The Wall Street Journal is reporting the Obama administration is considering holding foreign prisoners indefinitely and without trial following the planned closure of the US military jail at Guantanamo Bay. The plan would revive the military commission tribunals that President Obama ended shortly after taking office. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham says current proposals include establishing some form of national security court that would authorize the indefinite imprisonment.
The Obama administration, meanwhile, has reneged on a pledge to release several dozen photos showing the torture and abuse of prisoners at overseas CIA and military jails. Last month, the Justice Department chose not to challenge an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit seeking the photos’ release. But after indications he was having second thoughts, President Obama confirmed Wednesday he will block the photos’ release.
President Obama: “The publication of these photos would not add any additional benefit to our understanding of what was carried out in the past by a small number of individuals. In fact, the most direct consequence of releasing them, I believe, would be to further inflame anti-American opinion and to put our troops in greater danger. Moreover, I fear the publication of these photos may only have a chilling effect on future investigations of detainee abuse.”
Around forty-three photos had been set for release. The military is believed to have as many as 2,000 photos depicting prisoner abuse. Amrit Singh, an ACLU lawyer who argued the case, said, “This essentially renders meaningless President Obama’s pledge of transparency and accountability that he made in the early days after taking office… [The Obama administration] has essentially become complicit with the torture that was rampant during the Bush years by being complicit in its coverup.”
The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the interrogation of foreign prisoners Wednesday, the first such hearing since President Obama released the Bush administration legal memos authorizing torture. Testifying behind a wooden screen to protect his identity, former FBI agent Ali Soufan said the Bush administration’s so-called enhanced interrogation techniques were “slow, ineffective, unreliable and harmful.”
Ali Soufan: “From my experience, I strongly believe that it is a mistake to use what has become known as enhanced interrogation techniques, a position shared by professional operatives, including CIA officers who were present at the initial phases of the Abu Zubaydah interrogation. These techniques, from an operational perspective, are slow, ineffective, unreliable and harmful to our efforts to defeat al-Qaeda.”
Also testifying was former State Department counselor and 9/11 Commission head Philip Zelikow. Zelikow said Bush administration officials ordered him to destroy a memo he wrote criticizing the approval of torture. Subcommittee chair Senator Sheldon Whitehouse criticized the censorship of Zelikow’s objections.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse: “We were told that waterboarding was determined to be legal, but were not told how badly the law was ignored, bastardized and manipulated by the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel.”
Senator Whitehouse went on to call for the establishment of a “truth commission” to further probe the Bush administration torture programs.
The Obama administration is proposing new regulatory powers over derivatives, the complex financial instruments that played a major role in the nation’s economic collapse. Derivatives include credit default swaps, the controversial insurance contracts that led to the government bailout of insurance giant AIG. The White House wants new rules that would have credit default swaps traded on public exchanges and backed by existing capital. On Wednesday, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said the proposals would bring urgently needed oversight.
Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner: “Part of our approach will be not just getting the better rules, more sensible rules, more conservative rules across — risk taking across the financial system, but a cleaner, more simple, more consolidated oversight structure so that there’s less opportunity for arbitrage. It’s less easy for risks to just migrate around and move around the parts of the system where regulation is carefully designed.”
The Senate has defeated an amendment that would have capped credit card interest rates at 15 percent. Independent Senator Bernie Sanders tried to include the measure in a bill imposing new regulation on the credit card industry. Democratic lawmakers have vowed to protect consumers and crack down on the credit card companies’ abusive practices. But Sanders’ proposal drew just thirty-three votes, with a bipartisan group of sixty senators voting against. Sanders said, “When banks are charging 30 percent interest rates, they are not making credit available. They’re engaged in loan-sharking.”
Newly released documents show federal officials were aware of the large bonus payments at the insurance giant AIG more than five months before they became a major public controversy. The bonus details were provided to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, then headed by Timothy Geithner, before he became President Obama’s Treasury Secretary.
The nation’s new drug czar is calling for an end to the so-called “war on drugs.” In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Gil Kerlikowske said, “People see a war as a war on them. We’re not at war with people in this country.” A former Seattle police chief, Kerlikowske has emphasized treatment and harm-reduction approaches to curbing drug use rather than standard US methods of criminalization. Kerlikowske also says he supports needle-exchange programs as part of viewing drugs as an issue of public health.
