President Obama used his second State of the Union address Tuesday night to urge lawmakers to overcome partisan differences and create jobs for American workers. Obama did not recommend any particular new programs, rather spoke in general terms about his administration’s priorities, including job creation and new technologies. Obama drew the largest applause of the night when he called for freezing government spending and lowering corporate taxes.
President Obama: “I am proposing that starting this year, we freeze annual domestic spending for the next five years. Now, this would reduce the deficit by more than $400 billion over the next decade and will bring discretionary spending to the lowest share of our economy since Dwight Eisenhower was president. So tonight I’m asking Democrats and Republicans to simplify the system, get rid of the loopholes, level the playing field, and use the savings to lower the corporate tax rate for the first time in 25 years — without adding to our deficit. It can be done.”
After Obama’s address, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin gave the official Republican response. In a first for the GOP, Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota then gave the official response of the Tea Party.
Rep. Michele Bachmann: “In the end, unless we fully repeal 'Obamacare,' a nation that currently enjoys the world’s finest healthcare might be forced to rely on government-run coverage. That could have a devastating impact on our national debt for even generations to come.”
In a change from tradition, many Democratic and Republican lawmakers sat next to each other instead of on opposite sides of the aisle. The gesture was intended to show unity in the aftermath of the Arizona shooting rampage. Democratic Rep. John Lewis of Georgia praised the bipartisan display.
Rep. John Lewis: “Tonight, we had Democrats and Republicans sitting together on the House floor during the State of the Union address, and it was amazing. In my 24 years here, I have never seen this happen. If we can sit together, we can work together, tomorrow, next week, next month and next year, to do the very best for America.”
Tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets across Egypt in the largest popular challenge to longtime President Hosni Mubarak since he came into office 30 years ago. Drawing inspiration from the recent uprising in Tunisia, an estimated crowd of 15,000 packed Cairo’s Tahrir Square.
Protester: “We’re tired. Stop the price hikes. We’re suffering. We’re Egyptians. We love Egypt, but stop this. We want to eat. We want to live. We want our children.”
The demonstrators were forcibly removed at around 1:00 a.m. Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets, filling the square with a cloud of smoke and sending protesters fleeing into nearby streets. Protests were also held in the port city of Alexandria and the northeastern city of Suez. Three demonstrators and one police officer were killed in the unrest. Speaking to Democracy Now!, Egyptian journalist Hossam el-Hamalawy linked the uproar against Mubarak to Tunisia’s recent overthrow of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
Hossam el-Hamalawy: “Ordinary citizens, tens of thousands of them, in what could be considered the biggest demonstrations this country has witnessed since 1977, they took to the streets and clashed with the police, calling for the overthrow of Mubarak and drawing parallels between what’s happened in Egypt and what’s going on in Tunisia. We don’t have one Ben Ali only in the Arab world; we have 22 Ben Alis, and Mubarak is one of them. And the protesters are basically settled, and they want to see Mubarak go to the same place where Ben Ali has basically fled to, which is Jeddah in Saudi Arabia.”
More protests had been scheduled for today, but the Egyptian government has imposed an order barring all public demonstrations. Earlier today, the Interior Ministry announced anyone taking part in protests or organizing them will be detained. The Egyptian government has also blocked access to the social networking site Twitter, which has been used to coordinate protests.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has been a staunch U.S. ally, and Egypt is among the recipients who receive a large sum of U.S. foreign aid. As Egyptian protesters flooded the streets, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that while the Obama administration backs freedom of expression, it ultimately supports the Egyptian government.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: “We support the fundamental right of expression and assembly for all people, and we urge that all parties exercise restraint and refrain from violence. But our assessment is that the Egyptian government is stable and is looking for ways to respond to the legitimate needs and interests of the Egyptian people.”
The news network Al Jazeera continues to release more revelations contained in the ”Palestine Papers” — more than 1,700 files from Israeli-Palestinian negotiations between 1999 and 2010. The latest disclosures show Palestinian officials discussed cooperating with Israel in killing Palestinian militants in the Occupied Territories. In one exchange, Palestinian and Israeli officials talked about targeting militant leader Hassan al-Madhoun four months before he was killed in an Israeli missile attack. Abdel Bari Atwan of the London-based Al-Quds Al-Arabi newspaper called the revelation “humiliating” for Palestinian leaders.
Abdel Bari Atwan: “I am absolutely shocked. A Palestinian official admitting that he is killing his own people to keep the authority, to keep the one gun, and this gun actually is collaborating with the Israeli security and in order to keep law and order. What kind of law and order he is keeping by killing his own people? I think this is really very, very shocking and very humiliating to the Palestinian people.”
Other newly released documents in the “Palestine Papers” show British intelligence officials helped draw up plans for a crackdown on the Palestinian faction, Hamas. The directives included the internment of leaders and activists, the closure of radio stations, and the replacement of imams in mosques. The plans ultimately became the security blueprint for Palestinian Authority officials.
The documents in the “Palestine Papers” also record the Palestinian Authority’s chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, discussing the PA’s armed conflict against Hamas. Speaking to a U.S. official in 2009, Erekat is quoted as saying, “We have had to kill Palestinians to establish one authority, one gun and the rule of law.” On Tuesday, Erekat said Al Jazeera’s publication of the documents is endangering his life.
