Archives For Barack Obama


 

Published on Dec 26, 2013

 

In a videotaped plea to the president, secretary of state, the media and his family, U.S. government contractor Warren Weinstein is seen urging the Obama administration to negotiate for his release. He says he feels “totally abandoned and forgotten,” and calls on all Americans to use social media to mount a campaign to seek his release. Weinstein, 72, of Rockville, was kidnapped by al-Qaeda militants in Pakistan in 2011. The video was provided to The Washington Post in an anonymous email on Dec. 25. The Obama administration has said it will not negotiate with al-Qaeda for Weinstein’s release.

 

 


Guillermo Granja / Reuters file

Ecuadorean military personnel use a stretcher to carry a Colombian leftist rebel after Colombian troops crossed the border to attack in March 2008. Top FARC commander Raul Reyes was killed in the attack.

WASHINGTON — A covert CIA program has helped Colombia’s government kill at least two dozen leaders of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the rebel insurgency also known as FARC, The Washington Post reported Saturday.

The National Security Agency has also provided “substantial eavesdropping help” to the Colombian government, according to the Post. And the U.S. provided Colombia with GPS equipment that can be used to transform regular munitions into “smart bombs” that can accurately home in on specific targets, even if they are located in dense jungles.

In March 2008, Colombian forces killed a top FARC commander, Raul Reyes, in one of several jungle camps the rebels operated in Ecuador, just across the border. The Post report Saturday said Colombia used U.S.-made smart bombs in the operation.

The report is based on interviews with more than 30 former and current U.S. and Colombian officials, who the Post said spoke on condition of anonymity because the program is classified and ongoing.

The CIA would not comment on the Post report. Without going into detail, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos told the Post that the CIA has been “of help,” providing Colombian forces with “better training and knowledge.”

The multibillion-dollar program was funded secretly and separately from $9 billion in aid that the U.S. has openly provided to Colombia, mostly in military assistance. It was authorized by President George W. Bush and has continued under President Barack Obama, the newspaper reported.

Colombia’s government and FARC have been engaged in peace talks in Havana since late 2012, but there has been no ceasefire between the two sides. Earlier this month Santos blamed the rebels for an attack on a police post that killed nine people, including civilians, military and a police officer.

The FARC rebels took up arms in 1964. The U.S.-backed military buildup has reduced FARC’s ranks to about 9,000 fighters and killed several top commanders, though the rebels insist they are still a potent force.

— The Associated Press

 


Reynolds Allen Wintersmith sentenced for crack cocaine

WASHINGTON —President Barack Obama on Thursday commuted the sentences of eight people he said were serving unduly harsh drug sentences in the most expansive use yet of his power to free inmates.

One of those prisoners is the first cousin of Obama’s friend, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick.

Reynolds Allen Wintersmith Jr., 39, was sentenced to life in prison after being convicted in Illinois in 1994 of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine and crack cocaine.

His sentence was upheld by the Supreme Court in 1998.

All eight who were commuted by Obama were sentenced under old federal guidelines that treated convictions for crack cocaine offenses harsher than those involving the powder form of the drug.

Obama said those whose sentences he commuted Thursday have served at least 15 years in prison, many under mandatory minimums that required judges to impose long sentences even if they didn’t think the time fit the crime.

“If they had been sentenced under the current law, many of them would have already served their time and paid their debt to society,” Obama said in a written statement. “Instead, because of a disparity in the law that is now recognized as unjust, they remain in prison, separated from their families and their communities, at a cost of millions of taxpayer dollars each year.”

Wintersmith’s relationship to Patrick was first reported by Politico.com.

A White House spokesman, who asked not to be named, said Wintersmith’s relationship to Patrick had no bearing on the president’s decision and said that Patrick had not contacted the White House.

A spokesman for Patrick said the governor has “no recollection” of meeting Wintersmith, noting a difference in their ages, and learned of the commutation only from media reports.


