Jumaat, 25 Oktober 2013

The Star Online: World Updates

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The Star Online: World Updates

Obama says shutdown shows contrast of parties' visions


NEW YORK (Reuters) - With an eye to 2014 elections, President Barack Obama held up the government shutdown this month as an emblem of fundamental differences between Democrats and Republicans on Friday in an appeal to wealthy donors.

"The shutdown was about more than just healthcare, it was about, sort of, a contrast in visions about what our obligations are to our fellow citizens," the president said at a fundraiser at the home of Karen Mehiel on New York's posh Upper East Side.

Republicans made defunding the president's signature healthcare program a condition for continuing to fund government operations, leading to a partial shutdown for 16 days and bringing the country to the brink of debt default.

The president must work with Republicans who control the House of Representatives if he hopes to pass budget, immigration reform or farm legislation this year, as he has said he hopes to do.

But his comments point to an effort to take advantage of the shutdown, which hurt Republicans' in public opinion polls, to help Democrats make inroads and perhaps reverse the Republicans' majority in the House.

Serious snags marring the rollout this month of the healthcare program could hurt Democrats, but Obama made no mention of those difficulties in brief public remarks at other fundraisers.

Instead, the president focused on his hopes to boost spending on things like education and repairing roads and bridges, which he said were part of the vision for the country that Democrats share.

"We believe that government has a role to play," he said. "Part of the debate and battle over the last several years has been what role do we have as a country collectively to create the platform and the tools for people to succeed."

The president has embarked on a series of fundraising events that began this week in Washington.

In New York, he raised money for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee at a reception followed by a dinner. It was the fourth fundraiser he has held for the DCCC in the 2014 cycle.

At another event across town in Manhattan, Obama appeared at an event attended by 20 people who paid up to $32,400, a Democratic National Committee official said.

Obama is due to travel to Boston for fundraisers next week.

In November, he is expected to raise funds in Miami, Philadelphia, Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

(Editing by Philip Barbara)

Guantanamo lawyers want Obama to declassify CIA prison program


FORT MEADE, Maryland (Reuters) - Attorneys for five Guantanamo prisoners charged with plotting the September 11, 2001, attacks have asked President Barack Obama to declassify the CIA program that subjected the defendants to interrogation techniques that have been described as torture.

In a letter made public on Friday, the lawyers asked the president to release potentially mitigating information that could spare the defendants from execution if they are convicted on charges of hijacking, terrorism and murdering nearly 3,000 people.

The CIA's Rendition, Detention and Interrogation program, or RDI program, was authorized by President George W. Bush's administration after the September 11 attacks.

It allowed captives suspected of links to al Qaeda to be seized, transferred without judicial review to secret overseas prisons and subjected to "enhanced interrogation techniques" such as sleep deprivation, extreme temperatures and a simulated drowning method called waterboarding.

"The existing classification restrictions surrounding the RDI program only facilitate further concealment of war crimes committed by agents of our government," the lawyers wrote to Obama.

Military officials have said much of the information is classified by the government because it could threaten national security if it is released publicly.

The defence attorneys say the evidence would show that the United States violated the international Convention Against Torture, which President Ronald Reagan signed in 1988 and the U.S. Senate ratified in 1994.

The secrecy restrictions violate the universal prohibition against silencing victims of torture, their letter said.

"These self-serving restrictions also prohibit us from faithfully discharging duties and defending these men in a manner consistent with our most cherished values," it said.

A White House spokeswoman confirmed receipt of the letter, but did not comment on the declassification request, instead noting that the CIA was cooperating with a report on the RDI program by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. "The president has made clear that the program that is the subject of the committee's work is inconsistent with our values as a nation," she said.

The defence attorneys repeated their requests for the classified information this week during a pre-trial hearing in the war crimes tribunal at the Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base in Cuba.

On Friday, defence lawyers and prosecutors debated whether the government should return laptops that were issued to the defendants during a Bush-era prosecution attempt and later seized.

They also debated whether the defence teams had enough Arabic translators and whether the defendants could be photographed to document injuries that allegedly occurred while they were in U.S. custody.

The pre-trial hearing was monitored by Reuters through closed-circuit television at the Fort Meade Army base in Maryland.

The letter to Obama was signed by 14 military and civilian defence attorneys representing the captives charged with funding and training the hijackers who slammed commercial jets into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field on September 11, 2001.

The defendants include Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the confessed mastermind of the plot, who was waterboarded 183 times while in CIA custody.

