A federal jury has acquitted former Guantánamo prisoner Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani on all but one charge in the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. After five days of deliberations, the jury found Ghailani not guilty on 284 of 285 counts. Although the lone guilty verdict came on a minor conspiracy charge, he still faces a minimum sentence of 20 years in prison and a maximum of life. Ghailani was the first former Guantánamo prisoner tried in a U.S. civilian court. Prosecutors had described him as a mass murderer with “the blood of hundreds on his hands.” But the defense argued Ghailani was a pawn unwittingly exploited by al-Qaeda. Outside the courtroom, Ghailani’s attorney, Peter Quijano, hailed the verdict.
Peter Quijano: “This verdict is a reaffirmation that this nation’s judicial system is the greatest ever devised. It is truly a system of laws and not men. We’re in the shadow of the World Trade Center. This jury acquitted Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani of 284 out of 285 counts. At the start of this trial, we believed that Ahmed was truly innocent of all these charges. Please understand that we still truly believe he is innocent of all of these charges.”
Ghailani was captured in Pakistan in 2004, taken to a secret overseas CIA jail, then moved to Guantánamo in 2006. At the start of the trial, the presiding federal judge barred the government from calling in their star witness, ruling that information about the witness had been revealed by Ghailani while he was being tortured in a secret CIA prison. His trial had been seen as a potential test for the Obama administration’s stated plans to try other former prisoners on trial in U.S. courtrooms.
Newly disclosed figures show the nation’s largest health insurance corporations funneled some $86.2 million to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to oppose healthcare reform last year. Companies including UnitedHealth and CIGNA provided the money through their main lobbying group, America’s Health Insurance Plans. The spending exceeded the group’s entire budget from the year before and accounted for 40 percent of the Chamber’s 2009 budget. The money was used to fund ads, polling and public events to stir opposition to the healthcare overhaul. An anonymous source confirmed to Bloomberg News that the money came from insurers because federal tax laws don’t require identification of donors. In a statement, the Center for Responsive Politics said, “Perhaps this key debate would have progressed differently if the true source of the chamber’s spending had been known at the time.”
A new study shows members of Congress saw a boost in personal wealth as the U.S. economy suffered the worst of the economic recession. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, lawmakers’ personal wealth increased an average 16 percent between 2008 and 2009. The number of millionaires rose to 261, nearly half the total members of Congress. The median wealth of a House member topped $765,000, while the average for a senator was more than $2.3 million.
The Obama administration is intensifying a push to expand government wiretapping of online communications, including emails, Facebook postings and internet phone calls. The administration wants Congress to require immediate compliance with wiretap orders seeking government monitoring of encrypted messages sent over the internet. The New York Times reports FBI Director Robert Mueller met with top executives at several major Silicon Valley firms, including Google and Facebook, earlier this week. The White House proposals include a requirement that any services based overseas be routed communications through a U.S. server where they could be wiretapped.
Democrats have announced they’ll force a vote on repealing the U.S. military’s ban on openly gay and lesbian servicemembers before the next Congress begins in January. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says he’ll bring a military spending bill with the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” repeal attached to the Senate floor sometime next month. The House voted to repeal the ban earlier this year.
Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska has claimed victory over Tea Party-backed opponent Joe Miller after more than two weeks of vote counting. Murkowski ran as a write-in candidate after Miller won the Republican primary in August. Murkowski is said to have a 10,000-vote lead, but Miller is still refusing to concede the race.
President Obama is heading to Portugal for a NATO summit in Lisbon beginning on Friday. The Obama administration hopes to drum up support for its military strategy in Afghanistan and its new plan to delay a non-binding withdrawal deadline to at least 2014. Ahead of the summit, the city of Lisbon is undergoing the largest-ever security crackdown in Portugal’s history. Peace activists plan to hold several rallies culminating in an antiwar march on Saturday. Protest organizer Pedro Lima criticized Portugal’s involvement in the Afghanistan occupation.
Pedro Lima: “We wanted to show the people of Lisbon that Portugal is actually in a war, that we were not even invaded by that country — that is, Afghanistan — and that we are sponsoring that war. Some money is taken out from social [projects] and education to be invested in war armaments.”
Sweden’s top prosecutor has ordered the arrest of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on charges of rape and sexual molestation. The move follows an investigation that was reopened in September after initially being dropped. It also comes less than a month after WikiLeaks released a trove of classified U.S. military documents disclosing new evidence of torture and civilian deaths in the Iraq war. Assange has denied the allegations and said he is the target of a smear campaign. A Stockholm court is set to hold a hearing on whether to grant the request for his arrest.
The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation has launched a probe of around 50 former banking executives whose firms collapsed during the financial crisis. More than 300 banks and credit firms have failed since 2008, but only a handful of financial executives have faced charges.
At least 13 people have been arrested in San Francisco at a protest against another tuition hike at University of California schools. On Wednesday, protesters gathered outside a meeting where UC Regents are considering a proposal to raise average tuition eight percent, or over $800. The Regents approved a 32 percent tuition hike one year ago. One police officer pulled a gun on the protesters, while others used pepper spray to disperse the crowd. The Regents are set to vote on the tuition hike today.
Back in Washington, House Democrats have elected House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as minority leader in the next Congress. Pelosi won by a vote of 150 to 43 after facing calls to step aside in the wake of the Democrats’ midterm losses. Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC) will fill a new position of assistant leader under minority whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD).
Republican senators have blocked a measure to fight wage discrimination against female workers. The Paycheck Fairness Act would increase enforcement of laws requiring equal pay for men and women. But on Wednesday, all Republican senators voted to prevent the bill from coming to a vote.
Former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin has given new indications she plans to challenge President Obama in 2012. In an interview with ABC News, Palin says she believes she can defeat Obama in a presidential election.
Sarah Palin: “I’m looking at the lay of the land now and trying to figure that out, if it’s a good thing for the country, for the discourse, for my family — if it’s a good thing.”
Barbara Walters: “If you ran for president, could you beat Barack Obama?”
Sarah Palin: “I believe so.”
And the singer-songwriter, poet, artist and punk rock legend Patti Smith has won the National Book Award in the nonfiction category for her memoir Just Kids. The book tells the story of Smith’s coming of age in New York and her lifelong friendship and creative collaboration with the renowned photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. Patti Smith discussed her time with Mapplethorpe in an interview on Democracy Now! earlier this year.
Patti Smith: “We were the same age, both wanted to be artists, both had nothing, and both sort of on the fringe of things. You know, both of us were more the late bloomer type. And, you know, despite the fact that Robert was — you know, had a very engaging face, he was still sort of a wall flower, a person on the fringe, even in an art school. So we gravitated toward each other and supported each other and evolved together and went through all kinds of things, you know, from Robert discovering or coming to terms with his evolving sexual identity to becoming a photographer, me evolving from poetry into rock-and-roll. And we evolved together.”