When House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) decided to invite Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address a Joint Session of Congress on Iran in early March, he probably thought it'd go a lot like it did in 2011. That year, Netanyahu received 29 standing ovations – more than President Obama got during his State of the Union that year.
But Obama turned the tables on Netanyahu, refusing to meet with him just two weeks before the Israeli elections. He also announced that his vice president, Joe Biden, would not attend the address.
Shortly after Obama's objection, Democratic Members of Congress started to announce that they wouldn't attend the speech, either. The first was Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), who wrote in a January 29th Huffington Post column that he will “not participate in a calculated slight from the speaker and the House leadership to attack necessary diplomacy.”
AlterNet has compiled a list of the 21 House Democrats and three Senate Democratic Caucus members who are refusing to attend the speech so far:
Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ)
Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC)
Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA)
Rep. John Lewis (D-GA)
Rep. John Yarmuth (D-KY)
Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME)
Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN)
Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-TX)
Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX)
SENATE DEMOCRATIC CAUCUS
Sen. Pat Leahy (D-VT)
The U.S. news media has failed the American people often in recent years by not challenging U.S. government falsehoods,
as with Iraq’s WMD. But the most dangerous violation of journalistic principles has occurred in the Ukraine crisis,
which has the potential of a nuclear war.
“...emblematic of Democratic Party Third Way politics that rose in the 1990s. In this brand of politics, you don’t stake out populist positions on issues then use them to motivate voters of the traditional progressive coalition, who are large in number but tend to have lower voter turnout rates (young people, racial minorities, the working class). Instead, you strive to show that you can work across the aisle and win a small segment of upper-middle class swing voters who tend to be white, live in the suburbs and sometimes vote for non-Republicans. In doing so, not only do you have to moderate your rhetoric — focusing not on class issues or poverty but rather the idea that Republicans are extreme and obstinate and that Democrats can be serious managers — but you also open yourself up to a class of very wealthy donors who are wary of fundraising for progressive Democrats.
More specifically, “Take, for example, Nunn’s jobs plan. The majority of the plan has little in the way of specifics, choosing instead to offer various pro-corporate pablum such as “providing certainty to businesses that are hamstrung by political leaders,” “reducing the regulatory burden on self-employed workers and all businesses that are often overwhelmed by complicated regulations” and enacting “comprehensive tax reform that lowers the corporate tax rate.” One area where she does get specific is calling for the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, which is estimated to create 35 permanent jobs for all of America. What’s more likely than Nunn believing that 35 jobs for people who may not even be Georgians is good policy is that her campaign has decided that it’s yet another way to brandish her bipartisan credentials — and rake in fundraising. TransCanada, the firm that is seeking to build the pipeline, has on its payroll McKenna, Long & Aldridge. The legal and lobbying firm is Nunn’s sixth-largest pool of donors.”
“Obama’s opposition research team got off to a slower start than the RNC’s; it was short on cash and understaffed and most of its early efforts were aimed at assessing Obama’s own vulnerabilities. But it eventually reached similar conclusions about Clinton, though tailored for liberal, overwhelmingly anti-war voters in the Democratic primaries. Obama’s opposition research book focused—often in microscopic detail—on Clinton’s Iraq reversal.
(As if to prove that point, Clinton’s own war room pushed out, off the record, a steady stream of clips and rumors about Obama’s less savory associations, from indicted Chicago developer Tony Rezko, to the onetime radical Bill Ayers, to the firebrand Rev. Jeremiah Wright of “goddamn America” infamy.)
Obama’s aides peddled their share of oppo, too, but succeeded where the others failed because they were able to focus the vague misgivings about Clinton on a single point—Iraq, which was the dominant issue for primary voters—enabling doubts about Clinton’s judgment, trustworthiness and character to flow from her initial support for the war and later reversals. For Obama, who cultivated an above-politics image, it made for a superficially less negative-feeling campaign. He could attack Clinton on the issues while keeping his hands clean.
“You couldn’t trust her on Iraq, and that was really the entire ballgame, so we devoted all of our energies to tracking down every scrap of video and audio of her talking about Iraq,” recalled a member of the Obama ’08 brain trust who interacted with the research team. “Whitewater and all that crap didn’t matter; it was old news. We didn’t even bother to send anybody down to Arkansas until much later. It was all about Iraq. And we focused-grouped the hell out of that, and that’s what led in part to the ‘change’ meme, which was really kind of an anti-Hillary theme when you think about it.”
