Daily Archive: 08/17/2012

Aug 17 2012

The War Over Wikileaks

As most know by now Ecuador has granted Wikileaks founder Julian Assange asylum from extradition to Sweden for questioning in alleged sexual abuse. The asylum was granted based on the fear that if Mr. Assange was extradited to Sweden there was no guarantee that the Swedish government would not then turn extradite him to the US where he would face serious charges and possibly execution.

Mr. Assange had exhausted his appeals through British courts in June then fled to the Ecuadoran Embassy requesting asylum. Yesterday that request was granted setting up a diplomatic stand off that could lead to a violation of international law with the British threatening to strip Ecuador of its diplomatic status and storm the embassy to arrest Mr. Assange. The British are claiming that they have the right to do so under a law passed in 1987 and do not recognize the right of asylum, which is, to put it politely, a load of bull pucks. In 1999, the British refused to extradite former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet to Spain where he was wanted under an international warrant for crimes against humanity. Ian Welsh noted that Pinochet had women raped by dogs so Britain’s concern about the importance of extradition and rape allegations are just untrue. Besides, Mr. Assange has not been charged and his fears about extradition to the US are legitimate.

As Kevin Gosztola at FDL points out that there is a “grand jury empaneled in Alexandria, Virginia in the Eastern District that is investigating anyone who can be connected to the WikiLeaks organization”:

Now, The Saturday Age, based in Australia, has published a report that features some critical details on the United States government’s plans for Assange. It describes Australian Foreign Aaffairs Department documents that were obtained under freedom of information laws and show the Australian diplomatic service “takes seriously the likelihood that Assange will eventually be extradited to the US on charges arising from WikiLeaks obtaining leaked US military and diplomatic documents.” Australia’s ambassador to the US, Kim Beazley, sought “high-level US advice on ‘the direction and likely outcome of the investigation’ and “reiterated’ an Australian government request for “early advice of any decision to indict or seek extradition” of Assange.

The diplomatic cables identify “a wide range of criminal charges the US could bring against Assange, including espionage, conspiracy, unlawful access to classified information and computer fraud.” They indicate, “Australian diplomats expect that any charges against Assange would be carefully drawn in an effort to avoid conflict with the First Amendment free speech provisions of the US constitution.”

Additionally, Australian diplomats have apparently been informed of “several connections between Manning and WikiLeaks,” which prosecutors have uncovered that would form the “basis of a conspiracy charge.” The diplomats have found any investigation would “target” the “founders, owners or managers of WikiLeaks” for espionage.

At emptywheel, Marcy Wheeler pointed out that the cause this current overreaction stems from the embarrassment Mr. Assange caused the US by releasing diplomatic cables revealing details on the targeted assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki and some breaches of diplomatic guidelines by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton:

If the Brits enter the embassy it will only expose publicly what has become true but remains largely unacknowledged: the US and its allies find international law and protocols to be quaint. That was obviously true under Bush, with the illegal Iraq war and his disdain for the Geneva Conventions. But Obama, too, continues to do things legally authorized only by the most acrobatic of legal interpretations.

Which is why I consider it so apt that one of the most embarrassing-albeit frankly rather minor-details that WikiLeaks published about the Obama Administration is that Hillary ordered her staff to help intelligence officers collect intelligence on their counterparts, including credit card data and biometrics. [..]

While other cables exposed the Obama Administration to far more legal trouble-such as the one apparently showing that we were targeting Anwar al-Awlaki before we believed him to be operational-it was the exposure of diplomatic spying that seemed to piss the Obama Administration off. Exposure as cynical power brokers, not idealistic world citizens.

The Young Turks Cenk Uygur summed up this tempest in a teapot with this rant:

Not a single person has been hurt by Wikileaks, zero, but the US would like to prosecute and possibly execute a man because he embarrassed the government by revealing violations of human rights and international law.  

Aug 17 2012

Punting the Pundits

“Punting the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Punting the Pundits”.

Follow us on Twitter @StarsHollowGzt

New York Times Editorial; The Right to Counsel at Guantánamo Bay

Lawyers for the government and for detainees in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, are scheduled to square off in federal court in Washington on Friday over new rules imposed this spring by the Obama administration restricting access to counsel for prisoners not actively challenging their detention. They are neither fair nor constitutional. [..]

The rules are unconstitutional because they deny detainees an essential right and meaningful court review. By giving such discretion to the Guantánamo commander, the Obama administration asserts virtually unbridled executive power. It has taken a regrettable step in undermining the rule of law.

Tom Hayden: The Geopolitics of Asylum

The British made a “huge mistake” in threatening to extract Julian Assange from Ecuador’s London embassy after the Latin American country granted political asylum to the WikiLeaks foundaer yesterday, says international human rights lawyer Michael Ratner. “They overstepped, looked like bullies, and made it into a big-power versus small-power conflict,” said Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, in an interview with The Nation today. Ratner is a consultant to Assange’s legal team and recently spent a week in Ecuador for discussions of the case.

The diplomatic standoff will have to be settled through negotiations or by the International Court of Justice at The Hague, Ratner said. “In my memory, no state has ever invaded another country’s embassy to seize someone who has been granted asylum,” he said, adding that there would be no logic in returning an individual to a power seeking to charge him for political reasons.

Peter Van Buren: How Not to Reconstruct Iraq, Afghanistan — or America

A Guide to Disaster at Home and Abroad

Some images remain like scars on my memory. One of the last things I saw in Iraq, where I spent a year with the Department of State helping squander some of the $44 billion American taxpayers put up to “reconstruct” that country, were horses living semi-wild among the muck and garbage of Baghdad. Those horses had once raced for Iraqi autocrat Saddam Hussein and seven years after their “liberation” by the American invasion of 2003, they were still wandering that unraveling, unreconstructed urban landscape looking, like many other Iraqis, for food.

