December 31st, 2010
The incumbent president of Ivory Coast is hardening his resistance to international pressure to stand down, even refusing to take a phone call from Barack Obama.
Laurent Gbagbo, who is widely viewed as having lost a recent election, is refusing to leave office despite attempts to persuade him from West African leaders and others in the broader international community.
Lanny J Davis, a lawyer who used to work for Bill Clinton, has resigned from his job advising Mr Gbagbo, claiming that the president had stopped taking his calls, and refused one from the US president.
Mr Davis said he had repeatedly tried to set up a phone conversation between Mr Gbagbo and Mr Obama which would have given the Ivorian "options for a peaceful resolution, that would avoid further bloodshed and be in the best interests of his country".
"Unfortunately, the decision was made in Abidjan not to allow President Obama's call to be put through to Mr Gbagbo, despite my repeated objections to that decision," he wrote in his resignation letter, which was seen by CNN.
Mr Davis said he would continue to push for a peaceful resolution in the former French colony "but for the reasons expressed above I will no longer be able to do so as a representative of your government".
On Thursday there was a gathering sense of imminent bloodshed in the country. Youssoufou Bamba, the new Ivory Coast Ambassador to the UN who has been appointed by Alassane Ouattara, Mr Gbagbo's rival, said his country was "on the brink of genocide".
Francis Deng, the UN's special adviser on genocide prevention, said allegations that the Abidjan homes of Mr Gbagbo's opponents "had been marked to identify their ethnicity were extremely worrying".
Meanwhile, Mr Gbagbo's Youth Minister called on followers to seize the Golf Hotel where Mr Ouattara and Prime Minister Guillaume Soro are operating a ghost government, protected by 800 UN peacekeepers.
Charles Ble Goude was quoted by a pro-Gbagbo newspaper as saying that Mr Ouattara and Mr Soro have until Saturday to leave.
"From January 1, I, Charles Ble Goude and the youth of Ivory Coast are going to liberate the Golf Hotel with our bare hands," he told a cheering crowd of hardline supporters in Yopougon.
Anne Ouluto, Mr Ouattara’s spokesman, said Mr Ble Goude was aiming to "replay the scenario of 2004", when his Young Patriot supporters marched on a hotel defended by French troops and provoked clashes in which at least 50 demonstrators were killed.
"They know that the United Nations will have no choice but to protect the president and to protect the president’s election victory, so it’s provocation. It’s a pretext to create an incident,” she said.
The election victory of Mr Ouattara, Mr Gbagbo’s rival, was endorsed by the international community but Mr Gbagbo said his lead in the polls was fraudulent and has clung to power.
Attempts by West African leaders to persuade him to step down have been met with stonewalling and, with their threat of military action if he does not, fears of major clashes are growing.
Alain Le Roy, the head of the United Nations force, accused Gbagbo’s state media of “inciting hatred” against UN troops, claiming they were arming and transporting Mr Ouattara’s supporters.
December 31st, 2010
John Harmon was coming off a late night at work when he left his downtown marketing firm for his Anderson Township home just after midnight in October 2009.
The 52-year-old longtime diabetic's blood sugar levels had dipped to a dangerously low level causing him to weave into another lane.
A Hamilton County sheriff's deputy spotted him on Clough Pike and suspected drunken driving.
What happened over the next two minutes and 20 seconds should never happen to anyone, Harmon said.
Deputies broke the window of Harmon's SUV, shocked him seven times with a Taser, cut him out of his seatbelt and wrestled him to the ground, severely dislocating his elbow, and causing trauma to his shoulder and thumb.
The deputies' actions prompted a state highway patrol trooper to pull one deputy away from Harmon because he was so concerned about how Harmon was being treated. That trooper alerted his bosses to the deputies' actions.
Even after learning the incident was a medical emergency, deputies charged Harmon with resisting arrest and failing to comply with a police officer's order.
"I thought for sure I was going to die," Harmon said. "I remember praying to God, 'Help me through this.'"
Harmon, a tall and burly black man, owns a marketing company with his wife. He said he moved to the mostly white township for its good schools, and said he believes he wouldn't have gotten the same treatment if it was a white man.
"I do think that maybe (race) was a factor," Harmon said. "Just out of common decency some of the things that were done here don't make sense, even if I were drunk."
Harmon and his wife, Stephanie Harmon, filed a civil rights lawsuit Dec. 20 in U.S. District Court against Hamilton County, the sheriff's office and four deputies: Ryan Wolf, Matthew Wissel, John Haynes and Shawn Cox, and their supervisor, Sgt. Barbara Stuckey.
