Archive for June, 2014

Abu Khatallah Appears in Washington Federal Court Over Benghazi Charges Amid Criticism

Compound BenghaziWhile the suspected mastermind of the 2012 attack on a U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi is now on U.S. soil, the political fallout related to his prosecution may just be beginning.

The criminal complaint against Ahmed Abu Khatallah was filed nearly a year ago, and he was nabbed two weeks ago in eastern Libya. He appeared in a federal court in Washington on Saturday much to some Republicans’ chagrin.

“I have serious concerns that conducting a rushed interrogation onboard a ship and then turning Abu Khatallah over to our civilian courts risks losing critical intelligence that could lead us to other terrorists or prevent future attacks,” Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-New Hampshire, said in a statement Saturday. “I’ve asked the Defense and Justice Departments for an update on his status-including whether he has been told he has the right to remain silent.”

Shortly after the White House announced Abu Khatallah’s capture on July 17, Republicans like Florida Sen. Marco Rubio began to criticize President Barack Obama’s administration because they believed the alleged terrorist should go through a military tribunal at Guantanamo Bay instead of being tried in a federal court.

“If they bring him to the United States, they’re going to Mirandize this guy and it would be a mistake for the ages to read this guy his Miranda rights,” said South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham.

But the White House has defended its decision, saying that they have successfully tried a number of terrorists domestically and that no new captives have gone to the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in years.

“We have not added a single person to the GITMO population since President Obama took office, and we have had substantial success delivering swift justice to terrorists through our federal court system,” National Security Council Spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said in a statement the day the capture was announced.

After arriving in Washington early Saturday, Abu Khatallah appeared later in the day in federal court in Washington and pleaded not guilty to murder charges related to the 2012 Benghazi attack. He is being prosecuted by a U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia and, if convicted, could face the death penalty.

Some Republicans lawmakers argue that Abu Khatallah is not being charged in a high enough court. Others say that the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington does not have as much experience handling terrorist cases as does the New York and Northern Virginia prosecution staff.

Earlier this month, Rep. Peter King of New York expressed other chiefly, that U.S. authorities aren’t doing enough to maximize the amount of information they get from Abu Khatallah.

“Before he’s turned over to civilian authorities, the FBI and all of our intelligence agencies, CIA and others, should interrogate him as long as they have to,” said King, a member of the Homeland Security Committee and Chairman of the Sub-Committee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence. “I’m not that concerned about a criminal conviction. We’re going to get that ultimately. It’s important we get as much intelligence out of him as possible. Both what happened, who planned it, how it happened.”

The timing of Abu Khatallah’s capture also folds into two ongoing political narratives that could affect the 2014 midterm and 2016 presidential elections.

First, the newly captured Abu Khatallah will now almost certainly be a topic of discussion amongst the recently created House select committee investigating the Benghazi attack. The committee, which is supposed to have special hearings on the controversy, may convene within the next month before Congress goes into recess for the month of August. But they also could hold hearings in September or October, only weeks before the midterm elections.

For Democrats in tight races, Abu Khatallah’s capture only further sheds light on a controversy that has damaged the Obama administration’s reputation for handling national security matters.

Second, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is toying with the idea of running for president in 2016, could once again face tough questions about her role in handling U.S. security in the region when the attacks occurred.

At a town hall meeting the day that Abu Khatallah’s capture was announced, Clinton said she was “very pleased” with the arrest and described Abu Khatallah as “the leader of the attack against Benghazi.”

“It took, as you know, 10 years to bring Osama bin Laden to justice,” Clinton said. “It’s taken more than two years to bring this perpetrator to justice. But Ahmed Abu Khatallah has been very much on the minds of our law enforcement, our military and intelligence professionals since that night in September of 2012.”

This is the first time a terrorist suspect is being tried in Washington, which some critics argue may bring up some security and logistical concerns given that the court is just a few blocks from the U.S. Capitol building.

