Obama announces choices for top CIA, defense posts

Updated 08 January 2013
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Obama announces choices for top CIA, defense posts

WASHINGTON: President Barack Obama yesterday announced his choice of Chuck Hagel as his next defense secretary and counterterrorism adviser John Brennan to lead the Central Intelligence Agency, two potentially controversial picks for his second-term national security team.
Hagel has faced tough criticism from congressional Republicans who say the former Republican senator is anti-Israel and soft on Iran. Brennan, a 25-year CIA veteran, withdrew from consideration for the spy agency’s top job in 2008 amid questions about his connection to criticized interrogation techniques during the George W. Bush administration.
Brennan’s nomination also will draw attention to the highly secretive US drone program, which is highly unpopular overseas. He was the first Obama administration official to publicly acknowledge the targeted killing operations.
Obama called Hagel “the leader that our troops deserve” and said both men understand that “the work of protecting our nation is never done.” Along with secretary of state nominee Sen. John Kerry, Hagel and Brennan would play key roles implementing and shaping Obama’s national security priorities. All three must be confirmed by the Senate.
In nominating Hagel, Obama signaled he is willing to take on a tough confirmation fight. The 66-year-old moderate Republican has criticized discussion of a military strike by either the US or Israel against Iran. He also irritated some Israel supporters with his reference to the “Jewish lobby” in the United States. And he has backed efforts to bring Iran to the table for future peace talks in Afghanistan.
The second-ranking Senate Republican, John Cornyn, said in a statement that making Hagel defense secretary would be “the worst possible message we could send to our friend Israel and the rest of our allies in the Middle East.” White House officials say Hagel’s positions on Israel and Iran have been misrepresented. They cite his Senate votes for billions in military assistance to Israel and his support for multilateral sanctions on Tehran.
Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser, said Hagel will be “completely in line with the president” on both issues.
“The president has a record of unprecedented security cooperation with Israel, and that’s going to continue no matter who the defense secretary is,” Rhodes said.
Hagel has also been criticized by some Democrats for saying in 1998 that a nominee for an ambassador post was “openly, aggressively gay.” He has since apologized for those comments.
Hagel is the second straight Obama favorite for a top national security post to face criticism from lawmakers even before being nominated. United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice withdrew her name from consideration for secretary of state amid charges from Republican senators that she misled the public in her initial accounting of the deadly attacks on Americans in September at a diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya.
Both Hagel and Brennan have close relationships with Obama, who values loyalty in his inner circle. Brennan, as the president’s top counterterrorism adviser, was deeply involved in the planning of the 2011 raid that killed Sept. 11 mastermind Osama Bin Laden. And he has led administration efforts to quell the growth of terror organizations in Yemen and elsewhere in the Middle East and North Africa.
Brennan, 57, spent a quarter-century at the CIA. He served as station chief in Saudi Arabia and in a variety of posts, including deputy executive director, during the Bush administration.
His tenure at the agency during Bush’s presidency drew criticism from liberals when Obama considered naming him CIA director after the 2008 election. Brennan denied being involved in what the government called “enhanced interrogation techniques” during the Bush administration but still withdrew his name from consideration.


In a letter to Obama at the time, Brennan said he was “a strong opponent of many of the policies of the Bush administration, such as the preemptive war in Iraq and coercive interrogation tactics, to include waterboarding.” Many people consider waterboarding and other harsh interrogation methods to be torture.
White House officials say they don’t expect Brennan to face similar trouble this time, given his four years of service in the Obama administration.
“The issue has been removed from the debate because the president and John Brennan, as his top counterterrorism adviser, brought those techniques to an end,” Rhodes said.
However, Brennan’s nomination will likely put a spotlight on the administration’s controversial drone program. Brennan has defended the legality of the overseas drone operations and has said they protect American lives and prevent potential terror attacks.
If confirmed, Brennan will succeed David Petraeus, who resigned in November after admitting to an affair with his biographer.
Deputy CIA director Michael Morell has been serving as the agency’s acting director since Petraeus resigned and was considered by Obama for the top job. Rhodes said Morell is expected to stay at the CIA.
Hagel would replace retiring Pentagon chief Leon Panetta at a time when the Defense Department is facing potentially deep budget cuts. Hagel would also be tasked with overseeing the military drawdown in Afghanistan, where the US-led war is scheduled to end in two years.
Hagel is likely to support a more rapid withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan than some military generals.
Sen. Mitch McConnell, the top Senate Republican, said Sunday he was reserving judgment on whether to support Hagel but predicted the former senator would face serious questions.
Any nominee must have “a full understanding of our close relationship with our Israeli allies, the Iranian threat and the importance of having a robust military,” McConnell said on ABC.
Despite the criticism, no Republican lawmakers have threatened to try to block Hagel’s nomination.
Monday’s nominations leave Obama without a woman in line for a top administration post. The president will soon name a new treasury secretary, but current White House chief of staff Jack Lew is the front-runner for the post.


