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President Obama has signed the National Defense Authorization Act, which jeopardizes his ability to meet his promise to close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay during his presidency. The law also contains a troubling provision compelling the military to accommodate the conscience, moral principles, or religious beliefs of all members of the armed forces without accounting for the effect an accommodation would have.
The NDAA restricts Obama's ability to transfer detainees for repatriation or resettlement in foreign countries or to prosecute them in federal criminal court. Originally set to expire on March 27, the transfer restrictions have been extended through Sept. 30. As recently as October, Obama reiterated his commitment to close Guantanamo. Currently, 166 prisoners remain at the prison camp.
"President Obama has utterly failed the first test of his second term, even before inauguration day. His signature means indefinite detention without charge or trial, as well as the illegal military commissions, will be extended," said Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union. "He also has jeopardized his ability to close Guantanamo during his presidency. Scores of men who have already been held for nearly 11 years without being charged with a crime--including more than 80 who have been cleared for transfer--may very well be imprisoned unfairly for yet another year. The president should use whatever discretion he has in the law to order many of the detainees transferred home, and finally step up next year to close Guantanamo and bring a definite end to indefinite detention."
In a signing statement that accompanied the NDAA, the president acknowledged that the accommodation provision, Section 533, is unnecessary and ill-advised, noting that the military already appropriately protects the freedom of conscience of chaplains and service members.
"The language is too broad," said Laura Murphy, director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office, who cautioned that it could lead to claims of a right to discriminate.
"We strongly support accommodating beliefs, so long as doing so does not result in discrimination or harm to others," Murphy said. "The hastily drafted provision, though, has the potential to give rise to dangerous claims of a right to discriminate against not just lesbian, gay, and bisexual service members, but also women, religious minorities, and in the provision of health care."
In the signing statement, President Obama also said his administration "remains fully committed to continuing the successful implementation of the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, and to protecting the rights of gay and lesbian service members" and that the Department of Defense, in implementing Section 533, will "not permit or condone discriminatory actions that compromise good order and discipline or otherwise violate military codes of conduct."
Murphy said, "It is encouraging that the president recognizes why this provision is so problematic. Going forward, it is essential for the Department of Defense to ensure that no accommodation of religious belief or conscience can result in discrimination or harm to others."
The American Civil Liberties Union was founded in 1920 and is our nation's guardian of liberty. The ACLU works in the courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to all people in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States.(212) 549-2666
One critic said Republican Gov. Kristi Noem is "stopping at nothing until every woman in South Dakota is forced to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term."
South Dakota's Republican governor and attorney general on Tuesday issued a threatening letter directed at the state's pharmacists in response to a recent move by the Biden administration to ease restrictions on dispensing abortion pills amid the GOP's nationwide assault on reproductive freedom.
Gov. Kristi Noem and AG Marty Jackley's letter begins by noting that after Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that reversed Roe v. Wade last year, abortion became illegal in South Dakota except to save the life of the pregnant person. It's one of 14 states where abortions are now largely unavailable.
The letter states that "in South Dakota, any person who administers, prescribes, or procures for any pregnant female any medicine or drug with the intent to induce an abortion is guilty of a felony."
\u201c.@KristiNoem stopping at nothing until every woman in South Dakota is forced to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term\u201d— Julie Alderman Boudreau (@Julie Alderman Boudreau) 1674590026
In a policy change long advocated by medical experts and rights campaigners, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) earlier this month formalized a regulatory change to allow retail pharmacies in the U.S. to dispense mifepristone, one of two drugs often taken in tandem for a medication abortion.
Referencing that development, the letter says that "under South Dakota law, pharmacies, including chain drug stores, are prohibited from procuring and dispensing abortion-inducing drugs with the intent to induce an abortion, and are subject to felony prosecution under South Dakota law, despite the recent FDA ruling."
As The Associated Pressreported Tuesday:
The [FDA's] change could expand access at online pharmacies. People can get a prescription via telehealth consultation with a health professional and then receive the pills through the mail, where permitted by law.
Still, in states like South Dakota, the rule change's impact has been blunted by laws limiting abortion broadly and the pills specifically. Legal experts foresee years of court battles over access to the pills as abortion rights proponents bring test cases to challenge state restrictions.
Amanda Bacon, the director of the South Dakota Pharmacists Association, said in an email that she was not aware of any South Dakota pharmacies with plans to participate in the federal program to dispense abortion pills.
The pro-choice Guttmacher Institute, which tracks policies across the country, labels all six states that border South Dakota as restrictive of abortion access to various degrees—and South Dakota is among the dozen "most restrictive" states in the nation.
While the FDA's recent move was widely seen as a step toward alleviating some of the strain on clinics trying to serve a growing number of patients fleeing states with forced-birth policies, an ongoing legal battle over the agency's initial approval of mifepristone in 2000 could jeopardize access to the drug nationwide.
