June 21, 2012
By MIKE SCHNEIDER | Associated Press
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — A judge will formally read the charges against the 11 Florida A&M band members facing felony charges in the hazing death of a drum major.
They're being arraigned Thursday in an Orlando courtroom, seven months after 26-year-old Robert Champion died following a hazing ritual aboard a bus parked outside an Orlando hotel.
Most of the defendants have waived their arraignments and won't appear in court.
Two defendants who haven't hired attorneys may be assigned public defenders.
Champion died in November following what authorities have said was a hazing incident after FAMU's football game in Orlando. His autopsy report listed his cause of death as a homicide as the result of repeated blows to his body.
June 21, 2012
By TOBY STERLING | Associated Press
AMSTERDAM (AP) — The International Criminal Court installed Gambian war crimes lawyer Fatou Bensouda as its new prosecutor for a nine-year term on Friday.
Bensounda replaces Luis Moreno-Ocampo in a job that has become one of the most prominent in international law over the past decade. She will be tasked with trying to bring to justice alleged war criminals, including Uganda’s Joseph Kony, Libya’s Seif al-Islam Gadhafi, and Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir.
In an address to the court, Bensouda said she was “humbled” by her appointment and promised to continue pursuing all cases that fall under the court's jurisdiction.
“As I speak, massive crimes continue to be committed in Darfur (Sudan); Joseph Kony and the Lord's Resistance Army’s acts of violence continue unabated in central Africa,”she said.
“Nothing short of arresting all those against whom warrants have been issued will ensure that justice is done for millions of victims of the crimes committed by these fugitives.”
Court President Sang-Hyun Song oversaw Bensouda’s acceptance of the prosecutor’s duties in a courtroom in a suburb of the Hague, Netherlands.
The International Criminal Court was founded in 2002 as the permanent successor to numerous ad-hoc war crimes tribunals set up over the past two decades such as the U.N. Yugoslav tribunal and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.
Bensouda has served as deputy prosecutor at the ICC since 2004.
In her address, she said that Moreno-Ocampo set up the prosecutor's office in 2003 with “two staff members ... six empty floors and no cases ongoing.”
“I inherit a well-respected and sound functioning office, with almost 300 staff from 80 countries, seven situations under investigation, 14 cases before the chambers, seven preliminary examinations and one verdict.”
In March, trial judges handed down the court's first conviction, that of Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga, for conscripting child soldiers. He awaits sentencing.
In an interview earlier this month, Bensouda responded to several criticisms frequently put forward against the prosecutor and the court, including that it is used as a political tool by Western powers and that all its current cases involve Africa.
“First of all, let me say that yes, I am an African and I am very proud of that,” she said.
“But I am a prosecutor for 121 states parties,” she said, referring to all the countries that endorse the court.
She said she would investigate any grave crime in any territory that falls under her jurisdiction, and the international court is bound to be criticized both when it intervenes in a conflict and when it doesn’t.
When the court intervenes, as it did in indicting Sudan’s al-Bashir and Ivory Coast’s former President Laurence Gbagbo, it is accused of selective enforcement. But she said prosecutors must act on the basis of the evidence they have.
“Laurence Gbagbo is our first case” in Ivory Coast, she said. “There will be others.”
She said the court is also blamed for failing to intervene, as in the U.S.-led invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and in Syria — areas where it has no jurisdiction.
“Syria is a case in point,” she said. “It’s not a member of the ICC; we do not have jurisdiction over Syria unless the U.N. Security Council were to refer Syria to us.”
Asked whether she would lobby for countries that don’t endorse the court, such as the U.S., to join it, she said that would be outside the scope of her job.
She said she was frustrated by the failure to capture Kony, who was indicted in 2005 . His case became broadly known in the U.S. earlier this year after the “Kony2012” video campaign by a human rights group became an Internet sensation.
But “Joseph Kony, even though we have not been able to arrest him all this while, I think the intervention of the ICC has contributed immensely to bringing peace to Northern Uganda,” she said.
She said that countries that support the court have a duty to help it carry out arrests.
“The ICC doesn’t have an intervention force,” she said. “But the police of 121 member states are the police of the ICC. The armies of these countries are the armies of the ICC.”
Moreno-Ocampo, who was present Friday for Bensouda’s swearing-in, is expected to take a job with FIFA, the international football (soccer) governing body, investigating corruption in the sport.
June 21, 2012
By ALICIA A. CALDWELL and JIM KUHNHENN |
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama suddenly eased enforcement of the nation’s immigration laws Friday, an extraordinary step offering a chance for hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants to stay in the country and work. Embraced by Hispanics, his action touched off an election-year confrontation with many Republicans.
Mitt Romney, Obama’s GOP election foe, criticized the step but did not say he would try to overturn it if elected.
Obama said the change would become effective immediately to “lift the shadow of deportation from these young people.”
“Let’s be clear: This is not amnesty, this is not immunity, this is not a path to citizenship, this is not a permanent fix,” Obama said from the White House Rose Garden. “This is the right thing to do.”
