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On Friday, May 15, 2009, President Barack Obama announced that his administration would restart the military commissions he halted in the first days of his presidency. BORDC strongly opposes this decision.
The use of military commissions is not, contrary to its portrayal in the media, a partisan issue. Many conservatives, including BORDC Advisory Board member Bruce Fein, are opposed to these unconstitutional trials. Military tribunals are an inherently flawed system, and regular courts are already suited to situations like this with systems set up to handle intelligence issues and classified information. This is evidenced by the successful prosecutions of terrorists—over 120 of them, including Jose Padilla and Zacharias Moussaoui—in the regular courts. Broad existing laws and regular federal courts are already more than sufficient without needing to resort to legally and practically dubious trial systems.
Center for Constitutional Rights President Michael Ratner and Managing Attorney for CCR’s Guantanamo project Shayana Kadidal responded with disappointment to President Obama’s speech this morning. CCR represents the detainees at Guantánamo and is part of the key FOIA lawsuit surrounding the torture photo disclosures.
Ratner and Kadidal were disturbed by the direction the Obama administration is taking on questions of human rights, transparency, accountability and the law. CCR’s Executive Director, who met with the president yesterday, briefed his colleagues before boarding a plane this morning.
May 22, 2009
“In politics we presume that everyone who knows how to get votes knows how to administer a city or a state. When we are ill... we do not ask for the handsomest physician, or the most eloquent one.” -- Plato
With the passage of the war supplemental by the Senate, President Obama and Congress are "doubling down" on war in Afghanistan. Are we - and the Afghan people - doomed to endure many more years of war?
There is no reason that we need be, according to yesterday's New York Times, which reports that talks between Taliban leaders and Afghan government representatives have accelerated since Obama's election, and that Afghan officials say they have the tacit blessing of Washington for the talks.
Furthermore, the demands being put forward by the Taliban in the negotiations appear, on the face of it, to be eminently reasonable.
Daoud Abedi, one of the intermediaries in the talks, told the Times he had hammered out a common set of demands between the Taliban and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's group. The groups agreed to stop fighting if those conditions were met, Abedi said.
Freshman Democrat Alan Grayson Attacks Obama's War Policy
by Christopher Bateman | Vanity Fair
In 2007, Vanity Fair’s David Rose wrote about an ambitious lawyer and entrepreneur named Alan Grayson, who at the time was suing KBR and other defense contractors in Iraq for alleged fraud on behalf of whistleblowers and American taxpayers. Grayson, who ran for Congress unsuccessfully in 2006, ran again in 2008, and this time was elected to represent Florida’s 8th district, which encompasses part of Orlando....
Have you been pleased at all with the Obama administration’s policies in Iraq and what they’ve done there so far?
Dday picked up on the phony self-oversight and the latest signing statement. Where's the rest of the blogosphere?
President Barack Obama raised more questions than he answered Thursday when it comes to the legal prospects for Guantanamo Bay detainees.
While politicians have been most concerned that detainees not be transferred to prisons in the United States , the truly thorny legal quandary involves how to form new military commissions or how to detain terrorism suspects indefinitely without violating U.S or international laws.
Detainees could be placed on one of four different tracks: They could be released or transferred to other countries, tried in federal courts, charged before newly comprised military commissions or indefinitely detained because they cannot be prosecuted and "pose a clear danger."
But many legal experts said Obama still must offer more concrete details on how his sweeping plan would work.
Well, OK, the statement is dated yesterday. Here it is.
Here's the meat of it, telling Congress to go Cheney itself:
Section 5(d) of the Act requires every department, agency, bureau, board, commission, office, independent establishment, or instrumentality of the United States to furnish to the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, a legislative entity, any information related to any Commission inquiry. As my Administration communicated to the Congress during the legislative process, the executive branch will construe this subsection of the bill not to abrogate any constitutional privilege.
I find the signing statement troubling for a number of reasons. First, Obama's celebration of investigative tools to combat fraud going forward seems like the same old "look forward" language with which Obama has thus far prevented any inquiry into Bush-era torture and other abuses. Investigative tools are nice, but we need to know what the beast we're investigating really looks like, which is what the Pecora Commission should tell us.
