Case against pro-Israel lobbyists likely to be dropped

The Justice Department asked a judge Friday to drop espionage-related charges against two pro-Israel lobbyists, a move expected to end a politically sensitive case that focused on whether U.S. secrets had been leaked.

Prosecutors said recent court decisions would have made the case hard to win and forced disclosure of large amounts of classified information. But defense lawyers and some legal experts said the government was wrong in the first place for trying to criminalize the kind of information horse-trading that long has occurred in Washington.

The intrigue surrounding the case against the two former lobbyists for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee already was chock-full of references to top-secret intelligence matters and Middle East politics. But it intensified in recent weeks with reports that Rep. Jane Harman (D-Venice), a staunch supporter of AIPAC, had been caught on federal wiretaps in 2005 offering to aid the two lobbyists in exchange for help in obtaining a coveted House committee chairmanship.

The dismissal, which is all but certain to be approved by a federal judge, probably will end the five-year legal battle between the government and the two lobbyists, Steven J. Rosen and Keith Weissman….

Rosen and Weissman may sue the government to recover legal costs, which are estimated at more than $10 million.

Many current and former federal law enforcement officials said the prosecution’s case was strong and that there was proof the two lobbyists knew their actions were wrong.

“The judge had made so many adverse rulings that this was inevitable, but it grates on me,” one former senior Justice Department official said of the decision to drop the case. [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — Rosen is also suing AIPAC for $21 million. Since I imagine neither he nor the pro-Israel lobby actually have any interest in slugging this out in court, Rosen is presumably out to see how much he can squeeze out of his former employer in an out-of-court settlement.

Meanwhile, Jeff Stein notes that blogging speculation around rivalry between Jane Harman and Porter Goss has smothered the “question of what Israeli agents were up to in Washington.”

Just imagine if a headline had read: “FBI wiretap catches Saudi intelligence agent cutting secret deal with member of Congress.” It would have been followed by relentless media coverage, grave official statements, calls for a full investigation and endless commentary.

Instead, after learning that Harman was talking to an Israeli spy, the response is: but didn’t you know that she and Porter Goss were bitter rivals. Say what?!

U.N. finds 60,000 Palestinians risk eviction in East Jerusalem

Since he was a boy in the 1940s, Mazen Abu Diab has seen houses pop up steadily in the Bustan neighborhood of East Jerusalem, slowly filling a strip of land just outside the walled Old City with what are now about 88 homes.

Some were built with the proper permits. Others were not, particularly after Israel annexed the Arab neighborhood in the wake of the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. But while Abu Diab, 63, acknowledges that some of the houses are unauthorized, he argues that the Israeli response — the threatened demolition of dozens of buildings — is an unfair slap at his community.

“I don’t know what the Israeli government teaches a child by demolishing their home,” he said.

On Friday, a United Nations report showed how deep and festering the dispute over housing has become. It estimates that as many as a quarter of the Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem have been built without permits, putting as many as 60,000 people at risk of eviction if Israel strictly enforces its rules on construction. [continued…]

America’s necessary dark night of the soul

So it has finally come, our strange, anesthetized and vaguely dreaded day of national reckoning.

Almost eight years ago, a terrorist attack destroyed two towers in America’s greatest city and killed almost 3,000 people. A year and a half later, still half-dazed by that trauma, America sleepwalked into the weirdest war in our history, a pointless, ruinous conflict fomented by ignorant ideologues, launched on false premises, justified by bogus evidence — and supported by the majority of the American people, both political parties and most of the media. Under cover of that war, President George W. Bush and his top officials created a separate prison system not governed by U.S. laws, ordered the torture of detainees, sent others off to be tortured abroad, illegally wiretapped Americans, and in general ignored and flouted the U.S. Constitution and the rule of law.

In full knowledge of all of that, the American people narrowly reelected George W. Bush president. Two years ago they turned decisively against Bush’s party and his war, throwing Republicans out of Congress en masse. And five months ago, staring into an economic abyss, they elected Barack Obama. Obama’s opposition to the Iraq war from the beginning is almost certainly why he was able to defeat his formidable rival Hillary Clinton. [continued…]

‘Abu Ghraib US prison guards were scapegoats for Bush’ lawyers claim

Prison guards jailed for abusing inmates at the Abu Ghraib jail in Iraq are planning to appeal against their convictions on the ground that recently released CIA torture memos prove that they were scapegoats for the Bush Administration.

