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National Govt & Politics

    An architect of the harsh CIA interrogation program created after the Sept. 11 attacks faced men on Tuesday who were subjected to that treatment, appearing as a defense witness in a hearing that could decide whether key evidence against them can be used in their war crimes trial for their alleged roles in the 2001 terrorist plot. James Mitchell, a retired Air Force psychologist and former CIA contractor, testified for the first time in open court at the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where five men face a trial next year by military commission for their alleged roles planning and aiding the Sept 11 attacks. Mitchell agreed to come to Guantanamo to testify without a subpoena to give his version of events, which he also detailed in a book called “Enhanced Interrogation,' that he co-wrote with a CIA spokesman. “I'm happy to talk about my role in the program and what the program did,' he told the court. At times, however, he appeared to bristle at the questioning. When defense lawyer James Connell thanked him for coming to court, he replied, “I did it for the victims and families not for you.” Mitchell and another psychologist, Bruce Jessen, were contracted by the CIA to develop the interrogation program, which included waterboarding, intense sleep deprivation and prolonged shackling in “stress positions' and is now widely regarded as torture. Defense lawyers for the five men charged in the attacks have called the contractors, who observed and took part in interrogations at clandestine CIA facilities, as witnesses in an effort to disqualify statements the defendants made to the FBI. Mitchell and Jessen gave depositions in a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of three former prisoners, including one who died in custody. The case was settled for undisclosed terms in August 2017 and the two former contractors did not testify in court. Their testimony in Guatnanamo is an important milestone in the Sept. 11 war crimes proceedings, which have been bogged down in the pretrial phase since the men were arraigned in May 2012. “This testimony marks a critical moment for reckoning with the torture committed in the American people’s name,' said ACLU staff attorney Dror Ladin, 'Mitchell and Jessen, along with collaborators in the U.S. government, are responsible for shameful cruelty that the CIA is still trying to cover up.' Mitchell was expected to be followed on the stand by Jessen. Their testimony will likely take up much of a pretrial hearing scheduled to last two weeks. The defendants include Khalid Shaikh Mohammad, an al-Qaida operative who has portrayed himself as the mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. All five face the death penalty if convicted of charges that include terrorism and nearly 3,000 counts of murder for their alleged roles planning and providing logistical support to the hijacking plot. Under a 2006 law that set up the military commission, any statements must be voluntary to be admitted into evidence and the government is not seeking to use at the trial anything the men said while in CIA custody. But the prisoners also gave what prosecutors have called “clean” statements to the FBI after they arrived at Guantanamo and were placed in military custody in September 2006 after several years at CIA facilities. Lawyers for the five defendants argue that everything the men have said in custody was tainted by the torture they were subjected to while in CIA confinement. James Connell, a lawyer for defendant Ammar al-Baluchi, said he believes the FBI helped guide some of the questioning of the men while they were in CIA custody. “Our global goal is to have all the statements thrown out,” Connell said before the hearing. A Senate investigation in 2014 found that the interrogation program designed by Mitchell and Jessen was used on 39 detainees and produced no useful intelligence. They were paid $81 million for their work, according to the Senate report. Mitchell and Jessen previously worked at the Air Force survival school at Fairchild Air Force Base outside Spokane, Washington, where they trained pilots to avoid capture and resist interrogation and torture. The CIA hired them to reverse-engineer that training to break terrorism suspects. They defended their work when the lawsuit was settled, arguing that neither contractor condoned or conducted any mistreatment of prisoners and that the overall program was authorized by the government. Jessen said in a statement then that he and Mitchell “served our country at a time when freedom and safety hung in the balance.” The proceedings at Guantanamo were being transmitted to several government installations in the U.S., including Fort Meade, Maryland, where they were viewed by The Associated Press.
  • The Latest on the 2020 presidential race (all times local): 11:30 a.m. Bernie Sanders has canceled an upcoming campaign event he was planning in Iowa, citing the schedule of President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial in the Senate. The Vermont senator had planned a Wednesday night rally at the University of Northern Iowa, betting that the trial schedule might give him time to travel from Washington to the state whose caucuses lead off Democratic primary voting on Feb. 3. But Tuesday is expected to a long day in the Senate as members set the rules for impeachment. And proceedings are likely to stretch for hours each day from Monday through Saturday going forward. Sanders has already suggested he’d rather be campaigning than tied to DC for the trial. But fellow senators and presidential hopefuls Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Michael Bennet of Colorado are facing similar logistical hurdles. And most had refrained from scheduling campaign events during the week as a result.
