The Bush administration yesterday eased post-9/11 security restrictions “that have been used to prevent thousands of asylum-seekers and refugees from gaining entry to the United States.”
HEALTH CARE: “Wide split in access to health care,” with poor, minority, and uninsured patients generally receiving the poorest care.
TEXAS: “Two conservative lawmakers want a new law triggering an abortion ban in Texas should the U.S. Supreme Court ever reverse its landmark 1973 decision, Roe v. Wade, legalizing abortion.”
ETHICS: Governors nationwide making ethics reform a priority.
THINK PROGRESS: Chris Matthews battles White House Press Secretary Tony Snow over Iran attack, says he fears “extra-constitutional war.”
RAW STORY: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will filibuster any resolution against Iraq escalation.
GAWKER: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice caught on tape: “My Fox guys, I love every single one of them.”
MEDIA MATTERS: Bill Kristol: I wish Bush had said “a little more about winning” and “a little less about helping the Iraqis.”
“The truth of the matter is, if people end poverty, many of them would marry and work 40 hours a week, they would be out of poverty.”
— Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA), 1/11/07, on why raising the minimum wage would do nothing for poor Americans
“Keeping us up here eats away at families. Marriages suffer. The Democrats could care less about families — that’s what this says.”
— Kingston, 12/7/06, defending the 109th Congress’ three-day work week
Politics with an Attitude: Everyone from Barack Obama to Stephen Colbert talks to Campus Progress. Right-wingers seem scared of us. Find out why here.
Five Years Too Long
Yesterday, protesters “from Kuwait to the Cuban countryside” marked the fifth anniversary of the arrival of the first detainees to the U.S. prison facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The track record of the Guantanamo detention program “can be summed up quite simply: five years, zero convictions.” More than 770 captives have been held there and just 10 have been charged with crimes. “Instead of advancing American security,” Human Rights First said on the anniversary, “the abuses of Guantanamo have stained America’s reputation for justice, fairness, and transparency.” “Like my predecessor, I believe that prison at Guantanamo should be closed,” new United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said. “I also remember that President Bush himself has said he would like to close it.” Bush did say he would “like to close Guantanamo,” yet the admiral in charge of the facilities operations said yesterday, “I think that we’ll have a detention facility and a detention mission for the foreseeable future.” As Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch said, “It’s time to close Guantanamo.”
PREVIOUS GUANTANAMO HEARINGS WERE ‘SHAMS’: New hearings conducted under the controversial Military Commissions Act that was passed last year have already begun. The Pentagon is constructing “a mini-city on an abandoned airfield to stage the trials — two new courtrooms with space for two more, dining, housing and work space for up to 1,200 military and civilians working at the trials, and media, conference and classified information centers.” (The site will cost $125 million.) And “armed with a new Military Commissions law, the Pentagon is preparing to hold multiple trials in multiple venues — even as Justice and Defense Department lawyers are still writing new guidelines for new trials.” An internal worksheet “says the Pentagon anticipates trying ’75 to 80′ of the 430 or so detainees under an ‘increased operations tempo.’” Sens. Carl Levin (D-MI) and John Warner (R-VA) have filed a letter protesting the move. There is little evidence the trials held in the new facility will be any better than previous hearings, in which the government “called no witnesses, withheld evidence from detainees and usually reached a decision within a day as it determined that hundreds of men…were ‘enemy combatants.'” A report by Seton Hall University law professor Mark Denbeaux found the “government did not produce any witnesses in any hearing” and in “91 percent of the hearings, the detainees did not present any evidence.” “No American would ever consider this to be hearing,” Denbeaux said. “This is a show trial.” In addition, lawyers who have properly represented their detainee clients have been smeared or otherwise punished for doing so.
WHO ARE THE GITMO DETAINEES?: “It’s important for Americans and others across the world to understand the kind of people held at Guantanamo,” Bush said a few months ago. “These aren’t common criminals, or bystanders accidentally swept up on the battlefield – we have in place a rigorous process to ensure those held at Guantanamo Bay belong at Guantanamo.” Facts tell a different story. A National Journal investigation found that “seventy-five of the 132 men” examined are “not accused of taking part in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners.” Just 57 of the 132 men, or 43 percent, are “accused of being on a battlefield in post-9/11 Afghanistan. The government’s documents tie only eight of the 132 men directly to plans for terrorist attacks outside of Afghanistan.” Stuart Taylor of the National Journal found “fewer than 20 percent of the Guantanamo detainees, the best available evidence suggests, have ever been Qaeda members. … Many scores, and perhaps hundreds, of the detainees were not even Taliban foot soldiers, let alone Qaeda terrorists. They were innocent, wrongly seized noncombatants with no intention of joining the Qaeda campaign to murder Americans.” The AP found that once Guantanamo detainees were returned to their home country, four-fifths of them “were either freed without being charged or were cleared of charges related to their detention.” “Only a tiny fraction of transferred detainees have been put on trial,” and all 29 detainees who were repatriated to Britain, Spain, Germany, Russia, Australia, Turkey, Denmark, Bahrain and the Maldives were freed, “some within hours after being sent home for ‘continued detention.'”
