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Judge questions constitutionality of no-fly list, FBI adds plaintiff's brother to 'Most Wanted' list

On Friday a federal judge questioned the legality of the “no-fly list” implemented by the government and said people on the list should be afforded a chance to clear their name.

The lawsuit was filed by Alexandria resident Gulet Mohamed in and has meandered through the courts systems for four years amid protests from the government. U.S. District Judge Anthony Trenga “aggressively questioned the government” and proposed that the government plead its case to a magistrate before placing an individual on the no-fly list, according to Tribune Wire reports.

Mohamed originally lodged his complaint in 2011 after he was denied a flight back to the United States from Kuwait. He alleged that he was beaten under orders of U.S. officials during interrogations about his travels throughout the Middle East. Mohamed maintains he visited Somalia and Yemen to see relatives and learn Arabic.

“Any limitations on the government’s authority to place innocent Americans on watch lists will only come from the judiciary, ” wrote Mohamed’s attorney Gadeir Abbas in his legal briefs.

U.S. attorney Joseph Folio argued that the government could not properly defend itself in court without disclosing state secrets, which Folio maintained was grounds for dismissal. He also said that Attorney General Eric Holder himself ordered him to use the state secret privilege. According to Tribune ire reports, Judge Trenga said he will issue a ruling at some point in the future.

In an intriguing twist, the news comes one day after the FBI placed Mohamed’s older brother, Liban, on their “Most Wanted” list. Liban was a taxi driver living in Alexandria who left in 2012 to go to east Africa. The FBI believes Liban has provided information to the terrorist organizations al-Qaeda and Al Shabab and is an integral asset due to his knowledge of the metropolitan area.

“It is important for us to locate Mohamed because he has knowledge of the Washington, D.C., area’s infrastructure such as shopping areas, Metro, airports, and government buildings,” said Carl Ghattas, special agent in charge of the Counterterrorism Division at the FBI’s Washington Field Office. “This makes him an asset to his terrorist associates who might plot attacks on U.S. soil.”

However, Abbas says the claims are baseless and counterintuitive. “Al-Shabab has killed Liban’s uncle and imprisoned his cousins,” said Abbas. “His family believes the allegations have no basis in fact.”

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John McCain lashes out at 'low-life scum' protesters who interrupted Senate hearing 

Arizona Republican John McCain spoke out angrily against a group of protesters who interrupted the start of a Senate hearing on Thursday. The protesters had called out for former secretary of state Henry Kissinger to be tried for war crimes.

“Get out of here, you low-life scum,” said the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, as the protesters were immediately removed from the hearing room by U.S. Capitol Police.

“I’ve been a member of this committee for many years, and I have never seen anything as disgraceful and outrageous and despicable as the last demonstration that just took place,” McCain said.

Kissinger had arrived to the Senate hearing on Thursday to testify alongside former Secretaries of State George Shultz and Madeleine Albright. All three were slated to give their big-picture views on the current state of threats facing the United States along with how Washington’s overall national security policy should be evolving.

Kissinger, who served under President Richard Nixon, had always been a controversial figure in Washington. Thursday’s incident had seen protesters blaming him for a secret U.S. bombing campaign that occurred inside Cambodian territory during the Vietnam War.

McCain, a Vietnam veteran has had a long personal relationship with Kissinger and condemned the behavior.

“I’d like to apologize for allowing such disgraceful behavior toward a man who served his country with the greatest distinction,” McCain told the former secretary of state after the protesters had been removed from the hearing room. “I apologize profusely.”

 

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Mormon leaders voice support for 'reasonable' LGBT rights, but remain anti gay marriage

Top Mormon leaders announced on Tuesday that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would support “reasonable safeguards” for gays and lesbians in housing and employment while pushing for national legislation to protect “vital religious freedoms” for those who object to them.

Leaders, however, were careful to stress that the new approach does not imply a change in the Church’s doctrine or teachings, but is simply a different and “balanced approach” to “overcome the sharp divisions and present cultural divide in our nation” over rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

“We must all learn to live with others who do not share the same beliefs or values,” the four leaders said at the news conference in Salt Lake City, where the church is headquartered.

