Friday, June 12, 2009

Bucky promotes Bush assassin specialist, who then assembles team to take assassination to higher levels. Change? Yeah, the bad just got worse.

New US commander in Afghanistan assembles team of assassins

By Bill Van Auken

Confirmed Wednesday as President Barack Obama’s new commander for the widening war in Afghanistan and Pakistan, General Stanley McChrystal has been given extraordinary powers to assemble his own staff.

According to press reports published Thursday, in forming a permanent war council-dubbed the Afghanistan-Pakistan Coordination Cell-McChrystal is drawing heavily from a super-secret assassination squad that he commanded under the Bush administration.

That unit, the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), was formed in December 1980 in the wake of the military’s abortive operation to free US hostages in Iran. Comprised of the Army’s Delta Force and Navy SEALs, the command directs Special Mission Units that carry out classified operations, often in collaboration with CIA squads.

Commanded by McChrystal between 2003 and 2008, JSOC has been linked to assassinations in over a dozen countries as well as abduction and torture. Under the Bush administration, it was reportedly used to carry out covert operations inside Iran, which included the abduction and assassination of officials suspected of aiding Iraqi militia groups.

Earlier this year, veteran investigative journalist Seymour Hersh, who is writing a book on the subject, termed the command “an executive assassination wing.” He said that it was tasked with “going into countries...finding people on a list and executing them and leaving.” Hersh added that, under the Bush administration, the unit reported to Vice President Dick Cheney’s office.

According to the New York Times, McChrystal “has been given carte blanche to handpick a dream team of subordinates, including many Special Operations veterans.” The newspaper attributed the “extraordinary leeway” granted to the general to the Obama administration’s concern over the war, which over the past year has registered the highest levels of violence since the US invasion of the country in October 2001 and has seen the Taliban and other insurgent elements gain control over much of the country.

Citing Pentagon figures, McClatchy News reported, “The first five months of this year have seen a 59 percent increase in insurgent attacks in Afghanistan, a 62 percent increase in coalition deaths and a 64 percent increase in the use of improvised explosives compared to the same period last year.”

Last month, Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced the sudden ouster of Gen. David McKiernan and his replacement by McChrystal, a move that reflected increasing desperation in Washington. The shakeup followed the findings of a Pentagon task force headed by McChrystal in May that reported in relation to Afghanistan that the “security situation in key areas is poor, stalemated or deteriorating.”

Tapped to serve as McChrystal’s deputy and assigned to oversee day-to-day operations in Afghanistan is Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez, the former commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, who was chosen last year by Defense Secretary Gates as his personal military assistant. Rodriguez is reportedly a longtime friend and protégé of McChrystal.

McChrystal has selected Maj. Gen. Michael T. Flynn as his intelligence advisor for Afghanistan, the Times reported. Flynn, who is currently director of intelligence for the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington, had previously served as McChrystal’s intelligence chief in the shadowy operations of JSOC.

Chosen as commander of the Afghanistan-Pakistan Coordination Cell is the longtime special operations officer Gen. Scott Miller, who as a captain commanded Delta Force troops in the US military’s “Blackhawk Down” debacle in Mogadishu, Somalia.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the so-called coordination cell is “modeled on a system Gen. McChrystal put in place in Iraq, when he commanded the Navy Seals and other Special Operations personnel.”

The units that he commanded in Iraq are reported to have carried out an assassination program in that country aimed at eliminating suspected leaders of Iraqi insurgent groups hostile to the US occupation. Personnel under his command also ran a detention and interrogation center near the Baghdad airport known as Camp Nama, where prisoners were subjected to systematic abuse amounting to torture. The motto of the unit running the camp was “No Blood, No Foul,” meaning that any form of abuse that did not draw blood was acceptable and would not result in investigations or prosecution. Soldiers assigned to the facility have reported that McChrystal was a regular visitor.

