President Barack Obama has signed into law a $662 billion military spending bill that authorizes the government to indefinitely detain American citizens without trial. In a signing statement attached to the bill, Obama said he was signing the bill even though he had “serious reservations” with parts of the bill dealing with detention, interrogation and prosecution of suspected terrorists. Sections of the bill were opposed by key members of the Obama administration including Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, FBI Director Robert Mueller and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. Human rights groups assailed Obama for backing down on his initial threat to veto the legislation. Kenneth Roth of Human Rights Watch said, “President Obama will go down in history as the president who enshrined indefinite detention without trial in U.S. law.” Chris Anders of the American Civil Liberties Union has also been a vocal critic of the legislation. He recently appeared on Democracy Now!
Chris Anders, American Civil Liberties Union: “This is so broadly written, it would become a permanent feature of United States law, so that 10 years, 20 years down the road, any president could still use this power to have the military pick up people and indefinitely detain them without charge or trial, potentially for years, potentially for life.”
The newly approved military spending bill also includes a provision to tighten sanctions on Iran by denying access to the U.S. financial system to any foreign bank that conducts business with the Central Bank of Iran. Last week, Iran threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz, a key Gulf passageway, if new sanctions are enacted. Earlier today, Iran also threatened to take action if an unnamed U.S. aircraft carrier returns to Persian Gulf.
Iowa is holing the first caucus of the 2012 president race today. The caucus officially kick off the campaign for the Republicans to nominate a challenger to President Obama. If recent polls are to be believed, three front-runners have emerged in Iowa: former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, Texas Rep. Ron Paul and former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum. With backing from Christian evangelicals, Santorum has seen a surge in popularity in recent weeks.
Rick Santorum, Republican presidential hopeful: “I believe we’re the best person to not just execute that plan and get this country turned around across the board, morally, culturally, economically, fiscally, as well as on our national security, but I think we’re the best folks to take on Barack Obama and win this election.”
Members of the Occupy movement in Iowa are continuing to stage actions against the Republican candidates and President Obama. On Monday, 12 protesters were arrested after staging a die-in at a Des Moines hotel where the Democratic National Committee is setting up a communications “war room.” Eighteen more people were arrested Saturday during a protest against money in politics.
Here in New York City, at least 500 Occupy Wall Street demonstrators temporarily reclaimed Zuccotti Park on New Year’s Eve. Demonstrators piled barricades in the center of the park that was once home to the protest movement’s encampment. In the course of the action, a protester allegedly cut a police officer’s hand with a pair of scissors. Protester Zachary Miller was arrested and charged with felony assault. Miller could face up to seven years in prison. The New York City Police Department said 68 people were arrested after the demonstrators took part in a winding march through Lower Manhattan. There were complaints the police interfered the journalists attempting to cover the event, in violation of a memorandum issued from Police Commissioner Ray Kelly over a month ago. A video posted to YouTube shows an officer threatening to confiscate the credentials of New York Times reporter Colin Moynihan after he was shoved by an NYPD captain.
A prominent source for Occupy Wall Street’s global outreach and live streaming was reportedly shut down by the New York City Police Department last night. Global Revolution, a website which has broadcast Occupy Wall Street coverage since the movement’s inception in September, claims it received an eviction notice at its Brooklyn studios on Monday night. The notice states the production space is “imminently perilous to life,” and adds, “Violators of the Commissioner’s Vacate Order are subject to arrest.”
Iraq Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki declared a national holiday on Saturday to mark the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq nearly nine years after the U.S. invasion.
Nouri al-Maliki, Iraq prime minister: “I announce that on this day, December 31st, which coincides with the complete pullout of all foreign troops from Iraq, is declared a national day. It is Iraq’s day. It is a celebratory day for all Iraqis. It is the dawn of a new day witnessed by Mesopotamia, to which everyone has contributed. It is with the effort of all Iraqis and to the benefit of all Iraqis.”
Egypt’s chief prosecutor has accused ousted leader Hosni Mubarak of imposing a “tyrannical rule” during his nearly 30 years in power. Mubarak is in court this week on charges of killing more than 800 protesters during the uprising last year. On Monday, Mubarak was wheeled into the courthouse on a stretcher.
The Egyptian military is defending its recent raids of the offices of 17 human rights and civil society groups, including three organizations funded by the U.S. government. A top Egyptian official accused the groups of operating without permission in violation of a Mubarak-era law. Heba Morayef of Human Rights Watch criticized the raids.
Heba Morayef, Human Rights Watch: “I think it’s a reflection of where we stand right now in Egypt. There’s been a narrowing of political space for critical voices. We saw this early on in the year as the authorities started to crack down on peaceful protests, as they started to arrest and imprison bloggers and then summon journalists on charges of insulting the military, some direct interference with the media. And of course NGOs were always next on the list because they’re the ones who have been documenting torture, exposing the abuses, and calling for military accountability.”
In news from Africa, a group of Nigerian protesters marched in the Niger Delta on Saturday calling on Royal Dutch Shell to do more to clean up last month’s massive oil spill. Thirteen villages in the Niger Delta have already been affected by the spill, the largest in Nigeria in 13 years. Protesters said the spill is killing off fish in the ocean.
Jacob Uka, community chairman: “The pollution is there, the problem is there, so we cannot go to the river. And being as we’re based on fishing, there is not any other way we can live with our family. Please and please, in order for peace to reign, let the federal government look into this problem immediately.”
Senegalese music star Youssou N’dour has announced plans to run against Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade in next month’s election. The 85-year-old Wade has ruled Senegal for 11 years.
Police in New York City are searching for a man believed to be responsible for targeting three homes, a business and an Islamic community center in and around Queens. On Sunday evening, a security camera captured images of a hooded man throwing a Molotov cocktail at a home that houses a small Hindu temple. The second attack occurred at a prominent Islamic community center where roughly 100 people were worshiping. The third target was a corner store owned by an immigrant from Yemen, and another attack took place at the home of a Christian family. Another bomb was thrown at a home just across the Nassau County border. There were no injuries reported in the attacks.
Police in Los Angeles have arrested a German man in connection with a wave of 53 arson fires targeting cars and homes. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announced the arrest.
Antonio Villaraigosa, Los Angeles mayor: “Around 3 a.m., the sheriff’s department detained a 24-year-old man named Harry Burkhart, who has subsequently been charged with one count of arson of an inhabited dwelling and is currently being held without bail. We expect that as the investigation continues, he will face additional charges.”
Officials said Harry Burkhart’s mother is said to be facing deportation. Burkhart had recently attended an immigration hearing with her at which he reportedly broke into an anti-American tirade.
The body of an Iraq War veteran suspected of killing a park ranger in Mount Rainier National Park was found in chest-deep snow Monday. Authorities believe Benjamin Colton Barnes fled to the remote area following a shooting that left four people wounded near Seattle and a separate shooting that resulted in the death of park ranger Margaret Anderson. The shootings led to a massive manhunt. Barnes is believed to have suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and suicidal thoughts.