Obama backs Bush: No rights for Bagram prisoners

WASHINGTON: President Barack Obama’s Justice Department sided with the former Bush administration on Friday, saying detainees in Afghanistan have no constitutional rights.

In a two-sentence court filing, department lawyers said the Obama administration agreed that detainees at Bagram Air Base could not use U.S. courts to challenge their detention. The filing shocked human rights attorneys.

“The hope we all had in President Obama to lead us on a different path has not turned out as we’d hoped,” said Tina Monshipour Foster, a human rights attorney representing a detainee at the Bagram Air Base. “We all expected better.”

In midyear last year, the Supreme Court gave al-Qaida and Taliban suspects held at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the right to challenge their detention. With about 600 detainees at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan and thousands more held in Iraq courts are grappling with whether they, too, can sue to be released. Three months after the Supreme Court’s ruling on Guantanamo Bay, four Afghan citizens being detained at Bagram tried to challenge their detentions in U.S. District Court in Washington.

After Obama took office, a federal judge in Washington gave the new administration a month to decide whether it wanted to stand by Bush’s legal argument. Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd says the filing speaks for itself. “They’ve now embraced the Bush policy that you can create prisons outside the law,” said Jonathan Hafetz, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union who has represented several detainees. The Justice Department argues that Bagram is different from Guantanamo Bay because it is in an overseas war zone and the prisoners there are being held as part of a continuing military action. The government argues that releasing enemy combatants into the Afghan war zone, or even diverting U.S. personnel there to consider their legal cases, could threaten security.

source : jang.com.pk


U.S. to ink nuclear cooperation deal with UAE

WASHINGTON: In one of her final diplomatic acts, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is set to sign a nuclear cooperation deal with the United Arab Emirates, a U.S. ally who some in Congress say has done too little to help stem the illicit flow of nuclear supplies to its Gulf neighbour, Iran.

The first such deal with a West Asian nation, it lays the legal groundwork for U.S. commercial nuclear trade with the UAE, which has foresworn nuclear arms as a signatory to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty.

The Bush administration, backed by a leading nuclear-control advocacy group, calls the deal an important expression of U.S. interest in cooperating with countries that want to develop nuclear power for peaceful uses.

source : jang.com.pk

Rice shame-faced by Bush over UN Gaza vote: Olmert

JERUSALEM: US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was left shame-faced after President George W. Bush ordered her to abstain in a key UN vote on the Gaza war, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said on Monday.

“She was left shamed. A resolution that she prepared and arranged, and in the end she did not vote in favour,” Olmert said in a speech in the southern town of Ashkelon.

The UN Security Council passed a resolution last Thursday calling for an immediate ceasefire in the three-week-old conflict in the Gaza Strip and an Israeli withdrawal from Gaza where hundreds have been killed.

Fourteen of the council’s 15 members voted in favour of the resolution, which was later rejected by both Israel and Hamas. The United States, Israel’s main ally, had initially been expected to voted in line with the other 14 but Rice later became the sole abstention.

“In the night between Thursday and Friday, when the secretary of state wanted to lead the vote on a ceasefire at the Security Council, we did not want her to vote in favour,” Olmert said

“I said ‘get me President Bush on the phone’. They said he was in the middle of giving a speech in Philadelphia. I said I didn’t care. ‘I need to talk to him now’. He got off the podium and spoke to me.

“I told him the United States could not vote in favour. It cannot vote in favour of such a resolution. He immediately called the secretary of state and told her not to vote in favour.”

Bush has consistently placed the blame for the conflict on Hamas, telling reporters on Monday that while he wanted to see a “sustainable ceasefire” in Gaza, it was up to Hamas to choose to end its rocket fire on Israel.

source : jang.com.pk

Bush defends legacy in final news conference

WASHINGTON: President George W. Bush mounted a defiant and emotional defense of his “good, strong record” on Monday, rejecting criticism of his “war on terror” tactics and policy in Iraq and on the economy.

