Fort Lauderdale, Nov 14 (AP/UNB) — President Donald Trump sought to intervene in Florida's legally mandated vote recount Tuesday, calling on the state's Democratic senator to admit defeat and again implying without evidence that officials in two pivotal counties are trying to steal the election.
"When will Bill Nelson concede in Florida?" Trump said in a morning tweet. "The characters running Broward and Palm Beach voting will not be able to 'find' enough votes, too much spotlight on them now!"
There have been bumps as Florida undergoes recounts for both the governor and Senate races. Palm Beach County said it won't finish its recount by the Thursday deadline. In oft-criticized Broward County, additional sheriff's deputies were sent to guard ballots and voting machines, a compromise aimed at alleviating concerns. Those counties are both Democratic strongholds.
Still, the state elections department and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which are run by Republican appointees, have said they have seen no evidence of voter fraud. A Broward County judge challenged anyone who has evidence of fraud to file a report.
Meanwhile, a flurry of legal action continued. Nelson and a Democratic campaign committee filed two more lawsuits on Tuesday, including one that asks a federal judge to set aside looming deadlines for a machine recount as well as a hand recount, if it is ordered.
Presidents have historically sought to rise above the heated partisan drama surrounding election irregularities. Former President Barack Obama wasn't so publicly involved when a recount and legal process in the 2008 election delayed a Democrat taking a Minnesota Senate seat until July 2009. Former President Bill Clinton struck a lower tone during the 2000 presidential recount, which also centered on Florida.
But this year, the Florida recount was personal for Trump. He aggressively campaigned in the state in the waning days of the election and put his finger on the scales of the Republican gubernatorial primary this summer by endorsing former Rep. Ron DeSantis. After Election Day, Trump's aides pointed to the GOP's seeming success in the state as a validation that the president's path to re-election remained clear — a narrative that has grown hazier as the outcomes have become less certain.
White House spokeswoman Mercedes Schlapp said Tuesday the president "obviously has his opinion" on the recount.
"It's been incredibly frustrating to watch," she said.
U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Trump is attempting to bully Florida election officials out of doing their jobs. Schumer and Nelson, both Democrats, spoke with reporters Tuesday in Washington.
"It's just plain wrong. It's un-American." Schumer said. "If he really wants an honest and fair election, President Trump will stop bullying, harassing and lying about the vote in Florida, and let the election proceed without the heavy hand of the president tipping the scale of justice."
Schumer said election officials should have all the time they need to count every vote, rather than Sunday's deadline. Nelson and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee filed two lawsuits aimed at that goal. One lawsuit questions rules used by the state for hand recounts, while a second asks a federal judge to give counties more time to complete both a machine and a hand recount. Right now counties are doing a machine recount.
Marc Elias, a campaign attorney for Nelson, contended there was no legal need for the existing deadlines since the Senate winner would not be sworn in until January.
Still, there's not much choice but for Florida to go through the process. State law requires a machine recount in races where the margin is less than 0.5 percentage points. In the Senate race, Republican Rick Scott's lead over Nelson was 0.14 percentage points. In the governor's contest, unofficial results showed Republican former Rep. Ron DeSantis ahead of Democratic Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum by 0.41 percentage points.
Once the recount is complete, if the differences in any of the races are 0.25 percentage points or less, a hand recount will be ordered, meaning it could take even longer to complete the review of the Senate race if the difference remains narrow.
The recount process has drawn a sharp focus on several county election officials, especially Broward Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes.
Snipes has drawn criticism from Trump and other high-profile Republicans as her county's election returns showed a narrowing lead for Scott during the ballot-counting in the days after Election Day, and even former Gov. Jeb Bush — who appointed her in 2003 — said she should be removed. Asked about those criticisms Tuesday, she hinted that she may not run for re-election in 2020.
"It is time to move on," she said, later adding, "I'll check with my family and they'll tell me what I'm doing."
Speaking to about 200 supporters in Orlando church Tuesday night, Gillum said claims without evidence by Trump, Scott and Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio that electoral fraud was taking place were sowing seeds that could undermine confidence in the democratic process.