The couple allege that Harmon's civil rights were violated because of his false arrest, malicious prosecution and the excessive force used. They also cited battery; malicious prosecution; intentional infliction of emotional distress and loss of consortium. They want an unspecified amount of compensation.
Settlement talks that started with a demand of more than $1 million deteriorated earlier this month. That's when Harmon filed the lawsuit.
A sheriff's office investigation found excessive force was used, and four of the officers involved were punished.
The deputies involved were asked through sheriff's officials to comment. None returned calls.
'A chilling experience'
The lawsuit details what happened on the morning of Oct. 20, 2009.
Deputy Wolf saw Harmon driving a 1998 Ford Expedition erratically near Wolfangel Road and pulled Harmon over.
Wolf, his gun drawn, and Wissel approached the SUV, the lawsuit said.
"The deputy's face was extremely contorted, he was screaming," Harmon said. "I remember being taken aback, recoiled and thought, 'What's going on?' I was being presented with pure evil, it was a chilling experience."
Wolf smashed the driver's side window.
Wissel shocked Harmon with a Taser for the first time. Deputy Haynes responded to the deputies' call for backup.
Harmon said the officers tried to yank him out of the SUV, but he was caught in his seat belt. He was stunned with a Taser again.
Wissel cut Harmon out of his seat belt. In his suit, Harmon said he was "violently dragged from the vehicle, thrown on the ground, kicked in the head by a boot, and stomped mercilessly while laying on his back."
"It all happened so quick, I didn't have time to think or react," Harmon said. "I just remember being on the ground, the intense pain and being pummeled."
The attack was so brutal Harmon said he thought it was a gang attack, not a traffic stop.
Harmon would be shocked five more times. In all, three times by Wissel and four times by Haynes.
As Harmon begged for mercy, Deputy Cox arrived.
Ohio State Highway Patrol Trooper Chris Sanger also drove up, his patrol car dashboard camera capturing some of what happened and the sounds of what appear to be a beating.
Sanger told sheriff's investigators he saw Harmon on the ground, crying out in pain, with several deputies on top of him. He added Harmon was complying and at least one of the Taser hits was excessive use of force.
Sanger separated Wolf and Harmon twice because of Wolf's abusive treatment, according to the lawsuit.
At some point, the deputies found Harmon's diabetic kit on the floor of the SUV. When asked if he was diabetic, Harmon replied, "Yes."
Paramedics called to the scene by the deputies found Harmon's blood sugar was dangerously low.
Still, Wolf filed felony charges. His boss, Sgt. Stuckey, signed off on them, according to the sheriff's office.
Harmon was taken to University Hospital where he was treated and released. He was then booked into the Hamilton County Jail and spent five hours in a holding cell.
Harmon said he prayed the whole time.
Meanwhile, Sanger told his bosses at the highway patrol what happened. They called the sheriff's office.
Col. Ramon Hoffbauer, the sheriff's patrol division commander, wrote in the investigation's conclusion that once the deputies learned Harmon had low blood sugar it should have been clear a medical emergency caused the erratic driving - not alcohol.
"In my opinion, the breaking of the window, the repeated use of the Taser and the manner in which Mr. Harmon was removed from his vehicle was clearly an excessive use of force and is unacceptable behavior," Hoffbauer wrote. "In addition to the use of force issue, the fact criminal charges were filed against Mr. Harmon, knowing his conduct was possibly the result of a diabetic emergency, was inappropriate to say the least."
Hamilton County Sheriff Simon Leis doesn't comment on pending litigation, but paperwork show four of those involved in the traffic stop were suspended without pay.
For violating the sheriff's office rules on use of excessive force, Haynes was suspended 10 days without pay. Wissel was suspended five days and Wolf for two days.
Stuckey was suspended for 10 days for violations related to the paperwork about the incident and for wrongly authorizing formal charges. No wrongdoing was found on Cox's part.
The patrol officers - who all earn about $56,000 a year - are still at work, reassigned to Colerain Township, said Lt. Edwin Boldt, the sheriff's lawyer.
Stuckey appealed her suspension to an arbitrator, who has yet to make a decision. She still works in Anderson Township and earns $65,930 a year.
After the incident, all sheriff's deputies were trained to recognize the medical symptoms of diabetes, Boldt said.
Harmon said it's disturbing the deputies weren't fired. Even the ones not directly involved in the attack watched it happen and didn't intervene, he said.
"I'm so thankful the state trooper got there," Harmon said. "If not, I believe I may have been killed."
Leis, during a settlement talk, apologized.
