< /head > Colorado Coalition for Human Rights: December 2005

Saturday, December 31, 2005

Alternative to the U.N.'s Human Rights Commission

From the New York Times, an article about the UN attempting to change the Human Rights Commission:

Officials of the United Nations, which has struggled through a period of scandal and mismanagement, have decided they must act within weeks to produce an alternative to its widely discredited Human Rights Commission to maintain hope of redeeming the United Nations' credibility in 2006. The commission, which is based in Geneva, has been a persistent embarrassment to the United Nations because participation has been open to countries like Cuba, Sudan and Zimbabwe, current members who are themselves accused of gross rights abuses. Libya held the panel's chairmanship in 2003.
"The reason highly abusive governments flock to the commission is to prevent condemnation of themselves and their kind, and most of the time they succeed," said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. "If you're a thug, you want to be on the committee that tries to condemn thugs."
Mark Malloch Brown, chief of staff to Secretary General
Kofi Annan, noted that with two other crucial steps toward reform in place - a new Peacebuilding Commission to help countries emerging from war, and a biennial budget under an arrangement laying the groundwork for major management change by June - the rights commission had taken center stage.

Click here to read the full article.

--Tom Hayes

Friday, December 30, 2005

12 Sudanese Killed by Egyptian Police

From the Washington Post, an article about Egyptian police killing Sudanese war refugees:

Egyptian police turned water cannons on Sudanese war refugees and beat them with sticks Friday, seeking to end a three-month protest at the ramshackle squatters camp in a small city park. At least a dozen people were killed, according to government figures, and one of the protest leaders estimated the deaths at more than double that.
Hundreds of Sudanese have been living in the park since September to protest the U.N. refugee agency's refusal to consider them for refugee status. They want to be resettled in a third country, such as the United States or Britain, rather than go home after a peace deal ended the 21-year-long civil war in Sudan.

Click here to read the full article.

--Tom Hayes

Setback for AIDS treatment in Burma

From the Washington Post an article about combating AIDS in Burma:

The secretive Burmese government had long denied that this country had a major AIDS problem, but international health experts now say it is among the worst in Asia. With antiretroviral drugs for AIDS costing about 10 times a teacher's monthly salary, few Burmese can pay for them. Fewer than 5 percent of those who need the drugs can get them free from the government and international agencies, according to U.N. estimates.
The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, a Geneva-based foundation, had planned to expand funding to triple the number of HIV-positive people receiving subsidized medication. But in August, it canceled a program to fight the three diseases in Burma and ended $87 million in funding, because of new restrictions imposed by the military government on travel and the import of medical supplies.
The fund's decision highlights a moral dilemma over how to operate in a country that has one of the world's worst human rights records but is also on the brink of a humanitarian crisis affecting millions of people. This quandary has stoked a sharp, behind-the-scenes dispute between democracy advocates in the United States and Thailand -- who welcomed Global Fund's decision -- and humanitarian officials and many diplomats in Burma.
Critics of relief programs in Burma argue that the country's corrupt, repressive rulers make it impossible to deliver humanitarian aid and that such programs can instead bring reprisals against Burmese who participate in them. Relief efforts, they say, may only enrich the government -- which is facing broad U.S. economic sanctions -- while lending it greater international legitimacy.

Click here to read the full article.

--Tom Hayes

Lawyers to Challenge Spying Programs

From the Washington Post, lawyers representing clients on terrorism charges are challenging evidence used in their cases based on the recent revelation that President Bush bypassed the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court. I don't know the exact legal ramifications of this, but if the President's action jeopardizes convictions of actual terrorists, then not only does his action completely sabotage his original intention, but also serves as an additional reason as to why the executive branch and the President should follow the rules.

Click here to read the full article.

Also check out what Dr. Steven Taylor has to say at Poliblog.

--Tom Hayes

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Aceh Rebels in Indonesia Disband Armed Forces, Indonesian Troops Reciprocate by Reducing Troop Levels

Excerpts from this AP wire story:

Indonesia started the final phase of a troop reduction in tsunami-ravaged Aceh province on Thursday, a key step in a peace agreement with separatist rebels that was propelled forward by the disaster one year ago.

Some 3,800 soldiers carrying automatic rifles and heavy bags boarded five Navy ships and a Hercules air carrier in the port town of Lhokseumawe, just days after Free Aceh Movement rebels handed over their weapons and disbanded their military wing.

The rebels also gave up their demand for independence, effectively ending the separatist insurgency that has killed at least 15,000 people since 1976.

Under the peace agreement, Indonesia is pulling out about 24,000 security forces and leaving behind roughly an equal number.

Efforts to end the 29-year civil war moved forward after the massive earthquake struck off the coast of Aceh on Dec. 26, 2004, causing a tsunami that left at least 156,000 of the province's people dead or missing and a half million homeless.

The rebels and the military each said they did not want to add to the people's suffering and hammered out an agreement during negotiations in Finland in which both sides made major concessions.

-- JB

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Many Chinese Find it Futile to Sue Their Government

The New York Times is publishing a series that examines China's attempt to create a modern legal system. Today's article discusses the vain attempts of farmers in China to sue their government to prevent land seizures. As the below excerpts from the article will show, China is still light-years away from creating a legal system that can be called fair:

China's legal system often hands down verdicts that the powerless consider unfair. But a bigger problem is that courts often refuse to issue any verdict at all - or even acknowledge that some bothersome legal complaints exist.

The English translation is simply "put on the record" or "register a case," but in China "li'an" is so fraught with official meddling that for many with complaints against the government, the judicial system is closed for business.

Since Communist China first created the semblance of a modern legal system a quarter-century ago, criminal cases - the state suing individuals - mostly go through the courts. Private citizens and businesses now often resolve civil disputes in court. But the third and most sensitive use of the judicial system, a 1989 statute that entitles people to sue the state, remains a beguiling fiction, scholars say.

"The number of people wanting to sue the government is large and growing," says Xiao Jianguo, a legal scholar at People's University in Beijing who has studied the issue. "But the number of people who succeed in filing cases against the government is miniscule. So you could say there is a gap between theory and practice."

Though fast-rising China wants to persuade the outside world that it is governed by law, pressure to improve the system comes mainly from within. Protests are erupting around the country over land seizures, pollution, corruption and abuse of power, with 74,000 officially recorded incidents of mass unrest in 2004.

China's leaders know they need to manage such unrest. Indeed, President Hu Jintao says "democratic rule of law" is a crucial ingredient of his plan to build a "harmonious society."
Such pledges spread awareness of legal rights, but have yet to change legal procedures. It is not clear how many protests follow failed attempts to settle disputes in court. But lawyers say the judicial system bars its doors to so many contentious cases that it effectively forces people to take to the streets.

That is what happened here in Shiqiao, where residents protesting the loss of prime farmland for a government-backed road, office and residential development tried suing to protect their land-use rights. They met Kafkaesque obstacles at every turn. The only party that used the courts successfully was the state-linked construction company. It won an injunction in March declaring peasants' protests illegal.

Courts legally must issue written rejection notices if they choose not take the case. But to avoid appeals, court clerks often decline to take possession of legal papers. No rejection notice is needed if the case does not, in China's political-legal cosmos, formally exist.

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Click here to read the full article.

Click here to read more articles in the series.

Click here to read an earlier post about a Chinese human rights lawyer who was profiled as part of this series.

-- JB

Workplace Discrimination in China

Excerpts from a Reuters news article on truly absurd discrimination in China:

Chinese companies looking for new recruits had deliberately passed over candidates born as dogs in China's ancient 12-animal astrological cycle to ward off the bad luck expected for people in years of their same sign, the China Youth Daily said.

The dog denials were just one example of widespread employment discrimination in China, a Chinese legislator told parliament during discussions about a new labor law on Tuesday, the newspaper said.

A rule that women applying for government jobs in central Hunan province had to show they had symmetrically shaped breasts sparked a public uproar last year and calls for stronger legal protection against job discrimination.

Hunan scrapped its requirement, but China still does not have clear-cut laws ruling out such hiring prejudices.

Click here to read the entire article.

-- JB

Why Aren't More People Outraged at Domestic Eavesdropping?

