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The Obama administration is preparing to revive the system of military commissions established at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, under new rules that would offer terrorism suspects greater legal protections, government officials said.
The rules would block the use of evidence obtained from coercive interrogations, tighten the admissibility of hearsay testimony and allow detainees greater freedom to choose their attorneys, said the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.
Pentagon’s Black Budget Grows to More Than $50 Billion
By Noah Shachtman | Wired
The Pentagon wants to spend just over $50 billion on classified programs next year, newly-released Defense Department budget documents reveal. “That’s the largest-ever sum,” according to Aviation Week’s Bill Sweetman, a longtime black-budget seer — a three percent increase over last year’s total.
By Dave Lindorff
What a joke the Obama administration is becoming, as it keeps trying to prop up failing industry after failing industry.
First we had the president becoming First Car Salesman, offering federal guarantees for GM and Chrysler car warrantees so that potential car customers wouldn’t turn away from those two companies’ showrooms fearing that the manufacturers would go bust and leave them holding the bag. Then he started touting the cars themselves, saying they were “great products” and that people should go out and buy them.
Although the lawyers are forbidden to reveal classified details, they could include prisoners' personal accounts of abuses  and interrogation procedures  that have recently been described in secondhand reports. These voices have been missing, the New York Times noted  today, because the government refuses to disclose prisoners' statements and their lawyers operate under a gag order.
A stockpile of documents about hundreds of Guantanamo Bay detainees, some written by the prisoners themselves, could be destroyed under a little-known provision of a federal court order the Bush administration obtained in 2004.
For four years, records in the prisoners' habeas corpus lawsuits challenging the legality of their detentions have been piling up in a secure federal facility in the Crystal City neighborhood of Arlington, Va. Because much of the information is classified, the 750 or so attorneys representing the prisoners are required to do and store all their work on-site.
The provision is part of a broad order  (PDF) issued at the very outset of the habeas cases -- at the last official count in January, 220 cases remained -- that set rules for how sensitive documents and attorney access should be handled. It calls for the government to destroy all classified records given to, prepared by or kept by prisoners' lawyers -- including originals and copies of writings, photographs, videotapes, computer files and voice recordings -- when the cases end. (Bolding mine. ~Chip :) )
Broadcast 04/29/09, as posted at Health Care Now!
National Lobby Day and Rally for Single-Payer in DC, Wednesday, May 13, noon-2 PM, Upper Senate Park, Washington, DC
Michael Munk details Obama's political odyssey on his single-payer health care positions:
According to Quentin Young, MD, whose partner in his practice has been Barack Obama's personal physician since the Senator moved into Hyde Park, in Obama's early years in politics, he used to say he was all for single-payer. Then in 2006, the Senator started to say he was still for it, but that it would never happen without a solid Democrat majority in Congress. Then during the presidential campaign, he said that that option would be included in the mix of plans he supported.
Today, he finally made it clear that now he is committed to protecting the profits of health insurance companies and was opposed to single payer! Read on...
Sebelius Aims To Settle Concerns About Single-Payer Health System | CaliforniaHealthline.org | Submitted by Michael Munk | www.MichaelMunk.com
At a House Ways and Means Committee hearing Wednesday, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius that the Obama administration does not support taking over the health care system entirely, but hopes to create a public insurance option that would compete with private insurers, the Los Angeles Times reports.
She said, "Dismantling the private market and having an entirely public option, a single-payer system, I think is not something that the president supports."
At a press conference to mark his first 100 days in office, President Obama declared, “We have rejected the false choice between our security and our ideals by closing the detention center at Guantánamo Bay and banning torture without exception.” I have looked at the President’s misleading statement about Guantánamo, and analyzed his progress -- or lack of it -- in closing the prison in a previous article, and in this second article I’m going to focus on his assertion that the new administration has been responsible for “banning torture without exception.”
A front-page New York Times headline last week put the matter politely indeed: "In Pakistan, U.S. Courts Leader of Opposition." And nobody thought it was strange at all.
