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Friday
Apr112008

Constitutional Exception Not Valid, Mukasey Says

Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey told senators yesterday that a 2001 Justice Department memo insisting that Fourth Amendment safeguards against unreasonable searches did not cover military activities within the United States is "not in force."

Under sharp questioning from Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) at an Appropriations Committee hearing, Mukasey said that the "Fourth Amendment applies across the board, regardless of whether we're in wartime or in peacetime," even though the memo by the department's Office of Legal Counsel had concluded otherwise.

Lawmakers pressed Mukasey to publish the unclassified document after department spokesmen said it was being withheld under a doctrine of attorney-client confidentiality. Members of the House and Senate have also sought other controversial memos issued by the OLC that underpinned the administration's counterterrorism efforts.

While promising the release of documents will be a "priority" this year, Mukasey cautioned members of the Appropriations Committee that other factors are at play.

The Justice Department, he said, needs to consider the interests of other federal agencies and to protect the flow of ideas, so that government lawyers are free to make judgments "without having their thinking then become the subject of congressional hearings simply because they offered an idea."

The House Judiciary Committee has asked John Yoo, a former OLC deputy who wrote many of the counterterrorism memos at issue, to testify at a hearing next month. Yoo, now a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley, has indicated he would prefer not to appear.

Friday
Apr112008

Lawyers Move To Get Torture Memo Author Yoo Tried As War Criminal

Steve Watson / Infowars.net

The National Lawyers Guild has called for the firing from Berkeley Law School of former assistant to the Attorney General John Yoo for what it describes as "complicity in establishing a policy" that has led to war crimes.

During his time in the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, Yoo authored various controversial memos in which he advocated the possible legality of torture and decreed that enemy combatants could be denied protection under the Geneva Conventions.

Yoo, a co author of the PATRIOT ACT, also suggested that it was legal to declare war anytime, any where, and on anyone the President deemed a threat.

In a press release, National Lawyers Guild President Marjorie Cohn stated:

"John Yoo's complicity in establishing the policy that led to the torture of prisoners constitutes a war crime under the US War Crimes Act,"

The National Lawyers Guild makes the case that Yoo's memos violate US law and establish a unduly expansive definition of presidential powers.

The release concludes:

"Congress should repeal the provision of the Military Commissions Act that would give Yoo immunity from prosecution for torture committed from September 11, 2001 to December 30, 2005. John Yoo should be disbarred and he should not be retained as a professor of law at one of the country's premier law schools. John Yoo should be dismissed from Boalt Hall and tried as a war criminal."

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Friday
Apr112008

AP: Cheney, others OK'd harsh interrogations

Bush administration officials from Vice President Dick Cheney on down signed off on using harsh interrogation techniques against suspected terrorists after asking the Justice Department to endorse their legality, The Associated Press has learned.

The officials also took care to insulate President Bush from a series of meetings where CIA interrogation methods, including waterboarding, which simulates drowning, were discussed and ultimately approved.

A former senior U.S. intelligence official familiar with the meetings described them Thursday to the AP to confirm details first reported by ABC News on Wednesday. The intelligence official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to publicly discuss the issue.

Between 2002 and 2003, the Justice Department issued several memos from its Office of Legal Counsel that justified using the interrogation tactics, including ones that critics call torture.

"If you looked at the timing of the meetings and the memos you'd see a correlation," the former intelligence official said. Those who attended the dozens of meetings agreed that "there'd need to be a legal opinion on the legality of these tactics" before using them on al-Qaida detainees, the former official said.

The meetings were held in the White House Situation Room in the years immediately following the Sept. 11 attacks. Attending the sessions were then-Bush aides Attorney General John Ashcroft, Secretary of State Colin Powell, CIA Director George Tenet and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice.

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Friday
Apr112008

Cheney's Bogus Oil Argument

By Steve Benen / Salon / War Room

There are probably some grounded, halfway reasonable arguments against withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq, but the fact that the White House keeps relying on sheer nonsense suggests the Bush gang can't think of any, either.