In his last formal news conference before ceding power to Barack Obama on January 20, Bush highlighted the “troop surge” in Iraq and his efforts to rescue the US economy as it slumped into the worst recession since the 1930s. He warned that Iran and North Korea, which he famously included in an “axis of evil”, were still dangerous and said Obama still faced the grave threat of an attack on the US homeland.

“There are plenty of critics in this business,” Bush said at a valedictory encounter with reporters in the White House briefing room at the end of a turbulent two-term presidency saying he had a “good, strong record.”

Bush, who presided over two wars which tested US ties with close allies, said he had never spent much time worrying about the “loud voices” of critics, adding that president-elect Obama would also face “harsh” criticism.

“He is going to have to do what he thinks is right, if you don’t I don’t see how you can live with yourself.” He did not dwell on the decision to invade Iraq, but said the surge was an example of how he had responded to events while in office.

“When the history of Iraq is written, historians will analyse the decision on the surge,” he said remembering the rising tide of violence at the time in Iraq.

“I decided to do something about it, and to send 30,000 troops in as opposed to withdrawing. The part of history is certain in the situation did change.”

Bush used the news conference to warn Hamas that it must halt rocket fire on Israel if there is to be a durable ceasefire in Gaza.

“I am for a sustainable ceasefire. And a definition of a sustainable cease-fire is that Hamas stops firing rockets into Israel,” the US leader told.

“I happen to believe the choice is Hamas’s to make.”

He also warned that Obama would have to face up to the fact that America’s terrorist foes would like to attack again, more than seven years after the September 11 attacks in 2001.

“The most urgent threat he will have to deal with, and other presidents after him have got to deal with, is an attack on our homeland,” Bush told.

“I wish I could report that is not the case, but there’s still an enemy out there that would like to inflict damage on Americans. That will be the major threat.”

Bush also noted that historians would examine the fact that the US economy slumped into recession as he leaves office to head back home to Texas. He said he would be willing to ask Congress for a second 350 billion dollar tranche of a financial institutions bailout package if Obama asked for it.

“I told him that if he felt he needed the 350 billion, I would be willing to ask for it. If he feels like it needed to happen on my watch,” Bush said.

Bush dismissed the notion that his presidency had damaged America’s standing in the world.

“I strongly disagree with the assessment of our moral standing has been damaged. People still understand America stands for freedom.” And he said personally, keeping Americans safe had been more important to him that personal popularity.

source : jang.com.pk

Advisers say Obama preparing to close Gitmo

WASHINGTON – President-elect Barack Obama is preparing to issue an executive order his first week in office — and perhaps his first day — to close the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, according to two presidential transition team advisers.

It’s unlikely the detention facility at the Navy base in Cuba will be closed anytime soon. In an interview last weekend, Obama said it would be “a challenge” to close it even within the first 100 days of his administration.

But the order, which one adviser said could be issued as early as Jan. 20, would start the process of deciding what to do with the estimated 250 al-Qaida and Taliban suspects and potential witnesses who are being held there. Most have not been charged with a crime.

The Guantanamo directive would be one of a series of executive orders Obama is planning to issue shortly after he takes office next Tuesday, according to the two advisers. Also expected is an executive order about certain interrogation methods, but details were not immediately available Monday.

The advisers spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the orders that have not yet been finalized.

Obama transition team spokeswoman Brooke Anderson declined comment Monday.

The two advisers said the executive order will direct the new administration to look at each of the cases of the Guantanamo detainees to see whether they can be released or if they should still be held — and if so, where.

Many of the Guantanamo detainees are cleared for release, and others could be sent back to their native countries and held there. But many nations have resisted Bush administration efforts to repatriate the prisoners back home. Both Obama advisers said it’s hoped that nations that had initially resisted taking detainees will be more willing to do so after dealing with the new administration.

What remains the thorniest issue for Obama, the advisers said, is what to do with the rest of the prisoners — including at least 15 so-called “high value detainees” considered among the most dangerous there.

Detainees held on U.S. soil would have certain legal rights that they were not entitled to while imprisoned in Cuba. It’s also not clear if they would face trial through the current military tribunal system, or in federal civilian courts, or though a to-be-developed legal system that would mark a hybrid of the two.