"I appreciated that," Harmon said. "I thought there are people who realize the outrageousness of this and want to do the right thing."
Two weeks after the traffic stop, prosecutors dismissed the charges against Harmon.
But, there are after effects - physical and mental.
Harmon has had three surgeries on his elbow and one on his thumb, which he couldn't move for weeks. Doctors tell him he may eventually have to get a shoulder and elbow replacement. He has insurance, but his medical bills are nearing $100,000.
Panic attacks come when Harmon simply sees a deputy driving nearby.
"Be calm," he has to caution himself. "Don't look their way."
A recent trip to Colerain Township - where the officers now work - prompted him to look over his shoulder the whole time.
"It's disturbing that I have to live like this," he said.
At that point, for the first time in the 90-minute interview, Harmon put his face in his hands and quietly cried.
December 31st, 2010
WASHINGTON — When the Obama administration wakes up next month to a divided capital, no cabinet member will be facing a more miserable prospect of oversight hearings and subpoenas than Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.
Mr. Holder is a particularly juicy target because he presides over issues that have served as recurrent fodder for political controversy — including using the criminal justice system for terrorism cases, and federal enforcement of civil rights and immigration laws.
More than most administration officials, he has served as a proxy for Republican attacks on what they see as President Obama’s left-leaning agenda. At least two possible 2012 Republican presidential hopefuls have already called for Mr. Holder’s resignation.
“It’s likely to be a difficult year,” said Bruce Buchanan, a political science professor at the University of Texas, Austin, who said Mr. Holder’s coming fights are likely to “attract press attention in a way that steps on other messages the Obama administration would like to have front and center.”
Sitting in a conference room adjacent to his office this month, Mr. Holder pointed out that he had been deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration, when both chambers of Congress were under Republican control and were conducting aggressive oversight of the Justice Department.
“You’ve got to understand that I cut my teeth in the leadership of this department dealing with the situation we’re about to encounter,” he said.
He defended himself in advance on some hot-button issues, and he seemed to hint at some steps in the realm of counterterrorism policies that might hearten his conservative critics in Congress but could draw criticism on the left. He also laid out what amounts to an agenda for the coming year, from continuing to restore the “traditional mission” of the department — law enforcement work put on the back burner after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 — to national security matters, including a fresh push to overhaul an important surveillance law.
As Mr. Holder takes up such work, the incoming House chairmen most likely to play leading roles in Justice Department oversight are Representatives Lamar Smith of Texas, the new head of the Judiciary Committee, and Darrell Issa of California, who will lead the Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Both declined to be interviewed, but Mr. Smith said in a statement, “I am committed to fair and reasonable oversight of the Justice Department and to ensuring openness and transparency of our federal law enforcement agencies.”
Mr. Holder said that he did not know Mr. Issa well, but that he had known Mr. Smith for years. The two recently had lunch, and Mr. Holder said he believed they could work together.
Like much of Washington, the two chairmen are likely to start off focusing on economic issues. But it seems inevitable they will turn to Mr. Holder, a frequent target of their criticism over the past two years.
Last March, for example, they released a joint letter criticizing the Justice Department for not doing more to investigate the community activist group Acorn, and for an early 2009 decision to downsize a voter-intimidation lawsuit against the New Black Panther Party, a black-nationalist fringe group they portrayed as an Obama administration ally.
“We’ve already seen this administration dismiss one case against a political ally — the New Black Panther Party — for no apparent reason,” Mr. Issa and Mr. Smith wrote. “We remain concerned that politicization at the Justice Department once again may result in the administration’s political friends getting a free pass.”
Asked about the prospect of oversight hearings and subpoenas involving the New Black Panther case, Mr. Holder said, “there is no ‘there’ there.”
“The notion that this made-up controversy leads to a belief that this Justice Department is not color-blind in enforcement of civil rights laws is simply not supported by the facts,” he said. “All I have on my side with regard to that is the facts and the law.”
Another high-profile issue confronting Mr. Holder in the new year is how to deal with mounting pressure to prosecute the founder of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, over his role in a major disclosure of classified government documents. Prosecutors have been examining whether Mr. Assange could be charged as a conspirator to the leak, or for publishing the materials.
Mr. Holder pushed back against the suggestion that indicting Mr. Assange would open the door to prosecuting traditional news organizations that take steps to ferret out and disclose information the government says should be a secret — including The New York Times, which published some of the WikiLeaks documents and often writes about classified matters.
