Daily Archives: July 3, 2009

Supreme Court Refuses Case Linking Saudi Royalty to 9/11 Filed by Victims’ Families

NY Times | Jun 29, 2009

By ERIC LICHTBLAU

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Monday refused to hear an appeal brought by families and insurers of victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, in an effort to link the Saudi royal family to the financing of Al Qaeda and terrorism.

The decision lets stand a lower court ruling that found Saudi Arabia and members of the royal family could not be sued in American court because of a 1976 law granting sovereign immunity to foreign countries.

The Obama administration angered some victims’ families last month by supporting the Saudis’ claim to immunity, citing among other factors the significant diplomatic implications raised by the case.

Lawyers for the victims’ families had wanted the Supreme Court to resolve a split among appeals courts on the question of immunity and allow the suit to move forward based on an exception to the law for countries that sponsor terrorism. Some survivors accused the Obama administration of coddling the Saudis.

But the Supreme Court, without comment, refused to intervene in the case.

The families will still be allowed to continue with their claims in federal court against a number of Saudi financial institutions, charities and other groups that are not directly tied to the Saudi government or the royal family. Those defendants were not affected by the court’s decision not to hear the case.

“We intend to vigorously press those claims and are confident that the presentation of our evidence against those remaining defendants will lead directly back to government offices and royal palaces in Riyadh,” said Sean Carter, a lawyer with the Philadelphia law firm Cozen O’Connor, which is representing a number of insurance companies that paid billions in claims arising from the Sept. 11 attacks.

Grand Jury Holds Inquiry on Destruction of 92 Tapes of Brutal Interrogation by CIA

NY Times | Jul 3, 2009

By MARK MAZZETTI

WASHINGTON — Current and former top Central Intelligence Agency officers have appeared before a federal grand jury in Virginia as part of an 18-month investigation into the agency’s destruction of 92 videotapes depicting the brutal interrogations of two Qaeda detainees.

The witnesses recently called by the special prosecutor, former government officials said, include the agency’s top officer in London and Porter J. Goss, who was C.I.A. director when the tapes were destroyed in November 2005.

The grand jury testimony of C.I.A. officers is further evidence that, despite President Obama’s pledge not to punish agency operatives for their role in the detention and interrogation of terrorism suspects, the shadow of the controversial program still looms over the agency’s daily operations.

The court appearances are tied to a criminal investigation led by John L. Durham, whom the Justice Department appointed in January 2008 to investigate the destruction of the tapes. The tapes had shown C.I.A. officers using harsh interrogation methods, including waterboarding, on two detainees, Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri.

Mr. Durham has shrouded his investigation in a level of secrecy rare even by the normally tight-lipped standards of special prosecutors, and after 18 months it is still difficult to assess either the direction or the targets of his investigation.

Current and former intelligence officials say the tapes were ordered destroyed by Jose A. Rodriguez Jr., then the head of the C.I.A.’s clandestine branch. Mr. Rodriguez had worried that the tapes might be leaked and put undercover operatives in legal and physical jeopardy.

One top C.I.A. officer who recently appeared before Mr. Durham’s grand jury is the agency’s station chief in London, who had worked with Mr. Rodriguez when he led the agency’s Counterterrorism Center and who eventually became his chief of staff at the clandestine branch.

Because she remains undercover, The New York Times is not publishing her name. She is said by former agency officers to have helped carry out Mr. Rodriguez’s order to destroy the tapes.

The tapes had been kept in a safe at the C.I.A. station in Thailand, the country where the interrogations took place.

Mr. Goss, whom President George W. Bush removed from the C.I.A in May 2006, is said by several former C.I.A. officials to have opposed the destruction of the tapes.

Mr. Rodriguez has not yet testified before the grand jury, two former C.I.A. officers said.

In a court filing last year, Mr. Durham indicated he planned to wrap up interviews for the investigation by late February, but Obama administration officials have indicated more recently that Mr. Durham could continue his work through the summer. One reason for the pace of the investigation, officials said, is that the grand jury convenes only once a month to hear testimony.