The administration said the change will affect as many as 800,000 immigrants who have lived in fear of deportation. It bypasses Congress and partially achieves the goals of the “DREAM Act,” legislation that would have provided a pathway to citizenship for young illegal immigrants who went to college or served in the military.
Under the administration plan, illegal immigrants will be able to avoid deportation if they can prove they were brought to the United States before they turned 16 and are younger than 30, have been in the country for at least five continuous years, have no criminal history, graduated from a U.S. high school or earned a GED or served in the military. They also can apply for a work permit that will be good for two years with no limits on how many times it can be renewed.
The move comes in an election year in which the Hispanic vote could be critical in swing states like Colorado, Nevada and Florida. While Obama enjoys support from a majority of Hispanic voters over Republican challenger Romney, Latino enthusiasm for the president has been tempered by the slow economic recovery, his inability to win congressional support for a broad overhaul of immigration laws and by his administration’s aggressive deportation policy.
Some Republicans in Congress — and the governor of Arizona, whose state has been at the center of enforcement controversy — strongly criticized the Obama action. But the response from Romney was more muted.
Romney said Obama’s decision will make finding a long-term solution to the nation's immigration issues more difficult. But he also said the plight of illegal immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children is “an important matter to be considered.”
During the Republican presidential primaries, Romney said he would veto the DREAM Act with its pathway to citizenship.
Obama’s new policy tracks a proposal being drafted by Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, a potential vice presidential running mate for Romney, as an alternative to the DREAM Act, formally the Development, Relief and Education of Alien Minors Act.
Rubio said, “Today’s announcement will be welcome news for many of these kids desperate for an answer.” But, like Romney, he said it was “a short-term answer to a long-term problem,” and he added, “By once again ignoring the Constitution and going around Congress, this short-term policy will make it harder to find a balanced and responsible long-term one.”
The change in enforcement policy, to be carried out by the Department of Homeland Security, comes one week before Obama plans to address the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials’ annual conference in Orlando, Fla. Romney is to speak to the group on Thursday.
Making his case on humanitarian grounds, Obama said, “These are young people who study in our schools, they play in our neighborhoods, they’re friends with our kids, they pledge allegiance to our flag. They are Americans in their heart, in their minds, in every single way but one: on paper.”
The political appeal for many of America’s Hispanics was clear. The president and CEO of the National Council of La Raza, Janet Murguia, said, “When it comes to the Hispanic community, this action is a political plus” for Obama. “It’s always good to be able to point to your track record and move the needle toward a promise that you made.”
In Los Angeles, immigrant students and their supporters rallied at a downtown street to celebrate the announcement, briefly blocking a freeway entrance ramp.
The change drew a swift repudiation from Republican lawmakers, who accused Obama of circumventing Congress in an effort to boost his political standing and of favoring illegal immigrants over unemployed U.S. citizens.
“President Obama and his administration once again have put partisan politics and illegal immigrants ahead of the rule of law and the American people,” Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, GOP chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said in a statement.
And Rep. Steve King of Iowa, a longtime hardliner on immigration issues, said he planned to file suit to halt the policy.
Still, neither House Speaker John Boehner nor Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell addressed the issue, underscoring the difficulty for Republican leaders as they walk a fine line of trying to appeal to the nation's fastest-growing minority group while not alienating their conservative base.
In Arizona, Gov. Jan Brewer said the change represented a “pre-emptive strike” before an upcoming Supreme Court ruling that could uphold parts of the state’s tough immigration enforcement law. She also said the new policy would muddy the waters for Arizona’s enforcement efforts.
Many Republicans, including Romney, say they want tighter border security measures before they will consider changes in immigration law. Romney opposes offering legal status to illegal immigrants who attend college but has said he would do so for those who serve in the armed forces.
Praise for the new policy was also swift. Members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus applauded the move as long overdue. Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Senate Democrat, called the decision “an historic humanitarian moment” and compared it to the decision two decades ago to give political asylum to Cuban refugees fleeing the communist island. “This is at least a reflection of that moment in history.”
In New York, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said, “Ending deportations of innocent young people who have the potential to drive tomorrow’s economy is long overdue, as are many commonsense reforms needed to center our immigration policy around our economic needs.”
Midway through his remarks, Obama was interrupted by a reporter from a conservative online publication, Neil Munro of the Daily Caller, who shouted, “Why do you favor foreigners over American workers?” Clearly irritated, Obama said that he was explaining the policy, not looking for an argument, and that the change was the “right thing to do for the American people.”
Obama in the past has resisted pressure to use his executive authority to relax deportations in such a broad manner. The administration had been reviewing deportations on a case-by-case basis, and officials said they concluded that by using the same authority they could help a larger swath of immigrants while at the same time helping unclog immigration courts.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said the decision “is well within the framework of our existing laws.”
The Obama administration's deportation policies have come under fire, and Latino leaders have raised the subject in private meetings with the president. In 2011, Immigration and Customs Enforcement deported a record 396,906 people and is expected to deport about 400,000 this year.
A December poll by the Pew Hispanic Center showed that 59 percent of Latinos disapproved of the president's handling of deportations.