Newsweek has an interesting column by Arlene Getz who argues that Bush’s defense of his phone-spying program has disturbing echoes of arguments once used by South Africa’s apartheid regime. Getz's article also delves into the question of why more Americans are not outraged at the revelation that the President authorized the NSA to eavesdrop on American citizens.
I would argue that this is a problem stemming from a lack of political participation in our political system. With less people participating or paying attention, its hard for a large number of people to become outraged at this story. For example, a Pew Research Center Report shows where most Americans are getting their news during presidential campaigns. Every week, on average, only about 54% of Americans read a newspaper (click here for more information).

Click here to read the full article from Newsweek.

--Tom Hayes

Federal Appeal Court Judges Fault Immigration Judges' Decisions

Excerpts from this New York Times story:

Federal appeals court judges around the nation have repeatedly excoriated immigration judges this year for what they call a pattern of biased and incoherent decisions in asylum cases.
In one decision last month, Richard A. Posner, a prominent and relatively conservative federal appeals court judge in Chicago, concluded that "the adjudication of these cases at the administrative level has fallen below the minimum standards of legal justice."
Similarly, the federal appeals court in Philadelphia said in September that it had "time and time again" been forced to rebuke immigration judges for their "intemperate and humiliating remarks." Citing cases from around the country, the court wrote of "a disturbing pattern" of misconduct in immigration rulings that sent people back to countries where they had said they would face persecution.

The harsh criticism may stem in part from a surge in immigration cases before the federal appeals courts. Immigration cases, most involving asylum seekers, accounted for about 17 percent of all federal appeals cases last year, up from just 3 percent in 2001. In the courts in New York and California, nearly 40 percent of federal appeals involved immigration cases.
The increase occurred after Attorney General
John Ashcroft made changes in 2002 to streamline appellate review within the immigration courts, which are part of the Justice Department.
Many federal appeals court judges say those changes essentially shifted work to their courts. The Justice Department counters that the increase is largely unrelated to the Ashcroft changes and is instead the result of a higher rate of appeals in the courts in New York and California.

A spokesman for the Executive Office for Immigration Review, the unit of the Justice Department responsible for immigration adjudications, declined requests for interviews with officials there but provided answers to written questions.
"We would caution against drawing broad conclusions," the statement said, "from a small number of cases in the federal courts." The nation's roughly 215 immigration judges, the statement continued, "handle more than 300,000 matters every year," and "the vast majority of I.J.'s do an excellent job given such a large caseload."

Mary M. Schroeder, the chief judge of the Ninth Circuit, which hears almost half of all immigration appeals, said the current system was "woefully inadequate."
Immigration judges, she said, "are very unevenly qualified, and they work under very bad conditions."
The people who appear before immigration judges often do not speak English, and their cases often turn in part on changing political and social conditions around the world. In a decision in March, Judge Posner wrote that immigration judges' "lack of familiarity with relevant foreign cultures" was "disturbing."

Click here to read the full story.

-- JB

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

As Scrutiny Grows, Burma Moves Its Capital

From the Washington Post, an article about the decision of the ruling military junta in Burma to move the capital. Many speculate that the move was decided upon in order to further isolate the nation from outside scrutiny and pressure for democratic reforms. From the article:

Military trucks rumble up in front of Rangoon's ministries several times a week and workers lug ancient desks, chairs and filing cabinets to the waiting vehicles. The convoys depart at daybreak on a 12-hour journey along roads badly rutted and pocked, then return for another load.
Burma's military rulers are rapidly transferring the country's century-old capital from Rangoon to the desolate, rocky terrain of Pyinmana about 200 miles to the north, aiming to empty most offices by the end of next month...Few in Rangoon can fathom the motives for the abrupt move, which began Nov. 6. Most observers and even some government officials say they suspect it was solely the brainchild of Gen. Than Shwe, the secretive head of Burma's ruling military junta. Some have speculated that government fears of a U.S. invasion are to blame for the move, or perhaps civil unrest or even the prophesies of a soothsayer.
Whatever the reason, the impact is clear. The move further isolates the government at a time when demands are mounting at the United Nations for the release of the imprisoned opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Burma's neighbors are expressing impatience with the country's lack of democratic reform, and the Bush administration is campaigning to bring the issue before the U.N. Security Council.
Burma's gradual retreat from contact with the outside world began in October 2004, when Than Shwe fired his prime minister, Gen. Khin Nyunt, and ordered his arrest, ostensibly for corruption. While Khin Nyunt had been head of military intelligence, some Asian governments regarded him as a moderating force on the issue of democratic change.
He was also the rulers' main interlocutor with foreign governments and agencies. With his removal, the government purged several allied cabinet ministers who had experience working with the United Nations. Since then, Burma also has tightened travel restrictions on foreigners and threatened to withdraw from the International Labor Organization over its criticisms. The former British colony has been controlled since 1988 by the military junta, which refused to accept the results of 1990 legislative elections in which Suu Kyi and her party won in a landslide.

Click here to read the full article.

Also check out U.S. Sees Burma as 'Test Case' in Southeast Asia from the Washington Post

--Tom Hayes

Colorado's Cigarette Tax and Health Care

The Rocky Mountain News has an informative story about the benefits of the recent increase in the cigarette tax. The additional revenue from the tax has been used to fund various health care programs, some of which you can learn about by reading a related story, "Funds help cover medical bills for disabled kids." From the main article:

Cigarette sales in Colorado fell 22 percent this year after the state increased the tobacco tax by 64 cents a pack.
But even with the drop in sales, the new tax is bringing in nearly $133 million in additional revenue this year, according to the state Department of Revenue.
From January through November of this year, nearly 4.2 billion cigarettes were sold in Colorado, the Revenue Department says, down from more than 5.3 billion during the same period in 2004.
The state cigarette tax, which now totals 84 cents a pack, helps fund Medicaid for disabled children, along with other health programs, including clinics serving uninsured patients, tobacco education, and research grants for treating breast and cervical cancer.

Click here to read the full article.

--Tom Hayes

Abortion in South Dakota and the U.S.

From the Washington Post, an article about abortion laws in South Dakota. This is an interesting article and shows how many states have taken action to chip away at Roe. From the article:

South Dakota, those on both sides of the abortion debate agree, has become one of the hardest states in the country in which to obtain an abortion. One of three states in the country to have only one abortion provider -- North Dakota and Mississippi are the others -- South Dakota, largely because of a strong antiabortion lobby, is also becoming a leading national laboratory for testing the limits of state laws restricting abortion, both opponents and advocates of abortion rights say.
In 2005, the South Dakota legislature passed five laws restricting abortion, after a bill to ban abortion outright had failed by one vote in 2004. And new laws are virtually assured for the coming year. A 17-member abortion task force, made up largely of staunch abortion opponents, issued recommendations to the legislature earlier this month that included some of the most restrictive requirements for abortion in the country.

Click here to read the article.

Also check out this website from PBS Frontline, which aired a show titled, "The Last Abortion Clinic," which I think does an excellent job in presenting both sides of the argument over the last open abortion clinic in a Southern conservative state-Mississippi. The show can be viewed online and is definitely worth watching.

--Tom Hayes

Monday, December 26, 2005

The Politics of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

In a previous post I wrote about some sources on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Today, the Washington Post ran an article about the politics of PTSD and how budget restrictions are factoring into a rising number of veterans needing and receiving treatment. From the article:

The spiraling cost of post-traumatic stress disorder among war veterans has triggered a politically charged debate and ignited fears that the government is trying to limit expensive benefits for emotionally scarred troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
In the past five years, the number of veterans receiving compensation for the disorder commonly called PTSD has grown nearly seven times as fast as the number receiving benefits for disabilities in general, according to a report this year by the inspector general of the Department of Veterans Affairs. A total of 215,871 veterans received PTSD benefit payments last year at a cost of $4.3 billion, up from $1.7 billion in 1999 -- a jump of more than 150 percent.

Click here to read the full article.

