Saturday, April 18, 2009

Obama Calls For Improving U.S.-Cuban Relations


While this news is almost a half century overdue it is still very welcome news all the same. It is also both ironic and noteworthy that this overture is coming in this year which happens to be the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution. Of course the most important issues and details of this mutual rapprochement have yet to be worked out in either diplomatic or political terms (like the absolutely crucial necessity of lifting the American economic embargo on Cuba for example). However, this overture from the two nations still signals that a major first step has been taken that begs to be embraced as the initial foray into a mutually respectful pact between the two countries. In this instance President Obama is to be commended and given genuine credit and support for having the political maturity and simple common sense to openly recognize that friendly or at least non-antagonistic relations between the U.S. and Cuba must be renewed and developed to the mutual benefit of both nations (and most importantly toward calling for an ending of American hegemony or dominance in the ideological, economic, and political affairs of Cuba). Let's all sincerely hope that this new diplomatic advance can be strengthened and expanded in the very near future.


Obama Calls for Thaw in U.S. Relations With Cuba
April 18, 2009
New York Times

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad and Tobago — President Obama, seeking to thaw long-frozen relations with Cuba, told a gathering of Western Hemisphere leaders on Friday that “the United States seeks a new beginning with Cuba,” and that he was willing to have his administration engage the Castro government on a wide array of issues.

Mr. Obama’s remarks, during the opening ceremony at the Summit of the Americas, are the clearest signal in decades that the United States is willing to change direction in its dealings with Cuba. They capped a dizzying series of developments this week, including surprisingly warm words between Raúl Castro, Cuba’s leader, and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Other leaders here said that in watching Mr. Obama extend his hand to Cuba, they felt they were witnessing a historic shift. And in another twist, Cuba’s strongest ally at the summit, President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, no fan of the United States, was photographed at the meeting giving Mr. Obama a hearty handclasp and a broad smile.

Cuba is not on the official agenda here; indeed, Cuba, which has been barred from the Organization of American States since 1962, is not even on the guest list. But leaders in the hemisphere have spent months planning to make Cuba an issue here.

The White House was well aware that if Mr. Obama did not address it head on, the issue would overwhelm the rest of the summit gathering. This week, the president opened the door to the discussions by abandoning longstanding restrictions on the ability of Cuban-Americans to travel freely to the island and send money to relatives there.

“I know there is a longer journey that must be traveled in overcoming decades of mistrust, but there are critical steps we can take toward a new day,” Mr. Obama said, adding that he was “prepared to have my administration engage with the Cuban government on a wide range of issues — from human rights, free speech, and democratic reform to drugs, migration, and economic issues.”

Mr. Obama’s message was not entirely new; he has said in the past that he was willing to engage with Cuba. But making a public pledge before leaders of 33 other nations, many of whom he had not yet met, gave his words added heft.

He came here with the aim of reaching out to leaders in a region that felt ignored by the United States during the Bush years. Just as he campaigned on the theme of change when running for the White House, he made change a theme of his speech here, saying: “I didn’t come here to debate the past. I came here to deal with the future.”

He said the United States needed to acknowledge long-held suspicions that it has interfered in the affairs of other countries. But, departing from his prepared text, he also said the region’s countries needed to cease their own historic demonization of the United States for everything from economic crises to drug violence.

“That also means we can’t blame the United States for every problem that arises in the hemisphere,” he said. “That’s part of the bargain. That’s the old way, and we need a new way.”

On Cuba, the president’s words were as notable for what he said as for what he did not say. He did not scold or berate the Cuban government for holding political prisoners, as his predecessor, George W. Bush, often did.

But he also did not say that he was willing to support Cuba’s membership in the Organization of American States, or lift the 47-year-old trade embargo against Cuba, as some hemisphere leaders here want him to do.

And his press secretary, Robert Gibbs, speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One on the way here, pointed out that Cuba needed to take concrete action to “bring greater freedom to the Cuban people.”

In his speech, Mr. Obama gave a nod toward these issues, although not explicitly.