Saeb Erekat: “The way I’m watching TV, I think what Al Jazeera people are doing is asking Palestinians to shoot me, physically. That’s what they’re doing. They’re saying, 'You are guilty, and thus you should be executed, and after you're executed you should be given unfair trial, period.’ Al Jazeera code of ethics 2011. Every single negotiating session I attended, the slogan, 'Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, and so far nothing has been agreed.'”
The “Palestine Papers” have shown Palestinian leaders offered sweeping concessions to Israel on a number of key issues but received nothing in return. On Tuesday, the U.N. Special Coordinator for Middle East Peace Robert Serry said the papers highlight the Israeli government’s rejection of serious negotiations in its attempt to retain control over the West Bank.
Robert Serry: “What you have seen is, in my view, an earnest, genuine Palestinian attempt to actually show readiness for a two-state solution, and maybe we haven’t seen that same readiness on the other side, given also the fact that all of what happened hasn’t led to an agreement.”
In Afghanistan, new figures show the number of U.S. troops killed by roadside bombs increased 60 percent last year. According to the Washington Post, 268 soldiers were killed by improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, in 2010, about as many as in the three previous years combined. The IED attacks also wounded more than 3,360 troops, an increase of 178 percent over the year before.
A federal judge has dismissed a landmark lawsuit brought by the families of four Blackwater contractors killed in Iraq nearly seven years ago. The four men died in a convoy ambush in March 2004 in the city of Fallujah. After being shot, the men’s bodies were dragged through the streets and mutilated. Two of the corpses were strung from a bridge. The victims’ families accused Blackwater of sending them into hostile territory unprepared and without sufficient protection. But after years of delays and a successful Blackwater effort to move the case into private arbitration, U.S. District Judge James Fox dismissed the case on the grounds neither side has paid for the arbitration’s costs. Katy Helvenston, the mother of slain contractor Scott Helvenston, said the case is all but over because the families have run out of money. Helvenston said, “It’s pretty much destroyed my life. I haven’t known one moment of joy since Scotty was slaughtered. I think the worst part is the betrayal from my country.”
Former Guantánamo prisoner Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani has been sentenced to life in prison in connection with the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. Ghailani was acquitted on 284 of 285 counts in November, but his lone conviction on a minor conspiracy charge carried a minimum sentence of 20 years in prison and a maximum of life. Defense attorneys had argued for leniency in part over Ghailani’s torture in a CIA prison. Federal prosecutor Preet Bharara praised the sentence.
Preet Bharara: “Ahmed Ghailani, a remorseless terrorist, mass murderer and al-Qaeda operative, will spend the rest of his life in prison where he belongs. That is the right result. That is the just result. As we said in court on the day this trial began, Ghailani was a vital member of the East African terror cell that murdered 224 innocent people and wounded thousands more in the 1998 bombings in Kenya and Tanzania in Africa. Finally, twelve-and-a-half years after those devastating and despicable attacks, Ahmed Ghailani will pay for his crimes.”
Ghailani was the first former Guantánamo prisoner tried in a U.S. civilian court. The defense has argued Ghailani was a pawn unwittingly exploited by al-Qaeda. After the sentencing, Ghailani’s attorney, Peter Quijano, said he would appeal.
Peter Quijano: “When Ahmed Ghailani was arrested in 2004 on a pending indictment in this district, his Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial was delayed for over five years. At the end of this trial, Ahmed Ghailani was found not guilty 283 times. On that day, his lawyers, to a person, believed that was the right verdict because we believed then that he was innocent. Our client was just sentenced to life without parole in a federal institution, a federal prison, and today we still believe our client is innocent.”
Three Indonesian soldiers who were videotaped torturing two indigenous West Papuan men have been sentenced to between eight to 10 months in prison. In one scene, the torturers hold a knife to the throat of a Papuan man who is nearly naked on the ground. In another, a victim has his genitals burned with a heated bamboo stick. According to one of the victims, the incident was followed by three more days of torture in which the soldiers wrapped his legs in barbed wire, put cigarettes out on his face, and repeatedly beat him. Indonesia seized West Papua in 1962, and although the territory was granted autonomy in 2001, human rights violations by the Indonesian military against West Papuans continue. Human rights groups have criticized the sentence as being too lenient.
Former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel is back in the Chicago mayoral race one day after he was ruled ineligible to run. On Tuesday, the Illinois Supreme Court granted a stay of a lower court’s ruling that Emanuel has not resided in Chicago long enough to be eligible to run in the race and have his name appear on the ballot.
An independent federal probe has found the Bush administration routinely violated a law barring government employees from using federal resources for political acts. The U.S. Office of Special Counsel says then-White House adviser Karl Rove oversaw an extensive network to steer federal resources toward electing Republican candidates. The probe says Rove established a “political boiler room” at the Office of Political Affairs to help manage public appearances, policy announcements and grant-money allocation in order to support Republican candidates in the 2006 midterm elections. The U.S. Department of Justice has refused to comment on whether it plans to press charges.