Tuesday, March 29, 2005

The National Press Club Welcomes ... Jeff Gannon?

The National Press Club Welcomes ... Jeff Gannon?
Editor & Publisher

NEW YORK Jeff Gannon is back -- at the National Press Club?

Yes, the same day that the prestigious Washington, D.C., journalism organization plans to present a lunch talk by former Washington Post executive editor Ben Bradlee, it will also allow the former White House reporter/sex site operator to be on a panel discussing bloggers and online journalism.

Gannon, whose real name is James Guckert, resigned his job with the conservative Talon News last month after it was revealed he had used a pseudonym, had little journalism background, and had ties to male escort Web sites.

Still, Press Club leaders will include Gannon on the panel April 8 that includes Wonkette.com editor Ana Marie Cox, National Journal's John Stanton, and others.

Gannon told E&P today that he always considered himself a legitimate journalist, and "perhaps their invitation is recognition of that."


Gannon's ability to gain access to regular daily White House briefings, despite not being able to obtain a permanent "hard pass" or a congressional press pass, sparked new discussions among reporters and White House staff about who should be granted regular access.

Policy of Prohibiting Political Marches Along Fifth Avenue

Center for Constitutional Rights Files Lawsuit Challenging City’s Policy of Prohibiting Political Marches Along Fifth Avenue
Center For Constitutional Rights
The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) filed a complaint on behalf of the International Action Center and the Troops Out Now Coalition on Wednesday March 16 challenging the City’s policy of refusing new permits for marches on Fifth Avenue. CCR called for a reversal of the policy and for the City to allow the march this weekend to proceed on Fifth Avenue, arguing that the City is silencing dissent by refusing permits for demonstrations on Fifth Avenue.

One Big Prison

One Big Prison: New Report Warns Against Continued Strangulation of Gaza Strip after Disengagement

Israel has cut off the Gaza Strip from the rest of the world to such an extent that it is easier for Palestinians in Israel or the West Bank to visit relatives in prison than visit a relative in Gaza. This is one conclusion of the 100-page report that B’Tselem and HaMoked publish today. One Big Prison documents the ongoing violations of human rights and international law resulting from Israel’s restrictions on the movement of people and goods between Gaza and the West Bank, Israel, and the rest of the world. The report also warns against Israel’s attempt to avoid its responsibility toward residents of the Gaza Strip following disengagement.

Despite the easing of restrictions that Israel declared following the Sharm el-Sheikh summit in February 2005, there has been almost no improvement in the movement of Palestinians to and from Gaza, nor in the movement of goods. The report illustrates the extent to which Israel treats many fundamental human rights – among them the right to freedom of movement, family life, health, education, and work – as “humanitarian gestures” that it grants or denies at will.

Report Highlights:

  • As a result of the economic siege on Gaza, more than 77 percent of Gazans (1,033,500 people) now live below the poverty line - almost double the number before the intifada. Some 23 percent of Gazans (over 323,000 people) are in “deep poverty,” meaning that they do not reach the subsistence poverty line even after receiving aid from international agencies.
  • The forced isolation of Gaza tears many Palestinians from their families, and in some cases even separates spouses. The report includes the testimonies of a woman whose husband was expelled from the West Bank to Gaza, and of a mother whose son has never seen his father.
  • Almost all the restrictions on movement are imposed on entire categories of people, based on sweeping criteria, without checking if the individual poses a security risk, and without weighing the harm the person will suffer, or if less harmful alternatives are available. In most cases, where Israel denies a permit and human rights organizations intervene, Israel reverses its decision to avoid an embarrassing legal challenge.
  • Most components of the policy of strangulation are illegal under international and Israeli law.

The strangulation of the Gaza Strip increased following Palestinian attacks against civilians in Israel and the Occupied Territories over the past few years. Targetting civilians is a “war crime” and never justified. Israel is entitled, even obligated, to protect its citizens. However, Israel’s right to self-defense does not permit it to trample on the rights of an entire population.

No Legal Settlements

Not Legal Settlements

Since 1967, Israel has established in the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and the Gaza Strip 152 settlements that have been recognized by the Interior Ministry. In addition, dozens of outposts of varying size have been established. Some of these outposts are settlements for all intents and purposes, but the Interior Ministry has not recognized them as such.

Israel has established in the Occupied Territories a separation cum discrimination regime, in which it maintains two systems of laws, and a person’s rights are based on his or her national origin. This regime is the only of its kind in the world, and brings to mind dark regimes of the past, such as the Apartheid regime in South Africa.

As part of the regime, Israel has stolen thousands of dunams of land from the Palestinians, on which it established dozens of settlements in which hundreds of thousands of Israeli civilians now live. Israel forbids Palestinian to enter and use these lands, and use the settlements to justify numerous violations of Palestinian rights, such as the right to housing, to gain a living, and freedom of movement. The sharp change changes Israel made to the map of the West Bank makes a viable Palestinian state impossible as part of the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination.

The settlers, on the other hand, Benefit from all rights given to citizens of Israel who live inside the Green Line, and in some instances, ever additional rights. The great effort Israel has expended in the settlement enterprise – financially, legally, and bureaucratically – has turned the settlements into civilian enclaves within an area under military rule, and has given the settlers a preferred status. to perpetuate this unlawful situation, Israel has continuously violated the Palestinians’ human rights.

Ecuador: Threats and violence against government critics increases

Ecuador: Threats and violence against government critics increases
Amnesty International

It has become commonplace in Ecuador for journalists, civil activists and opposition politicians to be threatened, harassed or subjected to violent attacks. Outspoken individuals regularly reported receiving death threats throughout 2004 and many more threats may remain unreported.

Since December, however, the situation has deteriorated further, with civil society in Ecuador becoming more polarised following the actions of the country's Congress. In an extraordinary session called by the President, Congress removed 27 of the 31 judges sitting on the Supreme Court of Justice and nominated replacements, a move that triggered serious concerns over the independence of the judiciary.

Intimidation of critics has escalated since then. On 25 January, Orlando Pérez Torres, a journalist for Hoy (Today) newspaper who has written articles criticising the President and members of the judiciary was threatened at gunpoint. Mr Torres, who is also a professor at the Universidad de las Américas (University of the Americas) in the capital Quito, was walking to the university when two men approached him and pushed him against a wall. One of them put a gun to his stomach and said: "Deja de joder, de fastidiar, de escribir pendejadas, sino te vamos a matar" ("Stop f**king bothering writing bulls**t or you will get killed").

ACLU Demands that Florida Police Turn Over ‘Spy Files’ on Local Protesters

ACLU Demands that Florida Police Turn Over ‘Spy Files’ on Local Protesters
American Civil Liberties Union

MELBOURNE, FL - The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida and six protesters targeted as "persons of interest" by local police today filed public records requests demanding that the Melbourne Police Department and Brevard County Sheriff Office turn over surveillance files kept on demonstrators who attended a counter inaugural protest earlier this year.

"We’ve learned that peaceful protesters in Melbourne can’t attend a rally in Brevard County without fear that their names will wind up in a criminal intelligence file," said Kevin Aplin, Vice President of the ACLU of Florida’s Brevard County Chapter. "Brevard Police need to learn that a public gathering where individuals peacefully criticize government policy is not criminal activity; on the contrary, it is activity that is protected by the United States Constitution."