There is no jail facility connected to the district court, which will force military personal and vehicles to escort Abu Khatallah into court via already heavily trafficked Washington streets. Suspects like these are traditionally tried in New York and Northern Virginia, where jail facilities are connected to the court buildings.




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SCOTUS Reminds Obama that Constitution Applies to Him Too!

Supreme CourtSometimes, Barack Obama acts like the Constitution does not apply to him and the Congress is an imaginary being. Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court brought the president back to Earth when it reminded him that that the Constitution’s Appointments Clause and the U.S. Senate are very much part of reality. They did this by saying that the U.S. Court of Appeals got it right when it voided three of Obama’s recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board.

The High Court upheld the D.C. Circuit’s 2013 ruling that the president could not end-run the confirmation process merely because at the beginning of 2012 the U.S. Senate was meeting every three business days in, what lawyers call, pro formasession. Oh, and during that pro forma session the Senate was also busy passing the payroll tax extension. Some pro forma session.

In its decision, the Court made clear that our president answers to Article II, Section 2, Clause 2 of the Constitution which, in the words of the Court, “says that the President ‘shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States.’”

For good measure, Justice Stephen Breyer, a Clinton Appointee, gave the Founding Fathers their due, “The Federalist Papers make clear that the Founders intended this method of appointment, requiring Senate approval, to be the norm.”

Now, the language of the Constitution is pretty straight forward. If you are the president and you want to appoint someone to a position of serious responsibility that nominee must be vetted and approved by the Senate.

Yes, the Senate can be cantankerous, unruly and even stupid. But, these are not constitutionally recognized rationales for the president to thumb his nose at the Appointments Clause.

The president thought that he had a better idea, and decided to take his cue from that paragon of virtue Warren G. Harding and the first president to be impeached, Andrew Johnson. Mr. Obama appointed someone (make that three someones) to posts that otherwise required confirmation, despite the fact that the Senate was still in session.

Barack Obama figured that he could roll the Senate and roll the dice in one fell-swoop. He bet that he could hang his hat on the Constitution’s Recess Appointments Clause- and get away with it. He bet wrong.

The Recess Appointments Clause permits the president to make a temporary appointment when Congress is really out of session, not when it has adjourned for a period of less than 10 ten days in the view of the Court.

But, here’s the thing. When the president filled the NLRB with three supposed recess appointments the Senate was still doing its thing. It was very much “in session.” In other words, the Senate was busy, but the White House was hell-bent on imposing its appointees on the American public, advice and consent be damned.

A reminder. Mr. President, although you may feel nothing but contempt for the GOP you remain bound by the Constitution.


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Indyk Resigns As Peace Process Nears Total Collapse

MIndykVeteran Middle East diplomat Martin Indyk resigned Friday as the chief US negotiator between the Israelis and Palestinians in a further sign of the collapse of the peace process.

Less than a year after Secretary of State John Kerry tapped the high-profile envoy to guide a major US push for a peace deal, Indyk quit to return to a senior position at the Brookings Institution think tank.

Kerry hailed Indyk’s “indefatigable efforts and creativity” on the peace process, which the top US diplomat insisted was not dead.

“He’ll continue to work for peace, and as we’ve all said many times, the United States remains committed not just to the cause of peace, but to resuming the process when the parties find a path back to serious negotiations,” Kerry said in a statement.

State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said that Kerry and Indyk agreed it was “an appropriate time” for the diplomat to return to Brookings due to the suspension in negotiations.

Indyk, who was born in Britain and raised in Australia, formerly worked for the main pro-Israel lobby in Washington, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, and took US citizenship in 1993 as he joined the administration of then-president Bill Clinton.

Indyk served twice as US ambassador to Israel from 1995-1997 and 2000-2001 and played a key role in Clinton’s failed efforts to broker a Middle East peace settlement, including at the Camp David summit between then-Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Kerry put a top priority on reviving Middle East diplomacy and coaxed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas back to the negotiating table last July.