  • U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi led a congressional delegation Tuesday to the Auschwitz memorial site in Poland ahead of the 75th anniversary of the day Soviet troops liberated the sprawling World War II German Nazi death and concentration camp complex where an estimated 1.1 million people died. At the Auschwitz-Birkenau memorial, Pelosi laid a wreath at the reconstructed wall where several thousand prisoners were executed, most of them members of the Polish resistance. She also placed a memorial light at the monument to all of the camp's victims, the majority of whom were European Jews. Elzbieta Witek, the speaker of the lower house of Poland's parliament, or Sejm, and Senate Speaker Tomasz Grodzki, accompanied their American peer. Pelosi and Grodzki were later to hold talks. In a statement ahead of the trip, Pelosi said the purpose of her visit the Holocaust memorial site was to “reaffirm America's enduring commitment, our sacred pledge: Never again.” “We must honor the memories of those murdered in this incomprehensible horror by maintaining constant vigilance against hatred and persecution today,' said the statement. From Poland, Pelosi and the six-member bipartisan delegation plan to go to Israel to attend a conference marking the anniversary of the death camp's liberation. From 1940-45, some 1.1 million people, mostly Jews from across Europe, but also Poles, Roma and Russian prisoners of war, were shot to death, killed in gas chambers, and died of starvation or other mistreatment at Auschwitz-Birkenau. The Red Army liberated the camp on Jan. 27, 1945, an event now observed annually as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. by the Red Army.
  • The Supreme Court has declined to take a case stemming from the 2014 water crisis in Flint, Michigan. Approximately 25,000 people have sued over the crisis, in which a change in the source of the city's water resulted in lead contamination. The case the justices turned away without comment Tuesday involves a lawsuit against the city and water regulators, most of whom were responsible for making sure federal clean water laws were followed. The lawsuit claims the officials failed to protect residents from a foreseeable risk of harm from exposure to lead. The lawsuit and others like it claim that the public has a constitutional right to “bodily integrity” that was violated. The city and officials have argued they should be immune from being sued, but lower courts have disagreed. The lawsuit and others like it are expected to go forward in lower courts.
  • Hillary Clinton says “nobody likes” her former presidential rival Bernie Sanders, even as the Vermont senator remains entrenched among the front-runners in the Democratic race, with the Iowa caucus beginning in less than two weeks. In an interview with “The Hollywood Reporter” published Tuesday, Clinton was asked about a comment she makes in an upcoming documentary where she says Sanders was “in Congress for years” but, 'Nobody likes him, nobody wants to work with him, he got nothing done.” Clinton replied that the criticism still holds and refused to say she’d endorse him this cycle if he wins the party’s nomination, adding: “It’s not only him, it's the culture around him. It’s his leadership team. It’s his prominent supporters.” Asked for a response, Sanders' campaign initially declined to comment Tuesday. But the senator later released a statement that did not address what Clinton said. “My focus today is on a monumental moment in American history: the impeachment trial of Donald Trump,' it said, referencing the president's impeachment trial, which has begun in the Senate. 'Together, we are going to go forward and defeat the most dangerous president in American history.” Her comments may ultimately energize Sanders loyalists who believed the Democratic establishment rigged the 2016 primary in her favor. That could be especially helpful with this cycle’s Iowa caucuses looming on Feb. 3. Many polls show Sanders among the leaders with former Vice President Joe Biden, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana. But Clinton also blamed Sanders’ supporters for fostering a culture of sexism in politics -- a charge that is especially sensitive now, given that Sanders’ top progressive rival in the 2020 race, Warren, has accused him of suggesting a woman couldn’t win the White House during a private meeting between the two in 2018. Sanders has denied that, but Warren refused to shake his outstretched hand after a debate last week in Iowa and both candidates accused the other of calling them 'a liar.” Warren has steadfastly denied to comment further, but the 78-year-old Sanders said Sunday t hat while sexism was a problem for candidates, so were other factors, like advanced age -- touching off another online firestorm. In the interview, Clinton attacked a cadre of online Sanders supporters known generally as the “Bernie Bros,” many of whom were sharply critical of Clinton’s 2016 campaign for their “relentless attacks on lots of his competitors, particularly the women. And I really hope people are paying attention to that because it should be worrisome that he has permitted this culture.” Clinton further suggested that Sanders was “very much supporting it” and said, “I don't think we want to go down that road again where you campaign by insult and attack and maybe you try to get some distance from it, but you either don't know what your campaign and supporters are doing or you're just giving them a wink.” “I think that that's a pattern that people should take into account when they make their decisions,” Clinton said. His feud with Warren has overshadowed a series of clashes between Sanders and another 2020 rival, Biden, for an op-ed penned by one of the senator’s supporters suggesting that the former vice president was corrupt. “It is absolutely not my view that Joe is corrupt in any way. And I'm sorry that that op-ed appeared,” Sanders told CBS. The op-ed, published in “The Guardian” newspaper by Fordham University law professor Zephyr Teachout, claims Biden “has perfected the art of taking big contributions, then representing his corporate donors at the cost of middle- and working-class Americans.”
