Obama reverses course on alleged prison abuse photos

May 13, 2009 – WASHINGTON (CNN) – President Obama said Wednesday he told government lawyers to object to a court-ordered release of additional images showing alleged abuse of detainees because the release could affect the safety of U.S. troops and “inflame anti-American opinion.”

Releasing the photos could have a “chilling effect” on further investigations of detainee abuse without adding to the understanding of past abuses, he said.

The Pentagon was set to release hundreds of photographs of prisoners in detention facilities in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The photos “are not particularly sensational, especially when compared with the painful images that we remember from Abu Ghraibm,” Obama said, referring to the Iraqi military prison where photographs released in 2004 of detainees being abused and humiliated sparked widespread outrage.

“But they do represent conduct that didn’t conform with the Army manual.”

Obama reiterated that any future abuse of detainees is “unacceptable” and “will not be tolerated.”

The publication of the photos would not add any additional benefit to investigations being carried out into detainee abuse — and could put future inquires at risk.

“The publication of these photos would not add any additional benefit to our understanding of what was carried out in the past by a small number of individuals,” Obama said.

“In fact, the most direct consequence of releasing them would be to further inflame anti-American opinion, and to put our troops in greater danger.”

The announcement Wednesday was a reversal of what White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said last month, when he told reporters the White House had no problem releasing the photos.

Before Obama spoke to reporters, Gibbs said Wednesday afternoon that there was “a lot of back and forth in [Obama’s] mind over the course of several weeks about ensuring that this protected those that keep us safe, that it protected our national security.”

The release was ordered in response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the American Civil Liberties Union. It followed Obama’s decision to release Bush-era CIA documents showing the United States used techniques like waterboarding, considered torture by the current administration.

Obama’s decision “makes a mockery” of his promise of greater transparency and accountability, ACLU attorney Amrit Singh said.

“Essentially, by withholding these photographs from public view, the Obama administration is making itself complicit in the Bush administration’s torture policies,” Singh said.

“The release of these photos is absolutely essential for ensuring that justice [is] done, for ensuring that the public [can] hold its government accountable, and for ensuring that torture is not conducted in the future in the name of the American people.”

Singh said his organization is prepared to “do whatever it takes” to have the photos released.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Wednesday that grave concerns coming from top military brass may have influenced the president’s decision.

“What’s motivated my own change of heart on this and perhaps influenced the president is that our commanders … have expressed very serious reservations about this … and that the release of these photographs will cost American lives,” Gates said.

“That’s all it took for me,” he added.

Democrats in the Senate were mostly quiet on Obama’s reversal on Wednesday. But Sen. Russ Feingold, of Wisconsin, said he at least initially disagrees with it.

“I am generally opposed to keeping the American people in the dark for no other reason than to shield misconduct, avoid embarrassment or other reasons not pertaining to national security,” Feingold said in a written statement. “From what I’ve heard so far, I’m not convinced there is a compelling reason these photos shouldn’t be released.”

Two Democratic congressmen had different reactions to Obama’s decision.

Rep. Jerry Nadler of New York said he thinks “the administration may be very well justified in withholding the pictures.”

Nadler, who said he agrees with the ACLU “98 percent of the time — but not here,” said he had not seen the photos but he doubted they provided any more information than was in Bush-era memos recently released.

“Get all the memos out, get everything out … but with these pictures it may be that they’re dangerous, and that’s a legitimate concern,” he said.

But Rep Lynn Woolsey of California said, “I would have preferred that they were out there.”

“We have so much to do. It’s such a distraction,” Woolsey added. “Get these pictures out there and get it behind us.”

The ACLU said the Pentagon had agreed to release a “substantial” number of photographs by May 28. Officials at the Pentagon said the photographs are from more than 60 criminal investigations between 2001 and 2006 and show military personnel allegedly abusing detainees.

“The disclosure of these photographs serves as a further reminder that abuse of prisoners in U.S.-administered detention centers was systemic,” ACLU National Security Project Director Jameel Jaffer said before Obama’s decision.

“Some of the abuse occurred because senior civilian and military officials created a culture of impunity in which abuse was tolerated, and some of the abuse was expressly authorized.”

Singh added that the photographs “provide visual proof that prisoner abuse by U.S. personnel was not aberrational but widespread, reaching far beyond the walls of Abu Ghraib.”

But Pentagon officials reject ACLU allegations that the photos show a systemic pattern of abuse by the military.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said the Defense Department has “always been serious about investigating credible allegations of abuse.”

