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Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Mideast envoy George Mitchell have arrived in Israel for a new round of talks with the Israeli government. National Security Adviser James Jones and Special Mideast Adviser Dennis Ross head to Israel in the coming days. Gates’s visit was partially aimed at dissuading Israel from taking any military action against Iran and buying time for US diplomacy to bear fruit.
Gates said he hopes Iran will respond by September to the Obama administration’s offer for talks on its nuclear program.
Robert Gates: “The President has been quite clear that this is not an open-ended offer to engage. We’re very mindful of the possibility that the Iranians would simply try to run out the clock. I think that the President is certainly anticipating or hoping for some kind of response this fall, perhaps by the time of the UN General Assembly.”
After meeting with Gates, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak refused to rule out an Israeli attack on Iran.
Ehud Barak: “We clearly believe that no option should be removed from the table. This is our policy. We mean it. We recommend to others to take the same position, but we cannot dictate it to anyone.”
The Obama administration and Israel are also said to be close to a deal on Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank. Washington will reportedly allow some settlement projects in advanced stages of construction to be completed, but Israel would freeze all other building for an as-yet-undetermined period of time. Meanwhile, the Israeli government has revealed that more than 300,000 Jewish residents now live in settlements in the West Bank, an increase of 2.3 percent since January.
The New York Times is reporting top Bush administration officials considered sending US troops into the suburbs of Buffalo in 2002 to arrest a group of men suspected of plotting with al-Qaeda. Vice President Cheney backed the plan despite legal restrictions on the military being used to conduct domestic raids and seize property. Cheney based his argument in part on a 2001 Justice Department memo from attorneys John Yoo and Robert Delahunty that declared the Fourth Amendment did not apply to domestic military operations. Former officials said the 2002 debate arose partly from Justice Department concerns that there might not be enough evidence to arrest and successfully prosecute the suspects in Lackawanna. Cheney wanted the men to be declared enemy combatants and held indefinitely in military custody without trial. Cheney ended up losing the debate, and President Bush ordered the FBI to make the arrests in Lackawanna. The five men arrested there in September 2002, and a sixth arrested nearly simultaneously in Bahrain, pleaded guilty to terrorism-related charges.
The Justice Department has conceded that it lacks the evidence to hold a teenage Guantanamo prisoner as an enemy combatant after a federal judge ruled that his confession was inadmissible because it was obtained through torture. But the Obama administration is asking a federal court for permission to continue holding Mohamed Jawad at Guantanamo until it decides whether to bring him to the US for a criminal trial. Afghan officials say Jawad was as young as twelve at the time of his capture seven years ago. Jawad’s confession that he threw a grenade at a US soldier reportedly came after an interrogator threatened to kill him and his family. Jonathan Hafetz of the American Civil Liberties Union criticized the Obama administration for continuing to hold the young man. Hafetz said, “They’re simply trying to manufacture new ways to prolong his detention.”
Ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya briefly returned to Honduras twice in recent days in an attempt to put pressure on the coup leaders who deposed him last month. Zelaya first crossed into Honduras from Nicaragua on Friday but stayed for less than an hour. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton criticized Zelaya’s actions.
Hillary Clinton: “President Zelaya’s effort to reach the border is reckless. It does not contribute to the broader efforts to restore democratic and constitutional order in the Honduras crisis.”
President Zelaya made another brief return to Honduras on Saturday. Afterwards, he spoke to reporters from the border town of Las Manos in Nicaragua.
President Zelaya: “Washington has to understand that I should be here. I’ve already made five trips to Washington. I think that is enough. If they want to tell me something, any delegate can come and talk to us.”
The newly installed president of Honduras, Roberto Micheletti, described Zelaya’s actions as irresponsible.
Roberto Micheletti: “To the international community, Mr. Zelaya’s act is irresponsible, not meditated and not serious. You are a firsthand witness of what Hondurans already know: ex-President Zelaya is an irresponsible demagogue who puts the lives of others at risk in pursuit of his own personal agenda.”
Republican Sarah Palin has stepped down as governor of Alaska eighteen months before the end of her first term as governor. In her farewell address on Sunday, the former vice-presidential candidate gave no hint on whether she will seek an elective office again. Palin spent part of her farewell speech criticizing the media.
Sarah Palin: “You represent what could and should be a respected, honest profession that could and should be a cornerstone of our democracy. Democracy depends on you. And that is why — that’s why our troops are willing to die for you. So, how about, in honor of the American soldier, you quit making things up?”