  • The Supreme Court refused Tuesday to get involved in a dispute about judges' authority to order the disclosure of secret grand jury material in rare circumstances. The court turned away an appeal from an 82-year-old researcher who is seeking grand jury records from the late 1950s. The justices' order does not affect an ongoing court battle over House Democrats’ quest for access to grand jury materials from special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation. The Mueller grand jury fight turns on the House's argument that it is entitled to the records as part of President Donald Trump's impeachment inquiry, which it contends is a judicial proceeding. Rules that govern the federal courts specifically allow disclosure for a judicial proceeding. The issue in the case that the justices rejected is whether federal judges have authority on their own to make exceptions to grand jury secrecy in some instances, including when a case is of great historical interest. That's the situation in the case of Stuart McKeever, who has spent 40 years investigating the disappearance of a critic of the longtime Dominican Republic dictator Rafael Trujillo. McKeever is seeking records of a Washington, D.C., grand jury that investigated Jesus de Galindez's disappearance in the late 1950s. A federal judge sided with McKeever, but a panel of the federal appeals court in Washington divided 2-1 in ruling that judges have no authority, outside of specific exceptions, to release grand jury records. Appeals courts in New York, Chicago and Atlanta have ruled that judges do have the power to order disclosure.
  • The Supreme Court refused Tuesday to consider a fast-track review of a lawsuit that threatens the Obama-era health care law, making it highly unlikely that the justices would decide the case before the 2020 election. The court denied a request by 20 mainly Democratic states and the Democratic-led House of Representatives to decide quickly on a lower-court ruling that declared part of the statute unconstitutional and cast a cloud over the rest. Defenders of the Affordable Care Act argued that the issues raised by the case are too important to let the litigation drag on for months or years in lower courts, and that the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans erred when it struck down the health law's now toothless requirement that Americans have health insurance. The justices did not comment on their order. They will consider the appeal on their normal timetable and could decide in the coming months whether to take up the case.
  • Elizabeth Warren says she’ll create a federal task force to investigate corruption during the Trump administration if she’s elected president. The Massachusetts senator on Tuesday released a plan that her campaign says will “restore integrity and competence” to government after President Donald Trump. She said that an independent task force would operate within the Justice Department and hold the previous administration’s officials “accountable for illegal activity.” Warren also plans to ask for the resignations of all Trump political appointees and void any federal contracts that “arose as the result of corruption.” “The next president will need to have the energy, expertise, and vision to safeguard our country, rebuild the government swiftly, and make fundamental changes so that it works for the American people,” Warren wrote in an online post unveiling the proposal. With the leadoff Iowa caucuses two weeks away, Warren is considered a front-runner in that state and nationally, bunched near the top of polls with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, former Vice President Joe Biden and former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg. All four have long decried corruption in the Trump administration, but Warren’s proposal seeks to provide a blueprint for how to specifically roll back Trump's influence should she win her party’s nomination and November’s general election. Warren's campaign also notes, however, that the task force's authority would be limited in scope and that Justice Department personnel would have independent prosecuting authority, meaning the White House wouldn't be directing its work or conclusions. Trump campaigned for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination on a promise to rid Washington of corruption and to “drain the swamp.“ His reelection bid is built on the argument he's been successful in doing so. Presidents can use executive actions to wield broad power over the federal government, including creating task forces. Warren's campaign points to previous examples, like when the Justice Department created a task force to investigate the 2001 collapse of energy giant Enron. The senator has pledged broad structural changes to the nation’s political and economic system, but her plan for remaking the federal bureaucracy focuses more on the immediate logistics of governing. As part of it, the senator promised that her Cabinet will be at least 50% women or non-binary people and that she’d announce all of its positions by Dec. 1, less than a month after Election Day. She said her administration would fill all senior and mid-level White House positions by Inauguration Day next January. Warren also vows not to employ current lobbyists in her administration. She says any former corporate lobbyists will be subject to a six-year “cooling off” period and non-corporate lobbyists will be subject to a two-year one. ___ Catch up on the 2020 election campaign with AP experts on our weekly politics podcast, “Ground Game.”
