Blog Posts by Liz Goodwin, Yahoo News

  • As Afghan war draws down, hope for some Gitmo detainees

    The approaching U.S. deadline to withdraw troops from Afghanistan in 2014 may help free a handful of Guantanamo detainees by the year’s end, with or without President Barack Obama’s blessing.

    There are 17 Afghan detainees left in Guantanamo out of a total prison population of 155. Lawyers for some of these men argue that the legal basis for holding them indefinitely without charge will unravel when the U.S. draws down its troop presence from their country at the end of this year as scheduled. Human rights activists, meanwhile, are making the broader and more controversial argument that the U.S. will no longer be at war, period, at the end of 2014, and thus will be compelled to charge or release every Gitmo inmate.

    The deadline is clearly on Obama’s mind. “...With the Afghan war ending, this needs to be the year Congress lifts the remaining restrictions on detainee transfers and we close the prison at Guantanamo Bay,” he said in his State of the Union speech last week. The president

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  • Obama not waiting for Congress on clemency for crack offenders

    An unlikely alliance between tea party Republicans and Democrats in the Senate could result in relief for thousands of federal inmates imprisoned under outdated drug sentences that treated crack cocaine dealing as a far greater offense than selling powder cocaine.

    But the long-awaited movement on the issue isn’t sweeping enough — or fast enough — for the Obama administration, which announced its plans to relieve crack offenders through the executive power of clemency the same day the Senate passed its bill out of committee.

    The Senate bill would make the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act — which narrowed the legal disparity between crack and powder cocaine — retroactive, as well as lowering the minimum number of years drug offenders are automatically sentenced to. That means thousands of inmates hammered with lengthy sentences for dealing as little as five grams of crack under the old laws could soon qualify for release or for shorter sentences.

    The harsher federal punishments for crack, a drug

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  • ACLU bankrolling gay nuptials in ‘My Big Gay Illegal Wedding’ contest

    Brian Jensen and Jeromy Manke, a same-sex engaged couple in Nevada, are in the running to win a free trip to New York City, $5,000, and help from a wedding planner to fund their spring nuptials in California.

    Who would bankroll their nuptials? An organization that spends far more time defending civil liberties in court than at wedding receptions.

    The American Civil Liberties Union—worried that the public thinks the same-sex marriage battle is “over” after the Supreme Court’s twin decisions expanding gay rights last summer—is paying five same-sex couples who live in states that still outlaw the practice to get married.

    Jensen and Manke are one of dozens of gay couples competing in the usually staid ACLU’s tongue-in-cheek online contest called “My Big Gay (Il)legal Wedding.” Same-sex couples that live in the 33 states that ban gay marriage submit their wedding ideas, photos, and love stories, competing against each other for votes to win cash for their weddings. Five of them will be

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  • Obama vows to close Guantanamo in State of the Union

    President Barack Obama mentioned closing the military prison at Guantanamo Bay for the first time in a State of the Union speech since he took office.

    "With the Afghan war ending, this needs to be the year Congress lifts the remaining restrictions on detainee transfers and we close the prison at Guantanamo Bay,” Obama said in his speech Tuesday, which largely focused on economic inequality. “We counter terrorism not just through intelligence and military action, but by remaining true to our constitutional ideals and setting an example for the rest of the world."

    The 12-year-old prison in Cuba, which Obama vowed to close while on the campaign trail in 2008, holds just 155 remaining prisoners, most who have never been charged with a crime. Half of the detainees have been cleared for transfer to other countries, but various political and diplomatic hurdles have left them languishing there. The president vowed to shut it down in his first address to the joint chambers of Congress in 2009,

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  • Exclusive: Democratic senators file amicus brief in Hobby Lobby birth control case

    In a brief filed with the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday, 19 Democratic senators are siding with the Obama administration against evangelical Christian businessmen who argue that paying for their employees’ birth control, a requirement under Obamacare, violates their company’s religious freedom.

    The senators—five of them women—argue in their “friend of the court” brief that the owners of the Oklahoma-based crafts store chain Hobby Lobby are not exempt from the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate simply because some forms of birth control offend their religious beliefs.

    Hobby Lobby’s owners, David Green and his family, are suing the federal government over the mandate, which says large employers’ insurance plans must offer birth control without co-pays or else face steep fines.

