Friday, June 30, 2006

Online Message Board Fights for Anonymity in Oklahoma

Tulsa, Oklahoma - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) yesterday filed to block an Oklahoma school superintendent's attempt to unmask the identities of a local website's operator and all registered users.

The superintendent has sued Internet users who criticized him on the website's message board. In its motion to quash, EFF argues that the plaintiff's overbroad subpoena seeking to identify the site's operator and users violates First Amendment protections for anonymous speech and association.

"Anonymity is critical to public discourse and fundamental to a free society, allowing speakers to offer diverse views without fear of undue reprisal," said EFF Staff Attorney Corynne McSherry. "There is now clear judicial consensus that subpoenas to identify anonymous speakers must be carefully scrutinized."

In recent months, EFF lawyers have represented or provided amicus support in anonymity cases in California, Colorado, and Delaware. In the latter case, Doe v. Cahill, EFF helped successfully defend a Delaware blogger who had criticized a member of the town council. The case resulted in the first state supreme court decision confirming the First Amendment right to remain anonymous until a litigant can demonstrate a legitimate claim.

"Litigants must not be permitted to abuse the judicial process to identity anonymous individuals who have simply created a forum for critical comments or made statements a plaintiff dislikes," said EFF Staff Attorney Matt Zimmerman. "Speech critical of public officials -- made anonymously or not -- enjoys an extremely high level of legal protection."

Oral argument on EFF's motion to quash is scheduled for July 20th.

Virginia bishop calls Nigerian election an 'affront'

[Episcopal News Service] Virginia Bishop Peter Lee has written to his diocese to say that the June 28 election of the Rev. Martyn Minns, rector of Truro Church in Fairfax, Virginia, as a bishop of the Church of Nigeria with oversight of the Convocation of Anglicans in North America is "an affront to the traditional, orthodox understanding of Anglican Provincial Autonomy."

"Archbishop Akinola acknowledges as much in his letter to Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams," Lee wrote.

Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola founded the convocation (CANA) in April 2005 to, he said, minister to "all those who can no longer find their spiritual home" in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada.

Lee wrote that it is impossible to honor Akinola's request that Minns remain rector of Truro Church while serving as a Nigerian bishop.

In the letter posted on the diocesan website, Lee also wrote that a June 29 news article in the Washington Times was wrong to report that Minns and the leaders of The Falls Church, Falls Church, Virginia, want to lead members out of the diocese.

The full text of Lee's letter is available at

Senators Cut Environmental, Health Programs to Lowest Level in A Century

WASHINGTON - June 30 - The Senate Appropriations Committee today undermined critical programs that protect public health and the environment in budget cuts that may irreparably harm the health and safety of our citizens and the economy, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

The committee action came in a unanimous vote on a fiscal year 2007 funding bill that set the lowest funding levels for environmental programs in this century.

"The panel's cuts were not as deep as those proposed by President Bush or adopted by the House, but they are reductions nevertheless, and their potential consequences are serious. Let no one be fooled," said Heather Taylor, NRDC's deputy legislative director.

The price tag on the Interior and Related Agencies Appropriations bill for FY 07, approved by committee, was $26.1 billion -- down from last year's spending of $26.3 billion. The Bush administration recommended $25.5 billion and the House approved $25.9 billion.

To cite just one example of an ill-conceived program cut, the Senate reduced funding that supports America's water infrastructure from $886 million to $687 million -- the lowest level in a decade. At the same time, the bill contained a rider that for the first time legislatively exempts many timber sales from public comment and appeal.

The one ray of sunshine came when the committee adopted an amendment by Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) that would stop the giveaway of billions of dollars in taxpayer funds to oil companies.

The measure, already adopted by the House, would recoup $10 billion in lost royalties because many oil companies have been drilling in waters owned by all Americans without paying for those rights under leases awarded in 1998 and 1999. The amendment would bar such companies from bidding on future leases.

"With oil prices sky-high, it's long past time for Congress to end royalty 'relief'' for Big Oil and stop lining the industry's already-deep pockets," Taylor said.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

CCR Lauds Supreme Court Victory in Hamdan V. Rumsfeld and Calls For Fair Trials and Closure of Guantánamo

Attorneys for Guantánamo Detainees Say Decision Vindicates Five-Year Legal Struggle and Will Force Bush Administration to Provide Fair U.S. Trials or Release Detainees

NEW YORK - June 29 - Today the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) declared the Supreme Court's decision in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld as a significant victory for the Constitution, fairness and due process, vindicating the Center's five-year legal fight for due process and human rights against the Bush Administration's illegal detention policies. CCR filed two amicus briefs in the case, which is the first Guantánamo case to reach the Court since its June 2004 decision in Rasul v. Bush, which CCR brought and won.

