- Most Guantanamo prisoners are innocent: ex-Bush official Wilkerson, former Powell COS: 24 are terrorists of over 800 sent to Guantanamo – Speaking out now to defend Obama against Cheney’s BS claims that Obama reversing Bush policies is making US less safe. And the US then tortured them.
Wilkerson ... learned from briefings and by communicating with military commanders that the U.S. soon realized many detainees held at the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, were innocent but nevertheless held them in hopes they could provide information for a "mosaic" of intelligence.
"It did not matter if a detainee were innocent. Indeed, because he lived in Afghanistan and was captured on or near the battle area, he must know something of importance," Wilkerson wrote in the blog.
Top Story Continues: So, why were the innocent civilians tortured?
He said intelligence analysts hoped to gather "sufficient information about a village, a region, or a group of individuals, that dots could be connected and terrorists or their plots could be identified."
In his posting for The Washington Note blog, Wilkerson wrote that "U.S. leadership became aware of this lack of proper vetting very early on and, thus, of the reality that many of the detainees were innocent of any substantial wrongdoing, had little intelligence value, and should be immediately released."
Former defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld and former vice-president Dick Cheney fought efforts to address the situation, Wilkerson said, because "to have admitted this reality would have been a black mark on their leadership."
Wilkerson told the AP in a telephone interview that many detainees "clearly had no connection to al-Qaeda and the Taliban and were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Pakistanis turned many over for $5,000 a head."
Some 800 men have been held at Guantanamo since the prison opened in January 2002, and 240 remain. Wilkerson said two dozen are considered terrorists, including confessed Sept. 11 plotter Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who was transferred to Guantanamo from CIA custody in September 2006.
- Many Iraqis wrongly imprisoned by Bush are now freed by Obama. (In picture, families of freed prisoners react.)
Camp Bucca, Iraq - Thousands of Iraqis held without charge by the United States on suspicion of links to insurgents or militants are being freed by this summer because of little or no evidence against them.
Their release comes as the U.S. prepares to turn over its detention system to the fledgling Iraqi government by early 2010. In the six years since the war began, the military ultimately detained some 100,000 suspects, many of whom were picked up in U.S.-led raids during a raging, bloody insurgency that has since died down.
But Iraqi judges have issued detention orders to prosecute only 129 of the 2,120 cases it has finished reviewing so far this year - or about 6 percent, according to U.S. military data. As of Thursday, 1,991 detainees had been freed since Jan. 1.
- AIG Suing To Recover Taxes in IRS Dispute.
The big insurer is trying to recover $306.1 million of taxes, interest and penalties from the Internal Revenue Service. Among other things, AIG is contesting an IRS determination last year that the company improperly claimed $61.9 million of tax credits associated with complex international transactions.
AIG has also asked a court to make the government reimburse it for money spent suing the government.
Given that the government owns 79.9 percent of AIG and has been using taxpayer money to fill a seemingly bottomless hole at the company, the lawsuit might seem like a case of biting the hand that feeds it. But an AIG spokesman said the company has an obligation to press its case.
- Frank says cancel retention bonuses for Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac, Federal regulator refuses to comply.
House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.) demanded yesterday that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac cancel retention payments being paid to thousands of employees, but the federal regulator that authorized the payments is refusing to comply.
...Frank, whose committee oversees the mortgage finance companies and their regulator, went further, asking Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to eliminate all retention payments and claw back those already paid. The companies, seized by the government in September, have received about $50 billion in taxpayer money.
- Law for 90% tax rate on bonuses does not constitute bill of attainder or ex post facto law, hard to overturn in court.
AIG employees who received bonuses may think they're being targeted.
But they are not likely to win a court challenge if the legislation becomes law, because courts have given legislatures broad leeway to raise and lower taxes without running afoul of the Constitution, legal experts said Thursday.
...The Constitution says "no bill of attainder or ex post facto law shall be passed." A bill of attainder singles out people for punishment, and an ex post facto law adds an after-the-fact punishment for past conduct. But the Supreme Court has limited those provisions to laws that "inflict punishment," mostly in the criminal arena.
In one famous example, former President Nixon sued and lost in the Supreme Court after Congress passed a law saying tapes made by Nixon should be in the "complete possession and control" of the U.S. In a 7-2 decision, the court said the law was not a bill of attainder because it did not punish Nixon.
The tax legislation that the House passed Thursday did not name names. And it was broadened beyond AIG.