But in April, Israel made a surprise announcement of plans for 700 new settlements and refused to free a last batch of Palestinian prisoners after earlier releases. Abbas in turn sought Palestinian membership in 15 UN conventions.

Israel voiced anger after an unnamed US official, widely believed to be Indyk. was quoted by the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper as blaming Israel for the breakdown in talks and saying that Netanyahu “did not move more than an inch.”

Asked about the controversial remarks attributed to him, Indyk told a forum last month that Israel’s settlement announcements in the midst of releasing prisoners had a “dramatically damaging impact on the negotiations.”

Indyk, speaking at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy he helped found in 1985, complained that the Israelis and Palestinians did not “feel the pressing need to make the gut-wrenching compromises necessary to achieve peace.”

“It is safe to say that if we the US are the only party that has a sense of urgency, these negotiations will not succeed,” Indyk said.

In a sign of the bleak hopes, Harf, the State Department deputy spokeswoman, said Kerry was not immediately planning to appoint a new permanent Middle East negotiator.

Indyk’s acting replacement will be Frank Lowenstein, a longtime aide to Kerry who has served as deputy special envoy.

Lowenstein was an adviser to Kerry on his failed 2004 presidential bid and later worked for him in the Senate. He is the son of Allard Lowenstein, the slain former congressman and civil rights champion.

Amid the peace process at a standstill, violence has ticked up. Israel has staged a vast crackdown on the militant movement Hamas after the abduction of three Israeli teenagers.


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Hillary Tells Democrats to Embrace Obamacare in 2014 Races

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivers remarks at Stae Department awards ceremony.Hillary Clinton has yet to announce whether she is running for president in 2016, but in an interview that aired Wednesday, Clinton outlined how she would run in favor of Obamacare “if [she] were a Democrat running for reelection in 2014.”

Clinton, who in the past has said she is both supportive of Obamacare and of fixes to change the law, said in an interview that Democrats “need to” run on President Barack Obama’s sweeping healthcare law.

“If I were a Democrat running for reelection in 2014, I would be posing a very stark choice to the voters of my district, or my state,” Clinton said. “If you want us to go back to the time when your sister with diabetes, or your husband with his heart condition, couldn’t get insurance at an affordable rate, then don’t vote for me, because I think it’s great that your sister and your husband now have insurance.”

The Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, has been a contentious issue since it was passed in 2010 without GOP support. Since then, many Republicans have used Obama’s signature domestic achievement to bludgeon Democrats in difficult races, causing some to distance themselves from the law.

During a private healthcare speech in February, Clinton backed efforts to fix Obamacare while also offering a full defense of the law.

Clinton said that Democrats should run on the law, she also said part of that campaign is to admit that they are willing to make “adjustment that need to be made” in the future.

“I think people should say, look, ‘We’re going to learn more about how it’s working, and if there are adjustments that need to be made as we go forward, wouldn’t you rather have somebody who wants to keep the good, and fix what’s not working, than somebody who wants to undermine it, and maybe throw it out,'” Clinton said. “These are very stark choices.”

Clinton’s position was starkly similar to what her husband, Bill Clinton, told Ifill at an event in May.

“What I advise the Democrats to do is talk about the good things that have happened under the bill, acknowledge the problems and say, ‘Let’s do what sensible people would do,'” Clinton said at a fiscal summit in Washington. “We had a problem we had to deal with. Albert Einstein couldn’t have done it perfectly the first time. Now let’s set a long-term repair process.”

Clinton’s history with healthcare reform dates back to the 1980s, when Bill Clinton was governor of Arkansas.

When Clinton was first lady, from 1993 to 2001, she spearheaded the Clinton White House’s unsuccessful effort to overhaul the health care system.

Since the start of Hillary Clinton’s book tour, the former secretary of state has been dogged by questions about whether or not she is out of touch because of comments she made about the state of her finances after leaving the White House in 2001.

