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On Tuesday, Accountable.US's Western Values Project director Jayson O'Neill joined the This Green Earth syndicated broadcast to discuss the latest ruling by a District Judge on the commonsense Methane Waste Prevention Rule. Under the corporate activist judge's ruling, methane natural gas -- one of the most destructive greenhouse gases that is 86 times more powerful than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period -- is again unregulated and being wastefully flared and vented by oil and gas corporations with impunity.
The case may end up before a supreme court that could include Trump's nominee Amy Coney Barrett, who has a record of siding with corporations 76% of the time and has troubling, unresolved connections to Big Oil giant Shell Oil.
Western Values Project brings accountability to the national conversation about Western public lands and national parks conservation - a space too often dominated by industry lobbyists and their allies in government.
The West Virginia Democrat used a Senate hearing this week to promote a toxic coal mining byproduct that is a source of profit for his family business.
Sen. Joe Manchin on Thursday responded dismissively to a reporter's question about the glaring conflict of interest posed by his family's ownership of a business that is profiting from coal waste—a toxic energy source that the West Virginia Democrat is actively promoting in the Senate.
"It's just our way of life, OK?" Manchin (D-W.Va.) toldE&E News climate reporter Adam Aton.
"I mean, I live in coal country, so if you don't work in coal country, you don’t work in West Virginia, usually," Manchin added.
The senator's comments came after he used a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing to push Deputy Energy Secretary David Turk on why the Biden administration isn't devoting more federal resources toward expanding the use of coal waste, also known as gob—an acronym for "garbage of bituminous."
Manchin, who chairs the committee despite the myriad potential conflicts stemming from his close ties to the fossil fuel industry, accused the Biden administration of waging "war on coal."
"Will you all continue to support commercialization of innovative uses for coal, including both from newly-mined coal or from coal waste?" Manchin asked Turk during Thursday's hearing.
Turk responded by saying the energy agency has "been working as a department on this," pointing to "four smaller pilot projects out there" and adding that there are "plans to try to build from that."
E&E News noted that as chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Manchin "has used his influence to add hundreds of millions of dollars for minerals research to bipartisan infrastructure legislation—with a focus on coal waste that has boosted the coal industry."
\u201cEnvironmental groups have been calling for coal ash regulations that would classify the material as a hazardous waste and create more rigorous requirements for storing and transporting the ash. https://t.co/roR91SBBp7 @AdamAton\u201d— Sierra Club Climate Adaptation & Restoration Team (@Sierra Club Climate Adaptation & Restoration Team) 1675453368
Manchin has insisted for years that he doesn't have any influence over his family business—which is called Enersystems and run by the senator's son—and that he has set up a blind trust for his company holdings.
Enersystems provides gob, a leftover of coal mining, to West Virginia's Grant Town power plant—the only power plant in the state that burns the substance.
The Washington Postreported in December 2021 that "documents filed by the senator show the blind trust is much too small to account for all his reported earnings from the coal company."
According to the Post, "Manchin’s latest financial disclosure report says that the West Virginia family coal business that he helped found and run, Enersystems, paid him $492,000 in interest, dividends and other income in 2020, and that his share of the firm is worth between $1 million and $5 million. He signed a sworn statement saying he is aware of these earnings, underscoring that he is not blind to them."
"If Manchin's coal interests are not in a blind trust, ethics experts said, it calls into question the impartiality of a senator who in October forced Biden to drop the plan in his Build Back Better bill to phase out the same kinds of coal plants that are key to his family company's profitability," the Post added.
Manchin has wasted no time in the new Congress working to advance the interests of the fossil fuel industry, which donated more to the West Virginia Democrat than any other member of Congress during the last election cycle.
As Common Dreams reported this week, Manchin has teamed up with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) on a bill to shield pollution-spewing gas stoves and joined Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.) in an effort to revive a fossil fuel-friendly permitting overhaul that the Senate repeatedly rejected last year.
"Nothing will bring back the thousands whose lives were so cruelly taken that September day," writes Ted Olson, a former U.S. solicitor-general. "But we must face reality and bring this process to an end."
Ted Olson—the former U.S. solicitor-general in the George W. Bush administration who argued against basic legal rights for Guantánamo Bay prisoners and defended their indefinite detention and torture—made a stunning admission Thursday: The Gitmo military commissions don't work and should be shut down, and the government should strike plea deals with 9/11 defendants held at the prison.
In a Wall Street Journalopinion piece, Olson—perhaps best known for his consequential reversal on the issue of same-sex marriage equality—wrote that he "led a special team of lawyers tasked with overseeing all court challenges to the government's policy of detaining terrorism suspects" at Gitmo.
