TIME Congress

Cuban-American Senators Rip Obama’s Cuba Trade

Senator Rubio speaks on the economy
U.S. Senator Marco Rubio speaks on strategies for sparking economic growth in Washington on March 10, 2014. Brooks Kraft—Corbis

The three Cuban-American senators bashed the Obama Administration’s decision to release three Cubans held by the United States on the same day Cuba released an American contractor it had held for years.

New Jersey Democratic Senator Robert Menendez slammed the Administration, calling it an “asymmetrical trade”—a description the Administration rebuts—that “sets a dangerous precedent” and will “invite further belligerence toward Cuba’s opposition movement and the hardening of the government’s dictatorial hold on its people.”

“It invites dictatorial and rogue regimes to use Americans serving overseas as bargaining chips,” said Menendez, the outgoing chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in a statement. “I fear that today’s actions will put at risk the thousands of Americans that work overseas to support civil society, advocate for access to information, provide humanitarian services, and promote democratic reforms.”

Menendez added that Alan Gross, who was providing satellite communications equipment to the island’s Jewish population, should have been released “immediately and unconditionally” when he was captured five years ago. Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, who along with Menendez and Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz are the only senators with Cuban roots, criticized the trade for legitimatizing the Cuban narrative about Gross’ work in Cuba, as the three Cubans the U.S. released were prosecuted in court on espionage charges. Cuba also released an unnamed U.S. intelligence asset who has been imprisoned for 20 years.

The Administration announced Gross’ release as part of a major shift to normalize full diplomatic relations with President Raúl Castro’s government after they were largely cut off fifty-three years ago. A senior Administration official said the U.S. embassy would open “as soon as possible” in Havana and that the Administration would authorize expanded exports and imports from Cuba. U.S. credit and debit cards will also be permitted for use in Cuba for the first time, among other changes. Rubio and Cruz ripped the moves, which the Administration touted were historic.

“The President’s decision to reward the Castro regime and begin the path toward the normalization of relations with Cuba is inexplicable,” said Rubio in a statement. “Cuba, like Syria, Iran, and Sudan, remains a state sponsor of terrorism…Appeasing the Castro brothers will only cause other tyrants from Caracas to Tehran to Pyongyang to see that they can take advantage of President Obama’s naiveté during his final two years in office. As a result, America will be less safe as a result of the President’s change in policy.”

“Fidel and Raul Castro have just received both international legitimacy and a badly-needed economic lifeline from President Obama,” added Cruz. “We have seen how previous Obama Administration attempts at rapprochement with rogue regimes like Russia and Iran have worked out, with our influence diminished and our enemies emboldened. Now they are revisiting this same disastrous policy with the Castros, blind to the fact that they are being played by brutal dictators whose only goal is maintaining power. And if history be our guide, the Castros will exploit that power to undermine America and oppress the Cuban people.”

Not all senators were so critical of the Administration. After Gross’ release, Maryland Democratic Sen. Barbara Mikulski called Wednesday “a new day and a monumental breakthrough.” Illinois Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin told the Washington Post that the White House and the Vatican had been trying to ensure Gross’ release for more than a year and praised the Administration for attempting to patch U.S.-Cuba relations.

“I think most will acknowledge that our foreign policy for over half a century has not been successful,” said Durbin.“We had hoped by excluding Cuba and pressuring Cuba that the regime would change and it never happened. I think this opening the door to free travel and trade and exchange of realities is going to have a more positive impact in changing Cuba than 50 years of foreign policy.”

With reporting by Zeke J Miller/Washington, D.C.

 

TIME Senate

Senate Passes Stopgap Bill to Fund Government… Until Wednesday

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid speaks during a Congressional Gold Medal Ceremony for World War II era Civil Air Patrol members, on Capitol Hill on Dec. 10, 2014 in Washington.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid speaks during a Congressional Gold Medal Ceremony for World War II era Civil Air Patrol members, on Capitol Hill on Dec. 10, 2014 in Washington. Drew Angerer—Getty Images

Shutdown averted, for now

Their power ebbing, Senate Democrats launched a last-minute drive Saturday to confirm roughly 20 of President Barack Obama’s nominees, and several Republicans blamed Tea Party-backed Texas Sen. Ted Cruz for creating an opening for the outgoing majority party to exploit.