Given this background, it is noteworthy that the Democratic-led Senate Armed Services Committee subjected McChrystal to no serious or sustained questioning during his confirmation hearing last week. The committee’s chairman, Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, disposed of the torture issue at the outset by helping McChrystal to lay the blame on then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and on orders from Washington.

The right-wing editorial page of the Wall Street Journal gloated over the Democrats’ failure to make an issue out of torture, writing on June 4 that it assumed this was the case “because General McChrystal happens to have been nominated by President Obama, not President Bush.”

In the end, the only obstacle placed in the way of McChrystal’s nomination was general procedural foot-dragging by the Republicans.

To break the logjam, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid went to the Senate floor Wednesday and made a dramatic announcement that he had received a telephone call from Adm. Mike Mullen. The Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman had told him, Reid said, that McChrystal had to fly to Afghanistan that very night and was “literally waiting by an airplane,” because there was no commander on the ground in Afghanistan.

“Let’s get the man approved tonight so he can go,” Reid said. Senate Republicans responded by moving to confirm McChrystal and two other military nominees.

Media coverage of McChrystal’s confirmation and the changes in war strategy surrounding the creation of the Afghanistan-Pakistan Coordination Cell has centered on innocuous suggestions that the planned rotation of this core group of 400 between the war in Afghanistan and Afghanistan-related planning in Washington would allow these personnel to “accumulate expertise.”

McChrystal’s military career and those of the chief officers he is selecting as his aides, however, suggest that what is being prepared is a dramatic escalation of the killing in Afghanistan, through the utilization of the type of methods employed during Operation Phoenix in Vietnam or the death squad killings during the US intervention in El Salvador.

Speaking to reporters during a flight to a NATO meeting in Brussels, Defense Secretary Gates reiterated the repeated warnings from senior military officials that, as the US continues to build up its forces in Afghanistan to a target of nearly 70,000 troops by the end of the year, the bloodshed will grow accordingly.

“We've been very upfront about the fact that as we send in more troops, and go into areas that have not had an Afghan government or ISAF International Security Assistance Force presence yet, that there will be more combat and the result of that will be more casualties,” Gates said.

In its escalation of the US war in Afghanistan, and its increasing extension across the border into Pakistan, the Obama administration has chosen as its senior commander an officer who is among those most deeply implicated in the criminal operations carried out under Bush and Cheney. This appointment, and its confirmation by the Democratic-controlled Senate, is a clear warning that the ruling establishment in Washington is pursuing a consensus policy that will involve even greater war crimes against the Afghan people, as Washington continues its attempt to assert hegemony in Central Asia by military means.

Original article posted here.

Obama to use all means in his power to stop torture photos from being released and gives $100 Billion to IMF

Abuse Photos Part of Agreement on Military Spending


WASHINGTON — Congressional negotiators reached tentative agreement on Thursday on a $105.9 billion spending measure that would provide money for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan through September but would drop a ban on the release of photographs showing abuse of foreign prisoners held by United States forces.

The deal was concluded after Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff, went to the Capitol to assure Senate Democrats that President Obama would use all administrative and legal means to prevent the photos’ release. At the same time, a federal court issued a ruling effectively ensuring that the photos would not be released for months, if ever.

Mr. Obama followed up with a letter, promising to work with Congress if legislation was necessary to keep the photos from being publicized but urging lawmakers not to let the dispute interfere with freeing up the money for the armed forces.

“Given the singular importance of providing funding for our troops, it is essential that Congress pass the supplemental appropriations bill,” Mr. Obama wrote in the letter, which was read publicly at the negotiating session by Senator Daniel K. Inouye, Democrat of Hawaii and the Appropriations Committee chairman.

The photo restriction, approved by the Senate, was viewed by some Democratic House members as an end run around federal freedom of information laws. It was dropped to appease Democrats already uneasy about approving nearly $80 billion for combat and more money for aid to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Democrats said they could not secure enough votes to pass the bill if the photo ban were included. But Republicans threatened to try to block the measure if the ban were cut out, saying the photos could incite terrorists and endanger Americans overseas.

