The Obama administration’s legal rationale for assassinating U.S. citizens without charge has been revealed for the first time. A secret Justice Department document obtained by NBC News says the administration can target citizens who are “senior operational leaders” of al-Qaeda or “an associated force” — even if there is no intelligence indicating they’re engaged in an active plot to attack the United States. The document is described as a “white memo” provided to members of the Senate Intelligence and Judiciary Committees last year. Its release follows a series of failed efforts by civil liberties groups to obtain the government’s legal justification for the targeted killing of an American.
A new report has revealed a detailed look at global involvement in the CIA’s secret program of prisons, rendition and torture in the years after 9/11. The Open Society Justice Initiative says 54 countries aided the CIA until President Obama halted the program in 2009. The report, called “Globalizing Torture,” also discloses at least 136 people were held by the CIA during those years — the largest tally to date. The countries’ assistance ranged from allowing CIA planes to refuel to hosting the prisons where the detainees were tortured. The report’s author, Amrit Singh, said: “The moral cost of these programs was borne not just by the U.S. but by the 54 other countries it recruited to help.”
The report comes as an Italian appeals court has reversed a lower court decision acquitting three CIA agents involved in the 2003 kidnapping of a Muslim cleric. Abu Omar was seized from the streets of Milan in 2003. He was taken to U.S. bases in Italy and Germany before being sent to Egypt, where he suffered torture during a four-year imprisonment. The reversal of the agents’ acquittals means all 26 Americans tried in the case have been found guilty in Italy. None have been extradited, but are subject to arrest if they travel in Europe.
The Justice Department is filing civil charges against the credit rating agency Standard & Poor’s for improperly rating mortgage securities leading up to the nation’s financial crisis. The charges would mark the government’s first enforcement action against a major credit ratings agency to come out of the nation’s near-economic collapse. But they would only carry civil penalties of fines and new restrictions — not jail time for top executives. Prosecutors reportedly decided to file the civil case after S&P balked at paying fines of at least $1 billion.
The Federal Bureau of Prisons has announced plans to review the use of solitary confinement in prisons nationwide. The United States is among the world leaders in holding prisoners alone in small cells, in some cases up to 23 hours a day. In a statement, the American Civil Liberties Union welcomed the review, saying: “We hope and expect [it] will lead the Bureau [of Prisons] to significantly curtail its use of this draconian, inhumane and expensive practice.”
President Obama took his public campaign for gun control on the road Monday with a speech in Minnesota. With his State of the Union address one week away, Obama emphasized his plan to ban assault weapons and increase background checks on gun buyers.
President Obama: “We don’t have to agree on everything to agree it’s time to do something. There won’t be perfect solutions. We’re not going to save every life. But we can make a difference. That’s our responsibility as Americans. That’s what I’ll do every single day, as long as I’ve got the honor of serving as your president.”
A number of Republican senators have announced they will not try to filibuster the confirmation of former Senator Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense. The pledge by Arizona Sen. John McCain and others likely means Hagel has enough votes should another Republican decide to filibuster his bid.
Activists in Syria are claiming more than 270 people have been killed in nationwide violence since Sunday. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says at least 90 people died across Syria on Monday after some 180 people lost their lives the day before. The toll includes dozens killed when a building was bombed in the northern city of Aleppo. At the United Nations, the head of refugee operations for the Middle East and North Africa warned Syria’s violence is causing “systematic destruction.”
Yacoub El Hillo: “It is an appalling situation in Syria today, appalling. And all these figures probably are not capturing the true story of how Syria, the people, but also Syria, the country, are facing systematic destruction.”
Foreign diplomats recently have claimed a small breakthrough in the impasse between Syrian rebels and President Bashar al-Assad after opposition leader Mouaz al-Khatib said he’s open to sitting down with Assad’s aides.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has arrived in Cairo for a three-day visit to attend a summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. It is the first trip to Egypt by an Iranian leader since Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Israel has carried out a new series of raids in the occupied West Bank, arresting 23 members of the group Hamas. Three of those detained were lawmakers in the Palestinian parliament.
The arrests come as Israeli forces have dismantled yet another Palestinian encampment challenging the occupation of the West Bank. In what appears to be a growing strategy, Palestinian activists established a new outpost called “Al Manatir” to protect their land from expanding settlement growth. Israeli forces and settlers moved in, firing live ammunition and arresting 10 people. It was the third Palestinian encampment to be established — and removed — in the occupied West Bank over the past month. The protest encampment follows the conclusions of a U.N. Human Rights Council inquiry reaffirming the settlements’ illegality and calling for their complete dismantlement. Panel chair Christine Chanet said Israel’s leadership has knowingly violated international law by continuing the settlements’ growth.
Christine Chanet: “Israel must — that’s our first recommendation — must cease settlement activities and provide adequate, prompt and effective remedies to the victims of violation of human rights. You will see in our report — I think it’s the first time that you will find an historical background, very exhaustive, of all the settlements enterprise. So the governments of Israel are openly, sometimes not so openly in a international stage, support the settlements, but they have the full control of the planification of the settlements.”
A group of civil rights lawyers has filed a lawsuit seeking to end the New York City Police Department’s program of spying on Muslim Americans. The suit alleges the NYPD’s surveillance of Muslims in the tri-state area violates the landmark Handschu guidelines, which limit how police carry out political investigations. The attorneys are calling for an end to all spying on Muslims unless there is evidence of wrongdoing, and for a court auditor to oversee compliance.
House lawmakers in Arkansas have voted to ban abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy with no exception for women who are victims of rape or incest. The measure now heads to the state Senate, which last week passed an even harsher measure banning abortions after detection of a fetal heartbeat. Seven other states currently ban abortion at 20 weeks.
In New York, hundreds of people packed a budget hearing in the State Capitol in Albany on Monday urging Gov. Andrew Cuomo to reject the gas drilling process known as fracking. Cuomo is expected to soon decide whether to lift a moratorium on fracking, a process that blasts fluid deep underground to extract gas. The demonstrators voiced concerns fracking would pollute water supplies, harm the environment and threaten public health. Among them was the actor and activist Mark Ruffalo, who addressed Gov. Cuomo directly.
Mark Ruffalo: “The money, $2 trillion, that is in renewable energy should come to this state. We should be leading the world. We should be — we should be fossil-free by 2030. We can do that. With our help, we’ll help you get there. We’ll help you be president. But we’ll be — we’ll cream you if you open New York state to hydrofracking.”
As New Yorkers protest fracking, direct actions are continuing against the Keystone XL pipeline that would bring tar sands oil from Canada to the Gulf Coast. On Monday, an Oklahoma woman temporarily halted construction on the pipeline by chaining her neck to an excavator. Elizabeth Leja was arrested following her act of protest. President Obama has delayed a decision on the Keystone pipeline until the spring. He initially postponed it until after the presidential election.