  • Planned Parenthood on Tuesday endorsed a Democratic challenger to Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, saying Collins “turned her back” on women and citing her vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court as well as other judicial nominees who oppose abortion. Sara Gideon, speaker of the Maine House of Representatives, welcomed the endorsement from the Planned Parenthood Action Fund. “There’s never been a more important time to stand up for reproductive rights,” she said, in the face of 'systematic attacks on reproductive rights across the country.” Collins, who was honored by Planned Parenthood as recently as 2017 as “an outspoken champion for women’s health,' is facing perhaps the toughest reelection fight of her career. Critics have vowed they won’t forget her key vote for Kavanaugh, whose nomination survived an accusation that he sexually assaulted someone in high school. “From her decisive vote to confirm Kavanaugh to her refusal to stop Republican attacks on our health and rights, it’s clear that she has turned her back on those she should be championing,” said Alexis McGill Johnson, acting president and CEO of Planned Parenthood . She said Collins “has abandoned not only the people of Maine, but women across the country.” The Collins campaign said Planned Parenthood has changed and become more partisan, noting that no Republicans have won its endorsement. “Senator Collins has not changed, but leadership at Planned Parenthood certainly has,' Collins campaign spokesman Kevin Kelley said. “It's sad that the group is now run by far left activists who would rather focus on partisan politics than bipartisan policies that provide health care to women.” The endorsement was one of several announced Tuesday, the day before the anniversary of the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling that made abortion legal. The Planned Parenthood Action Fund also is backing Democrat Jaime Harrison, who's seeking to unseat GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, and Democrat Barbara Bollier, who's running for an open Senate seat in Kansas. In Maine, Collins and Planned Parenthood have had a complicated relationship. Collins has supported funding for the organization, and she received its endorsement once before, in her 2002 reelection campaign. She was honored by the group in 2017 with its Barry Goldwater Award to a public official who has acted as a leader within the Republican Party to support Planned Parenthood. “Senator Collins has been an outspoken champion for women’s health. Thanks to Senator Collins’ steadfast commitment to her constituents, tens of thousands of women in Maine and millions of women across the country still have access to essential health care,' Cecile Richards, then-president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said at the time, about a year before the Kavanaugh vote. The relationship with the organization has gone downhill since then. The 67-year-old Collins said Kavanaugh, who denied the sexual assault allegation, vowed to respect precedent including the Roe v. Wade ruling. But Planned Parenthood contends 26 proposals to limit abortions have been adopted in 17 states since then. Gideon, meanwhile, supports Medicaid expansion and expanded health care for women and has vowed to continue “the fight to protect and expand reproductive rights.” “As a former Planned Parenthood patient, she knows what it means to be able to get the care you need from a trusted provider and how hurtful it is to see your provider attacked by extremist politicians,” Nicole Clegg, of Planned Parenthood Maine Action Fund, said in a statement. Money is already pouring into the Senate race. Collins is considered among the most vulnerable Republican senators in the nation, a new position for her in a state where rising polarization and partisanship is clashing with a culture of independence. Gideon is backed by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. But she faces activist Betsy Sweet, attorney Bre Kidman, former Google executive Ross LaJeunesse and travel agent Michael Bunker in the Democratic primary. Kidman expressed disappointment Tuesday, saying that when her team reached out she was told that Planned Parenthood Action Fund “intended to remain neutral in the primary.” “As one of the first greeters at the Planned Parenthood health center in Portland, I physically protected patients' rights to access reproductive healthcare in sun, rain, sleet, and snow — often bodily shielding people from encounters with protestors,' she said in a statement. Both Collins and Gideon already have raised millions of dollars for the race. Tracking firm Advertising Analytics projects that the candidates and outside groups will spend $55 million on ads by Election Day. ___ This story has been corrected to show Kidman said she “protected,' not “protested.”
