In remarks that aired on German television last night, Manfred Nowak, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, urged the U.S. to pursue former President George W. Bush and defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld on charges that they authorized torture and other harsh interrogation techniques:
“Judicially speaking, the United States has a clear obligation” to bring proceedings against Bush and Rumsfeld. […] He noted Washington had ratified the UN convention on torture which required “all means, particularly penal law” to be used to bring proceedings against those violating it.
“We have all these documents that are now publicly available that prove that these methods of interrogation were intentionally ordered by Rumsfeld,” against detainees at the US prison facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Nowak said.
Indeed, a bipartisan Senate report released last month found that Rumsfeld “bore major responsibility” for abuses committed at Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib and other military detention centers. Just last week, a Bush administration official overseeing Gitmo trials said Rumsfeld approved the torture of one particular detainee. Bush himself said last year that he was aware of his advisers’ discussions on torture and recently admitted that he personally authorized waterboarding Kalid Sheik Muhammad.
I learned long ago that a lot of wisdom comes from taxi drivers. I was doing an internship at the US Embassy in Argentina while I was in grad school, and I remember one of the diplomats telling me, impressionable 23 year old that I was, that wherever you go, always ask the taxi drivers "¿Qué tal la situación?" It translates to "how is the situation," but it really meant, "so what's your take on current state of the country?" Oh the answers you'd get, really quite fascinating, and informative.
Anyway, I was heading off to buy paint samples for the new condo (I so don't have that gene) and I asked the taxi driver if he made any money yesterday, during the inaugural. No, it was a zoo, he told me. Then he started to tell me the story of a couple he took to the airport. They were obviously from out of town, here for the inauguration. Their response? We can't even talk about it. A few minutes later, they told him what happened. Basically, they flew all the way out here from somewhere not close, paid a ton of money for a hotel, were lucky enough to get tickets to the inaugural (for the 300,000 people area), and, like everyone else, they froze their 50 year old butts off standing in unmoving lines for hours until they missed the inauguration.
I mention this because a few of the readers got upset yesterday when I wrote about how Joe had experienced the same thing - left his house at 8am, in 22 degree weather, and ended up standing in line for hours until he too missed the swearing in. It's not griping, and making a mountain out of a molehill, pointing out that someone botched the logistics big time yesterday, and they didn't just ruin the day for a lot of people who were really excited about seeing the swearing in in person, but a lot of people paid a lot of money to come in from out of town to see this, and they really got screwed. This didn't happen to a couple hundred people, it happened to thousands, if not tens of thousands. I have numerous friends, all of whom didn't get in. Joe talked to lots of people last night, when he was out and about, and lots of people didn't get it in.
And from a congressional office's perspective, they gave out their share of the 300,000 tickets to their closest allies and friends. So the people who got screwed, the ticketholders, were the very people congress members were trying to woo. Now, for the people-of-the-people out there, some of you may say "good, screw the important people." But if you're a member of Congress, the last people you want to screw over are your most important constituents. This was a mess.
There's something to keep in mind here. Yesterday's snafu had nothing to do with the mobs of people on the mall. The people who had tickets where in line with 300,000 people, not with 2 million. And we've dealt with security for 300,000 people before, during previous inaugurations, and in other events. There is no excuse for botching this. And the excuse from the Senate Sergeant at Arms Terrance Gainer is beyond laughable (and belies his previous job at the DC Metropolitican Police Department, where incompetence in leadership, and making absurdly irrelevant excuses, has been raised to an art form). In a nutshell, Gainer said that no one had planned on people wearing winter jackets.
Part of the problem, Gainer said, was that people wearing bulky winter clothing took up more space than officials had expected.Huh? Just how much space did you "expect" bulky winter clothing to take up, that it surprised you? Or are you saying that you never expected people to wear winter coats in Washington, DC in January, when it easily slips into the 20s and even the teens?
Gleaned from CSPAN Radio this morning: Geitner has support from Schumer and former Fed Volcker…the heavy hitters are coming out for Obama’s Treasury pik. Later: Remind me to look up the congresslady (I think it was Catnwell) asking geitner about “exotic tools…” not just for the infantile comic value of it, neither…it was a good [...]
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Whether or not we have capital-N nationalization of the banks in the near term, they may end up more like highly regulated public utilities in the not too distant future. Hard for me to figure if we're actually going to get that place where bank CEOs[...]
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The Government of Switzerland made a generous offer today -- it is willing to consider taking Guantanamo detainees who cannot return to their home countries:
"For Switzerland, the detention of people in Guantanamo is in conflict with international law. Switzerland is ready to consider how it can contribute to the solution of the Guantanamo problem," the government said in a statement.