Where to imprison the detainees also is a problem.

Obama promised during the presidential campaign to shut Guantanamo, endearing him to constitutional law experts, civil libertarians and other critics who called the Bush administration detentions a violation of international law.

But he acknowledged in an interview Sunday that the process of closing the prison would be harder and longer than initially thought.

“That’s a challenge,” Obama said on ABC’s “This Week.” “I think it’s going to take some time and our legal teams are working in consultation with our national security apparatus as we speak to help design exactly what we need to do.

“But I don’t want to be ambiguous about this,” he said. “We are going to close Guantanamo and we are going to make sure that the procedures we set up are ones that abide by our constitution.”

President George W. Bush established military tribunals to prosecute detainees at Guantanamo. He also supports closing the prison, but strongly opposes bringing prisoners to the United States.

Lawmakers have moved to block transfer of the detainees to at least two potential and frequently discussed military facilities: an Army prison at Fr. Leavenworth, Kan., and a Navy brig in Charleston, S.C. A Marine Corps prison at Camp Pendleton in Southern California also is under consideration, a Pentagon official said.

Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., said Monday that “it’s hard to show why terror suspects should be housed in Kansas.”

“If the holding facility at Guantanamo Bay is closed, a new facility should be built, designed specifically to handle detainees,” Brownback said in a statement.

A Pentagon team also has been looking at how to shut Guantanamo and move its detainees but spokesman Bryan Whitman did not immediately know Monday whether it was completed.

The executive order marks only a first step at what is likely to be a long legal process. Still, American Civil Liberties Union legislative director Caroline Fredrickson called “extremely meaningful” even if the Guantanamo prison can’t be closed immediately.

“It’s clear that there is a process of time that will be necessary to close it properly, to make sure that human rights and respected and security is protected,” Fredrickson said. “But the fact that it’s set in motion is extremely good news.”

source : news.yahoo.com

Bush, Obama to tag-team lawmakers for bailout cash

WASHINGTON – A request for the remaining $350 billion in financial industry bailout funds could come as early as Monday as the Bush administration and President-elect Barack Obama tag-team uneasy lawmakers for the money.

A vote in Congress is likely soon, possibly this week, several senators predicted after a briefing from Obama economic adviser Larry Summers on the Wall Street bailout, as well as on Obama’s separate plan for roughly $800 billion in spending and tax breaks to spur the economy.

President George W. Bush would request the additional money for the Troubled Asset Relief Program but the incoming administration would sell the plan by laying out a series of changes in how the program is run. More of the money would go directly to relieve homeowners threatened with foreclosure, said Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd, D-Conn. A fuller accounting of the money already spent is needed as well, Dodd said.

Larry Summers made a very strong argument for why it’s important and critical for the overall recovery,” said Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass. “And I think that’s an argument that most senators understand.”

Summers sought to win over Senate Democrats even as the GOP leader of the House, John Boehner of Ohio, warned that any effort to release the additional money would be a tough sell.

A request would force a vote within days on whether to block the funding, but the deck is stacked in favor of Bush and Obama winning release of the remaining $350 billion. Congress can pass a resolution disapproving the request, but the White House could veto the resolution; then, just one-third of either chamber would be needed to uphold the veto and win release of the money. Senate leaders would prefer to win a majority vote, Dodd said.

The idea is to make the money available to the new administration shortly after Obama takes office Jan. 20. The unpopular bailout has featured unconditional infusions of money into financial institutions that have done little to account for it.

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson originally promised the money would be used to buy up toxic mortgage-related securities whose falling values have clogged credit markets and brought many financial institutions to the brink of failure.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said that Bush and Obama officials were near agreement on submitting notice to Congress about using the remaining $350 billion.

“We’re waiting to hear from President Bush and-or President-elect Obama as to what, if anything, they’re going to do,” said Reid, D-Nev., “and that’s occurring as we speak.”

But to prevail, Obama and his team must soothe senators who feel burned by the way the Bush administration has used the TARP.