The administration announcement comes ahead of an expected Supreme Court decision on Arizona’s tough 2010 immigration law that, among other things, requires police to ask for immigration papers from anyone they stop or arrest and suspect is in the country illegally.
The Obama administration has challenged the law.
June 21, 2012
By PETE YOST | Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — Setting up a potential constitutional confrontation, a Republican-controlled House panel voted Wednesday to cite Attorney General Eric Holder for contempt of Congress, just hours after President Barack Obama invoked executive privilege — for the first time — to withhold documents demanded by the committee.
The party-line vote was 23-17 following hours of caustic debate. The controversy goes next to the full House, where Republican Speaker John Boehner said there would be a vote next week unless there was some resolution in the meantime.
Committee Chairman Darrell Issa of California said that “more than eight months after a subpoena” for the documents — which concern how the Justice Department learned there were problems with an Arizona probe of gun-running into Mexico — Obama’s “untimely assertion” of executive privilege was no reason to delay the contempt vote.
No, it was just political, said Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the committee’s ranking Democrat. He called the vote “an extreme, virtually unprecedented action based on election-year politics rather than fact.”
The last Cabinet member to be cited by a congressional committee for contempt was Attorney General Janet Reno in President Bill Clinton’s administration. That was never brought to a follow-up vote in the full House.
Technically, if the full House approves the Holder contempt citation, there could be a federal criminal case against him, but history strongly suggests the matter won’t get that far.
Whether Congress could force the Justice Department to turn over the documents is a basic question. In the Watergate case, the Supreme Court ordered President Richard Nixon to turn over taped conversations to a criminal prosecutor. But in the Nixon case, the justices also found a constitutional basis for claims of executive privilege, leaving the door open for presidents to cite it in future clashes with Congress.
In the administration’s claim of executive privilege, Deputy Attorney General James Cole said in a letter to Issa, “We regret that we have arrived at this point, after the many steps we have taken to address the committee’s concerns and to accommodate the committee's legitimate oversight interests.”
As the day went on, comments rapidly grew more heated. A Boehner spokesman suggested administration officials had lied earlier or were now “bending the law.” Cummings said Issa “had no interest” in resolving the issue and was trying to pick a fight.
The White House reacted sharply to the committee action. “Instead of creating jobs or strengthening the middle class, congressional Republicans are spending their time on a politically motivated, taxpayer-funded election-year fishing expedition,” Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer said.
Boehner raised another question after the president invoked the privilege.
His press secretary, Brendan Buck, said: “The White House decision to invoke executive privilege implies that White House officials were either involved in the ‘Fast and Furious’ operation or the cover-up that followed. The administration has always insisted that wasn’t the case. Were they lying, or are they now bending the law to hide the truth?”
Democrat Cummings said Issa could have settled the matter with Holder reasonably but has instead resorted to “partisan and inflammatory personal attacks.”
Holder and Issa failed to reach agreement Tuesday in a 20-minute meeting at the Capitol.
During the committee’s year-and-a-half-long investigation, the department has turned over 7,600 documents about the conduct of the Fast and Furious operation. However, because Justice initially told the committee falsely the operation did not use a risky investigative technique known as gun-walking, the panel has turned its attention from the details of the operation and is now seeking documents that would show how the department headquarters responded to the committee's investigation.
In Fast and Furious, agents of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in Arizona abandoned the agency’s usual practice of intercepting all weapons they believed to be illicitly purchased. Instead, the goal of gun-walking was to track such weapons to high-level arms traffickers, who had long eluded prosecution, and to dismantle their networks.
Gun-walking has long been barred by Justice Department policy, but federal agents in Arizona experimented with it in at least two investigations during the George W. Bush administration before Fast and Furious. These experiments came as the department was under widespread criticism that the old policy of arresting every suspected low-level “straw purchaser” was still allowing tens of thousands of guns to reach Mexico. A straw purchaser is an illicit buyer of guns for others.
The agents in Arizona lost track of several hundred weapons in Operation Fast and Furious. Two of the guns that “walked” in the operation were found at the scene of the slaying of U.S. border agent Brian Terry.
Historically, at some point Congress and the president negotiate agreements to settle these disputes, because both sides want to avoid a court battle that could narrow either the reach of executive privilege or Congress’ subpoena power.
Ordinarily, deliberative documents like those Issa is seeking are off-limits to Congress. In Operation Fast and Furious, the Justice Department’s initial incorrect denials are seen as providing justification for the additional demands.
Issa and the House Republican leadership have asked whether the department's initial denial in a Feb. 4, 2011, letter to Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, was part of a broader effort to obstruct a congressional investigation.
The material “pretty clearly demonstrates that there was no intention to mislead, to deceive,” Holder told reporters.
On Wednesday, the slain border agent's parents, Josephine and Kent Terry, said the president’s assertion of executive privilege and Holder’s refusal to fully disclose documents associated with Operation Fast and Furious “compound this tragedy.”
“We are now faced with an administration that seems more concerned with protecting themselves rather than revealing the truth behind Operation Fast and Furious,” Terry’s parents said in a statement.