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News and Opinion

Blowback From US Drone Strikes on Pakistan Leaves 10 Civilians Dead
Pakistani Taliban take responsibility for attack, say it is in retaliation for drone strike last month

Blowback from U.S. drone attacks in Pakistan has left 10 civilians, including three women and three children, dead on Saturday, victims of an hours-long assault at a Pakistani army base.

Media reports add that 13 security personnel and 12 people described as militants were also killed in the attack.

US needs to keep up drone war against Qaeda: Panetta

WASHINGTON — The United States will have to keep up an open-ended drone war against Al-Qaeda militants in Pakistan and elsewhere to prevent another terror attack on America, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said.


Asked if the CIA "targeted killings" should be curtailed in coming years, Panetta told AFP in an interview on Friday that there was still a need to continue the drone strikes more than a decade since the attacks of September 11, 2001.
"I think it depends on the nature of the threat that we're confronting. We are in a war. We're in a war on terrorism and we've been in that war since 9/11.
"The whole purpose of our operations were aimed at those who attacked this country and killed 3,000 innocent people in New York as well as 200 people here at the Pentagon," said Panetta, who is days away from retiring as Pentagon chief.

Excerpted statement from a longer interview last week.
Whistleblower John Kiriakou: Brennan's Embrace of Torture Makes Him a "Terrible Choice" to Lead CIA
The longer inteview.  Kirakou has known Brennan for more than 20 years and spent some time working for him.
Whistleblower John Kiriakou: For Embracing Torture, John Brennan a "Terrible Choice to Lead the CIA"

Interrogators: Senate Intelligence Committee Should Question Brennan on Torture

Washington, DC – Twelve of the nation’s most respected former interrogators sent a public letter to members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence urging them to question CIA Director Nominee John Brennan about torture.

Specifically, the group recommends that Brennan be asked whether he supports the public release, with as few redactions as possible, of the committee’s recently adopted report about CIA detention and interrogation techniques used after 9/11. Just this week, Senate intelligence committee member Senator Mark Udall (D-NM), who in a joint letter with Senators Carl Levin (D-MI) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) had asked Brennan to review the committee’s findings, issued a press release saying that he is “deeply disappointed” that Brennan was not prepared to discuss the report during a private meeting ahead of next week’s confirmation hearing.

“We have spent our careers interrogating high value suspects,” yesterday’s letter from the interrogators noted. “We know from experience that torture is unreliable, unlawful, and un-American. But, does Mr. Brennan?”

An "honest guy" who has a long history of lying.  The 6000 page report on the torture program is still classified and no declassified version of it has been released yet.  Some senators have been urging for it to be made public for a month now.  Brennan's name is mentioned in that report but in what way?  When Brennan wanted to be nominated to head the CIA in 2008, then he claimed he was always against the torture program.  He also told the country in a 2011 speech that drones were surgical weapons and that the U.S. had never killed any civilians.  And that's just the beginning of the list of ways in which he has lied, that we know of.
John Brennan, Obama Nominee For CIA Director, Had Detailed Knowledge Of Torture

After Brennan temporarily left government service in 2005, he publicly disavowed waterboarding, a form of simulated drowning, and other physically painful techniques that are often described as torture.

The official records, which include raw CIA operational message traffic that remains classified, are silent on whether he opposed the techniques while at the spy agency, said the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Brennan served as deputy executive director of the agency beginning in 2001.

Some former officials familiar with deliberations about the program said they don't recall Brennan voicing objections to the use of harsh interrogation techniques.

But other former officials say Brennan was among agency officials who were uncomfortable with the use of physically coercive tactics, despite the legal opinions that supported their use. He expressed concern, according to these officials, that if details of the program became public, it would be CIA officers who would face criticism, rather than the politicians and lawyers who approved them.

"If John says he expressed reservations about some techniques, I believe him because he's an honest guy," said John McLaughlin, who was deputy CIA director at the time.

John Brennan's 2011 Claim About Civilian Drone Casualties Is Increasingly Inexplicable

On June 29, 2011, chief counterterrorism advisor to U.S. President Barack Obama and CIA director nominee John Brennan told an audience that there had not been "a single collateral death" in covert U.S. drone strikes because of the "exceptional proficiency [and] precision" of U.S. targeted killings.