- Citigroup's Pandit To Employees: I'm Fighting Congress For Your Bonuses.
This is an e-mail sent from Citigroup chief executive Vikram Pandit to his employees this afternoon:
...I want you to know that we are working in every appropriate way with policymakers in Washington, and with other financial institutions and industry associations, to come to agreement on a constructive industry compensation system that is good for the company, the financial system and the country. We will continue to do everything we can to ensure that we can pay our employees fairly, reflecting their market value and hard work, especially during these challenging times... .
- Treasury Plans to Offer Loans to Buy Bad Assets.
The Treasury Department is expected to unveil early next week its long-delayed plan to buy as much as $1 trillion in troubled mortgages and related assets from financial institutions, according to people close to the talks.
The plan is likely to offer generous taxpayer subsidies, in the form of low-interest loans, to coax private investors to form partnerships with the government to buy toxic assets from banks.
- Connecticut, 19 other states launch AIG investigations.
Twenty state attorneys general announced investigations Friday into the $165 million bonuses paid by insurance giant AIG last week, with Connecticut's top lawyer issuing subpoenas to CEO Edward Liddy and 11 other executives.
AIG officials are citing a Connecticut law to justify their payment of the bonuses. The law says that employees can sue in civil court for payments withheld that are due them and recoup double the amount of money. Many AIG employees live in Connecticut.
- The belief that the wealthy are worthy is waning.
For decades, the wealthy have been held up as people to be admired, victors in the Darwinian economic struggle by virtue of their personal ingenuity and hard work.
Americans consistently supported fiscal policies that undermined middle- and working-class interests partially because they saw themselves as rich-people-in-waiting: Given time, toil and the magic of compound interest, anyone could retire a millionaire.
That mind-set has all but been eradicated by the damage sustained by the average worker's nest egg, combined with the spectacle of bankers and financial engineers maintaining their lifestyles with multimillion-dollar bonuses while the submerged 99% struggle for oxygen.f
- TARP inspector general says Bush administration specifically considered and approved AIG bonuses.
Bloomberg News reports that Neil Barofsky, inspector general for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), told the House Ways and Means oversight subcommittee today that the Bush administration "specifically contemplated" paying bonuses to AIG employees in its November agreement to provide federal bailout funds to the failing insurance giant.
- Remember how Bush/McCain kept lying about candidate Obama being linked to fraud allegations with ACORN? Heck, here’s a story from today. Well, turns out Bush Feds were involved in ACORN raid in Nevada that took place right before the presidential elections.
Federal agencies were involved in the decision to raid the office of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) in Nevada last October, just weeks before Election Day, the offices of Nevada’s Secretary of State and Attorney General say.
The allegations raise questions of whether politics played a part in the raid and calls into question assertions by the US Attorney’s office that they were uninvolved. Federal guidelines instruct agencies investigating election fraud to avoid action that might impact the elective process.
Bob Walsh, a spokesman for Nevada’s Secretary of State, and Edie Cartwright, a spokeswoman for Nevada’s Attorney General, said that not only were the Nevada US Attorney’s Office and the FBI involved in investigating Nevada ACORN on allegations of voter registration fraud but that all four agencies jointly made the decision to conduct the raid. Both the investigation and the raid were conducted as part of the joint federal-state Election Integrity Task Force announced last July, the spokespersons said.
- Obama officials ask court to overturn Florida Cuba travel law.
Wading into a legal battle between the state of Florida and 16 Miami agencies that sell travel to Cuba, the U.S. Department of Justice said Friday that controversial amendments to a state travel law "interfere with the federal government's ability to speak for the U.S. with one voice in foreign affairs."
The Justice Department argues in a 35-page "statement of interest" that the 2008 amendments to state law that seek to cut travel to Cuba were "not a consumer protection measure... The Florida amendments are instead an attempt by the state of Florida to conduct its own foreign policy."
- Bill Would Allow Texas School to Grant Master's Degree in Science for Creationism.
A Texas legislator is waging a war of biblical proportions against the science and education communities in the Lone Star State as he fights for a bill that would allow a private school that teaches creationism to grant a Master of Science degree in the subject.
State Rep. Leo Berman (R-Tyler) proposed House Bill 2800 when he learned that The Institute for Creation Research (ICR), a private institution that specializes in the education and research of biblical creationism, was not able to receive a certificate of authority from Texas' Higher Education Coordinating Board to grant Master of Science degrees.