\u201cOne of the medications taken in the most common way to end a pregnancy could soon be taken off the market nationwide.\n\nNationwide.\n\nThat means medication abortion can\u2019t exist even in places that have PROTECTED abortion access.\n\nhttps://t.co/fZlZG6vBzA\u201d— Planned Parenthood Action (@Planned Parenthood Action) 1674575101
Anti-choice physicians last month asked Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk—appointed by former President Donald Trump to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas—to throw out the FDA's 2000 decision. The judge, who was previously the deputy general counsel at a conservative Christian legal advocacy group, could issue a ruling as soon as February 10.
If the Christian alliance that launched the attack on the FDA approval "wins in federal district court, the Biden administration would appeal to the 5th Circuit in New Orleans, a conservative court with 12 of its 16 active judges appointed by Republicans," CNBCpointed out Tuesday. "From there, the case could end up at the Supreme Court."
"Florida considers books to be more dangerous to students than assault rifles," noted one observer. "This is truly a dystopian state."
Teachers in at least one Florida county this week began removing or covering books in their classrooms to avoid running afoul of a new law requiring every volume to be vetted by a state-trained "media specialist"—violation of which could result in felony charges.
The Sarasota Herald-Tribune reports the Manatee County School District has directed teachers to remove all books that have not been approved by a specialist, who will ensure that all titles are "free of pornography," are "appropriate for the age level and group," and contain no "unsolicited theories that may lead to student indoctrination."
The vetting requirement comes under H.B. 1467, a Republican-sponsored bill signed into law last year by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who stridently hypes Florida as the "freest state in these United States" while banning classroom discussions of systemic racism,gender identity, and even an entire course of college preparatory study.
Manatee High School history teacher Don Falls, who is involved in a lawsuit against DeSantis' Stop WOKE Act banning the teaching of critical race theory—a graduate-level discipline not taught in K-12 schools—called H.B. 1467 "not only ridiculous but a very scary attack on fundamental rights."
\u201c1. Florida teachers are being told to remove all books from their classroom libraries OR FACE FELONY PROSECUTION\n\nThe new policy is based on the premise that teachers are using books to "groom" students or indoctrinate them with leftist ideologies. \n\n\ud83e\uddf5\n\nhttps://t.co/SzHzgelT64\u201d— Judd Legum (@Judd Legum) 1674481453
Because few if any books have been screened by media specialists, many Manatee County teachers erred on the side of caution and covered their entire classroom libraries. However, teachers and students found ways of resisting the new law, even as they took action to comply with it.
"Readers Gonna Read," read one student-drawn sign taped to swaths of blue construction paper covering one middle school classroom's library. "Free the Books," demanded another. "There is no friend as loyal as a book," asserted a third sign hanging below a notice designating the room's "safe zone" in case of school shooter attack.
"A perfect picture of DeSantis' Florida," area elementary school teacher Tamara Solum wrote on Facebook.
\u201cPhoto of a classroom library at Bayshore High School in Manatee County, Florida after they banned all classroom libraries. Florida considers books to be more dangerous to students than assault rifles. This is truly a dystopian state.\u201d— Alejandra Caraballo (@Alejandra Caraballo) 1674501448
Manatee Education Association President Pat Barber told the Herald-Tribune that "it's a scary thing to have elementary teachers have to worry about being charged with a third-degree felony because of trying to help students develop a love of reading."
In a final ironic twist, it's Literacy Week in Florida schools, which according to the state's Department of Education "is designed to raise awareness about the importance of reading and to inspire Florida's students and families to make reading part of their daily routines."
"The real 'emergency' here is our declining biodiversity," said one campaigner. "It's time farmers got support for alternatives, not a green light for using toxic chemicals."
Biodiversity defenders have sounded the alarm about the United Kingdom government's Monday decision to provide another so-called "emergency" exception for the use of an outlawed neonicotinoid pesticide lethal to bees.
"Bad news again for bees as the U.K. government allows banned neonicotinoids in our fields against the advice of its own experts," Friends of the Earth campaigner Sandra Bell tweeted. "The real 'emergency' here is our declining biodiversity—it's time farmers got support for alternatives, not a green light for using toxic chemicals."
Despite U.K. guidance affirming that emergency applications should not be granted more than once, the Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) announced for the third straight year that it will permit the use of sugar beet seeds coated with thiamethoxam under certain conditions in England.
"If the government is serious about halting biodiversity loss by 2030, they must support farmers to explore long-term, agroecological solutions that don't threaten our endangered bee population."
Against the recommendation of an independent panel of pesticide experts, the agency approved the use of thiamethoxam just four days after the European Union's highest court ruled that providing emergency derogations for prohibited neonicotinoid-treated seeds is inconsistent with the bloc's laws. The U.K. withdrew from the E.U. in 2020.
DEFRA's emergency authorization for thiamethoxam-coated sugar beet seeds also comes one month after the U.K. government advocated for a stronger global pesticide reduction target at the United Nations COP15 biodiversity summit.
Calling the authorization "yet another shameful episode in a long list of failures to protect the U.K. environment," the British chapter of the Pesticide Action Network (PAN) said that "putting bees and other insects at risk shows just how seriously this government takes the biodiversity crisis."
