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A humanitarian catastrophe is taking place in areas of Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province (NWFP), as a result of the Obama administration’s expansion of the occupation of Afghanistan into the so-called “AfPak war”.
Over the past seven years, ethnic Pashtun Islamist movements in NWFP and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) have lent assistance to the resistance being waged against the American-led forces in Afghanistan by the Pashtun-based Taliban, including by disrupting US and NATO supply routes through Pakistan.
On Washington’s insistence, the Pakistani government of President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has ordered the military to embark on operations to crush the militants. In late April, Pakistani forces deployed into the Lower Dir and Buner districts of NWFP to drive out a small number who had moved into the area from their strongholds to the north, in the Swat Valley district.
Since May 8, the operation, which now involves up to 18,000 Pakistani troops, backed by air support and heavy artillery, has extended deep inside the Swat Valley. Over the past two weeks they have engaged in a series of battles against the vastly outnumbered and outgunned Islamist fighters.
There is virtually no independent reporting from the conflict zone. Most information coming out of Swat is sourced directly from the military, making its accuracy questionable.
What is clear, however, is that the assault into Buner, Lower Dir and the Swat Valley has rapidly degenerated into the savage collective punishment of entire Pashtun communities. Hundreds of thousands of terrified civilians have taken to the roads to get out of the conflict zone. By the beginning of this week, the United Nations had registered 1.45 million internally displaced persons.
Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) has sent a letter (pdf) to President Barack Obama which praises many aspects of his Thursday speech but also expresses concerns about his intention to create a system of “prolonged detention” without trial for certain terrorists.
Feingold announces in the letter that he plans to hold a hearing on the matter next month and asks for top Justice Department officials to testify.
“While I appreciate your good faith desire to at least enact a statutory basis for such a regime,” Feingold writes, “any system that permits the government to indefinitely detain individuals without charge or without a meaningful opportunity to have accusations against them adjudicated by an impartial arbiter violates basic American values and is likely unconstitutional.”
Feingold goes on to note that “such detention is a hallmark of abusive systems that we have historically criticized around the world. It is hard to imagine that our country would regard as acceptable a system in another country where an individual other than a prisoner of war is held indefinitely without charge or trial.”
“Once a system of indefinite detention without trial is established, the temptation to use it in the future would be powerful,” Feingold continues. “And, while your administration may resist such a temptation, future administrations may not.”
A federal judge on Friday threatened to severely sanction the Obama Administration for withholding a top secret document he ordered given to lawyers suing the government over its warrantless wiretapping program.
U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker in San Francisco ordered Justice Department lawyers to court on June 3 to tell him why he shouldn't award unspecified damages to the now-defunct Oregon arm of the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation. The group alleges that government officials eavesdropped on their telephone calls without court authorization.
The National Security Agency has also refused the judge's previous orders to provide security clearances to two of the charity's lawyers so they can view the top secret document.
The judge had issued a written order on Jan. 5 and then reinforced it during a hearing later that month. He also barred the prosecutors from appealing the order, but they asked the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to step in anyway. The appeals court refused to hear the case.
On May 15, government lawyers told Walker they would refuse to comply with his order.
"Enough is enough," said Jon Eisenberg, the charity's lead appellate attorney. "The DOJ has been so uncooperative for so long that this Draconian approach is now needed."
Seymour Hersh says that Dick Cheney headed a secret assassination wing and the head of the wing has just been named as the new commander in Afghanistan.
In an interview with GulfNews on May 12, 2009 Pulitzer prize-winning American investigative journalist, Seymour Hersh, said that there is a special unit called the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) that does high-value targeting of men that are known to be involved in anti-American activities, or are believed to be planning such activities.
According to Hersh, the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) was headed by former US vice president Dick Cheney and the former head of JSOC, Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal who has just been named the new commander in charge of the war in Afghanistan.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will soon announce that gay American diplomats will be given benefits similar to those that their heterosexual counterparts enjoy, U.S. officials said Saturday.
In a notice to be sent soon to State Department employees, Clinton says regulations that denied same-sex couples and their families the same rights and privileges that straight diplomats enjoyed are "unfair and must end," as they harm U.S. diplomacy.
The Obama administration's efforts to craft what it calls a "preventive detention" plan for suspected terrorists will face constitutional challenges similar to those raised against the Bush administration's policies.
Some detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, are deemed too dangerous to release and may not be able to put on trial, creating a quandary that President Barack Obama said Thursday poses "the toughest issue we will face."
...In the name of looking to the future, we are being asked to forget the past....
It is instructive that the neoconservatives who gave us the Bush war program are now delighted with Obama’s policies, including his escalation in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
This all should be troubling to anyone who thinks elections can bring needed change. Presidents come and go, with little obvious effect on foreign policy, no matter what they say during their campaigns. Republican and Democrat, right and left — those terms are more about style than substance. In subtle ways and with staunch corporate media support, the system maintained by the ruling elite ensures that no successful national candidate will deviate too far from its plumb line. The marginalization of real anti-war candidates during the 2008 election was just the latest demonstration.
Ian Welsh corrects President Obama, a former constitutional law professor, as to what is his most important duty. (Here's a hint: it has nothing to do with safety.) Recognizing the President's actual most important duty is pivotal to understanding how far off base he is proposing to take the nation. Read Ian Welsh's "The Thought Crimes President" here.
Human Rights Attorney Vince Warren: Obama’s “Preventive Detention” Plan Goes Beyond Bush Admin Policies
We get reaction to President Obama and Vice President Dick Cheney’s dueling speeches on torture from Vince Warren, the executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights. Warren took part in a secret meeting Wednesday between Obama and several human rights groups. Warren says although he welcomes Obama’s willingness to hear critical views, he’s disappointed in Obama’s new support for preventive detention.
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