- Attorney General Issues New Freedom Of Information Act Guidelines with Presumption of Openness to Overrule Ashcroft secrecy doctrine.
New Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) guidelines calling for a "presumption of openness" were issued today by Attorney General Eric Holder. The guidelines, fulfilling the directive of a presidential memorandum issued in January, overturn the "Ashcroft doctrine" of the Bush administration that allowed the government to withhold information requested through FOIA whenever legally possible. The attorney general’s announcement comes during "Sunshine Week" and follows the introduction of legislation aimed at strengthening FOIA in the Senate.
War Crimes, Prosecutions & Torture News
- Judge: Abu Ghraib prisoners can sue Va. contractor accused of torture, other crimes. (picture is prisoners being forced to masturbate in front of other prisoners and US guards.)
A federal judge rejected a defense contractor's claims that it was immune from lawsuits by four alleged torture victims at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
In a ruling made public Thursday, U.S. District Judge Gerald Bruce Lee rejected claims made by Arlington, Va.-based CACI that it couldn't be sued because its interrogators were performing their duties as the government required. The company also said the case involves U.S. policy issues too sensitive for litigation.
The ruling allows four Abu Ghraib detainees - who were later released without being charged - to go forward with their lawsuit against CACI. The four allege torture and other crimes at the hands of CACI civilian interrogators hired by the Army.
- Yoo's work for White House could draw UC punishment.
A UC Berkeley law professor who provided the Bush administration with a memo justifying torture for terrorists may face academic punishment for his off-campus work.
UC Berkeley leaders are wrestling with that decision as a federal investigation into John Yoo's legal advice to the Bush administration apparently winds down.
...The code of conduct for UC Berkeley faculty states that criminal convictions could result in discipline, but it is less explicit about other transgressions. But some, including Berkeley law Dean Christopher Edley and a top faculty leader, have said they could punish Yoo regardless of whether he is tried and convicted in a court.
- Georgie Bush OK, BUT anti-war MP George Galloway banned from Canada.
A Canadian spokesman confirmed that the Respect MP had been deemed inadmissible on national security grounds and would not be allowed into the country... because of his views on Afghanistan and the presence of Canadian troops there and would be turned away if he attempted to enter the country.
...Alykhan Velshi, Kenney's spokesman, said that the act was designed to protect Canadians from people who fund, support or engage in terrorism.
"We're going to uphold the law, not give special treatment to this infamous street-corner Cromwell who actually brags about giving 'financial support' to Hamas, a terrorist organisation banned in Canada," he said. "I'm sure Galloway has a large Rolodex of friends in regimes elsewhere in the world willing to roll out the red carpet for him. Canada, however, won't be one of them."
- Britain orders review to change rules for its role in interrogations using torture.
Brown said he had requested the new guidelines to assure that intelligence procedures and systems were "robust" and to dispel public doubts, but his statement to Parliament was widely interpreted as a tacit admission that past practices were too lax.
...The allegations came to a boil after the return to Britain of Ethiopian-born resident Binyam Mohamed, who'd been held at the U.S. military prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, for more than four years. According to Mohamed's lawyers, documents indicate that he had been held in several countries and tortured during interrogations, allegedly with British and American involvement, before his transfer to Guantánamo.
- Intelligence made it clear Saddam was not a threat, diplomat tells MPs new information should be publicly revealed.
A former diplomat at the centre of events in the run-up to the Iraq war revealed yesterday that the government has a "paper trail" that could reveal new information about the legality of the invasion.
Carne Ross, who was a first secretary at the United Nations in New York for the Foreign Office until 2004, told MPs: "A lot of facts about the run-up to this war have yet to come to light which should come to light and which the public deserves to know." There were also assessments by the joint intelligence committee which had not been disclosed, Ross told the Commons public administration select committee.
He told the inquiry that the intelligence made it "very clear" that Saddam Hussein did not pose a significant threat to the UK, as was being claimed at the time by ministers, and that tougher enforcement of sanctions could have brought his regime down.
- Senators propose lifetime medical care for Iraq vets poisoned by toxic chemicals in Iraq.
Three U.S. senators want Oregon Army National Guard soldiers exposed to toxic chemicals in Iraq to be tracked and receive lifetime medical care for problems that result.