    A lower court upheld the Greens’ case, ruling that the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) protects the Greens from having to adjust their insurance plans to cover contraception for their 13,000

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  • Guantanamo prisoners use yoga to battle feelings of hopelessness

    GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba — Exactly five years after President Barack Obama signed an executive order shutting down the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, 155 men are still detained there, most without charge.

    The prison’s staff is constantly battling the possibility that inmates — depressed over their lengthy and indefinite detention — may commit suicide, which would further inflame the diplomatic problems Gitmo has already created. In an interview with journalists earlier this month, psychologists who care for the inmates said they treat the detainees’ feelings of hopelessness with yoga, talk therapy, medication and other tactics.

    “Things like guided imagery exercises, breathing exercises, muscle relaxation exercises,” said a clinical psychologist who wished to be referred to as “Dr. Chicago” to protect her anonymity. (The military does not allow most Gitmo employees to be named or photographed for security reasons.) “We have handouts for poses and stretches for yoga,” she added.

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  • What will happen to the remaining Guantanamo detainees?

    In order for President Barack Obama to fulfill his aging campaign promise of shutting down the 12-year-old prison at Guantanamo Bay, he must charge, release or move the remaining 155 men there.

    The Guantanamo Review Task Force, made up of representatives from the Defense Department, Justice Department and four other U.S. agencies, decided in 2010 that about half of the remaining detainees should be transferred to their home countries or other host countries to be resettled. The group decided 36 of the terror suspects, including accused 9-11 plotter Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, should be prosecuted. Finally, the task force believes 46 of the detainees are too dangerous to release, but does not have enough evidence to charge them. Even if the prison is shut down, the government would want to move these 46 men to another detention facility and keep them there indefinitely. (A special parole board created by the president will review the indefinitely detained cases periodically to see if any

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  • Seven words you won’t hear in Guantanamo

    GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba--Last week, I went on a media tour of the Guantanamo Bay prison, where the U.S. military is holding 155 men who were deemed “enemy combatants” in the war against al Qaeda and its affiliates by the Bush administration.

    Most of the remaining prisoners at Gitmo have never been charged with a crime and nearly 80 of them have been cleared for transfer to other countries by the Obama administration. Others the government believes are too dangerous to release, but it does not have enough admissible evidence to charge them. Various diplomatic, legal and political hurdles have left these men languishing, thwarting President Obama’s aging campaign promise to close the Cuban prison down.

    In the meantime, the military allows journalists to tour parts of the controversial detention facility and its tropical surroundings in small groups chaperoned by cheerful public affairs officials. They stress that the prisoners are treated humanely as they await the end of their

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  • Why isn’t the media allowed to talk to Guantanamo detainees?

    GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba It’s been 12 years this week since the first terror suspects arrived at what was then a makeshift, open-air military prison at Guantanamo Bay. Since then, thousands of journalists have been allowed to visit the Cuban base and ask why the government is still holding most of these men without charges and to see what their detention conditions are like.

    Most, if not all of these reporters, have asked the military if they could speak to a prisoner. They’ve all been denied. In 12 years, no reporter has ever been allowed to interview a prisoner at Gitmo, as the prison is often called, though some detainees have spoken to the media after they were released.

    On a Guantanamo media tour last week with two other journalists, I took a shot and asked for an interview with a prisoner. The answer was an emphatic no. The military cited the Geneva Conventions to explain why. Article 13 of the third convention, adopted in 1949, says prisoners of war must be protected from

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  • Deportations dropped 10 percent last year

    The Obama administration deported 10 percent fewer people last fiscal year than the year before, arguing that immigration agents were focused on removing undocumented immigrants with criminal records.

    Nearly 370,000 people were deported in the year that ended this September, compared with 409,849 the year before, according to official numbers released Thursday.

    In total, 1,833,228 people have been deported since Obama took office in 2009, prompting immigration reform advocates to label him “deporter in chief.” The president is on pace to deport significantly more immigrants than his predecessor, even as he pushes for a stymied immigration reform bill that would offer citizenship to millions.

    Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) says 59 percent of those who were deported last year had been previously convicted of a crime, including traffic offenses. Most of the people who were deported who did not have a criminal record were apprehended on the border.

    “ICE focused interior enforcement

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