C-SPAN video of the Brennan speech during which he said the U.S. had not killed a single civilian with the covert drone strikes.
Obama Administration Counterterrorism Strategy.
[John Brennan, June 29, 2011]

Johns Hopkins University | Nitze (Paul H.) School of Advanced International Studies

John Brennan talked about the campaign against al-Qaida, and the Obama administration’s counterterrorism strategy since the killing of Osama bin Laden. John McLaughlin moderated questions from the audience.

I don't know if this HuffPost Live video will embed properly here.  It comes from a "pshared.5min.com" video link.  If it doesn't embed, you can find it at the bottom of the article I linked below.  In the video you'll find a collection of webcam video interviews from several journalists on site in either Gitmo or Ft. Meade.  It's pretty amazing what's happening with alternative media and what people are doing -- creating news video segments, with their correspondents having only a laptop and webcam and Skype or perhaps even a smart phone.  I see more and more of it every day.
Is Guantanamo Bay Still Open for Justice

Press Conference: Faith-based, human rights and ex-military leaders speak out against John Brennan to head CIA

With John Brennan's Senate confirmation hearing to head the CIA scheduled for Thursday, February 7, human rights advocates are speaking out against his nomination. At the press conference, Marie Dennis of Pax Christi will release a letter signed by 100 faith-based leaders urging the Senate to reject the nomination of John Brennan, who is the mastermind behind the administration’s lethal drone program that is killing innocent civilians abroad and sowing anti-American sentiment. It urges the Senate to redirect the CIA to its role of intelligence gathering and implement strict regulations for the use of lethal drones. “To summarily execute people on what has become a battlefield without borders violates the moral sensibilities of people of faith who believe in the value of every human life and the right to a fair trial,” says Dennis.

“Brennan--the drone program kingpin--has had the sole power to play prosecutor, judge, jury and executioner. As head of the CIA, will continue to turn the agency into an extralegal paramilitary operation,” says attorney Jesselyn Raddack. “Brennan was also intimately involved in the U.S. torture program, which created an indelible stain on America. He would now head the very agency that implemented that program.

"With his out-of-control drone killings, John Brennan should be even more toxic now than he was in 2008, when he was 'unconfirmable' as CIA director because of his involvement in CIA torture and extraordinary rendition during the Bush years,” says Drone Warfare author and CODEPINK cofounder Medea Benjamin. “Anyone who takes the rule of law seriously should reject Brennan's nomination."

CODEPINK also plans to be present at Brennan’s February 7th hearing. “We plan to pack the hearing with people outraged by John Brennan and his support for lethal drones, torture and extraordinary rendition.”

Political Power Needs to Be Used

If ever there were a moment for Democrats to press their political advantage, this is it. Their message on many of the biggest national issues — taxes, guns, education spending, financial regulation — has widespread support, and they have increased their numbers in both houses of Congress. But after years of being out-yelled by strident right-wing ideologues, too many in the Democratic Party still have a case of nerves, afraid of bold action and forthright principles.


After four years of timidity, Senate Democrats say they will finally vote on a budget this year, no longer afraid to stand up for higher tax revenues and targeted spending increases. That is a sign of progress, but it remains to be seen how strong a budget will pass and how many Democrats will back it.

Politicians play in a rugged arena and are understandably obsessed about losing power. But that power needs to be used for something other than perpetual re-election. The next two years will challenge lawmakers of both parties to demonstrate that they came to Washington for a purpose.

9/11 Military Commission: More Tragedy Than Farce

It would almost be funny if it weren't so sad. Four days of military commission hearings at Guantanamo Bay this past week yielded little more than confusion about the law and heightened suspicion of the U.S. government. [...]

The next day, Judge Pohl clarified that only he is in charge of closing the courtroom. But he still couldn't say who had pressed the censor button the day before. By the final day of the hearing, he ordered that no one outside his courtroom would again be allowed to hit the censor button. Still, he didn't say who else might be listening in to the proceedings in real-time, or what exactly they could hear.

