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The Senate passed by unanimous consent Wednesday a bill that would prevent the release of controversial photos of alleged U.S. abuse of prisoners and detainees.
The bill, sponsored by Sens. Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut Independent, and Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, had originally been part of the war funding supplemental bill passed Tuesday by the House.
But House Democrats stripped that part of the measure from the bill, and the senators proposed it as stand-alone legislation.
Earlier Wednesday, Graham said at a Judiciary Committee hearing that he had received assurance from White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel "that the president will not let these photos see the light of day."
"The people involved in Abu Ghraib and other detainee abuse allegations have been dealt with," Graham said, arguing against the release of the photographs. "Every photo would become a bullet or IED used by terrorists against our troops." Read more.
Gonzales's Advice to Bush on How to Avoid War Crimes
By Jason Leopold | Truthout.org
On January 25, 2002, then-White House counsel Alberto Gonzales advised George W. Bush in a memo to deny al-Qaeda and Taliban prisoners protections under the Geneva Conventions because doing so would "substantially reduces the threat of domestic criminal prosecution under the War Crimes Act" and "provide a solid defense to any future prosecution."
Two weeks later, Bush signed an action memorandum dated February 7, 2002, addressed to Vice President Dick Cheney, which denied baseline protections to al-Qaeda and Taliban prisoners under the Third Geneva Convention. That memo, according to a recently released bipartisan report issued by the Senate Armed Services Committee, opened the door to "considering aggressive techniques," which were then developed with the complicity of then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Bush's National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and other senior Bush officials.
"The President's order closed off application of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which would have afforded minimum standards for humane treatment, to al-Qaeda or Taliban detainees," says the committee's December 11 report. Read more.
Afghanistan's Operation Phoenix
By Stephen Lendman
On June 15, AP reported that "Gen. Stanley McChrystal, a four-star American general with a long history in special operations, took charge of US and NATO troops in Afghanistan (today), a change in command the Pentagon hopes will turn the tide in an increasingly violent eight-year war."
McChrystal is a hired gun, an assassin, a man known for committing war crime atrocities as head of the Pentagon's infamous Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) - established in 1980 and comprised of the Army's Delta Force and Navy Seals, de facto death squads writer Seymour Hersh described post-9/11 as an "executive assassination wing" operating out of Dick Cheney's office.
Democracy NOW! Bob Fertik of Democrats.com With Amy Goodman On Defeating the $106 Billion War Supplemental
Bob Fertik, president of Democrats.com and the co-founder of AfterDowningStreet.org speaks with Amy Goodman about the defeating the $106 billion supplemental war funding bill. The conversation begins at 55:39 in the video.
AMY GOODMAN: We wrap up now to look at the $106 billion supplemental war funding bill that Congress votes on today. The White House and Democratic leadership have been trying to muscle through the bill, which would support escalating the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In May, fifty-one antiwar Democrats opposed an earlier version of the bill. Now House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been trying to pressure some of those Democrats to switch their votes in order to get the necessary votes to pass the bill. California Democratic Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey says the White House has also threatened to pull support from freshman antiwar Democrats who vote no on the bill.
In addition to funding military escalation in Iraq and Afghanistan, the bill also includes money for the IMF, the International Monetary Fund, as well as flu pandemic preparedness.
For more, we’re joined here in our firehouse studio by Bob Fertik, the president of Democrats.com, co-founder of AfterDowningStreet.org.
Welcome to Democracy Now!, Bob. We don’t have much time. What do you understand is happening right now in the Congress around this war appropriations bill today?
BOB FERTIK: Amy, there’s a crucial vote this morning in the House. All the Democrat—all the Republicans are expected to vote no. If we get thirty-nine Democrats to vote no, we will be able to defeat the supplemental bill, at least for the time being. There are thirty-six Democrats, progressive Democrats, who have committed to voting no. As you said, fifty-one voted no earlier in May. So we need everybody to pick up the phone, call their representative at (202) 225-3121, and can ask them to vote no.
The Iranian government would be unlikely to give any nuclear weapons to the militant groups it supports—Hamas and Hezbollah—because it paid much money to develop the warheads, and because if the groups used the weapons, it would invite sure catastrophic retaliation against Iran if traced back there. Like all autocratic rulers, Iran’s fundamentalist leadership’s most important objective is staying in power, and getting nuked into cinders does not facilitate that goal.