Army’s Own Documents Acknowledge Evidence That Soldiers Used Torture

Army’s Own Documents Acknowledge Evidence That Soldiers Used Torture
American Civil Liberities Union

The American Civil Liberties Union today charged that the government is attempting to bury the torture scandal involving the U.S. military by failing to comply with a court order requiring release of documents to the ACLU. The documents the government does release are being issued in advance to the media in ways calculated to minimize coverage and public access, the ACLU said.

The reason for the delay in delivering the more than 1,200 pages of documents was evident, the ACLU said, in the contents, which include reports of brutal beatings, "exercise until exhaustion" and sworn statements that soldiers were told to "beat the fuck out of" detainees. One file cites evidence that Military Intelligence personnel in Iraq "tortured" detainees held in their custody.

"These documents provide further evidence that the torture of detainees was much more widespread than the government has acknowledged," said ACLU attorney Jameel Jaffer. "At a minimum, the documents indicate a colossal failure of leadership."

The Cavernous Divide

The Cavernous Divide

It was a good year for the global billionaires' club. Their ranks grew to 691, up 17 percent from the previous year. Collectively, the wealth of the world's billionaires reached $2.2 trillion, up more than 57 percent over the last two years.

Poverty is growing as well. Time reports that nearly half of the world's 6 billion residents are poor. Over one billion of them subsist on less than $1 a day. In the United States, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of impoverished Americans rose 3.7 percent in 2003. The number of children living in poverty rose 6.6 percent.


Tax rates have fallen on upper-income citizens and corporations worldwide. Fifty years ago in the United States, the highest marginal income tax rate was 91 percent; today it is 34 percent. As recently as 1979, taxes on capital gains from the sale of stock, real estate and businesses were 35 percent; today they are 15 percent. Corporate taxes as a percentage of the U.S. economy have shrunk from 4.1 percent of Gross Domestic Product in 1965 to just 1.5 percent in 2002. While corporate taxes have declined throughout the world, they have plummeted in the United States, leaving only Iceland among industrialized countries with a lower corporate tax burden.

Several of the wealthiest billionaires capitalized on public assets and made their fortunes by buying formerly public assets. This was the case with Mexican Carlos Slim Helu, the world's fourth richest man, who used inherited wealth to buy a substantial share of Mexico's privatized national telephone company. U.S. billionaires Bill Gates, Paul Allen and Steve Ballmer of Microsoft, and Larry Ellison of Oracle would not be in Forbes' top 20 billionaires had the U.S. government not invested tens of billions of public dollars developing computers and the internet.

Some billionaires' fortunes rest upon paying their employees poverty wages. Such is the case for the Walton family (numbers 10 through 14 on the Forbes list.) Wal-Mart is the largest private employer in the world. Many of its U.S. workers are so poorly paid that they must rely on food stamps and other forms of public assistance to get by. Such forms of government aid represent an indirect government subsidy to corporations whose business model does not include paying employees enough to live on. Worldwide, billions are gained by outsourcing service, production and manufacturing functions to workers who labor in sweatshop conditions in countries like China.

Democratising Public Services

Democratizing Public Services: Lessons from Other Jurisdictions and Implications for Health Care Reform in BC
Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives

[H]ealth care reform cannot be achieved by relying exclusively on the traditional mechanisms of governance available within liberal democracy: that is, representative government backed up by a hierarchically organized administrative structure. To effectively reform health care (and other public services) and to mobilize sufficient support for reforms in the face of opposition from entrenched interests, the forms of governance must, themselves, be democratized. This will require greater involvement of non-elite individuals and groups in governmental decision-making, as well as new ways of working within and between the public sector and the broader community.

The paper draws on four case studies where the evidence clearly shows that the skillful introduction of more participatory forms of governance increased the effectiveness and capacity for governments to introduce a more egalitarian distribution of societal resources. The four case studies are:

  • The Greater London Council, 1981 to 1986
  • Kerala, India, 1996 to present
  • Porto Alegre, Brazil, 1989 to present
  • Ceara, Brazil, 1989 to 1994

In all four examples, more participatory forms of governance increased the effectiveness, creativity, and competence of public sector systems by increasing the capacity of governments to do one or more of the following:

  • Provide citizens with new opportunities to monitor and direct government activities;
  • Extend the reach, competence and commitment of front-line staff within the public service;
  • Bring more experiential and practical forms of knowledge and expertise to the process of policy formation and implementation;
  • Increase the openness, transparency and accountability of decision-making within the administrative structures of government;
  • Address bottlenecks within the administrative agencies of government that could not be resolved internally; and
  • Ensure the durability of reforms beyond the mandate of the sitting government.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

New Report Outlines Great Lakes Climate Change Impacts on Agriculture

New Report Outlines Great Lakes Climate Change Impacts on Agriculture
Union of Concerned Scientists

Urbana—Agriculture in Illinois and the entire Great Lakes will be hurt by a changing climate, says a new report from the University of Illinois and the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). Changing precipitation patterns, more extreme rainfall events, rising ozone concentrations, and an increase in pests and pathogens will disrupt current farming practices throughout the region.

"Farmers in the region are already suffering from wetter spring and fall weather, and the intensity of rainstorms has also increased," says Michelle Wander, University of Illinois Associate Professor of soil fertility and co-author of Impacts on Agriculture: Our Region's Vital Economic Sector. "For farmers, these changes mean crop losses and higher costs."


The new report shows that by 2030, Illinois summers may resemble those of Oklahoma or Arkansas in terms of average temperature and rainfall. By the end of the century, however, the Illinois summer climate will generally resemble that of current east Texas. Maximum daily temperatures could rise by 5 to 12 degrees in winter and 5 to 20 degrees in summer in the Great Lakes region. Drought frequency will likely increase due to the combination of higher summer temperatures, evaporation, runoff from intense rainfall events and decline in summer precipitation.

Of serious concern, according to the report, are changing precipitation patterns. Crop production in the region is already suffering from problems related to both excess and insufficient moisture, and these problems will only worsen as climate change progresses.

Supreme Court of Canada refuses to hear dump appeals

Supreme Court of Canada refuses to hear dump appeals
Canadian Environmental Law Association

The Supreme Court of Canada announced today that it would not hear appeals brought by the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte and concerned Tyendinaga Township residents.

The intended appeals challenged the legality of the environmental assessment process being used in relation to the proposed mega-expansion of the Richmond Landfill near Napanee.

In accordance with its usual practice, the Supreme Court of Canada did not provide any reasons for its refusal to hear the appeals.

"My clients are disappointed that the Supreme Court of Canada was unwilling to hear their appeal," stated Richard Lindgren, an environmental lawyer who represents Township residents. "However, I will be reviewing with my clients other legal options that may be available to challenge the proposed landfill expansion."

"In my opinion, the landfill expansion is unsound, unnecessary and unwanted by local residents and area municipalities," stated Stephen Geneja, spokesperson for the concerned residents. "The local citizens remain firmly opposed to the proposed expansion, and we will do everything in our power to stop it."

The multi-billion dollar trade that puts women in the firing line

The multi-billion dollar trade that puts women in the firing line
Oxfam International

Women are paying an increasingly heavy price for the dangerously unregulated multi-billion-dollar trade in small arms according to a new report issued today on the eve of International Women's Day.

There are now estimated to be almost 650 million small arms in the worldtoday, mostly in the hands of men and nearly 60 percent of them in thehands of private individuals. Women and girls suffer directly andindirectly from armed violence:

  • An attack with a gun is 12 times more likely to end in death than anattack with any other weapon;
  • In South Africa, a woman is shot dead by a current or former partnerevery 18 hours;
  • In the USA, a gun in the home increases the risk that someone in thehousehold will be murdered by 41%; but increases the risk for women by272%;
  • In France and South Africa, one in three women killed by theirhusbands are shot; in the USA this rises to two in three;
  • Family killings are one category of homicides where women outnumbermen as victims with her partner or male relative the most likelymurderer.