BY FREDERIC J. FROMMER

Obama

White House press secretary Jay Carney speaks during the daily press briefing at the White House in Washington, Monday, Dec. 16, 2013. Carney reiterated the position of the White House that there will be no amnesty for former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. EVAN VUCCI — AP Photo

Even if NSA’s “metadata” collection of records should pass constitutional muster, the judge said, there is little evidence it has ever prevented a terrorist attack. The collection program was disclosed by former NSA systems analyst Edward Snowden, provoking a heated national and international debate.

U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon granted a preliminary injunction against the collecting of the phone records of two men who had challenged the program and said any such records for the men should be destroyed. But he put enforcement of that decision on hold pending a near-certain government appeal, which may well end up at the Supreme Court.

The injunction applies only to the two individual plaintiffs, but the ruling is likely to open the door to much broader challenges to the records collection and storage.

The plaintiffs are Larry Klayman, a conservative lawyer, and Charles Strange, who is the father of a cryptologist technician who was killed in Afghanistan when his helicopter was shot down in 2011. The son worked for the NSA and support personnel for Navy SEAL Team VI.

Leon, an appointee of President George W. Bush, ruled that the two men “have a substantial likelihood of showing” that their privacy interests outweigh the government’s interest in collecting the data “and therefore the NSA’s bulk collection program is indeed an unreasonable search under the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment.”

“I have little doubt that the author of our Constitution, James Madison, who cautioned us to beware ‘the abridgment of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power,’ would be aghast,” he declared.

In addition to civil liberties critics, big communications companies are unhappy with the NSA program, concerned about a loss of business from major clients who are worried about government snooping. President Barack Obama will meet Tuesday with executives from leading technology companies. The meeting was previously scheduled, but the NSA program is sure to be on the agenda, and now the court ruling will be in the mix.

After the ruling, Andrew C. Ames, a spokesman for the Justice Department’s National Security Division, said in a statement, “We’ve seen the opinion and are studying it. We believe the program is constitutional as previous judges have found. We have no further comment at this time.”

Snowden, in a statement provided to reporter Glenn Greenwald and obtained by The Associated Press, said, “I acted on my belief that the NSA’s mass surveillance programs would not withstand a constitutional challenge and that the American public deserved a chance to see these issues determined by open courts. Today, a secret program authorized by a secret court was, when exposed to the light of day, found to violate Americans’ rights. It is the first of many.”

Klayman said in a telephone interview that it was a big day for the country.

“Obviously it’s a great ruling and a correct ruling, and the first time that in a long time that a court has stepped in to prevent the tyranny of the other two branches of government,” he said.

The Obama administration has defended the program as a crucial tool against terrorism.

But in his 68-page, heavily footnoted opinion, Leon concluded that the government didn’t cite a single instance in which the program “actually stopped an imminent terrorist attack.”

“I have serious doubts about the efficacy of the metadata collection program as a means of conducting time-sensitive investigations in cases involving imminent threats of terrorism,” he added.

He said was staying his ruling pending appeal “in light of the significant national security interests at stake in this case and the novelty of the constitutional issues.”

The government has argued that under a 1979 Supreme Court ruling, Smith v. Maryland, no one has an expectation of privacy in the telephone data that phone companies keep as business records. In that ruling, the high court rejected the claim that police need a warrant to obtain such records.

But Leon said that was a “far cry” from the issue in this case. The question, he said, is, “When do present-day circumstances — the evolutions in the government’s surveillance capabilities, citizens’ phone habits, and the relationship between the NSA and telecom companies — become so thoroughly unlike those considered by the Supreme Court 34 years ago that a precedent like Smith simply does not apply? The answer, unfortunately for the government, is now.”

He wrote that the court in 1979 couldn’t have imagined how people interact with their phones nowadays, citing the explosion of cellphones. In addition, he said, the Smith case involved a search of just a few days, while “there is the very real prospect that the (NSA) program will go on for as long as America is combatting terrorism, which realistically could be forever!”

