President Obama has submitted a plan to Congress to close Guantánamo Bay military prison. Despite Obama’s pledge to close the facility as one of his first acts after taking office in 2009, there are still 91 prisoners there, 35 of whom have been cleared for release. Obama wants to transfer all prisoners to their home countries or to U.S. military or civilian prisons. In an address Tuesday, Obama said Guantánamo must close.
President Barack Obama: “For many years, it’s been clear that the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay does not advance our national security. It undermines it. This is not just my opinion. This is the opinion of experts. This is the opinion of many in our military. It’s counterproductive to our fight against terrorists, because they use it as propaganda in their efforts to recruit.”
We’ll have more on the president’s plan to close Guantánamo—and Republican plans to block him—after headlines.
In his third consecutive victory, billionaire businessman Donald Trump easily won the Nevada Republican caucuses last night, capturing 46 percent of the vote. Florida Senator Marco Rubio placed second with 24 percent. Texas Senator Ted Cruz came in third with 21 percent. Speaking to Nevada voters ahead of the caucus, Trump opposed Obama’s plan to close the Guantánamo prison.
Donald Trump: “This morning I watched President Obama talking about Gitmo, right? Guantánamo Bay, which, by the way—which, by the way, we are keeping open, which we are keeping open. And we’re going to load it up with some bad dudes, believe me. We’re going to load it up.”
Senate Republicans have vowed not to hold even so much as a courtesy meeting with President Obama’s pick to replace Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Republicans will wait until a new president is in place next January.
Sen. Mitch McConnell: “This is a unique circumstance, and you’d have to go back to 1888, when Grover Cleveland was president, to find the last time a vacancy created in a presidentially elected year was approved by a Senate of a different party.”
Italian authorities say they have rescued more than 700 people from boats off the coast of Libya and recovered the bodies of four others. More than 400 people have died in the Mediterranean this year attempting to reach Europe. Meanwhile, along the Greek-Macedonian border, Greek riot police forcibly removed Afghan refugees from train tracks as they protested policies that have stranded them in northern Greece. Macedonia closed its border to Afghans, reclassifying the refugees as economic migrants, meaning they can’t obtain political asylum. A spokesperson for the U.N. refugee agency expressed concern over how Macedonia and other countries are profiling refugees at the border.
Karin de Gruijl: “In general, we are concerned about the profiling of refugees at the borders. We feel—we think that refugees and asylum seekers, their claims should be looked at individually through asylum systems, and people should not be selected on the basis of their nationality. They should be selected on whether they are in need of international protection or not. And you cannot do that by selecting—by setting up a selecting mechanism by nationality.”
The International Organization for Migration says more than 110,000 people have arrived in Greece and Italy this year, a sharp uptick over last year.
In Rhode Island, hundreds of protesters flooded an anti-refugee news conference at the state House Monday. Speakers at the anti-refugee event included former Michigan Representative Pete Hoekstra; Rhode Island Republican congressional candidate Russell Taub; and Charles Jacobs, president of a group called Americans for Peace and Tolerance, who was shouted down by protesters as he described the supposed “dangers” posed by Syrian refugees. The protesters chanted, “Say it loud, say it clear, refugees are welcome here.”
Privacy advocates rallied at Apple stores across the United States Tuesday to praise the company for refusing to provide a backdoor allowing the government to break into its iPhone. Apple has said it will resist a court order to help the FBI penetrate an iPhone recovered from one of the San Bernardino shooters. The rallies came amid reports the Justice Department is now demanding Apple help it unlock at least nine other iPhones.
In Peru, the state oil company has acknowledged at least 3,000 barrels of crude oil have spilled in the Amazon region after ruptures in Peru’s main oil pipeline. The oil spills contaminated two rivers used as a water source by at least eight indigenous Achuar communities. There were reports Petroperú was using children to clean up the oil.
Panama has begun flying more than 1,000 U.S.-bound Cubans to northern Mexico. The Cubans were trapped after Central American countries closed their borders to them. They are trying to reach the United States amid fears thawing relations between the U.S. and Cuba could end U.S. asylum rights for Cubans. Costa Rica has launched similar flights for some 8,000 Cubans trapped there. Next month President Obama plans to become the first sitting U.S. president to visit Cuba since Calvin Coolidge in 1928.
An advocacy group says a Palestinian prisoner has entered “unknown territory” with his more than 89-day hunger strike. Physicians for Human Rights-Israel says journalist Mohammed al-Qeq has been on hunger strike longer than any other Palestinian prisoner and longer than any of the Irish Republican Army prisoners held by Britain in Northern Ireland, 10 of whom died after their fasts. Israeli authorities have accused him of “terrorist activities” tied to the group Hamas. He is in critical condition in a hospital. Al-Qeq is one of nearly 600 prisoners being held under administrative detention, which lets Israel incarcerate people without charge or trial.