They introduced a bill Thursday to create a registry that would speed exams and treatment through the Department of Veterans Affairs. The legislation also authorizes a scientific review of evidence linking chemical exposure to health problems, much like the Agent Orange registry that was created for Vietnam veterans.
The proposal would affect at least 292 Oregon soldiers who served in Iraq in 2003, as well as hundreds from Indiana, South Carolina and West Virginia. The troops, including the first Oregonians into Iraq, may have been exposed to cancer-causing hexavalent chromium.
- Jobless rate at 11.2% for veterans of Iraq, Afghanistan.
The economic downturn is hitting Iraq and Afghanistan veterans harder than other workers — one in nine are now out of work — and may be encouraging some troops to remain in the service, according to Labor Department records and military officials.
The 11.2% jobless rate for veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan and who are 18 and older rose 4 percentage points in the past year. That's significantly higher than the corresponding 8.8% rate for non-veterans in the same age group, says Labor Department economist Jim Walker.
Army records show the service has hit 152% of its re-enlistment goal this year. "Obviously the economy plays a big role in people's decisions," says Lt. Col. Christopher Garver, an Army spokesman.
- Study: Afghans View Security as Deteriorating.
Ordinary Afghans are losing hope. New research shows that 63 percent of Afghans believe that the security situation in their communities has worsened since 2004. Four years ago, 75 percent believed it had improved. The current mandate for the U.N. Assistance Mission to Afghanistan, which expires Monday, is up for review. A consortium of humanitarian groups, including CARE, asks the members of the United Nations to increase the focus on security for the Afghan population.
...The study conducted by HRRAC in six provinces of Afghanistan, shows that the majority of people interviewed believe there has been a general rise in crime and violence over the past four years.
Kidnappings for ransom, armed robbery and theft complicate the lives of ordinary citizens. "These stories rarely make the headlines in international media, but are very real to Afghans who are trying to go on with their lives," Siddiqui adds.
- For first time, special forces placed under control of US commander in Afghanistan, which may reduce civilian deaths.
U.S. Special Operations forces in Afghanistan, whose commando raids and airstrikes against suspected Taliban targets have caused large numbers of civilian casualties that have angered Afghans, have quietly been put under the "tactical control" of the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, Gen. David McKiernan, for the first time.
...Barno’s conclusion about the questionable value of targeted attacks on the Taliban was confirmed in a recent classified study of intelligence operations in Iraq and Afghanistan by the Rand Corporation, prepared for the U.S. Joint Forces Command, which was based on interviews with more than 90 U.S. and allied military officers and intelligence experts.
- First Tourists Arrive In Iraq.
Things must have improved because yesterday the first group of western package tourists to visit Iraq's capital and second city finally arrived in Baghdad - tired, uninsured and a little exasperated, but happy - after a 17-day tour that would have been unthinkable 12 months ago.
On the anniversary of the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the irony was compelling: the last group of western foreigners to arrive outside the Sheraton hotel in Baghdad were invading US marines. Six years on, the assembled group of four Britons, a Russian who lives in London, two Americans and a Canadian wielded nothing more menacing than suitcases and dogeared tourism guides.
- 6 oil giants have "cornered the market" on Western Slope water rights for oil shale, setting stage for water wars as water for oil will preclude water for agriculture and home development.
The study by Boulder-based Western Resource Advocates concludes that the oil shale activity envisioned by energy companies and some state and federal lawmakers would consume as much water as the entire Denver metro area on an annual basis.
"Water on the Rocks: Oil Shale Water Rights in Colorado," produced by the environmental group and funded in part by the Aspen Skiing Co., says that new oil shale energy boom like the one that went bust in the 1980s will come at the expense of agriculture and continued residential growth on the Front Range and in the state’s mountain towns because of a lack of water.
- Global crisis of water, energy and population 'to strike by 2030'.
Growing world population will cause a "perfect storm" of food, energy and water shortages by 2030, the UK government chief scientist has warned.
Demand for food and energy will jump 50% by 2030 and for fresh water by 30%, as the population tops 8.3 billion, he told a conference in London.
Climate change will exacerbate matters in unpredictable ways, he added.
- NASA: Environmental disaster avoided on ozone loss, world must do same with climate change.
Here's rare good news about an environmental crisis: We dodged disaster with the ozone layer.
A NASA study about ozone-munching chemicals from aerosol sprays and refrigeration used a computer model to play a game of what-if. What if the world 22 years ago didn't agree to cut back on chlorofluorocarbons which cause a seasonal ozone hole to form near the South Pole?