Also, I just spent several days wading through the 9/11 Commission archives. Having recently been reminded of Bush's stonewalling of that Commission, on which this Pecora Commission is based (though this Commission will have more members from Obama's party), I really don't relish the thought that Obama may soon be stonewalling in similar fashion.
More specifically, though, I'm concerned about what this says about Obama's approach to executive privilege. The privilege has, traditionally, arisen out of a real concern to protect precisely the subject of the 9/11 Commission--national security information. Bush was, of course, stonewalling the 9/11 Commission to protect himself from embarrassment, but at least any executive privilege there arose out of the traditional purpose for executive privilege.
But this Pecora Commission is mandated with investigating a financial failure, not a national security one. Yet Obama's signing statement suggests he may invoke privilege to hide details of that failure.
Now, there is one use of the privilege that does apply here--deliberative privilege, in which the President can shield conversations with top advisors to protect the President's ability to get unvarnished advice (it's a use of executive privilege that I find rather bogus, but it there is precedent for it). So perhaps Obama plans to invoke executive privilege to shield conversations he had with the Masters of the Universe surrounding him about why they shouldn't nationalize Bank of America, for example, instead of throwing away money on a bailout that may be far less effective. But that's precisely the kind of conversation this Pecora Commission needs to be able to investigate, if we're going to avoid similar meltdowns in the future.
It's not a good sign, frankly. The meltdown and the bailout have been largely managed through the executive branch behind closed doors (or, barring that, behind the opacity of the Fed). If Obama plans to shield events that happened behind those closed doors, we may never find out the causes for the economic meltdown.
The Obama administration urged the U.S. Supreme Court not to revive a lawsuit accusing former Vice President Dick Cheney and other officials in the George W. Bush White House of illegally revealing the identity of a CIA agent. Read more.
By David Swanson
Dick Cheney could make anyone look decent, honorable, and law-abiding by comparison. But is the existence of someone worse, no matter how many hours our media monopoly gives him, enough to make Obama's decisions acceptable? Let's look at their pair of speeches given on Thursday in Washington, D.C., and depicted as a debate by the media.
President Obama began speaking at 10:28 a.m., 18 minutes late, and spoke until 35 minutes after Cheney's scheduled start, but Cheney delayed and began at 11:20. Obama had scheduled his own speech to coincide with Cheney's, no doubt to defend against some of Cheney's statements, but also probably because of the politically advantageous contrast with someone so very unpopular and someone always advocating greater illegality and abusiveness.
If civilian deaths from U.S. military operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan were CO2 emissions, perhaps we'd be having a more effective discussion about reducing them.
The pattern seems to be this. When there are complaints about civilian deaths from U.S. airstrikes and night raids, first the Pentagon denies there were any. When civilian deaths are documented, the Pentagon says civilian deaths are regrettable but we are doing everything we can possibly do to reduce them. When the complaints grow too strong to be dismissed in this way, the Pentagon announces that we are taking new steps to reduce civilian casualties (passing over the fact that this contradicts the previous claim that we were doing everything we could before to reduce civilian casualties.)
Then the cycle repeats.
Obama Is Said to Consider Preventive Detention Plan
By Sheryl Gay Stolberg | NYTimes
President Obama told human rights advocates at the White House on Wednesday that he was mulling the need for a “preventive detention” system that would establish a legal basis for the United States to incarcerate terrorism suspects who are deemed a threat to national security but cannot be tried, two participants in the private session said.
So argues Spencer Ackerman of Ilan Goldenberg's hiring.
President Obama will be speaking at 10:10 a.m. at the National Archives beside the U.S. Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and the Magna Carta. He'll address indefinite detentions, military commissions, wars of aggression, foreign empire, and immunity for torturers. Then at 10:45 at the American Enterprise Institute, Dick Cheney will make whatever the president said seem good and law abiding by comparison. What a tag team. (Obama scheduled his speech after learning of Cheney's, and he clearly relishes the contrast between himself and his unpopular criminal cousin, as opposed to himself and the rule of law or the will of the public.) Post your comments here. C-Span will show both videos live online. And if you're in DC, be there and make your support for appointing a special prosecutor known.
It would be an exaggeration to say that Congress has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity this week to reform the policies of the International Monetary Fund. If the future is like the past, if Congress misses this opportunity, another one will come along - in about 10 years or so.