President Obama made a surprise appearance in the White House briefing room on Friday and told reporters he had talked with the police officer who arrested African American scholar Henry Louis Gates inside his own home near Harvard University. Obama said he had a cordial conversation with Sgt. James Crowley and that he had invited Crowley and Gates to the White House for a beer. During Wednesday’s press conference, Obama said the Cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting Gates at his home. But on Friday, Obama softened his criticism of the police department.
President Obama: “Because this has been ratcheting up, and I obviously helped to contribute ratcheting it up, I want to make clear that in my choice of words I think I unfortunately gave an impression that I was maligning the Cambridge Police Department or Sergeant Crowley specifically, and I could have calibrated those words differently. And I told this to Sergeant Crowley.”
A federal appeals court has reversed a lower court’s decision and ruled that the Interior Department must fully account for more than a century’s worth of land royalties owed to Native Americans. The ruling comes thirteen years after 500,000 Native plaintiffs filed a lawsuit in federal court to collect the $47 billion in royalties they say the federal government owes them for its use of their lands since 1887. An earlier decision by a district court judge stated that accounting for the land royalties would be impossible and awarded the plaintiffs $455 million.
At a celebration of the nineteenth anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, President Obama announced Friday that the United States will sign the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. He said UN Ambassador Susan Rice will sign the document this week, along with 140 other nations. Nations that are party to the treaty will be required to ensure that citizens with disabilities enjoy full equality under the law. The disabilities convention will become the first international human rights treaty signed by the United States in nearly a decade.
House Judiciary Committee Chair John Conyers and Senate Judiciary Committee member Russ Feingold have introduced bills to restore voting rights in federal elections to Americans formerly incarcerated on felony convictions. The Democracy Restoration Act of 2009 will restore such rights to approximately four million Americans who continue to be disenfranchised despite being released from prison. Left out of this bill are the 1.3 million Americans still incarcerated on felony convictions. Felony disenfranchisement affects people of color at a disproportionate rate, with 13 percent of African American men unable to vote as a result.
In other news from Capitol Hill, the House has voted to lift a ban on using taxpayer dollars for needle exchange programs for intravenous drug users intended to prevent the spread of HIV and other diseases.
Protests were held in over eighty cities Saturday calling on the Iranian government to release all opposition activists arrested after last month’s disputed presidential election.
Protestor: “The goal today is to ask from the United Nations to send a delegation in Iran and investigate the crimes and the violations of human rights that took place in Iran in the protests after the vote of the 12th of June.”
More information has come to light about an Army unit based at Fort Carson in Colorado that has seen ten of its infantrymen jailed on murder, attempted murder or manslaughter charges since returning from Iraq. A new report in the Gazette newspaper of Colorado Springs reports many of the soldiers had great trouble adjusting to civilian life after what they had seen and done in Iraq. The unit, the 4th Infantry Division’s 4th Brigade Combat Team, fought in some of the bloodiest places in Iraq. Since returning to the United States, soldiers from the brigade have have been involved in brawls, beatings, rapes, drunk driving, drug deals, domestic violence, shootings, stabbings, kidnapping and suicides. One of the soldiers, Kenneth Eastridge, is now serving ten years for accessory to murder. Eastridge told the paper, “The Army pounds it into your head until it is instinct: Kill everybody, kill everybody. And you do. Then they just think you can just come home and turn it off.” Several soldiers said unit discipline deteriorated in Iraq before they returned home. Iraqi taxi drivers got shot for no reason. Soldiers dropped men off bridges after interrogations. Tanks drove over Iraqi cars for no reason. Another soldier, Daniel Freeman, said, “Toward the end, we were so mad and tired and frustrated. You came too close, we lit you up.”
Ten homeless activists were arrested in New York last week after the organization Picture the Homeless occupied a vacant lot in Harlem owned by JPMorgan Chase to protest against a shortage of affordable housing in the city.
Rev. Frank Morales: “We’re no longer believing in the Bloomberg administration five-year plan to end homelessness. It’s been an abject failure. So we’re saying we are going seize the vacant land. We’re going to seize the vacant apartments. We’re going to take them in the interests of the people who need the housing.”
A group of student and community activists at New York University have succeeded in opposing the temporary appointment to the faculty of a Singaporean academic who is an advocate for the continued criminalization of homosexuality in her home country. Dr. Thio Li-ann was to teach a course on human rights as a visiting professor at NYU’s School of Law in the fall. She chose to forgo the opportunity after students from the LGBT student group NYU OUTLaw circulated her anti-gay statements to their peers. In one statement, she said, “Diversity is not license for perversity.” In another, she likened gay sex to “shoving a straw up your nose to drink.”