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Archive for December 4th, 2006

Key US Senator wants "confrontation" with Putin


WASHINGTON (AFP) – Incoming chairman of the Senate foreign affairs committee, Joe Biden, called for the United States to challenge Russian President Vladimir Putin following the poisoning death of former KGB spy and Kremlin critic Alexandre Litvinenko.

“I don’t know whether he’s involved (in the poisoning), but our relations with Russia have to get straightened out to begin with,” Biden said on Fox television.
“Russia is moving more and more toward an oligarchy here. Putin is consolidating power,” Biden said, adding that the United States had failed to challenge Putin for several years.

“I think that Russia is sliding further away from genuine democracy and a free-market system and more toward a command economy and the control of a single man,” he said, adding that he is “not a big fan of Putin’s.”
“I think we should have a direct confrontation with Putin politically about the need for him to change his course of action,” Biden said.

Asked if such a confrontation could include pushing Russia out of the G-8 summit of industrialized nations, Biden said no.

But, he said, “I would consider laying down markers about whether or not, as he continues to consolidate power within that economy and in that country, whether or not he warrants continued membership,” he said.

In a letter published after his death in a London hospital, Litvinenko, poisoned by a highly toxic radioactive substance, polonium 210, accused Putin of direct involvement in his murder, which the Russian president promptly denied.

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Video Is a Window Into a Terror Suspect’s Isolation


One spring day during his three and a half years as an enemy combatant, Jose Padilla experienced a break from the monotony of his solitary confinement in a bare cell in the brig at the Naval Weapons Station in Charleston, S.C.

That day, Mr. Padilla, a Brooklyn-born Muslim convert whom the Bush administration had accused of plotting a dirty bomb attack and had detained without charges, got to go to the dentist.

“Today is May 21,” a naval official declared to a camera videotaping the event. “Right now we’re ready to do a root canal treatment on Jose Padilla, our enemy combatant.”

Several guards in camouflage and riot gear approached cell No. 103. They unlocked a rectangular panel at the bottom of the door and Mr. Padilla’s bare feet slid through, eerily disembodied. As one guard held down a foot with his black boot, the others shackled Mr. Padilla’s legs. Next, his hands emerged through another hole to be manacled.

Wordlessly, the guards, pushing into the cell, chained Mr. Padilla’s cuffed hands to a metal belt. Briefly, his expressionless eyes met the camera before he lowered his head submissively in expectation of what came next: noise-blocking headphones over his ears and blacked-out goggles over his eyes. Then the guards, whose faces were hidden behind plastic visors, marched their masked, clanking prisoner down the hall to his root canal.

The videotape of that trip to the dentist, which was recently released to Mr. Padilla’s lawyers and viewed by The New York Times, offers the first concrete glimpse inside the secretive military incarceration of an American citizen whose detention without charges became a test case of President Bush’s powers in the fight against terror. Still frames from the videotape were posted in Mr. Padilla’s electronic court file late Friday.

To Mr. Padilla’s lawyers, the pictures capture the dehumanization of their client during his military detention from mid-2002 until earlier this year, when the government changed his status from enemy combatant to criminal defendant and transferred him to the federal detention center in Miami. He now awaits trial scheduled for late January.

Together with other documents filed late Friday, the images represent the latest and most aggressive sally by defense lawyers who declared this fall that charges against Mr. Padilla should be dismissed for “outrageous government conduct,” saying that he was mistreated and tortured during his years as an enemy combatant.

Now lawyers for Mr. Padilla, 36, suggest that he is unfit to stand trial. They argue that he has been so damaged by his interrogations and prolonged isolation that he suffers post-traumatic stress disorder and is unable to assist in his own defense. His interrogations, they say, included hooding, stress positions, assaults, threats of imminent execution and the administration of “truth serums.”

A Pentagon spokesman, Lt. Col. Todd Vician, said Sunday that the military disputes Mr. Padilla’s accusations of mistreatment. And, in court papers, prosecutors deny “in the strongest terms” the accusations of torture and say that “Padilla’s conditions of confinement were humane and designed to ensure his safety and security.”

“His basic needs were met in a conscientious manner, including Halal (Muslim acceptable) food, clothing, sleep and daily medical assessment and treatment when necessary,” the government stated. “While in the brig, Padilla never reported any abusive treatment to the staff or medical personnel.”

In the brig, Mr. Padilla was denied access to counsel for 21 months. Andrew Patel, one of his lawyers, said his isolation was not only severe but compounded by material and sensory deprivations. In an affidavit filed Friday, he alleged that Mr. Padilla was held alone in a 10-cell wing of the brig; that he had little human contact other than with his interrogators; that his cell was electronically monitored and his meals were passed to him through a slot in the door; that windows were blackened, and there was no clock or calendar; and that he slept on a steel platform after a foam mattress was taken from him, along with his copy of the Koran, “as part of an interrogation plan.”

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Early ‘Maybe’ From Obama Jolts ’08 Field


WASHINGTON, Dec. 3 — Senator Barack Obama’s announcement that he might run for president is altering the early dynamics of the 2008 Democratic nominating contest. The move has created complications for Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton as she steps up her own preparations and is posing a threat to lesser-known Democrats trying to position themselves as alternatives to Mrs. Clinton, Democrats said Sunday.

