Congratulations Amal Alamuddin, Barrister at Doughty Street Chambers, co-editor of The Special Tribunal for Lebanon: Law and Practice, and contributor to Principles of Evidence in International Criminal Justice, on her recent marriage. Best wishes from the law team and all of us at Oxford University Press! (via Internationally acclaimed barrister Amal Alamuddin marries an actor - The Business Woman Media)
Amid reports of women and children killed in U.S. air offensive, official says the ‘near certainty’ policy doesn’t apply
Sep. 30 2014
The White House has acknowledged for the first time that strict standards President Obama imposed last year to prevent civilian deaths from U.S. drone strikes will not apply to U.S. military operations in Syria and Iraq.
A White House statement to Yahoo News confirming the looser policy came in response to questions about reports that as many as a dozen civilians, including women and young children, were killed when a Tomahawk missile struck the village of Kafr Daryan in Syria’s Idlib province on the morning of Sept. 23.
The village has been described by Syrian rebel commanders as a reported stronghold of the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front where U.S officials believed members of the so-called Khorasan group were plotting attacks against international aircraft.
But at a briefing for members and staffers of the House Foreign Affairs Committee late last week, Syrian rebel commanders described women and children being hauled from the rubble after an errant cruise missile destroyed a home for displaced civilians. Images of badly injured children also appeared on YouTube, helping to fuel anti-U.S. protests in a number of Syrian villages last week.
“They were carrying bodies out of the rubble. … I saw seven or eight ambulances coming out of there,” said Abu Abdo Salabman, a political member of one of the Free Syria Army factions, who attended the briefing for Foreign Affairs Committee members and staff. “We believe this was a big mistake.”
Asked about the strike at Kafr Daryan, a U.S. Central Command spokesman said Tuesday that U.S. military “did target a Khorasan group compound near this location. However, we have seen no evidence at this time to corroborate claims of civilian casualties.” But Caitlin Hayden, a spokesperson for the National Security Council, told Yahoo News that Pentagon officials “take all credible allegations seriously and will investigate” the reports.
At the same time, however, Hayden said that a much-publicized White House policy that President Obama announced last year barring U.S. drone strikes unless there is a “near certainty” there will be no civilian casualties — “the highest standard we can meet,” he said at the time — does not cover the current U.S. airstrikes in Syria and Iraq.
The “near certainty” standard was intended to apply “only when we take direct action ‘outside areas of active hostilities,’ as we noted at the time,” Hayden said in an email. “That description — outside areas of active hostilities — simply does not fit what we are seeing on the ground in Iraq and Syria right now.”
Hayden added that U.S. military operations against the Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL) in Syria, “like all U.S. military operations, are being conducted consistently with the laws of armed conflict, proportionality and distinction.”
The laws of armed conflict prohibit the deliberate targeting of civilian areas and require armed forces to take precautions to prevent inadvertent civilian deaths as much as possible.
But one former Obama administration official said the new White House statement raises questions about how the U.S. intends to proceed in the conflict in Syria and Iraq, and under what legal authorities.
Sep. 28 2014
Secret tapes made by a banking investigator examining Goldman Sachs show a culture of deference and risk aversion in which regulators were afraid to anger the very financial institutions they were supposed to be overseeing.
The 46 hours of recordings of meetings and conversations come from Carmen Segarra, a Harvard-trained lawyer who was hired in 2011 by the New York Federal Reserve as part of a team overhauling how the banking system was regulated after the 2008 financial crisis.
Segarra found a culture in which regulators were cozy with the banks they worked with and where managers were loath to say or do anything that might upset them.
The tapes, released Friday as part of a joint report by National Public Radio’s “This American Life” show and the non-profit investigative journalism organization ProPublica, could lead to Congressional oversight hearings.
"When regulators care more about protecting big banks from accountability than they do about protecting the American people from risky and illegal behavior on Wall Street, it threatens our whole economy," said Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., in a statement posted Saturday on her Facebook page. “We learned this the hard way in 2008. Congress must hold oversight hearings on the disturbing issues raised by (the report) when it returns in November — because it’s our job to make sure our financial regulators are doing their jobs.”
Another member of the Senate Banking Committee, Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, has also called for hearings into the allegations, according to Bloomberg.
In one example, the New York Fed team was concerned about a deal Goldman Sachs was doing with a Spanish bank called Banco Santander. Her boss, Michael Silva, termed it “legal but shady.”
But before the team met with Goldman Sachs staff, the Fed’s staff did not press on the deal. In a discussion afterward, one of the other examiners says on the tape that they didn’t want to push the bank too hard. Instead, they could say something like “Don’t mistake our inquisitiveness, and our desire to understand more about the marketplace in general, as a criticism of you as a firm necessarily.”
Goldman Sachs has denied Segarra’s allegations. But on Saturday, the firm changed its policy addressing conflicts of interest to bar investment bankers from trading individual stocks and bonds, Bloomberg reported based on a knowledgeable source.
In a statement released Saturday, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York said it “categorically rejects the allegations being made about the integrity of its supervision of financial institutions.”
It went on to say “examiners are encouraged to speak up and escalate any concerns they may have regarding the New York Fed or the institutions that we supervise.”
Segarra was fired after seven months on the job, she claims because she wouldn’t go along with the status quo — and because she wouldn’t back down from her assertion that Goldman Sachs didn’t have a policy for dealing with conflicts of interest.
She then sued, saying she was being retaliated against for her negative findings against Goldman Sachs. The case was thrown out of court last year when the judge said the facts didn’t fit the statute Segarra had sued under.
Her hiring came about in part because of a report written by a David Beim, a former Wall Street banker himself, who was hired as an independent investigator by the New York Fed to look at whether the regulatory agency was neutral and objective.
His 2009 report found exactly the same failings the Segarra tapes show.
Sep. 22 2014
Presidents, prime ministers and ministers flying into New York City on Tuesday for a one-day United Nations summit on climate change have their work cut out for them. And this is why. As the graph above shows, despite everything they have done so far, we are on a clear course to extreme global warming.
Since the ignominious 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, over a hundred nations have pledged action on emissions. The world has seen a major shift away from coal in favour of gas, which emits fewer greenhouse gases. Solar panels have become much, much cheaper and are being deployed in regions around the world, as are other renewable sources of energy. But the latest number-crunching – published on Sunday in Nature Climate Change – shows that none of this is enough.
"Our study shows no progress in curbing global carbon emissions," says Corinne Le Quéré at the University of East Anglia in the UK. Global carbon emissions from fossil fuel burning and cement production grew 2.3 per cent in 2013. They are expected to increase a further 2.5 per cent this year. “And they are projected to be around that for the next five years,” says Le Quéré. “There is no progress in spite of all the talk.”
We are turning into the very nation our founding fathers fled from.
Sep. 30 2014
Mr. Donahue says he believed he was blessed, living in the greatest country on earth - but through hosting his show, speaking to people like Chomsky and the Black Panthers, he came to question what he had thought was true