"The Supreme Court has firmly rejected President Bush's attempt to sidestep American courts. Now the President must act: try our clients in lawful U.S. courts or release them. The game is up. There is no way for President Bush to continue hiding behind a purported lack of judicial guidance to avoid addressing the illegal and immoral prison in Guantánamo Bay. Significantly, the Court decided that the Geneva Conventions apply to the so-called 'War on Terror' - people must be treated humanely and the administration cannot put itself above the law," said CCR President Michael Ratner. "We are gratified that the Court accepted our argument that fundamental human rights are protected by the Geneva Conventions, and this decision vindicates our five-year legal struggle," he added.

Mr. Hamdan is a detainee who was designated to be tried before a military commission in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. His lawsuit challenges the President's authority to establish military commissions in the absence of specific congressional action, and it also challenges the trial proceedings as violating the Constitution, U.S. military law, and the Geneva Conventions. CCR filed two amicus briefs in support of Mr. Hamdan's case, arguing that the administration's military commission system "violate the well-established norms of international humanitarian law" such as the Geneva Conventions, and challenging the legality of the Detainee Treatment Act. (The first brief was filed jointly with pro bono attorneys representing hundreds of detainees at Guantánamo, and the second was filed jointly with Human Rights First and FIDH.)

CCR Legal Director Bill Goodman explained the significance of today's ruling in light of CCR's 2004 victory in Rasul v. Bush: "Ever since we won the 2004 Supreme Court decision requiring due process at Guantánamo, the administration has been evading the decision, breaking American law and undermining America's stature in the process. Today the Court firmly rejected President Bush's unlawful and immoral Guantánamo policies, and I hope we can begin rebuilding due process and respect for human rights in our legal system."

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

U.S. Supreme Court Opens Floodgates to Partisan Gerrymandering

WASHINGTON - June 28 - “The U.S. Supreme Court decision today in the case LULAC v. Perry sets the stage for more partisanship, more divisiveness and less competition in elections,” said Mary G. Wilson, president of the League of Women Voters.

“The Court’s decision opens the floodgates for a new round of partisan gerrymandering in the states,” said Wilson. “We now can expect an even more vicious battle between the political parties as they redraw district lines every two years for partisan gain,” said Wilson.

The League of Women Voters of the United States and the League of Women Voters of Texas filed an amicus curiae, or “friend of the court” brief in LULAC v. Perry that argued the Texas legislature’s mid-census redistricting was unconstitutional because it was carried out solely to achieve partisan advantage. Former House Majority Leader Tom Delay (R TX) pushed for the mid-term redistricting to solidify his party’s hold on the U.S. House of Representatives.

“Tom DeLay showed the way, and the Supreme Court said okay,” said Wilson.

“The Court did protect the voting rights of racial and ethic minorities, and that is a good thing,” said Wilson. But, with this decision the Court has “allowed discrimination against political minorities, be they Democrats, Republicans or independents, and voters are now at risk in every state,” according to the League’s president.

“Every voter deserves the basic constitutional right to fair elections and equal protection guaranteed to all citizens by the Constitution. The Supreme Court did not take this opportunity to provide those rights to political minorities by preventing excessive political gerrymandering. That is extremely disappointing,” Wilson stated.

“Leagues have worked vigorously across the country to secure representative redistricting plans in their states after each census. We now must work even harder to get reforms that will assure the redistricting process is nonpartisan, equitable and open. Our job got a bit more difficult today because we didn’t get the help we needed from the Supreme Court in protecting every voter’s right to fair elections,” Wilson said.

Power Trips Database Goes Live: Info on Sponsors, Destinations, Costs of 5 1/2 years of Congressional Travel Made Public

WASHINGTON - June 28 - More than 25,000 public documents detailing the privately funded travel taken by members of Congress and their aides from January 2000 to June 2005, was made public today by the Center for Public Integrity.

The database, which can be accessed at , is the product of nearly a year's worth of investigative research done by Center staff, American Public Media reporters and Northwestern University Medill School students.