That prompted a whole new set of concerns from the five teams of defense lawyers, who wanted to know if a government official was listening to their conversations with their clients. [...]

By Thursday afternoon, the judge had agreed to suspend the proceedings until someone in charge could come and testify about what's being recorded and who is listening to it.

[...] Because the military commission rules are new and have no legal precedent, the lawyers relied on a mix of federal, state and military court martial rules to make their case. It was never clear exactly which of those laws are relevant to the military commissions. Indeed, it's not even clear if the U.S. Constitution applies there.

VA Issues New Report on Suicide Data

From a Department of Veterans Affairs News Release
WASHINGTON, Feb. 1, 2013 – The Veterans Affairs Department today released a comprehensive report on veterans who die by suicide.
In the past, data on veterans who died by suicide was only available for those who had sought VA health care services. Today’s report also includes state data for veterans who had not received health care services from VA. Department officials say the additional information will help VA strengthen its aggressive suicide prevention activities.
The report indicates that the percentage of veterans who die by suicide has fallen slightly since 1999, while the estimated total number of veterans who have died by suicide has increased.

The FBI flew to Iceland in a private plane in 2011. The Minister of the Interior sent the FBI packing because it was presumptuous and not normal procedure for foreign police forces to show up and expect to be able to conduct investigations.
FBI Came to Investigate Wikileaks in Iceland

A group of FBI agents arrived in Iceland in August 2011, requesting collaboration with Icelandic police authorities to investigate Wikileaks, as revealed by Wikileaks spokesperson Kristinn Hrafnsson on RÚV’s news magazine Kastljós last night.


“According to my information, he demanded that these agents pack their bags, embark the plane and leave the country,” Kristinn added. “I know that this was later discussed within the government, which formally objected to U.S. authorities.”

Obama is getting a new replica oval office which he'll use for about two years.  And a new underground bunker.
2nd Oval Office Readied in White House Rehab Project

This summer there will be two Oval Offices in the White House complex, and it won’t be a case of double vision.

In preparation for a major, two-year renovation of the West Wing, the government is undertaking extensive work to complete a new executive office for President Obama at the south end of the adjacent Eisenhower Executive Office Building, RCP has learned.


The timing of Obama’s move to a substitute executive suite is in part dependent on the president’s readiness to begin working in the temporary quarters for what could be as long as two years, sources told RCP. The West Wing phase of a larger, $376 million project begun in September 2010 was put on pause through last year’s election, although funding and contracts were ready, the sources said. If Mitt Romney had won in November, Obama would have handed decisions about whether and how to proceed with the rehab project to his successor, they added.


The West Wing renovation is the latest phase of a significant project that resulted last year in the completion of a secret bunker-like facility deep underneath the White House driveway. The work also included construction under West Executive Drive, the private lane between the two buildings in the White House complex. The drive is ostensibly used as a VIP entrance for vehicles and as a parking lot.

Although officials described the excavation project completed last year in front of the West Wing lobby as an upgrade of air conditioning, plumbing and basic “infrastructure,” reporters chronicled the mysterious cavalcade of heavy trucks -- their commercial identifiers covered over -- as they deposited steel beams, huge pipes, concrete, electrical equipment and even a hot water heater into the cavernous hole.


The West Wing overhaul plan was first reported by Carol Ross Joynt in Washingtonian magazine a year ago, although a government spokesman at the time denied that the president would be relocated after the inauguration.

Since Joynt’s online report, RCP learned that the stand-in “Oval Office,” replicated in shape and Obama beige-ness, is being readied for occupancy within months.

From last September.
White House Big Dig Remains A Mystery As Construction Wraps Up

After nearly two years and $86 million worth of noisy and disruptive construction, the West Wing has emerged from its visual seclusion remarkably unchanged. And deep underground, whatever has been built there remains shrouded in mystery.
The construction project – officially a long overdue upgrade of White House utilities – began in September 2010 with the excavation of a huge, multistory pit in front of the West Wing, wrapping around to include West Executive Avenue, the street that separates the White House from the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. A tall, green construction fence sprang up that blocked America's most famous office complex from public view.
The General Services Administration, which oversaw the work, said it was to replace aging water and steam lines, sewers, storm sewers and electrical wiring conduits. Heating, air conditioning and fire control equipment also are being updated, officials said.