“The policy of the Department of Defense is to treat all prisoners humanely, and those who have violated that policy have been investigated and disciplined,” he added.

More than 400 people, Whitman said, have been disciplined based on investigations involving alleged detainee abuse. The discipline ranged from prison sentences to demotions and letters of reprimand.

The Pentagon initially wanted to prevent the images from being made public, but decided to release them after losing two court cases, according to Whitman.

“We felt this case had pretty much run its course,” he said prior to Obama’s decision. “Legal options at this point had become pretty limited.”


5 found guilty in Miami of trying to join in terror plot with Al Qaida

MIAMI – A federal jury convicted five men Tuesday of trying to join forces with al-Qaida in a plot to topple Chicago’s Sears Tower and bomb FBI offices.

A sixth man was acquitted.

The verdict allows government prosecutors to claim overall victory in a case that dragged on for years and cost millions of dollars, resulting in two hung juries and the acquittal of a seventh man originally charged in the case.

The convicted defendants–Narseal Batiste, 35; Patrick Abraham, 29; Rothschild Augustin, 25; Burson Augustin, 24 and Stanley Grant Phanor, 33–were immediately taken into custody.

Naudimar Herrera, 25, the sixth defendant, was found not guilty of all charges, setting him free to rebuild his life after two years in prison and standing trial three times.

“It’s not right,” Herrera said through tears outside the courtroom. “They don’t deserve none of this.”

Batiste, who was convicted of four terorrism-related charges–faces up to 70 years in prison for conspiring to support the Islamic extremist group al-Qaida, to support terrorism, to blow up buildings and and to wage war against the government.

Abraham, who was convicted on three charges, faces up to 50 years in prison. He was found not guilty of conspiring to wage war against the United States.

The remaining defendants, convicted of two counts for conspiring to support terrorists, face up to 30 years in prison.

Sentencing was set for July 26. Their lawyers are expected to appeal.

The jury began deliberating April 27. However, U.S. District Judge Joan Lenard replaced two jurors during the process and ordered the final group–a racially-mixed panel of nine women and three men–to restart discussions last week.

Jurors sent a note Tuesday morning signaling they were close to reaching verdicts.

According to prosecutors, the men, led by Batiste, wanted to bring down the U.S. government and sought an alliance with the Islamic extremist group al-Qaida to carry out attacks. Batiste recruited the other defendants as “soldiers” in his terrorist army, prosecutors said.

The group’s aims included blowing up the 110-story Sears Tower, poisoning salt shakers in restaurants and launching terrorist attacks “just as good or greater than 9-11,” prosecutors said.

“None of them cared that what they were doing was putting innocent lives in danger,” fedeal prosecutor Jacqueline Arango said in closing arguments. “What they cared about was providing services — selling their services to a terrorist organization for money.

But defense lawyers argued the men were entrapped by government informants. The group played along with violent talk because the informants would give them money, defense lawyers said.

Evidence in the case showed the men never came close to carrying out any attacks.

Batiste’s lawyer, Ana Jhones, called the case a set-up by government agents who wanted to show progress in the war on terror.

“This is not a terrorism case,” Jhones said in her closing argument. “This is a manufactured crime.”

The defendants worked for a small construction company owned by Batiste and met for religious study in a Liberty City warehouse. They came under investigation when an area convenience store clerk reported to the FBI that Batiste was seeking support from Middle Eastern terrorists.

The FBI had that man introduce Batiste to an undercover informant posing as an al-Qaida financier.

A key piece of evidence in the case was a grainy videotape showing the men swearing an oath of loyalty to al-Qaida. Some of the defendants conducted photo surveillance for a fictional plot to bomb the FBI headquarters in Miami, according to evidence in the case.

Vanessa Blum can be reached at vblum@sunsentinel.com or 954-356-4605.


Samples of Equine Encephalitis Virus missing from Fort Detrick Maryland

WASHINGTON (CNN) – Wed April 22, 2009 – Missing vials of a potentially dangerous virus have prompted an Army investigation into the disappearance from a lab in Maryland. Fort Detrick is the home of the Army’s top biological research facility.

The Army’s Criminal Investigation Command agents have been visiting Fort Detrick in Frederick, Maryland, to investigate the disappearance of the vials. Christopher Grey, spokesman for the command, said this latest investigation has found “no evidence of criminal activity.”

The vials contained samples of Venezuelan Equine Encephalitis, a virus that sickens horses and can be spread to humans by mosquitoes. In 97 percent of cases, humans with the virus suffer flu-like symptoms, but it can be deadly in about 1 out of 100 cases, according to Caree Vander Linden, a spokeswoman for the Army’s Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases. There is an effective vaccine for the disease and there hasn’t been an outbreak in the United States since 1971.

