In a major policy reversal, the Obama administration has decided to try five men accused of plotting the 9/11 attack before a military commission at Guantánamo instead of a civilian court. In November 2009, Attorney General Eric Holder announced Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four others would be tried in a federal court in New York City. But the White House later abandoned that plan due to political pressure. On Monday, Holder criticized Congress for blocking attempts to try the men in a civilian court.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder: “Had this case proceeded in Manhattan or in an alternative venue in the United States, as I seriously explored in the last year, I am confident that our justice system could have performed with the same distinction that has been its hallmark for over 200 years. Now, unfortunately, since I made that decision, members of Congress have intervened and imposed restrictions blocking the administration from bringing any Guantánamo detainees to trial in the United States, regardless of the venue. As the President has said, those unwise and unwarranted restrictions undermine our counterterrorism efforts and could harm our national security.”
The Obama administration’s plan to use military commissions has been widely criticized by many legal and human rights groups. Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said, “The Attorney General’s flip-flop is devastating for the rule of law.”
In news from Capitol Hill, Republican House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan is set to outline a budget plan today that would cut more than $4 trillion from federal spending over the next decade and make sweeping changes to the nation’s Medicare and Medicaid programs. Medicare now pays most of the healthcare bills for 48 million elderly and disabled Americans. The Wall Street Journal reports Ryan’s plan would essentially end Medicare as a program that directly pays those bills. Healthcare advocates say the proposal would shift more healthcare costs to older Americans, while the block grant proposal for Medicaid would lead to reduced benefits and make fewer people eligible for the program. Ryan appeared on Fox News Sunday this week.
Rep. Paul Ryan: “Medicare itself, literally, crowds out all other government spending at the end of the day. We can’t sustain that. We have got to get Medicare solvent.”
In Ivory Coast, fighters supporting Alassane Ouattara have launched an assault around the presidential palace in attempt to oust incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo from power. Ouattara is recognized by the international community as the winner of last year’s elections. A spokesperson for Ouattara’s government has claimed its troops have occupied Gbagbo’s official presidential residence further to the east in Abidjan. There are reports that Gbagbo is negotiating his surrender and has requested a ceasefire. On Monday, attack helicopters from the United Nations and the French military attacked Gbagbo’s presidential palace. U.N. helicopters also fired on a military camp of troops loyal to Gbagbo. The U.N. says its actions were in line with the mandate given by the U.N. Security Council to neutralize heavy arms used against civilians. Alain Le Roy, U.N. under-secretary-general for peacekeeping operations, said heavy arms were being stored near the palace.
United Nations Peacekeeping Chief, Alain Le Roy: “I think there are heavy weapons very close. We have to see from the images by satellite where they are, but they are very close. Some are very close to the residency and the presidential palace, yes.”
Reporter: “Is that why France fired on the presidential palace?”
Le Roy: “Yeah, I think the mandate is to fire only to heavy weapons, even if they are close to the presidential palace, if the heavy weapons can threaten. It’s no point to fire at the presidential palace if there are no heavy weapons, but we understand there are heavy weapons very close, and that’s what they are firing at.”
Meanwhile, the Ivory Coast city of Abidjan is facing a humanitarian crisis. Residents say little food remains in the city.
Abidjan resident: “We have a food problem this morning. Everywhere we go, we can’t find anything to eat, because the war created this whole situation. We don’t want war in Africa, particularly not in Ivory Coast. We hate this situation, we are tired of it.”
The Wall Street Journal reports the FBI has begun questioning Libyans and Libyan Americans living in the United States. The FBI has not publicly acknowledged the program, but the Journal reports agents are attempting to uncover potential Libyan-backed spies or terrorists as well as gain intelligence that might help allied military operations. In 2003 the FBI questioned thousands of Iraqis and Iraqi Americans as part of a similar program called Operation Darkening Clouds. That effort led to the compilation of information on more than 130,000 people, prompting a lawsuit by the New York Civil Liberties Union.
