Category - USA: Presidency

Obama to Seek War Power Bill From Congress, to Fight ISIS

New York Times, By Jeremy W. Peters, February 11

Washington – The Obama administration has informed lawmakers that the president will seek a formal authorization to fight the Islamic State that would prohibit the use of “enduring offensive ground forces” and limit engagement to three years. The approach offers what the White House hopes is a middle way on Capitol Hill for those on the right and left who remain deeply skeptical of its plans to thwart extremist groups.

The request, which could come in writing as early as Wednesday morning, would open what is expected to be a monthslong debate over presidential war powers and the wisdom of committing to another unpredictable mission in the Middle East while the nation is still struggling with the consequences of two prolonged wars.

Congress has not voted to give a president formal authority for a military operation since 2002 when it backed George W. Bush in his campaign to strike Iraq after his administration promoted evidence, since discredited, that Saddam Hussein’s government possessed unconventional weapons.

Biden to skip Netanyahu’s speech before Congress

A statement released by Biden’s office indicated that the vice president will be abroad on the day that Netanyahu is scheduled to address Congress.

Jerusalem Post, By Michael Wilner, February 6

Vice President Joe Biden will not be attending Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech before a joint session of Congress next month.

A statement released by aides to Biden, who is usually in his seat whenever a foreign leader addresses the legislature by dint of his position as president of the Senate, indicated that the vice president will be traveling abroad during the speech.

“We are not ready to announce details of his trip yet, and normally our office wouldn’t announce this early, but the planning process has been underway for a while,” an official in the vice president’s office told The Jerusalem Post, suggesting planning for the trip began before Netanyahu’s visit was announced.

“We will announce additional information as soon as we are able,” the official said.

Breathtakingly Cynical – Obama’s New Proposal

In a breathtaking display of Cynicism, the Obama administration has announced a program to provide tax cuts for the “middle class,” and to increase taxes on the rich.

This is just a cynical political ploy to polish his appalling legacy, characterized by “Look forward, not backward” in prosecuting torture, kidnapping and illegal imprisonment, coupled with his outstanding lack of effort to remove the US “middle class” from under the health insurance industry’s boot.

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Congress Passes Bill Giving Police Unlimited Access to Citizens’ Private Communications

“One of the most egregious sections of law I’ve encountered during my time as a representative: It grants the executive branch virtually unlimited access to the communications of every American.”

The Free Thought Project, By Jay Syrmopoulos, December 11

Washington, DC – In a sneak attack on the civil liberties of all Americans, the Intelligence Authorization Act for 2015 was rushed to the House floor with a dangerous Senate amendment added to section 309 with virtually no debate.

The legislation was scheduled for only a “voice vote,” which means that it is simply declared “passed” with voice votes and no record.

This is considered the simplest and quickest voting method, not what one would expect from such an important piece of legislation. For most pieces of major legislation, a roll call vote would be the standard operating procedure.

Thankfully, Representative Justin Amash, when catching wind of what was transpiring, went to the House floor to demand a roll call vote so that everyone would have to have their vote recorded.

The fact that this important piece of legislation was handled in this way indicates that this was done intentionally to sneak it past the public eye. It becomes even more suspicious when you realize that it was done concurrently with the CIA torture report being released and the Gruber hearing.

EFF: EFF Statement on the 2015 Intelligence Authorization Bill
Congress.gov: H.R.4681 – Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015 – this site indicates that this bill has become law…

Sec. 309) Requires each element of the intelligence community to adopt Attorney General-approved procedures for any intelligence collection activity not otherwise authorized by court order or subpoena that is reasonably anticipated to result in the acquisition of nonpublic telephone or electronic communications to or from a U.S. person, including communications in electronic storage, without the consent of a person who is a party to the communication.

Requires the procedures to permit acquisition, retention, and dissemination of such communications but prohibit retention in excess of five years unless:

  • the communication constitutes, or is necessary to understand or assess, foreign intelligence or counterintelligence;
  • the communication constitutes evidence of a crime and is retained by a law enforcement agency;
  • the communication is enciphered or reasonably believed to have a secret meaning;
  • all parties to the communication are reasonably believed to be non-U.S. persons;
  • retention is necessary to protect against an imminent threat to human life (in which case the information must be reported to Congress within 30 days of the date such retention is extended) or for technical assurance or compliance purposes, including a court order or discovery obligation (in which case the information must be reported to Congress annually); or
  • the head of an element of the intelligence community approves retention for a period in excess of five years if necessary to protect U.S. national security.

Requires the head of an element approving retention in excess of five years for national security purposes to certify to Congress: (1) the reasons extended retention is necessary to protect U.S. national security, (2) the duration of the retention, (3) the particular information to be retained, and (4) the measures being taken to protect the privacy interests of U.S. persons or persons located inside the United States.