In fact, it's the sort of thing you can read just about any time when it comes to American policy in Pakistan or, for that matter, Afghanistan. It's just the norm on a planet on which it's assumed that American civilian and military leaders can issue pronunciamentos about what other countries must do; publicly demand various actions of ruling groups; opt for specific leaders, and then, when they disappoint, attempt to replace them; and use what was once called "foreign aid," now taxpayer dollars largely funneled through the Pentagon, to bribe those who are hard to convince.
Last week as well, in a prime-time news conference, President Obama said of Pakistan: "We want to respect their sovereignty, but we also recognize that we have huge strategic interests, huge national security interests in making sure that Pakistan is stable and that you don't end up having a nuclear-armed militant state."
To the extent that this statement was commented on, it was praised here for its restraint and good sense. Yet, thought about a moment, what the president actually said went something like this: When it comes to U.S. respect for Pakistan's sovereignty, this country has more important fish to fry. A look at the historical record indicates that Washington has, in fact, been frying those "fish" for at least the last four decades without particular regard for Pakistani sensibilities.
By Dave Lindorff
In December 2001, an appellate judicial panel in the state of New York ruled that Yonkers City Court Judge Edmund G. Fitzgerald had to step down from his bench and leave his position following his disbarment for allegedly “misusing” $9000 in a client’s account prior to his election as a judge. In 2007, the North Carolina courts faced something of a dilemma when state judge James Ethridge, who had been disbarred the prior October by the North Carolina State Bar for “swindling an older woman of her house and savings” as an attorney six years earlier, refused to quit his judicial position. Under state law in North Carolina, judges are required to be licensed lawyers, so Judge Ethridge was barred from holding court or signing court orders, but he continued to collect his salary. Only the state’s Judicial Standards Commission, or the state legislature, through an impeachment, could remove him from his job.
Catholic Democrats Offer Statement of Support to Notre Dame for Inviting Obama to Deliver Commencement Address
Catholic Democrats Offer This Statement of Support for Notre Dame in their decision to invite President Barack Obama to deliver the university’s 2009 Commencement address. No need to be Catholic to sign. Click here.
Source: No Criminal Case Likely Over Torture Memos
By Devlin Barrett, Associated Press Writer | ABCNews.com
Justice Department officials have stopped short of recommending criminal charges against Bush administration lawyers who wrote secret memos approving harsh interrogation techniques of terror suspects. A person familiar with the inquiry, who spoke on condition of anonymity, says investigators recommended referring two of the three lawyers to state bar associations for possible disciplinary action. The person was not authorized to discuss the inquiry.
The person noted that the investigative report was still in draft form and subject to revisions. Attorney General Eric Holder also may make his own determination about what steps to take once the report has been finalized.
US Troops Urged To Share Faith in Afghanistan | Submitted by Michael Munk | www.MichaelMunk.com
The US's highest ranking military officer has said it is not the US military's position to promote any specific religion, after Al Jazeera revealed footage of troops apparently preparing to convert Afghans to their Christian faith.
By Dave Lindorff
Should Congress or the US Department of Justice—or perhaps Spanish Investigating Magistrate Baltasar Garzón—ever decide to seriously prosecute those in the US who are responsible for the Bush/Cheney administration’s policy of torturing captives in the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars and the so-called “War” on Terror, they should go back and examine the case of imprisoned American John Walker Lindh, the young man who was captured with Taliban fighters back in the early days of the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.
Until this week, it seemed like the conventional wisdom in Washington was that stopping U.S drone strikes in Pakistan was outside the bounds of respectable discussion.
That just changed. Or it should have.
A lot of my fellow progressive friends and I have been complaining a lot about some of the positions the Obama administration has been taking lately, especially their apparent lack of a burning desire to prosecute the blatantly criminal conduct of the Bush administration.
But here's the thing- I figured out the politics here. It took me a while, and until I got it I fumed at the new President, thinking my vision of a real progressive in the White House was a pipe dream. I'll clue you guys in - the secret is the mixed message. Let me explain.
The Israel lobby has been running into a few problems lately, but it’s nothing they don’t think they can handle: a charge of treason, a strong suspicion of obstructing justice, and a gathering storm of criticism from a few dissident intellectuals and policy types. Nothing to get too exercised about. Having felled Charles "Chas" Freeman, smitten Gen. Zinni, and sidelined those in the Obama administration who question the nature and utility of America’s "special relationship" with Israel, the Lobby’s flagship organization, the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), is primed to hold their national conference in Washington next week, with Jane "This Conversation Doesn’t Exist" Harman slated to address the gathering.