...By 2065, two-thirds of the protective ozone layer would have vanished and "the ozone hole covers the Earth." And the CFCs, which are long-lived potent greenhouse gases, would have pushed the world's temperature up an extra 4 degrees.
- US weather service warns of major floods in midwest.
Near record spring floods could begin to swamp large parts of the US midwest as early as next week, the National Weather Service warned Thursday.
The Red River valley -- the scene of devastating floods in 1997 -- has experienced above average snowfall over the winter and the heavy runoff onto still-frozen ground poses "an imminent serious flood threat," the weather service said."
- In Silt, Bangladesh Sees Potential Shield Against Sea Level Rise.
Instead of allowing the silt to settle where it wants, Bangladesh has begun to channel it to where it is needed — to fill in shallow soup bowls of land prone to flooding, or to create new land off its long, exposed coast.
The efforts have been limited to small experimental patches, not uniformly promising, and there is still ample concern that a swelling sea could one day soon swallow parts of Bangladesh. But the emerging evidence suggests that a nation that many see as indefensible to the ravages of human-induced climate change could literally raise itself up and save its people — and do so cheaply and simply, using what the mountains and tides bring.
- One-third of US birds are endangered, says conservation report.
Nearly one-third of US birds are endangered, threatened or in significant decline, according to a government conservation report.
It says the findings are "a warning signal of the failing health of our ecosystems" and reports that birds in Hawaii, the most bird-rich state, are "in crisis".
...The State of the Birds report chronicles a four-decade decline in many of the country's bird populations and provides many reasons for it, from suburban sprawl to the spread of exotic species to global warming.
- UK team builds robot fish to detect pollution.
Robot fish developed by British scientists are to be released into the sea off north Spain to detect pollution.
If next year's trial of the first five robotic fish in the northern Spanish port of Gijon is successful, the team hopes they will be used in rivers, lakes and seas across the world.
The carp-shaped robots, costing 20,000 pounds ($29,000) apiece, mimic the movement of real fish and are equipped with chemical sensors to sniff out potentially hazardous pollutants, such as leaks from vessels or underwater pipelines.
- Northwest considers wood-burning power plants.
Power plants that would burn mostly wood waste fit into the Northwest's energy portfolio because they would complement another emerging energy source, wind power, an Energy Northwest representative says.
...The plants would burn wood waste -- fallen trees, stripped limbs left over by timber companies, beetle-killed wood, smaller trees cut down by logging companies but not hauled away and even some construction materials. The heat produced would then power a steam turbine, creating electricity.
- Pink elephant is caught on camera. (pictures at link)
A wildlife cameraman took pictures of the calf when he spotted it among a herd of about 80 elephants in the Okavango Delta.
Experts believe it is probably an albino, which is an extremely rare phenomenon in African elephants.
They are unsure of its chances of long-term survival - the blazing African sunlight may cause blindness and skin problems for the calf.
- Underwater volcano sends huge columns of ash into Pacific sky. (video at link) (NOTE: I changed the link from Times Online to BBC because commenter got attack warning from Times Online site. The text of this entry is from the Times Online article.)
A spectacular underwater volcanic eruption spewing smoke and gas thousands of feet into the sky has created a new island in the Pacific Ocean.
Professor Simon Turner, a geochemist at Macquarie University in Sydney, warned that if the volcano continued to erupt it had the potential to be devastating: "Underwater volcanoes can be violent, and have a strong climatic effect. This one isn’t getting into the stratosphere yet but as it continues to grow that is a possibility."
- Slaughter of the seals in Russia is stopped by Vladimir Putin.
The dewy-eyed innocence of baby seals has prompted a rare burst of environmental activism in Russia that has moved Vladimir Putin to end their slaughter. The annual spring cull in the northern White Sea region has been scrapped after Mr Putin condemned the clubbing of baby seals for their fur as a "bloody trade".
- Pioneering ecologist to head NOAA.
Jane Lubchenco of Oregon State says she's eager to take on issues including global warming, polluted coastal waters and severely depleted fish populations.
The Senate gave its blessing late Thursday to key members of President Obama's science team, including an Oregon State University ecologist who will be the first woman and first marine scientist to lead the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
- Changing climate increases West Nile threat in U.S
The higher temperatures, humidity and rainfall associated with climate change have led to increased outbreaks of West Nile Virus infections across the United States in recent years, according to a study published this week.