“Let me be clear,” he said. “I am not interested in talking for the sake of talking. But I do believe we can move U.S.-Cuban relations in a new direction.”

The new tone from Washington drew warm praise from leaders like President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner of Argentina and President Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua. Mr. Ortega, who said he felt ashamed that he was participating in the summit meeting without the presence of Cuba, evoked images of the collapse of the Berlin Wall, saying, “I am convinced that wall will collapse, will come down.”

Mrs. Kirchner praised Mr. Obama for “what you did to stabilize the relationship from the absurd restrictions imposed by the Bush administration,” adding: “We sincerely believe that we in the Americas have a second opportunity to construct a new relationship. Don’t let it slip away.”

Mr. Obama’s speech on Friday night was only the latest in a string of overtures between the countries. On Thursday, Raúl Castro, Cuba’s president, used unusually conciliatory language in describing the Obama administration’s decision to lift restrictions on family travel and remittances.

“We are willing to discuss everything, human rights, freedom of press, political prisoners, everything, everything, everything they want to talk about, but as equals, without the smallest shadow cast on our sovereignty, and without the slightest violation of the Cuban people’s right to self-determination,” Mr. Castro said in Venezuela during a meeting of leftist governments meant as a counterpoint to this weekend’s summit meeting in Trinidad and Tobago.

On Friday, Mrs. Clinton responded, saying, “We welcome his comments, the overture that they represent, and we’re taking a very serious look at how we intend to respond.”

Earlier this week Brazilian officials signaled in Rio de Janeiro that President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, potentially flanked by the Colombian president, Álvaro Uribe, would raise the issue of accepting Cuba into the Organization of American States at the summit meeting. Cuba’s “absence is an anomaly and he is waiting for this situation to be corrected,” Marco Aurélio García, Mr. da Silva’s foreign policy adviser, told reporters.

On Friday, the secretary general of the O.A.S., José Miguel Insulza, said he would call for Cuba to be readmitted. And Mr. Chávez recently said he would refuse to sign the official declaration produced at the summit meeting because Cuba was not invited.

There are no plans for Mr. Chávez and Mr. Obama to meet privately, but White House officials said before the meeting that the two would participate in at least one small group leaders’ meeting, and that Mr. Obama would not spurn any outreach by Mr. Chávez, who frequently referred to Mr. Bush as “the devil.”

Indeed, Mr. Obama made the first move, officials said, striding across the room to introduce himself to Mr. Chávez as the leaders were lining up to parade into the opening ceremony. As he extended his hand, the Venezuelan government reported, Mr. Chávez told Mr. Obama: “I greeted Bush with this hand eight years ago. I want to be your friend.”

Alexei Barrionuevo contributed reporting.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Obama Administration Must Prosecute Those who Tortured Under Bush!


This decision to not hold the CIA fully accountable for torture under the Bush administration is DEAD WRONG on President Obama's part and absolutely nothing can justify him taking this ridiculous and hypocritical position on not prosecuting officials from Bush's administration. NOTHING AT ALL!. These officials are felons who BROKE THE LAW and should be punished. Obama's gonna take major political hits and attacks from both the Left and real liberals on this issue AND HE SHOULD. This was a cowardly decision by Obama on both political and moral grounds and there is no possible justification or defense for it...


Obama releases torture memos that guided CIA

By Mark Mazzetti and Scott Shane
New York Times

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department made public detailed memos Thursday describing brutal interrogation techniques used by the CIA, as President Barack Obama sought to reassure the agency that CIA operatives who carried out the techniques would not be prosecuted.

In dozens of pages of dispassionate legal prose, the methods approved by the Bush administration for extracting information from senior al-Qaida operatives are spelled out in careful detail — from keeping detainees awake for up to 11 straight days, to placing them in a dark, cramped box, to putting insects into the box to exploit their fears.

Within minutes of the release of the memos, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the memos illustrated the need for his proposed independent "Commission of Inquiry," which would offer immunity in return for candid testimony.