I flew home that same day, a too-rapid change of worlds, to a country in which the schools of my hometown in Ohio could not afford to pay teachers a decent wage. Once great cities were rotting away as certainly as if they were in Iraq, where those horses were scrabbling to get by. To this day I’m left pondering these questions: Why has the United States spent so much money and time so disastrously trying to rebuild occupied nations abroad, while allowing its own infrastructure to crumble untended? Why do we even think of that as “policy”?

Richard (RJ) Eskow: On Social Security, Say It IS So, Joe!

What Vice President Joe Biden said today was, to use his now-famous phrase, “a big effin’ deal.” No, we’re not talking about his “chains” comment which, as usual, has fascinated a press corps obsessed with taking statements out of context and playing “gotcha” games. We’re referring to the comments he made about Social Security in a Virginia coffee shop.

From a press corps pool report, as relayed by NBC News:

   “Hey, by the way, let’s talk about Social Security,” Biden said after a diner at The Coffee Break Cafe in Stuart, Va., expressed his relief that the Obama campaign wasn’t talking about changing the popular entitlement program. “Number one, I guarantee you, flat guarantee you, there will be no changes in Social Security,” Biden said, per a pool report.

As if that weren’t enough, Biden said it one more time:

“I flat guarantee you.”

What does it mean when those words come from the Vice President of an Administration that’s been talking for years about a deal to cut Social Security? A lot.

Joe Sestak and Marc Gilmore: Principal Reductions Can Save the Economy… By Saving Homes

The Federal Housing Finance Agency’s recent announcement that it would bar Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac from reducing principal for borrowers at risk of foreclosure has brought attention to an almost certain means to fix an economy that over the past few years has taken halting, unsteady steps towards recovery. Distinct signs of progress have been observed in several areas. Manufacturing productivity has increased, hiring has picked up, and the unemployment rate has fallen from more than 10 percent to roughly 8 percent. Despite these signs of progress, though, there is one prominent segment that continues to undermine the economic recovery: the housing market. The problems in the housing market will continue to impose a serious drag on the economic recovery until that market is stabilized.

The failure to prevent the millions of troubled mortgages from becoming delinquent and being foreclosed causes damage not only to individual borrowers who lose their homes, but also to their communities and to the economy as a whole. When borrowers default on their mortgages and are not provided effective modifications, their homes are eventually sold through short sales or foreclosure sales at substantial losses to the lenders and investors who funded the purchase of the home. For the past two years, those distressed property sales have comprised 30 percent of all home sales, on average, and have sold at an average discount of 30 percent less than the contemporary market value of non-distressed properties. Because they sell for so much less than other properties, those distressed properties drive down the values of the other homes in their neighborhoods, across their community, and throughout their metropolitan areas. These are the headwinds that continue to hold the housing market back.

Leslie Savan: How Paul Ryan Makes It Easier for Republicans to Steal the Election

Everybody, even the Republicans, is talking about how choosing Paul Ryan as his running mate has made winning the election just that much harder for Mitt Romney. But maybe the choice makes it just a little bit easier to steal.

Sure, some down-ballot Republican candidates are scrambling to distance themselves from Ryan’s plan to strangle Medicare; and behind the scenes, many Beltway GOP operatives worry that with Ryan on the ticket, “Romney has practically ceded the election,” as Politico writes. But these scaredy-cats are forgetting that even issues like Medicare may ultimately prove irrelevant as long as their vast system of voter suppression is up and running. As if to remind them, a Pennsylvania judge yesterday upheld that state’s draconian voter ID law, which could keep hundreds of thousands of registered minority, urban and elderly voters from the ballot box-enough to hand this Obama-leaning state to Romney.

And Paul Ryan is the GOP’s best bet that such a theft would be greeted with a nationwide shrug.

Here’s why: [..]

Aug 17 2012

On This Day In History August 17

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour a cup of your favorite morning beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

August 17 is the 229th day of the year (230th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 136 days remaining until the end of the year.

The Dakota War of 1862 (also known as the Sioux Uprising, Sioux Outbreak of 1862, the Dakota Conflict, the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 or Little Crow’s War) was an armed conflict between the United States and several bands of the eastern Sioux or Dakota which began on August 17, 1862, along the Minnesota River in southwest Minnesota. It ended with a mass execution of 38 Dakota men on December 26, 1862, in Mankato, Minnesota.

Throughout the late 1850s, treaty violations by the United States and late or unfair annuity payments by Indian agents caused increasing hunger and hardship among the Dakota. Traders with the Dakota previously had demanded that the government give the annuity payments directly to them (introducing the possibility of unfair dealing between the agents and the traders to the exclusion of the Dakota). In mid-1862 the Dakota demanded the annuities directly from their agent, Thomas J. Galbraith. The traders refused to provide any more supplies on credit under those conditions, and negotiations reached an impasse.

On August 17, 1862, four Dakota killed five American settlers while on a hunting expedition. That night a council of Dakota decided to attack settlements throughout the Minnesota River valley to try to drive whites out of the area. There has never been an official report on the number of settlers killed, but estimates range from 400 to 800. It is said that until the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the civilian wartime toll from the Dakota conflict was the highest in U.S. history (excluding those of the Civil War).

Over the next several months, continued battles between the Dakota against settlers and later, the United States Army, ended with the surrender of most of the Dakota bands. By late December 1862, soldiers had taken captive more than a thousand Dakota, who were interned in jails in Minnesota. After trials and sentencing, 38 Dakota were hanged on December 26, 1862, in the largest one-day execution in American history. In April 1863 the rest of the Dakota were expelled from Minnesota to Nebraska and South Dakota. The United States Congress abolished their reservations.