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In a major policy speech on Thursday, President Obama defended the secret overseas drone war but said the United States cannot continue waging what he described as a boundless global war on terror. Obama’s comments came one day after Attorney General Eric Holder confirmed U.S. drone strikes had killed four U.S. citizens in Yemen and Pakistan.
President Obama: “Simply put, these strikes have saved lives. Moreover, America’s actions are legal. We were attacked on 9/11. Within a week, Congress overwhelmingly authorized the use of force. Under domestic law and international law, the United States is at war with al-Qaeda, the Taliban and their associated forces.”
According to McClatchy newspapers, Obama’s speech appeared to expand those who could be targeted in drone strikes and other undisclosed “lethal actions.” Up until Thursday, Obama and his top aides have said that drone strikes are restricted to killing confirmed “senior operational leaders of al-Qaeda and associated forces” plotting imminent violent attacks against the United States. But Obama dropped that wording Thursday, making no reference at all to senior operational leaders.
President Obama: “America does not take strikes to punish individuals; we act against terrorists who pose a continuing and imminent threat to the American people, and when there are no other governments capable of effectively addressing the threat.”
President Obama’s speech at the National Defense University in Washington, D.C., was interrupted multiple times by Medea Benjamin, the founder of CodePink.
Medea Benjamin: “Can you tell the Muslim people their lives are as precious as our lives? Can you take the drones out of the hands of the CIA? Can you stop the signature strikes that are killing people on the basis of suspicious activities? Will you apologize to the thousands of Muslims that you have killed? Will you compensate the innocent family victims? That will make us safer here at home.”
President Obama later referenced Medea Benjamin when he renewed his four-year-old promise to close the military prison at Guantánamo.
President Obama: “Look at the current situation, where we are force-feeding detainees who are hold — being held on a hunger strike. I’m willing to cut the young lady who interrupted me some slack, because it’s worth being passionate about. Is that who we are? Is that something our founders foresaw? Is that the America we want to leave to our children?”
While President Obama spoke on Thursday about the future of the U.S. drone war, Wired.com is reporting the Pentagon is preparing to launch eight miniature communications satellites that will be used by elite forces of the U.S. Special Operations Command. The satellites are designed to stay aloft for three years or more and will be used to hunt down people overseas.
In a major development in the ongoing scandal over the Obama administration’s spying on journalists, NBC News is reporting Attorney General Eric Holder personally signed off on a controversial search warrant that identified Fox News reporter James Rosen as a “possible co-conspirator” in violations of the Espionage Act. The search warrant enabled Justice Department investigators to secretly seize his private emails. On Thursday, President Obama ordered a review of the Justice Department’s procedures for legal investigations involving reporters.
President Obama: “As commander-in-chief, I believe we must keep information secret that protects our operations and our people in the field. To do so, we must enforce consequences for those who break the law and breach their commitment to protect classified information. But a free press is also essential for our democracy. That’s who we are. And I’m troubled by the possibility that leak investigations may chill the investigative journalism that holds government accountable.”
In another press freedom case, the American Civil Liberties Union has sued the FBI on behalf of the editors of the website Antiwar.com. Once-secret documents show an FBI analyst had recommended opening an investigation and continued FBI monitoring of Antiwar.com after the site published a terrorist suspect list they had found using a Google search. The editors of Antiwar.com are asking the FBI to turn over relevant documents and to stop collecting records of their constitutionally protected speech.
The Boy Scouts of America has voted to lift a century-old ban on openly gay scouts. More than 60 percent of the group’s National Council voted in favor of ending the ban, effective January 1, 2014. Tico Perez, national commissioner of the Boy Scouts of America, said a prohibition on openly gay adult leaders remains in place.
Tico Perez: “Our adult membership standard has not changed. Any gay scout can remain in scouting so long as they meet and live by the scout oath and law. The membership standards for adults are different. When a child reaches the age of 18, a boy — or 21 in Venturing, they have to change their roles in this movement.”
The head of the Internal Revenue Service division at the heart of the scandal over the targeted vetting of right-wing groups has been placed on administrative leave after she reportedly refused to resign. The move was made one day after Lois Lerner refused to testify before Congress.
The billionaire business tycoon Penny Pritzker appears headed for confirmation as commerce secretary. Pritzker, whose family started the Hyatt Hotel chain, is a close friend of President Obama and served as the national finance chair of his 2008 presidential campaign. At her confirmation hearing Thursday, Republican Sen. John Thune of South Dakota asked about her ties to Superior Bank, a Chicago-based bank owned by her family that failed after she and her family expanded subprime lending there.
Sen. John Thune: “Ultimately, there were a number of the banks, uninsured depositors that had claims that they lost over $100,000 worth of savings, including one who reportedly deposited her entire retirement account with Superior a month before it failed. What do you have to say to those depositors who lost significant sums of money because of this venture?”
Penny Pritzker: “Well, Senator, I regret the failure of Superior Bank. It’s a — was not an outcome or a situation that I’m — you know, I feel very badly about that.”
If confirmed, Pritzker, with a net worth of over $1.5 billion, would become one of the wealthiest Cabinet secretaries in U.S. history. Bloomberg News reported Pritzker recently inadvertently understated a portion of her income by at least $80 million in a disclosure form required for her nomination. Last year, Pritzker received more than $53 million in consulting fees from her family’s offshore trust in the Bahamas.
The New York Times has revealed lobbyists from Citigroup essentially wrote a recent bill approved by the House Financial Services Committee that would exempt broad swaths of trades from new regulation. According to the paper, Citigroup’s recommendations were reflected in more than 70 lines of the House committee’s 85-line bill. Two crucial paragraphs, prepared by Citigroup in conjunction with other Wall Street banks, were copied nearly word for word.
In related news, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts is warning Wall Street has begun trying to use international trade deals to quietly stop or alter parts of the Dodd-Frank Act. Warren said there are “growing murmurs” about Wall Street’s efforts to “do quietly through trade agreements what they can’t get done in public view with the lights on and people watching.” The United States is currently negotiating three major trade deals including the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
On Capitol Hill, lawmakers in both chambers are moving to drastically cut the nation’s food stamp program through the farm bill. In the Democratic-controlled Senate, the Agriculture Committee has approved a proposal by Republican David Vitter to drop permanently anyone convicted of a violent crime from ever getting food stamps. Meanwhile, the House Agriculture Committee has approved $20 billion in cuts to the food stamps program over the next decade. The cuts could result in nearly two million people losing access to food stamps and 200,000 schoolchildren losing free school lunches.
A Russian court has denied parole to a jailed member of the Russian feminist punk group Pussy Riot. Maria Alyokhina announced this week she was going on hunger strike after she was barred from attending her own parole hearing. Fellow group member Nadia Tolokonnikova was also denied parole last month. Both women are serving two-year sentences in remote penal colonies for the group’s protest against Russian leader Vladimir Putin in an Orthodox cathedral last year.
A 16-year-old honor student in Florida who was expelled from her high school after a science experiment went awry has received a full scholarship to U.S. Space Academy, courtesy of a NASA vet who, as a teen, was accused of starting a forest fire during a science experiment. In April, Kiera Wilmot was arrested and charged with two felonies after she blew up a small water bottle on the grounds of her school. The charges were later dropped.
The president of El Salvador, Mauricio Funes, met Pope Francis on Thursday to urge him to put the slain Archbishop Óscar Romero on the road to Roman Catholic sainthood. In 1980, Romero, an advocate of liberation theology, was assassinated by a right-wing death squad while he celebrated mass in a hospital chapel.