In Mexico, a federal court has ruled criminal charges against Zapatista leader Subcomandante Marcos are no longer valid—more than two decades after they were first lodged. The Zapatistas launched an uprising on the day the North American Free Trade Agreement went into effect, January 1, 1994, declaring that NAFTA meant death to indigenous people. Subcomandante Marcos was charged with rebellion, terrorism and other crimes. But under Mexican law, such charges expire when half the possible prison term for the most serious charge has lapsed. The court said that renders Marcos’ charges invalid.
Here in New York, workers in the basement warehouse of B&H Photo Video’s flagship retail store in Manhattan have voted 46 to 14 to join the United Steelworkers Union. The move comes after B&H warehouse workers in Brooklyn voted to join the same union in November. The workers say they have faced rampant discrimination and abusive and dangerous working conditions.
The hospital center that dispatched paramedics and treated Eric Garner, the African-American man who died after a police chokehold in Staten Island, has agreed to pay Garner’s family $1 million. The settlement with Richmond University Medical Center was revealed in court records obtained by the Associated Press. Video footage shows police officer Daniel Pantaleo wrestling Garner to the ground by his neck; officers then pile on top of Garner, who said, “I can’t breathe” 11 times. Video also shows EMT workers taking Garner’s pulse but doing little else to assist him as he lies unresponsive on the ground. Three of the four EMTs are back at work; a fourth remains on modified duty. Court documents accused the EMTs of failing to examine Garner adequately or “provide him with the necessary lifesaving procedures.”
Meanwhile, the man who filmed the fatal chokehold of Eric Garner has been arrested again. Ramsey Orta says he has faced constant police harassment and surveillance by officers who at one point told him, “You filmed us, so now we’re filming you.” Orta was arrested Friday after police said he assaulted his wife and her two-year-old son. But Orta’s wife, Jessica, has come to Orta’s defense, saying police have retaliated against Orta for filming the Garner video. To see our interview with Ramsey Orta and Eric Garner’s daughter, Erica, go to democracynow.org.
Protesters gathered at New York City Hall Tuesday to call for shutting down the Rikers Island jail complex. The rally came after New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio dismissed the idea of shutting down Rikers as impractical. Among the attendees was Akeem Browder, whose brother, Kalief Browder, spent three years at Rikers without trial after he was accused at the age of 16 of stealing a backpack. He maintained his innocence and requested a trial. After enduring abuses, including a beating by guards, and nearly 800 days in solitary confinement, Browder was finally released when the case was dismissed. Last year he committed suicide at the age of 22. His brother spoke out Tuesday.
Akeem Browder: “My name is Akeem Browder. I’m here with the Campaign to Shut Down Rikers, along with other coalitions, to demand justice for Kalief Browder, to see that Rikers Island is shut down, from the torturous state that it is to nothing. We don’t want to reform. We don’t want to build new jails. We want our voices heard. If everyone can pay attention to the facts of what happened with Kalief Browder and understand that it can happen to their community members, their loved ones and themselves, as well, if they can understand what happened, then they should be out here as a people to voice their opinion.”
An African-American transgender woman has been killed in Philadelphia, less than two days after another African-American transgender woman was found dead in a motel room in San Antonio, Texas. Maya Young was pronounced dead early Sunday after being repeatedly stabbed. Less than 48 hours earlier, Veronica Banks Cano was found dead in a bathtub, fully clothed. The cause of her death remains unknown. Last year, more than 20 transgender women were murdered, the highest number on record.
And while the Oscars are being handed out this weekend, a star-studded cast of African-American actors, musicians and filmmakers will throw a free event in Flint, Michigan. Flint has been in the national spotlight over lead poisoning in its water, which stemmed from an unelected emergency manager’s decision to switch the city’s water to the corrosive Flint River. The Oscars have also been the center of media scrutiny over the whiteness of the nominees, after no actors of color were nominated for a second year in a row. While movies about African Americans like “Straight Outta Compton” and “Creed” received nominations, they went to the white writers of “Straight Outta Compton” and white actor Sylvester Stallone for “Creed”; the African-American directors and non-white actors were excluded. “Creed” director and co-writer Ryan Coogler will attend the #JUSTICEFORFLINT event on Oscar night, as will “Selma” director Ava DuVernay, who was passed over for a best director nomination last year. Other attendees will include “Grey’s Anatomy” star Jesse Williams, musician Janelle Monáe and comedian Hannibal Buress.