Consider Dick Cheney's remarks on Sean Hannity's radio show yesterday.

HANNITY: If we pull out too early, what do you believe the consequences would be? [...]

 

CHENEY: For us to walk away from Iraq I think would have at least that bad an effect, probably worse, because if al Qaeda were to take over big parts of Iraq, among other things, they would acquire control of a significant oil resource. Iraq has almost 100 billion barrel reserves, producing 2.5-3 million barrels of oil a day. If you take a terrorist organization like al Qaeda and give it that kind of revenue, there's no telling the amount of trouble they could get into.

It's hard to overstate how far-fetched this is.

What's especially striking about this is that the president, about three weeks ago, emphasized the same point. Bush insisted that if we withdraw, there will be chaos in Iraq, which would lead al-Qaida to acquire Iraq's oil. At that point, the president said, the terrorist network "could pursue its ambitions to acquire weapons of mass destruction and to attack America and other free nations."

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Friday
Apr112008

McCain Advisers Tied to Foreign Lobbying

By Jim McElhatton and Jerry Seper / Washington Times

Two of Sen. John McCain's top advisers and fundraisers are among several Republican and Democratic presidential campaign officials whose lobbying firms have been paid more than $15 million by foreign governments since 2005.

The firms of McCain senior adviser Charlie Black, who until recently was the chairman of Washington-based BKSH & Associates, and campaign co-chairman Thomas G. Loeffler, who heads the Loeffler Group in San Antonio, received millions of dollars lobbying the White House, Congress and others as agents of nearly a dozen foreign clients in recent years.

"At no time have I discussed my clients with John McCain, and there have been many occasions where he has voted against my clients' interests, but that doesn't change my belief that John McCain is the best candidate to lead our nation," said Mr. Loeffler, a former Texas congressman, whose firm has received millions of dollars from Saudi Arabia.

The arrangements are legal, and hundreds of lobbyists are registered to work for foreign clients. But experts say conflict-of-interest questions can arise if lobbying and campaign activities overlap.

"I'm not sure it's a good idea that one person plays all these roles," said Toni-Michelle C. Travis, a political analyst and professor of government at George Mason University.

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Friday
Apr112008

Judge Orders Government to Provide Documents by 4-21-08

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) won another battle against the government Friday(4-7-08) over the release of information about a campaign to change federal surveillance law.

A federal judge ordered the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) to provide to EFF by April 21, 2008, records about telecom industry lobbying of their offices.

Congress is currently considering granting immunity to telecommunications companies that participated in unlawful electronic surveillance on millions of ordinary Americans as part of changes to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). Officials at the DOJ and ODNI have been vocal supporters of the immunity proposal. Using the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), EFF asked the DOJ and ODNI for any documents reflecting telecom carriers' efforts to avoid legal responsibility for their role in the government's surveillance operations, but the agencies failed to comply with EFF's requests.

"We went to court over the release of these documents because they could play a critical role in the national debate over telecom immunity. Denying Americans access to this information is not only unconscionable, but also illegal," said EFF Staff Attorney Marcia Hofmann. "We're pleased the judge recognized that time is of the essence here and ordered these agencies to follow the law."

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Friday
Apr112008

Vanunu's Fifth Year of Restrictions Begins and Norway Caves

On April 7, 2008 Mordechai Vanunu, a Nobel Peace Prize nominee for the last twenty-two years learned that Israel has continued the restrictions against his right to leave the state or to speak with human beings if they are not Israelis.

On April 9, 2008 it was reported that now Norway has joined Sweden, Canada and Denmark in refusing asylum to Vanunu.

Norway's Bergens Tidende recorded "that Vanunu's application for asylum in Norway had in fact been approved by the country's immigration agency UDI (Utlendingsdirektoratet) back in 2004. UDI was overruled, however, by Norway's center-right government at the time. Political considerations, not least Norway's efforts to remain on good terms with Israel and the US, were more important than Vanunu's human rights." [1]

UDI officials have a mandate to make asylum decisions without political interference. UDI officials had determined that Vanunu qualified for asylum and immigration authorities had determined that his application should be granted.