"Disenfranchisement shows up with the president of the United States, the sitting governor of the state of Florida, the junior senator of the United States from the state of Florida when they take to Twitter, and Facebook and ... accuse the supervisor of elections, or an entire county for that matter, of fraud, of stuffing the ballot box, of doing everything they could do manipulate the outcome of the election without a shred of evidence. That is called disenfranchisement," Gillum said.
Meanwhile, in Palm Beach, Elections Supervisor Susan Bucher said the county's 11-year-old tallying machines aren't fast enough to complete the recount by Thursday. The county is doing the Senate race first and will then do the governor's race. If the deadline is not met in a race, the results it reported Saturday will stand.
Malibu, Nov 14 (AP/UNB) — Southern California's huge wildfire roared to life again Tuesday in a mountain wilderness area. But in a sign of significant progress against the blaze, more neighborhoods were reopened to thousands of residents who fled last week.
A massive plume rose suddenly at midmorning in the Santa Monica Mountains near the community of Lake Sherwood, prompting authorities to send numerous aircraft to drop fire retardant and water on the blaze.
Forecasters had warned of ongoing fire danger because of persistent Santa Ana winds, the withering, dry gusts that sweep out of the interior toward the coast, pushing back moist ocean breezes.
But except for an apartment building that burned overnight in coastal Malibu, there was little sign of fire activity elsewhere in the vast fire zone west of Los Angeles.
Officials tempered optimism with caution, saying there were hotspots and pockets of unburned vegetation.
"We are not out of the woods yet. We still have some incredibly tough conditions ahead of us," Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen said.
The death toll from the Woolsey fire stood at two — a pair of adults found last week in a car overtaken by flames. They have not been identified.
The number of homes and other structures destroyed had reached 435. Damage assessments were continuing, with crews having to gain access to canyon areas on foot.
"That number is going to rise significantly," Los Angeles County Fire Chief Daryl Osby said.
Residents who stayed behind in coastal communities that were cut off by road closures were getting supplies by boat. Gas, food, baby wipes and horse pellets were among the items brought ashore in the Paradise Cove area of Malibu.
"It's pretty cool. It's really amazing that people out there know that we're kind of stranded here in Malibu," Cherie Millford Smart said.
Large boats arrived from Redondo Beach, about 25 miles (40 kilometers) to the south. Supplies were unloaded onto smaller boats, jet skis and even surf boards. Some residents donned wetsuits and swam ashore with cases of water and beer.
Miley Cyrus and Liam Hemsworth lost their Malibu home in the wildfire and are donating $500,000 to The Malibu Foundation through Cyrus' charity, The Happy Hippie Foundation.
A statement from the couple says they "are very grateful to be safe along with their animals."
The fire has grown to nearly 152 square miles (393 square kilometers), but containment also increased to 40 percent.
The fire has burned more than 80 percent of National Parks Service land in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.
Authorities lifted evacuations Tuesday in several neighborhoods, and other areas have been repopulated since the weekend. Tens of thousands of people remained under evacuation orders, down from a high of as many as 250,000.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell urged patience by residents being turned back at roadblocks.
The area has not seen such a firestorm since the Old Topanga fire of 1993. The firestorm has left an array of hazards, including trees ready to fall, downed power lines, toxins, water main and gas leaks, and other destroyed infrastructure.
"We want to get you home but more important we want you to be safe," McDonnell said.'
Forecasts called for the Santa Ana winds to lighten Wednesday and Thursday. A forecast of possible rain next week would help firefighters but also raised the prospect of potential mud flows, Osby said.
At least 42 people were confirmed dead in a wildfire that obliterated the Northern California town of Paradise , making it the deadliest wildfire in recorded state history. The search for bodies continued.
The cause of the Southern California fires remained under investigation.
Southern California Edison said last week that it reported to the California Public Utilities Commission "out of an abundance of caution" that there was an outage on an electrical circuit near where the fire started Thursday but there was no indication its equipment was involved in the fire reported two minutes after the outage.
Downed power lines and blown transformers have been blamed for several of the deadly fires that have burned in recent years.
Singapore, Nov 14 (AP/UNB) — Southeast Asian leaders and China are touting progress in keeping peace in the contentious South China Sea as they work toward a "code of conduct" to govern navigation routes and other activities in the region.