In that capacity, Olson—whose wife was a passenger on the plane that crashed into the Pentagon on 9/11—argued in the U.S. Supreme Court in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld that the "unlawful enemy combatants" who were imprisoned, and often tortured, at Guantánamo were not entitled to protections afforded by the Geneva Conventions. Nor were they subject to U.S. law or allowed a defense in American courts, Olson asserted, because the men (and children) were "stateless terrorists" and the prison is located on Cuban soil—even though Cuba has no jurisdiction over the military base.
"In retrospect, we made two mistakes in dealing with the detained individuals at Guantánamo," wrote Olson. "First, we created a new legal system out of whole cloth. I now understand that the commissions were doomed from the start. We used new rules of evidence and allowed evidence regardless of how it was obtained."
\u201cI can't understate the importance of this oped from Ted Olson, who was Bush's Solicitor General during 9/11.\n\nHe says he now understands the Gitmo military commissions were doomed from the start and calls for acceptance of 9/11 defendants' plea bargains. https://t.co/3NUVPSs2YM\u201d— Allegra Harpootlian (@Allegra Harpootlian) 1675365637
Evidence obtained through torture led to cases being declined or more lenient sentences than prosecutors sought. Susan J. Crawford, the Bush official in charge of deciding which terrorism suspects to try before Gitmo military commissions, declined to prosecute Mohammed al-Qhatani, the alleged would-be 20th 9/11 hijacker because, as she admitted in 2009, "we tortured" the defendant.
Col. Stuart Crouch, a Guantánamo prosecutor whose Marine Corps buddy was a pilot on one of the planes that crashed into the World Trade Center on 9/11, refused to prosecute Mohamedou Ould Slahi—who allegedly helped organize the plane's hijacking—because Ould Slahi was tortured.
In another example, seven out of eight members of a military jury convened to hear the case against Guantánamo detainee and alleged terrorist plotter Majid Khan recommended total clemency after the defendant testified how he endured torture including rape, being hung from a ceiling beam, and being subjected to the interrupted drowning method known as waterboarding while he was held at a CIA "black site" in Afghanistan.
Olson wrote that the U.S. legal system would have been more than capable of handling the cases of terrorism defendants, "but we didn't trust America's tried-and-true courts."
"In the 20 years since this ordeal began, no trial has even begun. There have been years of argument in pretrial hearings, which have produced no legal justice for the victims of 9/11," he noted. "Instead of helping Americans learn more about who carried the attacks out and why, they have produced seemingly endless litigation largely concerned with the treatment of detainees by government agents and the government's attempts to suppress certain information."
\u201cThis is big.\n\nTheodore Olson, who was Solicitor General during 9/11 and lost his wife that day, has come out in support of plea deals for the 9/11 defendants at Guant\u00e1namo.\n\nThe US must conclude these legal proceedings as quickly and justly as possible.\nhttps://t.co/S7GIo31CyP\u201d— ACLU (@ACLU) 1675363349
After Bush-era Pentagon General Counsel Jim Haynes allegedly told lead Guantánamo prosecutor Col. Morris Davis that acquittals were unacceptable, Morris resigned over concerns the process was "rigged." Other Gitmo prosecutors, including Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld, Maj. Robert Preston, Capt. John Carr, and Capt. Carrie Wolf, also requested transfers from the "rigged" military commissions.
"Our second mistake," Olson wrote in his Journal piece, "was pursuing the death penalty through the commissions. Death penalty cases are the most hotly contested legal proceedings, given their irreversible nature. We doomed these newly created commissions to collapse under their own weight."
While prosecuting these individuals in federal civilian courts would have been the right decision 15 or 20 years ago, Congress foreclosed that option in 2010 by banning the transfer of detainees to the U.S. for any purpose. Even if Congress were to lift that ban—which seems extremely unlikely—the only guarantee that federal court prosecution brings is years of appeals resulting from the legal morass of the past two decades. This is no resolution.
"If the 9/11 defendants held at Guantánamo are willing to plead guilty, and accept a life sentence at the military prison instead of the death penalty, we should accept that deal," OIson argued.
"Nothing will bring back the thousands whose lives were so cruelly taken that September day," Olson stressed. "But we must face reality and bring this process to an end. The American legal system must move on by closing the book on the military commissions and securing guilty pleas."
"The U.S. must bring these legal proceedings to as rapid and just a conclusion as possible."
Last year, military prosecutors and Guantánamo defense attorneys began negotiating potential plea deals that could spare 9/11 suspects from being executed in exchange for guilty pleas that would result in life imprisonment—and the continued operation of Gitmo for the foreseeable future.
