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Obama Withdraws 'Enemy Combatant' Label, But Indefinite Detentions Can Continue

By The Public Record

In a filing today with the federal District Court for the District of Columbia, the Department of Justice submitted a new standard for the government’s authority to hold detainees at the Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility. The definition does not rely on the President’s authority as Commander-in-Chief independent of Congress’s specific authorization. It draws on the international laws of war to inform the statutory authority conferred by Congress. It provides that individuals who supported al Qaeda or the Taliban are detainable only if the support was substantial. And it does not employ the phrase "enemy combatant."

Pentagon Rethinking Old Doctrine on 2 Wars

Pentagon Rethinking Old Doctrine on 2 Wars
By Thom Shanker | NYTimes

The protracted wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are forcing the Obama administration to rethink what for more than two decades has been a central premise of American strategy: that the nation need only prepare to fight two major wars at a time.

For more than six years now, the United States has in fact been fighting two wars, with more than 170,000 troops now deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan combined. The military has openly acknowledged that the wars have left troops and equipment severely strained, and has said that it would be difficult to carry out any kind of significant operation elsewhere.

Obama Sets New Course at the UN

Obama Sets New Course at the UN
by Haider Rizvi | IPS

After nearly a decade of an often tense and estranged relationship with the United Nations, Washington appears to be taking a much more conciliatory and multilateral approach to the world body.

U.S. President Barack Obama formally restored funding for the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) Wednesday by signing a major spending bill, prompting U.N. officials to again welcome the policy shift on women's health-related rights.

In January, Obama issued an executive order lifting an eight-year ban on U.S. funding for overseas family-planning groups and clinics that perform or promote abortion or lobby for its legalisation.

Obama Admin Moves to Protect Military Officials

Obama admin moves to protect military officials | Las Vegas Sun

The Obama administration is trying to protect top Bush administration military officials from lawsuits brought by prisoners who say they were tortured while being held at Guantanamo Bay.

The Justice Department argued in a filing Thursday with the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia that holding military officials liable for their treatment of prisoners could cause them to make future decisions based on fear of litigation rather than appropriate military policy.

Obama Afghan Plan Focuses on Pakistan Aid and Appeal to Militants

Obama Afghan Plan Focuses on Pakistan Aid and Appeal to Militants
By Helene Cooper and Thom Shanker | NYTimes

The emerging outlines of President Obama’s plan for Afghanistan include proposals to shift more American efforts toward problems in neighboring Pakistan and to seek some kind of political reconciliation with the vast majority of insurgents in the region, according to administration officials.

The plan reflects in part a conclusion within the administration that most of the insurgent foot soldiers in Afghanistan and Pakistan are “reconcilable” and can be pried away from the hard-core organizations of the Taliban and Al Qaeda. At least 70 percent of the insurgents, and possibly more, can be encouraged to lay down their arms with the proper incentives, administration officials have said.

Obama Drops 'Enemy Combatant' in Break with Bush, But Little Else Changes for Guantanamo Detainees

Obama drops 'enemy combatant' in break with Bush, but little else changes for Guantanamo detainees | NY Daily News

The Obama administration said Friday that it is abandoning one of President George W. Bush's key phrases in the war on terrorism: enemy combatant.

But that won't change much for the detainees at the U.S. naval base in Cuba — Obama still asserts the military's authority to hold them. Human rights attorneys said they were disappointed that Obama didn't take a new stance.

The Justice Department said in legal filings that it will no longer use the term "enemy combatants' to justify holding prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.

"This is really a case of old wine in new bottles," the Center for Constitutional Rights, which has been fighting the detainees' detention, said in a statement. "It is still unlawful to hold people indefinitely without charge. The men who have been held for more than seven years by our government must be charged or released."

In another court filing Thursday criticized by human rights advocates, the Obama administration tried to protect top Bush administration military officials from lawsuits brought by prisoners who say they were tortured while being held at Guantanamo Bay.

The Obama administration's position on use of the phrase "enemy combatants" came in response to a deadline by U.S. District Judge John Bates, who is overseeing lawsuits of detainees challenging their detention. Bates asked the administration to give its definition of whom the United States may hold as an "enemy combatant."

Obama Administration Affirms U.S. Neutrality in Salvadoran Election

Thank you, President Obama. At long last - better late than never - a high-level official of the Obama Administration has clearly affirmed U.S. neutrality ahead of Sunday's Presidential election in El Salvador.

Voice of America reports:

Friday in Washington, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Tom Shannon said the United States supports the democratic process in El Salvador and will work with whomever is elected.