... The report also examines a wide range of gun control measures adopted by states around the world usually as a result of the campaigns women are spearheading against gun violence.

  • Between 1995, when Canada tightened its gun laws, and 2003 the gun murder rate for women dropped by 40%;
  • Five years after the gun laws in Australia were overhauled in 1996, the gun murder rate for female victims had dropped by half;
  • Brazil has recently banned access to ownership of weapons before the age of 25 because young men and boys mostly perpetrate the massive level of gun violence.

New Guatemalan Law and Intellectual Property Provisions in DR-CAFTA Threaten Access to Affordable Medicines

New Guatemalan Law and Intellectual Property Provisions in DR-CAFTA Threaten Access to Affordable Medicines
Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières

Geneva/New York, 11 March 2005 -
Following the recent passage in Guatemala of Decree 31-88 and the US-Dominican Republic-Central American Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA), the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) reiterated its concerns about their devastating impact on access to essential medicines in Guatemala and throughout the region.

"We fear that our ability to ensure sustainable access to treatment for our patients, particularly people with HIV/AIDS, will be severely affected," said Dr. Karim Laouabdia, Director of MSF's Campaign for Access to Essential Medicines.


"Paying more money for the exact same medicines means treating fewer people and, in effect, sentencing the rest to death," said Dr. Laouabdia. "We are especially worried that Decree 31-88 and intellectual property provisions in DR-CAFTA could make newer medicines unaffordable - our patients will need these in order to stay alive once their first-line regimen fails."

Rape and Sexual Violence Ongoing in Darfur

Rape and Sexual Violence Ongoing in Darfur
Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières

Amsterdam, 7 March 2005 –
Women and girls in war-ravaged Darfur are continuing to suffer a high incidence of rape and sexual violence,
according to a report issued today by Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF). Stories of rape survivors told to MSF are a horrific illustration of the daily reality of the ongoing violence that has displaced almost two million people in Darfur.

Between October 2004 and mid-February 2005, MSF doctors in numerous locations in South and West Darfur treated almost 500 women and girls who were raped. MSF believes that these numbers reflect only a fraction of the total number of victims because many women are reluctant to report the crime or seek treatment. Almost a third (28%) of the rape survivors who sought treatment from MSF reported that they were raped more than once, either by single or multiple assailants. In more than half the cases, the rape was accompanied by additional physical abuse. Women told MSF that they were beaten with sticks, whips or axes before, during or after the act of rape. Some of the raped women were visibly pregnant, as much as five to eight months, at the time of the assault.

The majority of survivors of rape and sexual violence tell MSF that the attacks occurred when women left the relative safety of villages and displaced camps to carry out activities indispensable of the survival of the families, such as searching for firewood or water.

81% of the 500 rape survivors treated by MSF reported being assaulted by militia or military who used their weapons to force the assault. In Darfur, as in other conflicts, rape has been a regular and deliberate tool of war. It is used to destabilize and threaten a part of the civilian population, often a particular group.

No Evidence of a Malpractice Crisis

No Evidence of a Malpractice Crisis
Association of Trial Lawyers of America

New study finds that despite huge rate increases from insurance companies there is no evidence of a medical malpractice crisis.

No Evidence of Malpractice Crisis

The American Medical Association (AMA) has claimed a "litigation explosion" has caused a crisis in medical malpractice. Texas is one of the AMA's "crisis" states. The three biggest insurers in the state have increased rates by an average of 135% over the last five years (1999-2003). However, data from the Texas Department of Insurance shows that the number of claims, the value of claims, and the rate of claims per physician have all remained constant or declined over the last decade.

Litigation and Claims Stable

Researchers from the University of Texas, the University of Illinois and Columbia University analyzed 15 years of closed claims data from the Texas Department of Insurance. They found "remarkable stability" in medical malpractice litigation and concluded that the massive insurance premium increases were driven by insurance industry dynamics, not claims.

Claims, Payouts, Awards, Rate of Claims - Stable or Dropping

  • Adjusting for population growth, the number of large claims (over $25,000) remained constant between 1991 and 2002.
  • When adjusting for the amount of health care spending or the number of doctors, the number of large claims dropped.
  • The percentage of claims that were considered large also remained constant.
  • The number of small claims dropped sharply.
  • Payouts and jury awards per claim remained constant or dropped.
  • The rate of claims per 100 Texas physicians dropped from 6.4 (1990-92) to 4.6 (2000-02).

Medical Malpractice Claims Only 0.6% of Health Care Spending

The study also found that medical malpractice was a tiny factor in health care costs. Total 2002 payouts were about 0.6% of total Texas health care spending. Medical malpractice claims made up only 10% of closed claims recorded by the Texas Department of Insurance.

Tort Limits Won't Prevent Insurance Crises

The researchers found little, if any, connection between insurance premiums and claims. Premiums have increased dramatically while claims have remained stable. Therefore, the researchers conclude, tort limits are "unlikely to prevent future insurance crises."

U.S. Chamber of Commerce's "Study" of State Liability Systems

U.S. Chamber of Commerce's "Study" of State Liability Systems
Association of Trial Lawyers of America

Earth Shattering Study? Not Really

  • The U.S. Chamber of Commerce commissioned study of Corporate America's perceived fairness or reasonableness of the civil justice system is hardly a surprise.
  • The survey sought the opinions of senior corporate attorneys, those who work every day defending large corporations when they are sued by consumers or employees who have been injured or abused by the corporation.
  • The poll (by Harris Interactive, Inc.) is probably an accurate representation of opinions of in house defense attorneys working for large corporations with $100 million per year or more of revenue.

Wrongdoers Don't Like To Get Caught

  • A study isn't necessary to tell us that the attorneys working for Firestone are not happy with the legal system that holds Firestone accountable for the deaths and injuries caused by its tires. Similarly, any convicted criminal would say that the legal system doesn't work, and drivers who were punished for running a red light and causing an accident—or who were convicted of DUI—would likely also say the legal system treated them unfairly.

Survey the Victims

  • It would be more interesting and enlightening to annually survey people who were injured by Firestone tires, or Enron employees who were bilked out of their retirement funds. These people have only the civil justice system to rely upon to help them challenge decisions by multimillion dollar corporations that injure consumers, workers, and shareholders.
  • Because of our nation's legal system and the right to trial by jury, corporations can be held legally accountable when they physically or financially harm people. And the people who have been aided by the civil justice system—and as a result have forced corporations to make safer products and more responsible business decisions—would likely say the legal system works well. Ask the victims.

U.S. Strips Detainees of Key Protections

U.S. Strips Detainees of Key Protections
Human Rights Watch

(New York, March 11, 2005) — The U.S. government’s decision to withdraw from a protocol governing diplomatic disputes has immediate consequences for the rights of foreigners detained in the United States and could endanger U.S. citizens who are detained abroad, Human Rights Watch said today.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) can hear disputes between countries who are parties to the Optional Protocol of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, including cases brought by states on behalf of people detained in foreign countries who have been denied access to their country’s consular officials.

According to a decision by the Bush administration this week, the ICJ, or World Court, will henceforth have no power to hear cases brought by countries on behalf of detained non-citizens in the United States. Americans in the custody of foreign countries who have been denied access to their country’s embassies will also not have access to the ICJ.