--Tom Hayes

Interesting Darfur Op-Ed

The Washington Post has a good op-ed by Kansas Senator Sam Brownback and Illinois Senator Barak Obama on the Darfur situation. I have pasted the op-ed below:

For two years the Bush administration has made commendable efforts to improve the lives of people in Darfur. Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick has become personally invested in the crisis, recently completing his fourth trip to the region in the past seven months. The United States has spent almost $1 billion aiding refugees and displaced persons who might otherwise have died of disease or starvation. And the U.S. military has helped airlift and fund African Union troops stationed in the Darfur region of Sudan.
Yet, despite American engagement, Darfur's humanitarian, security and political conditions are deteriorating. If the United States does not change its approach to Darfur, an already grim situation is likely to spiral out of control.
'If the United States does not change its approach to Darfur, an already grim situation is likely to spiral out of control.
Although the killing abated somewhat this year, Darfurians continue to be displaced -- more than 20,000 in the past few weeks alone. In addition, several million civilians are trapped in camps that are becoming more, not less, vulnerable. Women living in camps for internally displaced persons have to walk ever farther to obtain the firewood they need to cook the food donated by the United States. This has increased the incidence of rape, a tool in the onslaught of the militias known as the janjaweed. Mounting banditry has caused the closure of vital road corridors and the evacuation of some international aid workers. As a result, humanitarian access is more limited than it has been at any point since April 2004, causing a spike in the number of Darfurians who are not receiving lifesaving aid.
While the 7,000-strong African Union force in Darfur has undoubtedly reduced the violence, it has become clear in recent weeks that it lacks the resources and manpower to secure a region the size of France. Indeed, the African Union force itself is increasingly being targeted and harassed. Five of its soldiers were killed and 34 were kidnapped in October. As one AU colonel recently said, "We are sitting ducks." Administration officials have publicly expressed doubts that African countries will provide the additional troops needed to create a stable security environment. The African Union also lacks the communications, airlift, logistics and intelligence capabilities to challenge the aggressors in Darfur. A political settlement is clearly critical to resolving these challenges. Unfortunately, the U.S.-facilitated political negotiations are at best sputtering. Having brokered the landmark peace accord between Khartoum and rebels in the south, senior administration officials had hoped that the integration of southerners into the Sudanese government would change Khartoum's stance on Darfur. But there is no balance of power between the rebels, who are disorganized and wracked by infighting, and the Sudanese authorities, who have no incentive to compromise. As a result, the talks are entering their seventh round with no consensus in sight.
Meanwhile, large numbers of vulnerable people in Darfur are confined to camps surrounded by a variety of hostile armed elements, with no effective security force or political process in which to invest hope. Absent a drastic change of course, many Darfurians will take up arms, and far more will die.
It is essential that the Bush administration shift its approach to confront the new and mounting challenges. Only the United States, working in concert with key nations, has the leverage and resources to persuade Khartoum to change its ways:
First, the administration must help transform the African Union protection force into a sizable, effective multinational force.
In the near term, Washington must pressure Khartoum to allow more advisers from Western nations to embed within the African Union's mission so they support intelligence, logistics and communications. It must work with other nations to provide military assets to African Union forces, such as attack helicopters and armored personnel carriers, so they can respond immediately to attacks. And it must urge the African Union to be more aggressive in protecting civilians. More important, Washington must immediately spearhead efforts to create a larger multinational force. The African Union has begun discussions with the United Nations about folding itself into a follow-on U.N. mission, but because of the West's reluctance to offend African sensibilities, all parties seem resigned to muddling along. It has become clear that a U.N.- or NATO-led force is required, and the administration must use diplomacy to override Chinese and Sudanese opposition to such a force and persuade outside troops to join it.
Second, the administration must keep up the pressure on the rebels to unite their negotiating positions, and it must enlist Sudan's allies to increase the pressure on Khartoum to share power and resources.
Third, the United States and other nations must place additional pressure on key nations -- Chad, Eritrea and Libya -- to stop playing a destructive role in the conflict.
Fourth, the administration needs to place its weight behind the Darfur Peace and Accountability Act, which would impose targeted sanctions on the leading perpetrators of the genocide.
The Bush administration has helped reduce suffering in Darfur, but the situation is dangerously adrift. And when the history of this tragedy is written, nobody will remember how many times officials visited the region or how much humanitarian aid was delivered. They will only remember the death toll.

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

--Tom Hayes

Libya Court Overturns Sentence in AIDS Case

In an earlier post, I pointed to a story about Five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor charged with deliberately spreading the AIDS virus, which was a bogus charge. Recently a Libyan court overturned their sentence. From the article:

Five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor at the center of intense international negotiations won a reprieve on Sunday, when Libya's highest court overturned their death sentences on charges they deliberately infected children with AIDS.
The United States and the European Union have accused Libya of trumping up the charges to divert attention from poor hygiene at its hospitals. And Western diplomats have made it clear that their future relations with Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi depend upon the outcome of the case.

Click here to read the full article.

--Tom Hayes

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Detainees Face Limited Access to Courts

From the Washington Post an article about the defense authorization bill approved by Congress this week and awaiting the President's signature:

An amendment sponsored by Sens. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.) and Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) eliminates detainees' ability to challenge the condition of their detentions through habeas corpus petitions. Graham, asserting that U.S. courts have become clogged by "frivolous" claims on behalf of nearly 300 detainees in Cuba, favored denying foreign terrorism suspects the same rights in federal court that are afforded to U.S. citizens.
Instead, he proposed allowing the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to review the Combatant Status Review Tribunal decisions, in which detainees are ruled "enemy combatants" or "no longer enemy combatants."
Those who are considered enemy combatants can be held indefinitely. Detainees convicted by military commissions -- of which there have been none completed in the four years the Guantanamo Bay prison has operated -- are afforded federal court review.
Graham has called it "a balanced approach" that will allow Congress more oversight and have the federal court "looking over the tribunal's shoulder."
Military law experts worry that the legislation actually strips the federal courts of some of the judicial branch's integrity, for the first time since the Civil War suspending of habeas corpus rights and removing the courts from evaluating the executive branch's decisions to hold detainees indefinitely.
"Increasingly, people are going to come to recognize that the federal courts are an important bulwark here, and that the interest is not just in the detainees but in our country and our values," said Eugene R. Fidell, a Washington lawyer who is an expert in military law. "This is a very unfortunate development."
Several lawyers who represent detainees in Cuba said they do not fear that the 160 or so previously filed habeas corpus cases will be dismissed automatically when the bill becomes law. However, they do expect the government to challenge those cases at all levels of the federal courts.
And they said the legislation effectively overturns the 2004 Supreme Court decision in Rasul v. Bush , which gave federal courts the authority "to determine the legality of the executive's potentially indefinite detention of individuals who claim to be wholly innocent of wrongdoing," at least as it applies to Guantanamo Bay.
The measure before the president would prevent detainees transferred to Guantanamo Bay in the future from filing cases in U.S. courts, except to challenge their enemy combatant status or to appeal a verdict. Only 10 detainees have been moved into Guantanamo Bay since November 2003, and none in the past year, according to military spokesmen. The current population is just over 500.

Click here to read the full article.

--Tom Hayes

Friday, December 23, 2005

Tribunal of Khmer Rouge In Cambodia

An interesting editorial in the Washington Post by Nathaniel Myers (former adviser to a coalition of Cambodian nongovernmental organizations on issues concerning the Khmer Rouge tribunal). The editorial, Myers argues that the U.S. should support, rather than hinder the tribunal being set up to prosecute surviving leaders of the Khmer Rouge.

Click here to read the full article.

--Tom Hayes

China to Indict N.Y. Times Researcher

From the Washington Post:

The Chinese government has decided to indict a researcher in the New York Times Beijing bureau on charges of fraud and revealing state secrets to foreigners, his lawyers said Friday.
The indictment signified a decision by prosecutors to proceed with a trial of the researcher, Zhao Yan, after 15 months of investigation by the State Security Ministry during which Zhao has remained in custody. In Chinese courts, the overwhelming majority of those brought to trial are convicted. Zhao's lawyer, Mo Shaoting, said the trial likely would be held within six weeks. Zhao's name was included on a list of imprisoned Chinese whose cases have drawn high-level U.S interest that was handed to President Hu Jintao during a meeting between Hu and President Bush last September on the sidelines of U.N. General Assembly. The decision to indict Zhao, conveyed to Mo's law firm Friday, signaled that Hu has chosen not to heed Bush's expression of concern.
Zhao was charged with revealing state security secrets to foreigners soon after the Times published a story Sept. 7, 2004, predicting that former president Jiang Zemin would retire from his key post as head of the Communist Party's Central Military Commission. Conviction on such charges can lead to prison terms of 10 years. The fraud charge was added later.