“Do you think that what you do is consistent with what you understand Assange and WikiLeaks did?” Mr. Holder asked a reporter. “Would I have liked not to see the stuff appear? Yes. But did The Times act in a responsible way? I would say yes. I am not certain I would say that about those people who were responsible for the initial leaks and the wholesale dumping of materials.” (While WikiLeaks was criticized for publishing a cache of Afghanistan war documents without redacting some details about informers, it has since been more cautious. Of a cache of more than 250,000 State Department cables, it has so far published fewer than 2,000, many of which were selected and redacted by a consortium of newspapers, including The Times.)
Meanwhile, Mr. Holder seems to be adjusting the Justice Department’s legislative agenda in light of the new Congress.
He said he agreed with the director of the F.B.I., Robert S. Mueller III, that there is a need to make sure that Internet-based communications providers — like those providing encrypted e-mail and chat services — design their systems so that they can be wiretapped, just like phone companies.
Obama administration officials have been developing a draft bill to impose that mandate, although the administration has not yet signed off on it. The plan has drawn criticism from advocates of Internet freedom, who argue that it would impede technological innovation and that any tools developed to eavesdrop on suspected criminals and terrorists could also be exploited by hackers or repressive regimes seeking to identify political dissidents.
But, significantly, Mr. Holder appeared guarded when asked about a proposal he aired last spring, dismaying civil liberties groups: expanding the time interrogators can question terrorism suspects before they must read them Miranda warnings or present them to a judge for an initial hearing.
Asked about reviving the proposal, Mr. Holder spoke vaguely about continuing conversations with lawmakers. But he also disclosed that the department had sent “guidance” to agents emphasizing that under existing law, they can question terrorism suspects about immediate threats to public safety before reading them Miranda warnings.
Still, no issue has fed more Republican attacks on Mr. Holder than his support for sometimes using the criminal justice system to handle terrorism cases — especially his November 2009 decision to prosecute Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-professed mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, in federal court rather than a military commission.
The White House soon pulled back that decision amid concern about the cost and disruption of providing security for the trial in Manhattan, leaving Mr. Holder exposed. The issue of where to hold a trial has remained in limbo ever since.
This month, over Mr. Holder’s objections, the still-Democratic-controlled Congress passed a bill that forbids the military to spend its money to transfer detainees from Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to the United States, even for trials. In the interview, he declined to engage with a question about whether Congress was doing him a backhanded favor by making the civilian trial option harder.
Indeed, last month, two potential Republican presidential candidates, Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota and former Speaker Newt Gingrich, declared that Mr. Holder should resign over the outcome of the first, and possibly only, trial in regular court of a former Guantánamo detainee.
A jury convicted the detainee, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, on just one charge for his role in the 1998 embassy bombings in Africa, while acquitting him on 284. Mr. Pawlenty and Mr. Gingrich accused Mr. Holder of endangering national security by prosecuting him in civilian court.
But, noting that Mr. Ghailani will soon be sentenced to from 20 years to life in prison, Mr. Holder said he wondered “a year from now, when people look back and Ghailani is in jail, will that have the same resonance that people try to give it now.”
Indeed, he said, as a former American history major, he has to think about his job over the long run.
“You’ve got to just develop as thick a skin as you can, understand that some people will disagree with you on a principled basis but other people will disagree with you for purely political and partisan reasons,” he said.
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December 31st, 2010
Incumbent U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski was certified as the winner of the 2010 Alaska Senate race Thursday morning, 58 days after voters went to the polls.
Gov. Sean Parnell signed the certification of the election results in Juneau, with Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell as the witness.
Fairbanks attorney Joe Miller won the GOP primary on Aug. 24, prompting Murkowski to run a write-in campaign. After a recount that lasted days, the state Division of Elections said Murkowski had prevailed in the Nov. 2 general election. Her official vote count certified Thursday put her ahead of Miller by 10,252, according to an Associated Press report.
Murkowski is the first U.S. Senate candidate to win a seat by write-in since 1954, when Strom Thurmond won in South Carolina.
Kevin Sweeney, Murkowski's campaign manager, said in a prepared statement that "it feels great" to have the election finally over. He noted that it took longer -- eight weeks -- to get the results than to wage the write-in campaign, which only lasted six weeks. She is slated to be sworn in to her second full term on Jan. 5.
Miller plans a press conference for 2 p.m. Friday to discuss his plans regarding continuing a legal fight. He challenged the election results in both state and federal court but lost on all grounds, including his suggestion of widespread voter fraud. On Tuesday, a federal judge cleared the way for the election to be certified after the Alaska Supreme Court ruled against Miller's challenge.