Telesur: US Lawmakers Pass Spending Bill to Avoid Government Shutdown

Another controversial aspect of the bill was that it failed to include a Senate Defense Appropriations panel measure that would have required the National Security Agency to report to Congress on its bulk phone metadata program.

Meanwhile, the U.S. House of Reps also approved a separate policy bill called the “Intelligence Authorization Act for 2015,” for U.S. spy agencies on Wednesday, which permits “the acquisition, retention, and dissemination” of Americans’ communications without a court order or subpoena.

Carefully buried in the law is “a troubling new provision that for the first time statutorily authorizes spying on U.S. citizens without legal process,” (Rep.) Justin Amash told lawmakers.

“It grants the executive branch virtually unlimited access to the communications of every American,” Amash explains.

Network World: Congress gave feds the gift of constitutional spying on Americans’ communications

Our New Politics of Torture

NYRB, Mark Danner, interviewed by Hugh Eakin, December 30

New York Review contributor Mark Danner has been writing about the use of torture by the US government since the first years after September 11. Following the release this month of the Senate’s report on the CIA torture program, Hugh Eakin spoke to Danner about some of the most startling findings of the investigation and what it reveals about the continued political debate surrounding the program.
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A Year Gone to Pot

This past year has been one of so many developments in American culture that it would be hard to pick any one thing as a signal event in the course of our nation.

From the full implementation of the surprisingly effective Obamacare to the grand jury decisions in New York and Ferguson, MO, with stopovers at the broad expansion of marriage equality and Ebola outbreaks both in Africa and here, there’s a lot to mull over, a lot that will move forward with us into the new year and beyond.

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2003 CIA cable casts doubt on claim linking Iraq to 9/11

CNN, By Gabe LaMonica, December 12

A recently released CIA cable casts heavy doubt on a key claim used by the Bush administration to justify the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

It discounts intelligence that said Mohammed Atta, one of the 9/11 ringleaders, met with an Iraqi official in the Czech Republic a few months before the attacks.

The Bush administration — which maintained that Atta had met with Iraqi agent Ahmad al-Anian in Prague in April 2001 — had used the report to link the September 11 attacks to Iraq.

CIA Director John Brennan included a portion of the cable in a letter to Sen. Carl Levin, D-Michigan. Levin, the retiring chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, made the letter public on Thursday.
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US Senate Torture Report publication countdown

12/8/2014 (originally posted Dec 8th, 10:37 pm)

House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Chair Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., said that the release of a Senate report examining the use of torture by the CIA a decade ago will cause violence and deaths abroad.


12/9/2014 (originally posted Dec 9th,13:37 pm)

Senator Dianne Feinstein, the Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, defended her push to release the report on the interrogation program, saying that though she was concerned that the new information could draw violent reactions around the world, it was a necessary step for the United States to move beyond a dark period in its past.

Update: (via EmptyWheel). Reports released include:

The SSCI Torture Report
The Minority Response to SSCI Torture Report
Dianne Feinstein’s Statement

White House Putting Up ‘Fierce’ Fight to Conceal Torture Report

Foreign Policy, By John Hudson, November 19

The White House is fiercely resisting the release of a 6,300-page Senate report on the CIA’s detention and interrogation program, Senate aides tell Foreign Policy, raising fears that the public will never receive a full accounting of the Bush administration’s post-9/11 torture practices.

At issue is the report’s identification of individual CIA officers by pseudonyms. The CIA and the White House want the pseudonyms and references to other agency activities completely stricken to further protect the identities of CIA spies. Senate aides say many of those redactions are unnecessary and render the report unreadable. Now even after Senate Democrats agreed to remove some pseudonyms at the White House’s request, the Oval Office is still haggling for more redactions.

“The White House is continuing to put up fierce resistance to the release of the report,” said one knowledgeable Senate aide. “Ideally, we should be closing ground and finalizing the last stages right now so that we can release the report post-Thanksgiving. But, despite the fact that the committee has drastically reduced the number of pseudonyms in the report, the White House is still resisting and dragging this out.”

A White House official denied the accusation. “The president has been clear that he wants the executive summary of the committee’s report to be declassified as expeditiously as possible,” said the official. “We share the Intelligence Committee’s desire for the declassified report to be released; and all of the administration’s efforts since we received the initial version have been focused on making that happen, while also protecting our national security.”

Thomas Frank : How ’70s and ’80s cynicism poisoned Democrats and America

Nixon’s lies and Reagan’s charms created the space for Clinton, Carter and Obama to redefine (and gut) liberalism

Salon, By Thomas Frank, November 16

“The Invisible Bridge” is the third installment in Rick Perlstein’s grand history of conservatism, and like its predecessors, the book is filled with startling insights. It is the story of a time much like our own—the 1970s, which took America from the faith-crushing experience of Watergate to economic hard times and, eventually, to a desperate enthusiasm for two related figures: the nostalgic presidential aspirant Ronald Reagan, and the “anti-politician” Jimmy Carter. (I discussed Perlstein’s views on Carter in this space a few weeks ago.)