The real reason that the U.S. government is so concerned about Iran is not its threat to the United States but its threat to Israel—both nuclear and non-nuclear through support for the militant groups. But frankly, that should not be the U.S. taxpayer’s problem. The American Constitution allows for the U.S. government to “provide for the common defense” of the United States, not to provide a defense for Israel.
One election in Iran will not significantly change U.S.-Iran relations—only a change in U.S. thinking and policy will do so.
Historically, the U.S. government, under both Republican and Democratic presidents, has painted relatively poor third world regimes that don’t toe the empire’s line as “evil”—Moammar El-Gadhafi’s Libya in the 1980s, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in the 1990s, North Korea’s Hermit Kingdom since the 1950s, and Islamist Iran since the Iranian Revolution in 1978. Most of these faraway lands haven’t provided—or will be unlikely to provide—much of an actual threat to U.S. territory or Americans in it. But during and after the demise of the Soviet Union, to justify the bloated U.S. world-girdling empire and bloated military establishment, these minor autocratic regimes had to be demonized and their threats elevated.
In unusually firm remarks, the chief of the United Nations mission in Afghanistan said there was an “urgent need to review” the Special Operations forces here.
The official, Kai Eide, called the political costs of civilian casualties from special operations raids “disproportionate to the military gains,” and said the Special Operations forces needed to become “more Afghanized.”
His comments, made in a video conference call from Kabul with NATO ministers in Brussels on Friday and released on Saturday, were the latest sign of just how worried some United Nations and military officials are that the fallout from civilian casualties is jeopardizing the American-led mission in Afghanistan.
Special Operations forces, which conduct raids against high-level insurgent targets, have been criticized for relying heavily on airstrikes when they come under fire from militants during raids and house searches in villages.
An aide to Mr. Eide said that his call to have the forces “Afghanized” means having Afghans conduct the raids. Read more.
PFC Matthew Wilson did not plan to re-enlist so he could be home
By Chad Livengood | News-Leader.com
After bouncing around in foster homes across southwest Missouri during the latter half of childhood, Pfc. Matthew W. Wilson wanted to be a family man.
He got married last August and in December, his new bride, Ashlynn, gave birth to a boy, Matthew Gunnar.
In January, the 19-year-old ammunition handler was deployed to Afghan-istan. He did not plan to re-enlist once he returned home, so he could be with his family full time, said his wife's relatives.
"When he formed a family with Ashlynn, that was the core of his existence," said Trish Gore, an aunt of Ashlynn's who lives in New Mexico.
But Wilson did not live to see his first Father's Day. He died Monday from wounds suffered from a roadside bomb explosion. Read more.
New UN Report Denounces America's Human Rights Record
by Stephen Lendman
On May 26, the UN Human Rights Council issued a report titled "Promotion and Protection of All Human Rights, Civil, Political, Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Including the Right to Development - Report of the Special Rapporteur (Philip Alston) on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions."
Alston was damning in his criticism regarding "three areas in which significant improvement is necessary if the US Government is to match its actions to its stated commitment to human rights and the rule of law:"
Violence in Afghanistan has spiked to its highest levels since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, the general in charge of US forces in the Middle East and Central Asia says.
General David Patraeus, the head of US Central Command, said the number of attacks in the country spiked to its highest point last week, and he predicted that the trend was very likely to continue.
"The past week was the highest level of security incidents in Afghanistan's history, at least that post-liberation history," Petraeus told a forum in Washington DC on Thursday.
"There are some tough months ahead. Some of this [violence] will go up because we are going to go after their sanctuaries and their safe havens as we must," he said.
Attacks soared by 59 per cent to 5,222 incidents from January to May, compared with 3,283 attacks in the first five months of 2008, according to US military officials and excerpts of a report by Nato's International Security Assistance Force (Isaf). Read more.
Last week, the Bureau of the IADL, meeting in Hanoi, presented President Nguyen Minh Triet of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam with the final decision of the Tribunal. The judges found the U.S. government and the chemical companies guilty of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ecocide during the illegal U.S. war of aggression in Vietnam. We recommended that the Agent Orange Commission be established in Vietnam to assess the damages suffered by the people and destruction of the environment, and that the U.S. government and the chemical companies provide compensation for the damage and destruction.
By David Swanson
The executive director of something called the National Security Network, named Heather Hurlburt, offers -- I kid you not, and that's really her name, so try not to hurl -- Six Reasons to Love the Supplemental and Celebrate Progressives in Government.