“What good are we to our soldiers if we can’t protect them in a time like this?” asked Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina. “Every photo is a bullet for our enemy.”

He and his allies, including Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, independent of Connecticut, said Mr. Obama should take executive action to block the release of the photos by ordering them classified.

The administration’s cause was bolstered when a federal appeals court in New York announced last Thursday that it had granted a request by the Obama administration and recalled its April 27 order to release the photographs, permitting the administration to take the case to the Supreme Court.

In effect, the decision by a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit means it will be months before there is any chance that the Defense Department could be ordered to release the photographs.

Amrit Singh, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, which is seeking the release of the photographs as part of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, said she was disappointed by the court’s ruling. “It will only serve to delay further the release of these photographs, which are critical for informing the ongoing public debate about the treatment of prisoners,” she said.

Ms. Singh said the photos portrayed abuse in Afghanistan and Iraq in places other than Abu Ghraib prison, the Iraq jail made infamous in 2004 by photographs of abuse there, and would therefore show that abuse was “not aberrational but systemic.”

The photo issue is just one of several that are likely to generate opposition to the bill, which would also set aside $7.7 billion to prepare for a flu pandemic, provide $1 billion to encourage consumers to trade in older cars for more fuel-efficient models and allow detainees at the Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, center to be brought to the United States for trial.

The measure also clears the way for a $100 billion line of credit for the International Monetary Fund, which was the initial source of trouble for the spending bill. Republicans strongly supported the spending legislation when it was considered this year, but have threatened to withhold their support over the foreign aid, saying some of the money could go to unfriendly governments.

With Republicans abandoning the measure, Democrats need as many votes as they can win over and the ban on releasing the photos emerged as a major obstacle. In the meeting of House and Senate negotiators late Thursday afternoon, efforts to reinstate the ban were beaten back.

Some lawmakers also questioned including $1 billion to encourage owners of older cars to trade them in for more fuel-efficient models. That program, known as Cash for Clunkers, is nominally aimed at helping the environment and reducing carbon emissions, but many lawmakers who pushed for it were primarily interested in lifting vehicle sales to prop up the struggling auto industry.

The provision had not originally been included by either the House or Senate. And critics, mainly Republicans but also some Democrats, charged that it was a brazen giveaway of tax dollars to bankrupt auto companies that had already received billions in federal bailout assistance. But an effort to eliminate the money was defeated.

The bill also includes $8 million to pay for a new commission to examine the causes of the financial and economic crisis.

Scott Shane contributed reporting.

Original article posted here.

A little good news: ending apartheid in Bahgdad.

Baghdad tears down security barriers

Government starts to remove network of concrete walls set up at height of Iraq's sectarian conflict

Security may still be unpredictable, but officials in the Iraqi capital are planning to tear down Baghdad's network of concrete barriers and razor wire in the coming months as a measure of reconciliation creeps through its neighbourhoods.

The towering grey concrete barriers, known as T-walls, sprang up as sectarian conflict intensified in 2006 and 2007. Streets were closed and checkpoints established. Entire communities were isolated or divided, and familiar landmarks all but disappeared. Residents cowered or fled.

Now, improved security means that teams of cranes and trucks are stealing out under cover of darkness from municipal depots across the capital and removing the barriers, street by street.

A ministry of defence spokesman told the Guardian most of the concrete barriers would be gone by the end of 2009. "They are now the biggest obstacle to breathing new life into our city," said Ali Dawoud, the head of reconstruction and development at Baghdad's city council. He said that since January, 10-15% of the streets that were closed had been reopened and the barrier removal programme was growing month by month, security permitting.

Security concerns still abound. Bombs and mortars are still a regular occurrence in Baghdad; violence has flared in Iraq before a June 30 deadline for US troops to withdraw from urban areas; and yesterday the volatility of the situation was underscored by a car bomb in the Shia heartland of Nasiriya that killed more than 30 people.