Israel developed its nuclear program with the help of Norwegian heavy water and between 1976 and 1985; Vanunu was employed as a mid level technician and shift manager at the Dimona nuclear weapons facility underground in the Negev desert where it was utilized.

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Friday
Apr112008

Cops and Former Secret Service Agents Ran Black Ops on Green Groups

By James Ridgeway / Mother Jones

A private security company organized and managed by former Secret Service officers spied on Greenpeace and other environmental organizations from the late 1990s through at least 2000, pilfering documents from trash bins, attempting to plant undercover operatives within groups, casing offices, collecting phone records of activists, and penetrating confidential meetings.

According to company documents provided to Mother Jones by a former investor in the firm, this security outfit collected confidential internal records—donor lists, detailed financial statements, the Social Security numbers of staff members, strategy memos—from these organizations and produced intelligence reports for public relations firms and major corporations involved in environmental controversies.

In addition to focusing on environmentalists, the firm, Beckett Brown International (later called S2i), provided a range of services to a host of clients. According to its billing records, BBI engaged in "intelligence collection" for Allied Waste; it conducted background checks and performed due diligence for the Carlyle Group, the Washington-based investment firm; it provided "protective services" for the National Rifle Association; it handled "crisis management" for the Gallo wine company and for Pirelli; it made sure that the Louis Dreyfus Group, the commodities firm, was not being bugged; it engaged in "information collection" for Wal-Mart; it conducted background checks for Patricia Duff, a Democratic Party fundraiser then involved in a divorce with billionaire Ronald Perelman; and for Mary Kay, BBI mounted "surveillance," and vetted Gayle Gaston, a top executive at the cosmetics company (and mother of actress Robin Wright Penn), retaining an expert to conduct a psychological assessment of her. Also listed as clients in BBI records: Halliburton and Monsanto.

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Friday
Apr112008

U.S. Military Expands Role in West Africa

Brightly painted tattoos snake down Sgt. Joe Palko's outstretched arms as he separates two fighters in protective headgear and boxing gloves.

It is morning onboard the USS Fort McHenry, a 600-foot amphibious landing ship, and US Marines are teaching martial arts on the "Well Deck" deep in the ship's hull. Staff Sgt. William Sudbrock restarts the timer and a group of Liberian soldiers watch as their comrades lay into each other.

For the past five months, the Fort McHenry has been visiting countries on the coast of West Africa's Gulf of Guinea as part of a new initiative called the Africa Partnership Station (APS).

With the US military's Africa Command (AFRICOM) facing skepticism as it prepares to become fully operational in October, the activities of APS, both onboard and onshore, reveal the shape of future US military relations with Africa. "APS is a case study in the strengths that AFRICOM brings to bear," says its commander, Capt. John Nowell.

It is, says Captain Nowell, about preventing conflict from erupting by training local militaries, improving safety and security – in this case on the seas – and about "soft power" through the delivery of humanitarian support.

He points out that more than 1,200 soldiers and sailors from eight different countries have received training so far. Many of these cash-strapped countries lack either a functioning coast guard or navy, allowing an alarming rise in oil theft, drug trafficking, illegal immigration, piracy, and illegal fishing. The Fort McHenry also helped deliver food aid to Chadian refugees who fled across the border to Cameroon during a coup attempt earlier in the year.

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Friday
Apr112008

Maryland DNA Bill Convicts Before Trial

The Examiner

Innocents and criminals alike, watch out. Starting next year, if you are charged with a violent crime, police will sample your DNA to enter into a database of offenders.

Gov. Martin O’Malley hailed the legislation authorizing the taking of genetic evidence as “our top public safety priority.” For whom? The government or those it serves?

How it does not pole-vault over constitutional protections against illegal search and seizure puzzles us.

DNA is no fingerprint or photograph. It is a sophisticated identification system that needs no witnesses to corroborate and is more accurate than fingerprints when — if — the people storing and analyzing the data work right.