Elder Dallin Oaks, one of the four leaders, spoke on the importance of protecting people’s religious freedom independent of sexual orientation.

“We call on local, state and the federal government to serve all of their people by passing legislation that protects vital religious freedoms for individuals, families, churches and other faith groups while also protecting the rights of our LGBT citizens in such areas as housing, employment and public accommodation in hotels, restaurants and transportation — protections which are not available in many parts of the country,” said Elder Dallin Oaks.

Another of the leaders, Sister Neill Marriott, said the debate is “about how to affirm rights for some without taking away from the rights of others.”

Marriott noted that the LGBT movement “arose after centuries of ridicule, persecution and even violence against homosexuals. Ultimately, most of society recognized that such treatment was simply wrong, and that such basic human rights as securing a job or a place to live should not depend on a person’s sexual orientation.”

However the Church’s stance remains the same in that it “believes that sexual relations other than between a man and a woman who are married are contrary to the laws of God.” The church opposes gay marriage, which is now legal in Utah.

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Former CIA officer found guilty of leaking government secrets to reporter

Former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling, 47, has been convicted of leaking details of a classified U.S. operation to thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions to a New York Times reporter. Sterling was found guilty of all nine counts he faced in federal court in Virginia on Monday.

The decision comes as a result of extensive deliberation by the jury. The jury had previously told the judge that they could not reach a unanimous verdict after deliberating for three days, but was urged to continue talks.

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice testified that the mission was one of the government’s most closely held secrets and one of its best chances to thwart Iran’s nuclear-weapons ambitions.

The trial aimed to determine the sources from which journalist James Risen learned the details about the secret operation written in his 2006 book ‘State of War’. Though prosecutors tried to force Risen to divulge his sources, it quickly became clear that he would not reveal his sources even if jailed for contempt of court.

While prosecutors acknowledged a lack of direct evidence against Sterling, they claimed that the circumstantial evidence against him was overwhelming.

The basis of the secret plan was to use a CIA asset nicknamed Merlin, who had been a Russian nuclear engineer, to leak deliberately flawed nuclear-weapons blueprints to the Iranians in hopes that they would spend years fruitlessly trying to develop nonworking parts.

Prosecutor Eric Olshan asserted that Risen’s book seemed to be clearly written from Sterling’s perspective as Merlin’s case handler and cast him in a flattering light. In addition, Risen had written about that complaint, and he was known to have a relationship with Sterling. The two exchanged dozens of phone calls and emails, according to Olshan.

Sterling now faces years in prison. U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema allowed Sterling to remain free on bond until his sentencing on April 24.

 

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Santa Ana winds wreak havoc on southern California

Wind gusts nearing 90 miles per hour wreaked havoc throughout southern California on Saturday, taking out trees and power lines easily, which knocked over a billboard in Burbank, felled a tree into a house in Van Nuys, left many without power and a few people stranded at sea.

According to the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, over 54,000 customers lost power after 3 a.m. last night, an additional 1,700 users of Southern California Edison power are also without electricity.

The Santa Ana winds also caused concern on the oceans. A high surf advisory reamins in effect through Sunday, and warns of the possibility of up to an 11-foot high surf. Two kayakers had a brief scare after being blown out to sea by the powerful gusts, and were reported missing for about one hour. Los Angeles County Fire Department lifeguards responded to the scene and helped the wayward adventurers back to shore.

The National Weather Service recorded a peak wind gust of 89 mph in the mountains of San Diego County, and recorded gusts as high as 82 mph in Malibu on Saturday afternoon. Meanwhile, the area also experienced record breaking high temperatures in the low 80s.

The Santa Ana winds occur in the winter months as the westerly winds reach breakneck speeds when forced through the narrow mountain gaps of southern California. The hurricane force winds decrease humidity in the area, which in turn increases the chances of wildfires throughout the region.

The windstorm began on Friday and strengthened throughout Saturday, but officials believe that the winds will dies down completely by the end of Sunday.

The strongest winds hit the mountain regions, such as the Malibu Hills, the Topanga area and the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, the Los Angeles Times reported.

“They got hit pretty hard,” said Curt Kaplan of the National Weather Service in Oxnard, to the Los Angeles Times. “The strongest winds have already happened.”