“This decision not only violates the rights of foreigners living in the United States, it could also endanger Americans abroad,” said Jamie Fellner, director of the U.S. program of Human Rights Watch. “It’s a huge mistake for the United States, for practical reasons as well as legal and moral ones.”

The Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, a treaty which the United States ratified in 1969, requires governments to allow detained foreigners to meet with representatives of their embassies. The Optional Protocol to that treaty, also ratified by the United States, gives the ICJ jurisdiction over disputes under the treaty. Indeed it was the United States that proposed giving the ICJ such a role, during negotiations in 1963 to finalize the terms of the Optional Protocol.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice informed the United Nations this week that the United States is withdrawing from the Optional Protocol just days after President George W. Bush indicated to courts in Texas that they must abide by the ICJ’s Avena decision, which was made while the United States was still a party to the Optional Protocol. In that ruling, the ICJ told U.S. courts to hear the cases of 51 Mexican nationals on death row who were denied the right to talk to their consular officials...

In the past, the United States has used the Optional Protocol to the Vienna Convention to protect its citizens abroad. After 52 American hostages were taken in Iran in 1979, the United States sued Iran in the World Court using the protocol, and the court ruled in favor of the United States. Now, if an American overseas is arrested and not allowed access to U.S. consular officials in that country, the United States will not be able to hold that country accountable in the World Court.

The safeguards provided to foreigners in the United States are especially important in death penalty cases, where the stakes are particularly high. Foreign detainees are often ill-equipped to understand everything, from the laws and procedures used in the United States to the language spoken in the courtroom. Without consular advice, such detainees are likely to make decisions that undermine their defense; in the worst case scenario, the outcome may be a sentence of death.

No Legal Settlements

No Legal Settlements

Since 1967, Israel has established in the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and the Gaza Strip 152 settlements that have been recognized by the Interior Ministry. In addition, dozens of outposts of varying size have been established. Some of these outposts are settlements for all intents and purposes, but the Interior Ministry has not recognized them as such.

Israel has established in the Occupied Territories a separation cum discrimination regime, in which it maintains two systems of laws, and a person’s rights are based on his or her national origin. This regime is the only of its kind in the world, and brings to mind dark regimes of the past, such as the Apartheid regime in South Africa.

As part of the regime, Israel has stolen thousands of dunams of land from the Palestinians, on which it established dozens of settlements in which hundreds of thousands of Israeli civilians now live. Israel forbids Palestinian to enter and use these lands, and use the settlements to justify numerous violations of Palestinian rights, such as the right to housing, to gain a living, and freedom of movement. The sharp change changes Israel made to the map of the West Bank makes a viable Palestinian state impossible as part of the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination.

The settlers, on the other hand,. Benefit from all rights given to citizens of Israel who live inside the Green Line, and in some instances, ever additional rights. The great effort Israel has expended in the settlement enterprise – financially, legally, and bureaucratically – has turned the settlements into civilian enclaves within an area under military rule, and has given the settlers a preferred status. to perpetuate this unlawful situation, Israel has continuously violated the Palestinians’ human rights.

Especially conspicuous is the Israel’s manipulative use of the law to create a semblance of legality for the settlement enterprise. So long as the Jordanian law assisted Israel in advancing its goals, it seized the argument that international law requires that an occupying state apply the law in effect in the territory prior to occupation, construing international law in a cynical and tendentious way. When Jordanian law was unfavorable for Israel, it did not hesitate to revoke it though military legislation and develop new rules ti meet its ends. In doing so, Israel tramples on international agreements to which it is party that are intended to reduce human rights violations and protect people under occupation.

In that the very establishment of the settlements is illegal, and in light of the human rights violations resulting from the existence of the settlements, B’Tselem demands that Israel evacuate the settlements. The action must be done in a way that respects the settlers’ human rights, including the payment of compensation.

Clearly, evacuation of the settlements will be complex, and will take time. However, there are intermediate steps that can be taken immediately so as to reduce, as far as possible, human rights violations and breach of international law. For example, the government should cease new construction in the settlements, whether to build new settlements or to expand existing settlements. It must also freeze the planning and building of new bypass roads, and must cease expropriating and seizing land intended for the bypass roads. The government must return to Palestinian villages all the non-built-up land that was placed within the municipal jurisdiction of the settlements and the regional councils, eliminate the planning boards in the settlements, and, as a result thereof, revoke the power of the local authorities to draw up outline plans and grant building permits. Also, the government must cease the granting of incentives to encourage Israeli citizens to move to settlements, and to make resources available to encourage settlers to move inside Israel’s borders.

ACLU Says New Detainee Report Does Not Absolve Senior Officials of Responsibility for Abuses

ACLU Says New Detainee Report Does Not Absolve Senior Officials of Responsibility for Abuses
American Civil Liberties Union

WASHINGTON -- Despite aggressive claims to the contrary by the Defense Department, an investigation into detainee torture by American military personnel released today did not and likely could not have absolved senior-level Pentagon officials of responsibility for the widespread abuse of men and women in American military custody, the American Civil Liberties Union said.

"Military investigations can only look down," said Anthony D. Romero, ACLU Executive Director. "An impartial and comprehensive investigation of senior-level Pentagon officials would require the appointment of a special prosecutor by the attorney general."...

The only way criminal conduct by senior-level civilian officials at the Pentagon could be properly assessed, Romero said, is through the appointment of a special prosecutor by the attorney general. Without such an appointment, criminal conduct by civilian political appointees at the Pentagon will forever go unpunished.

U.S. infrastructure in disrepair

Report Card for America's Infrastructure
American Society of Civil Engineers
Drinking Water:
America faces a shortfall of $11 billion annually to replace aging facilities and comply with safe drinking water regulations. Federal funding for drinking water in 2005 remained level at $850 million, less than 10% of the total national requirement. The Bush administration has proposed the same level of funding for FY06.
Energy (National Power Grid):
The U.S. power transmission system is in urgent need of modernization. Growth in electricity demand and investment in new power plants has not been matched by investment in new transmission facilities. Maintenance expenditures have decreased 1% per year since 1992. Existing transmission facilities were not designed for the current level of demand, resulting in an increased number of `bottlenecks' which increase costs to consumers and elevate the risk of blackouts.
Hazardous Waste:
Federal funding for `Superfund' cleanup of the nation's worst toxic waste sites has steadily declined since 1998, reaching its lowest level since 1986 in FY05. There are 1,237 contaminated sites on the National Priorities List, with possible listing of an additional 10,154. In 2003, there were 205 U.S. cities with `brownfields' sites awaiting cleanup and redevelopment. It is estimated that redevelopment of those sites would generate 576,373 new jobs and $1.9 billion annually for the economy.
Aging wastewater management systems discharge billions of gallons of untreated sewage into U.S. surface waters each year. The EPA estimates that the nation must invest $390 billion over the next 20 years to replace existing systems and build new ones to meet increasing demands. Yet, in 2005, Congress cut funding for wastewater management for the first time in eight years. The Bush administration has proposed a further 33% reduction, to $730 million, for FY06.

“Wal-Mart amendment” would increase trucker hours, endanger motorists

“Wal-Mart amendment” would increase trucker hours, endanger motorists
Public Citizen
Public safety advocates called on Congress today to defeat a measure being pushed by Wal-Mart and other retail and short-haul truckers that would extend truckers’ workdays to 16 hours – an excessively long day that research shows would lead to a dramatic increase in highway crashes. U.S. Rep. John Boozman (R-Ark.) plans to introduce the measure, H.R. 623, as an amendment to the highway bill tomorrow on the House floor.