Also on Friday, Rep. Howard Berman, (D-CA), chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, affirmed that neither Temporary Protected Status for Salvadorans in the U.S. nor remittance flows from the U.S. to El Salvador would be affected by the outcome of the election. From the Committee website:

How to Leave Afghanistan

How to Leave Afghanistan
By Leslie H. Gelb | NYTimes

Only if our troop levels hit 100,000 and fighting floods over into Taliban havens in Pakistan will Washington be likely to look hard at the alternative policy for Afghanistan — withdrawing most American forces and refocusing our power on containing, deterring and diplomatically encircling the terrorist threat. But by then it will be too late.

Obama Takes US Closer to Total Ban on Cluster Bombs

Obama takes US closer to total ban on cluster bombs
By Peter Beaumont | The Guardian

The United States has stepped closer to a total ban on the use and export of cluster bombs with the signing by Barack Obama of a new permanent law that would make it almost impossible for the US to sell the controversial weapons.

The decision was hailed by opponents of the weapons as a "major turnaround in US policy" that overrode Pentagon calls to permit their continued export.

The new legislation, tacked on to a huge budget bill, was passed earlier this week by Congress and now sets such stringent rules for the bombs' use, including a ban on sales where they might be suspected of being used where civilians are present, that it seems unlikely the US could export them again.

Regarding Immunity of Bush Administration Lawyers from Torture Suits

Regarding Immunity of Bush Administration Lawyers from Torture Suits
By Time for Change | Democratic Underground

Eventually the Obama administration needs to evaluate the serious crimes of the Bush administration and to initiate prosecutions wherever warranted or else turn the matter over to a special prosecutor. If it fails to do that, it will be condoning torture.

Individuals who are associated with the policy of torture are likely to find themselves facing the very same tap on the shoulder that Augusto Pinochet got so unexpectedly on October 16, 1998.

Election Dirty Tricks Again in Washington and El Salvador

Last week, more than 30 Members of Congress joined Rep. Raul Grijalva in asking President Obama to affirm U.S. neutrality in El Salvador's Presidential election on Sunday March 15, to stop the recycling in El Salvador of US threats when Salvadorans voted in 2004. But there has been no high-level response from the Obama Administration, Rep. Grijalva told Democracy Now! yesterday.

But right-wing Republicans in Congress have not been quiet. Upside Down News reports:

Tomgram: Frida Berrigan, How Shovel-Ready Is the Pentagon?

Tomgram: Frida Berrigan, How Shovel-Ready Is the Pentagon? | TomDispatch.com

President Obama has recently threatened to rescind the "blank check" the Bush administration offered to big defense contractors. So now is the time when all that planning by Lockheed Martin and the other major arms manufacturers comes into play. One of that company's major weapons systems, the F-22 Raptor, is potentially on the chopping block. How convenient then that, in the midst of an economic meltdown, Lockheed just happens to have more than 1,000 parts suppliers for that jet carefully scattered across 44 states, all of which, as far as I know, have representatives in Congress. This is pretty typical.

NYT Publishes Roadmap for Taliban Talks

If you're interested in a "way forward" in Afghanistan that's not built around killing a bunch of innocent people for no reason, then I strongly encourage you to read and absorb every word of Carlotta Gall's report in Wednesday's New York Times, "As U.S. Weighs Taliban Negotiations, Afghans Are Already Talking."

Some key points, based on conversations with Afghan officials and Western diplomats in Kabul:

- Far from being "pie in the sky," discussions with the Taliban leadership are already underway and could be developed into more formal talks with the support of the US. The ongoing talks were actually initiated by an overture from the Taliban: the Taliban leadership council first approached the government about peace talks last year.

Freeman Speaks Out On His Exit

Freeman speaks out on his exit | Foreign Policy

Retired Amb. Chas Freeman, who said today that he no longer accepts an offer to chair the National Intelligence Council, has just sent this message:

You will by now have seen the statement by Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair reporting that I have withdrawn my previous acceptance of his invitation to chair the National Intelligence Council.

Report: Slain US Nazi Hated Obama, Had Parts for 'Dirty Bomb'

Report: Slain US Nazi hated Obama, had parts for 'dirty bomb'
Claim: Depleted uranium purchased over the Internet from an American company
By Stephen C. Webster | Raw Story

Trust fund millionaire James G. Cummings, an American Nazi sympathizer from Maine who was slain by his wife Amber in December, allegedly had the radioactive components necessary to construct a "dirty bomb," a newly released threat analysis report states.

The man, allegedly furious over the election of President Obama, purchased depleted uranium over the Internet from an American company.

"According to an FBI field intelligence report from the Washington Regional Threat and Analysis Center posted online by WikiLeaks, an organization that posts leaked documents, an investigation into the case revealed that radioactive materials were removed from Cummings’ home after his shooting death on Dec. 9," reported the Bangor Daily News.