Hurlburt begins with her own warning not to vomit:
"Usually, there are lots of reasons for progressives not to love supplemental spending bills. And I won't argue that this one is perfect. But before you get too queasy, consider six ways that progressives in Congress and the man at 1600 Pennsylvania turned 'more of the same' into 'change.'"
The decision issued late Friday by a judge in San Francisco allowing a civil lawsuit to go forward against a former Bush administration official, John C. Yoo, might seem like little more than the removal of a procedural roadblock.
But lawyers for the man suing Mr. Yoo, Jose Padilla, say it provides substantive interpretation of constitutional issues for all detainees and could have a broad impact. Read more.
A plan to create a new Pentagon cybercommand is raising significant privacy and diplomatic concerns, as the Obama administration moves ahead on efforts to protect the nation from cyberattack and to prepare for possible offensive operations against adversaries’ computer networks.
President Obama has said that the new cyberdefense strategy he unveiled last month will provide protections for personal privacy and civil liberties. But senior Pentagon and military officials say that Mr. Obama’s assurances may be challenging to guarantee in practice, particularly in trying to monitor the thousands of daily attacks on security systems in the United States that have set off a race to develop better cyberweapons. Read more.
GAO: No problem smuggling secret weapons out of US
By Daniel Tencer | Raw Story
You’ve got to hand it to the U.S. Government Accountability Office — they’ve got initiative.
When the government agency — which has for years been holding successive administrations’ feet to the fire over deficit spending and other management issues — was tasked with investigating how secure America’s sensitive technologies are, it set up a dummy corporation to buy American weapons and see if it could ship them to countries known as transit points for smuggling weapons.
What they managed to smuggle out of the United States was astounding: Triggers for nuclear bombs; microchips for smart missiles; components for improvised explosives; even current-issue U.S. Army body armor.
And the method they used to do it was brilliant in its simplicity: To avoid export restrictions, they set up their dummy corporation inside the United States. Then, once in possession of the equipment, they shipped it overseas....
I’ve been reading through the hot-off-the-presses, exciting 100+ page report from the Commission on Wartime Contracting: “At What Cost? Contingency Contracting In Iraq and Afghanistan.” There have been several good pieces that covered the Congressional hearings related to this report, so I thought I would just post some of the more important excerpts from the report. One general note: The Commission, which was created due to the diligent efforts of Senators Jim Webb and Claire McCaskill, has been doing some incredibly important work digging deep into the corruption, waste, abuse, fraud, etc of the US war contracting system. The statute that created the commission “requires the Commission to assess a number of factors related to wartime contracting, including the extent of waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement of wartime contracts. The Commission has the authority to hold hearings and to refer to the Attorney General any violation or potential violation of law it identifies in carrying out its duties.”...
US-PAKISTAN: CIA Secrecy on Drone Attacks Data Hides Abuses
By Gareth Porter | IPSNews
The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency’s refusal to share with other agencies even the most basic data on the bombing attacks by remote-controlled unmanned predator drones in Pakistan’s northwestern tribal region, combined with recent revelations that CIA operatives have been paying Pakistanis to identify the targets, suggests that managers of the drone attacks programmes have been using the total secrecy surrounding the programme to hide abuses and high civilian casualties.
Intelligence analysts have been unable to obtain either the list of military targets of the drone strikes or the actual results in terms of al Qaeda or civilians killed, according to a Washington source familiar with internal discussion of the drone strike programme. The source insisted on not being identified because of the extreme sensitivity of the issue.
"They can’t find out anything about the programme," the source told IPS. That has made it impossible for other government agencies to judge its real consequences, according to the source. Read more.
Congressional negotiators have agreed to drop amendments to a supplemental approrpiations bill that would have banned the release of photos depicting alleged detainee abuse and would have restricted bringing Guantanamo detainees to the United States.
The agreement on those issues should speed passage of the bill, which provides $79.9 billion for the Pentagon to fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Another $10.4 billion would go to the State Department and other “international affairs and stabilization” efforts in Pakistan.
The agreement came after President Barack Obama wrote a five-paragraph letter promising to fight to prevent disclosure of the photos. The letter noted that an appeals court on Thursday agreed to stay a lower court ruling ordering the photos release so that the Obama administration could appeal to the Supreme Court. Read more.
