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Supreme Court asked to weigh in on detainee photos
By Bill Mears | CNN
The Obama administration is turning to the Supreme Court as it seeks to block public release of photos apparently depicting abuse of suspected terrorists and foreign soldiers in U.S. custody.
Justice Department lawyers late Thursday told a federal appeals court in New York -- the same one on which high court nominee Sonia Sotomayor sits -- to hold off a ruling ordering release of the material, saying they plan to ask the justices to hear their case.
The government said it would proceed "absent intervening legislation" from Congress.
The "motion to recall" comes after President Obama ordered government lawyers this month to object to the court-ordered release of photos depicting the mistreatment of prisoners held in Iraq and Afghanistan, reversing an earlier White House decision. The Pentagon had been set to release hundreds of photos in response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the American Civil Liberties Union.
The ACLU -- which filed the initial lawsuit for disclosure -- has criticized the administration's about-face, saying it "makes a mockery" of Obama's campaign promise of greater transparency and accountability, and damages efforts to hold accountable those responsible for abusing prisoners.
The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in September that the photos must be released. The president now says doing so "would pose an unacceptable risk of danger to U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Iraq." Sotomayor has served on that court since 1998 but was not involved in that particular appeal....The government has until June 9 to file its initial appeal with the Supreme Court. Read more.
The United Nations has released a new report on accountability for human rights abuses by the United States, focusing mostly on transgressions during the Bush administration's so-called war on terror. In a word, accountability in the U.S. has been "deplorable."
The May 26, 2009, report by Australian law professor Philip Alston, the U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, does praise the United States for establishing compensation payments for civilians accidentally killed by U.S. forces in the heat of battle. But Alston quickly adds the following: "However, there have been chronic and deplorable accountability failures with respect to policies, practice and conduct that resulted in alleged unlawful killings -- including possible war crimes -- in the United States' international operations."
A summary from the report follows below. But the body of the document doesn't pull any punches either. Read more.
DOJ: Two Former Military Officials Charged with Participating in Scheme to Steal Large Quantities of Fuel from U.S. Army in Iraq
WASHINGTON – A federal grand jury returned a superseding indictment today charging Robert Young, 56, a former captain in the U.S. Army, and Robert Jeffery, 55, a former master chief petty officer in the U.S. Navy, with conspiracy and theft of government property in connection with a scheme to steal large quantities of fuel from the U.S. Army in Iraq, announced Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Criminal Division and Acting U.S. Attorney Dana J. Boente for the Eastern District of Virginia.
WASHINGTON – A federal jury that convicted Steven D. Green, a former Ft. Campbell, Ky., soldier of charges arising out of the rape of a 14-year-old Iraqi girl and the murder of the girl and her family today said it was unable to reach a unanimous verdict on whether the defendant should be sentenced to death. Because the jury did not unanimously reach a decision on the death penalty, U.S. District Judge Thomas B. Russell will sentence Green to life without parole, Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Criminal Division and Acting U.S. Attorney Candace G. Hill of the Western District of Kentucky announced.
Judge Russell is scheduled to formally sentence Green on September 4, 2009.
Gen. Petraeus: US Violated Geneva Convention, The Court of Law Could Try Terrorists: We Made Mistakes After 9/11: Close Gitmo
Gen. Petraeus joined FOX News and Martha MacCallum today and gave a blockbuster interview, but probably not the one Fox expected. Once again, he called for the responsible closure of the military prison at Guantanamo Bay. He also said that mistakes were made after 9/11 and that the Army Field Manual is all that we need to use to interrogate prisoners. In addition, he said that we have to have faith in our judicial system and we should try the Khalid Sheikh Muhammads in a court of law.
Martha tried to give him the ticking time bomb scenario to justify torture and he really didn't bite. He did say maybe an Executive Order could be appropriate, but that it really wasn't necessary.Read more.