Speaking at the annual summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Singapore, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang cited the region's management of territorial disputes as an example and said the trend was toward greater stability.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said he wanted at "all cost" to set the rules governing behavior in those seas to avoid trouble.
Duterte told reporters that relations between China and its Southeast Asian neighbors were "excellent" and that friction was between Western nations and China. He said a code of conduct was needed to avoid dangerous miscalculations.
Washington, Nov 14 (AP/UNB) — Shortly after 9/11, the CIA considered using a drug it thought might work like a truth serum and force terror suspects to give up information about potential attacks.
After months of research, the agency decided that a drug called Versed, a sedative often prescribed to reduce anxiety, was "possibly worth a try." But in the end, the CIA decided not to ask government lawyers to approve its use.
The existence of the drug research program — dubbed "Project Medication" — is disclosed in a once-classified report that was provided to the American Civil Liberties Union under a judge's order and was released by the organization Tuesday.
The 90-page CIA report, which was provided in advance to The Associated Press, is a window into the internal struggle that medical personnel working in the agency's detention and harsh interrogation program faced in reconciling their professional ethics with the chance to save lives by preventing future attacks.
"This document tells an essential part of the story of how it was that the CIA came to torture prisoners against the law and helps prevent it from happening again," said ACLU attorney Dror Ladin.
Between 2002 and 2007, CIA doctors, psychologists, physician assistants and nurses were directly involved in the interrogation program, the report said. They evaluated, monitored and cared for 97 detainees in 10 secret CIA facilities abroad and accompanied detainees on more than 100 flights.
The CIA ultimately decided against asking the Justice Department to approve drug-assisted interrogations, sparing CIA doctors "some significant ethical concerns," the report said. It had taken months for the Justice Department to sign off on brutal interrogation tactics, including sleep deprivation, confinement in small spaces and the simulated drowning technique known as waterboarding. The CIA's counterterrorism team "did not want to raise another issue with the Department of Justice," the report said.
Before settling on Versed, the report said researchers studied records of old Soviet drug experiments as well as the CIA's discredited MK-Ultra program from the 1950s and 1960s that involved human experimentation with LSD and other mind-altering drugs on unwitting individuals as part of a long search for some form of truth serum. These experiments were widely criticized and, even today, some experts doubt an effective substance exists.
"But decades later, the agency was considering experimenting on humans again to test pseudo-scientific theories of learned helplessness on its prisoners," Ladin said.
Versed is a brand name for the sedative midazolam, used since the late 1970s and today sold commonly as a generic. It causes drowsiness and relieves anxiety and agitation. It also can temporarily impair memory, and often is used for minor surgery or medical procedures such as colonoscopies that require sedation but not full-blown anesthesia. It's in a class of anti-anxiety medications known as benzodiazepines that work by affecting a brain chemical that calms the activity of nerve cells.
"Versed was considered possibly worth a trial if unequivocal legal sanction first were obtained," the report said. "There were at least two legal obstacles: a prohibition against medical experimentation on prisoners and a ban on interrogational use of 'mind-altering drugs' or those which 'profoundly altered the senses.'"
Those questions became moot after the CIA decided against asking the Justice Department to give it a green light. "At the beginning of 2003, the Office of Medical Services' review, informally termed 'Project Medication' was shelved, never to be reactivated," the report said.
The CIA had no comment on the report's release, but government lawyers emphasized in a court filing in the case early last year that the report, expressly marked "draft," was just one agency officer's impressions of the detention and interrogation program. The document is not the CIA's or the Office of Medical Service's "final official history, or assessment, of the program," the lawyers wrote.
The ACLU spent more than two years in court trying to get the report released. In September 2017, a federal judge in New York ordered the CIA to release it. Government lawyers tried three more times to keep information contained in the report under wraps, but the ACLU received the bulk of the report in August. The government is still fighting to keep portions secret. They are to file briefs in a federal appeals court in New York on Wednesday, arguing that the judge ordered too much released.
While the CIA's harsh interrogation program ended in 2007, the ACLU believes it's important to continue seeking the release of documents about it, especially since President Donald Trump declared during his campaign that he would approve interrogating terror suspects with waterboarding, which is now banned by U.S. law, and a "hell of a lot worse."