In Israel and the Occupied Territories, Pope Benedict XVI continued his visit with a trip to Israel’s separation wall around the Palestinian town of Bethlehem. The Pope called for the establishment of a Palestinian state and decried the wall as “tragic.”
Pope Benedict XVI: “I have seen, adjoining the camp and overshadowing much of Bethlehem, the wall that intrudes into your territories, separating neighbors and dividing families. Although walls can easily be built, we all know that they do not last forever. They can be taken down.”
The mother of a US servicemember killed by another soldier in Iraq has said the war zone conditions and a lack of proper mental health services are partly responsible for her son’s death. Shawna Machlinski’s son Michael Edward Yates, Jr., was one of five US servicemembers who died in Monday’s shooting by Sergeant John Russell at a US military clinic in Baghdad.
Shawna Machlinski: “As much as I have a lot of anger towards him, I also have some sympathy, because I know he must have been going through a lot as well. That doesn’t excuse the fact that he murdered my son. But I believe that if he would have gotten the help that he was there to get maybe sooner or gotten more help, and other people recognized the signs, because there are signs, and you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure those signs out.”
Russell is being held on five counts of premeditated murder and one count of aggravated assault. The Pentagon says Russell’s gun had been taken away and that he opened fire at the clinic where he’d been urged to receive counseling.
In Burma, the military junta has charged the confined pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi for an uninvited visit from a US citizen who swam across a lake to reach her home. The junta says John Yettaw spent two days in Suu Kyi’s home before he was captured as he made his way out. Her attorneys say Yettaw ignored Suu Kyi’s pleas to leave and spent a night sleeping on a ground floor. Earlier today, Suu Kyi and two aides were taken to a prison near the former capital of Rangoon. Suu Kyi has spent thirteen of the last nineteen years under house arrest. She’s being charged with violating the terms of her detention.
In Sri Lanka, a Red Cross worker has become one of the latest victims of Sri Lankan government shelling on a tiny strip held by Tamil Tiger rebels. The attack followed the Sri Lankan military’s two separate bombings of a crowded hospital, killing fifty civilians. On Wednesday, President Obama called on both sides to end the violence.
President Obama: “First, the government should stop the indiscriminate shelling that has taken hundreds of innocent lives, including several hospitals. The government should live up to its commitment to not use heavy weapons in the conflict zone. Second, the government should give United Nations humanitarian teams access to the civilians who are trapped between the warring parties so that they can receive the immediate assistance necessary to save lives.”
In Afghanistan, at least seven people were killed and another twenty-one wounded in a suicide bombing near a US military base in the city of Khost. The victims were all Afghan workers employed at the base.
In other news from Afghanistan, around ninety Afghan school girls were hospitalized this week following a poison attack at their school in Kapisa province. It was the third attack on an all-girls’ school in Afghanistan in as many weeks. Afghan police have blamed the Taliban, but the group has denied responsibility.
President Obama’s escalation of the war in Afghanistan is facing opposition in his home state of Illinois. The Illinois State Senate has passed a resolution calling for the withdrawal of all US troops from Afghanistan instead of Obama’s plans to increase the occupation.
Federal transportation officials have revealed the Continental Airlines plane that crashed near Buffalo earlier this year was co-piloted by a sleep-deprived twenty-four-year-old who made just $16,000 a year. Because of her low pay, Rebecca Lynne Shaw was forced to live with her parents in Seattle and commute by plane across the country to her Newark-based job. Fifty people were killed in the crash of Continental Flight 3407 on February 12th. The victims included Alison Des Forges, one of the world’s foremost experts on Rwanda, and Beverly Eckert, who had become an advocate for 9-11 families after losing her husband in the attacks on the Twin Towers.
President Obama delivered the commencement address at Arizona State University Wednesday, his first since becoming president. The school has sparked controversy over its refusal to award Obama an honorary degree, with officials explaining that Obama’s “body of work” has yet to come. During his address, Obama used the apparent snub to make the point that recognition shouldn’t be conferred based solely on titles or celebrity status. Obama is set to deliver the commencement address at Indiana’s Notre Dame University Sunday, where he’s expected to face protests for supporting abortion rights.
And in California, a police officer has been videotaped kicking a man in the head who had led police on a high-speed chase. The video shows the man voluntarily lying on the ground before the officer approaches and strikes him with his foot. The officer then high-fives another officer after the man is handcuffed.