Olson's admission is remarkable because it stands alone among top Bush, CIA, and Pentagon lawyers like Haynes, Alberto Gonzalez, John Yoo, Jay Bybee, and John Rizzo who designed, deployed, and defended the administration's policies regarding indefinite detention, torture, extraordinary rendition, and denial of basic legal rights.
Nearly 800 men and boys have been imprisoned at Guantánamo since it opened in January 2002. According to Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, who served as chief of staff to then-Secretary of State Colin Powell, the majority of Gitmo detainees were innocent and then-President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld knew it.
Although Bush's successor, President Barack Obama, took steps toward closing Guantánamo and ending torture, both endured, even as Gitmo's population decreased dramatically during the Bush and Obama administrations.
Five Guantánamo detainees have been released during the tenure of President Joe Biden, including Khan, who was transferred to Belize earlier this week. Biden—whose former press secretary said closing Guantánamo is "our goal and our intention"—has been criticized for failing to close the prison after 21 years in operation.
As Olson noted in his opinion piece, 20 of the 34 remaining Guantánamo prisoners have been cleared for release. NBC News reported Thursday that "two brothers from Pakistan, Abdul Rahim Ghulam Rabbani and Mohammed Ahmed Ghulam Rabbani, are also nearing transfer, according to two senior U.S. officials."
"Nine of the remaining men, including the 9/11 defendants, face charges in the military tribunals," Olson wrote. "To date, there have been a total of nine convictions, several of which have been overturned in whole or in part on appeal, mostly by U.S. federal courts. Today, there are no trial dates set for any of the still-pending cases."
Unlike Maj. Gen. Michael Lehnert, Gitmo's first commander, Olson does not go so far as to call for the prison's closure. However, Olson concludes that "the U.S. must bring these legal proceedings to as rapid and just a conclusion as possible."
"True justice seems unattainable," he wrote. "The best the U.S. government can do at this point is negotiate resolutions of the remaining Guantánamo cases."
The legal group argues that information about the surveillance program "is key as Congress considers reauthorizing Section 702—the law used to defend this unconstitutional spying."
The ACLU on Friday filed a federal lawsuit against top U.S. intelligence agencies that have failed to respond to public records requests for information about a "sweeping law that authorizes the warrantless surveillance of international communications," including those of Americans.
The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, targets the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Department of Justice (DOJ), National Security Agency (NSA), and Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI).
"Section 702 has morphed into a domestic surveillance tool for the FBI."
In December, the ACLU requested "recent Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) opinions concerning the government's surveillance activities, including those conducted pursuant to Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA)."
According to the ACLU's complaint, which was first reported on by Axios, "to date, none of these defendant agencies has released any responsive records," despite their legal obligation to respond to such requests within 20 working days.
"Though Section 702 is justified as a counterterrorism tool, in reality it permits surveillance far beyond what is needed to protect national security," the ACLU explains on its website. It continues:
It allows the government to target foreigners abroad if it believes they possess "foreign intelligence information"—a term so broadly defined that it can include ordinary information about foreign affairs that has nothing to do with national security. This means that targets of surveillance could include human rights defenders, journalists, whistleblowers, or business owners. The government collects the personal information of these individuals—including any communications they may have with people in the U.S.—and stores it in databases for years, and in some cases, indefinitely.
With Section 702 set to expire at the end of the year, the complaint explains, Congress in the coming months "will consider whether to reauthorize these surveillance powers and will newly examine the breadth and intrusiveness of the digital searches the government conducts under this authority."
"In 2021, the FISC took the unusual step of extending its review of the government's annual Section 702 application, in order to consider novel or significant issues raised by the proposed surveillance," the document notes. "But the government has not released the court opinions that resulted from that review, even though they bear directly on the public's understanding of the surveillance powers the government seeks to wield under Section 702."
"Timely disclosure of these FISC opinions is vitally necessary to an informed debate about whether these surveillance powers should be reauthorized or reformed," the filing argues.
\u201cBREAKING: We\u2019re suing the NSA, CIA, and DOJ to learn more about the mass surveillance of our texts, emails, and calls with friends and family abroad.\n\nThis information is key as Congress considers reauthorizing Section 702 \u2014 the law used to defend this unconstitutional spying.\u201d— ACLU (@ACLU) 1675440982
Echoing that argument, Patrick Toomey, deputy project director for the ACLU's National Security Project, told Axios that "these opinions are essential to an informed public debate, and the government should release them immediately."
Toomey took aim at the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which falls under the DOJ. He said that "Section 702 has morphed into a domestic surveillance tool for the FBI."
Axios pointed out that the ODNI "disclosed in an annual report in April that the FBI conducted as many as 3.4 million searches of Americans' data in 2021 that was previously collected through 702."
Toomey asserted that "before Congress votes on reauthorizing this law, Americans should know how the government wants to use these sweeping spying powers."