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Local lawmakers meet with Obama on Afghanistan

Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez; House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco; Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto; and other House members met today with President Barack Obama to discuss recent developments in Afghanistan and nearby nations.

Miller has been to Afghanistan three times including twice in the last month, most recently with Pelosi and Eshoo as part of a congressional delegation that met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, U.S. military commanders and troops.

“Seven years ago, President Bush had Osama Bin Laden and al Qaeda cornered in Afghanistan, only to take his eye off the ball and pursue an unjustified and costly war in Iraq,” Miller said in a statement issued today. “Since then, violence in Afghanistan has risen, the Taliban has reemerged, opium production has skyrocketed, corruption and incompetence have reigned supreme in the Afghan government, and all of this is threatening to spill over the border and destabilize a nuclear-armed Pakistan.”

“I’ve recently returned from my third trip to Afghanistan and was pleased to have the opportunity to share my impressions and experiences with the President today as he seeks to chart a new course for US policy in the region. I discussed with President Obama my belief that before an already unstable situation in Afghanistan becomes worse, we’ve got to change course now. It is very clear that to be successful, America needs the help of neighbors in the region – India, Pakistan, China, and Russia. That’s why I applaud President Obama’s decision to conduct a top to bottom review of our strategy in Afghanistan and his appointment of Ambassador Richard Holbrooke as special envoy to the region.”

Click here for Pelosi’s rundown of the most recent trip to Afghanistan, from a Feb. 23 news conference.

Posted on Wednesday, March 4th, 2009
Under: Afghanistan, Barack Obama, George Miller, Nancy Pelosi, U.S. House, War on Terror | No Comments »

Tauscher to re-introduce ‘dwell time’ bill

Continuing the “it’s-a-whole-new-ballgame-with-Obama-in-the-White-House” waltz, Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Alamo, this Thursday will announce she’s introducing legislation to provide more “dwell time” for troops deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, to help them recover mentally and physically and give military units time to repair and upgrade equipment.

The House in August 2007 passed Tauscher’s like-minded H.R. 3159. It would’ve required that any regular Armed Forces member or unit deployed to Iraq must then have an equal period of time at home before being redeployed, and that no unit or member of a Reserve component including the National Guard be redeployed to Iraq within three years of their previous deployment.

But Tauscher’s bill died in the Senate Armed Services Committee, and its companion amendment introduced by U.S. Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., went down to defeat in September 2007, soon after Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he would recommend a veto, branding it a dangerous “backdoor way” to draw down forces.

Why am I reliving all this history? Well, partly because Gates is still our Secretary of Defense; it’ll be interesting to see what he recommends now, given he’s serving a new President with a new agenda for Iraq and Afghanistan.

Posted on Tuesday, February 10th, 2009
Under: Afghanistan, Ellen Tauscher, General, Iraq, U.S. House, War on Terror | No Comments »

Gitmo to Alcatraz: Sarcastic or stupid?

Inanity erupted in both chambers of Congress yesterday. (Big surprise.)

In the House, it was Rep. C.W. Bill Young, R-Fla., the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee’s ranking Republican.

“Alcatraz would be a good place to put these people,’’ he said yesterday of the detainees who will have to be moved out of their prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba within the next year under an executive order signed Thursday by President Barack Obama. “There’s a lot of discomfort about the idea of bringing the detainees in to the United States. That’s why I’ve suggested Alcatraz.”

In the Senate, it was U.S. Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo.

“I can’t think of any city or town across this country that will be thrilled to have Khalid Shaikh Mohammed or Abu Zubaydah living down the street,” said the Senate Intelligence Committee’ ranking Republican. “If you really want to bring them back to the United States, people in Missouri and Kansas believe Gitmo is just fine. Folks in San Francisco want it closed. I’d suggest you put them in Alcatraz.”

So… stupid, or sarcastic? Follow me after the jump as we tackle both possibilities… Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Friday, January 23rd, 2009
Under: U.S. House, U.S. Senate, War on Terror | 2 Comments »

Anti-Yoo activists unveil Berkeley billboard

The No To Torture/John Yoo Must Go coalition — targeting the University of California Boalt Hall School of Law professor, former Justice Department attorney, and torture-memo author who tried to blow a gaping hole through the Fourth Amendment — has unveiled its first billboard, located on University Avenue near Milvia Street in Berkeley.

“Not speaking out and acting against torture allows torture practices to continue uncontested in violation of treaties against torture, to which the United States is a signatory,” said the news release. “The billboard expresses a call to action to stop gross misrepresentations of the law to continue in our names.”