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Supreme Court to weigh in on lethal injections in Oklahoma

The Supreme Court has decided to wade into the realm of capital punishment, taking a closer look at lethal injections for the first time since 2008 after the botched execution of an inmate last year.

Justices agreed to review whether the sedative midazolam should be used in executions over concerns that the drug does not produce unconsciousness to ensure that the prisoner does not suffer from extreme pain as other lethal drugs are injected into him, according to an Associated Press report.

The appeal was filed by inmates on death row in Oklahoma, the state where one inmate, Clayton Lockett, convulsed and writhe on the gurney as the drugs were injected into him last April, prompting the execution to be called off. Lockett died of a heart attack 43 minutes later. Earlier this month, Oklahoma officials went ahead with the execution of Charles Warner, which happened without incident and was the first execution in the state since Lockett’s.

Midazolam is used by Oklahoma as well as Florida as one of three drugs that are used to execute inmates on death row. The second drug paralyzes the inmate and the third stops the inmate’s heart.

The Supreme Court will hear the case in late April, according to the inmates’ attorney, with a decision expected in June. The inmates all have execution dates before that time, and court denied stays of execution for them.

The inmates have one ally in the courts in Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who dissented along with three other justices in not staying the execution of Charles Warner, arguing that the drug may violate the constitutional prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment and that the court needed to more fully examine the issue.

Dale Baich, the inmates’ attorney, said he would continue to press the court to put a hold on the executions until the case can move forward to its conclusion.

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt said that federal courts have upheld Oklahoma’s execution methods, and that he would continue to defend its constitutionality.

The Supreme Court last heard a case on the issue in 2008 when it dealt with a three-drug combination used in Kentucky and issued a ruling that will make it difficult to win challenges to lethal injections. Chief Justice John Roberts argued that the court needed proof that condemned prisoners face a “demonstrated risk of severe pain” in order to block such methods.

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American diplomats anger both Cuban government and dissidents

New policies kicked in last week lifting travel and economic restrictions to Cuba, and officials from the US State Department and the Cuban Foreign Ministry met to discuss detente for the first time in decades. However, US officials did not only meet with their Cuban counterparts, but also with a group of Cuban dissidents a day later, which has not sat well with the Cuban government.

“This is exactly one of the differences we have with the US government because for us, this is not just genuine, legitimate Cuban civil society,” said Josefina Vidal, an official at the Cuban Foreign Ministry who is leading the Cuban diplomats throughout the talks, about the dissidents to MSNBC.

Vidal stressed the fact that meddling diplomats are offensive to Cuba, and the meetings merely highlight the differences between the two sides. “This small group of people don’t represent Cuban society, don’t represent the interests of the Cuban people. So that’s a big difference with the United States government,” said Vidal.

US assistant secretary of state Roberta Jackson defended her breakfast meeting with the rebels as a crucial part of American interests in Cuba. One of the leaders who attended the breakfast was the founder of the Union Patriotica de Cuba (UNPACU), Jose Daniel Ferrer. Many of the 53 political prisoners released by Cuba at the outset of the new, lax, sanctions were members of UNPACU.

“There is no doubt that human rights remains the center of our policy and it is crucial we continue to both speak out about human rights publicly and directly with the Cuban government,” said Jackson.

However, other Cuban dissenters accused the US of being ham-handed when arranging the talks, and instead of meeting with leaders from an array of political activists American diplomats only met those with views sympathetic to American policies.

In response, the leader of Ladies in White, a group of women who march through Havana weekly demanding political prisoners be released, boycotted the breakfast as well as an evening reception; a move that was then followed by many other rebel leaders.

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Finding unbiased jury becomes nearly impossible, Boston bombing trial delayed yet again

The trial of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has been postponed further with opening statements being delayed due to jury selection taking longer than expected. Lawyers will not begin presenting cases on Monday as originally planned, as announced by the court on Thursday.

Tsarnaev’s attorneys recently renewed their efforts to move the trial outside of Boston, citing the reason that it is extremely difficult to find an unbiased panel of jurors in the city where the attack took place. The previous two requests were denied by U.S. District Judge George O’Toole.