Users will be able to look up specific travelers, destinations, costs, and sponsors of nearly 23,000 privately sponsored trips taken by lawmakers and their staff. The information will also be linked to the travel documents themselves, giving journalists and the public a chance to conduct their own reporting and analysis.

The "Power Trips" database is a major breakthrough in reporting on congressional travel. Forms related to such travel are often kept out of public view, filed in a difficult-to-read manner, or left incomplete. As investigators discovered during the course of their research:

-- The House of Representatives' forms are kept in a sub- basement of the Cannon House Office Building, where the public copies are often hard to read, torn and misfiled. It is against House rules to digitally scan the documents.

-- The Senate travel disclosure documents are stored in a computer system in the Hart Senate Office Building, but the records are not available online.

"Power Trips: Congressional Staffers Share the Road" revealed that members of Congress and their staffs took nearly $50 million worth of privately sponsored trips to places around the world. Often this travel was sponsored by groups with legislative interests before Congress.

The study's main findings were released on June 5

(To view the press conference: )

To learn about the creation of the database, read the methodology

To access the "Power Trips" database, visit the search page:

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Democrats push hard for increase in minimum wage

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democrats ratcheted up their election-year push for an increase in the federal minimum wage on Tuesday by promising to block a congressional pay hike unless some of the lowest-paid hourly workers get their first raise in nearly a decade.
"Congress is going to have earn its raise by putting American workers first: A raise for workers before a raise for Congress," said Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada.

Reid refused to spell out exactly how he will block a $3,300 pay raise scheduled for January 1 for members of Congress, who currently earn $165,200 annually. He said with 40 Senate Democrats backing the maneuver, "We can stop anything they (Republicans) try to do with a congressional pay raise."

Democrats in the House and Senate want the $5.15-per-hour federal minimum wage, in place since 1997, to rise in 70-cent increments to $7.25 by January 1, 2009. Workers earning the current minimum wage would need to work 40 hours a week for 16 weeks to earn the $3,300 pay raise expected for Congress.

In arguing for the minimum-wage increase, Democrats are emphasizing that salaries for members of Congress have risen $31,600 during the time the minimum wage has been frozen.

They complain that rising costs for gasoline, utilities, education and food have taken a chunk out of minimum-wage paychecks, which sometimes have to support entire families.

Republicans in Congress have blocked numerous attempts to raise the minimum wage, paid to about 7 million workers, saying it would backfire by causing small businesses to hire fewer entry-level employees.


But with Republican control of the House and Senate uncertain after the November congressional elections, some moderate Republicans have been joining with Democrats to support a minimum-wage increase.

"I think it's the right thing to do. It seems like if I can defend and be sincere about tax cuts, some to the wealthiest, if I can do that," then a minimum wage increase is also in order, Rep. Mike Simpson (news, bio, voting record), an Idaho Republican, said in a recent interview with Reuters.

The complete story may be found here:

Senate Panel Examines President’s Use of "Signing Statements"

ACLU Welcomes Probe into Administration’s Abuse of Power

WASHINGTON - June 27 - The American Civil Liberties Union today welcomed the Senate Judiciary Committee’s examination of President Bush’s use of presidential "signing statements," noting that such statements are a tool the president uses to subvert his duty to uphold U.S. law. Since taking office, President Bush has issued such signing statements affecting more than 750 laws, often claiming a supposed right to not enforce laws passed by Congress that he thinks limit his asserted unlimited powers.

"President Bush needs a lesson in Civics 101," said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. "The executive is supposed to enforce the laws Congress passes, and respect the separation of powers that define our country. But in this president’s mind, he is above the law. His lack of respect for the rule of law and his abuse of power are evident, and we hope that today’s hearing will highlight this administration’s disregard for the law."

President Bush’s signing statements have in most cases said that he will refuse to enforce part of a law because it conflicts with his extraordinary claims of presidential powers. The statements have covered numerous issues, including a congressional ban on the use of torture, affirmative action rules, protection for the integrity of scientific research and whistleblower protections. Such steps, the ACLU noted, defy the constitutional powers of Congress, and undermine the system of checks and balances.

Article II of the Constitution states that the president "shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed."

The ACLU observed that President Bush has yet to veto a single bill passed by Congress.