Click here to read the full article.

Update: 12/24/05 read about another detention in China: Chinese Hold Protest Leader, Land Activist

--Tom Hayes

Afghan Journalist to Be Freed

From the Washington Post:

An Afghan journalist who was recently sentenced to two years in prison for publishing controversial magazine articles about Islam, women's rights and the Afghan justice system will be released from jail later this week, officials said.
Before gaining his freedom, however, Ali Mohaqeq Nasab had to confront an agonizing choice: formally apologize for what he had published or risk being sent to the gallows. After refusing for three months to retract his comments, Nasab told an appeals court this week that he was sorry for printing stories that asserted women should be given status equal to men in court, questioned the use of physical punishments for crimes and suggested converts from Islam should not face execution.
A panel of three judges responded Wednesday by shortening his punishment to a six-month suspended sentence, allowing him to walk free.
The case has aroused concern among international human rights groups and stirred contradictory passions in Afghanistan. Religious hard-liners here had called for Nasab's death; free speech advocates, women's rights backers and fellow ethnic Hazaras had asked that he be shown mercy.

Click here to read the full article.

--Tom Hayes

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Dissent In Tunisia

An interesting article from the Washington Post about the Tunisian government jailing and punishing dissenters using the Internet. From the article:

Government censors routinely block access to content and sites that draw concern. Monitors at public computers keep watch on users to see if they succeed in getting around the obstructions. Writing the wrong thing on the Internet can bring jail time.
"In Tunisia, citizens may be theoretically free to receive and share information, but they are practically prevented from doing so on a number of vital topics by a state that combines sophisticated American technology, harsh laws and informal pressures to limit access," according to the Open Net Initiative, a joint project of the University of Toronto, Harvard University and Cambridge University that seeks to uncover obstacles to Internet use.
The Tunisian government defends its policy on security and public morality grounds. Habib Cherif, the government's human rights coordinator, said restrictions are a defense against terrorism, violence and pornography. As for Abou's criticism, Cherif said "the law forbids slander of the magistrates. Justice must be protected."
"It's the law, and so it is applied," he added. Pressed on whether he, as the government's chief human rights watchdog, agrees with censorship of all such critical commentary, he replied, "Yes. It is appropriate for a country in transition."
Transition is a word often used by Tunisian officials when asked about restrictions on speech. The government prides itself on its relative openness, compared with its neighbors, Algeria, which experienced a vicious civil war in the 1990s, and Libya, which has been under the rule of Moammar Gaddafi for 37 years. Among Middle East countries, Tunisia stands out for its self-declared effort to model itself on European economic and political standards.
But compared with Egypt and Lebanon, countries with vibrant democracy movements, Tunisia looks retrograde. Ben Ali won his latest term in office with 94 percent of the vote against feeble opposition. Headlines from a variety of papers on a recent day featured the same message: lawyers in parliament had praised Ben Ali for his leadership, pursued with "conscience and sacrifice."

Click here to read the full article.

--Tom Hayes

High Turnout in Iraq Election

From the Washington Post, an article about high turnout in the latest Iraqi election:

Nearly 70 percent of eligible voters participated in parliamentary elections here last week, a turnout far exceeding that of the two previous Iraqi ballots this year, election officials said Wednesday.
But they also said they were investigating at least 20 serious complaints of impropriety related to the election, the results of which have been hotly contested by a range of parties.

Click here to read the full article.

--Tom Hayes

Patriot Act Renewed...For One Month

From the Washington Post:

The House balked yesterday at a Senate plan to extend the USA Patriot Act by six months to give Congress and President Bush more time to work out their differences, instead forcing the Senate and the administration to accept a one-month extension.

Click here to read the full article.

--Tom Hayes

A Newly Emboldened Congress?

Click here to read an article from the Washington Post arguing that recent Congressional action has marked a change in the legislative branch's action towards the President. Below is the first part of the article:

After four years in which Congress repeatedly lay down while President Bush dictated his priorities, 2005 will go down as the year legislators stood up.
This week's uprising against a four-year extension of the USA Patriot Act was the latest example of a new willingness by lawmakers in both parties to challenge Bush and his notions of expansive executive power. Since this spring, Congress has forced Bush to scrap plans for a broad restructuring of Social Security, accept tighter restrictions on the treatment of detainees and rewrite his immigration plan. Lawmakers have rebuffed Bush's call to make permanent his first-term tax cuts and helped force the president to speak more candidly about setbacks in Iraq.

--Tom Hayes

N.S.A. Spying Program Has Netted Purely Domestic Calls

According to the New York Times, the National Security Agency's domestic eavesdropping program has been used to monitor purely domestic communications without required court warrants. The N.S.A. program, approved by President Bush in 2001, allows the N.S.A to eavesdrop on communications in the United States without normal court warrants, provided that both people engaging in the communication are not in the United States. The spying on purely domestic communications was apparently unintentional (i.e. N.S.A. officials have blamed the spying on technical and logistical mistakes). Nonetheless, if the N.S.A.'s program is incapable of complying with the President's directive -- a directive which itself raises serious constitutional questions about the power of the executive branch -- then it is probably in dire need of judicial oversight.

Here are some excerpts from the article:

Officials say the National Security Agency's interception of a small number of communications between people within the United States was apparently accidental, and was caused by technical glitches at the National Security Agency in determining whether a communication was in fact "international."

Telecommunications experts say the issue points up troubling logistical questions about the program. At a time when communications networks are increasingly globalized, it is sometimes difficult even for the N.S.A. to determine whether someone is inside or outside the United States when making a cellphone call or sending an e-mail message. As a result, people that the security agency may think are outside the United States are actually on American soil.

Eavesdropping on communications between two people who are both inside the United States is prohibited under Mr. Bush's order allowing some domestic surveillance.

But in at least one instance, someone using an international cellphone was thought to be outside the United States when in fact both people in the conversation were in the country. Officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the program remains classified, would not discuss the number of accidental intercepts, but the total is thought to represent a very small fraction of the total number of wiretaps that Mr. Bush has authorized without getting warrants. In all, officials say the program has been used to eavesdrop on as many as 500 people at any one time, with the total number of people reaching perhaps into the thousands in the last three years.

Mr. Bush and his senior aides have emphasized since the disclosure of the program's existence last week that the president's executive order applied only to cases where one party on a call or e-mail message was outside the United States.

National security and telecommunications experts said that even if the N.S.A. seeks to adhere closely to the rules that Mr. Bush has set, the logistics of the program may make it difficult to ensure that the rules are being followed.
With roaming cellphones, internationally routed e-mail, and voice-over Internet technology, "it's often tough to find out where a call started and ended," said Robert Morris, a former senior scientist at the N.S.A. who is retired. "The N.S.A. is good at it, but it's difficult even for them. Where a call actually came from is often a mystery."

Click here to read the entire article.

-- JB

Appeals Court Denies Transfer of Jose Padilla to Civilian Court System

From the Associated Press:

In a sharp rebuke, a federal appeals court denied Wednesday a Bush administration request to transfer terrorism suspect Jose Padilla from military to civilian law enforcement custody.

The three-judge panel of the Richmond-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals also refused the administration's request to vacate a September ruling that gave President Bush wide authority to detain "enemy combatants" indefinitely without charges on U.S. soil.

The decision, written by Judge J. Michael Luttig, questioned why the administration used one set of facts before the court for 3 1/2 years to justify holding Padilla without charges but used another set to convince a grand jury in Florida to indict him last month.

Luttig said the administration has risked its "credibility before the courts" by appearing to try to keep the Supreme Court from reviewing the extent of the president's power to hold enemy combatants without charges.

Padilla, a former Chicago gang member, was arrested in 2002 at Chicago's O'Hare Airport as he returned to the United States from Afghanistan. Initially, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft alleged Padilla planned to set off a radiological device known as a "dirty bomb."

But before federal courts in New York and Virginia, the administration argued that Padilla should be held without charges because he had come home to carry out an al-Qaida backed plot to blow up apartment buildings in New York, Washington or Florida.