“It is not possible yet to specifically target a new start date,” a spokeswoman for the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts said in a statement.

Tsarnaev is accused of setting off two pressure-cooker bombs at the finish line of the Boston Marathon in 2013, killing three people and injuring more than 260. The attack has been deemed the worst such incident on U.S. soil since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Tsarnaev faces execution if convicted.

Selecting a 12-member jury with 6 alternatives for the trial has proved difficult thus far as candidates interviewed last week expressed extreme views on Tsarnaev and the death penalty.

“Great local prejudice will prevent a fair trial by an impartial jury in violation of Tsarnaev’s constitutional rights to due process of law and a fair trial,” Tsarnaev’s defense wrote on Thursday.

Some 85 percent of prospective jurors screened have said they either believe Tsarnaev is guilty, or have some self-identified connection to the case.

A new proposed date for the start of opening statements in the case is expected to be released next week, the court said.

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John Kerry gives state of ISIS address in London

Secretary of State John Kerry met with coalition allies to discuss the current state of ISIS and afterwards described the long term vision of the fight to eradicate and eliminate the terrorist group that has been a scourge upon the Middle East.

Kerry told reporters in London that the US and its allies had conducted at least 2, 000 airstrikes against the Islamic State and estimated the kills to be in the “single digit thousands” (a U.S. Central Command official estimated the number to be around 6,000). “In recent months we have seen, definitively, [ISIS]’s momentum halted in Iraq and in some cases reversed,” said Kerry.

However, UK Secretary of State Philip Hammond outlined a multi-year operation that would involve allied forces in Iraq and Syria.

“It’s going to take a year, two years to push ISIL back out of Iraq but we’re doing the things that need to be done to turn the tide against ISIL and I’m confident that ISIL will be defeated in Iraq,” said Hammond.

The meeting comes after both the Syrian and Iraqi governments have been critical of US aid and involvement. Syria questioned the legitimacy of a US coalition invading into sovereign territories without allowing either Syria or Iraq in on planning strategy operations which in turn will lead to “negative repercussions on regional and international security,” according to Syrian lawmakers.

“I wonder how an international coalition can be formed and Syria, which is targeted by terrorism in depth, is shunned aside?” said Sherif Shehadeh.

Meanwhile, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi told the Associated Press that American support is primarily rhetoric, not substantive action. al-Abadi also lamented the global drop in oil prices, claiming the shrinking revenue to the Iraqi government means less money for arms and training of Iraqi forces.

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel denounced the comments, saying they were not “helpful,” before chastising al-Abad. “”We have a coalition of over 60 countries that have come together to help Iraq. And I think the prime minister might want to be a little more mindful of that,” said Hagel.

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Newtown officials decide to demolish home of Sandy Hook gunman  

Officials in Newtown voted Wednesday night to destroy the home in which Adam Lanza had lived before he carried out the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

The Newtown Legislative Council approved a proposal to tear down the 3, 100-square-foot home sometime after winter and keep the land as open space. The 2-acre property was given to the town in December by a bank that acquired it from the Lanza family.

Lanza shot and killed his mother inside the house on December 14, 2012, before killing 20 first-graders and six educators at nearby Sandy Hook Elementary School. He then committed suicide.

Neighbors had consistently asked for town officials to tear down the house of the mass murderer, calling it “a constant reminder of the evil that resided there.”

Amy DeLoughy, whose house resides across the street, wrote to the council that her children’s bus stop had to be moved because it was too scary for the kids to wait near the house. Ian and Nicole Hockley, whose 6-year-old son had died in the shooting, said they moved out of the neighborhood because seeing that house across the way was too painful for them.

Neighbor Dave Ackart also wrote to the council to complain about the house. “Not only is the property a constant reminder of the evil that resided there,” he wrote “Those of us who walk, run, drive, ride or otherwise must pass it multiple times a day, are having a hard time moving on.”

In addition, the Councilwoman Pat Llodra has asked town attorneys to write something into the deed that will prohibit the town from profiting from any future sale or development of the land.

“Any proceeds, should the property ever be developed, would be for the benefit of the victims,” she explained.