One of the largest surveys of West Nile Virus cases to date links warming weather patterns and increasing rainfall – both projected to accelerate with global warming – to outbreaks of the mosquito-borne disease across 17 states from 2001 to 2005.
The authors predict the pattern will only get worse.
- Iditarod claims fourth dog as 1,000-mile race winds to a close.
As the 1,000-mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race winds to a close, the death toll among dogs has reached four. The latest casualty in the grueling competition was a 5-year-old male dog named Maynard.
He was part of a team guided by Canadian musher Warren Palfrey. The dog died Thursday about an hour from of the finish line at Nome, Alaska.
Animal rights advocates have been highly critical of a race that they say is tantamount to canine torture.
- Jack Bauer tackles global warming - ‘24’ is the first TV show to reach carbon neutral.
The show reduced its overall carbon emissions to zero through a combination of "better practices," and the purchase of carbon offsets.
After calling in a head-to-toe assessment from a consulting firm, Clear Carbon, the production team began to make changes to mitigate the eye-popping 2,179 tons of CO2 emissions estimated to be generated by the series. The first item to go was the "ancient fluorescent bulbs" in the old fixtures, says Mike Posey, associate director of production. Roughly 200 fixtures full of four-foot bulbs were replaced with the new, low-impact "cool" CFL bulbs, "the kind you can pick up at Home Depot," adds Mr. Posey.
Next, the team ticked off a laundry list of items, many of which have begun to crop up as staples of the burgeoning green movement in Hollywood as well as other industries: cut electrical usage, switch to biofuels and recycle, among other actions. The show moved its diesel fuel usage for trucks and generators to include at least 5 percent biofuels.
One of the biggest reductions in carbon emissions came from the simple conversion to digital script delivery. "We used to ferry about 150 scripts around town daily," says Posey. They also integrated hybrid-fuel vehicles into the production, a tactic that reduced gasoline usage by 1,300 gallons for Season 7 production, which wrapped in December.
- Obama speaks to Iranian people in video message.
In an unprecedented video message released Friday on the celebration of the Persian new year, President Barack Obama speaks directly to the Iranian people and government, saying his administration "is now committed to diplomacy that addresses the full range of issues before us" and that that the process "will not be advanced by threats."
Obama describes a "common humanity that binds us together" despite three decades of strained relations and calls for "engagement that is honest and grounded in mutual respect."
"Eid-eh Shoma Mobarak," he says — Happy New Year.
- Despite Iran's tepid response, experts hail Obama approach.
President Barack Obama abandoned his predecessor's approach Friday in a 3 1/2-minute videotaped message that offered negotiations and was deliberately laced, U.S. officials said, with not-so-subtle diplomatic code.
Although it appears unlikely to lead to any near-term breakthroughs, Obama's new Iran policy could undercut Iranian hawks who oppose better ties with the United States just as Iran prepares for presidential elections in June.
"The Obama administration's approach to Iran has been more informed and nuanced than any U.S. administration in the last three decades. He's been respectful without projecting weakness, which is always a difficult balance," said Karim Sadjadpour, of the Washington-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
- Behind the story: Barack Obama’s message will seep through to people.
Nowruz, the Persian new year, begins with a televised message from the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei. Yesterday’s alternative message from Barack Obama may have reached a smaller audience at first but it is unlikely to take long for word of the speech to filter all the way through this nation of 68 million.
Mr Obama’s speech was broadcast with Farsi subtitles on Middle Eastern satellite channels beamed illegally into four million Iranian homes. News of it was reported by two Iranian press agencies yesterday, but few would be paying attention. They were busy gathering in family homes or travelling to the coast to enjoy the holiday.
The video’s dissemination on YouTube, unblocked only last month, will help it to reach Iran’s 23 million internet users – if the deliberately meagre bandwidth can withstand the strain. It is appearing on blogs that dissidents avidly update, even on holidays.
- Aides to President Ahmadinejad welcomed the appeal for a ‘new beginning’ but urged the US to change its attitude.
Iran cautiously welcomed Barack Obama’s videotaped message for a "new beginning" between the US and Tehran yesterday, but said that the new Administration needed a change in attitude for relations between them to improve.
Aliakbar Javanfekr, an aide to President Ahmadinejad of Iran, reacted to the appeal by saying: "The Iranian nation has shown that it can forget hasty behaviour." Iran, he said, would "not show its back" to Mr Obama if the US put its words into practice, but the new Administration needed "a fundamental change in attitude".