MORE PAST ABUSES EMERGE: Accusations of past Guantanamo detainee abuse continue to trickle out. The Washington Post recently reported that in 2002, “FBI agents witnessed possible mistreatment of the Koran at the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, including at least one instance in which an interrogator squatted over Islam’s holy text in an apparent attempt to offend a captive.” In other incidents, “interrogators wrapped a bearded prisoner’s head in duct tape ‘because he would not stop quoting the Koran'”; another interrogator ‘dressed as a Catholic priest before ‘baptizing'” a detainee. The AP reported, “Guards at Guantanamo Bay bragged about beating detainees and described it as common practice, a Marine sergeant said in a sworn statement.” The Marine described practices such as “hitting the detainee’s head into the cell door” and “punching [them] in the face.” Now, prisoners “are being driven insane by a tightening of conditions and the situation of their indefinite detention without trial, according to lawyers and rights activists involved with the U.S. camp.”
A TARNISHED INTERNATIONAL REPUTATION: Leaders from around the world are calling for the camp’s closure. “I think it would be better if [Guantanamo] was closed for all the reasons that we have given over a long period of time,” UK Prime Minister Tony Blair has said. The British Foreign Minister Margaret Beckett added, “The continuing detention without fair trial of prisoners is unacceptable in terms of human rights, but it is also ineffective in terms of counter-terrorism.” “If you just look at how we are perceived in the world and the kind of criticism we have taken over Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and renditions, whether we believe it or not, people are now starting to question whether we’re following our own high standards,” former Secretary of State Colin Powell said in September. “We’ve lost a generation of goodwill in the Muslim world,” the former director of the CIA’s Political Islam Strategic Analysis Program said. “Because of Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and other abuses we have lost on the concepts of justice, fairness and the rule of law, and that’s the heart of the American idea.” The Center for American Progress has a plan to shift detainees at Guantanamo to the detention facility at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas and prosecute them in general courts-martial under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
RESTORING HABEAS CORPUS: The Military Commissions Act passed last year included “language stripping detainees of habeas corpus rights,” which has been a foundation of the Western system of justice for centuries. Without these rights, detainees in places like Guantanamo have no ability to question their detention. Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) introduced legislation in November that would amend the existing law governing military tribunals of detainees. Among other reforms, the bill sought “to give habeas corpus protections to military detainees” and narrow the definition of “unlawful enemy combatant” to individuals who directly participate in hostilities against the United States. Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA), who voted for the Military Commissions Act last year, acknowledges the courts will declare the portion dealing with habeas corpus rights “unconstitutional.” (Take action to help restore this fundamental right here.)
Under the Radar
ADMINISTRATION – SOLDIERS BARRED FROM TALKING TO MEDIA AFTER BUSH’S SPEECH: A day after President Bush announced an escalation plan to send 21,500 more troops to Iraq, he spoke to 300 soldiers in a “teary-eyed” address at Fort Benning, GA. The Washington Post notes that the White House chose Ft. Benning hoping for “an unreservedly enthusiastic reception” to the President’s speech, since military bases have usually been “reliable backdrop[s] for the White House.” But instead, soldiers gave him only a “quiet response.” The Los Angeles Times added that he “received a less enthusiastic reception than has been the case on his past visits to military bases to promote his Iraq policy” and the New York Times observed that the soldiers “clapped politely but showed little of the wild enthusiasm that they ordinarily shower on the commander in chief.” Additionally, reporters were prohibited from talking to the soldiers — many of whom will be deploying to Iraq soon — after the speech, to “ensure that there would be no discordant notes.” Wall Street Journal reporter Yochi Dreazen wrote that “reporters were shooed out of the dining hall by White House aides and public-affairs personnel from the military base, who said that soldiers were now off-limits to the media.” Only hours later, after “an angry confrontation with both White House and Fort Benning media-affairs personnel,” did the base offer to make a “small number” of selected soldiers available. Reporters, however, had to skip the opportunity because the press plane back to Washington was leaving in less than an hour.
