International: Trump’s Pick for CIA Chief Takes Heat for Alleged Links to Torture

President Donald Trump’s pick for CIA chief, Gina Haspel, reportedly oversaw a secret prison in Thailand where terrorist suspects were tortured by waterboarding.

If approved by the US Senate, Haspel will become the first woman to lead the intelligence agency, replacing Mike Pompeo, who is reassigned as the secretary of state.

Haspel has spent more than 30 years working for CIA with extensive overseas experience, and is widely respected across the intelligence circles. However, she started receiving heavy scrutiny on her links to the secret prison after her appointment as Pompeo’s deputy in February 2017.

Associated Press reported that according to anonymous officials, Haspel briefly ran the black site prison in 2002, where two terrorism suspects, Abu Zubaydah and Abd al Rahim al-Nashiri allegedly underwent waterboarding and slamming. Three years later, Haspel ordered the destruction of the 92 videos of the interrogation.

Haspel’s nomination has been widely criticised by politicians from both parties. Republican Senator John McCain, who was tortured in the Vietnam war, said, “Ms Haspel needs to explain the nature and extent of her involvement in the CIA’s interrogation program during the confirmation process.”

Fellow Republican Susan Collins, who is a part of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said she is undecided on whether to support the nomination. “[Haspel] certainly has the expertise and experience as a 30-year employee of the agency,” said Collins. “But I’m sure there are going to be some questions raised.”

Democratic Senator Tammy Duckworth, who served in the Iraq War, said Haspel’s nomination was “even worse” than that of Pompeo’s. “Not only did she directly supervise the torture of detainees, but she also participated in covering it up by helping to destroy the video evidence,” Duckworth said in a statement. “Her reprehensible actions should disqualify her from having the privilege of serving the American people in government ever again, but apparently this president believes they merit a promotion. I could not disagree more.”

Haspel has not addressed these concerns. “I am grateful to President Trump for the opportunity, and humbled by his confidence in me, to be nominated to be the next director of the Central Intelligence Agency,” Haspel said in a statement. “If confirmed, I look forward to providing President Trump the outstanding intelligence support he has grown to expect during his first year in office.”

National: Rare Thomas Edison Cables Unearthed in Brisbane

Excavators in Brisbane have found 134-year-old rare electrical cables with links to light bulb inventor Thomas Edison.

The cables, which were laid under William Street to provide electricity to the parliamentary precinct, were removed on Tuesday to allow the new Queen’s Wharf casino complex development to go ahead.

The “Edison tubes” were designed by the late inventor and built by his American company. Brisbane was the third city to have the technology after London and New York.

“We were the first place in the southern hemisphere to have this technology, and just the third in the world,” said supervising archaeologist Tina King.

“It’s a milestone for Brisbane’s development as a city and we’re making sure to take the utmost care in the conservation of these important artefacts.”

The tubes were made of cast iron casing, asphaltum-based pitches, and two to three copper cores.

Parts of the cables will be housed in Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum, Brisbane’s Commissariat Store Museum in Brisbane, the Highfields Pioneer Village in Toowoomba, and Parliament House as well as the Science Centre in London and the Thomas Edison National Historical Park in New Jersey, US.

International: Australia’s Healthcare One of the Best in the Developed World, Study Finds

Australian healthcare system has been ranked as one of the best in the developed world while the US’ is the worst, according to a new study.

The study, conducted by American thinktank Commonwealth Fund, found that the United Kingdom has the healthcare system out of 11 developed countries, while Australia ranked second, the Netherlands third and the US last.

The researchers found that the US performed poorly in terms of access, equity and healthcare outcomes, despite having the biggest spending in healthcare. It not only had “the poorest performance of all countries on the affordability subdomain”, but also on “population health outcomes such as infant mortality and life expectancy at age 60”.

The report concluded by encouraging the US to take important lessons from the top three nations on universal health insurance coverage. “All three provide universal coverage and access, but do so in different ways, suggesting that high performance can be achieved through a variety of payment and organizational approaches,” the report said.

The study’s results came amid the Republican Party’s attempt to repeal former president Barack Obama’s healthcare reforms.

The Senate is set to vote on the legislation in a few weeks. Two Republican senators, Rand Paul and Susan Collins, have said that they will not be voting for the repeal bill.

Sources: ABC, The Hill

International: Fyre Festival Hit with $100 Million Class Action Lawsuit

Daniel Jung, one of the attendees of the “disastrous” Fyre Festival, has launched a $US100 million lawsuit at the event organisers for fraud, misrepresentation and breach of contract.

The class action suit, filed in the US District Court, names festival co-founders Billy McFarland and rapper Ja Rule along with Fyre Media.

Jung’s suit alleges that organisers went ahead with promoting the event and selling tickets when they knew “their festival was dangerously under-equipped and posed a serious danger to anyone in attendance”. It also alleges that organisers warned performers and celebrities not to come due to unsuitable conditions.