But the Baghdad wall removal plan is part of a wider effort to beautify a city scarred by years of conflict. Sabah Sami, a spokesman for the Baghdad municipality, said: "Our role is to rehabilitate the streets and repair the damage made by the concrete walls to streets and pavements and because of their weight to the city's drainage and sewerage system." Each T-wall weighs about five tons. "Once they have gone from an area, we will clean and pave and then paint and plant," Sami said.

The only barriers to stay would be those protecting ministries and other official buildings.

Nobody knows how many of the barriers were deployed in the capital. Some residents likened them to tombstones, others to a thousand Berlin Walls.

But as a result of the beautification campaign, city authorities find themselves in possession of thousands of unwanted reinforced concrete slabs, standard measurement 12ft by 5ft.

On a recent trip to a southern suburb, the Guardian glimpsed a T-wall graveyard, which appeared to stretch for miles.

Suggestions have ranged from deploying them along Iraq's notoriously porous borders to massing them into a large heap as a monument to the madness of war.

"There's really not much you can do with them, other than build more walls," offered an engineer serving with the US military in Iraq.

Original article posted here.

Both Left and Right using killer to distort unpleasant truths...Throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Sorry, Keith: 9/11 WAS an inside job.

Just because a racist killer does something reprehensible (and stupid) doesn't make everything that he says wrong.

Sen Whitehouse: The Storyline We Have Been Told About Torture Is False In Every Dimension!

Part 2

Part 3

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Weazl's kind of country music

Bucky on 9/11: Liar, liar, your pants on fire!

What happens when you give up sovreignty: These provisions will be deemed illegal before the WTO if challenged

"Buy American" provision in House climate bill

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A new "Buy American" provision in a massive climate change bill working its way through Congress is a worrisome sign of increased U.S. protection, a business official said on Friday.

The provision offers financial aid to automakers building plug-in electric cars. But it stipulates those cars must be "developed and produced in the United States."

"All of us are trying to do everything we can to help the automakers here. But provisions like this smell of Buy America," said Christopher Wenk, senior director of international policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The language could violate U.S. obligations under the World Trade Organization, he said, risking possible retaliation from U.S. trading partners.

The Canadian government is already worried about the impact of a "Buy American" provision in the U.S.economic stimulus package passed by Congress in February. It says public works projects should use iron, steel and other goods made in the United States.

Ottawa says that as a result, Canadian companies are being discriminated against by U.S. state and municipal governments on some water and sewage treatment projects funded by the bill.

Two other bills that have passed the House of Representatives this year, to improve water quality and build "greener" schools, also included "Buy American" mandates.

The provision offering aid to automakers building electric cars in the United States was attached to a bill requiring reductions of industrial emissions of greenhouse gases, which passed the House Energy and Commerce Committee in May.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi wants the bill to pass the full House in June or July. Its fate is uncertain in the Senate.

Adam Benson, spokesman for one of the lawmakers who inserted the provision, Representative John Dingellof Michigan, said it was written to comply with trade laws and wasn't specific to the "Big Three" U.S. automakers, General Motors Corp,, Ford Motor and Chrysler LLC.

But, Wenk pointed out the wording called for the cars to be developed and built in the United States, which he said was likely to preclude a foreign company if its research and development took place abroad.

Original article posted here.

Helpful news roundup

More on Bucky's rhetorical flourishes

Obama Fuzzed Up Reality in Speech

By David Swanson

Editor’s Note: There were some head-scratching moments in Barack Obama’s speech to the Muslim world, like when the President claimed that American blacks overcame slavery and segregation without the need for violence (there was, however, that event called the Civil War in which black regiments played an important part).

There was also the condemnation of small Hamas rockets threatening children in southern Israel, when he and various predecessors have fired remote-controlled missiles which have had far more deadly consequences for Afghan and other children. In this guest essay, David Swanson of looks at other anomalies:

President Barack Obama's speech in Cairo probably did a world of good. It was packed with noble sentiments and some truth-telling. But imagine how much more good would be done if all the best parts of it corresponded to reality.

If we treated people around the world with "respect," would we continue occupying their nations against their adamant desires?