Cheney's lying about what's in CIA memos, Levin says
By Ed Hornick | CNN
Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, says former Vice President Dick Cheney is lying when he claims that classified CIA memos show that enhanced interrogation techniques like waterboarding worked.
Levin, speaking at the Foreign Policy Association's annual dinner in Washington on Wednesday, said an investigation by his committee into detainee abuse charges over the use of the techniques -- now deemed torture by the Obama administration -- "gives the lie to Mr. Cheney's claims."
The Michigan Democrat told the crowd that the two CIA documents that Cheney wants released "say nothing about numbers of lives saved, nor do the documents connect acquisition of valuable intelligence to the use of abusive techniques."
"I hope that the documents are declassified, so that people can judge for themselves what is fact, and what is fiction," he added.
Justice Department documents released in April showed that Bush administration lawyers authorized the use of techniques such as sleep deprivation, slapping, stress positions and waterboarding, which produces the sensation of drowning. Read more.
Church Blogging #22: “WAR IS FOR POWER AND MONEY”
By Nick Mottern and Nora Freeman
A 78-year-old Army veteran sat in the parish house of the First Baptist Church in White Plains NY at social hour on Sunday, May 24, 2009, Memorial Day weekend, and told me he has come to the conclusion that wars are only about getting power and money.
He was a medic during the Korean War although he was not in combat. Later, after higher education, he worked on the nuclear reactor of the USS Nautilus, the first US nuclear submarine. But while he said Memorial Day brought memories, he is no supporter of war. In fact he thinks mercenaries are being paid to start wars.
He was thankful for the GI benefits that enabled him to go to college, something that he would not otherwise have been able to afford, but he acknowledged that there are other ways the government could have helped him through school.
The Facts Thwart Rehab of Colin Powell
By Ray McGovern
Watching retired Gen. Colin Powell refer to the parable of the Good Samaritan during Sunday’s Memorial Day ceremonies on the Mall in Washington, it struck me that Powell was giving hypocrisy a bad name.
Those familiar with the Good Samaritan story and also with the under-reported behavior of Gen. Powell, comeback kid of the Fawning Corporate Media (FCM), know that the two do not mesh.
Powell’s well-documented disregard for those who have borne the brunt of the battle places him in the company of the priest and the Levite – in the Good Samaritan parable – who, seeing the man attacked by robbers on the side of the road, walked right on by.
Sadly, Powell has a long record of placing the wounded and the vulnerable on his list of priorities far below his undying need to get promoted or to promote himself. Powell’s rhetoric, of course, would have us believe otherwise.
Soldier Seeking Asylum: 'I Want to Be Able to Atone'
Elsa Rassbach interviews André Shepherd, a U.S. soldier applying for asylum in Germany
By Elsa Rassbach | Common Dreams
Background: the view from Germany
Berlin, May 26, 2009. Early in June, President Barack Obama will sign into law the supplemental funding of 92 billion U.S. dollars for the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan that was approved by the U.S. Congress last week. Then he will depart for a speaking tour and meetings with heads of state in Egypt and in Europe.
On June 5th, he will be coming to visit us here in Germany, making stops at the concentration camp at Buchenwald, at Weimar, and at Dresden, a site also of massive bombings of civilians during World War II. This will be Obama's third visit to Germany in less than a year, and it seems likely that he will once again, as in the previous two visits, make a pitch for more German support for the ongoing "war against terror," particularly in Afghanistan. Though Obama is popular here, the German government has for the most part stonewalled his requests for further direct German involvement in these wars.
The well-known German ambivalence towards the U.S. "war against terror" is now being further tested by a U.S. soldier's application for asylum in Germany. André Shepherd, who was stationed in Germany, refuses to deploy to Iraq. Many U.S. soldiers stationed in Europe who refused service in or support of the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan have been tried in U.S. military courts in Europe and imprisoned in the U.S. military's correctional facility at Mannheim; the most well known are Blake Lemoine (2005) and Agustín Aguayo (2006-2007).