Lawmakers took a break in their intrigue long enough to send Obama legislation that provides funds for the government to remain open until Wednesday at midnight, easing concerns of a shutdown. A separate, $1.1 trillion long-term funding bill remained in limbo.

Republicans tried to slow the nomination proceedings, but several voiced unhappiness with Cruz, a potential presidential candidate in 2016. One likened his actions to his role in precipitating a 16-day partial government shutdown more than a year ago.

“I’ve seen this movie before, and I wouldn’t pay money to see it again,” Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., said between seemingly endless roll calls.

Cruz blamed the Democrats’ leader, Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, saying his “last act as majority leader is to, once again, act as an enabler” for the president by blocking a vote on Obama’s policy that envisions work visas for an estimated 5 million immigrants living in the country illegally.

Cruz said Reid was “going to an embarrassing length to tie up the floor to obstruct debate and a vote on this issue because he knows amnesty is unpopular with the American people, and he doesn’t want the Democrats on the record as supporting it.”

Democrats lost control of the Senate in the November, and Republicans will take over when the new Congress convenes in January.

Lawmakers in both parties said the $1.1 trillion spending measure eventually would pass. It faced opposition from Democratic liberals upset about the repeal of a banking regulation and Republican conservatives unhappy that it failed to challenge Obama’s immigration moves.

Immigration was the issue that Cruz cited late Friday night when he tried to challenge the bill. That led swiftly to the unraveling of an informal bipartisan agreement to give the Senate the weekend off, with a vote on final passage of the bill deferred until early this coming week.

That, in turn led Reid to call an all-day Senate session to be devoted almost exclusively to beginning time-consuming work on confirmation for as many as nine judicial appointees and an unknown number of nominees to administration posts.

Reid blamed a “small group of Senate Republicans” for the turn of events.

The list of nominees included Carolyn Colvin to head the Social Security Administration, Vivek Murthy to become surgeon general, Sarah Saldana as head of Customs and Immigration Enforcement and Antony Blinken to the No. 2 position at the State Department.

Democrats did not provide a complete list, saying it might change. More than a dozen judicial nominations remained on the Senate’s calendar, and dozens of appointees to administration positions.

Several Republicans fumed that Cruz had erred.

Asked if Cruz had created an opening for the Democrats, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah said, “I wish you hadn’t pointed that out.”

Hatch added, “You should have an end goal in sight if you’re going to do these types of things and I don’t see an end goal other than irritating a lot of people.”

Added Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz.: “I fail to see what conservative ends were achieved.” He also said he was worried about what the events means for next year, when Republicans are in charge.

“The other concern I have here now is the nominations that are going to get through that otherwise wouldn’t,” said Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D.

Appearing irritated, some Republicans spoke with Cruz on the Senate floor about his actions. At another point, Cruz huddled in the rear of the chamber with Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, who had supported him on Friday evening, and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, another tea party-backed lawmaker.

The GOP leader, Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, made no public comment on the events, even though Cruz suggested Friday night McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, should not be entirely trusted to keep their pledge to challenge Obama’s immigration policy when Republicans gain two-house control of Congress in January.

“We will learn soon enough if those statements are genuine and sincere,” Cruz said.

The $1.1 trillion spending bill provides funds for nearly the entire government through the Sept. 30 end of the current budget year.

The sole exception is the Department of Homeland Security, which is funded only until Feb. 27. Republicans intend to try then to force the president to roll back his immigration policy that removes the threat of deportation from millions of immigrants living in the United States illegally.

The events quickly overshadowed developments in the House earlier in the week, when Democratic divisions were on display over the spending bill.