Speaking at a news conference Thursday were human-rights activist Gerald Gray, who wants Cal alumni to withhold contributions until the school dumps Yoo; geographer and author Gray Brechin, who wants Cal faculty to publicly disavow Yoo; and Berkeley Peace and Justice Commission member Elliot Cohen, speaking about a proposed John Yoo resolution before the City Council. Collectively, they and the coalition want Yoo — who was rotisseried by the House Judiciary Committee last month — to be fired, disbarred, and prosecuted for war crimes; they’re trying to organize a “war crimes tribunal” this fall.

You might notice the billboard doesn’t actually name Yoo; coalition coordinator Curt Wechsler said a proposed design with Yoo’s name and an iconic Abu Ghraib figure was rejected by the billboard company:

Posted on Friday, July 25th, 2008
Under: Berkeley, Civil liberties, War on Terror | No Comments »

Cal’s John Yoo grilled by Judiciary Committee

University of California, Berkeley Boalt Hall School of Law Professor John Yoo — a former Justice Department attorney and torture-memo author who seems to have painted a bulls-eye on the Fourth Amendment — testified today before the House Judiciary Committee during a hearing on interrogation rules applied by the Bush Administration in the war on terrorism.

And it wasn’t pretty.

From Chairman John Conyers, D-Mich.:

From Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., who has been chairing the interrogation-technique hearings:

From Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., and Nadler:

I’d guess there’ll be lots of talk about this at the “No To Torture! John Yoo Must Go!” town-hall meeting tomorrow (Friday, June 27) night in Berkeley.

Posted on Thursday, June 26th, 2008
Under: Berkeley, Civil liberties, War on Terror | No Comments »

Activists step up efforts to oust John Yoo

Activists are stepping up their grassroots effort to get John Yoo — the former Justice Department attorney not only wrote memos advocating the possible legality of torture and denying enemy combatants protection under the Geneva Conventions, but also rode the Fourth Amendment hard and put it away wet — fired from his job as a UC-Berkeley Boalt Hall School of Law professor.

Yoo will testify tomorrow, Thursday, June 26, before the House Judiciary Committee as part of its ongoing investigation of the Bush Administration’s interrogation rules.

A day after that, the National Lawyers Guild and The World Can’t Wait! Drive Out the Bush Regime! will convene a new coalition with a town-hall meeting at 7 p.m. Friday, June 27, entitled “No To Torture! John Yoo Must Go!” (They! Sure! Do! Like! Their! Exclamation! Points! Don’t! They!?!) It’ll be in the Berkeley Unitarian Universalist Fellowship Hall, 1924 Cedar St. in Berkeley, with admission costing $5 to $20 on a sliding scale; nobody will be turned away for lack of funds. The event will feature Stephen Rohde, past president of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, and audience members will be invited to comment and debate.

Don’t expect anyone at this event to take Yoo’s side, however. The coalition says it has been founded “to demand that John Yoo be fired, disbarred, and prosecuted for war crimes;” it aims to rally the campus community, the legal community and the East Bay at large to demand Yoo’s ousting. It’s planning a “war crimes tribunal” for this fall and a public advertising campaign, among other things.

Posted on Wednesday, June 25th, 2008
Under: Berkeley, Civil liberties, War on Terror | No Comments »

Pentagon torture lawyer now at Chevron

Richmond City Councilman Tom Butt, no fan of Chevron — whose refinery looms over the city of Richmond — on any given day, notes today in an e-mail to constituents that Chevron chief corporate counsel William J. Haynes II is a former Pentagon official who just took a beating from Congress this week for his role in approving the use of harsh interrogtation methods that some call torture.

A blogger at Think Progress described the scene that unfolded at the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing Tuesday as Haynes explained his role as general counsel to the Department of Defense in how detainees have been treated in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay. “As the lawyer, I was not the decision maker. I was the adviser,” he said. U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, D-RI, told Haynes that doesn’t cut it:

“You did a disservice to the soldiers of this nation. You empowered them to violate basic conditions which every soldier respects — the Uniformed Code of Military Justice, the Geneva Convention. … Don’t go around with this attitude of you’re protecting the integrity of the military. You degraded the integrity of the United States military.”

San Ramon-based Chevron doesn’t have a problem with Haynes’ history, per law.com: “Chevron spokesman Robertson says that while the company is ‘aware that there are peripheral issues surrounding Jim, they have not been a focus for us.’ “

Posted on Friday, June 20th, 2008
Under: Afghanistan, Civil liberties, Iraq, U.S. Senate, War on Terror | 1 Comment »

Digital library beats FBI’s secret data demand

The FBI has withdrawn a National Security Letter issued to the Internet Archive after a legal challenge from the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union, those groups said on a conference call moments ago.