But Shepherd is so far the first to turn to the German government for help: last November he filed a formal application to the German government for asylum. For the moment his case is entirely outside of U.S. jurisdiction.
Former President George W. Bush on Thursday repeated Dick Cheney's assertion that the administration's enhanced interrogation program, which included controversial techniques such as waterboarding, was legal and garnered valuable information that prevented terrorist attacks.
Bush told a southwestern Michigan audience of nearly 2,500 -- the largest he has addressed in the United States since leaving the White House in January -- that, after the September 11 attacks, "I vowed to take whatever steps that were necessary to protect you."
In his speech, Bush did not specifically refer to the high-profile debate over President Obama's decision to halt the use of harsh interrogation techniques. Bush also didn't mention Cheney, his former vice president, by name.
Instead, he described how he proceeded after the capture of terrorism suspect Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in March 2003.
"The first thing you do is ask what's legal?" Bush said. "What do the lawyers say is possible? I made the decision, within the law, to get information so I can say to myself, 'I've done what it takes to do my duty to protect the American people.' I can tell you that the information we got saved lives." Read more.
The Pentagon on Thursday denied a British newspaper report that photographs of Iraqi prisoner abuse, whose release U.S. President Barack Obama wants to block, include images of apparent rape and sexual abuse.
Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said the Daily Telegraph newspaper had shown "an inability to get the facts right".
"That news organization has completely mischaracterized the images," Whitman told reporters. "None of the photos in question depict the images that are described in that article."
Thursday's Telegraph quoted retired U.S. Army Major General Antonio Taguba, who conducted a 2004 investigation into abuse at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison, as saying the pictures showed "torture, abuse, rape and every indecency."
The newspaper said at least one picture showed an American soldier apparently raping a female prisoner while another is said to show a male translator raping a male detainee.
Others were said to depict sexual assaults with objects including a truncheon, wire and a phosphorescent tube. Read more.
US Iraq Casualties rise to 72,239
Compiled by Michael Munk | www.MichaelMunk.com
US military occupation forces in Iraq under Commander-in-Chief Obama suffered 30 combat casualties in the six days ending May 27, 2009 as the official total rose to at least 72,239. The total includes 34,758 dead and wounded from what the Pentagon classifies as "hostile" causes and more than 37,481 dead and medically evacuated (last reported April 4, 2009) from "non-hostile" causes.*
The actual total is over 100,000 because the Pentagon chooses not to count as "Iraq casualties" the more than 30,000 veterans whose injuries - mainly brain trauma from explosions and PTSD - diagnosed only after they had left Iraq.**
US media divert attention from the actual cost in American life and limb by occasionally reporting only the total killed (4,303 as of May 27) but rarely mentioning the 31,312 wounded in combat. To further minimize public perception of the cost, they cover for the Pentagon by ignoring the 36,624 (as of April 4, 2009))*** military victims of accidents and illness serious enough to require medical air evacuation, although the 4,303 reported deaths include 857 (up one) who died from those same causes, including at least 18 from faulty electrical work by KBR and 177 suicides through 2008.****
* The number of wounded is usually updated on Tuesdays by the Pentagon.
** New York Times, Jan 26, 2009
*** the number of "non combat" injured was reported by the Pentagon.
**** NYTimes, Jan 30, 2009
A Sunday Herald investigation has discovered that coalition forces are holding more than 100 children in jails such as Abu Ghraib. Witnesses claim that the detainees – some as young as 10 – are also being subjected to rape and torture.
It was early last October that Kasim Mehaddi Hilas says he witnessed the rape of a boy prisoner aged about 15 in the notorious Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. “The kid was hurting very bad and they covered all the doors with sheets,” he said in a statement given to investigators probing prisoner abuse in Abu Ghraib. “Then, when I heard the screaming I climbed the door … and I saw [the soldier’s name is deleted] who was wearing a military uniform.” Hilas, who was himself threatened with being sexually assaulted in Abu Graib, then describes in horrific detail how the soldier raped “the little kid”.