N.M. Conference of Churches urges torture investigation
Trip to the White House is part of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture
By Gwyneth Doland | New Mexico Independent
A Santa Fe woman is among 33 religious leaders meeting in Washington this week to urge President Obama to establish an independent, non-partisan commission to investigate U.S.-sponsored torture of detainees since 9/11.
The Rev. Holly Beaumont, the Santa Fe-based legislative advocate for the New Mexico Conference of Churches, traveled to the capital on Wednesday as part of a delegation from the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. Rev. Beaumont spoke with NMI from Washington, D.C. Here is an excerpt from the conversation: Read more.
The U.S. Department of Justice is asking a federal appeals court to reconsider its decision to allow a Boeing Co. subsidiary to be sued for allegedly flying terrorism suspects to secret prisons overseas to be tortured.
In April, a panel of judges from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled that the lawsuit dealing with the CIA's "extraordinary rendition" program could proceed. Read more.
In the words of ACLU attorney Ben Wizner, a lead counsel on behalf of the five detainees suing Jeppesen Dataplan, President Obama now "owns the state secrets privilege."
Wizner is correct. Remember precisely what it is that the government wants the 9th circuit to decide: that the U.S. government can dismiss any federal or civil case before it reaches the phase of discovery simply because the government asserts that the national security interests of the United States would be compromised if the case proceeds.
That's the same expansive state secrets privilege that presidents for 50 years have enjoyed -- but it's precisely the privilege that Obama, not two months ago, expressed an anxiety about: "I actually think that the state secret doctrine should be modified. I think right now it's over-broad." Obama did not elaborate. During the presidential campaign, he criticized the use of the privilege as a justiciability doctrine to dismiss entire cases, rather than as an evidentiary doctrine, used to prevent the disclosure of highly-sensitive pieces of evidence.
Why is Obama hardening up his position? If the privilege in weakened, it exposes the government to perpetual liability resulting from the mistakes of the past eight years. Read more.
Russia Rejects the Notion of a Joint Missile System in Europe
By Ellen Barry | NYTimes
Responding to remarks by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, a top Russian diplomat said Thursday that Russia would not collaborate with the United States on missile defense unless Washington scrapped plans to deploy elements of the shield in Poland and the Czech Republic.
“We cannot partner in the creation of objects whose goal is to oppose the strategic deterrent forces of the Russian Federation,” said the Foreign Ministry spokesman, Andrei A. Nesterenko. “No one will do something that harms himself.”
“Only the United States’ rejection of plans to base in Europe the so-called third position area of the missile-defense shield could mark the beginning of a full-fledged dialogue on the question of cooperation and reaction to likely missile risk,” Mr. Nesterenko said. He added that Russia expected “it will be possible to find a common denominator.” Read more.
Sop'ore is a small, remote village in Khammouane province. It's a group of wooden stilt-houses in traditional Lao style.
I met Mr Ta on his veranda there, as chickens, dogs and pigs scratched and snuffled below. We sat looking out at the mountains, which were covered with lush tropical rainforest and low morning mist.
The serenity of the scene stood in contrast to Mr Ta's horrific injuries.
Eight years ago, he told me, he was foraging in the forest with his children, looking for food. But they came across a small bomb. When it exploded, he lost both his arms and one of his eyes.
Since then, he explained, life has been very hard.
"I can't look after myself," he said. "I can only eat like a dog. My wife has to feed me and care for me, as well as looking after our children." Read more.
The decision by Johnson Toribiong, president of the obscure Pacific nation of Palau, to take in up to 13 Uighurs -- Muslim Chinese -- currently being held at Guantanamo is meeting some resistance from the general population.
As ABC News' polling director Gary Langer points out, proportional to population, sending 13 Uighurs to Palau is like sending 188,993 Uighurs to the United States. Read more.
Army: Suicide rate among soldiers continues on record pace
By Mike Mount | CNN
The suicide rate among U.S. Army soldiers jumped in May -- continuing a four-month upward trend and on a record pace for a second straight year, according to Army statistics released Thursday.
Last month the deaths of 17 soldiers were either confirmed or suspected to be suicides, up from 13 in April and 13 in March, the new numbers revealed.
The Army said the total number of potential or confirmed suicides since January stands at 82. Last year the Army recorded 133 suicides, the most ever.