Switzerland said it welcomed the expressed intention of U.S. President Barack Obama to close the prison and would investigate security and legal implications of possibly taking in detainees.
Portugal and France have also expressed a willingness to consider taking detainees. [More...]245 detainees remain at Guantanamo. You can read their names and countries of origin in the appendix to the ACLU plan (pdf) to close Guantanamo.
Obama's direction to prosecutors to seek a suspension of the military commissions trials which was granted by the judge also met with approval from the European Commission. EU Justice Commissioner Jacques Barrot released a statement:
"I am delighted that one of the first actions of President Obama was to turn the page on this sad episode of Guantanamo prison...."For me, this is very symbolic. In a lawful state, everybody should enjoy the right to defence."
copyright ? 2009 Betsy L. Angert. BeThink.org
As Americans go about their day, they chortle, croon, and chatter. Conversations are constant. Hymns are hummed. People sing even when there is no tune. There is much said, and little heard. Cries may strike a chord; yet, these too may be perceived as silence. People talk. They wail; and no one listens to the lovely lyrics are sung.
Everyone is hurried. Most are worried. They fear the mundane that threatens their very existence. Moms, Dads, even teens who must help provide for the family anxiously ask, will I have a job tomorrow. Singles are not exempt. Children too are concerned for they feel the disquiet amidst the noise. The murmur that moves us might be summed up in a sentence. 'Will there be money in my pocket today?'
Society, it seems, is engaged in selfish pursuits. Personal survival is a more significant motivator than service. There is no harmony in the hullabaloo that surrounds us. The hum of reverence remains hidden.
The butcher, the baker, and the candlestick-maker move through the day with one song in mind. How might I provide food for the family, and find shelter from all the storms? What of schools for my children, and an education for myself? In the pandemonium, the only sound that echoes is a irksome song,
Most citizens of this country know not what will come. Nor do individuals recognize the love that was and is. Thus, they do as was done before them.
Just as their parents did, the tired, the hungry, the poor and downtrodden, talk of a secure future. They walk towards what they want, or try to. Heads are held high. People work in factories. They stitch finery. Some drive trucks or taxis. Others teach. Builders construct edifices that will be too expensive for them to occupy.
Countless serve . As they do so many deeds, they sing the customary song.
Farmers plant crops for a country starved for nourishment. Field-workers pick the harvest. Waiters and waitresses dish out the chow. Chefs cook. The rewards are paltry. The reality is stark. All have hope for a better day. Each looks out on the horizon.
Everyone strives to see the grass that certainly must be greener on the other side of the street.
Few realize that today was tomorrow. All that they have was given to them with thanks to yesterday. Ancestral devotion, dedication to the Seventh Generation has served society well..
The blood, sweat, and tears of persons who toiled in the past, gave birth to a nation that believes in love, liberty, and the light that everyone seeks. The truth is, the sound often muffled by expressions of personal misery were lovely songs.
Today, as citizens consider the crisis that has become common in American lives, they hope for change. No one noticed within the noise, was transformation. Fondness for a shared future originated a renaissance that, as a country, we celebrate today.
Collectively, we, the people have inaugurated a President that taught Americas, "Yes they can; Yes we can!" A Poet, Elizabeth Alexander, who stood on the stage with the nation's newly installed leader helped the country to understand, that no one man could, or would do what the populace had already done. In the name of love, on this very significant day, the American people could chant "Yes we have, and tomorrow we will again!"
The following is a transcript of the inaugural poem recited by Elizabeth Alexander, as provided by CQ transcriptions.
Praise song for the day.
Each day we go about our business, walking past each other, catching each others' eyes or not, about to speak or speaking. All about us is noise. All about us is noise and bramble, thorn and din, each one of our ancestors on our tongues. Someone is stitching up a hem, darning a hole in a uniform, patching a tire, repairing the things in need of repair.
Someone is trying to make music somewhere with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.
A woman and her son wait for the bus.
A farmer considers the changing sky; A teacher says, "Take out your pencils. Begin."
We encounter each other in words, words spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed; words to consider, reconsider.
We cross dirt roads and highways that mark the will of someone and then others who said, "I need to see what's on the other side; I know there's something better down the road."
We need to find a place where we are safe; We walk into that which we cannot yet see.
Say it plain, that many have died for this day. Sing the names of the dead who brought us here, who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges, picked the cotton and the lettuce, built brick by brick the glittering edifices they would then keep clean and work inside of.
Praise song for struggle; praise song for the day. Praise song for every hand-lettered sign; The figuring it out at kitchen tables.