Fool Me Twice? Chamber of Commerce Distorts NAFTA Record, Hides Cafta Costs

Fool Me Twice? Chamber of Commerce Distorts NAFTA Record, Hides Cafta Costs
Public Citizen

In early 2005, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce released a study projecting possible gains to the United States and to several U.S. states’ economies from the proposed Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) NAFTA expansion. CAFTA would extend NAFTA to six additional countries: Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua.

In an eerie repeat of NAFTA promises from a decade earlier, the Chamber study claimed that, if implemented, CAFTA would create over 100,000 U.S. jobs, over $17 billion in increased sales and $3.5 billion in increased earnings for employees in all industries during its first nine years. The study also made specific mention of projected CAFTA gains for the state economies of California, Florida, Louisiana, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, and Texas. Regarding these states, the report made a variety of glowing predictions of CAFTA benefits. Given that CAFTA would expand NAFTA to six additional countries – including the expansion of NAFTA’s foreign investment provisions that incentivize relocation of production to lower-waged countries – the notion that CAFTA would create U.S. jobs or economic gains seems dubious on its face.

An examination of the methodology and assumptions underlying the Chamber study’s predictions about CAFTA’s effect on both the national and state economies reveal that, in fact, the very design of this “study” ensures that the Chamber’s conclusions would be wildly inaccurate. First of all, the Chamber study assumes that U.S. imports from Central America would not grow under a CAFTA – a dangerous and misguided assumption, out of line with the historical record under NAFTA and other U.S. trade agreements. Secondly, to create a scenario under which CAFTA could benefit the U.S. economy, the Chamber study must assume a growth in U.S. exports to Central American countries which goes far beyond these poor countries’ consumption capacity. According to the study’s assumptions, by 2013, U.S. exports to Honduras would comprise 80 percent of that country’s economy. Finally, the Chamber study repeatedly misrepresents facts about the history of U.S. job loss due to NAFTA and corporate globalization more generally...

Top earners get Social Security windfall, others get the bill

Top earners get Social Security windfall, others get the bill
Economic Policy Institute

Under the Federal Insurance Contribution Act (FICA), Social Security taxes are collected on individual earnings up to a maximum earnings level, set for this year at $90,000. The maximum level increases each year, moving up as average earnings increase. Since 1983, roughly 6% of earners have made above the maximum taxable earnings; because the earnings of this group grew faster than the average American's did, however, their share of all earnings grew from 25.5% in 1983 to 29.9% in 2001. Consequently, the share of earnings above the maximum--the amount earned free of the FICA tax--increased from 10% to more than 15% of all earnings. That is, the highest earners have gotten substantially better off, and their windfall has all been free of Social Security tax.

The argument goes that, because Social Security benefits are also capped, earnings shouldn't be taxed beyond the point where benefits stop increasing. It could also be argued, however, that all other workers are required to pay on 100% of their earnings to receive their benefits, as the approximately 94% of Americans earning below the maximum earnings level have done over the last 22 years. But the best-off 6% of Americans have been taxed at a much lower effective rate. They paid Social Security taxes on 60% of their earnings in 1983, for example, but on only 50% by 2001. That means that $305 billion in earnings went untaxed for the Social Security trust fund in 1983. The amount of untaxed earnings had increased to $775 billion by 2001 (in 2004 dollars) which if fully taxed would be a loss of revenue in 2001 of around $96 billion. Medicare, which is funded similarly, does not have a cap on taxable earnings.

While President Bush has declared the Social Security trust fund to be in crisis, we have perversely lowered the tax burden for the highest-earning 6% of America. Maybe that's why Americans strongly support taxing earnings above the maximum for Social Security.

Finding the Way Forward—A Negotiated Settlement in Iraq

Finding the Way Forward—A Negotiated Settlement in Iraq
Foreign Policy In Focus

It is now time for the United States to pursue the one policy option that has been missing from the national discussion of Iraq: the negotiation of a peace settlement with the insurgents that would involve the complete withdrawal of U.S. troops in return for the surrender of the insurgents and the reintegration of the Sunni region into the post-Saddam political system.

In recent weeks there have been multiple indications that some insurgent leaders as well as some in the election-winning United Iraqi Alliance are actively interested in such a settlement. TIME revealed that certain insurgent leaders had met with U.S. diplomats and intelligence officers about a settlement under which they would surrender...

The Bush administration has long discouraged any thought about negotiations, portraying the Iraqi insurgency as a terrorist alliance between the foreign jihadists aligned with Osama Bin Laden and high-ranking Ba’athist security officials who seek to restore Saddam’s regime. That propaganda line misrepresents the actual composition and leadership of the insurgency. High ranking officers of Saddam’s elite security services did start the insurgency, and some of them may still harbor the dream of recreating the old regime. But the insurgency quickly evolved into something quite different.

During the last half of 2003, tens of thousands of young men, most of them former soldiers in the disbanded Iraqi army who could not get a job, joined the insurgency, not out of loyalty to Saddam but to drive out the occupation forces and to avenge the killing or mistreatment of family members or friends in U.S. “cordon and search” operations. By early 2004, the original Saddamist “Party of Return” was only one of more than 35 insurgent operations in Iraq.

Many of the local leaders of insurgent groups are clearly not Saddam loyalists but former mid-level officers from the security services, as noted recently by an adviser to the Pentagon on Iraq in The Washington Post. These young Ba’athists and the Sunni clerics who joined the resistance in 2004 are the insurgent leaders who are likely to be most interested in a peace settlement.

Seeing the United States as Others Do

Global Security Challenges: Seeing the United States as Others Do
By Col. Daniel Smith (Ret.), Foreign Policy in Focus

Current leaders in Washington tend to see the world in black and white. For example, President George Bush has declared that there are only two categories for countries and individuals: “with us or against us,” and all those in the second category are considered terrorists or supporters of terror subject to “preventive” war with the time, place, and weapons determined by the U.S. president. What is wrong with this division is that the overwhelming majority of the earth’s people want nothing to do with either side. Their concerns are survival: food, water, health, and shelter, not terrorists...

But as U.S. intelligence directors confirmed in mid-February when they spoke before Congress, the formerly semistructured organization known as al-Qaida has devolved into an amorphous network of activists, sympathizers, and “imitators”--all of whom are regarded interchangeably as “jihadis,” extremists, or terrorists. Their numbers have multiplied since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq because, to quote CIA Director Goss, “The Iraq conflict, while not a cause of extremism, has become a cause for extremists.”

This polarization results from many Muslims viewing U.S. actions in Iraq as state terrorism and a Western jihad upon Islam, a perception that is not based on some “fundamentalist” misinterpretation of religion, as President Bush has declared. Perhaps such Muslims have read the definition of terror used by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation: “the unlawful use of force against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population or any segment thereof, in the furtherance of political or social objectives.”...

March 2005 marks two years since the United States launched an unprovoked--by international standards--attack upon Saddam Hussein’s Iraq , and U.S. troops still occupy the country. Washington claims it has returned sovereignty to a legitimate Iraqi government, but that is not the opinion of many Iraqis. Although the Bush administration once declared that most of the suicide bombers and many insurgents were foreigners controlled by al-Qaida-affiliated Abu Masab Zarqawi, field commanders now tell the Pentagon that Iraqi nationalists opposed to the foreign presence fuel the insurgent ranks...