Judge may acquit women or call defense in Kim Jong Nam trial

This combination of the Oct. 2, 2017 file photos shows Indonesian Siti Aisyah, left, and Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong, right, escorted by police as they leave a court hearing in Shah Alam, Malaysia, outside Kuala Lumpur. (AP)
Updated 22 min 5 sec ago
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Judge may acquit women or call defense in Kim Jong Nam trial

  • Evidence has shown the women’s conduct before and after the killing was inconsistent with that of assassins
  • The women had “used their bodily power” to deliberately target the poison on his eyes and face for faster penetration

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia: Two Southeast Asian women on trial in Malaysia for the brazen assassination of the North Korean leader’s half-brother could be acquitted Thursday or called to enter their defense in a case that has gripped the world.
Indonesia’s Siti Aisyah, 25, and Vietnam’s Doan Thi Huong, 29, are accused of smearing VX nerve agent on Kim Jong Nam’s face in a crowded airport terminal in Kuala Lumpur on Feb. 13, 2017. The women have said they thought they were taking part in a prank for a hidden-camera show.
They are the only two suspects in custody and face the death penalty if convicted. If the defense is called, the trial could take several more months.
If the women are acquitted, they may not be freed right away as prosecutors could still appeal the decision as well as push forward with separate charges for overstaying their visas.

Here’s a look at arguments that were raised during the trial:
THE PROSECUTION
Over the course of the six-month trial featuring testimony from 34 people, prosecutors laid out a bizarre murder plot they likened to something from a James Bond film.
They accused four North Koreans, suspected government agents with code names such as “Mr. Y” and “Grandpa” and later identified by police, of being the masterminds who recruited the women, trained them and provided them with VX. All four fled the country the same morning Kim was killed and none are in custody.
Airport security footage shown in court captured the moment of the attack and prosecutors said linked the women to the other suspects. Shortly after Kim arrived at the airport, Huong was seen approaching him, clasping her hands on his face from behind and then fleeing. Another blurred figure was also seen running away from Kim and a police investigator testified that it was Aisyah.
Investigators said the women were seen rushing to separate washrooms, each with their hands outstretched, before they fled the airport. Kim died within two hours of the attack.
A government chemist testified that the VX concentration found on Kim’s skin was 1.4 times greater than the lethal dosage. He said VX was found in Kim’s eyes, face, blood, urine and clothing, as well as on both women’s clothes and on Huong’s fingernail clippings.
In his closing arguments in June, prosecutor Wah Shaharuddin Wan Ladin said the women must have been trained to use VX, a rare nerve agent developed as a chemical weapon. He said they had to know the best route for VX to enter the victim’s body and know that they must wash the nerve agent off themselves within 15 minutes to avoid being contaminated.
With Kim a tall and heavy man, the prosecutor said the women had “used their bodily power” to deliberately target the poison on his eyes and face for faster penetration. Despite their claim about a prank, he said their facial expressions and conduct during the attack didn’t reflect any humor.
“We expect that the defense will be called for a simple reason: They need to explain why VX was found on them,” Wan Shaharuddin told The Associated Press.

THE DEFENSE
Lawyers for the two women say their clients were simply pawns in a politically motivated killing with clear links to the North Korean Embassy in Kuala Lumpur.
They say the prosecution’s case was too simplistic, handicapped by a sloppy investigation and failed to show any intention on the part of their clients to kill — key to establishing the women’s guilt.
The defense said evidence has shown the women’s conduct before and after the killing was inconsistent with that of assassins, pointing out that they didn’t wear gloves when applying VX, didn’t dispose of their tainted clothing and didn’t flee the country.
The real culprits, the defense argues, are the four North Korean suspects. The four were captured by airport security cameras discarding their belongings and changing their clothing after the attack.
The North Korean Embassy has also been implicated with an embassy official helping get flights out for the four men and using the name of one of its citizens to buy a car that was used to take the suspects to the airport.
Nevertheless, Pyongyang has denied accusations by South Korean and US officials that it was behind the killing. Malaysian officials have never officially accused North Korea and have made it clear they don’t want the trial politicized.
“The prosecution’s evidence is purely circumstantial,” Aisyah’s lawyer Gooi Soon Seng said, noting that there was no proof that his client applied VX on Kim. He said his client’s DNA was not found on a shirt recovered by police.
Huong’s lawyer Hisyam Teh Poh Teik said they have given prosecution “a good fight.”
“We are confident that justice will be served on Thursday and (Huong) will be acquitted,” he said.