Obama condemned what he called a "dark and painful chapter in our history," and said the interrogation techniques would never be used again. But he also repeated his opposition to a lengthy inquiry into the past, saying that "nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past."

The interrogation methods were authorized beginning in 2002, and some were used as late as 2005 in the CIA's secret overseas prisons. The techniques were among the Bush administration's most closely guarded secrets, and the documents released Thursday afternoon marked the most comprehensive public accounting to date of the program.

Some Obama administration officials have labeled one of the 14 approved techniques, waterboarding, as illegal torture. During war crimes trials after World War II, the United States prosecuted some Japanese interrogators for waterboarding and other methods detailed in the memos.

The release of the documents came after a bitter debate that divided the Obama administration. Fueling the urgency of the discussion was Thursday's court deadline in a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, which had sued the government for the release of the Justice Department memos.

Together, the four memos give an extraordinarily detailed account of the CIA's methods and the Justice Department's long struggle, in the face of graphic descriptions of brutal tactics, to square them with international and domestic law. Passages describing forced nudity, slamming into walls, prolonged sleep deprivation and dousing with 41-degree water alternate with elaborate legal arguments concerning the international Convention against Torture.

The documents were released with minimal redactions, indicating that Obama sided against current and former CIA officials who for weeks had pressed the White House to withhold sensitive details about specific interrogation techniques.

Nudity, sleep deprivation and dietary restrictions.
Slapping prisoners on the face or abdomen.
Water hoses to douse the prisoners for minutes at a time.
One of three "stress positions," such as sitting on the floor with legs out straight and arms raised in the air.

Obama: No charges against CIA for interrogations
Thu Apr 16 2009

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama said on Thursday that CIA officials would not be prosecuted for having used waterboarding and other harsh interrogation methods on terrorism suspects under the Bush administration.

"This is a time for reflection, not retribution," Obama, who ordered a halt to such internationally condemned interrogation techniques after he took office, said in a statement.

Obama made the assurances to CIA officials that they would not face criminal charges, as he approved release of government memos issues during President George W. Bush's administration that authorized tough interrogation of terrorism detainees held at the Guantanamo military prison in Cuba and in secret CIA jails overseas.

International human rights groups had denounced waterboarding, or simulated drowning, and other harsh methods as amounting to torture.

"In releasing these memos, it is our intention to assure those who carried out their duties relying in good faith upon legal advice from the Department of Justice that they will not be subject to prosecution," Obama said in a written statement released shortly after he arrived on a visit to Mexico.

"The men and women of our intelligence community serve courageously on the front lines of a dangerous world," he said. "We must protect their identities as vigilantly as they protect our security, and we must provide them with the confidence that they can do their jobs.

But Obama made clear that his decision did not take away from his own disapproval of the interrogation methods that had been employed in the name of Bush's U.S.-led "war on terrorism."

"In one of my very first acts as President, I prohibited the use of these interrogation techniques by the United States because they undermine our moral authority and do not make us safer," he said.

"Enlisting our values in the protection of our people makes us stronger and more secure. A democracy as resilient as ours must reject the false choice between our security and our ideals, and that is why these methods of interrogation are already a thing of the past," he added.

Thu April 16, 2009

Rights groups criticize CIA immunity on interrogations


Attorney general says it's unfair to prosecute those who were following policy
Amnesty International: "Justice appears to be offering a get-out-of-jail-free card"
Another group seeks prosecutions of high-level Bush administration officials
Obama says intelligence community needs to know it can do its job

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Human rights organizations reacted angrily Thursday to the Obama administration's announcement that CIA officials would not be prosecuted for past waterboarding and other harsh interrogation tactics.

Attorney General Eric Holder made the announcement in a separate statement as the administration announced it was releasing four Bush-era memos on terror interrogations that included the controversial practice of waterboarding.

"The president has halted the use of the interrogation techniques described in these opinions, and this administration has made clear from day one that it will not condone torture," Holder said. "We are disclosing these memos consistent with our commitment to the rule of law."