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California opposed the bill, and publicly chastised Obama for giving it his support.

TIME Senate

Senate in Rare Saturday Session as Shutdown Threat Looms Again

Senator Sherrod Brown Holds Hearing On "Regulatory Capture" With New York Fed's Dudley
From Left: Senator Elizabeth Warren a Democrat from Massachusetts speaks with Senator Joe Manchin a Democrat from West Virginia during a Senate Banking Subcommittee in Washington, D.C. on Nov. 21, 2014. Andrew Harrer—Bloomberg/Getty Images

The House passed a bandaid spending bill Friday but the Senate is locked in a showdown

For its grand finale before it concludes early next year, the 113th Congress is staging yet another procedural showdown in a rare Saturday session, as lawmakers work to pass a bill to fund the federal government before it runs out of money at midnight.

The House of Representatives Friday averted a government shutdown with a temporary spending bill to fund the government for five days, but the Senate must still approve the bill. The Hill has been locked in debate over a $1.1 trillion spending bill to fund the government through September of next year.

The Senate had hoped to close up shop for the year Friday, but lawmakers could not come to agreement after some Republican senators demanded a vote on a measure protesting President Obama’s controversial immigration order issued in November, which shields some four million undocumented immigrants in the United States from deportation.

“Before the United States Senate is a bill that does nothing, absolutely nothing to stop President Obama’s illegal and unconstitutional amnesty,” said Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz.

Some Democrats, however, are worried about changes to financial regulatory laws included in that measure, McClatchy reports. “A vote for this bill is a vote for future taxpayer bailouts of Wall Street,”Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D—Mass.), a longtime advocate for financial regulation reform, said Thursday.

If lawmakers cannot come to an agreement on a temporary spending bill by midnight Saturday the federal government will run out of money. A final vote on the full $1.1 trillion spending bill could come on Monday.

[McClatchy]

TIME democrats

The Last Southern Democratic Senator Gave Her Farewell Speech

Democratic Senator Landrieu reacts while delivering a concession speech after the results of the U.S. Senate race in Louisiana during a runoff in New Orleans
Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu reacts while delivering a concession speech after the results of the U.S. Senate race in Louisiana during a runoff in New Orleans on Dec. 6, 2014. Jonathan Bachman—Reuters

The loss of her Senate seat completes a political realignment that began decades ago

Departing Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu promised to spend her retirement from politics working to repair the environmentally degraded Gulf Coast Thursday in an emotional farewell speech delivered from the Senate floor.

“It is something worth fighting for,” she said. “We would not be a country without the Mississippi Delta.”

In a runoff election December 6, Landrieu lost decisively to Republican Bill Cassidy, making the last statewide elected Democrat in the Deep South. The loss of Landrieu’s seat completes a political realignment in the once solidly Democratic South that began decades ago.

Landrieu, who is from New Orleans, said she will focus her work out of office on issues impacting children and the environment, including coastal restoration, a hot button issue in Louisiana, where wetlands are disappearing at an alarming rate.

“The city is going to stay there and the region is going to stay there,” she said.

Landrieu thanked a litany of staffers and lawmakers but had less charitable parting words for one elected official.

“President Bush was not that forward-leaning,” she said of Bush’s response in the wake of Hurricane Katrina’s devastation of New Orleans. “I’ll just leave it at that. There will be a lot more in my book.

During her 18 years in the Senate, Landrieu was a dependable ally of the oil and gas industry and an unabashed pork-barrel dealmaker who touted her success at diverting federal funds to her state—she famously traded her key vote in favor of Obamacare in exchange for millions of dollars in extra federal support for Medicaid in Louisiana.

Landrieu told Politico it is “highly, highly unlikely” she will run for office again.

TIME Immigration

Activist Hailed as Face of Immigration Action Makes Her Case Before Congress

Astrid Silva Immigration Activist
Immigration activist Astrid Silva (in red) stands next to her mother, Barbara Silva, as she speaks about immigration reform at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Dec. 10, 2014. Larry Downing—Reuters

Astrid Silva joined a panel of witnesses at a hearing on Obama's immigration action plan Wednesday

Just three weeks ago, Astrid Silva didn’t know if this holiday season would be the last one she’d get to spend with her father.