In another witness statement, passed to the Sunday Herald, former prisoner Thaar Salman Dawod said: “[I saw] two boys naked and they were cuffed together face to face and [a US soldier] was beating them and a group of guards were watching and taking pictures and there was three female soldiers laughing at the prisoners. The prisoners, two of them, were young.”
It’s not certain exactly how many children are being held by coalition forces in Iraq, but a Sunday Herald investigation suggests there are up to 107. Their names are not known, nor is where they are being kept, how long they will be held or what has happened to them during their detention.
Proof of the widespread arrest and detention of children in Iraq by US and UK forces is contained in an internal Unicef report written in June. The report has – surprisingly – not been made public. A key section on child protection, headed “Children in Conflict with the Law or with Coalition Forces”, reads: “In July and August 2003, several meetings were conducted with CPA (Coalition Provisional Authority) … and Ministry of Justice to address issues related to juvenile justice and the situation of children detained by the coalition forces … Unicef is working through a variety of channels to try and learn more about conditions for children who are imprisoned or detained, and to ensure that their rights are respected.” Read more.
One might think that the American public’s toleration of torture reflects the breakdown of the country’s Christian faith. Alas, a recent poll released by the Pew Forum reveals that most white Christian evangelicals and white Catholics condone torture. In contrast, only a minority of those who seldom or never attend church services condone torture.
Torture is a violation of US and international law. Yet, president George W. Bush and vice president Dick Cheney, on the basis of legally incompetent memos prepared by Justice Department officials, gave the OK to interrogators to violate US and international law.
The new Obama administration shows no inclination to uphold the rule of law by prosecuting those who abused their offices and broke the law.
Cheney claims, absurdly, that torture was necessary in order to save American cities from nuclear weapons in the hands of terrorists. Many Americans have bought the argument that torture is morally justified in order to make terrorists reveal where ticking nuclear bombs are before they explode.
However, there were no hidden ticking nuclear bombs. Hypothetical scenarios were used to justify torture for other purposes.
We now know that the reason the Bush regime tortured its captives was to coerce false testimony that linked Iraq and Saddam Hussein to al Qaeda and September 11. Without this “evidence,” the US invasion of Iraq remains a war crime under the Nuremberg standard.
Torture, then, was a second Bush regime crime used to produce an alibi for the illegal and unprovoked US invasion of Iraq. Read more.
“My Administration is also confronting challenges to what is known as the ‘State Secrets’ privilege. This is a doctrine that allows the government to challenge legal cases involving secret programs. It has been used by many past Presidents - Republican and Democrat - for many decades. And while this principle is absolutely necessary to protect national security, I am concerned that it has been over-used. We must not protect information merely because it reveals the violation of a law or embarrasses the government.”
Thus spoke President Obama in his national security speech last week.
On May 14, The Frederick News-Post’s lead editorial celebrated the agreement by the FBI to pay $880,000 to the National Academy of Sciences for a review of the science used in the FBI’s investigation of the anthrax letters case (“Amerithrax”). According to the FBI, it took years and millions of dollars to develop and apply the science that incriminated Bruce Ivins.
It will take another 18 months or more for the NAS to complete its study. Though the NAS has announced that this study will not evaluate the quality of the case against Ivins, most observers, including FNP’s editor, assume that if the NAS finds the FBI science to be valid, this would “go a long way” toward confirming the guilt of Ivins.