Leon added: “The almost-Orwellian technology that enables the government to store and analyze the phone metadata of every telephone user in the United States is unlike anything that could have been conceived of in 1979.”

The judge also mocked the government’s contention that it would be burdensome to comply with any court order that requires the NSA to remove the plaintiffs from its database.

“Of course, the public has no interest in saving the government from the burdens of complying with the Constitution!” he wrote. As for the government’s complaint that other successful requests “could ultimately have a degrading effect on the utility of the program,” he said, “I will leave it to other judges to decide how to handle any future litigation in their courts.”

Sen. Mark Udall, a Colorado Democrat and member of the Intelligence Committee, said Leon’s ruling “underscores what I have argued for years: The bulk collection of Americans’ phone records conflicts with Americans’ privacy rights under the U.S. Constitution and has failed to make us safer.”

Stephen Vladeck, a national security law expert at the American University law school, said Leon is the first judge to say he has serious constitutional concerns about the program.

“This is the opening salvo in a very long story, but it’s important symbolically in dispelling the invincibility of the metadata program,” he added.

Vladeck said 15 judges on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court have examined Section 215 of the Patriot Act, the provision of law under which the data collection takes place, without finding constitutional problems. “There’s a disconnect between the 15 judges on the FISA court who seem to think it’s a no-brainer that Section 215 is constitutional, and Judge Leon, who seems to think otherwise.”

Vladeck said there is a long road of court tests ahead for both sides in this dispute and that a higher court could ultimately avoid ruling on the big constitutional issue identified by Leon. “There are five or six different issues in these cases,” Vladeck said.

Robert F. Turner, a professor at the University of Virginia’s Center for National Security Law, said searching the databases involved in the National Security Agency case is similar to searching motor vehicle records or FBI fingerprint files.

The judge’s decision is highly likely to be reversed on appeal, Turner said.

He said the collection of telephone metadata — the issue in Monday’s ruling — has already been addressed and resolved by the Supreme Court. Turner said law enforcement officials routinely obtain telephone bills that include the numbers dialed without the use of a warrant.

“The odds that an American will have their phone metadata examined by law enforcement officials are about 1,000-times greater than by the National Security Agency,” Turner said.

Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, which has a similar challenge pending in federal court in New York, called Leon’s ruling “a strongly worded and carefully reasoned decision that ultimately concludes, absolutely correctly, that the NSA’s call-tracking program can’t be squared with the Constitution.”

Associated Press writers Mark Sherman, Pete Yost, Nedra Pickler and Kimberly Dozier in Washington and Bradley Brooks in Brazil, contributed to this story.

 


Unconfirmed reports of explosives at Harvard University

CAMBRIDGE, Mass., —All four buildings on Harvard University’s campus that were evacuated Monday morning after campus police received an unconfirmed report that explosives may have been placed inside, have been cleared and reopened.

The report warned of explosives at Harvard’s Science Center, Thayer, Sever and Emerson Halls.

Watch NewsCenter 5 report

The university ordered the immediate evacuation of those buildings, interrupting final exams.

“There have been no reports of explosions,” the university said in a Twitter post.

Photos: Harvard buildings evacuated

Homeland Security officers joined Cambridge and Harvard police in the investigation and the White House said President Barack Obama was being briefed.

“Out of an abundance of caution, the buildings have been evacuated while the report is investigated,” the university said.

Video: Student taking test describes evacuation

An “all clear” was issued for Thayer and Emerson Halls just before 1 p.m. A similar order was issued for Sever Hall and Harvard Yard just before 2 p.m. The last building cleared was the Science Center at about 2:45 p.m.

Three of the buildings evacuated border Harvard Yard and access to Harvard Yard was restricted to residents of the Yard with Harvard identification, the university said.