\u201cFlying in the face of expert recommendation and putting #bees and other #insects at risk shows just how seriously this government takes the #biodiversity crisis. Yet another shameful episode in a long list of failures to protect the UK environment\u201d— PAN UK (@PAN UK) 1674493039
"It's incredibly brazen to allow a banned bee-harming pesticide back into U.K. fields mere weeks after the government talked up the need for global ambition on reducing pesticides at the U.N. biodiversity talks in Montreal," Bell said in a statement issued by the Pesticide Collaboration, a progressive coalition of 83 health and environmental organizations, trade unions, farmer and consumer groups, and academics.
"This is the third consecutive year that the government has gone directly against the advice of its own scientific advisers with potentially devastating consequences for bees and other vital pollinators," said Bell. "The health of us all and the planet depends on their survival. The government must fulfill its duty to protect wildlife and keep pesticides off our crops for good—that means supporting farmers to find nature-friendly ways to control pests."
University of Sussex biology professor Dave Goulson has estimated that a single teaspoon of thiamethoxam—one of three neonicotinoids produced by Bayer, the German biotech corporation that merged with agrochemical giant Monsanto in 2018—is toxic enough to wipe out 1.25 billion bees.
A Greenpeace U.K. petition imploring Thérèse Coffey, a Conservative Party lawmaker serving as secretary of state for environment, food, and rural affairs, to "enforce a total ban on bee-killing pesticides" has garnered nearly one million signatures.
\u201cBREAKING: The government just approved the use of a BANNED bee-killing pesticide AGAIN! \n\nOne teaspoon of the pesticide is enough to kill 1.25 billion bees - it should be kept away from them!\n\u2060\nWho else thinks the government should listen to the science and NOT the sugar lobby?\u201d— Greenpeace UK (@Greenpeace UK) 1674577444
Describing DEFRA's move as "a huge disappointment," the Stand By Bees campaign on Tuesday urged supporters to "continue pushing" and "write to your local MP."
\u201cThis news is a huge disappointment for us. Despite our efforts, we have been unable to prevent this outcome. We must keep up the pressure. Now more than ever, we must #StandByBees. We must continue pushing. \n\nPlease write to your local MP: https://t.co/DgpLTfutVV\u201d— StandByBees (@StandByBees) 1674580286
In 2013, the European Commission banned the use of thiamethoxam and two other hazardous neonicotinoids produced by Monsanto—clothianidin and imidacloprid—on bee-attractive crops including maize, rapeseed, and some cereals. This was followed by a prohibition on all outdoor uses in 2018, which the European Court of Justice upheld in 2021, rejecting an appeal by Bayer.
The Pesticide Collaboration warned Monday that DEFRA's latest authorization for thiamethoxam-coated sugar beet seeds "raises wider concerns over whether the government will maintain existing restrictions on neonicotinoids and other harmful pesticides, or whether they may be overturned as part of a forthcoming bonfire of regulations that protect nature, wildlife, and communities."
At issue is the Retained E.U. Law Bill, which threatens to rescind E.U.-era environmental standards and other measures enacted prior to Brexit.
\u201cOur position on the Retained EU Law Bill \u2b07\ufe0f\n\n"The Pesticide Collaboration remains extremely concerned that if this Bill becomes law, there is a chance that all the EU-derived pesticide regulation with teeth will simply fall away."\n\nhttps://t.co/jw81ZS1gOz\u201d— The Pesticide Collaboration (@The Pesticide Collaboration) 1674470782
"It is inexcusable to see England falling so far behind the E.U. on regulations in place to prevent such a detrimental impact on biodiversity," Soil Association, a U.K.-based research and advocacy group, tweeted Tuesday. "It's not credible to claim an exemption is 'temporary' or 'emergency' when it is used year after year. How many more years will it happen?"
According to Amy Heley of the Pesticide Collaboration: "In previous years, DEFRA insisted that the sugar industry must make progress in finding alternatives, but we are yet to see any outcomes of this. The Pesticide Collaboration is deeply concerned that this emergency derogation is simply another example of the government failing to follow through on their own pledges to improve the environment and protect human health."
As Joan Edwards, director of policy & public affairs at the Wildlife Trusts, noted Monday: "Just last month, the Secretary of State Thérèse Coffey committed the U.K. to halving the environmental impact of damaging pesticides by 2030. However, today she has incompatibly authorized the use of a banned neonicotinoid, one of the world's most environmentally damaging pesticides."
“Only a few days ago, the E.U.'s highest court ruled that E.U. countries should no longer be allowed temporary exemptions for banned, bee-toxic neonicotinoid pesticides," said Edwards. "Yet this government deems it acceptable to allow the use of a toxic pesticide that is extremely harmful to bees and other insects, at a time when populations of our precious pollinators are already in freefall. This is unacceptable."
The Soil Association, meanwhile, argued that "if the government is serious about halting biodiversity loss by 2030, they must support farmers to explore long-term, agroecological solutions that don't threaten our endangered bee population."
"Neonicotinoids simply have no place in a sustainable farming system," the group added.