Revelations continue to emerge from the massive trove of diplomatic cables released by the whisteblower website WikiLeaks. The latest disclosures reveal U.S. officials tried to influence Spanish prosecutors and government officials to drop court investigations into torture at Guantánamo Bay, CIA extraordinary rendition flights, and the 2003 killing of a Spanish journalist by U.S. troops in Iraq. The documents also show the Bush administration was assured they would be shielded from scrutiny at British government inquiry into the Iraq war. Two months before the Chilcot inquiry opened in November 2009, the U.S. embassy in London reported that a top British official had vowed Britain would “put measures in place to protect [U.S.] interests” during the proceedings. The British official was quoted saying that while the Iraq war seemed no longer to be a major issue in the United States, he predicted there would be a “feeding frenzy” once the inquiry began.
As new revelations emerge, the international law enforcement organization Interpol has issued a global arrest warrant for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. A Swedish court issued an arrest warrant for Assange on charges of rape and sexual molestation last month after the prosecutor initially dropped the case. Assange has denied the allegations and said he is the target of a smear campaign. He is also under investigation in the United States and could face charges under the Espionage Act. Assange’s current whereabouts are unknown.
The soldier accused of leaking the classified documents to WikiLeaks is facing intensified public vilification. Speaking at a book signing, former Arkansas governor and Republican presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee said that Private First Class Bradley Manning should be executed. Bradley was arrested in May.
Mike Huckabee: “Whoever in our government leaked that information is guilty of treason. And I think anything less than execution is too kind a penalty.”
The Senate has approved what’s being called the biggest overhaul of the nation’s food safety system since the 1930s. In a 73-to-25 vote, the Senate authorized the expansion of Food and Drug Administration’s regulatory authority and new restrictions on farmers and food companies. The bill allows the FDA to order recalls, instead of leaving it up to corporations to do so voluntarily. The bill also requires mandatory safety plans, increases FDA oversight, and makes it easier to determine the source of contamination. The House passed its version of the measure over a year ago, but it stalled in the Senate until the recent salmonella outbreak that led to the recall of over 500 million eggs. More than a dozen people have died and thousands have been sickened in recent national outbreaks of food-borne illness. The House version imposes tougher conditions than the Senate’s, but House leaders say they will likely accept the Senate version to avoid a lengthy conference process.
Momentum is growing for the repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that bars openly gay men and lesbians from serving in the military. On Tuesday, the Pentagon released a long-awaited study that shows more than 70 percent of servicemembers believe lifting the ban would have “positive, mixed or no results.” U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Congress should repeal the law before the end of the year, but then added that the military needs an unspecified amount of time to “prepare.”
Defense Secretary Robert Gates: “In my view, the concerns of combat troops as expressed in the survey do not present an insurmountable barrier to successful repeal of ’Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’ This can be done, and should be done, without posing a serious risk to military readiness. However, these findings do lead me to conclude that an abundance of care and preparation is required if we are to avoid a disruptive—and potentially dangerous—impact on the performance of those serving at the tip of the spear in America’s wars.”
The U.S. House of Representatives has given final approval to two multi-billion-dollar settlements resolving longstanding lawsuits over the mismanagement of Native American land trusts and discrimination against African American farmers. Some $3.4 billion will be paid out to more than 300,000 Native Americans to settle claims over unpaid royalties on seized lands. Black farmers will receive just more than $1.1 billion for having been systemically denied aid and loans by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. President Obama is expected to sign the bill in the coming days.
President Obama hosted Republican leaders at the White House on Tuesday for their first meeting since the midterm elections. The two sides announced a bipartisan group to resolve an impasse over extending the Bush-era tax cuts for U.S. households earning over $250,000. The Obama administration has signaled it is willing to compromise to extend the cuts. The meeting also covered the stalled nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia, the extension of unemployment benefits, and the funding of government operations. Obama hailed the talks as a sign of bipartisan cooperation.
President Obama: “I think everybody understands that the American people want us to focus on their jobs, not ours. They want us to come together around strategies to accelerate the recovery and get Americans back to work. They want us to confront the long-term deficits that cloud our future. They want us to focus on their safety and security and not allow matters of urgent importance to become locked up in the politics of Washington. So today we had the beginning of a new dialogue that I hope, and I’m sure most Americans hope, will help break through the noise and produce real gains.”
Extended unemployment benefits for nearly two million Americans begin to run out today.
The White House panel on reducing the deficit has delayed a final vote on a package of recommendations that includes widespread cuts to Social Security and Medicare. Panel co-chairs Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson have proposed raising the retirement age for Social Security to 69 by 2075, decreasing the cost of living benefits for Social Security recipients, imposing new limits on the Medicare health insurance program, ending several middle-class tax breaks, and reducing corporate income taxes. Simpson and Bowles say they have delayed a vote until Friday because they have been unable to gather the 14 votes needed to send their recommendations to Congress.
The U.N. Climate Change Conference continues in Cancún, Mexico. Differences have already emerged in the opening sessions over extending commitments under the Kyoto Protocol and how to monitor countries’ compliance with pledges to reduce emissions. Bolivian climate negotiator Pablo Solón renewed calls for the establishment of an international climate tribunal.
Pablo Solón: “For us, it’s fundamental that discussions in Cancún tackle the creation of an International Climate Tribunal, because governments that irresponsibly play in a negotiation have to be prone to sanctions because the consequences of a fruitless negotiation will be lives, human lives.”
As the talks continued in Cancún, thousands of people took to the streets of Mexico City in a rally for climate justice.
Randy Jasper: “Well, I think the wrong people are running it. I think they need the workers and farmers of this world running it instead of the corporations. The corporations go to Cancún and make up rules for everybody. The rest of us are not involved. Workers and farmers should be running it, and then we’d know how to do it without destroying people and the environment.”
A Pakistani man is speaking out about his attempt to sue the CIA for a U.S. drone strike that killed his brother and his son. Kareem Khan has sent a legal notice threatening to file suit if he is not given $500 million within two weeks. Khan’s 18-year-old son and brother were killed on New Year’s Eve when a CIA drone bombed his home in Pakistan’s North Waziristan. Khan said the United States has been attacking innocent Pakistanis.
Kareem Khan: “We will say to them that these drone attacks you are carrying out are killing poor, downtrodden people; innocent lives are being lost. You have not been able to kill a single person who your law calls terrorists. You are only killing innocent people, children, women, the elderly.”
In Britain, thousands of students took to the streets on Tuesday in the latest protest against a round of education cuts and tuition hikes. The measures were part of a sweeping austerity package unveiled in October.
Protester: “We have come here because we’re absolutely disgusted at what the coalition party is proposing to do. I mean, Nick Clegg even said he would scrap school fees altogether. Now he wants to increase them three times. It’s disgusting, and I can’t believe that they haven’t chose to listen to us. And we are going to come out every possibility — every possible time we can to fight and to say that we want a right to good education with the fees that we have right now.”
A government review has found that Bank of America was spared tough sanctions for securities law violations because it was dependent on taxpayer aid to bail it out. In a new report, the Securities and Exchange Commission’s inspector general says regulators acted leniently toward Bank of America in settling allegations of unlawful payments in its acquisition of Merrill Lynch. The SEC gave Bank of America a “favorable” settlement to ensure its investment banking practices weren’t affected.