Last month, a grand jury in Miami charged Padilla with being part of a North American terror support cell that allegedly raised funds and recruited fighters to wage violent jihad outside the United States.
Administration lawyers immediately asked the appeals court to transfer Padilla from a U.S. military brig in South Carolina to the custody of law enforcement authorities in Miami.

Luttig said the Supreme Court must sort out Padilla's fate, either by accepting or rejecting an appeal by his lawyers of the appellate court's decision in September that the president has the authority to order his detention indefinitely.

Luttig also chastised the administration for failing to explain why it is using a different set of allegations against Padilla and forcing the appeals court to rely on media reports about the government's motivations.

The appellate judge pointed out that anonymous government officials were quoted in news reports saying Padilla was charged in Miami because the administration didn't want the Supreme Court to review the appeals court's September decision.

In a filing with the appeals court, the administration said it was willing to walk away from that ruling -- considered a major victory for its legal war on terrorism -- to justify its argument before the Supreme Court that Padilla's appeal is now irrelevant.

-- JB

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Evo Morales Wins Presidency in Bolivia

With a little over 51% of the vote, Evo Morales will become Bolivia's first indigenous president in 180 years of independence. From the Washington Post:

The sweeping if unofficial victory of Evo Morales in Bolivia's presidential election Sunday has made the former coca farmer and grass-roots activist the nation's strongest elected leader since the end of the last military dictatorship in 1982 and has given him an unprecedented opportunity to transform the impoverished Andean country...Morales, 46, is a fiery politician and an Aymara Indian who electrified Bolivia's poor but struck fear into the business elite and irritated officials in Washington by opposing U.S. anti-drug programs and spouting anti-imperialist rhetoric.

Click here to read the full article.

During the campaign, U.S. officials tried to demonize Morales as a crazy leftist, but now we will see how he actually proceeds. For more analysis on how Bolivia's new president will govern check out the following articles:

After win, Morales faces tough task from the Christian Science Monitor

New Bolivian leader poses challenge to US policy via Reuters

--Tom Hayes

More on the Debate about Executive Overreach

George Will wrote an excellent column in today's Washington Post about Bush's authorization for the NSA to spy on Americans. My favorite part of Will's column comes at the end when he writes:

Because of what Alexander Hamilton praised as "energy in the executive," which often drives the growth of government, for years many conservatives were advocates of congressional supremacy. There were, they said, reasons why the Founders, having waged a revolutionary war against overbearing executive power, gave the legislative branch pride of place in Article I of the Constitution.
One reason was that Congress's cumbersomeness, which is a function of its fractiousness, is a virtue because it makes the government slow and difficult to move. But conservatives' wholesome wariness of presidential power has been a casualty of conservative presidents winning seven of the past 10 elections.
On the assumption that Congress or a court would have been cooperative in September 2001, and that the cooperation could have kept necessary actions clearly lawful without conferring any benefit on the nation's enemies, the president's decision to authorize the NSA's surveillance without the complicity of a court or Congress was a mistake. Perhaps one caused by this administration's almost metabolic urge to keep Congress unnecessarily distant and hence disgruntled.
Charles de Gaulle, a profound conservative, said of another such, Otto von Bismarck -- de Gaulle was thinking of Bismarck not pressing his advantage in 1870 in the Franco-Prussian War -- that genius sometimes consists of knowing when to stop. In peace and in war, but especially in the latter, presidents have pressed their institutional advantages to expand their powers to act without Congress. This president might look for occasions to stop pressing.

Click here to read the full column.

For the opposing view, read Vital Presidential Power by William Kristol and Gary Schmitt

Also check out Clash Is Latest Chapter in Bush Effort to Widen Executive Power from the Washington Post

--Tom Hayes

Monday, December 19, 2005

FBI Tracking Rights Groups

From the Washington Post:

FBI counterterrorism investigators are monitoring domestic U.S. advocacy groups engaged in antiwar, environmental, civil rights and other causes, the American Civil Liberties Union charged yesterday as it released new FBI records that it said detail the extent of the activity.
The documents, disclosed as part of a lawsuit that challenges FBI treatment of groups that planned demonstrations at last year's political conventions, show the bureau has opened a preliminary terrorism investigation into People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the well-known animal rights group based in Norfolk.

Click here to read full the article.

--Tom Hayes

Bush Defends Eavesdropping Program

President Bush defended his authorization of domestic spying today in a news conference. The President also argued that he was given authority to do so from Congress and that he is able to do so because he is Commander in Chief. If Bush is in fact authorized to circumvent the Constitution and that being Commander in Chief is supreme to everything else in a time of war, this certainly begs the question of what actions would the President be prevented from taking in a time of war? The Bush administration argues they can detain foreigners and citizens for as long as they want without a trial, that they can spy on anyone they want without court order, etc. But if we are to take this to its logical conclusion following the administration's argument, there is in fact no check on the President's power in wartime. Again, this seems to be ridiculous and unconstitutional to say the least. Please feel free to post comments and check a few of the sections from an article from the Washington Post below:

President Bush today offered his most elaborate defense yet of his administration's domestic eavesdropping program, saying he was legally and constitutionally authorized to implement it and obligated to do so in order to protect the country from a new kind of enemy.
In a wide-ranging news conference this morning, Bush said his authority to have the National Security Agency eavesdrop without judicial involvement derived from his inherent constitutional powers as commander in chief as well as from the authorization for the use of military force approved by Congress in the wake of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. "Congress gave me authority," he said...And he was visibly angered when a reporter asked him what limits there were on "unchecked" presidential authority during wartime. "I disagree with your assertion of unchecked power," Bush said. "There is the check of people being sworn to uphold the law for starters. There is oversight. We're talking to Congress all the time. . . . To say 'unchecked power' is to ascribe dictatorial power to the president, to which I object."...FISA says that, "A person is guilty of an offense if he intentionally . . . engages in electronic surveillance under color of law except as authorized by statute." Congress did indeed authorize the newly disclosed eavesdropping by statute, said Gonzales, when it passed the 2001 resolution called "Authorization for the Use of Military Force."
The resolution does not mention eavesdropping or detention, which the administration has also said is supported by the authorization. It says, "The President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons."
In a briefing for reporters after his television appearances, Gonzales said his position was bolstered by the Supreme Court's 2004 ruling in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld. In that decision, written by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, the court said the resolution constituted "explicit congressional authorization for the detention of individuals" in the narrow category of terrorism related to the Sept. 11 attacks. At the same time, the court said the legality of any individual detention could not be determined by the government alone, but required a judgment by some neutral third party.

Click here to read the full article.

--Tom Hayes

Border Security Bill Passes House

On Friday, November 16th, The House of Representatives passed a border security bill that seeks to stem the tide of illegal immigration from Mexico. At least one portion of the bill surely relates to human rights, as the bill will apply the immigrant-smuggling statute to those who offer support to illegal immigrants. Employees of social service agencies, church groups, and other volunteer organizations may face up to five years in prison for supporting illegal immigrants. If anyone has any information on how experts believe the law will be applied (i.e. what illegal "support" for illegal immigrants may entail), please comment on this blog. Could groups who provide water bottles to Mexicans attempting to get into the United States illegally be prosecuted if the Senate passes this bill?

Click here to read the text of the bill and find its status in the Senate.

Click here to read an article from the New York Times that discusses the bill.

-- JB

U.S. Ranked 6th in World for Jailing Journalists

According to this December 14th article from the New York Times:

"The United States has tied with Myanmar, the former Burma, for sixth place among countries that are holding the most journalists behind bars, according to a new report by the Committee to Protect Journalists. Each country is jailing five journalists. The United States is holding four Iraqi journalists in detention centers in Iraq and one Sudanese, a cameraman who works for Al-Jazeera, at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. None of the five has been charged with a specific crime."

Click here to read the full article.

-- JB

Turkish Writer's Trial Delayed

The Judge presiding over the prosecution trial of Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk delayed proceedings on December 16th, stating the prosecution had to first be approved by Turkey's Ministry of Justice. As a previous post noted, Mr. Pamuk is on trial for telling a Swiss newspaper that "30,000 Kurds and 1 million Armenians were killed in these lands, and nobody but me dares to talk about it." According to prosecutors, that comment violated Article 301 of Turkey's legal code, which criminalizes criticism of "Turkishness," of state institutions and of the revered founder of the republic, Ataturk. Mr. Pamuk is just one of dozens of journalists and scholars who are facing chargers under Article 301.