This week, House and Senate leaders are meeting in a conference committee to work out the differences between the House and Senate versions of the supplemental appropriations bill. The Senate version of the bill is likely to include $100 billion and new authorities for the IMF, but the House version of the supplemental bill did not include funds for the IMF. The Senate is debating amendments now as I write. The conference committee will almost surely meet soon after Senate passage; the stated goal is to pass the supplemental before the Memorial Day recess.
By Dave Lindorff
A new study of 1004 union organizing drives conducted by the director of labor education research at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations has found that two-third of the companies involved were violating US labor law by holding one-on-one interrogations of workers, by threatening workers about their union support, by firing union organizers or using half a dozen other illegal tactics to defeat unionization campaigns.
Prof. Kate Bronfenbrenner, author of No Holds Barred: The Intensification of Employer Opposition ot Organizing, says that these illegal tactics by employers have been used to drive union representation at American companies down to only 12.4 percent from a level of 22 percent just 30 years ago.
By Jeff Cohen
I learned long ago, while working at the media watch group FAIR, to be wary of New York Times headlines.
Hearing news that President Obama has a shortlist of candidates to replace David Souter on the U.S. Supreme Court, I dug up a front-page New York Times Week in Review piece written soon after Obama’s inauguration about his possible impact on the Court. It was headlined: “To Nudge, Shift or Shove the Supreme Court Left.”
I’d like to see Obama shift or shove the Court leftward. But after reading the article, I realized that it could just as easily have been headlined: “Will Obama Move Supreme Court Rightward?”
"Shallow Throat": Is Obama Turning Into Bush Lite?
By Bernard Weiner, The Crisis Papers
Maybe this happens to you, too. You go away on vacation for a few months,
come back and sort through your snail/email and back copies of magazines and
'net stories, only to find that a good share of the mail is third-class
junk/spam and not all that much has changed in the news.
That's the way I feel these days. After pumping out about 300 essays since
9/11, recently I more or less took a three-month leave from publishing
political analyses on the internet in order to reconnect with other aspects of my
life, in particular to focus on three major creative projects: a new play
(in February), a photo exhibit of new work (April), and a music concert based
on my poetry (May).
Now I'm back, sort of, only to find that much of the political news remains
the same as when I took my creative break: Obama is maintaining his high
Two cheers for President Obama.
President Obama, at the press conference yesterday with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu:
Now, Israel is going to have to take some difficult steps as well, and I shared with the Prime Minister the fact that under the roadmap and under Annapolis that there's a clear understanding that we have to make progress on settlements. Settlements have to be stopped in order for us to move forward.
I’m not a fan of Washington’s blue-ribbon commissions, where political compromises can trump the truth. But the 9/11 investigation did illuminate how, a month after Bush received an intelligence brief titled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.,” 3,000 Americans were slaughtered on his and Cheney’s watch. If the Obama administration really wants to move on from the dark Bush era, it will need a new commission, backed up by serious law enforcement, to shed light on where every body is buried.
Members of Congress have been told in confidential briefings that Pakistan is rapidly adding to its nuclear arsenal even while racked by insurgency, raising questions on Capitol Hill about whether billions of dollars in proposed military aid might be diverted to Pakistan’s nuclear program.
Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, confirmed the assessment of the expanded arsenal in a one-word answer to a question on Thursday in the midst of lengthy Senate testimony. Sitting beside Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, he was asked whether he had seen evidence of an increase in the size of the Pakistani nuclear arsenal.
“Yes,” he said quickly, adding nothing, clearly cognizant of Pakistan’s sensitivity to any discussion about the country’s nuclear strategy or security.
Inside the Obama administration, some officials say, Pakistan’s drive to spend heavily on new nuclear arms has been a source of growing concern, because the country is producing more nuclear material at a time when Washington is increasingly focused on trying to assure the security of an arsenal of 80 to 100 weapons so that they will never fall into the hands of Islamic insurgents.
Hospitals and insurance companies said Thursday that President Obama had substantially overstated their promise earlier this week to reduce the growth of health spending.