The current and former government officials interviewed for this article all spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were discussing details of a continuing criminal investigation.

Besides the question of who at the C.I.A. and White House might have authorized the destruction of the tapes, Mr. Durham is investigating the legal guidance Mr. Rodriguez received before giving the order. One issue is whether the agency might have broken the law by destroying tapes that could have been introduced as evidence in federal trials.

Mr. Rodriguez told colleagues at the time that two lawyers inside the agency’s clandestine branch, Steven Hermes and Robert Eatinger, had advised him that there was no legal impediment to destroying the tapes and that he had the authority to give the order.

But the advice of the two lawyers was careful, the former officials said, and they never gave official approval for the tapes’ destruction.

The C.I.A. never disclosed the existence of the tapes to either the Sept. 11 commission or federal courts that had been hearing the cases of Qaeda suspects in American custody.

At the time the tapes were destroyed, lawyers for Zacarias Moussaoui, the so-called 20th hijacker in the Sept. 11 plot, were seeking information from the Bush administration about the interrogation of Mr. Zubaydah that might have pertained to Mr. Moussaoui’s role in the 2001 attacks.

Some legal experts said Mr. Durham might have trouble building a criminal case around the role of the C.I.A. lawyers.

“It seems difficult to prove that lawyers had criminal intent,” said John Radsan, a former C.I.A. lawyer and federal prosecutor who now teaches at the William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul, “and they didn’t have Rodriguez’s personal interest in getting rid of the tapes.”

“Incompetence does not equal obstruction of justice,” Mr. Radsan said.

As Mr. Durham’s investigation proceeds, the Obama administration has also been forced under a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit to make public a number of top-secret documents related to the C.I.A. detention program.

On Thursday, the Justice Department sent a letter to a judge in New York saying that it would need until Aug. 31 to produce a copy of a 2004 report by the agency’s inspector general detailing a number of abuses at C.I.A. prisons overseas.

Green Hypocrisy by the Royal family

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Prince Charles recorded the most expensive travel bill in history

Private Jet Daily | Jun 30, 2009

Prince Charles recorded the most expensive travel bill in the history of royal accounts with two private jet trips.

In behalf of the Foreign Commonwealth Office, he went to the Far East last autumn and visited South America last May. The trips cost British tax payers £694,081 and £698,890, respectively.

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On both trips, the royal family member was accused of “green hypocrisy” as visits were supposed to highlight environmental issues and global warming.

In 2008, the Queen and her extended family spent £6.5million worth of travel expenses. The statistic indicated a £300,000 increase on the previous 12 months. The expensive bill includes travel in private jets, helicopters, and the Royal Train.

One of the most expensive travel bills was recorded by the Duke of Gloucester, who travelled with his wife to the South Pacific to attend the coronation of King Tupou V of Tonga.

The trip, which cost £140,000, included scheduled flights in Australia and a private jet trip from paradise isle.

Aides insist that Tonga is a Commonwealth county, making it essential for one of the queen’s representatives to attend.

Another expensive trip came from the Duke of York, who is now dubbed by reporters as “Air Miles Andy.” He represented the Queen as a UK Special Ambassador for Trade and Industry to the Baltic States, Mongolia, and China last October. His trips accumulated a total cost of £149,430.

However, Prince Charles topped the list for expensive trips with over £2million spent on trips at home and abroad.

Energy bills ‘too low’ to combat climate change says Royal Society

Royal Society report says current government policy is not enough to pay for green technology

Guardian | Jun 29, 2009

by Alok Jha

Consumers will need to pay more for energy if the UK is to have any chance of developing the technologies needed to tackle climate change, according to a group of leading scientists and engineers.

In a Royal Society study to be published today, the experts said that the government must put research into alternatives to fossil fuel much higher among its priorities, and argued that current policy in the area was “half-hearted”.

“We have adapted to an energy price which is unrealistically low if we’re going to try and preserve the environment,” John Shepherd, a climate scientist at Southampton University and co-author of the report said. “We have to allow the economy to adapt to higher energy prices through carbon prices and that will then make things like renewables and nuclear more economic, as carbon-based alternatives become more expensive.”