  • Senators like to float above messy politics in what's known by some as the dignified “upper chamber,' home of Congress' cooler heads and lofty rhetoric. But as a court of President Donald Trump's impeachment, the Senate beginning Tuesday might seem more like the economy cabin of an oversold flight on an especially tense, mandatory work trip. Rock star legal teams will cram the airy well of the chamber just a few feet from each other and Chief Justice John Roberts. Four television screens take up rarified space. Staff will snap up seats near the wall. A podium stands at the center aisle. As for phones, it's worse than airplane mode: They are banned from the chamber. That maroons 100 chatty senators — including four Democrats in the heat of a nomination fight — for the serious constitutional business of the impeachment trial, for hours at a time. “I'm going to be stuck in Washington for God knows how long,' Sen. Bernie Sanders told supporters in Des Moines Monday night. What — and whom — to watch when the trial gets underway around 1 p.m. EST Tuesday: ___ GROUND RULES But first, naturally, some talk. The Senate opens with debate on the structure and rules of the proceedings. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is proposing a condensed, two-day calendar for opening arguments on the articles passed by the House on Dec. 18. They charge Trump with abusing power by pressuring Ukraine to help him politically, and obstructing Congress when it tried to find out what happened. McConnell's ground rules are outlined in a four-page resolution that must be voted on as one of the first orders of business. It pushes off any votes on witnesses until later in the process, rather than up front, as Democrats had demanded. But McConnell's plan on witnesses lines up with the organizing resolution that set the structure of President Bill Clinton's trial in 1999. Whatever the rules, this journey is expected to end at a known destination: Trump's acquittal. ___ DRAWING THE CURTAIN “At all times,” according to Senate rules, a majority of senators present can vote to close the proceedings and debate in private. That would mean the cameras shut off and everyone who's not a member of the Senate kicked out of the chamber until the senators choose to reopen it. Senators did that at various points during the Clinton trial. McConnell then argued that members of the chamber listen to each other better in private. ___ MARATHON HAUL McConnell, defending his GOP majority and up for reelection himself, wants to make this trial go quickly. He's proposed a compressed schedule with long days. After the four days of opening arguments — maximum 24 hours per side — senators will be allowed up to 16 hours for questions to the prosecution and defense, followed by four hours of debate. Only then will there be votes on calling other witnesses. Democrats said that structure is an attempt to rush the trial and cover up the president's actions. Senate rules say the trial must proceed six days a week — all but Sunday — until it is resolved. There's some question about whether it's finished by Feb. 4, the day of Trump's State of the Union speech. White House officials say that appointment remains, as of now. Trump can ask the House to postpone it. But here again, there's precedent for Trump to consider: Clinton delivered his State of the Union speech in the midst of his Senate trial. He wasn't running for reelection, however, as Trump is. ___ OFF THE TRAIL, OFF THE GRID Watch a coterie of Democratic senators who literally would rather be somewhere else — specifically Iowa and New Hampshire — ahead of their party's kickoff votes for the right to try to unseat Trump in the November election. Watch Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Michael Bennet of Colorado and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota for signs of fatigue from flying between Washington and these places and coping with being off the internet for hours at a time. Also look for the surrogates, video calls to supporters and ads designed to give them a measure of presence in the early nominating states. ___ THE PROSECUTORS They could be heard practicing speeches in the shuttered Senate chamber late into Monday night. Leading the case for the House is Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff of Californian and Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler of New York. Five other Democrats round out the prosecution team, a group House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she chose in part for their experience with the law. Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., has worked on three impeachment inquiries, starting with the one that helped persuade President Richard Nixon to resign. Rep. Val Demings of Florida is not a lawyer, but she is a former police chief and a member of both committees deeply familiar with the case against Trump. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries is a lawyer and chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, so he's close to Pelosi's ranks. Pelosi also chose two freshmen who helped flip the House from GOP control in 2018. Rep. Sylvia Garcia of Texas is a former judge. And Rep. Jason Crow of Colorado is a retired Army Ranger who was one of the seven new members with national security backgrounds to call for Trump's impeachment over his conduct with Ukraine. ___ FOR THE PRESIDENT Trump cast some big personalities for seats at the defense table. White House counsel Pat Cipollone and personal lawyer Jay Sekulow are expected to lead the argument that Trump committed no crimes, that abuse of power is not an impeachable offense and that the president is a victim of a political “witch hunt” by Democrats. “I’m sure it’s going to work out fine,” Trump said Tuesday in Davos, Switzerland. Bringing experience both in constitutional law and the politics of impeachment, he’s adding retired law professor Alan Dershowitz and Ken Starr, the independent counsel who investigated Clinton. The team also will include Pam Bondi, the former Florida attorney general. The team, less experienced in the Senate than the House prosecutors as a whole, visited the Senate chamber Monday, in part to test the equipment they expect to use for audio-visual presentations. Look for signs of tension involving the president's outside legal team and lawyers within the White House. Dershowitz on Sunday tried to distance himself from the president. ___ THE NUMBERS 100: The total number of senators. 53: The Republican majority. 51: The number of senators who must agree on almost anything to make it happen during an impeachment trial. Four: The number of Republican senators who must join Democrats to get to the magical 51. 2/3: The proportion of senators required to convict and remove a president from office. So 67 members of the Senate would have to vote to convict if every senator is voting. ___ Congressional Correspondent Lisa Mascaro contributed to this report. ___ Follow Kellman on Twitter at: http://www.Twitter.com/APLaurieKellman