If Mr. Pamuk's is successfully prosecuted for violating Article 301, Turkey's chances of being accepted into the European Union could be irreconcilably damaged.

Click here to read an in-depth article on the trial from the Washington Post.

-- JB

Sunday, December 18, 2005

More on the President's Wartime Powers and Domestic Spying

This mornings Washington Post has more on President Bush's extension of executive authority. Also, on Meet the Press Tim Russert grilled Secretary of State Rice on the President's authorization of eavesdropping on Americans. Despite Russert's continued questions to Rice about where the President's Constitutional authority to do this comes from, Rice repeatedly would not answer the questions with any specifics as to where his power to spy on Americans is granted in the Constitution. I also thought it was interesting when Russert asked Rice why the administration didn't go through a court to ask for approval in their domestic spying (which he pointed out are rarely turned down). Rice's response was basically the same thing she had been saying, that Bush did it to protect Americans from terrorists, again scurting the main issue that Russert was alluding to, namely the Constitutional question. I will post a link to the transcripts of Meet the Press when they are available, but in the meantime check out this article from the Washington Post:

Defiant in the face of criticism, the Bush administration has portrayed each surveillance initiative as a defense of American freedom. Bush said yesterday that his NSA eavesdropping directives were "critical to saving American lives" and "consistent with U.S. law and the Constitution." After years of portraying an offensive waged largely overseas, Bush justified the internal surveillance with new emphasis on "the home front" and the need to hunt down "terrorists here at home."
Bush's constitutional argument, in the eyes of some legal scholars and previous White House advisers, relies on extraordinary claims of presidential war-making power. Bush said yesterday that the lawfulness of his directives was affirmed by the attorney general and White House counsel, a list that omitted the legislative and judicial branches of government. On occasion the Bush administration has explicitly rejected the authority of courts and Congress to impose boundaries on the power of the commander in chief, describing the president's war-making powers in legal briefs as "plenary" -- a term defined as "full," "complete," and "absolute."
A high-ranking intelligence official with firsthand knowledge said in an interview yesterday that Vice President Cheney, then-Director of Central Intelligence George J. Tenet and Michael V. Hayden, then a lieutenant general and director of the National Security Agency, briefed four key members of Congress about the NSA's new domestic surveillance on Oct. 25, 2001, and Nov. 14, 2001, shortly after Bush signed a highly classified directive that eliminated some restrictions on eavesdropping against U.S. citizens and permanent residents.
In describing the briefings, administration officials made clear that Cheney was announcing a decision, not asking permission from Congress. How much the legislators learned is in dispute.

Click here to read the article.

--Tom Hayes

Saturday, December 17, 2005

The War on Christmas

In the media and multiple op-eds around the nation, much has been made about the so-called "war on Christmas," (For an example, check out realclearpoiltics.com, which has a ton of op-eds on this topic). No one has pushed this idea more than Fox News' Bill O'Reilly. Nicholas Kristof writes in the New York Times challenging O'Reilly to focus on fighting for the poor rather than fighting for people to say Merry Christmas. Below is Kristof's article, which I think is a good argument against the misguided and worthless arguments over the "war on Christmas."

A Challenge for Bill O'Reilly


Let us all pray for Bill O'Reilly.
Let us pray that Mr. O'Reilly will understand that the Christmas spirit isn't about hectoring people to say "Merry Christmas," rather than "Happy Holidays," but about helping the needy.
Let us pray that Mr. O'Reilly will use his huge audience and considerable media savvy to save lives and fight genocide, instead of to vilify those he disagrees with. Let him find inspiration in Jesus, rather than in the Assyrians.
Finally, let's pray that Mr. O'Reilly and other money-changers in the temple will donate the funds they raise exploiting Christmas - covering the nonexistent "War on Christmas" rakes in viewers and advertising - to feed the hungry and house the homeless.
Alas, not all prayers can be answered. Fox News Channel's crusade against infidels who prefer generic expressions like "Happy Holidays" included 58 separate segments in just a five-day period.
After I suggested in last Sunday's column that a better way to honor the season might be to stand up to genocide in Darfur (a calamity that Mr. O'Reilly has ignored), Mr. O'Reilly denounced me on his show as a "left-wing ideologue." Bless you, Mr. O'Reilly, and Merry Christmas to you, too!
Later in the show, Mr. O'Reilly described us print journalists in general as "a bunch of vicious S.O.B.'s." Bless you again, Mr. O'Reilly; I'll pray harder for the Christmas spirit to soften your pugnacious soul.
Look, I put up a "Christmas tree," rather than a "holiday tree," and I'm sure Mr. O'Reilly is right that political correctness leads to absurd contortions this time of year. But when you've seen what real war does, you don't lightly use the word to describe disagreements about Christmas greetings. And does it really make sense to offer 58 segments on political correctness and zero on genocide?
Perhaps I'm particularly sensitive to religious hypocrites because I've spent a chunk of time abroad watching Muslim versions of Mr. O'Reilly - demagogic table-thumpers who exploit public religiosity as a cynical ploy to gain attention and money. And I always tell moderate Muslims that they need to stand up to blustery blowhards - so today, I'm taking my own advice.
Like the fundamentalist Islamic preachers, Mr. O'Reilly is a talented showman, and my sense is that his ranting is a calculated performance. The couple of times I've been on his show, he was mild mannered and amiable until the camera light went on - and then he burst into aggrieved indignation, because he knew it made good theater.
If Mr. O'Reilly wants to find a Christmas cause, he should invite guests from Catholic Relief Services, World Vision or the National Association of Evangelicals - among the many faith-based organizations that are doing heroic work battling everything from river blindness to sex trafficking. Indeed, the real victims of Mr. O'Reilly are the authentic religious conservatives, because some viewers falsely assume that ill-informed bombast characterizes the entire religious right.
(I'm tempted to think that Mr. O'Reilly is actually a liberal plant, meant to discredit conservatives. Think about it. Who would be a better plant than a self-righteous bully in the style of Father Coughlin or Joe McCarthy? What better way to caricature the right than by having Mr. O'Reilly urge on air that the staff of Air America be imprisoned: "Dissent, fine; undermining, you're a traitor. Got it? So, all those clowns over at the liberal radio network, we could incarcerate them immediately. Will you have that done, please? Send over the F.B.I. and just put them in chains, because they, you know, they're undermining everything.")
Some authentic religious conservatives are embarrassed by television phonies. Cal Thomas, the conservative Christian columnist, warned: "The effort by some cable TV hosts and ministers to force commercial establishments into wishing everyone a 'Merry Christmas' might be more objectionable to the One who is the reason for the season than the 'Happy Holidays' mantra required by some store managers."
So I have a challenge for Mr. O'Reilly: If you really want to defend traditional values, then come with me on a trip to Darfur. I'll introduce you to mothers who have had their babies clubbed to death in front of them, to teenage girls who have been gang-raped and then mutilated - and to the government-armed thugs who do these things.
You'll have to leave your studio, Bill. You'll encounter pure evil. If you're like me, you'll be scared. If you try to bully some of the goons in Darfur, they'll just hack your head off. But you'll also meet some genuine conservative Christians - aid workers who live the Gospel instead of sputtering about it - and you'll finally be using your talents for an important cause.
So, Bill, what'll it be? Will you dare travel to a real war against Christmas values, in which the victims aren't offended shoppers but terrified children thrown on bonfires? I'm waiting to hear.

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

--Tom Hayes

Will Congress React to Executive Overreach?

In previous posts I have argued that the Bush administration has overreached and abused executive power with multiple actions that have been in the news such as authorizing the NSA to spy on Americans, pushing to allow for torture, holding foreigners and American citizens without due process, etc. Now it seems there may be a push from Congress for greater oversight of the executive branch. Here is a portion of an article from the Washington Post:

After a series of embarrassing disclosures, Congress is reconsidering its relatively lenient oversight of the Bush administration.
Lawmakers have been caught by surprise by several recent reports, including the existence of secret U.S. prisons abroad, the CIA's detention overseas of innocent foreign nationals, and, last week, the discovery that the military has been engaged in domestic spying. After five years in which the GOP-controlled House and Senate undertook few investigations into the administration's activities, the legislative branch has begun to complain about being in the dark.