The suit also protests the “substandard accommodations”, “wild animals” in and around the festival area, and misleading marketing among others.

In an interview with Rolling Stone, McFarland said he and Ja Rule were “a little naïve in thinking for the first time we could do this ourselves”.

“There will be make-up dates, May 2018 in the U.S., free for everybody who signed up for this festival. We will donate $1.50 [per ticket] to the Bahamian Red Cross,” said McFarland. “The one change we will make is we will not try to do it ourselves.”


Ja Rule also said he was “heartbroken” and promised that every attendee will be refunded.

On Sunday, the Fyre Festival sent an apology email to attendees, including a link for refund. The form in the link also has an option to receive 2018 VIP passes in place of the refund.

International: US Would No Longer Tolerate North Korea’s Nuclear and Missile Tests, Pence Says

US Vice President Mike Pence said “the era of strategic patience is over” with North Korea, following the failed missile test in the North.

Speaking in Seoul on Sunday alongside South Korea’s acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn, Pence said the missile launch on Saturday was “a provocation” to US and its allies.

Pence warned the North to mind President Donald Trump’s foreign military policy, as has been in shown in other countries recently. “Just in the past two weeks, the world witnessed the strength and resolve of our new president in actions taken in Syria and Afghanistan,” said Pence.

“North Korea would do well not to test his resolve or the strength of the armed forces of the United States in this region… We want to see North Korea abandon its reckless path of the development of nuclear weapons, and also its continual use and testing of ballistic missiles is unacceptable.”

On the same day, Trump also said on Twitter that China is “working with us on the North Korean problem”. US security adviser HR McMaster also indicated that the President would be “comfortable making tough decisions” in order to ensure the nuclear-free status of Korean Peninsula.

International: United Airlines Passenger Bloodied and Dragged Off Overbooked Flight

United Airlines CEO has apologized for “having to re-accommodate” a few customers from an overbooked Sunday flight after a video showing a passenger dragged out of the plane went viral.

The 30-second video shows a 69-year-old man being forced out of his seat and dragged out of the plane by police officers. Tyler Bridges, a passenger on the 3411 flight said United asked for volunteers on the gate to take a later flight for cash remuneration and hotel stay, but no one took the offer. After boarding, passengers were told four people would be randomly selected by computer to leave the aircraft. “We almost felt like we were being taken hostage,” Bridges said. “We were stuck there. You can’t do anything as a traveller. You’re relying on the airline.”

Bridges said when the man in the video was selected and approached, he rejected to leave, saying he was a doctor who needed to see patients in the morning. “He was resisting any way he could,” Bridges said. “He was flailing his arms a little bit and yelling.”

A picture of the man with bloodied face also emerged, sparking outrage.

United spokesman Charlie Hobart said the man was the only person who refused to move, and insisted police assistance was justified. “We followed the right procedures,” said Hobart.

United CEO Oscar Munoz has apologized on Twitter for “having to re-accommodate” the passengers, and said the company is now contacting them to resolve the issues.

Netizens have condemned the airline for going against its promise to “Fly the Friendly Skies”.

International: Donald Trump Signs a Revised Travel Ban Order

US President Donald Trump has signed a newly revised travel ban order, exempting Iraqi nationals and US permanent residents from the prohibition to enter the country.

The new order, which takes effect starting March 16, will apply a 90-day visa halt on citizens of six Muslim-majority countries: Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen. It also explicitly exempts US permanent residents and valid visa holders.

The new order comes after the controversies surrounding the original order, which was issued on January 27 and blocked by federal courts following protests and .

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the order was required to provide “a needed pause” for US to review its relationship with travellers from “countries of concern”.

“We cannot compromise our nation’s security by allowing visitors entry when their own governments are unable or unwilling to provide the information we need to vet them responsibly, or when those governments actively support terrorism,” said Sessions.

The American Civil Liberties Union said it would try to block the new order in court, saying the latest revision still amounts to religious discrimination.

“President Trump has recommitted himself to religious discrimination, and he can expect continued disapproval from both the courts and the people,” said Omar Jadwat, ACLU’s Immigrant Rights Project director.

Democrats senator Bernie Sanders said the ban would instead jeopardise the safety of American citizens.

“This ban is a racist and anti-Islamic attempt to divide us up,” Sanders wrote in a statement. “This isn’t about keeping America safe. A president responsible for keeping our citizens safe would not hand over ideological ammunition to terrorists seeking new recruits to kill Americans.”

“A watered-down ban is still a ban,” said senator Chuck Schumer in a statement. “Despite the administration’s changes, this dangerous executive order makes us less safe, not more, it is mean-spirited, and un-American. It must be repealed.”

International: Trump’s Son-in-Law Named as White House Advisor

President-elect Donald Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner has been appointed as senior White House advisor to work on trade deals and foreign policy.

Kushner, husband to Trump’s daughter Ivanka, accepted the position after receiving legal advice that he would not be violating the 1967 anti-nepotism law. Kushner’s lawyer, Jamie Gorelick argues on Monday that the law does not apply to the White House.

