The attorney for alleged army whistleblower Bradley Manning is accusing the military of intensifying their harsh treatment of Manning as he remains behind bars. The lawyer, David Coombs, says Manning was placed on a stricter suicide watch last week despite psychiatric reviews showing he is not a suicide risk and should even be taken off a less restrictive “prevention of injury watch.” According to Coombs, the military revoked Manning’s lone hour of exercise and stripped him of all his clothing except for his underwear. Manning was ultimately returned to “prevention of injury” status after Coombs complained. The military is also cracking down on Manning’s visitors. On Sunday, Manning’s friend David House and progressive blogger Jane Hamsher were detained and prevented from visiting him at the Quantico military base in Virginia. They had brought with them a 42,000-signature petition protesting Manning’s prison conditions. House has publicly alleged that Manning’s mental and physical health has declined under 23-hour-a-day solitary confinement. The pair were detained for two hours and released only after Manning’s allotted visitation period had expired.
Former Chicago police commander Jon Burge has been sentenced to four-and-a-half years in prison for obstruction of justice and lying about torturing prisoners into making confessions. Burge was convicted in June following longtime accusations of overseeing the systematic torture of more than a hundred African American men. The police department fired him in 1993 for mistreatment of a suspect, but did not press charges. Burge was ultimately indicted in 2007 — not for the torture itself, but for lying about it. After the verdict, several victims of torture under Burge as well as the prisoners’ family members denounced the verdict as a slap on the wrist.
Mark Clements: “This is a complete injustice. Four-and-a-half years where men have spent 20 and 30 years in prison is outrageous.”
Robin Hobley: “Burge gets four years, five years, then he goes home. That’s not right. My brother spent 16 years on death row for something he didn’t do.”
Burge will begin serving his jail sentence in March.
President Obama has publicly introduced General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt as his new top economic adviser. Immelt will head the newly formed President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, which takes the place of the Economic Recovery Advisory Board led by Paul Volcker. On Friday, Obama said Immelt would drive the administration’s stated goal of creating jobs.
President Obama: “Our job is to do everything we can to ensure that businesses can take root and folks can find good jobs and America is leading the global competition that will determine our success in the 21st century. And so now, to help fulfill this new mission, I’m assembling a new group of business leaders and outside advisers. And I am so proud and pleased that Jeff has agreed to chair this panel, my Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, because we think GE has something to teach businesses all across America.”
Immelt’s appointment has come under scrutiny on multiple fronts. He’ll retain his position at the helm of GE, creating a potential conflict of interest. As one of the nation’s largest corporations, GE has a variety of business and issues before the federal government, including media mergers, military sales, environmental cleanup, and a $16.1 billion bailout in 2008. And while Obama has touted Immelt’s mission to create jobs, the United Electrical Workers Union says GE has closed 29 plants in the United States in the past two years, laying off around 3,000 workers.
Arizona Congressmember Gabrielle Giffords was transferred to a Houston rehabilitation facility on Friday, less than two weeks after she was critically wounded in the Tucson shooting rampage. Giffords’ new doctor, Gerard Francisco of Memorial Hermann Hospital, praised her progress.
Dr. Gerard Francisco: “She surprised us. She did not need as much assistance as we had anticipated. There were still people holding onto her, as was described previously, but she’s activating her muscles even more than what I had anticipated. At one point her leg was dangling on the bed and we asked her to bring her leg up; after a couple of seconds, she brought the left leg up without any further delay.”
Newly released documents show Palestinian negotiators have agreed to give up large tracts of West Bank land in peace talks with the Israeli government. The disclosure is among many contained in what is being called the ”Palestine Papers” — over 1,700 files from inside Israeli-Palestinian negotiations dating from 1999 to 2010. The news network Al Jazeera began publishing details of the documents on Sunday. Minutes from a 2008 meeting indicate Palestinian negotiators offered to allow Israel’s annexation of almost all of East Jerusalem, without receiving any concessions in return. Al Jazeera says forthcoming documents will reveal new details about compromises the Palestinian Authority was prepared to make on refugees and the right of return, as well as on the PA’s security cooperation with Israel and its correspondence on the U.N. inquiry into the late-2008 attack on the Gaza Strip. Palestinian Authority officials have challenged the documents’ veracity. Chief negotiator Saeb Erekat called their contents “a pack of lies.”
The documents’ release comes as an Israeli inquiry has absolved the government and military in any wrongdoing on the deadly attack on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla last year. Nine people were killed when Israeli troops stormed the Mavi Marmara ship on May 31st. Inquiry chair Jacob Turkel unveiled the panel’s conclusion.