It all coalesced into a single devastating paragraph Obama delivered with brutal force at the Jefferson-Jackson Dinner in Des Moines, Iowa, in November 2007. Hillary Clinton, he told the party activists that night, was too cautious, too calculating, too caught up in the politics of the past. Even today, two full campaign cycles later, that broadside is a kind of Rosetta Stone for anyone crafting an anti-Clinton message. “The same old Washington textbook campaigns just won’t do,” Obama said, as Clinton staffers stood in the wings, stunned. “That’s why not answering questions ’cause we are afraid our answers won’t be popular just won’t do. That’s why telling the American people what we think they want to hear instead of telling the American people what they need to hear just won’t do. Triangulating and poll-driven positions because we’re worried about what Mitt or Rudy might say about us just won’t do. If we are really serious about winning this election, Democrats, we can’t live in fear of losing it.”
WASHINGTON — A dozen Nobel Peace Prize laureates are urging President Obama to make “full disclosure to the American people of the extent and use of torture” by the United States, including the release of a long-delayed Senate report about the C.I.A.’s torture of terrorism suspects after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
The laureates told Mr. Obama, who was awarded the Peace Prize himself in 2009, that the report’s prospective release has brought the United States to a “crossroads,” and that he must do more to bring closure to an era when the United States set an example that “will be used to justify the use of torture by regimes around the world.
“It remains to be seen whether the United States will turn a blind eye to the effects of its actions on its own people and on the rest of the world, or if it will take the necessary steps to recover the standards on which the country was founded, and to once again adhere to the international conventions it helped to bring into being,” they wrote.
The joint letter was organized by two of the laureates, Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa and former President José Ramos-Horta of East Timor, and is part of a broader online petition campaign at TheCommunity.com, whose chairman is Mr. Ramos-Horta. An advance copy was provided to The New York Times.
The appeal comes as the White House continues to wrestle with how much of a 480-page executive summary of the report should be declassified, an issue that pits the C.I.A. against the mostly Democratic members of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
The primary remaining obstacle in the negotiations is the Central Intelligence Agency’s insistence that pseudonyms of intelligence officers mentioned in the report be blacked out.“The question is whether the key facts are redacted,” Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon and a member of the committee, said last week. “I’m not giving in on this question.”
Dean Boyd, a C.I.A. spokesman, said that the agency believes that showing that particular officers were associated with multiple events, along with dates and locations, could help identify them and put them in danger.
Bernadette Meehan, a National Security Council spokeswoman, said Mr. Obama agrees that the C.I.A.’s rendition, detention and interrogation program of the George W. Bush era “was inconsistent with our values as a nation, and that public scrutiny, debate and transparency will help to inform the public’s understanding of the program to ensure that such a program will never be used again.”
The Nobel laureates’ letter also urges Mr. Obama to adopt “firm policy and oversight restating and upholding international law related to conflict, including the Geneva Convention and the U.N. Convention Against Torture.” The administration is debating whether to embrace or reject a Bush-era interpretation that a provision in the torture treaty banning cruel treatment does not apply abroad.
After the Bush administration revealed its narrow interpretation of the treaty in 2005, Congress enacted a statute banning cruel treatment anywhere. Mr. Obama ordered strict compliance with the statute when he took office in 2009.
But the Obama administration has never taken an official stance on the whether the treaty separately imposes legal obligations abroad. It must do so in a presentation before the U.N. next month. State Department officials are pushing to abandon the Bush-era interpretation, but military and intelligence lawyers are objecting, arguing that doing so could have operational impacts and that more study is required.
The officials opposed to accepting the cruelty provision as applying abroad insist they do not want to resume abusive interrogations, which are barred by the 2005 statute anyway, but worry that accepting the treaty provision as applying abroad could have unintended consequences on other operations, such as by suggesting that other treaties with similar jurisdictional language also apply everywhere.
In an interview, Mr. Tutu said the letter was inspired by news of the administration debate over the torture treaty, saying it was “disturbing” that the Obama team was even thinking of embracing the “foul thinking” that “ghastly things” that are crimes on domestic soil are permitted abroad. That dovetailed with other matters, like the continued use of indefinite detention without trial at the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, as contributing to “a grave sense of sadness and of being let down” by Mr. Obama, he said.
Other laureates who signed the letter include Mohammad ElBaradei of Egypt, who was awarded the Peace Prize in 2005; Leymah Gbowee, Liberia, 2011; Muhammad Yunus, Bangladesh, 2006; Óscar Arias Sanchez, Costa Rica, 1987; John Hume, Northern Ireland, 1998; F. W. de Klerk, South Africa, 1993; Jody Williams, United States, 1997; Bishop Carlos X. Belo, East Timor, 1996; Betty Williams, Northern Ireland, 1976; and Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, Argentina, 1980.
