December 01, 2010

Article at Reuters

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Washington Extra - Pirate justice

WASHINGTON, Nov 30 (Reuters) -The U.S. government would surely love to get its revenge on Julian Assange, and the Justice Department says a criminal investigation has already begun. But specialists in espionage law tell us that peculiarities of American law make it virtually impossible to bring a successful case against Assange, even if he were to set foot on U.S. soil. Evidence would be needed that defendants were in contact with representatives of a foreign power and intended to provide them with secrets, evidence that has not yet surfaced.

So although the leaked documents may make intelligence sharing harder in the future, and may make foreign governments reluctant to trust the U.S. with sensitive information, retribution could be tough.

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee took aim at whoever leaked the documents, saying they should be tried for treason and “executed.” Others might yearn for a bit of pirate justice, for both Assange and the leaker.

Talking of which, one gem from the leaked cables was the revelation that the world’s most controversial private security company had reconfigured a 183-foot boat into a pirate-hunting vessel. Blackwater had apparently offered its services to shipping companies seeking protection from Somali pirates, but failed to drum up any business.

They may not have caught any pirates but the New York Times reports that practices on-board the vessel were “little improved from the days of Blackbeard.” One former crew member, caught drinking during a port call to Jordan, was apparently “placed in irons”, which might sound appealing in an evil sort of way until you learn it amounted to being handcuffed to the towel rack. Meanwhile, I am officially banishing from my mind any thoughts of Dick Cheney, cutlass in hand, forcing Assange to walk the plank into a shark-infested sea.

More seriously, Republican leaders were almost purring today after emerging from their meeting with President Barack Obama, apparently confident they have the upper hand over the question of extending the tax cuts. Both sides said the meeting had been positive, but in the end there was little sign - yet -- of common ground.

Obama cut a much more defensive figure after the meeting, stressing the disagreements more than the idea of a possible bipartisan accord. The two sides have agreed to negotiate further, but even though they are to set up a working group, the maneuvering continues. Democrats are now promising a vote in the House on Thursday on just extending the cuts for the middle classes.

Finally, hats off to Fed board nominee Peter Diamond. Nominees for official office, especially those facing tough confirmation votes, usually go to ground, but Diamond is clearly cut from a different cloth. The Nobel laureate told Reuters Insider Television the U.S. economy needed more fiscal policy support but added that extending the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans would be the wrong medicine -- a view that could cost him the support of some wavering Republicans.

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Here are our top stories from Washington today:

U.S. deficit panel postpones vote on plan

A presidential commission looking for ways to slash the budget deficit has postponed by two days a vote on its final plan, commission co-Chairmen Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles said. [ID:nN30280652]

President Obama said he still disagreed with Republicans on whether to extend Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, but the two sides agreed to negotiate a deal in the coming days. [ID:nnN30268902]

Federal Reserve Board nominee Peter Diamond says extending Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans would be the wrong medicine. [ID:nN30275751]

The Senate rejected a proposed ban on the pet spending projects known as earmarks that have become a symbol of wasteful spending for many voters.[ID:nN30132967]

Military study gives green light to end gay ban

The Pentagon has unveiled a study that played down the impact of ending the military’s ban on gays, but worries among generals about the fallout on troops fighting abroad could delay action. [ID:nN30281367]

President Obama reiterated his call for the Senate to ratify a new nuclear arms control treaty with Russia, calling it “absolutely essential” to national security.[ID:nN3043116]

Telecommunications regulators proposed freeing up more airwaves for wireless services to meet the expanding use of handheld devices. [ID:nnN30279912]

All passengers on flights to, from and within the United States are being checked against government security watchlists, the TSA said.[ID:nN30288897]

What we are blogging:

Lady Gaga, WikiLeaks and :’( Washington has been buzzing about Bradley Manning, the 23-year-old Army intelligence analyst at the heart of the investigation into the WikiLeaks leaks. And then there’s the Lady Gaga connection. Manning said he listened to “Telephone” as he pulled documents off a server in Baghdad, according to his online chats with former hacker Adrian Lamo, who confirmed details of the chats to Reuters.

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