The Obama administration is urging a federal judge to block the release of certain Bush-era documents that detail the videotaped interrogations of CIA prisoners at secret prisons. The Washington Post reports CIA Director Leon Panetta said in an affidavit that releasing the documents would benefit al-Qaeda’s recruitment efforts. Panetta said the forced disclosure of such material to the American Civil Liberties Union could be “expected to result in exceptionally grave damage to the national security by informing our enemies of what we knew about them, and when, and in some instances, how we obtained the intelligence we possessed.” Jameel Jaffer of the ACLU said he found it “troubling” for the Obama administration to say that information about purported abuses should be withheld because it might fuel anti-American propaganda. Jaffer said that amounts to an assertion that “the greater the abuse, the more important it is that it should remain secret.”
The oil giant Royal Dutch Shell has agreed to pay a $15.5 million settlement to avoid a trial over its alleged involvement in human rights violations in the Niger Delta. The case was brought on behalf of ten plaintiffs who accused Shell of complicity in the 1995 executions of Nigerian writer and environmentalist Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight others. We’ll have more on the story after headlines.
In Peru, indigenous leader Alberto Pizango has sought refuge in Nicaragua’s Embassy and is seeking asylum. Pizango is wanted in Peru on sedition charges after leading protests opposing laws that encourage foreign mining and energy companies to invest billions of dollars in the Amazon rainforest. Over the weekend, sixty people died after police tried to break up a blockade. Indigenous activists are vowing to continue to fight for their land.
Indigenous Protester Atilio Pisango: “We have carried on this fight for more than fifty-seven days. The government has killed our indigenous brothers in Bagua. If the government repeals the law, we will lift the strike. Our leader, Alberto Pizango, did not send armed men; it was the army.”
The Supreme Court has decided not to hear a challenge to the Pentagon’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that bars gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military. The court refused to hear an appeal from a former Army captain who was dismissed under the policy. The Obama administration had urged the court to throw the case out. In a brief, the Obama administration had said the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy is “rationally related to the government’s legitimate interest in military discipline and cohesion.” While running for president, Senator Obama campaigned to end the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, but he has made no specific move to do so since taking office in January.
In other Supreme Court news, the court has issued a stay of the sale of Chrysler to the Italian automaker Fiat, delaying Chrysler’s exit from bankruptcy. Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg announced the court would consider whether to hear the objections to the deal by three Indiana state pension funds and consumer groups. Some analysts say Chrysler could be at risk of going out of business if the court decides to hear an appeal in the case.
In another closely watched case, the Supreme Court ruled that a West Virginia judge should have disqualified himself from an appeal of a $50 million jury verdict against Massey Energy because the coal mining company’s CEO had been a major campaign donor. By a 5-4 vote, the justices held that the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals judge should have removed himself from deciding the case, because Massey chief executive Don Blankenship had spent $3 million to help him get elected to the court.
Also on Monday, the Supreme Court declined to hear a petition from a coalition of Native American and environmental groups to protect the San Francisco Peaks located near Flagstaff, Arizona. The mountains are considered sacred by thirteen Native American tribes. A lawsuit was filed by the coalition to block a private developer from expanding a ski resort on the mountain and from using recycled sewer water to make fake snow.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Monday the Obama administration is concerned about the two American journalists being held in North Korea and that they should be freed. The journalists, Euna Lee and Laura Ling of Current TV, were arrested in March working on a story near the border between North Korea and China. They have been sentenced to twelve years of hard labor in a prison camp.
Hillary Clinton: “Obviously, we are deeply concerned about the length of the sentences and the fact that this trial was conducted totally in secret with no observers. And we’re engaged in all possible ways, through every possible channel, to secure their release, and we once again urge North Korea to grant their immediate release on humanitarian grounds.”
While Secretary of State Hillary Clinton criticized North Korea for trying the journalists by secret trial, the Obama administration continues to hold at least one foreign journalist without charge. Ibrahim Jassam, a freelance photographer for Reuters, has been held in Iraq since September despite objections from the Iraqi government, Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters Without Borders and Reuters.
Another former prisoner at Guantanamo has come forward to describe being abused inside the jail. Lakhdar Boumediene, who now lives in France, told ABC News he was kept awake for sixteen days straight, and guards inappropriately used hypodermic needles and IV tubes intended for forced feeding during hunger strikes. Boumediene, who was held for nearly eight years without charge, was interviewed on ABC News last night.
ABC News: “Do you think that you were tortured?”
Lakhdar Boumediene: “I don’t think. I am sure. You think that’s not torture? What’s this? What you can call this?”
The New York Times is coming under intense scrutiny over its recent coverage of what former Guantanamo prisoners have done after their release. On May 21, the Times ran a front-page story titled “1 in 7 Detainees Rejoined Jihad, Pentagon Finds.” Since publication, the Times has had to backtrack from the article’s most serious claims. On Sunday, the paper’s public editor wrote that the article was “seriously flawed and greatly overplayed.” The public editor said the article failed to distinguish between former prisoners suspected of new acts of terrorism — more than half the cases — and those supposedly confirmed to have rejoined jihad against the West. Had only confirmed cases been considered, one in seven would have changed to one in twenty.
US authorities have brought the first Guantanamo Bay prisoner to the United States, flying him into New York to face trial for his alleged role in bombing the US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya. Ahmed Ghailani arrived early today and was brought to the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan. He is scheduled to appear in Manhattan federal court later today.
FBI Director Robert Mueller has defended the agency’s use of informants inside mosques, despite complaints from Muslim organizations that worshippers and clerics are being targeted instead of possible terrorists. Mueller said, “We don’t investigate places, we investigate individuals.” Several Muslim organizations have publicly complained that the FBI has planted spies in their mosques. Shakeel Syed of the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California accused the FBI of “trying to incite and entrap” law-abiding people.
Cuba has formally rejected an offer to return to the Organization of American States after members of the group agreed to lift the Cold War-era ban on its membership six days ago. Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro has said repeatedly that Cuba had no desire to rejoin the OAS, which he has described as an instrument of neoliberal economic policies and US intervention in Latin America. The official announcement was made on Cuban television.
Cuban Television Announcer Raul Isidron: “[Cuba] has values at odds with the neoliberal capitalism and egoism promoted by the OAS and feels that it has the right and the authority to say no to the idea of incorporating itself in an organization over which the United States still holds an oppressive control.”
In environmental news, a top UN official is urging a global ban on plastic bags, in part because plastic is the most pervasive form of ocean litter. Achim Steiner, executive director of the UN Environment Program, said, “Single-use plastic bags, which choke marine life, should be banned or phased out rapidly everywhere. There is simply zero justification for manufacturing them anymore, anywhere.” The campaign to ban plastic bags is gaining steam internationally. China banned free plastic bags last year, saving the country an estimated 40 billion plastic bags. Here in this country, San Francisco is the only large city to have banned plastic bags.
In the Texas town of Paris, protesters gathered outside the local courthouse Monday condemning the recent dismissal of murder charges against two white men in the dragging death of a black man. Twenty-four-year-old Brandon McClelland died last year after he was dragged from beneath a truck until his body was nearly dismembered. The two men originally charged in the crime were both friends of McClelland. They were released last week after being held for eight months in jail awaiting trial. Officials said the case had been unraveling in recent months because of a lack of eyewitnesses and physical evidence. Last month, a gravel truck driver gave a sworn statement acknowledging he might have accidentally run over McClelland, who authorities say got out of the car to walk home.