IRAQ — BUSH ESCALATES WAR BY EXTENDING DEPLOYMENTS, REMOVING TROOPS FROM AFGHANISTAN: New reports show how President Bush plans to escalate the war in Iraq despite the U.S. military being overstretched around the globe. The Associated Press reports that the Pentagon “has abandoned its limit on the time a citizen-soldier can be required to serve on active duty, …a major change that reflects an Army stretched thin by longer-than-expected combat in Iraq.” Until now, the Guard and Reserve policy “was that members’ cumulative time on active duty for the Iraq or Afghan wars could not exceed 24 months. That cumulative limit is now lifted; the remaining limit is on the length of any single mobilization, which may not exceed 24 consecutive months.” Additionally, the Boston Globe reports that a U.S. Army battalion “fighting in a critical area of eastern Afghanistan is due to be withdrawn within weeks to deploy to Iraq.” The move comes despite “an urgent appeal” from U.S. commanders in Afghanistan for more forces. “Army Brigadier General Anthony J. Tata and other US commanders say [the diversion of forces from Afghanistan to Iraq] will happen as the Taliban is expected to unleash a campaign to cut the vital road between Kabul and Kandahar.”
ECONOMY — CONGRESSMAN WHO COMPLAINED ABOUT FIVE-DAY WORK WEEK TELLS POOR AMERICANS TO WORK LONGER HOURS: Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA) made headlines last month after complaining about Congress’ new schedule that requires members to work five days a week: “Keeping us up here eats away at families,” Kingston told the Washington Post. “Marriages suffer. The Democrats could care less about families — that’s what this says.” Yet on Wednesday, Kingston offered this advice to Americans living in poverty: work longer hours. During House debate over the minimum wage, Kingston said raising the minimum wage would do nothing for poor Americans. Instead, if people marry and work longer hours, “they would be out of poverty,” he said. “It’s an economic fact.” (Watch the video.) Kingston is wrong. The annual salary for full-time workers earning the federal minimum wage “still leaves a family of three about $6,000 short of the poverty threshold.”
President Bush’s address at Fort Benning, GA, yesterday, “received a less enthusiastic reception than has been the case on his past visits to military bases to promote his Iraq policy.” The 300 soldiers who joined Bush were initially prohibited from talking with reporters afterward, to “ensure that there would be no discordant notes.”
U.S. troops “launched two raids on Iranian targets in Iraq yesterday,” detaining five Iranians and confiscating “vast amounts of documents and computer data.” U.S. officials said the raids “are part of a new U.S. intelligence and military operation launched last month against Iran.”
Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) “has quietly backed away from his pre-election demands that the White House turn over potentially embarrassing documents relating to its handling of the Hurricane Katrina disaster in New Orleans.”
Al-Qaeda is “strengthening itself across the Middle East, North Africa and Europe” and cells are “rebuilding their strength” in Pakistan, according to outgoing National Intelligence Director John Negroponte.
75: Percentage of Americans who think President Bush should have to get congressional approval before he escalates the war in Iraq, according to a new CBS News poll.
The House of Representatives is expected to pass a bill today repealing “a Republican-approved ban on letting the government negotiate with manufacturers for lower prices” for prescription drugs for 23 million seniors. President Bush announced he will veto the legislation.
“Iraq is the only major U.S. conflict, except for the 1846-48 Mexican-American War, in which citizens haven’t been asked to make a special financial sacrifice,” Bloomberg reports. “President George W. Bush opposes tax increases, even as the costs escalate far beyond predictions and he calls for more troops.”
Bloggers “will be allowed to cover the criminal trial of former White House staffer Lewis ‘Scooter’ Libby alongside reporters from traditional media outlets.” The arrangement is the “first for a high-profile court case.” Sheldon Snook of the U.S. District Court in Washington noted, “Bloggers are part of the media landscape and if we were to ignore bloggers, we would be ignoring reality.”
And finally: “The White House labeled as ‘ridiculous’” a story that Rep. Steve Kagen (D-WI) told constituents about his interaction with Bush officials a week after the November election. Kagen, who self-funded much of his campaign, claims he trapped Karl Rove in a White House bathroom and said, “You recognize me? My name’s Dr. Multimillionaire and I kicked your ass.”