Silva, 26, immigrated to America from Mexico with her parents when she was just four years old, crossing the Rio Grande in a homemade tire raft. Though she is currently exempt from deportation under a 2010 law that defers action on illegal immigrants who arrived as children, her parents are not. Her younger brother was born in the U.S. and is therefore a citizen.

Her father has an order of deportation against him and though his immigration has been stayed since 2011, he’s up again in January. This time around, Silva says, he’s much less worried. In fact, after President Obama’s announcement that he would be providing temporary relief from deportation to 5 million people, she and her family began to experience another emotion: hope.

“He’s going to be worried until there’s a law, but he’s very—he’s relieved,” Silva told TIME Wednesday. “He doesn’t have to wake up and think ‘Immigration is going to be there when I go out for work.’”

But on Wednesday, frustration was the emotion she hoped would come across as she appeared in Washington, before a Congressional committee. Wearing a bright red blazer, adorned with a button depicting a close family friend and “dream warrior” Tomasa Macias, Silva passionately defended the President’s action on immigration reform in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“When people attack the President for this action or challenge his legal authority—the same authority that Republican and Democratic presidents have taken before him, they are attacking me,” Silva said during her prepared remarks. “They are attacking the hundreds of thousands of children who need their parents to care for them and tell them that there are no monsters under the bed.”

Like many undocumented immigrants across the U.S., Silva watched the President’s Nov. 20 announcement with her family by her side. But Silva’s experience was a bit different. During the speech, the President gave Silva a shout-out, sharing her story as an undocumented immigrant who went on to college and become an activist in her community with the nation. She was hailed as the “face of Obama’s immigration action” in the Las Vegas Sun on Wednesday, but to Silva, she’s just one of many.

“I may be a face but there’s millions just like us,” Silva told TIME. “Just like me.”

And it was their stories, Silva said, that she hoped to share with the Senators on the committee.

“I’m 26 and I’m afraid that my parents will be deported,” Silva said. “I can’t imagine the six year old, seven year old living in that fear.”

TIME

Morning Must Reads: December 10

Capitol
The early morning sun rises behind the US Capitol Building in Washington, DC. Mark Wilson—Getty Images

TIME’s Person of the Year: The Ebola Fighters

Doctors who wouldn’t quit even as their colleagues fell ill and died; nurses comforting patients while standing in slurries of mud, vomit and feces. The Ebola Fighters are the TIME Person of the Year

Senate Torture Report Reveals Horrors

A Senate report says the CIA’s interrogation methods of al-Qaeda suspects after 9/11 were brutal and possibly illegal, that they were poorly managed, and that the agency misrepresented it to the White House, the Justice Department and Congress

Winter Storm Hits Northeast

A winter storm brought rain, heavy winds and snow to the region, prompting hundreds of flight cancellations and flooding concerns

Prosecutors in San Francisco and Los Angeles Sue Uber

Prosecutors announced a settlement with ride-sharing company Lyft for making “false and misleading statements” to consumers about background checks for vetting drivers, but filed a similar lawsuit against Uber

Malala Wants to Be Pakistan’s Prime Minister

The young Pakistani activist who survived a brutal attack by the Taliban and won a Nobel Peace Prize said she still hopes to achieve much more and even become Prime Minister of Pakistan one day

LeBron Kind of Broke Royal Protocol With Kate

To Americans, there was nothing strange about LeBron James putting his arm around Kate to pose for a photograph. To the British, though, merely touching the Duchess of Cambridge represents a serious breach in etiquette

Lawmaker to Propose LGBT Nondiscrimination Bill

Oregon Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley will propose a broad measure aimed at preventing discrimination against LGBT Americans, not just in employment but also with regard to public accommodations, housing, jury service and financial transactions