"Amber (Cummings) indicated James was very upset with Barack Obama being elected President," reported the Washington Regional Threat and Analysis Center (PDF link). "She indicated James had been in contact with 'white supremacist group(s).' Amber also indicated James mixed chemicals in the kitchen sink at their residence and had mentioned 'dirty bombs.'"

LaHood Hits Back Hard Against Charges Of "Socialism," "Obama Recession"

LaHood Hits Back Hard Against Charges Of "Socialism," "Obama Recession"
By Sam Stein | Huffington Post

Secretary of Transportation Ray Lahood hit back hard on Monday to charges from White House critics that President Barack Obama's economic policies -- focused on leveraging government spending to stimulate demand -- had exacerbated the recession and constituted a form of socialism.

In an interview with the Huffington Post, LaHood, one of the few Republican members of the Obama administration, scoffed at the recent talking points emanating from the congressional leaders of his own party. His voice rising at times with emotion, the transportation czar tackled first the notion that the president was a socialist in disguise.

Obama: 'I am a New Democrat'

Obama: 'I am a New Democrat'
By Jonathan Martin & Carol E. Lee | Politico

President Barack Obama firmly resists ideological labels, but at the end of a private meeting with a group of moderate Democrats Tuesday afternoon he offered a statement of solidarity.

“I am a New Democrat,” he told the New Democrat Coalition, according to two sources at the White House session.

The group is comprised of centrist Democratic members of the House, who support free trade and a muscular foreign policy but are more moderate than the conservative Blue Dog coalition.

Obama made his comment in discussing his budget priorities and broader goals, also calling himself a “pro-growth Democrat” during the course of conversation.

The Obama-Holder-Panetta Legal Disconnect

By William Fisher, The Public Record

Barack Obama, Eric Holder and Leon Panetta are all lawyers, And Holder and Panetta both work for Obama. Wouldn’t that suggest that they would agree on really important issues – at least in public?

Well, apparently they don’t. And Obama’s recent interview with the New York Times editorial board provides lots of examples.

During that session, President Obama stated categorically:

“We ultimately provide anybody that we’re detaining an opportunity through habeas corpus to answer to charges.”

Then how do we explain the conflicting position taken by the President’s Attorney General, Eric Holder, and the Department of Justice he runs?

Obama Memo on Signing Statements

THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release March 9, 2009

MEMORANDUM FOR THE HEADS OF EXECUTIVE DEPARTMENTS AND AGENCIES

SUBJECT: Presidential Signing Statements

For nearly two centuries, Presidents have issued statements
addressing constitutional or other legal questions upon signing
bills into law (signing statements). Particularly since omnibus
bills have become prevalent, signing statements have often been
used to ensure that concerns about the constitutionality of
discrete statutory provisions do not require a veto of the
entire bill.

In recent years, there has been considerable public discussion
and criticism of the use of signing statements to raise
constitutional objections to statutory provisions. There is
no doubt that the practice of issuing such statements can be
abused. Constitutional signing statements should not be used to

Russian Advice: More Troops Won't Help in Afghanistan

Russian advice: More troops won't help in Afghanistan
By Tom Lasseter | McClatchy Newspapers

The old diplomat sighed as he recalled his years in Afghanistan, and then leaned forward and said in a booming voice that no escalation of troops would bring lasting peace.

As the Soviet ambassador to Afghanistan from 1979 to 1986, Fikryat Tabeyev saw the numbers rise to more than 100,000 troops without any possibility of victory against a growing insurgency.

Don’t Rely on Bush’s Signing Statements, Obama Orders

Don’t Rely on Bush’s Signing Statements, Obama Orders
By Charlie Savage | NYTimes

Calling into question the legitimacy of all the signing statements that former President George W. Bush used to challenge new laws, President Obama on Monday ordered executive officials to consult with Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. before relying on any of them to bypass a statute.

But Mr. Obama also signaled that he intends to use signing statements himself if Congress sends him legislation that has provisions he decides are unconstitutional. He pledged to use a modest approach when doing so, but said there was a role for the practice if used appropriately.

Guantanamo Under Obama

Guantanamo Under Obama
by Stephen Lendman

As The New York Times reported on January 22, Barack Obama signed Executive Orders (EOs) banning torture and "directing the CIA to shut what remains of its network of secret prisons and ordering the closing of the Guantanamo detention camp within a year, government official said."

The closure EO is titled: "Executive Order -- Review and Disposition of Individuals Detained at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base and Closure of Detention Facilities."

Can Congress Save Obama from Afghan Quagmire?