In blending cultural with political history, “The Invisible Bridge” strikes me as an obvious addition to any list of nonfiction masterpieces. But I also confess to being biased: Not only do I feel nostalgia for many of the events the book describes—Hank Aaron’s pursuit of the home run record, for example—but I have been friends with Rick since long ago, when he was in college and The Baffler was publishing his essays. I interviewed Rick on an Amtrak train traveling from Seattle to Portland, Oregon, a few weeks ago (we were there to do readings from a new anthology of essays); here is an edited transcript of our conversation.

Interview at the link.

Mark Udall to consider all options to reveal CIA torture report

The Denver Post, By Mark K. Matthews, November 13

Washington — U.S. Sen. Mark Udall has seven weeks left in office, but the Colorado Democrat isn’t prepared to go quietly — especially when it comes to the twin issues of CIA torture and government snooping.

In his first interview since Election Day, Udall told The Denver Post that he would “keep all options on the table” — including a rarely used right given to federal lawmakers — to publicize a secret report about the harsh interrogation techniques used by CIA agents in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

He also vowed to make one final push to curb the National Security Agency and its power to gather information on ordinary Americans.

“Trying to run out the clock … is not an option,” Udall said Thursday of the long-hidden CIA report. “The truth will come out.”

Why Dems Lose Midterms

The preliminary numbers are in, and voter turnout was at a record low nationwide.

Conventional wisdom says that each party, Republican and Democrat, can count on roughly 45% of the vote, no matter what. The last ten percent is what you need to win an election.

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Cruz aims to take on Obama if GOP wins Senate; won’t vow support for McConnell

Washington Post, By Sebastian Payne & Robert Costa, November 2

Anchorage, AK — Sen. Ted Cruz spent the final weekend of the midterms on the far edge of the country trying to help fellow Republican Dan Sullivan win a race the GOP is counting on in its effort to retake the Senate.

It’s a team-player role the tea party firebrand from Texas has filled a handful of times this fall — but one he plans to abandon if Republicans win control of both congressional chambers.

In an interview at the Hotel Captain Cook here between campaign stops for Sullivan, Cruz made it clear he would push hard for a Republican-led Senate to be as conservative and confron­tational as the Republican-led House.

Piggybacking on what House leaders have done, Cruz said the first order of business should be a series of hearings on President Obama, “looking at the abuse of power, the executive abuse, the regulatory abuse, the lawlessness that sadly has pervaded this administration.”

The Next President of the United States!

Presidential “pixie dust”: How a quiet new rule can wipe away your basic rights

New language declassified from DOJ says a president can violate an executive order. Here’s what that could entail.

Salon.com, By Marcy Wheeler, October 30

A presidential order that governs the bulk of the NSA’s spying (and a good deal of other agencies’ spying), Executive Order 12333 has gotten a lot of attention lately. In July, a former State Department official, John Napier Tye, laid out how the order can be abused to permit the government to spy on Americans’ communications collected overseas. More recently, coverage of documents obtained under an ACLU FOIA have introduced new people to the order.

In addition to describing the structure of the intelligence community and prohibiting assassinations, the EO lays out some limits on the spying intelligence agencies can do on Americans.

But there’s something missing from this recent discussion. Indeed, it is missing even from the government’s response to ACLU’s FOIA, even though it probably shouldn’t be.

On December 7, 2007, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse took to the Senate floor to read out language he got declassified from DOJ Office of Legal Counsel opinions that had authorized President Bush’s illegal wiretap program. “An executive order cannot limit a President,” Whitehouse read from his declassified language. ”There is no constitutional requirement for a President to issue a new executive order whenever he wishes to depart from the terms of a previous executive order. Rather than violate an executive order, the President has instead modified or waived it.”

In short, if the President does something (or orders something done) that is prohibited by his own Executive Order, no biggie. He can do that if he wants. Without even changing the language in the order!

Via Hullabaloo: Rolling in the Deep State

Senate’s inquiry into CIA torture sidesteps blaming Bush, aides

McClatchy, By Jonathan S. Landay, Ali Watkins and Marisa Taylor, October 16

A soon-to-be released Senate report on the CIA doesn’t assess the responsibility of former President George W. Bush or his top aides for any of the abuses of the agency’s detention and interrogation program, avoiding a full public accounting of one of the darkest chapters of the war on terror.

“This report is not about the White House. It’s not about the president. It’s not about criminal liability. It’s about the CIA’s actions or inactions,” said a person familiar with the document, who asked not to be further identified because the executive summary – the only part to that will be made public – still is in the final stages of declassification.

The Senate Intelligence Committee report also didn’t examine the responsibility of top Bush administration lawyers in crafting the legal framework that permitted the CIA to use simulated drowning called waterboarding and other interrogation methods widely described as torture, McClatchy has learned.

“It does not look at the Bush administration’s lawyers to see if they were trying to literally do an end run around justice and the law,” the person said.

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