If we truly "seek no military bases" in Afghanistan, why are we building them on such massive scale?

And why are we locking up hundreds of people there whom Obama hopes to keep outside the rule of law and never bring to trial (or at least he's fighting for that power in court and recently declared that he possessed it), people who will not all die any time soon?

If we respect the Iraqi people, why must our president tell them they are better off now? Why not ask them whether they think they are better off?

If we have a "dual responsibility" to help Iraq and to leave Iraq, is it relevant that the people of Iraq reject that idea, and that we would reject it if imposed on our own nation by another?

If we "pursue no bases" in Iraq and will remove "combat brigades by next August" and will "remove combat troops from Iraqi cities by July" and "remove all our troops from Iraq by 2012," why are we renaming troops "non-combat troops", why are we redrawing city boundaries to avoid withdrawing, why are we in fact creating exceptions in order to remain in cities?

And why do the Commander in Chief's immediate subordinates keep telling reporters that the United States will never leave Iraq?

If we were "respectful of the sovereignty of nations and the rule of law," would we occupy other nations, would we use preventive detention, would we decline to prosecute torturers, assassins, and war criminals, would we object to Iran's possible future nuclear power while refusing to acknowledge that of Israel?

If we do not "accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements," why do we fund them, and why do we accept every existing one?

If we respected the people of Gaza, wouldn't our president accept an invitation to visit there and acknowledge the responsibility of having paid for the weapons that caused the destruction?

Imagine if we truly supported "governments that reflect the will of the people." Does the king of Saudi Arabia reflect the will of his people better than Hamas reflects the will of their people?

And what about here at home? If the will of the American people were at all relevant, we'd end the wars, end the super-militarism, close bases, fund schools and green energy, throw corporations out of government, create single-payer healthcare, pass the Employee Free Choice Act, and so forth.
I'm not blaming Obama for the Senate, but the idea that our own government reflects the basic will of its people is absurd.

The speech, of course, was better than I've made it sound. It's good for Obama to have said we don't want bases and that we'll leave.

That's better than had he not said those things. It's tremendous for him to have acknowledged our overthrow of Iran's democratically elected president. It's important that he acknowledged the good and the admirable in Muslim culture.

But I do wish his interfaith closing had not kicked sand in the teeth of those of us who are not religious, and I wish the best of what he said were being acted on rather than spoken about.

David Swanson is the author of the upcoming book "Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union" by Seven Stories Press. You can pre-order it for a discount price at

Original article posted here.

Maybe some good news regarding Democrats standing up against secrecy (but is still ongoing and we must wait and see)

Glenn Greenwald

Are House Democrats about to block Obama's new secrecy law?

(updated below - Update II)

Earlier this week, I noted that the Senate had passed -- with Obama's support -- a pernicious amendment to the spending supplemental bill, jointly sponsored by Sens. Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman, that empowers Obama and the Pentagon, at their sole discretion, to suppress any "photograph taken between September 11, 2001 and January 22, 2009 relating to the treatment of individuals engaged, captured, or detained after September 11, 2001, by the Armed Forces of the United States in operations outside of the United States." The amendment has no purpose other than to expressly allow the President to conceal evidence of war crimes (torture) and to block the Supreme Court from ruling (as two federal courts have already held) that the Freedom of Information Act compels disclosure of those photographs. For more on why this new secrecy law is so dangerous, see my post here; even The Washington PostEditorial Page excoriated the amendment and Obama's support for it.

When I wrote about this several days ago, the Senate had passed the Graham-Lieberman secrecy law as an amendment to the spending supplemental bill (which includes funding for Iraq and Afghanistan) without even bothering to take a formal roll call vote (on a voice vote). Although the House version of the supplemental bill did not contain this amendment, it was widely expected that it would simply be inserted in the House-Senate conference and then easily passed along with the final bill.