The focus of the conference, and the legislative centerpiece of the event, will be passage of the Iran Diplomatic Enhancement Act, which would ban US companies from providing Iran with refined petroleum products, and seeks to punish European companies — particularly the Swiss, who come in for two specific mentions in the text of the bill — for doing so.
To begin with, the name affixed to this piece of legislative legerdemain is a prime example of congressional doublethink: will it really enhance diplomatic relations with Iran to impose draconian sanctions, the equivalent of an economic chokehold and a prelude to a military blockade? Hardly, and that is very far from its clear intent.
This bill is all about provoking the Iranians, effectively sabotaging efforts to engage in a mutual dialogue with Tehran. Why the egregious packaging? Well, it seems the American people are sick and tired of war, and preparations for war, and so it is far less incriminating if a member of Congress can say he (or she) voted for "the Iran Diplomatic Enhancement Act" than it is to admit they supported isolating Iran economically.
Fighting a high-tech war with a low-tech mule
US Marines and soldiers are training to fight in Afghanistan, where mules and donkeys can haul supplies and weapons to places where Humvees and helicopters can't easily go.
By Gordon Lubold | CSM
Tucked at the base of a small mountain in the eastern Sierras is a makeshift paddock where a handful of US Marine Corps instructors reach deep into the history of warfare to give their charges a critical skill when they deploy to Afghanistan: how to pack a mule.
It is a peculiar course to teach in a military that is widely considered the best-trained, most capable, and highest-tech in the world.
But as the US girds to deploy more than 21,000 additional troops to Afghanistan this spring and summer, the military is having to prepare for a decidedly different kind of fight from the one in Iraq.
Torture and treason: Can we face up to what has been done in our name?
By Robert C. Koehler | The Smirking Chimp
The Gitmo intelligence crew was being told, from the highest levels of the Bush White House and the Pentagon -- think Cheney, think Rumsfeld -- to keep slamming these guys' heads against the wall, to keep pouring water down their throats, to keep tormenting them with dogs and insects, until they blubbered, in their pain and terror, a word or two that would justify the long-planned (and completely pointless) invasion of Iraq. This drags the torture "debate" out of the fog that mainstream pundits are paid to generate -- does it work? is it legal? is it cruel? is it counterproductive? -- and exposes something that is troubling at the level of the soul, and begs only one question. Is it treason?
None dare call it . . . what is that word again?
It's a word I associate with the McCarthy era and patriotic fanaticism; its commission is the cardinal sin against the nation-state and, as such, not only too easily flung at an ideological opponent but a frayed, simplistic concept, in that humankind ought to be reaching beyond national identities for global allegiance and a security that doesn't devalue life anywhere on the planet. It's a word I avoid. Certainly I've never accused anyone of it. Till now.
Barack Obama is a brand. And the Obama brand is designed to make us feel good about our government while corporate overlords loot the Treasury, our elected officials continue to have their palms greased by armies of corporate lobbyists, our corporate media diverts us with gossip and trivia and our imperial wars expand in the Middle East. Brand Obama is about being happy consumers. We are entertained. We feel hopeful. We like our president. We believe he is like us. But like all branded products spun out from the manipulative world of corporate advertising, we are being duped into doing and supporting a lot of things that are not in our interest.
Having trouble keeping track of all the memos, executive orders, and policy decisions that led the United States into the moral low ground? FP brings you the ultimate guide to the Bush administration's journey to the dark side.
In the past 10 days, the revelation of once classified memos and Senate reports has greatly elucidated how torture happened. This timeline shows the key relevant legal and military events. New information is marked in italics.
September 11: Afghanistan-based terrorist organization al Qaeda attacks the United States. Nearly 3,000 people die.
September 14: A congressional resolution authorizes U.S. President George W. Bush to use "all necessary and appropriate force" to combat the countries and groups behind 9/11. Vice President Dick Cheney promises that the United States will use "any means at our disposal" to combat terrorism.