Mr. Obama invited health industry leaders to the White House on Monday to trumpet their cost-control commitments. But three days later, confusion swirled in Washington as the companies’ trade associations raced to tamp down angst among members around the country.
After meeting with six major health care organizations, Mr. Obama hailed their cost-cutting promise as historic.
Broad Coalition Of Organizations And Individuals Launch “Restore Justice At Justice” Campaign | Press Release
Demands Redress For Those Politically Prosecuted Under Bush Administration, Beginning With Governor Don Siegelman And Paul Minor
Today a broad coalition of organizations and individuals dedicated to an honest and accountable government launched “Restore Justice At Justice,” www.RestoreJusticeAtJustice.com, a campaign to clean up the Department of Justice’s sad record of political prosecutions under the Bush Administration. These organizations, representing hundreds of thousands of members, have a strong track record of spurring action on crucial issues. The coalition has sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, available on the Restore Justice at Justice website, requesting that he quickly investigate and identify those targeted, and vacate their convictions, beginning with Alabama ex-Governor Don Siegelman and Attorney Paul Minor.
President Barack Obama plans to replace a "batch" of U.S. Attorneys in the next few weeks and more prosecutors thereafter, according to Attorney General Eric Holder.
"I expect that we’ll have an announcement in the next couple of weeks with regard to our first batch of U.S attorneys," Holder said Thursday during a House Judiciary Committee hearing which stretched out over most of the day due to breaks for members' votes. "One of the things that we didn’t want to do was to disrupt the continuity of the offices and pull people out of positions where we thought there might be a danger that that might have on the continuity--the effectiveness of the offices.But...elections matter--it is our intention to have the U.S. Attorneys that are selected by President Obama in place as quickly as they can."
Obama Dares Judge to Order Release Of NSA Spy Document
By David Kravets | Wired
Setting the stage for a constitutional showdown, the Obama administration dared a federal judge here late Friday to do what no judge has yet done: disclose classified data the government has declared a national security state secret.
The administration urged (.pdf) U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker to order such a disclosure in a 3-year-old lawsuit weighing whether a sitting U.S. president may bypass Congress and adopt a program of eavesdropping on Americans without warrants. Such an order, the administration said, could halt three years of convoluted litigation and force the appellate courts to weigh in on the hotly contested issue.
President Obama to restart Guantanamo Bay military tribunals
By Philippe Naughton | Times OnLine
Barack Obama is set to reverse the first formal decision of his presidency today with the expected announcement that his Administration will restart Bush-era military tribunals for Guantánamo Bay detainees.
When NFL player-turned-Army Ranger Pat Tillman died at the hands of US troops in a case of "friendly fire," the spin machine at the Pentagon went into overdrive. Rumsfeld and company couldn't have their most high-profile soldier dying in such an inelegant fashion, especially with the release of those pesky photos from Abu Ghraib hitting the airwaves. So an obscene lie was told to Tillman's family, his friends and the American public. The chickenhawks in charge, whose only exposure to war was watching John Wayne movies, claimed that he died charging a hill and was cut down by the radical Islamic enemies of freedom. In the weeks preceding his death, Tillman was beginning to question what exactly he was fighting for, telling friends that he believed the war in Iraq was " [expletive] illegal." He may not have known what he was fighting for, but it's now clear what he died for: public relations. Today, after five years, six investigations and two Congressional hearings, questions still linger about how Tillman died and why it was covered up.
Meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, Obama has the chance to make good on real change in U.S. policy in the Middle East.
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is coming to Washington on May 18, for his first official visit with President Obama. If President Obama is serious about achieving a two-state solution in his first term, and therefore serious about bringing real pressure to bear on Israel, there will be no better time to do so. *
Obama, who has strongly supported the idea of a two-state solution since his campaign, has yet to articulate whether or not he is actually prepared to spend some of his massive political capital to exert serious pressure on Israel towards that end – for example by conditioning (even some) of the currently committed $30 billion in U.S. military aid to Israel, on a complete Israeli settlement freeze in the West Bank. If he means it, this could be the moment. Netanyahu’s campaign rejection of the two-state solution, his rejection of continuing the current Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy and instead limiting negotiations to economic issues, and his extreme racist Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman all serve to make a serious U.S. effort towards Israeli accountability not only timely, but less politically costly than ever.