“There were 300 students in our constitutional law class who had just sat down for exams in the Science Center when fire alarms went off,” said junior Matt Wardrop.

Massachusetts State Police said one of its bomb squad units was called.  MBTA Transit Police did a sweep of the Harvard T station.

Final exams have begun at the Ivy League school, and exams scheduled in the affected buildings were canceled, the Harvard Crimson reported.

“I think people were concerned, but people who had morning exams like I did were slightly relieved we didn’t have to take them,” said Wardrop.

Last month, another Ivy League school, Yale University in Connecticut, was locked down for nearly six hours while authorities investigated a phone call saying an armed man was heading to shoot it up, a warning they later said was likely a hoax.

And in February, someone called in a hoax about a gunman on the campus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, another elite school about two miles from Harvard. The university said the gunman was a staff member looking for revenge after the suicide of an Internet activist accused of illegally using MIT computers.

Four building on the Harvard Campus were evacuated by the University Monday morning.


James Costello met Krista D’Agostino at Spaulding

Kristina D’Agostino holds her engagement ring in front of the carousel in Lyon, France

James Costello/Facebook

LYON, France —From heartbreak comes the heart-warming story of love in one man’s recovery from grievous injuries suffered in the Boston Marathon bombings.

“April 15 was one of the worst days of my life,” James Costello, of Malden, writes in a Facebook post. “I soon wondered why and for what reason this had happened.”

Eight months later, Costello would find the answer.

Costello, who was with friends near the Boston Marathon finish line, was captured in photos in the minutes after the bombings with his jeans shredded and blackened, his body so burned that he was left needing pig skin grafts on most of his right arm and right leg.

Three of Costello’s friends lost a leg, including brothers Paul Norden, 31, and J.P. Norden, 33. Other friends suffered serious burns and shrapnel injuries after the second bomb exploded outside Forum restaurant on Boylston Street.

But after about two weeks at Massachusetts General Hospital, where he underwent multiple surgeries and was among patients who met President Barack Obama, Costello was transferred to Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital.

“A few days later I saw a nurse in passing, this would turn out to be Krista, who had shared a few mutual friends, but we had never crossed paths before,” Costello, known to his friends as “Bim,” wrote about nurse Krista D’Agostino.

“After sharing a handful of conversations I realized not only how beautiful she was but also what a kind heart she had. I somehow convinced her to attend a benefit with me, which turned into a few dates, which turned into a few inseparable months,” wrote Costello.

Photos:  Marathon victim engaged to hospital nurse

Costello and D’Agostino are spending part of December in Europe with other victims and first responders on an all-expenses-paid “Heroes Cruise.”

In the French city of Lyon, Costello popped the question.

“I’m happy to announce that we will spend the rest of our lives together. I now realized why I was involved in the tragedy. It was to meet my best friend, and the love of my life.”

A Facebook photo of D’Agostino showing her engagement ring in front of Lyon’s famed carousel is a remarkable contrast to the images of Costello staggering away from the devastation on Boylston Street.


LIVE: Mandela remembered at memorial service

1) 4 a.m. ET: Former South African President Nelson Mandela is remembered at a memorial service. U.S. President Barack Obama is among several people scheduled to speak.

Read more: http://www.wcvb.com/news/live-mandela-remembered-at-synagogue-service/-/9849222/23404230/-/70o6tp/-/index.html#ixzz2n44SCIEN

2) Pam Cross recalls covering Mandela’s 1990 Boston trip

Read more: http://www.wcvb.com/news/local/metro/Pam-Cross-recalls-covering-Mandela-s-1990-Boston-trip/-/11971628/23341914/-/k2gi45z/-/index.html#ixzz2n44f9TvK

3) Mandela remembered with singing, dancing

South Africans paying tribute to Mandela outside his home

Read more: http://www.wcvb.com/news/national/mandela-remembered-with-singing-dancing/-/9848944/23361484/-/hnw23kz/-/index.html#ixzz2n44pP9eQ