The photographs of prisoner abuse at the Baghdad jail in 2004 sparked worldwide outrage but the previous administration, from President Bush down, blamed the incident on a few low-ranking “bad apples” who were acting on their own.

The decision by President Obama to release the memos showed that the harsh interrogation tactics were approved and authorised at the highest levels of the White House. [continued…]

U.S. may revive Guantánamo military courts

The Obama administration is moving toward reviving the military commission system for prosecuting Guantánamo detainees, which was a target of critics during the Bush administration, including Mr. Obama himself.

Officials said the first public moves could come as soon as next week, perhaps in filings to military judges at the United States naval base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, outlining an administration plan to amend the Bush administration’s system to provide more legal protections for terrorism suspects.

Continuing the military commissions in any form would probably prompt sharp criticism from human rights groups as well as some of Mr. Obama’s political allies because the troubled system became an emblem of the effort to use Guantánamo to avoid the American legal system. [continued…]

Videotape complicates U.S. deal with Emirates

A gruesome videotape showing a member of the Abu Dhabi ruling family torturing an Afghan grain merchant has begun casting a lurid new light on allegations of human rights abuses in a city-state better known for skyscrapers and global finance.

The 45-minute videotape shows Sheik Issa bin Zayed al-Nahyan, assisted by uniformed police officers, torturing the merchant with whips, cattle prods and a wooden plank with a protruding nail, and finally driving over him with an S.U.V.

The videotape — first shown last week by ABC News — has provoked outrage from members of Congress, who said it could add fuel to lawmakers’ reservations about a pending civilian nuclear agreement between the United States and the United Arab Emirates, the seven-member federation on the Persian Gulf to which Abu Dhabi belongs. [continued…]

In Pakistan, U.S. courts leader of opposition

As American confidence in the Pakistani government wanes, the Obama administration is reaching out more directly than before to Nawaz Sharif, the chief rival of Asif Ali Zardari, the Pakistani president, administration officials said Friday.

American officials have long held Mr. Sharif at arm’s length because of his close ties to Islamists in Pakistan, but some Obama administration officials now say those ties could be useful in helping Mr. Zardari’s government to confront the stiffening challenge by Taliban insurgents.

The move reflects the heightened concern in the Obama administration about the survivability of the Zardari government. Gen. David H. Petraeus, the head of the United States Central Command, has said in private meetings in Washington that Pakistan’s government is increasingly vulnerable, according to administration officials. [continued…]

Expert groups largely back Obama’s nuclear s tance

Two bipartisan panels of nuclear weapons experts are endorsing much of President Obama’s ambitious arms-control effort in advance of next week’s nonproliferation talks here between Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

A congressionally mandated commission will recommend next week that the United States resume the lead in international efforts to prevent further proliferation of nuclear weapons. The U.S. government should declare that it will rely less on such weapons and seek to reduce U.S. and Russian nuclear stockpiles through extension of the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (START), according to the Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States. But, the commission said, it also should maintain “an appropriately effective nuclear deterrent force.”

The commission split over Senate ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, a move Obama has said he will seek. The group, chaired by William J. Perry, who was President Bill Clinton’s defense secretary, and vice-chaired by James R. Schlesinger, who held that post in the Nixon and Ford administrations, agreed that the Senate should take a close look at the “benefits, costs and risks” of the test ban treaty, which was defeated in 1999 when Republicans controlled Congress. [continued…]

Ex-spy sits down with Islamists and the West

Talking to Islamists is the new order of the day in Washington and London. The Obama administration wants a dialogue with Iran, and the British Foreign Office has decided to reopen diplomatic contacts with Hezbollah, the Shiite militant group based here.

But for several years, small groups of Western diplomats have made quiet trips to Beirut for confidential sessions with members of Hamas, Hezbollah and other Islamist groups they did not want to be seen talking to. In hotel conference rooms, they would warily shake hands, then spend hours listening and hashing out accusations of terrorism on one side and imperial arrogance on the other.

The organizer of these back-door encounters is Alastair Crooke, a quiet, sandy-haired man of 59 who spent three decades working for MI6, the British secret intelligence service. He now runs an organization here called Conflicts Forum, with an unusual board of advisers that includes former spies, diplomats and peace activists. [continued…]

Print Friendly, PDF & Email