WASHINGTON -- White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough is personally negotiating how much of the Senate's so-called torture report, a probe into the CIA’s post-9/11 detention and interrogation program, will be redacted, according to sources involved in the negotiations.
McDonough's leading role in the redaction discussion has raised eyebrows in the Senate, given that his position comes with a broad array of urgent responsibilities and that the Obama White House has a team of qualified national security advisers.
Despite the White House’s public reluctance to get involved in the widely aired spat between the CIA and the Senate Intelligence Committee over the report, McDonough’s role suggests that the Oval Office sees the feud as a high-stakes one.
The White House confirmed McDonough’s involvement in the negotiations, but would not discuss the extent of it.
“We’re not going to get into the details of our discussions, but White House officials, including Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, are in regular touch with [Intelligence Committee] leadership on a variety of matters, including to discuss the committee’s review of the Bush Administration’s rendition, detention and interrogation program, in an effort to help ensure the executive summary is completed and declassified consistent with national security interests,” said National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan.
Sources involved in the discussions also said McDonough's involvement has gone beyond negotiating redactions. During the last weeks of July, the intelligence community was bracing itself for the release of the Senate investigation's executive summary, which is expected to be damning in its findings against the CIA. The report was due to be returned to the Senate panel after undergoing an extensive declassification review, and its public release seemed imminent.
Over the span of just a few days, McDonough, who makes infrequent trips down Pennsylvania Avenue, was a regular fixture, according to people with knowledge of his visits. Sources said he pleaded with key Senate figures not to go after CIA Director John Brennan in the expected furor that would follow the release of the report’s 500-page executive summary.
The White House said the purpose of the trips was to negotiate the terms of the report's release, not specifically to defend the CIA head. "The Chief of Staff's agenda was about how we could work together to meet the President’s desire to ensure the executive summary is completed and declassified consistent with national security interests, so that we can shed light on this program and make sure it is never repeated. These were not discussions about Director Brennan," Meehan said.
McDonough's personal involvement in the decisions around which parts of the torture report to redact illustrates how in the national security realm, differences between the two parties often dissolve when one takes control of the executive branch. The report itself, meanwhile, sidesteps the role of Bush administration officials in ordering or approving torture, focusing instead only on the agency, McClatchy Newspapers has reported.
The relationship between the CIA, its chief congressional overseers and the White House -- underscored by the widely known coziness between McDonough and Brennan -- has been tense over plans to release the report's executive summary. Lawmakers voted to declassify the document over six months ago, but its public reveal has been stalled indefinitely due to negotiations over what the White House and the agency wish to keep secret.
The White House’s delicate position as the middleman has been front and center as disputes over the report have played out. The five-year, $40 million study has been wrought with tension, culminating in March when the closed-door feud over the report's construction spilled into the public forum, with Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) accusing the CIA of improperly monitoring and accessing computers her staff had used to compile the report. The CIA, meanwhile, accused panel staff of slipping highly classified information out of a secure agency facility.
The alleged snooping, also first revealed by McClatchy Newspapers, took place in the context of an interbranch bureaucratic battle between the committee, charged with overseeing the agency, and the CIA, which bristles at oversight. One intelligence community source said the Senate committee "went about the report like an inquisition," which led to "an enemy vs. enemy adversarial relationship."
Both charges were referred to the Justice Department, which declined to open any investigations. Brennan, however, was forced to apologize to the committee after a CIA inspector general’s report revealed that agency personnel did improperly access a computer drive that was designated for Feinstein's staff's use.
Several lawmakers saw the apology as a vindication for Feinstein, whose allegations Brennan had previously denied, and key lawmakers rallied around calls for Brennan's ouster amid the controversy. Both Feinstein's office and the CIA declined to comment for this story.
Although it had proved reluctant to wade into the dispute, the White House rose to Brennan's defense and firmly silenced calls for his resignation. Despite what sources described as sensational conclusions about the CIA’s apparent access to Senate computers, the Oval Office expressed “full confidence” in its chief spy leader, who previously served as an Obama White House counterterrorism advisor.
According to sources familiar with the CIA inspector general report that details the alleged abuses by agency officials, CIA agents impersonated Senate staffers in order to gain access to Senate communications and drafts of the Intelligence Committee investigation. These sources requested anonymity because the details of the agency's inspector general report remain classified.
"If people knew the details of what they actually did to hack into the Senate computers to go search for the torture document, jaws would drop. It's straight out of a movie," said one Senate source familiar with the document.