Click here to read the full article.

--Tom Hayes

President Acknowledges Approving Secretive Eavesdropping

This story is somewhat old now, but worth talking about on this blog. Here is a portion of an article from the Washington Post:

President Bush said today that he secretly ordered the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on Americans with suspected ties to terrorists because it was "critical to saving American lives" and "consistent with U.S. law and the Constitution."
Bush said the program has been reviewed regularly by the nation's top legal authorities and targets only those people with "a clear link to these terrorist networks." Noting the failures to detect hijackers already in the country before the strikes on New York and Washington, Bush said the NSA's domestic spying since then has helped thwart other attacks.

While the President says this was only used to prevent terrorist attacks, the problem is that this leaves the possibility open for abuse of extended power by the executive branch and we can never be sure the NSA isn't just spying on anyone they want to. If nobody abused the power they are given, no checks would be necessary, but since humans are rarely perfect we need a system of check and balances, and in my view the Executive branch is currently overreaching. As Senator Russ Feingold said, "The president believes that he has the power to override the laws that Congress has passed...He is a president, not a king." A clear example of an authority abusing its secret powers is the recent revelation of the Pentagon spying on peace groups. Please post any comments below.

Click here to read the full article.

Here are some more articles/op-eds on the subject:

On Hill, Anger and Calls for Hearings Greet News of Stateside Surveillance

At the Times, a Scoop Deferred

Official: Bush authorized spying multiple times

--Tom Hayes

Thursday, December 15, 2005

In Reversal, President Bush backs Torture Ban

On Thursday President Bush met with Senator John McCain to show that he now supports a ban on torture, even though the administration had opposed McCain's position for months as President Bush had actually threatened to veto the Amendment. However, with overwhelming majorities backing a ban on torture in both the House and Senate, Bush's veto would not have killed the action. Therefore, it is not that surprising that Bush is now supporting McCain's efforts. If Bush would have vetoed the Amendment, it would have been his first, and would have looked pretty bad after Congress would have had the votes to override his veto. You can read more about this issue from the Washington Post:

President Bush reversed position yesterday and endorsed a torture ban crafted by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) after months of White House attempts to weaken the measure, which would prohibit the "cruel, inhuman, or degrading" treatment of any detainee in U.S. custody anywhere in the world.
The announcement of a deal at the White House yesterday was a setback for the administration, which had pressed the senator to either drop the measure or modify it so that interrogators, especially with the CIA, would have the flexibility to use a range of extreme tactics on terrorism suspects. In the end, McCain, bolstered by strong support in both houses of Congress, was willing to add only two paragraphs that would give civilian interrogators legal protections that are already afforded to military interrogators.

Click here to read the full article from the Washington Post.

Click here to read an article from Newsweek on the same topic.

--Tom Hayes

Pentagon's Database on Citizens

From the Washington Post:

Pentagon officials said yesterday they had ordered a review of a program aimed at countering terrorist attacks that had compiled information about U.S. citizens, after reports that the database included information on peace protesters and others whose activities posed no threat and should not have been kept on file.
The move followed an NBC News report Tuesday disclosing that a sample of about 1,500 "suspicious incidents" listed in the database included four dozen anti-war meetings or protests, some aimed at military recruiting.

Click here to read the full article.

--Tom Hayes

House Passes Measure that Supports Ban on Torture

From the Washington Post:

The House gave strong support yesterday to a measure that would ban torture and limit interrogation tactics in U.S. detention facilities, agreeing with senators that Congress needs to set uniform guidelines for the treatment of prisoners in the war on terrorism.
On a 308 to 122 vote, members of the House supported specific language proposed by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) that would prohibit "cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment" of anyone in the custody of the U.S. government. Though lopsided, the vote was largely symbolic and does not put the language into law.

The vote sends a clear signal to the Bush administration that both chambers of Congress support the anti-torture legislation and want the government to adopt guidelines that aim to prevent damage to the U.S. image abroad. The White House has been aggressively pushing to create exceptions for CIA operatives and to water down McCain's language to keep it from limiting interrogators' options. But it appears that the administration and House Republican leaders lost some leverage yesterday.

Click here to read the full article.

--Tom Hayes

Detainee Cleared for Release Is in Limbo at Guantanamo

The Washington Post has an almost unbelievable story as they report of a man sent to Guantanamo Bay who has not only been cleared of being an "enemy combatant," but seems to never have been considered a threat to America in the first place, since he had allegedly plotted to kill Osama bin laden. As the article (click here to read) reports:

Like a group of five Chinese Uighurs (pronounced wee-gurs) , Turkistani remains incarcerated because the United States simply does not know what to do with him. He does not have Saudi citizenship, and U.S. officials are having trouble getting his home country to take him back. U.S. officials do not want to send him to China, where Uighurs are seeking a separate homeland, saying he is likely to be tortured.
But unlike many detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Turkistani was not captured on the battlefield, nor was he a suspected terrorist. Instead, he was swept up in the confusion that marked the early days of the U.S. war in Afghanistan, and even as a potential ally found himself with no recourse to challenge his detention. "The crowning irony is that he is an enemy of bin Laden, who was charged with conspiring to kill him, and we hold him prisoner today," said Sabin Willett, a lawyer who has filed a petition with the U.S. District Court in Washington on Turkistani's behalf. "It's heartbreaking that we throw people into jail to rot."
Turkistani is one of nine detainees who live at Guantanamo Bay's Camp Iguana, a less restrictive area of the prison where detainees have limited privileges including access to television and a few DVDs. Besides five Chinese Uighurs who have not been accepted by any country, there is a Russian, an Algerian and an Egyptian. All have been cleared for release but have not been given their freedom.

This seems to be the clearest example of why detainees at Guantanamo Bay and those detained as enemy combatants should have the ability to challenge their detention and be able to have the chance to prove their innocence. If someone is such a grave threat to the United States, it seems to me that there would be enough evidence to hold them. However, this is not what is happening and while the majority of those being held at Guantanamo may be terrorists, the fact remains that mistakes have been made and innocent people are being held for no reason. I always thought America was supposed to promote democracy and the rule of law, not circumvent it. Maybe someone has an opposing opinion that they would like to post in the comments section or additional arguments for giving representation and due process to all people captured in the War on Terror.

--Tom Hayes

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Chad Backs Out of Pledge to Use Oil Wealth to Reduce Poverty

From the New York Times:

When the World Bank said more than five years ago that it would help Chad build a $4.2 billion pipeline to export the oil discovered in the southern part of that landlocked, deeply impoverished nation, it seemed an opportunity to give the lie to the resource curse that is the painful experience of virtually every oil-rich African nation: that oil wealth typically creates more problems for poor countries than it solves. In exchange for World Bank loans to build a 670-mile underground pipeline through Cameroon to export its oil, the Chadian government passed a law requiring that almost all of the money it earns on oil exports be spent for poverty reduction and that 10 percent be put aside as a "future generations fund," to leave something behind once the estimated one billion barrels of oil have been exhausted.
But in October, Chad's government abruptly announced at a meeting with the World Bank in N'Djamena, the capital, that it plans to alter that law and funnel more money into its general budget and increase spending on security.
Under the new proposal, the future generations fund would be scrapped and military spending would be added to the list of "priority sectors" that until now focused on spending in areas like agriculture, housing, health care and education.

Click here to read the full article.