Cuba Gooding Jr. to Play O.J. Simpson in Trial Drama

Cuba Gooding Jr. has been cast as O.J. Simpson in the first season of FX’s new series American Crime Story, which takes as its subject the 1995 murder trial of the infamous ex-footballer. Producer Ryan Murphy said the new series does not have an official premier date

Lawmakers Agree on Bill to Avert Government Shutdown

Republicans and Democrats agreed on a $1.1 trillion spending bill to avoid a government shutdown and delay a politically-charged struggle over President Barack Obama’s new immigration policy until the new year

Lena Dunham Defends Writing on Past Sexual Assault

Lena Dunham defended writing in her recent memoir about being sexually assaulted while in college. “Speaking out was never about exposing the man who assaulted me,” she said. “Rather, it was about exposing my shame, letting it dry out in the sun”

Final Countdown for Hong Kong’s Protest Camps

The 74-day occupation by pro-democracy protesters in central Hong Kong will likely end Thursday when authorities clear protest camps from several areas, but demonstrators vow that the battle for the city’s political future will continue

Panthers’ Cam Newton Fractures Back in Car Crash

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton has two fractures in his lower back after a car accident in Charlotte. Newton was in fair condition and expected to remain in the hospital overnight on Tuesday

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TIME Television

Watch Jon Stewart Take Down the Senate Torture Report

"This report is the Frozen of senate intelligence CIA clandestine redacted torture reports — let me go, let me go!"

Jon Stewart’s reaction to the Senate Intelligence Committee’s new report on the CIA’s torture program could be summed with the famous projectile vomiting scene from Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life.

“I just made this movie [Rosewater] about a guy who triumphs over the inhuman conditions in his imprisonment in an authoritarian country, and I don’t think they did half that sh-t to [Maziar Bahari],” The Daily Show host said. “That was probably worse because Maziar was completely innocent.”

Not quite. The Tuesday torture report — which included descriptions of detainees undergoing extreme sleep deprivation and rectally infused meals — found that 26 of the 119 individuals held by the CIA throughout the program were wrongfully detained. Stewart also took down the report’s acknowledgement that having the contractors evaluate the detainees’ well-being and mental states was a “conflict of interest.”

“I’m actually glad you threw in a little common everyday bureaucratic corruption to try and bring another flavor to this deluge of depravity,” Stewart said.

Watch the full clip below.

The Daily Show
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TIME intelligence

Here’s What the CIA Actually Did in Interrogations

More than just waterboarding

The debate over the CIA’s interrogation and detention program became very graphic Tuesday with the release of a Senate report.

After reviewing more than 6.2 million documents, Senate investigators went into detail on some of the specific things done to detainees under the program, which critics say amounted to torture.

Not every method was used regularly and some may have been used only once. But here’s a running list of the methods outlined in the report:

  • Forcibly shaving a detainee (p. 72)
  • Waterboarding one detainee more than 183 times (pg. 85)
  • Pureeing a detainee’s lunch tray of hummus, pasta, nuts and raisins and putting it in his rectum (pg. 100)
  • Forcing detainees to stand on broken feet (pg. 101)
  • Forcing a detainee to wear a diaper with no access to a bathroom (pg. 53)
  • Playing loud music 24 hours a day (pg. 53)
  • Handcuffing a detainee to the ceiling for 22 hours a day so he couldn’t lower his arms (pg. 53)
  • Forcing a detainee to sit naked on a cold concrete floor (pg. 54)
  • Depriving detainees of sleep for up to 180 hours (pg. 165)
  • Threatening a detainee with a gun and an electric drill (pg. 69)
  • Threatening detainees’ families, including telling one detainee that his mother would be sexually abused in front of him (pg. 70)
  • Forcibly bathing a detainee with a stiff brush (pg. 70)
  • Keeping detainees in isolation for years (pg. 80)
  • Dousing detainees with cold water (pg. 105)
  • Keeping detainees in uncomfortably cold temperatures (pg. 105)
  • Forcing detainees to subsist on liquid diets (pg. 165)
  • Putting insects in a confinement box with a detainee (pg. 409)
  • Carrying out mock executions (pg. 59)
  • Covering detainees’ heads with hoods (p. 53)
  • “Walling,” or slamming detainees against the wall (pg. 40)
  • Administering facial and abdominal slaps (p. 42)
  • Blowing cigarette smoke into a detainee’s face (pg. 190)
  • Dragging a detainee blindfolded through the dirt in a “rough takedown” (pg. 190)