But passage of Graham-Lieberman now appears much less certain because of what appears to be the refusal of some key liberal House Democrats -- including Barney Frank -- to support it. The votes of liberal House Democrats actually matter (for once) because most House Republicans are refusing to support the overall supplemental bill due to their objections to a provision for $5 billion in funding to increase the IMF's lending capacity. To pass the supplemental spending bill, House leaders need the votes of numerous House Democrats who are currently refusing to vote for anything that contains the photo suppression amendment. If Congressional Democrats succeed in blocking enactment of this amendment, that would be a critical assertion for the first time of Congressional checks on Obama's desired powers and would, independently, prevent a truly odious new secrecy power from being enacted.

First there is this report, yesterday, from Congress Daily:

Democratic leaders postponed a House-Senate conference meeting they hoped would produce a compromise fiscal 2009 war supplemental spending bill Thursday after it appeared they might not have enough votes to pass the measure in the House. . . .

Democratic leaders are counting on convincing 18 of 51 self-described liberal or progressive Democrats who previously opposed the supplemental to now support it, enough Caucus members to ensure its passage. . . .

But liberal Democrats are threatening to withhold their support for the supplemental if it includes a provision in the Senate-passed billthat would allow Defense Secretary Robert Gates to withhold any "photograph relating to the treatment of individuals engaged, captured, or detained after September 11, 2001, by the Armed Forces of the United States" if he certifies that the release of the photos could endanger citizens or the armed forces.

The provision, which is supported by President Obama, was offered as an amendment by Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn.

Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass. -- who initially opposed the package and is now trying to help Democratic leaders raise support for it -- said he recently told Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner that liberal Democrats would not likely support the package if it includes the Lieberman amendment.

"I made it clear to the administration that I believe that we can get liberals like myself who are against the war [to] vote for it because the IMF is so important, but not if the [Freedom of Information Act] exception is in it," Frank said.

Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., previously supported the supplemental but said she would not vote for the bill if it includes the amendment.

"There is no reason in the world for us to vote to suspend" FOIA, Slaughter said.

While House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman John Murtha, D-Pa., conceded "we got big problems" with trying to pass the supplemental, he asserted that it would clear Congress by July 1. The military has said it needs the funding by July to avoid a disruption in other accounts, which would have to be raided to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Bolstering that report, Jane Hamsher yesterday spoke with Barney Frank, who told her that continued inclusion of the Graham-Lieberman photo suppression amendment would prevent House leaders from getting the votes they need to pass the supplemental bill (either that, Frank said, or they would be forced to remove the IMF funding provision -- which Obama promised G-20 allies -- in order to re-attract GOP votes and then pass the bill with the Graham-Lieberman amendment included but without the IMF funding).

It would seem that Nancy Pelosi has a special obligation to ensure that the House bill does not include the Graham-Lieberman amendment. Despite her vocal support for a "Truth Commission" to investigate Bush crimes, she has been continuously accused of enabling the Bush administration's torture regime by helping to keep it a secret and doing nothing to impede it. If she ends up voting for the supplemental spending bill (as she will) which includes a provision allowing the indefinite suppression of photographic evidence of torture, that would certainly bolster those accusations. Having been briefed early on to some still-disputed extent on the Bush torture regime, does Pelosi now want to vote to vest the Pentagon with the unreviewable power to suppress evidence of torture even where FOIA compels its disclosure?

If, as Obama claims, there are legitimate reasons to suppress these photos under FOIA's exemptions (including its very broad national security exemptions), then the Supreme Court can reverse the two lower court rulings ordering disclosure -- as Obama is asking it to do. But there is no good reason to vest the Obama administration with the unilateral power to simply waive FOIA requirements simply because it loses in court and decides it doesn't want to comply with court rulings and with current transparency laws.

FOIA was enacted by Congress in 1966 -- more than 40 years ago -- and, in 1974, Congress overrode a presidential veto (.pdf) of amendments that expanded its disclosure requirements in the wake of Nixonian secrecy abuses. Congress should defend and insist on presidential compliance with the important transparency law it passed and repeatedly strengthened -- not allow the White House and Republicans to jointly render it illusory by retroactively narrowing its provisions, all because the Obama White House wants to suppress evidence of Bush's war crimes in the face of clear FOIA requirements compelling disclosure.