"Quite simply, the classification of the RDI program is suppressing evidence, suppressing the truth and ultimately will suppress any real justice," the attorneys' letter says.

Obama banned further use of waterboarding and other "enhanced interrogation techniques" shortly after taking office in 2009, calling them "torture."

Navy Commander Walter Ruiz, one of the defence lawyers who signed the letter, said the attorneys appealed to Obama because "the court does not have the authority to declassify these documents." The president does have the authority, he said.

Army Brigadier General Mark Martins, the chief prosecutor in the case, declined to comment on the defence team's letter to Obama during a news conference after the hearing.

But he said issues of torture could arise during the trial. "The totality of the circumstances does include looking at prior treatment," Martins said.

U.N. aid chief demands Security Council action on Syria aid access


UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - U.N. aid chief Valerie Amos demanded stronger action by the U.N. Security Council on Friday to get desperately needed aid into Syria, where 2.5 million people in need have not received help for almost a year.

Violence and excessive red tape have slowed aid delivery to a trickle in Syria. More than 100,000 people have been killed in the 2 1/2-year civil war and some 2.1 million have fled. After months of talks, the 15-member Security Council approved a non-binding statement October 2 urging increased humanitarian access.

"This is a race against time. Three weeks have passed since the adoption of this council's statement with little change to report," Amos told the Security Council. "As we deliberate, people continue to die unnecessarily."

"I call upon all members of the council to exert influence and take the necessary action to stop this brutality and violence," she said. "Without real and sustained pressure from this council on the government of Syria and opposition groups on the ground, it will be impossible to make progress."

The Security Council adopted the statement on humanitarian access less than a week after overcoming a long diplomatic impasse between Russia and Western countries to pass a resolution to rid Syria of chemical arms.

Senior U.N. diplomats said that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had at the time dismissed the possibility of a legally binding resolution on aid access.

British U.N. Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said after the briefing by Amos on Friday: "If the (aid statement) is not being taken seriously then obviously it behooves us to look at stronger vehicles, including a resolution."

Russia, a close ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and China have vetoed three Security Council resolutions since October 2011 that would have condemned the government and threatened it with sanctions.


Australian U.N. Ambassador Gary Quinlan said Amos made a "direct and powerful" appeal for the council to find a way to implement its statement, drafted by Australia and Luxembourg, which urged cross-border deliveries and called for humanitarian fighting pauses in fighting and agreed on aid convoy routes.

Russian U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told reporters that, in council consultations after the briefing by Amos, "nobody explicitly suggested a resolution, but I don't think the format of the document is a problem."

He suggested that the main obstacle was increasingly the disparate rebel groups fighting to overthrow Assad.

"I'm very pleased that this time more and more members of the Security Council said that they are now realizing that the problem is not only with the government," Churkin said. "Very often various armed opposition groups are ignoring norms of international humanitarian law."

U.S. State Department officials on Friday urged Russia to use its influence to convince Assad to allow humanitarian convoys into besieged communities around Damascus.

The officials disputed a statement by Moscow on Thursday that snipers from opposition forces were shooting pregnant women "for fun," saying European medical workers had reported that government snipers were responsible.

"The regime's refusal to grant humanitarian access to the U.N. and other humanitarian organizations is preventing humanitarian relief from reaching besieged, opposition-held areas, which can constitute a violation of international humanitarian law," the officials said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the council statement had also urged the Syrian government to help aid operations expand and to remove bureaucratic impediments and other obstacles, but so far there had been no major breakthrough on these issues, Amos said.

She said only 15 international aid groups were allowed to operate in Syria, it was difficult for humanitarian workers to get visas, and while the number of Syrian organizations approved to work with the United Nations had increased to 66, the number allowed to work in the areas with greatest need was limited.

Syrian U.N. Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari said Damascus had given visas to hundreds of people working for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

"If there are any minimal cases here and there (of problems), that wouldn't affect the overall picture of our cooperation with OCHA," he said.

Amos said kidnappings of humanitarian workers and hijackings and seizures of aid trucks were also on the rise and that "last week we had a convoy that was ready to go, but we could not get enough drivers as they fear for their lives."

"The situation on the ground is increasingly complex and dangerous. Some estimate that there are as many as 2,000 armed opposition groups in Syria. Clashes amongst these groups are increasingly common and key humanitarian access routes have been cut off by fierce fighting," Amos said.

"Words, despite their ability to shock, cannot really paint a picture of the grim and gruesome reality of Syria today," she said. "I am extremely disappointed that we have not been able to make further progress."

(Editing by Doina Chiacu and Xavier Briand)

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

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