- Israeli soldiers admit to deliberate killing of Gaza civilians.
The Israeli army has been forced to open an investigation into the conduct of its troops in Gaza after damning testimony from its own front line soldiers revealed the killing of civilians and rules of engagement so lax that one combatant said that they amounted on occasion to "cold-blooded murder".
...The soldiers’ testimonies include accounts of an unarmed old woman being shot at a distance of 100 yards, a woman and her two children being killed after Israeli soldiers ordered them from their house into the line of fire of a sniper and soldiers clearing houses by shooting anyone they encountered on sight.
- Israeli soldiers say army rabbis framed Gaza as religious war.
Rabbis affiliated with the Israeli army urged troops heading into Gaza to reclaim what they said was God-given land and "get rid of the gentiles" — effectively turning the 22-day Israeli intervention into a religious war, according to the testimony of a soldier who fought in Gaza.
Literature passed out to soldiers by the army's rabbinate "had a clear message — we are the people of Israel, we came by a miracle to the land of Israel, God returned us to the land, now we need to struggle to get rid of the gentiles that are interfering with our conquest of the land," the soldier told a forum of Gaza veterans in mid-February, just weeks after the conflict ended.
- ATF takes aim at deep 'Iron river of guns' of as many as 2,000 weapons per day flowing from US to fuel Mexico drug war.
Guns recovered in some of the largest recent weapons seizures in Mexico are being traced deep into the United States — miles from the volatile border — revealing an expanding trafficking network that feeds Mexico's violent drug cartels, according to government documents and U.S. investigators.
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives records show 90% of the weapons recovered and traced originate from a growing number of sources spanning from the Northwest to New England. The trafficking routes have created what Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., described earlier this week as an "iron river of guns" flowing to the warring cartels, contributing to about 7,000 deaths in the past 14 months.
- China ends naval stand-off and credits Barack Obama.
Li Jie, a senior researcher at he Chinese Navy’s Military Academy, offered remarks that demonstrated Beijing’s apparent eagerness to move forward without an embarrassing climbdown by indicating that it believed that the US military may have acted without Washington’s approval.
He told the China Daily: "It is time to call an end to it. It might be that the US military wanted to flex its muscles but the Barack Obama Administration managed to bring the situation under control for the good of both countries."
- 'Duke it out': US school accused of encouraging bare-knuckle fights in cage.
The Dallas school system has been rocked by allegations that staff members at an inner-city high school made students settle their differences by fighting bare-knuckle brawls inside a steel cage.
The principal and other employees at South Oak Cliff High in the Texan city knew about the cage fights and allowed the practice to continue, according to a 2008 report by school system investigators.
...The report, first obtained by The Dallas Morning News, describes two instances of fighting in an equipment cage in a boys' locker room between 2003 and 2005. It was not clear from the report whether there were other fights.
- Calif. lawmaker sees potential $1.5 billion in marijuana taxes.
It's been said that many American trends, from fashion to music to governance, begin in California and move east.
If Tom Ammiano, a California state assemblyman from San Francisco, is correct in his assessment of potential tax revenues stemming from legalized marijuana, expect the debate to spread like a grassfire, so to speak.
Ammiano, who proposed legislation to legalize marijuana on Feb. 24, told CNBC's Melissa Francis on Thursday that the plant is the state's "leading cash crop" and could easily generate $1.5 billion in tax revenue the first year, if not more.
- Brady Campaign Wins Injunction Against Weapons In National Parks.
The Bush Administration failed to follow Federal environmental laws, a Federal judge indicated yesterday, in its attempt to give the gun lobby a last-minute gift by allowing loaded, hidden firearms into America’s national parks and wildlife refuges. As a result, U.S. District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly issued an injunction late yesterday, restoring prior rules in those public lands that weapons be unloaded and safely secured.
Civil Rights News
- Another marriage petition cleared for California.
The sponsors of a second ballot measure seeking to repeal California's ban on same-sex marriage have been cleared to start collecting signatures.
If approved by voters, the group's proposed constitutional amendment would rescind Proposition 8, which passed last November.
...Earlier this month, two Southern California college students got permission to start circulating petitions for a separate initiative that would end all marriage as a state-sanctioned institution and instead make couples — gay or straight — eligible only for domestic partnerships.