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Senate Republican’s Open Letter to Iran AND Iranian Response

1. Senate Letter:

March 9, 2015

An Open Letter to the Leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran:

It has come to our attention while observing your nuclear negotiations with our government that you may not fully understand our constitutional system. Thus, we are writing to bring to your attention two features of our Constitution-the power to make binding international agreements and the different character of federal offices-which you should seriously consider as negotiations progress.

First, under our Constitution, while the president negotiates international agreements, Congress plays the significant role of ratifying them. In the case of a treaty, the Senate must ratify it by a two-thirds vote. A so-called congressional executive agreement requires a majority vote in both the House and the Senate (which, because of procedural rules, effectively means a three-fifths vote in the Senate). Anything not approved by Congress is a mere executive agreement.

Second, the offices of our Constitution have different characteristics. For example,the president may serve only two 4-year terms, whereas senators may serve an unlimited number of 6-year terms. As applied today, for instance, President Obama will leave office in January 2017, while most of us will remain in office well beyond then-perhaps decades.

What these two constitutional provisions mean is that we will consider any agreement regarding your nuclear-weapons program that is not approved by the Congress as nothing more than an executive agreement between President Obama and Ayatollah Khamenei. The next president could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen and future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time.

We hope this letter enriches your knowledge of our constitutional system and promotes mutual understanding and clarity as nuclear negotiations progress.

Sincerely,

Sen. Tom Cotton (Ark.)  [and 46 Senate Republicans ]

(Seven Senate Republicans did not sign the letter: Sens. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Jeff Flake (Ariz.), Dan Coats (Ind.), Susan Collins (Maine), Thad Cochran (Miss.), Bob Corker (Tenn.), and Lamar Alexander (Tenn.).)

 

2. “[Iranian Foreign Minister] Dr. Zarif`s Response to the Letter of US Senators

Asked about the open letter of 47 US Senators to Iranian leaders, the Iranian Foreign Minister, Dr. Javad Zarif, responded that “in our view, this letter has no legal value and is mostly a propaganda ploy.  It is very interesting that while negotiations are still in progress and while no agreement has been reached, some political pressure groups are so afraid even of the prospect of an agreement that they resort to unconventional methods, unprecedented in diplomatic history.  This indicates that like Netanyahu, who considers peace as an existential threat, some are opposed to any agreement, regardless of its content.

Zarif expressed astonishment that some members of US Congress find it appropriate to write to leaders of another country against their own President and administration. He pointed out that from reading the open letter, it seems that the authors not only do not understand international law, but are not fully cognizant of the nuances of their own Constitution when it comes to presidential powers in the conduct of foreign policy.

Foreign Minister Zarif added that “I should bring one important point to the attention of the authors and that is, the world is not the United States, and the conduct of inter-state relations is governed by international law, and not by US domestic law. The authors may not fully understand that in international law, governments represent the entirety of their respective states, are responsible for the conduct of foreign affairs, are required to fulfil the obligations they undertake with other states and may not invoke their internal law as justification for failure to perform their international obligations.

The Iranian Foreign Minister added that “Change of administration does not in any way relieve the next administration from international obligations undertaken by its predecessor in a possible agreement about Iran`s peaceful nuclear program.” He continued “I wish to enlighten the authors that if the next administration revokes any agreement with the stroke of a pen, as they boast, it will have simply committed a blatant violation of international law.

He emphasized that if the current negotiation with P5+1 result in a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, it will not be a bilateral agreement between Iran and the US, but rather one that will be concluded with the participation of five other countries, including all permanent members of the Security Council, and will also be endorsed by a Security Council resolution.

Zarif expressed the hope that his comments “may enrich the knowledge of the authors to recognize that according to international law, Congress may not modify the terms of the agreement at any time as they claim, and if Congress adopts any measure to impede its implementation, it will have committed a material breach of US obligations.

The Foreign Minister also informed the authors that majority of US international agreements in recent decades are in fact what the signatories describe as “mere executive agreements” and not treaties ratified by the Senate.