A progressive Presidency is a terrible thing to waste. It only comes around once every so often. Wouldn't it be a shame if Americans' hopes for the Obama Administration were squandered in Afghanistan?

Members of Congress who want the Obama Administration to succeed won't do it any favors by keeping silent about the proposed military escalation in Afghanistan. The actions of the Obama Administration so far clearly indicate that they can move in response to pressure: both good pressure and bad pressure. If there is only bad pressure, it's more than likely that policy will move in a bad direction. In announcing an increase in U.S. troops before his Afghanistan review was complete, Obama partially acceded to pressure from the military. If we don't want the military to have carte blanche, there needs to be counterpressure.

Obama’s Interview Aboard Air Force One

Obama’s Interview Aboard Air Force One | NYTimes

President Obama spoke in a 35-minute interview aboard Air Force One on Friday afternoon as he traveled from Columbus, Ohio to Andrews Air Force Base. This is an edited transcript, as recorded by The New York Times.

Q: You said it’s going to take a long time to get out of this economic crisis. Can you assure the American people that the economy will be growing by the summer, the fall or the end of the year?

John Yoo: Yes, We Did Plan for Mumbai-Style Attacks in the U.S.

Yes, We Did Plan for Mumbai-Style Attacks in the U.S.
Why the latest assault on Bush antiterror strategy could make us less safe.
By John Yoo | WSJ

In releasing these memos, the Obama administration may be attempting to appease its antiwar base -- which won't bother to read the memos in full -- or trying to look good for the chattering classes.

Suppose al Qaeda branched out from crashing airliners into American cities. Using small arms, explosives, or biological, chemical or nuclear weapons they could seize control of apartment buildings, stadiums, ships, trains or buses. As in the November 2008 Mumbai attacks, texting and mobile email would make it easy to coordinate simultaneous assaults in a single city.

After 9/11, we had a responsibility to consider all possible threats.

For What Noble Cause, Mr. Obama?

By Cindy Sheehan

I am not opposed to all wars. I’m opposed to dumb wars.
Barack Obama: October 2002

For the record, I did not support Barack Obama for President of this country. Of course the above quote was from his famous “anti-war” speech, that was not an anti-war speech, but an anti-Iraq war speech and this is just a sound bite from a mostly nationalistic and pro-war speech.

I opposed Obama, though, because I actually listened to what he said about foreign policy when he was Candidate Obama. He never, ever said that he was going to withdraw all troops from Iraq and he always said that he was going to increase troop levels, not only in Afghanistan, but also in the military over-all. His budget increases military spending at a time when education, health care, wages and jobs are declining. Obama is a militarist-corporatist and haven’t we had enough of this kind of “leadership” in the past three decades?

Tomgram: Karen Greenberg, The Missing Prison

Tomgram: Karen Greenberg, The Missing Prison | TomDispatch.com

Today is a good moment to give some thought to one of the worst remaining legacies of the Bush era, the prison where that administration's grotesque offshore detention policies -- the beatings, the torture, the works -- were first put into play, the prison that has yet to go away. And as Karen Greenberg, the Executive Director of the Center on Law and Security at the New York University School of Law and the author of a striking new book, The Least Worst Place, Guantanamo's First 100 Days, points out, it's not, as you might expect, Guantanamo, but our grim prison at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.

Panetta: No One To Be Punished for Interrogations

Panetta: No One To Be Punished for Interrogations | Google News

CIA Director Leon Panetta says agency employees who took part in harsh interrogations of terrorism suspects are not in danger of being punished.

Panetta delivered that message to CIA employees in an e-mail Thursday, reiterating what he told Congress last month. He said then that he would oppose prosecutions of any CIA employee who adhered to their legal guidance on interrogations.

He sent the message after the Senate Intelligence Committee announced its review of the CIA's interrogation and detention program under President George W. Bush.

The committee will look at how the CIA decided whom to interrogate, whether it told Congress the truth about the program and whether it was legal. It will also try to determine whether the harsher methods the CIA used elicited valuable intelligence.

US Invites Iran to Join Afghan Talks

US invites Iran to join Afghan talks
By James Blitz, Daniel Dombey, & Guy Dinmore | FT.com

The Obama administration on Thursday marked a clear break with George W. Bush’s policy of isolating Iran by declaring its intention to invite the Islamic republic to an international conference on stabilising Afghanistan.

Hillary Clinton, secretary of state, announced in Brussels that Tehran was likely to be invited to a meeting that would bring together all “interested parties” on Afghanistan. Administration officials later confirmed Iran would be on the guest list.

Iran has already signalled its willingness to attend. A firm date for the conference has not been fixed. Italy, as holder of the G8 presidency this year, has proposed hosting such a conference in Trieste in June.

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