Clinton rejected those calls in the interview, saying she had always “been reaching out” to other people, “whether it’s talking with our neighbors or going shopping or standing, talking to people in these bookstores and hearing what’s on their minds.”

At the start of her book tour, Hillary Clinton told ABC News that her family was “dead broke” when they left the White House in 2001. Although Clinton quickly looked to clean up her first slip-up on wealth a few days later in Chicago, the former secretary of state stepped in it again a week later during interview with The Guardian when she compared herself to other “truly” wealthy individuals.

“We pay ordinary income tax, unlike a lot of people who are truly well off, not to name names; and we’ve done it through dint of hard work,” Clinton said in the Guardian interview.

Republicans have seized on the comments, stating they show Clinton’s is removed from everyday issues facing Americans.

Clinton admitted that her comments were “inartful,” but said that people were taking “things out of context” and trying “to create some caricature.”

“I’m fully comfortable with who I am, what I stand for and what I’ve always stood for,” she said.

Hillary Clinton has been more open to answering questions about the prospect of her running for president in 2016 during her frenetic book tour over the last three weeks.

Clinton said, “I take seriously the passion that a lot of people approach me in book lines, and events, talking to me about this,” Clinton said about running for president. “I am not going to make a decision until I have a chance to really sit down and take stock of what I want to do for the rest of my life, and what I think I could uniquely bring to a presidential race.”

Among the considerations weighing on whether to run for president, Clinton said, was the fact she will be a grandmother sometime this fall.

“I want to feel and be present in that experience,” Clinton said about her daughter, Chelsea, having a baby. “I don’t want to be looking over my new grandchild’s shoulder, wondering what’s happening in state X or Y, I want to be fully engaged.”

Clinton has said in interviews around her book tour that she plans to make a decision toward the end of the year on whether to run for president, something she did unsuccessfully in 2008.

As to whether it would be “insane,” as the interviewer put it, to run for president again, Clinton said, “You have to be a little bit crazy to run for president.”

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Former Vice-President Cheney Warns Against Another U.S. Terror Attack

Dick CheneyFormer Vice President Dick Cheney said Tuesday he expects another terrorist attack on U.S. soil within the next 10 years.

“I think there will be another attack, and next time I think it’s likely to be far deadlier than the last one,” he said on the conservative Hugh Hewitt radio program when asked if the United States could get through another decade without another “massive attack on the homeland.”

Cheney continued;  “You can imagine what would happen if somebody could smuggle a nuclear device, put it in a shipping container and drive it down the beltway outside Washington, D.C.”

“One of the things I worried about 12 years ago and that I worry about today is that there will be another 9/11 attack and that the next time, it’ll be with weapons far deadlier than airline tickets and box cutters,” he said.

His predictions come as the former vice president, who was highly involved in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars during the George W. Bush administration, is now pressing hard against President Barack Obama’s foreign policy.

Cheney penned a blistering opinion piece with his daughter, Liz Cheney, for the Wall Street Journal, last week.

“Rarely has a U.S. president been so wrong about so much at the expense of so many,” they wrote. “Instead, he abandoned Iraq and we are watching American defeat snatched from the jaws of victory.”

They also announced the launch of a new group, “The Alliance for a Strong America,” a non-profit advocacy organization that will surely keep them in the political fray on issues involving foreign policy.

In the interview Tuesday, Cheney was asked if the United States would likely go under military rule in the case of a nuclear attack.

Cheney pointed to programs that existed during the Cold War and were designed to keep in place a system of government that would prevent such a scenario.

He cited the continuity of government program, saying it “involved having a government-in-waiting, if you will, ready to go in the event of a nuclear attack…so that we could always maintain the constitutional-based, governmental authority.”

“I was part of that program for several years, and a lot of it I’m sure is probably still classified. But it was very, very important,” he continued. “We operated and actually trained under the circumstance of how would we go about making, providing for a government to survive if we were having nuclear weapons from the Soviet Union falling all over the country.”