I hope to post some information in just a little bit about which members of Congress should be called today by those who want to see House Democrats stand their ground. Preventing passage of the Graham-Lieberman amendment would be an important step both for transparency and the re-assertion of Congressional checks on still-expanding presidential powers and secrecy abuses.

UPDATE: As Jane Hamsher noted after speaking with Barney Frank yesterday (read Jane's analysis here), the White House and House Leadership are now working jointly to convince 18 House Democrats who currently oppose the bill [H.R 2346] to vote for it. That's how many are needed to ensure its passage. You can call those key members -- here -- and encourage them to continue to oppose this bill, particularly as long as it contains the FOIA-eroding, torture-protecting Graham-Lieberman photo suppression amendment. Those interested can and should call as many members as possible, and it's particularly important if any of them are your actual representatives. It would also be helpful, once you call, to use the program provided to convey what you were told as each member's response to your call.

UPDATE II: Nick Baumman of Mother Jones cheers the efforts of House Democrats to block this amendment and writes:

The photo suppression bill is an abomination that is reminiscent of the worst Bush-era excesses. It gives the executive branch the power to withhold an entire category of information from public scrutiny without any review. This law is Example A of the theory of the Presidency that says citizens should just trust the benevolent executive to do the right thing. Even if you oppose releasing some of the photos, I don't see why you would want to give the White House the power to unilaterally decide what's best. It says a lot about the Congress that members are willing to give Obama this kind of power. It says a lot about Obama that he supports this bill.

Exactly. We already have a law in place -- FOIA -- that is incredibly permissive in what it allows the government to keep secret. Obama is perfectly within his rights to appeal the two court decisions ruling that these photographs must be disclosed under FOIA. But passing a new law because you don't want to abide by the old one and because courts have rejected the President's claimed powers was one of the most defining and abusive strategies of the Bush administration. The fact that this proposed amendment vests unilateral, unchallengeable power in the Pentagon to decide, with no review and standards, what will remain secret makes it all the worse.

The issue is not whether disclosure of these photographs will produce value (although given that we are in the midst of an ongoing debate over both torture and accountability for it, it seems obvious that there is great value in having more evidence released showing how brutal and lawless our Government's treatment of detainees was). But that isn't the issue. The issue is whether or not you believe in transparency in government (a major plank of Obama's campaign), and whether you want the President to have the unilateral, unreviewable power to simply decree that the 4o-year-old FOIA law need not be complied with when it comes to all photographic evidence of detainee abuse.

-- Glenn Greenwald

Original article posted here.

Tide turning against Israel: EU may exert pressure on settlement

EU seeks to increase pressure on Israel for settlement freeze

The European Union is considering using its trade clout to bolster U.S. pressure for an Israeli freeze on settlement construction in the West Bank, diplomats said on Friday.

The EU is Israel's biggest trading partner and one option it may have is to crack down on fruit, vegetables, olive oil and other farm produce grown by settlers in the Palestinian territories.

Some European governments have long suspected such products are entering the EU at low import tariffs reserved for output labeled as coming from Israel proper.
Aside from the possibility of a concerted push to deny tariff concessions to settlement produce coming into the European Union, diplomats said EU nations also were looking at using economic and scientific research exchanges with Israel as an area where they could apply leverage on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

In addition to being Israel's largest market for exports, the EU is its second largest source of imports after the United States.

But diplomats said Europe would follow Washington's lead. Concerted EU action will be difficult because of divisions within the bloc, so piecemeal steps are more likely, they added.

EU members have in recent months said that ties between the EU and Israel depend on the Israeli government's commitment to a two-state solution in the peace process with Palestinians.

Following the three-week-long Operation Cast Lead, diplomatic bodies in a number of European countries called for a freeze on upgrading relations with Israel, citing the pressure of domestic public opinion.

Original article posted here.