Some live by "Love thy neighbor as thy self."
Others by first do no harm, or take no more than you need.
What if the mightiest word is love, love beyond marital, filial, national. Love that casts a widening pool of light. Love with no need to preempt grievance.
In today's sharp sparkle, this winter air, anything can be made, any sentence begun.
On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp -- praise song for walking forward in that light.
"Yes, you heard me right, Rahm, no more lobbyists."
Barackstock is over, Bush is just a bogeyman you can use to scare naughty children with, and President Obama has gotten down to his first full day, starting at 8:35 am, of the Oval Office grind. So what does someone do on their first day in the Oval Office? Well, he can start by calling the leaders of the Middle East countries where problems seem to have been coming up regularly for the past three thousand-plus years: Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, Ehud Olmert of Israel, King Abdullah of Jordan, and Mahmoud Abbas of Palestine. He would like the Gaza ceasefire to hold-- but apparently not enough to talk with the Hamas guys.
He's also got some home-knitting to do. If you call the U.S. concentration camp at Guantánamo "home." As he promised during the campaign, he's already working on shutting the place down and last night he let prosecutors know that he wanted a 4-month suspension of trials of detainees there. This morning a military judge suspended 5 of the unconstitutional Bush-era military commissions trials, including Khalid Sheik Mohammed's. Cool, cool.
But what I'm most excited about regarding the first day was an executive order he signed to tighten rules on lobbyists. There are few things more venal, even Inside-the-Beltway, than the blatant influence peddling that is the multibillion dollar lobbyist industry. Corporate lobbyists have perverted American democracy and made Washington a place unfriendly to the interests of American working families. A bumbling idiot like Harry Reid, who can't seem to keep his foot out of his mouth these days, may claim that lobbyists are people too, but Obama made it clear that the era of "protecting narrow interests" is over-- at least at the White House. Ironically one of the most corrupt corporate hacks to have ever set foot on the Senate floor, Texas shill John Cornyn, had the gall to lecture Reid on the subject of lobbyists today. In their entire senatorial careers Reid has taken in $140,683 from lobbyists (21 years), while Cornyn, widely regarded as the biggest whore in Congress, has scooped up $189,018 from lobbyists (6 years).
Lobbyist funneled corporate money, a very bipartisan affair, still makes Congress' Culture of Corruption go round. No one who defends it should be in office-- not Mitch McConnell and not Harry Reid. Members of Congress have seen to it that lobbyists are treated as though they are the fourth branch of government. There are over 30,000 registered lobbyists in DC-- over 50 for every member of Congress-- and if you include support staff there are over 260,000 of them. Their revenues are over $2.5 billion annually. Lobbyists doled out $151,511,560 in legalized bribes to members of Congress (the ones who legalized the bribes) since 1990 and the biggest year was... 2008, during which they spent $30,873,979, corrupt Democrats reaping 56%. Not counting presidential candidates (or defeated John Sununus or Norm Colemen), the biggest congressional recipients of these bribes this year were Mitch McConnell (R-KY-$334,440), Max Baucus (D-MT-$267,011), Mary Landrieu (D-LA-$253,177), Arlen Specter (R-PA-$239,312), Tom Harkin (D-IA-$224,811), Susan Collins (R-ME-$214,849), Dick Durbin (D-IL-$198,212), John Cornyn (R-TX-$189,018) and Saxby Chambliss (R-GA-$171,195).
My favorite recent book on lobbyists, one I can't stop recommending to everyone I know, is Turkmeniscam by Ken Silverstein. Random quotes I underlined:
Washington lobbyists are not generally deemed to be a group with high ethical standards, and foreign lobbyists, with their track record of working for Nazis, drug-running despots and death squad dictators, are widely thought to be the lowest type of Beltway pond scum.
...Public Citizen's Congress Watch found in 2006 that at least three dozen members of Congress have relatives who are professional lobbyists. [Those included career criminals like Tom DeLay, Ted Stevens, John Doolittle, John Murtha, and Curt Weldon, all of whom have run into legal problems over their relative's lobbying.]
...Cassidy and his colleagues [a notorious Beltway lobbying firm who have donated over $5.3 million to members of Congress who help them out] could truthfully tell perspective clients that they never failed to win an earmark for an institution that had retained them.
The orders are "aimed at establishing firm rules of the road for my administration and all who serve in it, and to help restore that faith in government, without which we cannot deliver the changes we were sent here to make -- from rebuilding our economy and ensuring that anyone who is willing to work and find a well-paying job, to protecting and defending the United States, and promoting peace and security," Obama said.