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Japan to Unveil New Economic Plan to Boost Growth

Shinzo-AbeJapanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is expected on Tuesday to unveil a fresh round of reforms to boost a nascent growth recovery, reports said, his second attempt at launching the “third arrow” of his economic action plan.

In a package that has already been heavily trailed, he will promise to slash Japan’s corporate tax rate, one of the world’s highest and tackle other sectors long protected by government help, according to local media.

The prime minister and his economic and financial ministers are expected to formally adopt the plans before an official announcement is made in the afternoon.

Company taxes, including a rate of 35.6 percent in Tokyo, are the second-highest in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) behind the United States, a factor some critics say has held back the economy.

Abe is facing calls to make good on the final tranche of his growth action plan, dubbed “Abenomics”, which started in early 2013 with a huge public spending spree and an unprecedented monetary easing campaign by the Bank of Japan.

That gave the economy a shot in the arm and set off a stock market rally as firms’ profitability grew on the back of a sharply weaker yen.

But there are growing complaints that as the sugar rush of cheap money wears off, the lack of real structural reform could prove problematic block for an economy that has stumbled through more than two decades of disappointment.

Local reports say the package to be announced later in the day will include deregulation of sectors including medicare and agriculture, which are both heavily protected at present.

There will also be proposals to revise an out-dated law prohibiting dancing after midnight, Japan’s public broadcaster said.

Abe’s much-touted first attempt at a package of structural reforms fell flat last summer, with critics saying they were too timid at taking on Japan’s many vested interests.

This year, the premier also faces a delicate balancing act as ordinary citizens struggle with lacklustre wage growth and rising prices for everyday goods, the result of Tokyo’s bid to stoke long-absent inflation as well as April’s consumption tax hike to 8.0 percent from 5.0 percent.


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Iraq Provides Legal Assurances to Protect US Forces Operating in Iraq

US Forces IRAQIraq has offered legal guarantees to shield US special forces operatives sent to the country as advisers to help its forces battle Sunni radicals who have seized tracts of territory.

The White House said Monday that the guarantee had been provided by the Iraqis in a diplomatic note to Washington.

The failure of Iraq’s parliament to endorse a Status of Forces deal with Washington led to the complete exodus of all American troops from Iraq at the end of 2011.

Many of Obama’s political opponents say their exit fostered a power vacuum which the Sunni group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has exploited in a rapid advance across the country.

“The commander in chief would not make a decision to put our men and women in harm’s way without getting some necessary assurances,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.

“We can confirm that Iraq has provided acceptable assurances on the issue of protections for these personnel via the exchange of diplomatic note.”

Obama last week announced the dispatch of up to 300 advisors to Iraq to assess the needs of the country’s forces as they struggle to contain the advance of the Islamist fighters.

Earnest said the current situation differed from prevailing conditions at the end of 2011, making the less formal assurance of legal protections from Iraq more acceptable.

“We’re dealing with an emergency situation … there is an urgent need for these advisers to be able to do their work on the ground in Iraq,” he said.

Earnest said the number of advisers contemplated for this mission was much smaller than the several thousand that had been contemplated for a post-Iraq force.

The new agreement struck with Baghdad via diplomatic note is far less sweeping and appeared far less formal than the SOFA. But the U.S. government said the assurances were enough, given the scope and size of the mission.

“With this agreement, we will be able to start establishing the first few assessment teams,” said Rear Admiral John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman. The Pentagon said on Friday the first teams would be drawn from forces already in Iraq under the U.S. embassy mission, and that additional teams would arrive from outside the country shortly after.

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said the agreement would give protections similar to the ones already enjoyed by U.S. diplomatic personnel in Baghdad.

“Our troops will have the legal protections they need to perform their mission,” Harf said.

“They would, were something to arise, face due process for violations under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.”

Secretary of State John Kerry, who met Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in Baghdad on Monday, said U.S. support for Iraqi security forces will be “intense and sustained” to help them combat the Islamist insurgency that has swept through the country’s north and west.


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