The declaration six weeks ago by Mr. Obama, an Illinois Democrat, has set off a surge of interest in Democratic circles, which party officials expect will only be fueled in the coming week as Mr. Obama prepares for a day of campaignlike events in New Hampshire next Sunday.

At the least, Mr. Obama’s very high-profile explorations have contributed to a quickening of the pace across the 2008 Democratic field. On Sunday, Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana said that he would create a presidential exploratory committee this week. And Gov. Tom Vilsack of Iowa went so far as to announce his candidacy two years before Election Day, in what his aides said was a calculated strategy to grab a moment of attention before Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton blot out the sun.

Mrs. Clinton has been meeting in recent days with New York Democrats — including a two-hour brunch on Sunday at the Manhattan apartment of Gov.-elect Eliot Spitzer — to telegraph her own likely entry into the race, though her aides said the get-together had been planned before Mr. Obama discussed his possible run publicly.

But more than simply picking up the pace, Democrats increasingly believe that Mr. Obama has the potential of upending the dynamics of the 2008 contest more than any other Democrat who might run — short, perhaps, of Al Gore, the former vice president, whom some Democrats are pressing to run.

In Mr. Obama, Democrats have a prospective candidate who both underlines and compensates for the potential weaknesses that worry many Democrats about Mrs. Clinton.

He is a fervent opponent of the war in Iraq, and Democrats see him as an exceedingly warm campaigner with a compelling personality and a striking ability to command a crowd. He has no known major political baggage (though he has yet to encounter anything approaching the level of scrutiny Mrs. Clinton has undergone during her years in public life). And Mr. Obama can even match Mrs. Clinton’s arresting political storyline if he tries to became the nation’s first black president as she seeks to become its first female president.

But whatever complications he might pose for Mrs. Clinton are dwarfed by the shadow he is throwing over lesser-known Democrats. Almost without exception, they have approached this race with the same strategy: to try to emerge as the alternative to Mrs. Clinton and take advantage of substantial reservations in Democratic circles about her potential to win the White House.

There is only so much money, seasoned political expertise and media attention to go around, so the prospect of Mr. Obama eyeing the presidential nomination is understandably unsettling to his potential rivals. Whereas their original success was contingent on Mrs. Clinton folding, now they face the prospect of having to hope that two high-profile national Democrats collapse in the year leading into the Iowa caucuses.

“For every candidate in the race who isn’t Hillary Clinton, the entry of any other candidate in the races makes your job that much harder,” said Ron Klain, who worked as a senior adviser for Mr. Gore when he ran for president. “For all those guys, Obama is a very serious candidate who will compete with them for the limited supply of activists and media attention.”

Mark McKinnon, who was a top adviser to President Bush in his two White House runs and who is a senior adviser to Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona and a likely presidential candidate in 2008, said, “I think Barack Obama is the most interesting persona to appear on the political radar screen in decades.” He added, “He’s a walking, talking hope machine, and he may reshape American politics.”

David Axelrod, a senior adviser to Mr. Obama, said, “If you believe at some level that this is a zero-sum game in terms of money and supporters and talent, then any time someone gets in with a big excitement quotient, that affects everybody else.” Mr. Axelrod has worked for Mr. Vilsack and for John Edwards, the former North Carolina senator who ran for president in 2004 and is likely to do so again this time.

Mr. Bayh got a reminder of that on Sunday when he appeared on “This Week” on ABC.

“What kind of a strategy do you need to combat huge political celebrities like John McCain, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton?” asked George Stephanopoulos, the program’s host.

Mr. Bayh earnestly dodged the question for a moment, before finally responding: “Is this a little bit like David and Goliath? A little bit, but as I recall, David did O.K.”

Asked repeatedly about the woman who is perceived as his most formidable challenge in the primary, Mr. Obama has been careful not to criticize Mrs. Clinton directly. But one of his central messages is that he is something Mrs. Clinton is not: a late baby boomer (he was born in 1961, at the tail end of the post-World War II generation; Mrs. Clinton was born in 1947), and a fresh face that rises above old partisan grudges.

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Bush accepts UN Ambassador Bolton’s resignation

President Bush has accepted the resignation of United Nations Ambassador John Bolton when his recess appointment expires on January 6.

“White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said President Bush was ‘surprised’ when Bolton submitted his letter of resignation on Friday and that the president ‘reluctantly accepted’ it,” reports CNN White House Correspondent Suzanne Malveaux.

“Despite the support of a strong bipartisan majority of senators, Ambassador Bolton’s confirmation was blocked by a Democrat filibuster, and this is a clear example of the breakdown in the Senate confirmation process,” Perino said.

Bush and Bolton are set to appear together at a press conference scheduled for 3 PM EST.

Just two weeks ago, Bolton said that he expected to be confirmed by the Senate, but Republican Senator Lincoln Chaffee of Rhode Island declined to support his nomination.

An outspoken UN critic and a prominent conservative, Bolton was named by President George W Bush in August 2005 in what was billed as a US push for reform at the world body.

Bush used his presidential powers to appoint Bolton, 58, during a summer recess of Congress, avoiding what would have been a heated confirmation battle in the US Senate.

The appointment runs out in January, when the next session of Congress begins. Any chances that Bush’s choice might win confirmation evaporated when the opposition centre-left Democrats – critical of Bolton’s style and substance – won control of both houses of the legislature in elections last month.

It was not immediately clear who would replace Bolton, formerly the US State Department’s top arms control official.

Developing…

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