News from North America, Wednesday 15th May 2013

The Guardian: “The US attorney general, Eric Holder, has defended the Obama administration’s controversial seizure of phone records from the Associated Press, saying that a story run by the news organisation had posed a major security threat to the American public.

Holder, speaking at a press conference at the Department of Justice on Tuesday, said an AP story published last year about an alleged Yemeni terrorist plot to blow up a US plane was the result of ‘a very, very serious leak’ that justified ‘very aggressive action’.”

Wall Street Journal: “Attorney General Eric Holder said Tuesday the Justice Department has opened a criminal probe of the Internal Revenue Service’s treatment of tea-party groups, while an investigative report blamed the agency’s managers for allowing the practices to continue for more than 18 months.

On Tuesday night, President Barack Obama termed the audit findings ‘intolerable and inexcusable’ and said he directed Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew to hold those responsible accountable.

Mr. Holder said Tuesday he ordered the department’s probe Friday after the IRS apologized for what it said was inappropriate scrutiny of tax-exemption requests by conservative groups with ‘Tea Party’ or ‘patriot’ in their names.”

Reuters: “Russia expelled a U.S. diplomat on Tuesday after saying he had been caught red-handed with disguises, special equipment and wads of cash as he tried to recruit a Russian intelligence agent to work for the CIA.

Apparently detained in an incongruous-looking blond wig, with props reminiscent of a schoolboy’s spy kit, U.S. Embassy Third Secretary Ryan Fogle hardly looked like a Cold War secret agent.

But the announcement still came at an awkward time for Washington and Moscow as they try to improve relations and bring the warring sides in Syria together for an international peace conference. Nevertheless, there was little sign that either country wanted to escalate the affair beyond a minimum response.

BBC News: “Four men have been given prison sentences in the US state of Minnesota in connection with the recruitment of fighters for a Somali militant group.

Abdifatah Isse, Salah Ahmed and Ahmed Mahamud were jailed for three years by a federal judge after pleading guilty to providing material support to al-Shabab, a designated terrorist group.

Omer Mohamed was given 12 years for conspiracy to provide material support.

Prosecutors had recommended reduced sentences because the men co-operated.”

Washington Post: “A North Carolina man who the FBI says spoke of killing U.S. Army soldiers as part of a personal jihad has pleaded guilty to possessing a stolen firearm.

Erwin Antonio Rios, 19, admitted guilt Tuesday in U.S. District Court as part of a plea agreement with federal prosecutors. The terms of the agreement have not been made public, but the felony charge to which Rios pleaded guilty carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.

In an affidavit filed with the court, FBI Special Agent Frank Brostrom said Rios holds extremist Islamic views and told a government informant he would like to kill Fort Bragg soldiers.”

Reuters: “The U.S. government intends to revive a vacant position coordinating policy for the military prison camp for foreign terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and is looking at candidates, Attorney General Eric Holder said on Tuesday…

Obama last month renewed his years-old pledge to try to close the camp, where the United States is holding about 166 detainees, in most cases without charge or trial. Some detainees have been there since 2002 and scores are on hunger strike in protest against their indefinite detention.

In January, the U.S. State Department reassigned the special envoy, Daniel Fried, who had been in charge of trying to persuade countries to take Guantanamo inmates approved for transfer and no one was assigned to take his place. The vacancy was viewed by many Guantanamo inmates and rights group as a strong sign that Obama did not consider closing the prison a priority.”

Time: “A new criminal defense lawyer for the widow of Boston Marathon bombing  suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev says his client will continue to cooperate with  investigators but says he plans to keep quiet about the details of her case  publicly because that could hurt the investigation.

New York lawyer Joshua Dratel, who has represented several terrorism  suspects, joined Katherine Russell’s legal team last week. He joins two Rhode  Island-based lawyers who typically focus on civil cases.

Russell hasn’t been charged with any wrongdoing, but she is under intense  scrutiny by the FBI as it investigates the deadly April 15 bombing, which killed  three people and injured more than 260. Authorities say the attack was carried  out by her husband and his brother, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.”

SPLC: “Last spring, I wrote an article for the Southern Poverty Law Center’s (SPLC) Intelligence Report that ran online under the headline, ‘Leader’s Suicide Brings Attention to Men’s Rights Movement.’ One year later, following an unremitting series of attacks on what I wrote by defensive men’s right activists (MRAs), another suicide has shed new light on men’s rights activism.

Back in 1991, Earl Silverman started a self-help group for abused men in Calgary, Canada. Silverman’s abusive wife had fled to a women’s shelter after he’d ‘hit her back,’ he said, but no equivalent refuge had been available to him. Over the years, he filed numerous complaints against the provincial government, in which he argued that its failure to provide the same funding for battered men that it did for battered women was a violation of basic human rights. Three years ago, he opened a shelter for battered men in his home. In April, 2013, beset with financial difficulties, Silverman closed its doors, sold his house, and hung himself, ‘murdered by suicide by the Feminized state of Canada,’ as the National Coalition for Men’s Harry Crouch put it.”

Video: Al Jazeera: ‘Are the roots of radicalisation online?’ “Is radicalisation via the Internet a myth or dangerous reality? Investigators say the Boston Marathon bombing suspects were self-radicalised online, finding easy access to bomb-making instructions and Al Qaeda propaganda. But to what extent does surfing the ‘jihadi web’ lead to violence? And what can be done to address it without hurting civil liberties or free speech online?”

Comment: The Economist: ‘Racism and immigration policy- The Richwine affair’. “Now, I don’t think the subject or conclusion of Mr Richwine’s dissertation is out of the bounds of reasonable discourse. Yet I think a suspicion of racism is perfectly reasonable. Grad students can choose from an infinite array of subjects. Why choose this one? Who are especially keen to discover a rational basis for public policy that discriminates along racial lines? Racists, of course. Anyone who chooses this subject, and comes down on the side vindicating racist assumptions, volunteers to bring suspicion upon himself, to expose his work to an extraordinary level of scrutiny.”

Comment: Wall Street Journal: ‘A Brief History of IRS Political Targeting’ by James Bovard. “Many Republicans are enraged over revelations in recent days that the Internal Revenue Service targeted conservative nonprofit groups with a campaign of audits and harassment. But of all the troubles now dogging the Obama administration—including the Benghazi fiasco and the Justice Department’s snooping on the Associated Press—the IRS episode, however alarming, is also the least surprising. As David Burnham noted in ‘A Law Unto Itself: The IRS and the Abuse of Power’ (1990), ‘In almost every administration since the IRS’s inception the information and power of the tax agency have been mobilized for explicitly political purposes.’”

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