Iraq Veteram Turned Conscientious Objector Currently Making Journey Across US to Seek Alternatives To War
AVAILABLE FOR INTERVIEW: IRAQ VETERAN TURNED CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTOR CURRENTLY MAKING JOURNEY ACROSS U.S. TO SEEK ALTERNATIVES TO WAR
Josh Stieber, who will begin his on-foot and bicycle, cross-country journey just after Memorial Day on May 27th in Washington, D.C., is now available for phone interviews or in-person interviews if you are able to meet him somewhere along his route. Please see website for listing of cities and expected dates and email to schedule either type of interview. He plans to be in the following states: Washington, DC; Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts, Ohio, Missouri, Oklahoma, Kansas, Montana, Washington and California.
With the military announcing successes in Iraq and seeking to repeat it's surge strategy in Afghanistan, the nature of these policies begs further examination. Are these tactics as successful as the military proclaims? What were the costs and human factors of these accomplishments? What are the effects?
A first-hand testimony can be heard from Iraq veteran Josh Stieber. Stieber was deployed to Baghdad as part of the Surge from Feb 07 to Apr 09. He spent the majority of his deployment living outside of larger military installations, working with his infantry company in converted warehouses and police stations. Spending time as a humvee driver, machine gunner, detainee guard, radio transmission operator, and a little bit of everything in between, Stieber has a broad range of firsthand experiences within the Army and of daily Iraqi life.
Upon return from his deployment, Stieber's experiences lead him to apply as a conscientious objector. Nearly a year of investigation into the sincerity of his claim was conducted until he was unanimously approved by the Department of the Army Conscientious Objection Review Board. He spent the meantime studying and preparing his cross-country trip where he hopes to share his experiences while learning about alternatives to military involvement.
If you’re watching this then it means I’m not around anymore. I imagine you’re probably in your late teens now. Maybe Mt. Kilimanjaro no longer has snow on its peak. Maybe the ice shelves on the northern coasts of Alaska have melted back and polar bears are dwindling in number. I always wanted to get up there and see Alaska. Maybe you’ll make it up there one day yourself. I wonder if it’s somehow possible for you to buy a plane ticket to Baghdad, to visit Iraq as a tourist. Will you visit the places where I’ve been? Will you talk to the people there? Will you tell them my name?
At some point in the future, soldiers will pack up their rucks, equipment will be loaded into huge shipping containers, C-130s will rise wheels-up off the tarmac, and Navy transport ships will cross the high seas to return home once again. At some point — the timing of which I don’t have the slightest guess at — the war in Iraq will end. And I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately — I’ve been thinking about the last American soldier to die in Iraq.
Tonight, at 3 a.m., a hunter’s moon shines down into the misty ravines of Vermont’s Green Mountains. I’m standing out on the back deck of a friend’s house, listening to the quiet of the woods. At the Fairbanks Museum in nearby St. Johnsbury, the lights have been turned off for hours and all is dark inside the glass display cases, filled with Civil War memorabilia. The checkerboard of Jefferson Davis. Smoothbore rifles. Canteens. Reading glasses. Letters written home. Read more.
Hundreds of supporters of Pakistan's opposition Jamaat-i-Islami party have demonstrated in what is believed to be the first major protest against the military's offensive against the Taliban in North West Frontier Province (NWFP).
The demonstration in the capital, Islamabad, on Sunday took place as the army fought bloody street-to-street battles in Mingora, the main city in the Swat valley.
"To this point there has been absolutely total political support for the ongoing operation in Swat valley," Al Jazeera's Mike Hanna, reporting from Islamabad, said.
"But now there is the first sign that there are sectors in society who are opposed to what is going on."
Many of the protesters were carrying banners carrying slogans condemning the role of the United States in Pakistan.
"This is a great point of contention for many Pakistanis, not just the supporters of the political party gathered here," Hanna said.
"The speakers are basing part of their criticism on their belief that Pakistan is doing ... the work of the United States in its so-called 'war on terror'." Read more.
Colin Powell told Bob Schieffer he has "no idea" if the enhanced interrogation techniques used during the Bush administration were effective.