It also treats those charged as if they were criminals before a court reviews their cases. How does that mesh with “innocent until proven guilty”?

The new legislation requires law enforcement to automatically expunge data if those charged are not convicted. And it prohibits using the database to track down relatives of a person charged with a crime.

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Thursday
Apr102008

Afghans Hold Secret Trials for Men That U.S. Detained

Dozens of Afghan men who were previously held by the United States at Bagram Air Base and Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, are now being tried here in secretive Afghan criminal proceedings based mainly on allegations forwarded by the American military.

The prisoners are being convicted and sentenced to as much as 20 years’ confinement in trials that typically run between half an hour and an hour, said human rights investigators who have observed them. One early trial was reported to have lasted barely 10 minutes, an investigator said.

The prosecutions are based in part on a security law promulgated in 1987, during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Witnesses do not appear in court and cannot be cross-examined. There are no sworn statements of their testimony.

Instead, the trials appear to be based almost entirely on terse summaries of allegations that are forwarded to the Afghan authorities by the United States military. Afghan security agents add what evidence they can, but the cases generally center on events that sometimes occurred years ago in war zones that the authorities may now be unable to reach.

“These are no-witness paper trials that deny the defendants a fundamental fair-trial right to challenge the evidence and mount a defense,” said Sahr MuhammedAlly, a lawyer for the advocacy group Human Rights First who has studied the proceedings. “So any convictions you get are fundamentally flawed.”

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Thursday
Apr102008

NAFTA Superhighway: Progress on the Trans Texas Corridor Continues

An article carried by Reuters, March 10, 2008, datelined Madrid reports that the Spanish company Cintra said it had closed financing to build segments 5 and 6 of its SH-130 toll road between San Antonio and Austin, Texas in the U.S. It plans to invest $1.36 billion in this leg of the project.

In a statement to Spain's stock market, Cintra said $197 million of the investment came from consortium partners and the rest from a bank loan and debt from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The newly financed segment is part of the Trans Texas Corridor, a 4,000 mile plan of super toll ways. The Corridor plan calls for a superhighway with 12 passenger vehicle lanes, 4 truck lanes, 2 passenger train tracks, 2 commuter train tracks, 2 freight train tracks, underground lines for water, natural gas, petroleum, telecommunication fiber optics, and overhead high-voltage electric transmission lines and towers.

Plans also include gas stations, garages, restaurants, hotels, stores, billboards, warehouses, freight interchanges, inter-modal transfer areas, bus stations, passenger train stations, parking facilities, dispatch control centers, maintenance facilities, pipeline pumping stations, and toll booths.

The Trans Texas Corridor is the largest engineering project ever undertaken in Texas, costing over $180 billion dollars.

A consortium led by the Cintra Concesiones Infraestruturas SA, known as Cintra, announced the contract to build the Trans Texas Corridor in December, 2004, and said it expected to develop 6 billion U.S. dollars of motorway projects during the following five years as part of the project.

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Thursday
Apr102008

Met Police officers to Be Microchipped

Every single Metropolitan police officer will be 'microchipped' so top brass can monitor their movements on a Big Brother style tracking scheme, it can be revealed today.

According to respected industry magazine Police Review, the plan - which affects all 31,000 serving officers in the Met, including Sir Ian Blair - is set to replace the unreliable Airwave radio system currently used to help monitor officer's movements.

The new electronic tracking device - called the Automated Personal Location System (APLS) - means that officers will never be out of range of supervising officers.

But many serving officers fear being turned into "Robocops" - controlled by bosses who have not been out on the beat in years.

According to service providers Telent, the new technology 'will enable operators in the Service's operations centres to identify the location of each police officer' at any time they are on duty - whether overground or underground.

Although police chiefs say the new technology is about 'improving officer safety' and reacting to incidents more quickly, many rank and file believe it is just a Big Brother style system to keep tabs on them and make sure they don't 'doze off on duty'.

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