Shepherd admitted higher energy costs would be a hard sell to the public, but said it was not unthinkable. Part of the revenue could be generated by a carbon tax that took the place of VAT, so that the cost of an item took into account the energy and carbon footprint of a product. This would allow people to make appropriate decisions on their spending, and also raise cash for research into alternatives.

“Our research expenditure on non-fossil energy sources is 0.2% of what we spend on energy itself,” said Shepherd. “Multiplying that by 10 would be a very sensible thing to do. We’re spending less than 1% on probably the biggest problem we’ve faced in many decades.”

He said that the priority should be to decarbonise the UK’s electricity supply. Measures such as the government’s recent support for electric cars, he said, would be of no use unless the electricity they used came from carbon-free sources.

Though the creation of the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) was a good move, Shepherd said: “We’ve had a lot of good talk but we still have remarkably little in the way of action.”

He cited the recent DECC proposals on carbon capture and storage (CCS) as an example. The department plans to legislate that any new coal-fired power station must demonstrate CCS on a proportion of its output. Once the technology is proven, a judgment made by the EnvironmentAgency around 2020, power plants would have five years to scale up to full CCS.

Shepherd said the proposals were not bold enough. “Really, it needs to be ‘no new coal unless you have 90% emissions reductions by 2020’. That is achievable and, if that were a clear signal, industry would get on and do it. It’s taken a long time for that signal to come through and now that it has, it’s a half-hearted message.”

A spokesperson for DECC argued that its proposed regulatory measures were “the most environmentally ambitious in the world, and would see any new coal power stations capturing at least 20-25% of their carbon emissions from day one”.

Ed Miliband, energy and climate change secretary, said that a white paper due next month will lay out how Britain will source its energy for the coming decades.

“This white paper will be the first time we’ve set out our vision of an energy mix in the context of carbon budgets and climate change targets. We have identified ways to tackle the challenges – we will need a mix of renewables, clean fossil fuels and nuclear and we’re already making world-leading progress in those areas. It’s a transition plan, a once in a generation statement of how the UK will make the historic and permanent move to a low-carbon economy with emissions cut by at least 80% in the middle of the century.”

The Royal Society report will argue that energy policy has been too fragmented and short-term in its outlook, with a tendency to hunt for silver-bullet solutions to climate change. “That really isn’t the case. What we need is a portfolio of solutions, horses for courses,” said Shepherd.

First Chinese swine flu fatality “was electrocuted”

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Chinese health workers set up an information booth about swine flu at a community health centre. Photo: AP

A 34-year-old woman who became the first swine flu victim to die in China may have actually been electrocuted in the hospital toilet, it has emerged.
 
Telegraph | Jul 3, 2009

By Malcolm Moore in Shanghai

The unnamed patient was found dead early on Wednesday morning in the Number One People’s Hospital in the eastern city of Hangzhou.

The woman had been admitted to the hospital on June 23, but had shown signs of recovery as her fever abated.

Doctors told Xinhua, the state newswire, that her temperature had been normal for a week and that her only remaining symptom was occasional coughing.

Yesterday, relatives of the woman attacked the hospital, smashing the entrance lobby and an ambulance with rocks. They said the woman had died from an electric shock while using the bathroom.

Local police said they were continuing to investigate the case, but officials said the death had been “accidental”.

China has yet to suffer a fatality directly linked to swine flu.

However, Liang Wannian, vice director of the Health ministry’s emergency office, said it was “very likely” that there would be a death from the disease in the near future.

Despite strict controls at all airports, China has 866 confirmed H1N1 infections, with 340 under current hospital treatment.

The World Health Organization said it had recorded 77,201 confirmed cases of H1N1 flu in more than 100 nations by Wednesday, including 332 deaths.

Burke’s Peerage to include illegitimate offspring of the aristocracy

For the first time in its 173-year history, Burke’s Peerage and Gentry is to include illegitimate offspring – the children of peers, baronets, knights and landed families born out of wedlock.

Burke’s would “probably not list them if there was a scandal or anything”.
 