Earlier this year, Army officials saw the suicide numbers moving up, and by February said the service was on track for a record year for suicides.
Only one of the 17 in May has been confirmed as a suicide, while the others remain under investigation and are listed as "potential suicides," according to the latest statistics.
For April, the Army reported eight potential and five confirmed suicides. Read more.
ACLU Files Lawsuit Seeking Disclosure Of Still-Secret Torture Documents | Press Release
Case Marks Launch Of Group's "Accountability For Torture" Initiative
The American Civil Liberties Union today filed a lawsuit seeking the disclosure of still-secret records relating to the torture of prisoners held by the U.S. overseas. The requested documents include legal memos authored by John Yoo and Steven Bradbury, who were lawyers in the Bush administration Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), as well as documents sent by the Bush White House to the CIA. The government has failed to turn over the documents in response to a December 2008 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.
"The information already in the public domain makes clear that the torture policies were devised and developed at the highest levels of the Bush administration, but there are still unanswered questions about precisely what the policies permitted, how they were implemented and who specifically signed off on them," said Jameel Jaffer, Director of the ACLU National Security Project. "This lawsuit is an effort to fill some of the gaps in the narrative."
Today's lawsuit marks the launch of the ACLU's new "Accountability for Torture" initiative, which has four goals: comprehensive disclosure of information relating to the Bush administration's torture policies; the creation of an accurate and comprehensive historical record; the appointment of an independent prosecutor to investigate issues of criminal responsibility; and recognition and compensation for torture victims.
We are finally beginning to learn the full scope of the Bush administration's torture program. Government documents show that hundreds of prisoners were tortured in the custody of the CIA and Department of Defense, some of them killed in the course of interrogations. Justice Department memos show that the torture policies were devised and developed at the highest levels of the Bush administration.
The ACLU is committed to restoring the rule of law. We will fight for the disclosure of the torture files that are still secret. We will advocate for the victims of the Bush administration's unlawful policies. We will press Congress to appoint a select committee that can investigate the roots of the torture program and recommend legislative changes to ensure that the abuses of the last eight years are not repeated. And we will advocate for the appointment of an independent prosecutor to examine issues of criminal responsibility.
We can't sweep the abuses of the last eight years under the rug. Accountability for torture is a legal, political, and moral imperative. Much more to read.
KBR Inc. wasted billions of dollars through inefficiencies, lax oversight and poor management of its contract to support U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to an independent, bipartisan panel.
The contract -- to provide housing, food, laundry, mail delivery and fuel for U.S. troops -- was ultimately worth $31.7 billion, with most of the work being done in Iraq and Kuwait.
“The services could have been delivered for billions of dollars less,” the commission stated in a report released today at a hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform’s national security panel. “Substantial evidence supports the view” that KBR’s services “cost too much.”
The Wartime Contracting Commission, in its first report since Congress established it last year, gives the most critical assessment to date of the contract that Houston-based KBR, then a unit of Halliburton Co., won in December 2001, shortly after the U.S. invaded Afghanistan. Read more.
The Obama administration is moving to appeal a ruling that some detainees at a military air base in Afghanistan can use U.S. civilian courts to challenge their detention. Read more.
I'm at the Center for a New American Security's day-long conference today to learn a few things about Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. I won't be live-blogging the whole thing, but one interesting note came just after General David Petraeus's keynote speech. Yesterday, Fox News passed along a report from Republican Congressman Mike Rogers that detainees in Afghanistan and particularly at Bagram Airforce base are, on the orders of the Obama administration, being read their Miranda Rights -- the "right to remain silent," etc., afforded to domestic criminal suspects -- which could somehow compromise their intelligence value. (This is, presumably, because 'mirandizing' suspects would make them legally ineligble for "enhanced interrogation," which is already prohibited by executive order.)
A Fox News correspondent at the CNAS conference lucked out after Petreaus' speech and managed to be called on for one of three allowed questions; he asked the general, who supervises Afghanistan as the head of U.S. Central Command, about the Miranda reports. "This is the FBI doing what the FBI does," Petraeus replied. "These are cases where they are looking at potential criminal charges. We're comfortable with this." He denied that his soldiers and other relevant American agents are reading Miranda rights to detainees, some of whom are detained as enemy combatants, while others are high-value anti-terrorism targets. (A U.S. federal court recently ruled that some Bagram detainees have the same habeas rights as prisoners in Guantanamo Bay.) Read more.