Under a settlement agreement, the FBI has lifted the NSL’s gag and agreed to the case’s unsealing, making all the filings public and letting Archive founder Brewster Kahle speak out for the first time about his battle against the records demand.

kahle.jpg“The FBI served the Internet Archive with a letter last November demanding information about a patron of the Internet Archive,” Kahle said. “I couldn’t discuss it with anybody, I couldn’t bring it to the board, I couldn’t discuss it with the rest of the staff. Even our lawyers couldn’t share information with their peers about what was going on.”

“Gagging librarians is horrendous,” Kahle said. “We don’t think this is necessary and were very happy to be able to speak up now to all librarians and the public.”

The Internet Archive — a nonprofit founded in 1996 and based in San Francisco’s Presidio — is building an Internet library of online books, music, videos and “snapshots” of Web pages, offering permanent access for researchers, historians, and scholars to historical collections that exist in digital format.

The government uses these secret NSLs to access personal customer records from Internet service providers, financial institutions, and credit reporting agencies among other companies. In most cases, recipients are forbidden from disclosing even that they received the letters. The Internet Archive fought this NSL because it believed the letter exceeded the FBI’s limited authority to issue NSLs to libraries; this was the first case to assert protections for libraries that Congress set in 2006′s reauthorization of the USA PATRIOT Act.

EFF senior staff attorney Kurt Opsahl said the FBI’s letter demanded an Archive user’s name, address, length of service, electronic communication transaction history and other data. But the Archive doesn’t collect IP addresses of users who upload and download files, he said, only their unverified e-mail addresses; he said he wouldn’t disclose what information the Archive did give the FBI on this person, other than to say it was publicly available information. Meanwhile, the EFF – joined by the ACLU – sued to challenge the gag order’s constitutionality, and after four months of legal negotiations, the FBI backed down.

ACLU National Security Project attorney Melissa Goodman said about 200,000 NSLs were issued from 2003 to 2006, yet only three including this one have been challenged in court. In each of these three cases, the FBI agreed to withdraw its request; Goodman said this calls into question how important the information was in the first place, and how wide a net the FBI is casting without judicial review, shielded from public eyes.

“The gag orders that are part and parcel of almost every NSL that gets issued are unhealthy in a democracy,” said ACLU of Northern California staff attorney Ann Brick, who noted the Justice Department Inspector General’s audits have found the FBI regularly abuses its NSL power.

Brick also said this secrecy “distorts the public debate over national security letters, including the debate in Congress” – when an ACLU attorney testified before Congress last month about NSLs, he couldn’t even talk about the Internet Archive’s case.

Brick said she hopes this case will inspire more libraries and other organizations to file lawsuits challenging NSL’s constitutionality.

Posted on Wednesday, May 7th, 2008
Under: Civil liberties, General, War on Terror | No Comments »

Fourth Amendment pliable for Yoo… and you too

yoo.jpgApparently a Berkeley law professor has a pretty radical interpretation of our constitutional right to be protected from unreasonable search and seizure: It doesn’t apply to domestic military operations.

From today’s Washington Post:

The Justice Department sent a legal memorandum to the Pentagon in 2003 asserting that federal laws prohibiting assault, maiming and other crimes did not apply to military interrogators who questioned al-Qaeda captives because the president’s ultimate authority as commander in chief overrode such statutes.

The 81-page memo, which was declassified and released publicly yesterday, argues that poking, slapping or shoving detainees would not give rise to criminal liability. The document also appears to defend the use of mind-altering drugs that do not produce “an extreme effect” calculated to “cause a profound disruption of the senses or personality.”

Although the existence of the memo has long been known, its contents had not been previously disclosed.

Nine months after it was issued, Justice Department officials told the Defense Department to stop relying on it. But its reasoning provided the legal foundation for the Defense Department’s use of aggressive interrogation practices at a crucial time, as captives poured into military jails from Afghanistan and U.S. forces prepared to invade Iraq.

Sent to the Pentagon’s general counsel on March 14, 2003, by John C. Yoo, then a deputy in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, the memo provides an expansive argument for nearly unfettered presidential power in a time of war. It contends that numerous laws and treaties forbidding torture or cruel treatment should not apply to U.S. interrogations in foreign lands because of the president’s inherent wartime powers.

“If a government defendant were to harm an enemy combatant during an interrogation in a manner that might arguably violate a criminal prohibition, he would be doing so in order to prevent further attacks on the United States by the al Qaeda terrorist network,” Yoo wrote. “In that case, we believe that he could argue that the executive branch’s constitutional authority to protect the nation from attack justified his actions.”