Telegraph | Jun 30, 2009

By Richard Savill

The genealogical reference resource, often referred to as ‘the aristocracy’s bible’, is also to list children in order of birth instead of placing males at the top.

William Bortrick, who at 33 is Burke’s youngest executive and royal editor, said the “momentous” changes would bring the publication into the 21st century.

Explaining the decision to include illegitimate children, Mr Bortrick said: “Today many people, even from titled families, do not marry. It is just common sense to list their children.”

However, he said Burke’s would “probably not list them if there was a scandal or anything”.

The decision to list children in order of birth will mean a change to the entry of the current monarch. The Queen’s entry previously placed the Princess Royal at the foot of the list.

The updated version will list the Princess behind the Prince of Wales, but ahead of the Duke of York and the Earl of Wessex.

Another example is George V, whose daughter Princess Mary, a former Princess Royal, has been at the foot of the list behind her five brothers, but will now be placed third.

Burke’s Peerage has documented the ancestry of the United Kingdom and Ireland’s titled and landed families since 1826. There are over a million names listed in its records, which also include presidential families of the United States, and the royal families of Europe.

Mr Bortrick said the weight of tradition meant changes came slowly, but he added that he wanted to be more “inclusive and up-to-date”.

Burke’s has previously listed male children first as they were deemed more important, and because most titles go down the male line.

But Mr Bortrick said: “Genealogy is now a subject for everyone from every walk of life and not just for the elite. Whether your name is Smith, Jones or Windsor we are all far more connected now.

”Most historic titles are male only, but some go through the female line, and through the last 1,000 years we have had some very strong female figures. Just look at the monarchy itself.”

Burke’s also plans to include the children of those people who marry into a family that is not already listed.

”Previously we would just write ‘and had issue’. But we will record these children and grandchildren,” Mr Bortrick said.

“Despite some resistance the changes are already underway. We have starting amending our online records. Our website is getting more and more hits from ordinary people, wanting to create family trees and research, and all these changes will help them.”

Obama Considering Prolonged Terror Detentions

VOA | Jul 3, 2009

By Kent Klein
 
U.S. President Barack Obama is still struggling with what to do with the most dangerous terror detainees at the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The president addressed this and other issues in a wide-ranging interview with a domestic wire service.

The new U.S. administration has been struggling over what to do with the detainees at Guantanamo Bay, ever since, in his first days in office, President Obama ordered the American prison closed by next January. The president says dealing with terror suspects, most who have been held for years, will be one of his biggest challenges.

Mr. Obama tells the Associated Press he would consider moving some detainees from Guantanamo to other locations for long periods. But he says he may not be comfortable with any specific plans for doing that. “It gives me huge pause and that is why we are going to proceed very carefully on this front,” he said.

Mr. Obama says some detainees are not a good fit for prosecution in the United States or under international law.

This week in Afghanistan, 4,000 U.S. Marines and hundreds of Afghan security forces faced sporadic resistance as they moved into Taliban strongholds in Afghanistan’s Helmand province.

It marks the first major operation under Mr. Obama’s strategy for stabilizing the country. He was asked about the operation in the wide ranging interview. “I have a very narrow definition of success when it comes to our national security interests and that is that Al-Qaida and its affiliates cannot set-up safe havens from which to attack Americans,” he said.

Mr. Obama is preparing for a week-long overseas trip, highlighted by his meetings with Russian leaders in Moscow.

He will consult with both Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, on nuclear arms control and other issues.

The president says Mr. Medvedev understands that the Cold War approach to U.S.-Russian relations is outdated, but that Mr. Putin has not totally changed his thinking. “I think Putin has one foot in the old way of doing business and one foot in the new,” he said.

But Mr. Obama says he believes it is important to meet with both leaders, because Mr. Putin still holds a great deal of power in Russia. “I think meeting with the Prime Minister ensures that he and Medvedev are hearing the same things and seeing the same things so they can move in concert in cooperating with us on some critical issues,” he said.

Mr. Obama will also participate in a G-8 economic summit in Italy, and will visit Ghana, in his first trip to Africa as president.