The vials had been at the research institute’s facility at Fort Detrick, home of the Army’s top biological research facility, for more than a decade. The three missing vials were among thousands of vials that were under the control of a senior scientist who retired in 2004. When another Fort Detrick scientist recently inventoried the retired scientist’s biological samples, he discovered that the three vials of the virus were missing. The original scientist’s records about his vials dated back to the days of paper-and-pen inventories.

During the investigation, the retired scientist and another former Fort Detrick researcher cooperated with investigating agents and, according to Vander Linden, they came back to the facility to help look for the vials.

Vander Linden said the investigators know that several years ago an entire freezer full of biological samples broke down and all the samples had to be safely destroyed. But a complete inventory of what was in the freezer was not done before the samples were destroyed. Vander Linden said there’s a “strong possibility” the vials were in that freezer and destroyed, but that isn’t known for sure.

This investigation comes two months after all research at the research institute facility at Fort Detrick was halted for a complete computer-based inventory of all disease samples at the fort. That inventory is expected to be complete before summer and may help solve the mystery of the three missing vials, officials said.

The Army investigation is in its final stages and is expected to be closed soon.


The Bilderberg Group – Most powerful elite will meet in Athens

Bilderberg Group Meets In Greece

Bilderberg Group Meets In Greece

3/29/09 – (GR Reporter) -The Bilderberg club is famous for gathering the most powerful people in the world at least once per year. There, they can talk behind closed doors. This year, the club will organize its meeting in Athens between 14th and 16th of May, says Elefterios Tipos newspaper.

In the list of invited guests are the Queen of Netherlands Beatrix, the Spanish Queen Sophia, and diplomats from the rank of the US National Security Council James Jones. Also among the invited are ministers of foreign affairs like the Turkish one Ali Babacan, who will get the chance for a tête-à-tête meeting with the Greek minister of foreign affairs Dora Bakoyanni. Except for political figures, the meeting will host representatives of giant companies like Domenico Siniscalco from “Morgan Stanley”.

From Greek side participants will be the Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis and the leader of the opposition party PASOK Georgios Papandreou, as well as ministers and powerful figures from political and public life of the country like the president of the National Bank of Greece Takis Arapoglou and the chairman of the public telecommunications company OTE Panayotis Vourloumis.


Freedom Tower renamed to “One World Trade Center”

One World Trade Center

One World Trade Center

NEW YORK (AP 3/27/09) – The Freedom Tower is out. One World Trade Center is in.

The agency that owns ground zero confirmed on Thursday that the signature skyscraper replacing the towers destroyed on Sept 11, 2001 will be more commonly known as One World Trade Center.

The building under construction at the site was named the Freedom Tower in the first ground zero master plan. Officials at the time said the tallest, most symbolic of five planned towers at the site would demonstrate the country’s triumph over terrorism.

Port Authority of New York and New Jersey chairman Anthony Coscia says the agency refers to the building as One World Trade Center. He says it’s the building’s legal name and ‘the one that’s easiest for people to identify with.’


U.N. ‘Climate Change’ Plan Would Likely Shift Trillions to Form New World Economy

(Fox – News 3/27/09) – A United Nations document on “climate change” that will be distributed to a major environmental conclave next week envisions a huge reordering of the world economy, likely involving trillions of dollars in wealth transfer, millions of job losses and gains, new taxes, industrial relocations, new tariffs and subsidies, and complicated payments for greenhouse gas abatement schemes and carbon taxes — all under the supervision of the world body.

Those and other results are blandly discussed in a discretely worded United Nations “information note” on potential consequences of the measures that industrialized countries will likely have to take to implement the Copenhagen Accord, the successor to the Kyoto Treaty, after it is negotiated and signed by December 2009. The Obama administration has said it supports the treaty process if, in the words of a U.S. State Department spokesman, it can come up with an “effective framework” for dealing with global warming.

The 16-page note, obtained by FOX News, will be distributed to participants at a mammoth negotiating session that starts on March 29 in Bonn, Germany, the first of three sessions intended to hammer out the actual commitments involved in the new deal.

In the stultifying language that is normal for important U.N. conclaves, the negotiators are known as the “Ad Hoc Working Group On Further Commitments For Annex I Parties Under the Kyoto Protocol.” Yet the consequences of their negotiations, if enacted, would be nothing short of world-changing.

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