He reminded them that “their letter in fact undermines the credibility of thousands of such mere executive agreements that have been or will be entered into by the US with various other governments.

Zarif concluded by stating that “the Islamic Republic of Iran has entered these negotiations in good faith and with the political will to reach an agreement, and it is imperative for our counterparts to prove similar good faith and political will in order to make an agreement possible.”

Note: Dr. Zarif’s response is presented as an official government statement, so it’s written in the third person. [Vox]

Turning the Torture Report Into a Book

It takes care to turn a good paper book into a good digital book. But it also takes care to turn a lousy digital book into a good paper book! The New Yorker has a story about how Melville House is doing just that, publishing the Senate Intelligence Committee Report on Torture. But remember fine readers, GPO will be distributing it digitally and in print(!) to FDLP libraries around the country too!

The text of the report, as released two days earlier by the Intelligence Committee, is a five-hundred-and-twenty-eight-page PDF with the slanted margins and blurred resolution of a Xerox made by a myopic high-school Latin teacher. It’s pocked with black redaction lines and crammed with footnotes of David Foster Wallace-ian scope. The report is in the public domain and freely available online, but, for reasons of form as well as of content, it’s hell to read.

… A tangible, legible edition of the torture report seemed exactly the kind of thing that the press exists to publish…

…A dozen full-time employees, plus a smattering of freelance proofreaders, copy-editors, interns, and volunteers sat at computers, retyping the government PDF’s tangle of text into Microsoft Word files.

via Turning the Torture Report Into a Book – The New Yorker.

The Official Senate CIA Torture Report

Update


GPO has released an official version of the “THE SENATE CIA REPORT” as Senate Report 113-228. The digital version is available on GPO’s Federal Digital System (FDsys):
http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/CRPT-113srpt288/pdf/CRPT-113srpt288.pdf
The print version is available for purchase at GPO’s retail and online bookstore for $29.
http://bookstore.gpo.gov/products/sku/052-071-01571-0

This is a single-volume, 712 page version. It contains:

Letter of Transmittal to Senate from Chairman Feinstein — i
Foreword of Chairman Feinstein — iii
Findings and Conclusions — x
Executive Summary — 1
Additional Views of Senator Rockefeller — 500
Additional Views of Senator Wyden — 503
Additional Views of Senator Udall of Colorado — 506
Additional Views of Senator Heinrich — 510
Additional Views of Senator King — 512
Additional Views of Senator Collins — 515
Minority Views of Vice Chairman Chambliss, Senators Burr, Risch, Coats, Rubio, and Coburn — 520
Minority Views of Senator Coburn, Vice Chairman Chambliss, Senators Burr, Risch, Coats, and Rubio — 678
Minority Views of Senators Risch, Coats, and Rubio — 682

GPO Press Release:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: December 15, 2014

GPO RELEASES THE OFFICAL DIGITAL & PRINT VERSIONS OF THE SENATE CIA REPORT

WASHINGTON – – The U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO) makes available the official and authentic digital and print versions of the Report of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Committee Study of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Detention and Interrogation Program, together with a forward by Chairman Feinstein and Additional and Minority Views (Senate Report 113-288).

This document comprises the declassified Executive Summary and Findings and Conclusions, including declassified additional and minority views. The full classified report will be maintained by the Committee and has been provided to the Executive Branch for dissemination to all relevant agencies.


The release of the Senate’s Study of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program presents some interesting issues for government documents collections.

Issues

There are 3 separate documents and they are easily findable on the web on different web sites, but not all sites have all 3 documents and the the different copies of the individual documents are not the same.

The “official” copies are (at least today) listed on the home page of Senate Committee’s web site [see below)], but are not listed on the Committee’s Publications Page or its Press Release page – perhaps because the report is not an official committee document with an assigned “Document” or “Report” number. Presumably it will not be in FDsys unless or until it gets an official Document or Report designation.

(Why isn’t it “official”? The report was initially intended to be a full committee report. In 2009 the Committee voted 14–1 to initiate the study. But in 2009 Republicans on the Committee withdrew from active participation in the study.)