CIA Director Gina Haspel, who was involved in supervising a secret CIA detention site in Thailand where detainees were waterboarded, told the Senate during her confirmation hearing that she does "not support use of enhanced interrogation techniques for any purpose."
The report cites many instances where medical personal expressed concern or protected the health of the detainees. Those who were thrown up against walls — a practice called "walling" — had their necks protected from whiplash by rolled towels around their necks, the report said. When one detainee, who had been wounded during capture, was confined to a box, care was taken not to force his legs into a position that "would compromise wound healing." Physician assistants overruled using duct tape over the mouths of detainees during flights because air sickness could lead to vomiting and possible aspiration.
"That doesn't mean that the doctors were sadistic or anything like that," Ladin said. "But it means they were complicit because this pseudo-scientific torture could not have happened without the doctors' participation."
At the same time, the medical office's report said waterboarding was not "intrinsically painful." It said there was "physical discomfort from the occasional associated retching," but that two detainees who endured the most extensive waterboarding sessions complained only "of the pain of the restraining straps."
That contrasts with the Senate's 2014 report on the CIA's interrogation program, which stated that a prisoner known as Abu Zubaydah, a suspected al-Qaida operative who was waterboarded more than 80 times, "cried, begged, pleaded, vomited, and required medical resuscitation after being waterboarded."
Some CIA medical personnel called waterboarding "little more than an amateurish experiment" and others worried that the practice would trigger spasms of the vocal cords, which could, at least temporarily, make it hard to speak or breathe.
At the same time, other medical personnel contended waterboarding actually "provided periodic relief" to a prisoner because it was a break from being forced to stand for long periods of time. The agency medical personnel also said the harsh interrogation program was "reassuringly free of enduring physical or psychological effects."
Dr. Sondra Crosby, who has treated victims of torture, including two who were held at CIA secret sites, disagreed.
"The enduring pain and suffering experienced by the survivors of the CIA program is immense, and includes severe, complex post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, physical ailments, and psychosocial dysfunction," said Crosby, of Boston University's School of Medicine and Public Health. "At least one detainee was tortured to death. Their physical and psychological scars will last a lifetime."
Singapore, Nov 14 (AP/UNB) — Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamed sharply criticized Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Tuesday for her handling of an ethnic crisis that led to mass killings and the exodus of more than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims from her country.
Mahathir said Nobel Peace Prize laureate Suu Kyi was "trying to defend the indefensible" in justifying violence by Myanmar security forces against Rohingya in Rakhine state.
Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have fled to neighboring Bangladesh since August 2017.
"They are actually oppressing these people to the point of, well, killing them, mass killing, and burial in graves dug by the victims and that kind of thing. That may be relevant in ancient times, but in modern days, we don't do that kind of thing," said Mahathir, a 93-year-old political veteran whose own past treatment of dissidents at times drew opprobrium.
Asked about the issue at a news conference on the sidelines of a summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Singapore, Mahathir said that as a former political prisoner, Suu Kyi should understand suffering.
It is unusual for leaders in the 10-nation group to publicly criticize each other.
Suu Kyi became an icon for democracy after spending about 15 years under house arrest for opposing Myanmar's earlier military dictatorship. She and her Buddhist-majority government have been widely criticized for the way they have treated the Muslim Rohingya.
In Geneva, the U.N. human rights chief said Tuesday that Bangladesh should halt plans to repatriate over 2,200 of the Rohingya refugees to Myanmar, saying such a move would endanger their lives.
Michelle Bachelet's comments are among the strongest yet from a top United Nations official about the planned repatriation this week of some Rohingya.
Bachelet's office said it continues to receive reports of rights violations in Rakhine state, "which include allegations of killings, disappearances and arbitrary arrests." It said some 130,000 people, including many Rohingya, remain internally displaced in central Rakhine.
On Monday, the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR advised against the returns, saying safety should be assessed first. But it did not call for a halt to the repatriation plans.
Amnesty International announced on Monday that it has withdrawn its highest honor from Suu Kyi because of her "shameful betrayal of the values she once stood for."
"Today, we are profoundly dismayed that you no longer represent a symbol of hope, courage, and the undying defense of human rights. Amnesty International cannot justify your continued status as a recipient of the Ambassador of Conscience award and so with great sadness we are hereby withdrawing it from you," it said in a letter to Suu Kyi.