Meanwhile, the United States persists in tolerating, working with, and supporting both economically and militarily several authoritarian regimes in Asia and the Persian Gulf . In his most recent State of the Union Address to Congress and the U.S. public, President Bush merely chided Saudi Arabia and Egypt for not moving further along the road of democracy. Meanwhile, at the behest of non-democratic foreign leaders, Washington has included on its list of terrorist organizations some movements that are fighting to defeat repression (e.g., the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan) and is considering adding groups such as Hezbollah and other Palestinian organizations, even though they pose no direct threat to the United States. And now there is a new category on the State Department list: “pop up” groups that commit one or more acts of “terror” and then dissolve--circumstances that suggest these groups are more criminal than terrorist...

As with terrorism, the United States exercises a double standard regarding the spread of weapons of mass destruction. Washington condones the continued possession of nuclear weapons by Britain, France, and Israel; it accepts the arsenals in Russia, China, India, and Pakistan, because it cannot eliminate them; but it denies even the option for nuclear energy development in countries where relations are strained, contending that these countries will inevitably try to develop nuclear weapons. This latter case is seen most acutely in Iran and North Korea .

The United States also appears to forget its own energy history. In categorically rejecting Tehran ’s claim that nuclear power use curbs domestic petroleum consumption, allowing Iran to conserve its exportable reserves, Washington ignores the fact that the United States established its first nuclear power plant while America was still the world’s largest petroleum producer.

By refusing to join direct European Union-Iran talks and by discounting the agreement between Moscow and Tehran authorizing Russia to provide fuel for and re-possess spent fuel from Iran ’s nuclear reactor, Washington shows that it is not serious about finding an equitable solution to the Iran impasse. Instead, President Bush seems bent on punishing Iran for exercising its treaty-guaranteed right to develop a peaceful nuclear energy program, judging from comments made during his late February 2005 trip to Europe. The president first said that diplomacy is just beginning, and then, with a grin, he added that “all options are on the table.” From Iran ’s perspective, all options for defending itself from U.S. incursions--whether CIA agents and spy drones or special operations soldiers--are also on the table.

Similarly, Washington seems intent on depriving North Korea of the economic development assistance promised in the 1994 Agreed Framework. Hostility toward North Korea was displayed early in President Bush’s first term when he expressed loathing for the Kim Jung Il administration. This animosity created an unfavorable atmosphere for negotiations in the six-party talks and eventually led to Pyongyang’s decision to reprocess spent fuel rods into plutonium for nuclear weapons. However, contrary to claims by both sides, North Korea may still have only a handful of usable nuclear devices, since such weapons require close, skillful monitoring to avoid deterioration. Unlike the sale of missiles, this may be a factor in the apparent absence of exports of a complete nuclear weapon by Pyongyang ...

... CIA Director Porter Goss was quite explicit about this when he stated that “Beijing’s military modernization and military buildup is tilting the balance of power in the Taiwan Strait.” Apparently, only the United States is permitted to modernize its military. It’s okay for America to install a missile defense system, acquire a new class of nuclear submarines, develop new “stealthy” airplanes, and amass stockpiles of “precision” weapons. Yet of the four modernizations that the PRC is pursuing, military modernization is last priority. In fact, by the end of 2005, the United States plans to boost its military forces by 33,000 and wants to double its special operations cadre, while China will complete a cut of 700,000 troops over two years bringing the People’s Liberation Army forces to under two million. In all, the annual U.S. military budget currently exceeds half a trillion dollars (compared to the PRC’s $50-60 billion).

... Washington is trying to force Taiwan to accept and pay for $18 billion in new “defensive” weapons. The PRC considers Taiwan’s status an internal concern of the Chinese people, who need no “assistance” from other countries. The February 20, 2005 joint declaration by the Japanese foreign minister and U.S. defense secretary that the state of affairs in the Taiwan Strait is a “common strategic objective” was an attack on the unified sovereignty of China , which both the United States and Japan have acceded to under the “one China ” policy...

“Our policies in the Middle East fuel Islamic resentment.” That admission by DIA Director Vice Admiral Lowell Jacoby applies everywhere that Washington tries to impose its will on governments and peoples under the guise of “spreading freedom and democracy.” Polls in four countries with the largest Muslim populations--Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and India--reveal significant pluralities (if not outright majorities) who admire Osama bin Laden, are suspicious of U.S. motives, or feel that U.S. foreign policy is anti-Muslim.

Moreover, U.S. actions and policies are creating tensions and fostering resentments in Africa , Asia , and Latin America . Administration promises of economic aid have either not been fulfilled by Congress or have been tied to conditions that are defined and evaluated by Washington (e.g., “good governance,” transparency and accountability, and the rule of law). Potential recipient governments must meet these conditions to be considered for U.S. aid. (These requirements do not apply to certain “friendly” states such as Nepal, where the king dissolved the government and seems set to rule by decree for the indefinite future, and Pakistan, where President Pervez Musharref’s support for the U.S. “global war on terror” has earned him virtual immunity from “inconvenient” restrictions.) Yet Vice Admiral Jacoby acknowledges that “economic and political disenfranchisement” is a prominent factor exploited by terrorist groups to gain new recruits.

Friday, March 11, 2005

The invisible jackboot of the market

Intelligence, Inc.
While military contracting for construction or weapons manufacturing is nothing new, the privatization of intelligence instruction is a new and rapidly expanding sector that came about less than four years ago. One estimate in Mother Jones magazine, compiled from interviews with military experts, suggests that as much 50 percent of the $40 billion given annually to the 15 intelligence agencies in the United States is now spent on private contractors.

Part of the problem with hiring private contractors, [former CIA officer, Bob] Baer believes, is the lack of checks and balances. "Now if you ask a private company to produce a report on Afghan opium production, they will produce the report, but it might not be the truth. If you ask a CIA nitwit to write the report, he will care about getting it right, although he will probably get it wrong. But at least his motivation is

On a related topic, also see Soldiers of Good Fortune, Warriors for hire in Iraq, The Rising Corporate Military Monster, Mercenary Boom in Iraq Creates Tension at Home and Abroad and Contractors Implicated in Prison Abuse Remain on the Job. To avoid dyspepsia after all that, see Privatizing the Military.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

New Water Bill in Senate Offers Wrong Solution

New Water Bill in Senate Correctly Identifies Problem, But Offers Wrong Solution
Public Citizen

A bill introduced Wednesday in the U.S. Senate, which seeks to address the global water crisis affecting billions of people in the developing world, has the right intent, but the wrong solution. Disguised in “public-private partnership” lingo, the bill, S. 492, co-sponsored by Sens. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), promotes privatization of water services as the means to alleviate the burgeoning problems of providing safe, clean and affordable water to the estimated 1.1 billion people who lack access to water and the 2.4 billion people without sanitation services.

Governments should play a leadership role in providing water to citizens. That responsibility cannot be delegated to private companies that have identified water as the oil of the 21st century. Around the world, the evidence is compelling that private water companies create problems rather than solve them. Rather than providing safe and affordable drinking water for the poor, multinational water companies have increased consumer water rates, failed to extend services to poor neighborhoods, caused public health crises, and have polluted and contributed to creating other environmental problems.

The Money Behind Social Security Privatization Push

The Money Behind Social Security Privatization Push
Institute For Public Accuracy

Economist and co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, [Mark] Weisbrot said today: "The 'President's Reform Plan 2' has administrative costs ten times as high as the current system -- but even this is not as much money for the financial industry as they would hope to get further down the road. The potential for making money for financial firms from private accounts is enormous -- billions or even tens of billions of dollars annually." Weisbrot is co-author of the book Social Security: The Phony Crisis.