"I have no idea," he said on "Face the Nation" Sunday. "I hear that they were. I hear that they weren't. You see people from the FBI who come out and say, 'We got all of that information before any of that was done.' I cannot answer that question. And the problem is, I don't know what I don't know."
He said that he was aware that enhanced methods of interrogation were being considered in the aftermath of 9/11 but said he was "not privy" to the memos of legal documents that were being written.
"I think it was unfortunate but we had a system that kept that in a very compartmented manner. And so I was apart that these enhanced interrogation techniques were being considered. And they were judged not to be torture at the time," he said.
At first glance, it appears that 2009 didn’t start so well for the military contractor Xe, until February known as Blackwater Worldwide. In January, with multiple other lawsuits pending, six of its former employees went on trial for the death of 17 Iraqi civilians in September 2007 in Nisoor Square, Baghdad. And in March, its contract in Iraq, where it has so far made more than $1 billion dollars, was canceled.
Yet, on April 20 the AP reported that Xe (pronounced “zee”) will remain in Iraq until the summer. It has been widely reported that its aviation company, Presidential Airlines, will continue operations in Iraq until the fall. And Triple Canopy, the company that will assume Xe’s contract in Iraq to protect U.S. personnel, will be hiring former Blackwater/Xe personnel.
The private military corporation (PMC) market, of which Xe is a boutique part, is growing globally at 6 to 8 percent a year and has now surpassed $100 billion, mostly based in the United States and the United Kingdom. The use of mercenaries goes back millennia, but the phenomenon of corporate private armies capable of challenging the nation state’s “monopoly on violence”—as President Barack Obama put it—is a late 20th century development that worries peace activists around the globe. These private armies are used not just on the battlefield but also to protect corporations, train public law enforcement personnel and, as after Katrina, patrol city streets. Read more.
By the now, it's maddeningly familiar. A scary terrorist plot is announced. Then it's revealed that the suspects are a hapless bunch of ne'er-do-wells or run-of-the-mill thugs without the slightest connection to any terrorists at all, never mind to Al Qaeda. Finally, the last piece of the puzzle: the entire plot is revealed to have been cooked up by a scummy government agent-provocateur.
I've seen this movie before.
In this case, the alleged perps -- Onta Williams, James Cromitie, David Williams, and Laguerre Payen -- were losers, ex-cons, drug addicts. Al Qaeda they're not. Without the assistance of the agent who entrapped them, they would never have dreamed of committing political violence, nor would they have had the slightest idea about where to acquire plastic explosives or a Stinger missile. That didn't stop prosecutors from acting as if they'd captured Osama bin Laden himself. Read more.
Obama Betrays The Liberals
By Sherwood Ross
America’s liberals stand betrayed. Their new president, the one they sweated to elect----a brilliant, charismatic leader with a professional background in constitutional law---has transmogrified himself from the champion who denounced in his campaign the illegalities of the Bush White House into a president bent on their perpetuation.
Liberals are stunned by Obama’s plan to “restart Bush-era military tribunals” for some Guantanamo detainees, reviving what the Associated Press pointed out, is “a fiercely disputed trial system he once denounced.”(May 15). Liberals are appalled by Obama’s May 21st proposal to hold terrorism suspects in “prolonged detention” inside the U.S. without a trial. “Such detention,” Senator Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) wrote him, “is a hallmark of abusive systems that we have historically criticized around the world.”
During the last thirty years of wars in Afghanistan, Afghan civilians have had one safe place to escape to: Pakistan.
They fled the Soviet invasion. They fled civil wars. They fled US bombing. Pakistan took care of millions of these Afghan refugees.
Now that safe haven with its lush green valleys is burning with bombs.
And the hosts, the people who themselves welcomed Afghan refugees, at times literally into their homes or into campsites on their farms, are on the run. They are streaming out of Swat, Dir and Buner and registering as refugees in Mardan and the fertile valleys of Pakistan. The UN says about two million Pakistanis have been displaced during the last year of drone attacks, bombing and fighting.