“Even without that law, two DC Circuit decisions strongly suggest that the White House Office is not an ‘agency’ under the anti-nepotism statute, a position supported by the views of the Justice Department under presidents Bill Clinton and George W Bush,” said Gorelick.

In a statement, Trump said Kushner would be “an invaluable member of my team as I set and execute an ambitious agenda, putting the American people first.” The statement also said that Kushner would waive his salary while employed in the administration.

“It is an honour to serve our country,” said Kushner in the same statement. “I am energised by the shared passion of the President-elect and the American people and I am humbled by the opportunity to join this very talented team.”

Kushner was one of Trump’s campaign advisors during the elections, working in the campaign’s digital aspects. Kushner has also been assisting Trump during the transition period, coordinating communication between the president-elect’s team and foreign leaders and officials.

Kushner will be stepping down from his position as CEO of real estate company Kushner Companies in an effort to diminish conflict-of-interest concerns. In a statement, Gorelick said Kushner “is committed to complying with federal ethics laws.”

National: Trump’s Presidency Might Disrupt Australia-US Refugee Resettlement Deal

The election of Donald Trump into US presidency could overturn the Australia-US refugee resettlement deal, experts say.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced that refugees on Nauru and Manus Island would be relocated to the US through a one-off deal.

Under the deal, refugees who do not accept resettlement to the US would be sent to Nauru and provided a 20-year visa to stay or return to their origin country.

However, concerns arise that Trump might not keep the agreement when he takes office in January.

“In all likelihood, the only way it’s going to happen is if the refugees are transferred to the US before inauguration day [January 20],” Niels Frenzen, immigration clinic director at the University of Southern California school of law told Radio National.

“If the US has not already begun its own vetting or so-called background checks until now, if you look at the time the US has taken to vet Syrian refugees … it’s unlikely that that could be accomplished in a few months.”

Mark Krikorian, the executive director at the Centre for Immigration Studies said Trump, whose policies contradicts the agreement, might not keep the deal.

“We [America] have a good relationship with Australia — one of our closest allies in the world,” Krikorian said.

“If this were a unique situation that there was no way for Australia to deal with, I could see extending them a helping hand, but this is just a matter of shipping these illegal immigrants to the United States.”

Both Krikorian and Frenzen suggest that the resettlement could be finished before January 20 under several conditions.

Frenzen said refugees could be settled before Trump’s inauguration if vetting had been “ongoing” and the US had been negotiating with Australia since January.

Krikorian also suggested that President Barack Obama might accelerate the processing period, as he had previously sped up the assessment of Syrian refugees from 18-24 months to only three months.

“It’s entirely possible the administration will rush the admission of the illegal immigrants you all have offshore in order to get them in under the wire before January 20 when Trump becomes president,” said Krikorian.

International: Trump’s Appointment of Stephen Bannon Stirs Controversy

US President-elect Donald Trump has stirred controversy over his appointment of Stephen Bannon as the White House chief strategist.

Bannon was Trump’s campaign leader and the chief executive of conservative website Breitbart News, which he declared in July as “the platform for the alt-right”. The website has accused President Barack Obama of importing “more hating Muslims”, relating influx of refugees to disease spread, and telling female victims of cyberbullying to “just log off” and stop “screwing up the internet for men”.

Bannon has been accused of changing the Breitbart site to attract far-right, extremist followers, with anti-“globalist” views. Southern Poverty Law Centre tweeted, “Stephen Bannon was the main driver behind Breitbart becoming a white, ethno-nationalist propaganda mill.” The Council on American-Islamic Relations also criticised the website for publishing “misogynistic and racist stories targeting women, people of colour and immigrants.”

“[Bannon] is a vindictive, nasty figure, infamous for verbally abusing supposed friends and threatening enemies,” Ben Shapiro, former Breitbart editor said earlier this year.

In 1996, Bannon’s ex-wife, Mary Louise Piccard accused him of domestic violence. In 2007, Bannon allegedly objected sending his daughters to a California school because he “didn’t want the girls going to school with Jews”.

Bannon also said that women leaders in the US “wouldn’t be a bunch of dykes that came from the 7 Sisters schools”, but they would instead be “pro-family” and “have husbands”.

Bannon has expressed dislike of cultural and political elites. In 2010, Bannon told Political Vindication Radio, “What we need to do is bitch-slap the Republican Party.” Last year, he accused House speaker Paul Ryan of being “a total and complete sellout of the American people.”

“What drives Steve is the way the political establishment is holding back American politics,” said Joel Pollak, editor at large at Breitbart.

“It is a sad day when a man who presided over the premier website of the ‘alt-right’ – a loose-knit group of white nationalists and unabashed antisemites and racists – is slated to be a senior staff member in the people’s house,” said Jonathan Greenblatt, chief executive at the Anti-Defamation League.