--Tom Hayes

A Chinese Lawyer for Human Rights Fights Back

A remarkable story in the December 13th edition of the New York Times about a Chinese lawyer taking on mulitple human rights cases in China. The Chinese government is attempting to shut him and his law firm down, but Gao Ahisheng continues his fight. To view the full article entitled, "Legal Gadfly Bites Hard, and Beijing Slaps Him," click on the title of the article. The life story of Gao is inspiring enough as the article reports:

Mr. Gao was born in a cave. His family lived in a mud-walled home dug out of a hillside in the loess plateau in Shaanxi Province, in northwestern China. His father died at age 40. For years the boy climbed into bed at dusk because his family could not afford oil for its lamp, he recalled.
Nor could they pay for elementary school for Mr. Gao and his six siblings. But he said he listened outside the classroom window. Later, with the help of an uncle, he attended junior high and became adept enough at reading and writing to achieve what was then his dream: to join the People's Liberation Army.
Stationed at a base in Kashgar, in Xinjiang region, he received a secondary-school education and became a party member. But his fate changed even more decisively after he left the service and began working as a food vendor. One day in 1991 he browsed a newspaper used to wrap a bundle of garlic. He spotted an article that mentioned a plan by Deng Xiaoping, then China's paramount leader, to train 150,000 new lawyers and develop the legal system.
"Deng said China must be governed by law," Mr. Gao said. "I believed him."
He scraped together the funds to take a self-taught course on the law. The course mostly required a prodigious memory for titles and clauses, which he had. He passed the tests easily. Anticipating a future as a public figure, he took walks in the early morning light, pretending fields of wheat were auditoriums full of important officials. He delivered full-throated lectures to quivering stalks.
By the late 1990's, though based in remote Xinjiang, he developed a winning reputation. He represented the family of a boy who sank into a coma when a doctor mistakenly gave him an intravenous dose of ethanol. He won a $100,000 payout, then a headline-generating sum, in a case involving a boy who had lost his hearing in a botched operation.
He also won a lawsuit on behalf of a private businessman in Xinjiang. The entrepreneur had taken control of a troubled state-owned company, but a district government used force to reclaim it after the businessmen turned it into a profit-making entity. China's highest court backed the businessman and Mr. Gao.

--Tom Hayes

Lebanese Lawmaker Killed in Car Bomb

An outspoken lawmaker and journalist in Lebanon (Gebran Tueni, 48) was recently killed by a car bomb and many are blaming Syria for his death as he was a constant critic of the country's involvement in Lebanon. Below are three articles with more information on the topic:

Beirut Blast Kills Foe of Syria from the Washington Post

Latest Assassination and Funeral Heighten Anxiety in Beirut from the New York Times

Death of a Publisher from Newsweek

--Tom Hayes

Investigation Finds More Than 120 Abuse Victims in Iraq

From the Washington Post:

According to an Iraqi official who U.S. authorities say had first-hand knowledge of the second Interior Ministry detention center, at least 12 detainees there suffered torture. Prisoners had their bones broken and their fingernails pulled out, were subjected to electric shocks and had burning cigarettes crushed into their necks and backs, said the Iraqi official. A 13th detainee there was starved to "bones and skin," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution.
The U.S. military said 13 of the inmates required immediate medical treatment and hospitalization. A first, unannounced visit to another Interior Ministry detention center in November found victims of abuse among 170 total detainees there, U.S. and Iraqi authorities said at the time.

Click here to read the full article.

Update 12-14-05: The New York Times reports that the U.S. will now inspect jails run by Iraq, click here to read the article.

--Tom Hayes

Global Warming and the Developing World

This article, from the December 11th version of the New York Times, describes the horrible impact of a Brazilian drought on people who live in Amazonia. The article notes how some scientists speculate that the drought has in fact been caused by global warming. If this theory eventually obtains wide acceptance in the scientific community, those that claim developing countries bear the lion share of global warming's impacts on the Earth will have yet more evidence on their side.

Click here to read the article on the drought in Brazil.

Click here to read a report on the impacts of global warming on developing countries from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

-- JB

Poverty in America

This article, on poverty in America, appeared in Newsweek some time ago. Nonetheless, it deserves a spot on this blog.

Click here to read the full article by Jonathan Alter.

-- JB

Monday, December 12, 2005

Human Rights Watch and UN release report on Darfur

From Human Rights Watch:

President Omar El Bashir of Sudan and other senior officials should be investigated for crimes against humanity in Darfur and placed on a U.N. sanctions list, Human Rights Watch said today in a new report published in advance of upcoming U.N. Security Council discussions on Darfur. The Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court is scheduled to brief the Council tomorrow on his investigation into atrocities in Darfur. The 85-page report, “Entrenching Impunity: Government Responsibility for International Crimes in Darfur,” documents the role of more than a dozen named civilian and military officials in the use and coordination of “Janjaweed” militias and the Sudanese armed forces to commit war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur since mid-2003.

Click here for more information.

--Tom Hayes

Schwarzenegger Denies Clemency for Williams

Schwarzenegger wrote after his decision:

"Is Williams' redemption complete and sincere, or is it just a hollow promise?" Schwarzenegger wrote less than 12 hours before the execution. "Without an apology and atonement for these senseless and brutal killings, there can be no redemption."
He added: "The facts do not justify overturning the jury's verdict or the decisions of the courts in this case."

Click here to read the article from the Washington Post.

Also check out a Newsweek interview with Williams by clicking here.

--Tom Hayes

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Abuse Cited In Second Jail in Iraq

A disturbing article from the Washington Post about abuse at a second Iraqi prison, from the article:

An Iraqi government search of a detention center in Baghdad operated by Interior Ministry special commandos found 13 prisoners who had suffered abuse serious enough to require medical treatment, U.S. and Iraqi officials said Sunday night.
An Iraqi official with firsthand knowledge of the search said that at least 12 of the 13 prisoners had been subjected to "severe torture," including sessions of electric shock and episodes that left them with broken bones."Two of them showed me their nails, and they were gone," the official said on condition of anonymity because of security concerns...Asked specifically what types of torture were found in the commandos' prison, the official cited breaking of bones, torture with electric shock, extraction of fingernails and cigarette burns to the neck and back.

Click here to read the article.

--Tom Hayes

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Growing Criticism of Justice Dept.'s Rights Division

From the Washington Post:

The Justice Department has barred staff attorneys from offering recommendations in major Voting Rights Act cases, marking a significant change in the procedures meant to insulate such decisions from politics, congressional aides and current and former employees familiar with the issue said.
Disclosure of the change comes amid growing public criticism of Justice Department decisions to approve Republican-engineered plans in Texas and Georgia that were found to hurt minority voters by career staff attorneys who analyzed the plans. Political appointees overruled staff findings in both cases. The policy was implemented in the Georgia case, said a Justice employee who, like others interviewed, spoke on condition of anonymity because of fears of retaliation. A staff memo urged rejecting the state's plan to require photo identification at the polls because it would harm black voters.
But under the new policy, the recommendation was stripped out of that document and was not forwarded to higher officials in the Civil Rights Division, several sources familiar with the incident said. The policy helps explain why the Justice Department has portrayed an Aug. 25 staff memo obtained by The Washington Post as an "early draft," even though it was dated one day before the department gave "preclearance," or approval, to the Georgia plan. The state's plan has since been halted on constitutional grounds by a federal judge who likened it to a Jim Crow-era poll tax.

Click here to read the full article.

Also check out Fixing the Game from the New York Times.

--Tom Hayes

Friday, December 09, 2005

Egyptian Security Forces Attack Voters in Final Round of Parliamentary Elections

Excerpts from this sad news story from the New York Times:

Egypt's last round of parliamentary elections ended with eight people dead - including one young man with three bullets in his head, two other men with bullets in their heads - and dozens more with the blunt force injuries that come when rubber-coated bullets and buckshot slam into body parts.

After the banned Muslim Brotherhood began whittling away at the governing party's monopoly on power, police officers in riot gear and others in plainclothes and armed civilians working for the police began blocking polling stations, preventing supporters of the Brotherhood from casting their votes.

Egyptian authorities insist they did not shoot with live ammunition and say security forces were out only to safeguard polling stations.

"There are people who were shot by live ammunition," said a high-ranking Interior Ministry official who asked not to be identified, because he was not authorized to speak publicly. "This is not the security forces that shot them because the Interior Ministry security forces can use tear gas, water pressure and at most rubber bullets if they have to. They do not have live ammunition."

But there are many witnesses, including Western diplomats, rights organizations, doctors, the wounded themselves and people who live here, who say otherwise. They said they had seen police officers open fire on men, women and children with live ammunition, in addition to tear gas and rubber-coated bullets, and held up spent cartridges as proof.

"We know that it is the government who hit him," said Muhammad Saad Muhammad Mehdi, 19, as he stood over the lifeless body of his cousin Muhammad Ahmed Muhammad and a respirator clicked away in Zagazig University Hospital.

Click here to read the full article.
-- JB


(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)