Read more of the Dispatch
December 31st, 2010
Both sides and conservation groups agree the battle has put the health of Texas residents and the environment at risk. But the back-and-forth over everything from who should issue permits to whether state agencies are properly cracking down on polluters shows no signs of slowing down.
The fight has gotten so ugly that the EPA took the unprecedented step this month of announcing it will directly issue greenhouse gas permits to Texas industries beginning in January after the state openly refused to comply with new federal regulations.
"Emissions are too high, the emissions are too toxic and Texas water is being harmed," said EPA regional director, Al Armendariz.
The EPA is "putting politics ahead of the environmental issues," said Bryan Shaw, chairman of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
Texas and the EPA have disagreed for years over pollution regulation, but the hostility intensified recently with Republican Gov. Rick Perry accusing the EPA and the Obama administration of overstepping boundaries and meddling in states' rights. With a more conservative state Legislature about to convene next year, there's appetite to keep up that fight.
The EPA, meanwhile, by flexing its muscles in Texas, may be able to send a message to other states that the days when the agency allowed contentious issues to languish unresolved have ended. Other states have had their differences with the EPA, and at least a dozen have come together in a lawsuit — along with Texas — challenging new greenhouse gas regulations.
All are taking steps in the meantime to comply. Except Texas.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit on Wednesday declined to issue a stay that would delay the EPA's plans as Texas' lawsuit against the federal agency moves forward.
A spokeswoman for Perry said he was disappointed with the court's ruling but confident that the state will prevail "in the end."
About 200 Texas facilities continue to operate with air and water permits that are either out of date or have been disapproved by the EPA. The agency believes they are releasing a variety of metals and chemicals into the air and water that would, under the new regulations, no longer be permitted.
A main point of contention has been the state's flexible permit program, which sets a general limit on how much air pollution an entire facility can release. The issue exploded under the EPA leadership appointed by President Barack Obama, which formally disapproved Texas' flexible permits, saying they were too lenient. The state challenged the move in court, and the EPA began working directly with some companies on new permits.
The EPA accuses Texas' flexible permits of allowing Shell's Deer Park refinery to emit nearly double the amount of sulfur dioxide than would be permissible if it had a federally acceptable permit. ExxonMobil in Baytown emits double the levels of volatile organic compounds, such as benzene, than a federal permit would allow, according to the EPA.
Texas and the companies deny the allegations, insisting the companies comply with the emission limits set in their permits and are in line with federal guidelines.
The EPA and Texas have also been at odds over water permits. The EPA this month demanded in an unusual public statement that Texas work to reissue 80 expired permits designed to ensure wastewater plants and industrial facilities remove toxins before dumping water. The state says it has submitted much of the paperwork to the federal agency, which says they are not strict enough.
"These permits that EPA has not approved would have more stringent requirements," Shaw said. "The delay is reducing our ability to continue to make the environmental progress we've been making in the past years."
Earlier this month, the EPA also took on the Railroad Commission, the Texas agency that regulates the oil and gas industry, and accused it of not moving fast enough after having found evidence that methane had leaked into residential water wells. The federal agency ordered the gas driller to provide affected families with clean drinking water and determine how to stop the problem.
Industry, meanwhile, finds itself in a Catch-22. While it doesn't favor the EPA's more stringent regulations, it also isn't pleased with the ongoing battle because it creates uncertainty.
Some industries in Texas have chosen to deal directly with the EPA, which says it's working with about two-thirds of the largest facilities to get them new flexible permits.
The American Petroleum Industry, a Washington-based lobbying group that represents more than 450 oil and natural gas companies, believes the battle is hurting business. It called the EPA's most recent move to take over greenhouse gas permitting in Texas "coercive."
"The administration's focus should be job creation and economic recovery, not unnecessary and burdensome regulations that will threaten jobs and create a drag on business efforts to invest, expand and put people back to work," Howard Felman, API's director of regulatory and scientific affairs, said in a statement.
Texas says it has wed environmental law so successfully with an industry-friendly economy that the EPA and other states could learn from it.
"The existing permits in Texas have helped our state achieve dramatic improvements in air quality and we believe they will ultimately be upheld in the courts," Perry's office said in a statement. "In their latest crusade, the EPA has created massive job-crushing uncertainty for Texas companies."
But Matt Tejada, executive director of the environmental group Air Alliance Houston, said Texas politicians are "trying to make a name for themselves by taking the EPA behind the shed and beating them up" as a way to improve their anti-Washington credentials.
"It's a soup of toxic chemicals," said Neil Carman, a Sierra Club scientist and former Texas environmental regulator.