: “The forest that we are defending in Gabon isn’t only for Gabon; it’s in the interest of the entire planet. Climate change, the destruction of the ozone layer — it’s not only about Gabon; it’s about the planet. A tree that is saved in Gabon will in the future save many lives in many countries.”
And in Colorado, hundreds attended a vigil Sunday to mark the tenth anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre, when two students killed twelve students and a teacher.