However, what reporters and photographers saw during the construction appeared to go well beyond that: a sprawling, multistory structure whose underground assembly required truckload after truckload of heavy-duty concrete and steel beams.
The GSA went to great lengths to keep the work secret, not only putting up the fence around the excavation site but ordering subcontractors not to talk to anyone and to tape over company info on trucks pulling into the White House gates.

LOL, from last February.
White House Source: President Will Have to Vacate Oval Office Next Year

Much of the area around the West Wing is currently torn up and barricaded off as part of what the White House has said is a replacement of the electrical and air conditioning systems, even though the massive concrete blocks being lowered into the enormous hole under the White House have led to speculation that a new emergency operations center is under construction.

“There’s no mystery to this,” said the former official. “A lot of people know about it on the inside because it is a huge operation to move the President’s office over to the EEOB.”


The Washingtonian asked the White House press office for comment and were referred to Gregory Mecher, the acting press secretary and White House liaison at the General Services Administration.

In response to our e-mail inquiry about relocating the President to the EEOB, Mecher denied that the President would be relocated for up to a year, but refused to comment further.

“As we have done since the project began, GSA will continue to keep the public abreast of this project as it moves forward,” Mecher wrote.

Last week it was Cass Sunstein, probable Supreme Court nominee, talking about a Second Bill of Rights (while he helped undermine and erode the first one) and now this Georgetown law professor wants to get rid of the Constitution.  I missed his Op-Ed in the NYT.   This NPR piece includes an interview with him.  I link the Op-Ed below too.
Op-Ed: We The People Should Throw Out The Constitution

In a piece in The New York Times, Georgetown law professor Mike Seidman argues that our reliance on the document has created a divisive and dysfunctional political system.

"It just doesn't make any sense, I don't think, to have a document that is as important as the Constitution — as entrenched as it is — given the fact that the world changes," Seidman tells NPR's Neal Conan.

Let’s Give Up on the Constitution

AS the nation teeters at the edge of fiscal chaos, observers are reaching the conclusion that the American system of government is broken. But almost no one blames the culprit: our insistence on obedience to the Constitution, with all its archaic, idiosyncratic and downright evil provisions.


This is not to say that we should disobey all constitutional commands. Freedom of speech and religion, equal protection of the laws and protections against governmental deprivation of life, liberty or property are important, whether or not they are in the Constitution. We should continue to follow those requirements out of respect, not obligation.

Nor should we have a debate about, for instance, how long the president’s term should last or whether Congress should consist of two houses. Some matters are better left settled, even if not in exactly the way we favor. Nor, finally, should we have an all-powerful president free to do whatever he wants. Even without constitutional fealty, the president would still be checked by Congress and by the states. There is even something to be said for an elite body like the Supreme Court with the power to impose its views of political morality on the country.

What would change is not the existence of these institutions, but the basis on which they claim legitimacy. The president would have to justify military action against Iran solely on the merits, without shutting down the debate with a claim of unchallengeable constitutional power as commander in chief. Congress might well retain the power of the purse, but this power would have to be defended on contemporary policy grounds, not abstruse constitutional doctrine. The Supreme Court could stop pretending that its decisions protecting same-sex intimacy or limiting affirmative action were rooted in constitutional text.

ABL on 7/19/2011.  Charming.  Check out the comments too.

Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC) Co-founder Aaron Swartz Indicted for Wire and Computer Fraud**

I’m stunned, and don’t even know what else to say. Just…dayum! grifters gonna grift!

Also, too, I might be having a schadenfreudorgasm.  I can’t really tell.  I’m just sitting here with my jaw on the floor.

Blog Posts and Tweets of Interest

Evening Blues

Slam Dunk’s Deputy: John Brennan’s “an Honest Guy”

Maybe John Brennan Didn’t Want to Talk about CIA Lying to Congress?

John Brennan’s Kangaroo Court

Dazz Band - Let it whip
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