Jacob Turkel: “The commission’s conclusion is that the imposition of the naval blockade over the Gaza Strip was lawful and complies with international law, considering Israel’s security concerns and its efforts to fulfill humanitarian obligations. This commission’s conclusion is that the entire action taken by Israel on May 31st, 2010, to enforce the naval blockade, despite a small number of incidents in which force was used, and their details are still not fully clear, were legal and in accordance with international law.”
Thousands of people have rallied in northwestern Pakistan to protest ongoing U.S. drone attacks that killed scores of civilians. On Sunday, demonstrators in the city of Peshawar blocked a main road and held a vigil to mourn drone attack victims. According to Agence France-Presse, U.S. drone attacks doubled in the North Waziristan region last year, with over 100 drone strikes killing more than 670 people. At least 13 people were killed in three recent attacks.
Protests continue in Tunisia against the interim government formed after the overthrow of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali earlier this month. Hundreds of people defied a curfew in the capital of Tunis on Sunday to camp outside the office of interim Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi. Opposition activists want Ghannouchi and other officials who served under Ben Ali to resign. The interim government has pledged to release political prisoners and has placed two top Ben Ali advisers under house arrest. In a new milestone for the Tunisian opposition, thousands of Tunisian police officers, army servicemembers and government workers rallied in the capital on Saturday in a show of solidarity with the protests that ousted Ben Ali.
Protester: “I am very happy with Tunisia today — Tunisia, which is teaching the world the meaning of democracy. And the police here are not police. The police are our brothers, and we are united.”
More protests have erupted across the Middle East in the aftermath of the Tunisia uprising. On Saturday, thousands of people rallied in Yemen to demand the resignation of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The demonstration appeared to be the largest ever to directly oppose Saleh’s three-decade leadership. The protest was confined the campus of the University of Sanaa, avoiding a street confrontation with Yemeni forces. Meanwhile, in Algeria, protesters clashed government forces in a bold defiance of a ban on public gatherings. Opposition leaders say around 40 people were wounded.
Former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier has appealed for public sympathy as he faces corruption charges and human rights investigations. Known as “Baby Doc,” Duvalier returned to Haiti last week 25 years after a popular uprising forced him into exile. On Friday, Duvalier said he feels “sadness” for those he says “are recognized” as victims of his government.
Jean-Claude Duvalier: “I take this opportunity to express again, one more time, my deepest sadness toward my compatriots who are recognized as being victims under my government.”
While Duvalier claims he’s come back to help Haiti rebuild, critics say he’s making a last-ditch attempt to recoup some $6 million in a frozen Swiss bank account. A Swedish law passed in response to Duvalier’s long-term attempt to withdraw the funds kicks in next month. Duvalier would only be able to evade it by entering and leaving Haiti without prosecution.
A Philadelphia abortion doctor has been arrested on charges of murder and performing illegal abortions in the deaths of seven babies and a patient. Dr. Kermit Gosnell was arrested last week along with his wife and eight unlicensed employees. A grand jury report accuses Gosnell of regularly and illegally delivering live, viable babies in the third trimester, then murdering the newborns by severing their spinal cords with scissors. Gosnell and his staff are also accused of killing a pregnant mother by providing her with too much anesthesia. The report Download pdf singles out Pennsylvania health and medical regulators for ignoring complaints against the clinic dating back to 1993. State officials are said to have deliberately avoided enforcement of laws mandating that abortion clinics provide the same level of care as other medical providers. Gosnell is believed to have earned at least $1.8 million a year for his practice, mostly in payments from low-income women of color.
The U.S. death penalty system has been dealt a blow following a drug company’s decision to no longer produce an anesthetic used in most states’ lethal injections. On Friday, Illinois-based Hospira said it would comply with an Italian government request that it not produce sodium thiopental at its Milan-area plant. Italy does not practice capital punishment. The decision will force states to find an alternative drug and potentially modify regulations, a process that could prove both lengthy and expensive.
And in media news, MSNBC host Keith Olbermann has left the network after eight years. On Friday, Olbermann ended his nightly Countdown broadcast with the announcement it would be his last. Although he didn’t specify a reason, Olbermann’s departure came one day after the Justice Department gave final approval to media giant Comcast’s takeover of MSNBC’s parent company, NBC Universal. Olbermann was briefly suspended in November after it was revealed that he had donated money to three Democratic candidates in violation of MSNBC’s policy.