Deputy director of the Campaign for America's Future, [Ellen] Miller said today: "More people are hearing about Congressman Jim McCrery, because he recently gained great power over our future -- and is poised to abuse it. He's President Bush's sherpa, the man charged to push Social Security privatization through the House of Representatives. Incredibly, McCrery has accepted nearly $200,000 in campaign contributions from the very Wall Street firms that stand to benefit the most from privatization. Of course President Bush's campaign contributors reflect a who's who of the country's biggest corporations -- from Wall Street to health care industries -- who are expecting big rewards from their investment in him."

Payout for Pinochet Victims Shines in Dark Times

Payout for Pinochet Victims Shines in Dark Times for Human Rights
Foreign Policy in Focus

On February 25, Riggs Bank agreed to pay $9 million into a fund for victims of Augusto Pinochet to settle a case over the bank’s role in hiding the former Chilean dictator’s ill-gotten gains. This latest development in the decades-long fight to hold Pinochet accountable for his crimes stands in stark contrast to the twisted human rights rhetoric--and record--of the U.S. government.

Yes, Saddam Hussein, like his fellow former dictator Pinochet, may face prosecution for human rights violations. But at every turn in the war on Iraq and in the broader war on terrorism, the Bush administration has trampled on human rights laws when they became inconvenient, creating dangerous precedents for the rest of the world.

President George W. Bush boasts of his allegiance to human rights at the same time that he dismisses criticism of the illegality of the Iraq invasion and occupation and of the U.S. involvement in extra-judicial assassinations and illegal detainment of terrorism suspects.

Indeed, in the most chilling statement in his 2003 State of the Union address, Bush claimed that “more than 3,000 suspected terrorists have been arrested in many countries. And many others have met a different fate. Let's put it this way: They are no longer a problem to the United States and our friends and allies.” Bush’s euphemisms don’t disguise the assault on the basic right of habeas corpus, the legal principle established in the Magna Carta in 1215 that prevents a government from picking up a person and holding him indefinitely without charge--even if he is a terrorism suspect.

UN asked to investigate US shooting of Italian journalist and military intelligence officer

UN asked to investigate US shooting of Italian journalist and military intelligence officer
Reporters Without Borders

Reporters Without Borders today called for a UN investigation to shed light on the circumstances in which the US military fired on a vehicle carrying the newly freed Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena yesterday in Baghdad, injuring Sgrena and killing an Italian military officer accompanying her.

"A thorough investigation must be quickly carried out by the United Nations into this blunder with tragic consequences," Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard said.

"It is clear that his enquiry cannot be conducted just by the US army which in the past, especially in the case of the Palestine Hotel shooting that killed two journalists, produced reports aimed solely at exonerating the military," Ménard said, adding, "we demand to know the full truth about this distressing affair."

UN women's rights text adopted after US withdraws proposed amendment on abortion

UN women's rights text adopted after US withdraws proposed amendment on abortion
UN News Centre

5 March 2005 – A United Nations women's rights committee has adopted a declaration reaffirming priorities set ten years ago at an international conference in Beijing after the United States delegation withdrew a proposed amendment to the text.

UK: Terrorism Bill Undermines Human Rights

UK: Terrorism Bill Undermines Human Rights
Human Rights Watch

The fundamental human rights concerns raised by the Prevention of Terrorism Bill have yet to be addressed, Human Rights Watch said in a new briefing paper released today. The third and final reading of the Bill in the House of Lords is due tomorrow, March 3.

“In a democracy, it is a basic principle that the state can only punish people after they have received a fair trial,” said Rachel Denber, acting executive director of Human Rights Watch Europe & Central Asia division. “Calling severe restrictions on where you may go or whom you may meet “preventative measures” does not make them any less punitive. And having a judge impose those punishments without a trial does not sanitize them either.”

The proposed legislation allows the Home Secretary to impose “control orders” short of house arrest – which could include restrictions on the right to liberty and privacy, and freedom of expression and association—on the basis of a mere suspicion of involvement in terrorism based on secret evidence. Subsequent review by the courts would be limited to narrow points of law and preclude reconsideration of the evidence. Breach of an order would be a criminal offence. The scheme lacks the due process safeguards required under article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees the right to a fair trial.

Despite a strong ruling from the Law Lords in December 2004 that the indefinite detention of foreign terrorism suspects without trial breaches human rights law, the bill also contemplates the use of house arrest without a fair trial, as practiced by authoritarian governments from the military regime in Burma to apartheid-era South Africa. This would require the UK again to suspend part of its obligations under the ECHR; the judgment by the Law Lords, Britain’s highest court, struck down a previous attempt to do so. House arrest control orders could be imposed on the basis of secret evidence subject to a standard of proof below that required for a criminal conviction, a procedure in breach of fair trial standards.

Human Rights in Algeria

Human Rights in Algeria
Human Rights Watch Testimony by Tom Malinowski To the House of Representatives Committee on International Relations, Subcommittee on International Terrorism and Nonproliferation

... I welcome the Bush administration’s recognition that the fight against terror must rest in part on the promotion of democratic freedoms and human rights. But that recognition must be translated into consistent policies. And Algeria is an important test case.

Since the events of September 11, 2001, several U.S. officials have visited Algeria and commended that country’s response to armed insurgents. Assistant Secretary of State William Burns, for instance, said in December 2002 that Washington “has much to learn from Algeria on ways to fight terrorism.” Algerians have suffered the ravages of terrorism as much as any people on earth, and those acts deserve our full condemnation. Nevertheless, in human rights terms, Algeria, with its documented record of torture and “disappearances,” is in many ways a model of how not to fight terrorism...

Estimates of the number of Algerians killed in political violence since 1992 range between 100,000 and 200,000. President Abdelaziz Bouteflika was quoted on February 23 as putting the figure at 150,000. In fact, there are no precise data on the number of those killed, or the breakdown of civilians, security force members, and armed militants among the victims, or the proportion of the killings attributable on the one hand to armed groups and on the other hand to the security forces and their civilian allies.

Civilians have born the brunt of the violence, from the scores of journalists, intellectuals, and cultural and political figures who were targeted for assassination in the cities, to the thousands of ordinary villagers who were victims of indiscriminate massacres both in remote areas and at the outskirts of Algiers. In addition, many women were kidnapped and raped by members of armed groups. Authorship of these attacks was rarely established; the various armed groups almost never claimed responsibility for specific operations; and authorities rarely conducted investigations worthy of the name or brought the suspected perpetrators to justice.

In the name of combating the insurgency, security forces arrested and tortured thousands of suspects. They engaged in summary executions, often rounding up victims arbitrarily in reprisal for attacks on their own troops. And between 1993 and 1997, they picked up and made “disappear” an estimated 7,000 Algerians who remain unaccounted for until this day.

Azerbaijan: Editor of Independent Weekly Shot Dead

Azerbaijan: Editor of Independent Weekly Shot Dead
Human Rights Watch

(New York, March 4, 2005) — The Azerbaijani government must fully investigate the killing of the editor of the independent weekly magazine Monitor, Human Rights Watch said today. The murder of the editor, Elmar Husseinov, is a frightening reminder of the danger of outspoken criticism in Azerbaijan.

On the evening of Wednesday, March 2, an unknown attacker shot dead Husseinov, founder and editor of Monitor, when he was stepping out of the elevator in the entrance hall to his apartment. According to local media reports, the lights in the entrance hall were not on when then the attacker fired approximately seven shots, four of which hit Husseinov. The electricity and telephone in Husseinov's apartment were also reportedly cut at the time of the shooting.