More video below the fold: click "Read more" for Part 2
Sgt. David Schlosser says the protesters violated a permit regulation that required them to remain in motion on the center portion of a sidewalk. The protesters, wearing orange jumpsuits to represent Guantánamo Bay detainees who have been cleared for release, remain in custody.
Earlier, protesters marched from the U.S. Capitol to protest detention policies in the United States and what they call the government's refusal to prosecute torture. Read more.
Still, during the presidential campaign Mr. Obama criticized the commissions, saying that “by any measure our system of trying detainees has been an enormous failure,” and declaring that as president he would “reject the Military Commissions Act.”...Anthony D. Romero, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said that Mr. Obama had pledged to return the country to the rule of law and that “continuing with the military commission system would be a retreat from that promise.”
Debate Over Interrogations Sharply Divided Bush White House
By Mark Mazzetti and Scott Shane | NY Times
Acutely aware that the agency would be blamed if the policies lost political support, nervous C.I.A. officials began to curb its practices much earlier than most Americans know: no one was waterboarded after March 2003, and coercive interrogation methods were shelved altogether in 2005....The real trouble began on May 7, 2004, the day the C.I.A. inspector general, John L. Helgerson, completed a devastating report. In thousands of pages, it challenged the legality of some interrogation methods, found that interrogators were exceeding the rules imposed by the Justice Department and questioned the effectiveness of the entire program.
Obama administration seeks extraordinary military powers in Pakistan
By Bill Van Auken | WSWS
In his testimony, Gates also revealed that, even after the planned closure of the Guantanamo detention center, the US government may still imprison up to 100 of the inmates without charges or trials. The administration asked Congress for $50 million to build prison facilities in the US for detainees it claims are dangerous but cannot be tried, principally because the supposed evidence against them was extracted through torture.
The Obama administration is increasingly treating its growing intervention in Pakistan as a separate counter-insurgency war for which it is demanding the same kind of extraordinary military powers obtained by the Bush administration in Afghanistan and Iraq.
President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton have announced that they intend to keep the promise of former president George W. Bush to send $242 million in military aid to Georgia in the 2010 budget.
This comes at the very time that NATO war games are being prepared in Georgia, right on Russia's southern border. Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev sounded the alarm about the NATO military operations saying, "“Military exercises can’t be conducted where the war has been recently unleashed. Those who took a decision to conduct them will bear responsibility for their negative consequences."
Russia vows to help South Ossetia and Abkhazia protect their borders against a new Georgian attack that could well come following the NATO war games and efforts by the US to rearm Georgia after their failed attack on Russia last summer. NATO is accusing Russia of destabilizing the Southern Caucasus region by building up its military stronghold on the Georgian breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
The absurdity of NATO blaming Russia for securing their southern border, at the very time the US and NATO are surrounding them, indicates the real agenda underway.
You say torture works? Prove it
by Don Williams
The usual suspects--Dick Cheney, Fox News, even some at Newsweek--are suggesting that waterboarding and other tough interrogation techniques just might have made us safer during the Bush years. As if there's still reason to debate the use of torture, kidnapping and black box prisons.
There's one compelling reason we should not embrace this cold, sly notion. His name is al-Libi (Al-LEE-bee). It means "the Libyan," and there are many people so named in the Arab world. The fact that Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi is not the most famous of them all is an indictment of American media and politics, including the Democrats, for his lies, obtained under torture, led to the death and displacement of millions. I keep waiting for Obama to utter al-Libi's name. What's he waiting for? Until he and others do, it's up to us to shout it from the rooftops.
Won't you join me? It's not hard to say. Al-Libi. So shout it out. In doing so, we just might rescue the soul of the nation. Email me at DonWilliams7@charter.net to find out how making al-Libi famous could end the debate over torture.
Al-Libi is not a nice man. He's a terrorist and a trainer of terrorists. Yet even he should never have been tortured, not only because torture's wrong, which it is, but because the lies al-Libi told to end his CIA-sponsored abuse were used to bomb, invade and occupy Iraq, a terrible mistake in the opinion of most, and one for which we've paid and continue to pay dearly.