In news from Libya, rebel fighters have rejected a proposal that would end Muammar Gaddafi’s rule but leave one of his sons in power. Ali Aujali is Libya’s former ambassador to the United Nations.
Ali Aujali, Libyan opposition leader, former Libyan ambassador to the United States: “I believe that this initiative is dead, is born dead from the beginning. We have to keep the pressure on Gaddafi, the political pressure, the military pressure. That’s the only thing that will make Gaddafi move and leave the country. Without this, I think we will not be able to reach our goal, we will not be able to reach our hope. We cannot stop in the middle now.”
In other Libyan news, rebel forces are preparing to begin exporting oil in an attempt to raise money to fight Gaddafi’s forces. A tanker is expected to soon leave eastern Libya bound for Qatar containing one million barrels of high-quality crude worth about $100 million. Libya is Africa’s third-largest oil producer.
In Yemen, at least two protesters have died in the city of Hodeidah as thousands of people took to the streets to protest the state’s violent crackdown on demonstrators. At least 17 protesters died on Monday. In Washington, the State Department harshly criticized the violence.
U.S. Department Of State Spokesman Mark Toner: “It’s appalling, as you just recounted. The violence is mounting, and we’re very concerned. We condemn all acts of violence against peaceful protesters, and we obviously extend our condolences to the family and friends of those killed. And we urge the Yemeni authorities and the government to ensure security forces exercise maximum restraint.”
Israeli President Shimon Peres is in Washington today for a meeting at the White House with President Obama. The meeting comes one day after Israel announced plans to build 942 new housing units in the Jewish settlement of Gilo on the outskirts of Jerusalem. The settlements are seen as illegal under international law.
In news from the West Bank, the head of the Jenin Freedom Theatre, Juliano Mer-Khamis, has been murdered. He was seen as leader in the Palestinian creative nonviolent resistance movement. Earlier today, Palestinian Authority security officials arrested a Hamas operative in Jenin suspected of involvement in the murder.
The former carnival singer Michel Martelly has won a landslide victory in Haiti’s controversial presidential runoff election. Haiti’s Provisional Electoral Council says Martelly won 68 percent of the vote, easily beating former first lady Mirlande Manigat. The election was marred with problems. About three-quarters of Haitians did not cast votes in the election. Candidates from Haiti’s most popular political party, Fanmi Lavalas, were banned from running. Martelly was included on the runoff ballot only after the United States and other nations pressured Haiti to include him.
In Wisconsin, voters are heading to the polls today in a closely watched race for a seat on the state supreme court. Many have categorized today’s election as a referendum on Republican Governor Scott Walker’s anti-union agenda. The race pits incumbent state Supreme Court Justice David Prosser, a conservative, against JoAnne Kloppenburg, an assistant attorney general who has received the support of the state’s unions.
In other news from Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker is coming under criticism for hiring the son of prominent campaign backer to a well-paid government post. Twenty-six-year-old Brian Deschane is being paid over $81,000 to oversee environmental and regulatory matters and dozens of employees at the Department of Commerce. Some have questioned Deschane’s qualifications. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has revealed Deschane has no college degree, little management experience, and two drunken-driving convictions. His father is a longtime lobbyist for Wisconsin Builders Association.
And in labor news, rallies were held across the country Monday to mark the 43rd anniversary of Martin Luther King’s assassination. In Waynesburg, Pennsylvania, more than 5,000 people attended a rally organized by the United Mine Workers Association. Speakers included United Steelworkers president Leo Gerard.
Leo Gerard, United Steelworkers president: “This fight is about the future. This fight is about the economy. And this fight is for our kids and our grandkids and the kind of democracy they will have with us. Solidarity forever. Stand up. Fight back. No backstep. We will win because we will stand together. Solidarity forever.”
In Washington, D.C., about 2,000 people marched on the D.C. offices of Koch Industries to protest the Koch brothers’ bankrolling of anti-union campaigns in Wisconsin and other states.