“The (incoming) administration … is going to fundamentally alter how this is being managed,” Dodd said. “The concept is still very sound and solid and it is needed. But it’s not going to pass around here unless there’s a strong commitment to foreclosure mitigation.”

Work continued through the weekend on Obama’s economic recovery plan, which features aid to cash-strapped state governments, $500 to $1,000 tax cuts for most workers and working couples, a huge spending package blending old-fashioned public works projects with aid to the poor and unemployed, and a variety of other initiatives.

Advocates for using tax cuts to promote alternative energy won concessions and the Obama team promised to make a $3,000 job creation tax credit — which has attracted considerable criticism — more workable.

Meanwhile, transition officials were resisting efforts to use the economic recovery bill to address the alternative minimum tax, which has affected more and more middle-income families.

source : news.yahoo.com

Obama to discuss trade, drug war with Calderon

WASHINGTON: U.S. President-elect Barack Obama will discuss the drug war and trade issues with Mexican President Felipe Calderon on Monday, in Obama’s first meeting with a foreign leader since his November election.

Obama has promised to nurture close ties with Mexico and with Latin American countries that complained of neglect by the United States after President George W. Bush’s foreign policy focused heavily on Iraq and the war on terror. With Mexico’s drug violence exploding and amid fears that Obama might seek changes to the North American Free Trade Agreement, Calderon is eager for a meeting with the incoming U.S. president.

Calderon plans to meet Bush on Tuesday. Beyond following tradition, a senior Obama adviser also said Obama “feels very strongly about the U.S.-Mexico relationship. This is obviously a priority.” Obama, who takes over from Bush on Jan. 20, in a speech last May accused the Bush administration of being “negligent” toward its friends in the Americas and pledged to renew ties with neighbors like Mexico.

source : jang.com.pk

Bush defends interrogation record

President Bush on Sunday defended controversial interrogation measures established by his administration, arguing that techniques like water-boarding helped save American lives.

“The techniques…were necessary and are necessary to be used on a rare occasion to get information to protect the American people,” Bush said during an expansive exit interview that aired on Fox Sunday.

Citing an interrogation with Al Qaeda strategist Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, which included simulated drowning, otherwise known as “waterboarding,” the outgoing president said, “We believe the information we gained helped save lives on American soil.”

The Bush administration has been criticized by civil liberties advocates and others for the use of, and legal justifications underpinning, these harsh interrogation methods. President-elect Barack Obama has already promised to review these policies when he takes the oath of office later this month.

In the interview with Fox News Sunday, Bush joked that his administration has been “slightly criticized” for its policy to push the legal limits of the rights, the treatment and the interrogation of suspected terrorists detained by U.S. military and intelligence officials, or cooperative governments.”

The president defended those measures repeatedly on Sunday, saying, “I firmly reject the word ‘torture.’ Everything this administration does had a legal basis to it; otherwise, we would not have done it.”

In a separate interview on ABC’s “This Week,” Obama said, “From my view, waterboarding is torture.”

Whatever Bush administration policies he overturns, the president-elect wants to protect intelligence officials at the Central Intelligence Agency in order to do their jobs.

“At the CIA, you’ve got extraordinarily talented people who are working hard to keep Americans safe,” Obama said on ABC. “I don’t want them to suddenly feel like they’ve got to spend all their time looking over their shoulders.”

The outgoing president is “confident” that his successor “understands the nature of the world and understands the need to protect America.” But Bush hopes Obama and his intelligence team “take a hard look at the realities of the world and the tools now in place to protect the United States from further attack.”

In the exit interview, Bush specifically mentioned Mohammed, whose interrogation became a flashpoint in the broader legal debate about the rights of suspected terrorists detained abroad.

Mohammed, a top Al Qaeda strategist, was arrested in Pakistan and eventually flown to a secret detention site in Poland, where he reportedly endured a series of harsh interrogation methods, most notably waterboarding. But Bush administration officials have repeatedly argued that that session with Mohammed gave them leads to prevent other attacks.

“Look, I understand why people can get carried away on this issue, but generally they don’t know the facts,” Bush said of his critics on Sunday.