My speculation is that the different PDF files that you can find on the web are slightly different because each one was produced by scanning a paper copy with different software. I do not know if the Committee only distributed a paper copy but I do know that even its own PDF copy is (apparently) a scanned copy. (You can tell because, if you try to copy the text from the PDF, you will discover that it is badly OCR’d (optical character recognition) text. For example, the digital text of names of Senators is sometimes badly converted: Chambliss becomes “CHAMBUSS” and Rubio becomes “Rvbio”). The official copies were created using Adobe PDF Scan Library 3.1 and ScandAll PRO V2.0.12.

Official Reports and Statements

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence currently has links to three documents on its home page.

The CIA has its own responses to the report, currently listed on its Reports page.

Other official statements.

Unofficial Copies

A web search for the title of the title (“Committee Study of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Detention and Interrogation Program”) leads to many sites with copies. Many of these are, apparently directly from the Committee site, but at least one news organization (the New York Times) evidently made its own scanned copy and digitized text version of the main report.

  • The New York Times has a PDF copy [108.4MB, 528 pages] and a plain text copy. The PDF version was created using Acrobat 11.0.9 Paper Capture Plug-in and Xerox WorkCentre 5150. Both are stored with an Amazon cloud service.

Timeline

ProPublica has created a useful timeline to put the report in perspective.

FDLP Library Actions

What can FDLP Libraries (or any library) do to ensure that their uses will be able to find and get unaltered, official, copies in the future? Just relying on the web may not be adequate, secure, consistent, transparent, or guaranteed. There are several issues. The existing links to even the official documents may not be stable. The official digital copies are only digital surrogates of the original paper copy. There are already other alternative digital surrogates available. The quality of the surrogates varies and the links to those copies may also not be stable.

I suggest the following actions by libraries:

  • Get copies of the official digital versions directly from the Committee web site as soon as possible (see links above).
  • Create a digital “hash” or “checksum” of the documents you download. (See a list of various tools and a discussion of checksums for preservation, if you are unfamiliar with the concepts.)
  • Catalog your copies and include them in your OPAC or other official library inventory and discovery databases. Include adequate metadata that describes how, when, and where you got your copies.
  • Ideally, you should store your copies in a Trusted Digital Repository. Unfortunately, there are, as yet, very few certified TDRs. Short of that, be sure that you have copies stored in more than one geographic location and that you have a way of verifying over time (using the checksum) that the files you stored have not been altered or corrupted.

Senate *finally* releases study on CIA aka the “torture report”

Yesterday the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released its “Study of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program – Foreword, Findings, and Conclusions, and Executive Summary.” (BIG PDF!) The report is 525 pages, heavily redacted, and includes graphic details about the torture techniques used by the CIA. The study found that American torture was not confined to a handful of aberrational cases or techniques, nor was it the work of rogue CIA agents. It was an officially sanctioned, worldwide (over 1/4 of the world’s countries participated in some way!) regime of torture that had the acquiescence, if not explicit approval, of the top members of both political parties in Congress.

Many current and former CIA- and GW Bush Administration officials, including George W Bush and Dick Cheney themselves, are defending the effectiveness of the methods that were used (there’s even a site that’s popped up called “CIA Saved Lives.” I would highly recommend going over to Glenn Greenwald’s Intercept site where he’s been live blogging the report as he combs through it.

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders’ statement on the report says it well and succinctly:

“A great nation must be prepared to acknowledge its errors. This report details an ugly chapter in American history during which our leaders and the intelligence community dishonored our nation’s proud traditions. Of course we must aggressively pursue international terrorists who would do us harm, but we must do so in a way that is consistent with the basic respect for human rights which makes us proud to be Americans.

“The United States must not engage in torture. If we do, in an increasingly brutal world we lose our moral standing to condemn other nations or groups that engage in uncivilized behavior.”

News about filibuster reform

Filibustery is a website devoted to making the filibuster — and the proposals in the U.S. Senate to reform it — more understandable. It is being developed by journalist Josh Kalven. Read more about its development here: From the News Junkie to the Newcomer, By Josh Kalven, Columbia Journalism Review, (February 1, 2011).

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