 

TIME politics

Read the TIME Story That ‘Concerned’ the CIA on Torture

A 2006 article by Ron Suskind is mentioned in the Senate Torture Report

About two hundred pages into the newly released summary of the Senate’s report on interrogation techniques used by the CIA, the fact-checking procedure for a Sept. 6, 2006, speech by President Bush is closely parsed. In the speech, Bush stated that the interrogation procedures in question had helped the CIA capture top terrorists like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. However, questions quickly arose over whether important information had actually come from interrogation, or if it had been found out through other methods.

One of the responses to the speech mentioned in the Senate Report is a 2006 TIME article, “The Unofficial Story of the al-Qaeda 14.” The CIA, the Report states, “was concerned about an article by Ron Suskind in Time Magazine that also challenged the assertions in the speech about the captures of Ramzi bin al-Shibh and KSM.” (Other TIME articles cited in the Senate report are a 2002 story about an attack in Bali and a 2011 interview with Jose Rodriguez, the former head of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center.)

The Suskind article, published shortly after Bush’s speech, questions the justifications and usefulness of torture — and, yes, questions the speech:

…Bush, in the East Room, did what has consistently landed him in trouble–take creative liberties with classified information. Specifically, he ran through a simplified progression of how each successful interrogation led to the next capture, another interrogation, another capture and so forth. He put special emphasis on Zubaydah–the insane travel agent–saying that, under duress, he gave interrogators information that identified Binalshibh and “helped lead” to the capture of both Binalshibh and the prized K.S.M. This is the sort of thing that has steadily eroded Bush’s relationship with the intelligence community: presidential sins of omission, or emphasis, that would be clear only if you happened to know lots of classified information. In fact, according to senior intelligence officials past and present, Zubaydah helpfully confirmed that “Mukhtar” was K.S.M.’s code name–something key intelligence officials already suspected–and had nothing to do with identifying Binalshibh, who had come to the attention of investigators a few weeks after 9/11 because he had sent wire transfers to Zacarias Moussaoui.

Read the full article, free of charge, here in TIME’s archives: The Unofficial Story of the al-Qaeda 14. Follow Suskind at www.ronsuskind.com and @RonSuskind.

TIME intelligence

Here’s What Made George W. Bush Uncomfortable About Torture

George W. Bush
President Bush speaks about the war on terror at a hotel in Washington on Sept. 29, 2006. Charles Dharapak—AP

The CIA’s interrogation and detention programs occurred under President George W. Bush, but even he had reservations, according to a Senate report.

The Senate report released Tuesday says that the CIA did not brief President Bush on specific interrogation techniques until April 2006 and that he expressed reservation about one technique then.

According to footnote 17 on page 18 of the introduction:

According to CIA records, when briefed in April 2006, the president expressed discomfort with the “image of a detainee, chained to the ceiling, clothed in a diaper, and forced to go to the bathroom on himself.”

Footnote 179 on page 40 elaborates that the account of Bush’s discomfort came from en email from a psychologist working as a CIA contractor, who was given the pseudonym “Grayson Swigert” in the report, about a June 7, 2006, meeting the contractor had with the director of the CIA.

The footnote goes on to note that the CIA did not dispute that account, but went on to say that agency records were incomplete and that Bush said in his autobiography that he discussed the program with CIA Director George Tenet in 2002 and “personally approved the techniques.”

Bush first publicly acknowledged the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program in September of 2006.

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