The executive order designed to cut down the influence of lobbyists by making them "subject to stricter limits than under any other administration in history."
Specifically, lobbyists working for Obama will not be allowed to work on matters they lobbied on for the previous two years. Upon leaving the Obama administration, they will not be allowed to lobby the issues they worked for during the remainder of Obama's presidency. In addition, the president instituted a ban on gifts by lobbyists to any member of his administration.
I am very pleased to announce that on his first day in office, Barack Obama moved to put a 120-day stop on the legal travesty that is the Guantanamo Bay military trial system:
GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba, Jan. 20 -- In one of its first actions, the Obama administration instructed military prosecutors late Tuesday to seek a 120-day suspension of legal proceedings involving detainees at the naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba -- a clear break with the approach of the outgoing Bush administration.
The instruction came in a motion filed with a military court in the case of five defendants accused of organizing the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. The motion called for "a continuance of the proceedings" until May 20 so that "the newly inaugurated president and his administration [can] review the military commissions process, generally, and the cases currently pending before military commissions, specifically."
The same motion was filed in another case scheduled to resume Wednesday, involving a Canadian detainee, and will be filed in all other pending matters.
Such a request may not be automatically granted by military judges, and not all defense attorneys may agree to such a suspension. But the move is a first step toward closing a detention facility and system of military trials that became a worldwide symbol of the Bush administration's war on terrorism and its unyielding attitude toward foreign and domestic critics.
This is particularly heartening in light of the many stories like this:
An FBI agent who previously testified Omar Khadr identified fellow Canadian Maher Arar as someone he saw at al-Qaeda safe houses and possibly training camps in Afghanistan acknowledged on Tuesday the teen's identification of the Ottawa software engineer did not happen as immediately as he first stated.
Robert Fuller made the admission during cross-examination by Khadr's defence team at Khadr's preliminary hearing at the U.S. military commission in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigations agent testified on Tuesday that during an interrogation session in Afghanistan in 2002, Khadr came around to saying that on several occasions he had seen Arar, who was cleared of any links to terrorism by a Canadian public inquiry in 2006.
Khadr said he saw Arar at a safehouse in Kabul, and possibly at a training camp outside Kabul, Fuller said. Both facilities were run by al-Qaeda militant Abu Musab al-Siri.
But hey, it was all for a higher purpose, right?
Arar was detained in New York on Sept. 26, 2002, on his way home from a family vacation.
Fuller's first interrogation of Khadr about Arar occurred on Oct. 7, a day before U.S. officials sent Arar to Syria, where he was held for more than 10 months on suspicion of terrorist activity, and tortured.
Fuller testified he did not know whether the information he gleaned from Khadr played any role Arar's deportation to Syria.
The Syrian-born Canadian was later released and cleared of any connection to terrorism in 2006 by a Canadian commission that recommended he receive a $10.5-million settlement for the ordeal. The U.S., however, has refused to clear Arar's name.
Senator Burris is at work in DC today, but back in Illinois, they're still dealing with some of the fallout. When Governor Blagojevich was arrested, the state's bond rating fell, and they've had to pay an additional $21 million in interest on a loan to pay overdue bills since 9 December. (USA Today, 20 January, page 2A)
In addition, USA Today reports,
The state is $3.6 billion behind in paying its bills to hospitals, pharmacies and other service providers, forcing some businesses to close their doors or turn away Medicaid clients.
The overall budget for the fiscal year that ends June 30 has a hole of $2.5 billion or more.
The paper goes on to say that this distraction is hurting Illinois in another way. While state governments around the country are putting together lists of projects they'd like funded out of the Federal stimulus bill, Illinois is focused on Blagojevich, and is not getting their list in order.
On the other hand, for those of you salivating at the thought of Blagojevich out of office, he was re-fingerprinted yesterday, since it turns out that the first set was not considered good enough. The Illinois Senate entered a "not guilty" plea for the impeachment charges since Blagojevich and his team didn't enter a plea.
Blagojevich attorney Sheldon Sorosky said today the governor's legal team filed no appearance or response to today's 4 p.m. Senate deadline.
It's unclear, however, whether this means Blagojevich is simply going to refuse to engage in the impeachment process. The trial is scheduled to begin Monday in Springfield.
"Honestly, we just don't know," Sorosky said.
Finally, Blagojevich's accounting legal team filed their campaign monies information yesterday, but they suspect the data is incomplete, since the FBI has a lot of the records.
KIRKUK -- Two people were killed Wednesday morning in the al-Tun Kubri area northeast of Kirkuk on Wednesday when a roadside bomb exploded on a civilian vehicle.
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