The CIA has contended that the improper access was the result of a security breach investigation, after Feinstein's staff came to possess an internal CIA document commonly called "The Panetta Review" that the agency says the panel was not entitled to have.
A person familiar with the events surrounding the dispute between the CIA and Intelligence Committee said the suggestion that the agency posed as staff to access drafts of the study is untrue.
“CIA simply attempted to determine if its side of the firewall could have been accessed through the Google search tool. CIA did not use administrator access to examine [Intelligence Committee] work product,” the source said.
It is still not clear when the anxiously awaited report's executive summary will be released. Robert Grenier, a veteran CIA officer who was the top counterterrorism official from 2004 to 2006, told HuffPost that the Intelligence Community suspects Democrats have been spooked by the advance of the Islamic State, also called ISIS, and are holding the report for political reasons.
"At a time when ISIS is on the march and beheading American journalists, some Democrats apparently think now is not the time to be advocating going soft on terrorists. The speculation I hear is that the Senate Democrats will wait until the elections are safely over," Grenier said.
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Last week the U.S. government submitted to the District Court in Washington, D.C., the most recent standard operating procedures (SOPs) for force-feeding in the Guantánamo Bay detention facility. What remains of the documents, after redactions, is a shameful exercise in doublespeak that attempts to disguise what is really happening in the prison.
The SOPs were submitted in a case brought by Abu Wa’el Dhiab, an inmate represented by Reprieve, the international human rights organization that I head. Dhiab is a 43-year-old Syrian and father of four who has been held without trial or charge in Guantánamo for 12 years. The U.S. government told Dhiab four years ago that he was cleared for release, and yet to this day he remains behind bars. In a last resort to get back to his wife and children, he, along with many others, embarked on a hunger strike. His case concerns the manner in which that entirely legitimate hunger strike has been brutally opposed by the prison authorities.
The SOPs continually offer feigned concern for the prisoners. The “sole focus” of the doctors inserting the nasal tubes “is the health and welfare of their patients”; the force-feeding is carried out according to procedures performed “in nursing homes worldwide”; assessments are to be made during the feeding to check “the emotional well-being of the detainee.” One typical instruction says that after restraining and force-feeding a prisoner, “a debriefing session is important.” The instruction goes on to say — in a sickening parody of customer service — that medical staffers should note “any questions and feedback provided by the detainee.”
Read more closely, though, and the cracks soon begin to open. The public learns what is involved when a man is dragged from his cell, strapped to a chair with five belts and held down as a tube — perhaps dangerously lubricated with olive oil — is forced through his nose, down his throat and esophagus and into his stomach so that he can be pumped full of liquid.
Euphemisms are used throughout, but in trying to hide the truth, they become only more bizarre and frightening. Guards are told to begin the restraint process with “verbal redirection and reassurance” before moving to “limit setting,” “reality orientation” and “verbal behavior contacts.” If all that fails, though, the final step is far clearer: “show of force.”
A section of the SOPs deals with the actual feeding. No checking on emotional well-being here. Guards are told how to position themselves behind the prisoners to hold their heads in order to “reduce head and jaw motion during insertion of the EF [enteral feeding] tube”; the tube’s insertion is tested by “inflating the stomach, inserting water and checking for the return of stomach fluid”; then the feeding tube is “taped to the detainee’s nose and forehead” and the “feed flow” is started.
Obliquely, through the checklists and medical forms, the reader can visualize the grotesque scenes that take place daily in the feeding rooms. What do you do when a convulsing prisoner bites a feeding tube? How do you slow the fluid pumping rate if the prisoner’s stomach is becoming distended? Who, precisely, in the crowd surrounding the restraint chair, is allowed to pull out the tube in emergencies?
There is no genuine care for welfare in these SOPs. Guards are even given responses to parrot in case a prisoner ever asks for help: “Detainee demands to speak to the doctor: Respond: ‘I will write a note in your chart for the doctor.’”
Perhaps the most vivid image emerges from a checklist titled “Use of restraints and seclusion.” On it, the guard is required to observe the prisoner and take notes using the appropriate codes to describe his behavior. The options provided place us before the cell: “Beating or kicking door,” “yelling or screaming,” “mumbling incoherently,” “crying,” “harmful to self,” “requesting release.”
Every day, American soldiers are being made to stand in front of metal cells, peer through peepholes and tick these boxes. Although the guidelines may appear at first to be complex and professional, these SOPs are a shameful cover-up, nothing more. The American people must see them for what they are and reject them without reserve.
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