“But I am concerned that America, at some point in time, lets down her guard,” the president said. “If we do that, the country becomes highly vulnerable.”

source : news.yahoo.com

Bush hopes Obama to continue counter-terror policies

WASHINGTON: President George W. Bush said he hopes his successor Barack Obama will carefully weigh keeping his controversial interrogation tactics and other policies that his administration put in place to fight the “war on terror.”

“I would hope that the team that has the honor of serving the country will take a hard look at the realities of the world and the tools now in place to protect the United States from further attack,” Bush said on Fox News Sunday, referring to the next administration.

“I would hope they would take a sober assessment, and I believe they will.” Bush strongly defended his use of presidential authority, rejecting criticism from lawmakers and rights groups that he overstepped the country’s Constitution and permitted the torture of terror suspects after the attacks of September 11, 2001.

“My presidency was defined by the attack on the country and, therefore, I used the powers inherent in the Constitution to defend this country.”

source : jang.com.pk

Obama advisers say plan would create 3.5m new jobs

WASHINGTON – Facing growing criticism of his economic recovery plan, President-elect Barack Obama made public Saturday a detailed analysis by his economic advisers that estimates the $775 billion plan of tax cuts and new spending would create 3.5 million jobs over the next two years.

With an eye on Obama having immediate access to bailout money already approved by Congress when he becomes president, his economic team and the Bush administration have discussed having Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson ask lawmakers for access to the $350 billion remaining in the fund.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said the administration hasn’t decided whether to make such a request, which would be made within the next week. Under the terms of the legislation creating the fund, Congress would have 15 days to reject the request.

The Obama transition team also has asked Neel Kashkari, the head of the rescue program at the Treasury Department, to remain in that position for a short time after the inauguration to help assure a smooth transition, according to an Obama official.

The 14-page analysis of Obama’s $775 billion plan, which was posted on the Internet, concedes that the estimates are “subject to significant margins of error,” both because of the assumptions that went into their economic models and because no one knows the final outlines of the package that will emerge from Congress.

“These numbers are a stark reminder that we simply cannot continue on our current path,” Obama said in his weekly radio and YouTube broadcast address.

“If nothing is done, economists from across the spectrum tell us that this recession could linger for years and the unemployment rate could reach double digits — and they warn that our nation could lose the competitive edge that has served as a foundation for our strength and standing in the world,” he said.

Obama, who previously has provided few details of the massive spending and tax cut plan, released the report one day after the unemployment rate jumped to 7.2 percent, the highest in 16 years. The nation lost 524,000 jobs in December, bringing the total job loss for last year to 2.6 million, the largest since World War II.

If Congress fails to enact a big economic stimulus plan, Obama’s advisers estimated that another 3 million to 4 million jobs will disappear before the recession ends.

As lawmaker criticisms of parts of his plan grew during the week, Obama agreed Friday to modest changes in his proposed tax cuts. Democratic congressional officials said his aides came under pressure in closed-door talks to jettison or significantly alter a proposed tax credit for creating jobs, and to include relief for upper middle-class families hit by the alternative minimum tax.

The new report is likely to intensify debate over the economic recovery plan even more, as economists outside the Obama team begin delving into the analysis. The report, for example, estimates that the unemployment rate at the end of 2010 would be 1.8 percentage points lower if the plan is enacted.

Top Democrats on Capitol Hill say there is far more agreement than disagreement on the major parts of the recovery plan: aid to cash-strapped state governments, $500-$1,000 tax cuts for most workers and working couples, and a huge spending package blending old fashioned public works projects with aid to the poor and unemployed and a variety of other initiatives.

The new report provides detailed breakdowns of how many jobs each part of the plan would create, even going so far as to provide estimates that more than 40 percent of the new jobs would go to women and that 90 percent of them would be created in the private sector. It also provides estimates of how many new jobs would be created in each different sector of the economy.

“It’s not too late to change course — but only if we take immediate and dramatic action,” Obama said. “Our first job is to put people back to work and get our economy working again.”

source : news.yahoo.com