The attorney general promised that officials who used the controversial interrogation tactics would be in the clear if their actions were consistent with the legal advice from the Justice Department under which they were operating at the time.

"It would be unfair to prosecute dedicated men and women working to protect America for conduct that was sanctioned in advance by the Justice Department," Holder said.

Amnesty International said the release of the documents was welcome, but condemned the decision to block prosecutions.

"The Department of Justice appears to be offering a get-out-of-jail-free card to individuals who, by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder's own estimation, were involved in acts of torture," said executive director Larry Cox. "No civilized definition of 'reasonable' behavior can ever encompass acts of torture. Torture has long been recognized to be a violation of both national and international law, and no single legal opinion, no matter from what source, can change that."

"It is one of the deepest disappointments of this administration that it appears unwilling to uphold the law where crimes have been committed by former officials," the organization said.

The center is pushing for prosecutions of high-level officials in the Bush administration.

"Whether or not CIA operatives who conducted waterboarding are guaranteed immunity, it is the high-level officials who conceived, justified and ordered the torture program who bear the most responsibility for breaking domestic and international law, and it is they who must be prosecuted," the center said.

"Government officials broke very serious laws: For there to be no consequences not only calls our system of justice into question, it leaves the gate open for this to happen again."

President Obama said officials involved in the questionable interrogations would not be subject to prosecution because the intelligence community must be provided "with the confidence" it needs to do its job.

"This is a time for reflection, not retribution," he said. "I respect the strong views and emotions that these issues evoke. We have been through a dark and painful chapter in our history. But at a time of great challenges and disturbing disunity, nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past."

Amnesty's Cox rejected that argument.

"The United States has had plenty of time for reflection -- there is very little information in the newly released material that hadn't leaked out long before," he said. Obama "also said that the United States is a nation of laws. But laws only have meaning if they are enforced.

"The United States has laws prohibiting torture, and two-thirds of Americans support an investigation into what has been done in their name. That is not seeking to lay blame; that is a call for justice long overdue."

Leon Panetta, Obama's CIA director, told his employees in a memo that he would "strongly oppose any effort to investigate or punish those who followed the guidance of the Department of Justice."

"Although this administration has now put into place new policies that CIA is implementing, the fact remains that CIA's detention and interrogation effort was authorized and approved by our government," he said in the memo, a copy of which was obtained by CNN.

Panetta added that the CIA would provide legal counsel for any CIA employee who is subjected to an investigation relating to previously authorized policies.

"This is an opportunity for CIA to begin a new and great chapter in our history of service to the nation," he said. "You need to be fully confident that as you defend the nation, I will defend you."

The American Civil Liberties Union, which had been seeking the memos, called on the Justice Department to release other Bush-era memos regarding interrogations. The group also is seeking the appointment of an independent prosecutor to investigate whether laws were broken by the Bush interrogation policies, as well as who knew about them and who authorized them.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, the Vermont Democrat who is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, reiterated that he wants a commission of inquiry to look into the matter.

"We must take a thorough accounting of what happened, not to move a partisan agenda, but to own up to what was done in the name of national security, and to learn from it," he said.

Obama, who has said he does not want to criminalize policy differences between administrations, has not backed Leahy's call for a commission, which is strongly opposed by Republican lawmakers.

The nation's top intelligence officer, former Navy Adm. Dennis Blair, also weighed in on the issue, noting that he "experienced public scorn" for serving as a young officer during the Vietnam years, which he described as "an unpopular war."

"Challenging and debating the wisdom and policies linked to wars and war fighting is important and legitimate. However, disrespect for those who serve honorably within legal guidelines is not," he said. "I remember well the pain of those of us who served our country even when the policies we were carrying out were unpopular or could be second-guessed.

"We in the intelligence community should not be subjected to similar pain. Let the debate focus on the law and our national security. Let us be thankful that we have public servants who seek to do the difficult work of protecting our country under the explicit assurance that their actions are both necessary and legal."

All About U.S. Department of Justice • American Civil Liberties Union • Torture