“Elmar Husseinov was a very brave man who persisted in publishing his magazine despite constant harassment and threats,” said Rachel Denber, acting executive director of Human Rights Watch’s Europe and Central Asia division. “We extend our heartfelt condolences to his family, friends and colleagues.”

Monitor regularly published harsh criticism of the government, including allegations of corruption among high-level officials and their families. As a consequence, it faced constant harassment by the authorities.

CCR Takes Case Of U.S. Torture And Detention To O.A.S. Inter-American Commission for Human Rights

Center for Constitutional Rights Takes Case Of U.S. Torture And Detention Before O.A.S. Inter-American Commission for Human Rights
Center For Constitutional Rights
In Washington, D.C on March 3, 2005, The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and other Petitioners today went before the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights to argue that the U.S. continues to violate its own treaties as well as international and domestic law in its treatment of detainees at Guantánamo Bay and elsewhere. The United States is a member of the Organization of American States and signed the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man in 1948.

Justice fails in Ciudad Juarez and the city of Chihuahua

Justice fails in Ciudad Juarez and the city of Chihuahua
Amnesty International

The Governor of the state of Chihuahua in Mexico said recently that international attention on the situation in Ciudad Juarez is damaging the city's public image. The purpose of Reyes Baeza's comments is unclear, but such statements in the past have had the effect of undermining families and local NGOs seeking justice.

To say that it is international concern, and not the situation in the region, that is damaging the city's image is very clearly wrong-headed. Ciudad Juarez has a reputation for violence and brutality against women -- not because of international concern -- but because of the reality and the institutional failures to deal effectively with this reality.

The reality is that since 1993 more than 370 young women and girls have been murdered in the cities of Ciudad Juarez and Chihuahua - at least a third suffering sexual violence - without the authorities taking proper measures to investigate and address the problem.

USA: Supreme Court outlaws execution of child offenders

USA: Supreme Court outlaws execution of child offenders
Amnesty International
Today’s decision [March 1st, 2005] by the US Supreme Court outlawing the execution of child offenders -- those who were under 18 at the time of the crime -- finally brings the USA into line with an unequivocal principle of international law, Amnesty International said today, welcoming the ruling.

Newly Released Army Documents Detail Ongoing Abuse of Detainees by U.S. Forces

Newly Released Army Documents Detail Ongoing Abuse of Detainees by U.S. Forces
American Civil Liberties Union

NEW YORK - The latest round of investigative files released to the American Civil Liberties Union document an ongoing pattern of widespread abuses of detainees by U.S. military forces in Iraq, the ACLU said today.

ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero said that the documents provide further evidence -- if any were required -- of the need for an independent special counsel and Congressional hearings to investigate the abuses. "Pieces of the puzzle are still missing," Romero said. "An outside special counsel is the only way to ensure that all civilians who violated, or conspired to violate, the laws are held responsible for their crimes."

In an unusual move, the Army released approximately 1,200 pages of documents to a select group of reporters late yesterday and today, along with a press statement and fact sheet purporting to explain the disposition of the incidents...

Some of the files that raise questions include:

  • A description of a DVD called "Ramadi Madness" that included scenes of soldiers kicking a flexicuffed prisoner who reportedly later died; using a dead prisoner’s body to "wave hello"; and joyriding in a prisoner’s van while yelling profanities at Iraqi civilians. Copies of the DVD were destroyed in January 2004 by a sergeant after he learned the incident was under investigation. No soldier was charged in relation to the making of the DVD or the incidents depicted in it.
  • A report on complaints by a civilian interrogator who described "harsh interrogations and inhumane conduct" by some interrogators and guards during April and May of 2004. He said he was reporting the conduct even though "every harsh interrogation were (sic) approved" by Task Force 6-26 personnel. The interrogator said he was transferred three weeks after he arrived because "I refused to conduct my interrogations inhumanely."
  • A report on an investigation initiated after Playboy Magazine published an article in May 2004 titled "Death and Dishonor," alleging that soldiers of the 1/15th Infantry Battalion, 3d Brigade, 3d Infantry Division (Ft. Benning, GA), committed numerous war crimes. The article reported that soldiers assigned to the Brigade raped Iraqi women, shot an unarmed Iraqi and stuck their fingers into a prisoner’s wounds. The investigation concluded that "there was no credible information" to substantiate the allegations and was closed in late July 2004.

ACLU and Human Rights First Sue Rumsfeld Over U.S. Torture Policies

ACLU and Human Rights First Sue Defense Secretary Rumsfeld Over U.S. Torture Policies
American Civil Liberties Union

WASHINGTON -- Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld bears direct responsibility for the torture and abuse of detainees in U.S. military custody, the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights First charged today in the first federal court lawsuit to name a top U.S. official in the ongoing torture scandal in Iraq and Afghanistan that has tarnished America's reputation.

The lawsuit was filed in federal court in Illinois on behalf of eight men who were subject to torture and abuse at the hands of U.S. forces under Secretary Rumsfeld's command. The parties are seeking a court order declaring that Secretary Rumsfeld's actions violated the U.S. Constitution, federal statutes and international law.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Haitian Police Open Fire on Nonviolent March for Democracy

Haitian Police Open Fire on Nonviolent March for Democracy
by Bill Quigley, Common Dreams

One year ago today, the elected government of Haiti, led by President Jean Betrand Aristide, was forced out of office and replaced by unlected people more satisfactory to business interests and the US, France and Canada.

Today there was a large nonviolent March for Democracy called for the neighborhood of Bel-Air (Beautiful Air). I attended with Pere Gerard Jean-Juste and others from St. Clare's Parish. We started with prayers in the Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in the center of Bel Air. After prayers we joined the larger crowd outside marching and singing through the streets of the old and quite poor neighborhood. Thousands of people were walking and dancing to the beat of drums, loudly chanting, "Bring Back Titi (Aristide)!!!!" in Creole, French and English...

Suddenly, at the corner of Monsiegneur Guillot Street and Des Cesar, there was a loud boom from very close by. People started screaming and running. Another boom, then another...

Early reports document several people shot, including journalists, at least one killed. Others were beaten. Two men showed me where the police wounded them.

As we drove slowly out of the now deserted neighborhood, the faces of the people on the porches who were so happy minutes before, were now somber, many crying.

Monday, February 28, 2005

Tel Aviv blast kills Israeli civilians

Tel Aviv blast kills Israeli civilians

B'Tselem strongly condemns yesterday's attack in the Tel Aviv promenade, in which many civilians were killed and injured...

Attacks aimed at civilians undermine all rules of morality and law. Specifically, the intentional killing of civilians is considered a “grave breach” of international humanitarian law and a war crime. Whatever the circumstances, such acts are unjustifiable.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Another Brazilian Environmentalist Shot Dead

Another Brazilian Environmentalist Shot Dead
Democracy Now!
A Brazilian environmentalist has been shot dead, days after gunmen killed US nun who campaigned to protect the Amazon rain forest from loggers and ranchers vying for its natural resources. Authorities said Wednesday that Dionisio Ribeiro was shot in the head late Tuesday at the Tingua nature reserve near Rio de Janeiro. Colleagues say Ribeiro had received death threats for some time because of his efforts to stop poaching and the illegal felling of palm trees. Ribeiro's murder follows the recent shooting deaths of Sister Dorothy Stang, an environmental activist and advocate for the poor, and Daniel Soares da Costa, an advocate of landless peasants.