John Yoo, of course, is now a professor at the University of California, Berkeley’s Boalt Hall School of Law. He already has taken a lot of heat for previously released memos in which he advocated the possible legality of torture, and for denying enemy combatants protection under the Geneva Conventions.

Read the newly released memo here, and please take a look at footnote 10 on page 8:

Indeed, drawing in part on the reasoning of Verdugo-Urquidez, as well as the Supreme Court’s treatment of the destruction of property for the purposes of military necessity, our Office recently concluded that the Fourth Amendment had no application to domestic military operations. See Memorandum for Alberto R. Gonzales, Counsel to the President, and William J. Haynes II, General Counsel, Department of Defense, from John C. Yoo, Deputy Assistant Attorney General and Robert J. Delahunty, Special Counsel, Re: Authority for Use of Military Force to Combat Terrorist Activities Within the United States at 25 (Oct. 23, 2001).

Read that sentence I emphasized once more: “(T)he Fourth Amendment had no application to domestic military operations.”

Here’s the Fourth Amendment, lest we forget: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, support by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

But according to this footnote, Yoo — a little more than one month after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks — issued a memo finding that doesn’t apply to everyone within our borders, a sentiment never made public until now.

The American Civil Liberties Union today issued a news release saying this still-secret 2001 Yoo memo “was almost certainly meant to provide a legal basis for the National Security Agency’s warrantless wiretapping program, which President Bush launched the same month the memo was issued. As a component of the Department of Defense, the NSA is a military agency.”

The ACLU has challenged the withholding of the October 2001 memo and the issue is pending before the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

Posted on Wednesday, April 2nd, 2008
Under: Berkeley, Civil liberties, General, War on Terror | No Comments »

Congress votes to ban waterboarding, etc.

This just in from the office of U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.:

Congress today approved legislation by U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Chuck Hagel (R-NE), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) that would require the CIA to follow the Army Field Manual’s rules on interrogations.

The legislation, which now goes to the President, will establish uniform standards on interrogation of detainees for all parts of the U.S. government. It prohibits waterboarding and other forms of coercive interrogation techniques.

“Today, the Senate stood tall and declared in a strong voice that the United States will not engage in torture,” Senator Feinstein said. “This is an historic moment, and I strongly urge the President to sign it into law. This legislation will require the CIA to follow the Army Field Manual’s protocols on interrogations. It will help restore America’s credibility abroad by establishing a single, uniform standard for the interrogation of detainees in our custody. No longer will the United States allow actions by its intelligence services which clash so sharply with the very ideals upon which this nation was founded. This legislation ensures that the United States will follow the law – the Geneva Conventions, the Conventions Against Torture, and the Detainee Treatment Act. Only by living up to our principles can we regain credibility in the eyes of the world. The President should sign this bill into law.”

[snip]

The measure was included as an amendment to the Intelligence Authorization bill, which was approved today by the Senate.

The provision reads:

“No individual in the custody or under the effective control of an element of the intelligence community or instrumentality thereof, regardless of nationality or physical location, shall be subject to any treatment or technique of interrogation not authorized by the United States Army Field Manual on Human Intelligence Collector Operations.”

It specifically requires the CIA and all other U.S. intelligence agencies to follow the Army Field Manual’s protocols on interrogations.

The Army Field Manual specifically prohibits eight interrogation techniques:
· Forcing a detainee to be naked, perform sexual acts, pose in sexual manner;
· Placing hoods or sacks over the head of a detainee, duct tape over the eyes;
· Beatings, electric shock, burns or other forms of physical pain;
· Waterboarding;
· Use of military working dogs;
· Introducing hypothermia or heat injury;
· Conducting mock executions; and
· Depriving detainee of necessary food, water, or medical care.

The Army Field Manual allows 19 interrogation approaches, mainly based on psychological techniques, such as making a detainee believe that cooperation will shorten the length of a war and therefore save his country.

Just yesterday at the Berkeley protests regarding U.S. Marine Corps recruiting in Berkeley, I heard Rabbi Michael Lerner — founder of the Tikkun community and cofounder of the Network of Spiritual Progressives — list Feinstein among lawmakers who enable the war by failing to stand up to the Bush Administration, in her case by voting to confirm Michael Mukasey as Attorney General despite his refusal to explicitly characterize waterboarding as torture. (Go see here how some protestors heckled Feinstein for this back in November.)

But it seems Feinstein found a way to act on the issue, after all.

Posted on Wednesday, February 13th, 2008
Under: Dianne Feinstein, Iraq, President Bush, War on Terror | No Comments »