"He doesn’t have to use a veto," said Fredrickson. "If Congress passes a law the president dislikes, he simply states that he has no intention of executing the law as written. The Constitution and our laws don’t provide for the president to choose which provisions of laws passed by Congress he will enforce."

Additionally, the president’s authorization of warrantless surveillance of Americans by the National Security Agency violates the unequivocal restrictions on domestic spying outlined in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The ACLU said that the NSA spying reflects the administration’s determination to ignore the rule of law and the Constitution.

"As with so many other powers, President Bush has perverted the use of signing statements," said Lisa Graves, ACLU Senior Counsel for Legislative Strategy. "President Bush continues to thumb his nose at Congress and the Constitution. This is simply another example of his hostility to the rule of law and to a federal government of limited powers."

Mexico: Candidates Must Address Murders of Women

Civil Society Groups Demand End to Violence against Women

NEW YORK - June 27 - The candidates in Mexico's July 2 presidential elections should publicly pledge to prevent and punish the mutilation and murder of women in Mexico, Human Rights Watch, V-Day and 65 other civil society groups said in an open letter published today. “Women are still being abducted, tortured and killed in Mexico despite some government efforts to investigate these brutal murders,” said José Miguel Vivanco, director of the Americas division at Human Rights Watch. “Before going to the polls, the Mexican people should know which, if any, of the presidential candidates will commit to do something to stop these horrendous crimes.”

Over the past 13 years, more than 400 women have been murdered or “disappeared” in Ciudad Juárez. In a number of these cases, the women had been mutilated or severely beaten before they were killed. Some had even had their nipples cut off, or their torsos were dismembered. In a majority of the cases, authorities have not determined who was responsible for the crimes and at least 34 of the victims remain unaccounted for today.

“It is scandalous that Mexican women are forced to live in fear of killers stalking them in the streets,” said Salma Hayek, the actress whose foundation supports efforts to prevent violence against women worldwide. “Mexicans deserve a president who will do all they can to stop the murders.”

In an open letter to Mexico's presidential candidates published today, 67 civil society organizations from Mexico and the United States urged all presidential candidates to improve the security situation for women across Mexico immediately by taking seven concrete measures while in office. The measures include installing lighting in unsafe areas and implementing early warning mechanisms to prevent violence against women. The groups are asking for public pledges before the presidential election on July 2, 2006.

“The mothers of the missing and murdered women of Juárez work tirelessly for justice – we support their efforts and encourage the voters to hold their leaders accountable and consider the missing women when they go to the polls on the second,” stated Eve Ensler, founder of V-Day, the global movement to end violence against women and girls.

Today's letter and the measures resulted directly from a meeting with playwright/V-Day Founder Eve Ensler, V-Day Executive Director Jerri Lynn Fields, Jane Fonda, Salma Hayek, and presidential candidate Patricia Mercado during V-Day’s May 9 Mexico City benefit that raised funds for women in Juárez, and featured performances by Fonda and Hayek.
“We are asking all candidates to meet our challenge before June 30,” said Vivanco from Human Rights Watch. “These measures are really the bare minimum needed to signal real government concern about the rampant brutality against women in Mexico.”

Sunday, June 25, 2006

In 2003, U.S. Spurned Iran's Offer of Dialogue

By Glenn Kessler
Originally published Sunday, June 18, 2006

Just after the lightning takeover of Baghdad by U.S. forces three years ago, an unusual two-page document spewed out of a fax machine at the Near East bureau of the State Department. It was a proposal from Iran for a broad dialogue with the United States, and the fax suggested everything was on the table -- including full cooperation on nuclear programs, acceptance of Israel and the termination of Iranian support for Palestinian militant groups.

But top Bush administration officials, convinced the Iranian government was on the verge of collapse, belittled the initiative. Instead, they formally complained to the Swiss ambassador who had sent the fax with a cover letter certifying it as a genuine proposal supported by key power centers in Iran, former administration officials said.

Last month, the Bush administration abruptly shifted policy and agreed to join talks previously led by European countries over Iran's nuclear program. But several former administration officials say the United States missed an opportunity in 2003 at a time when American strength seemed at its height -- and Iran did not have a functioning nuclear program or a gusher of oil revenue from soaring energy demand.

"At the time, the Iranians were not spinning centrifuges, they were not enriching uranium," said Flynt Leverett, who was a senior director on the National Security Council staff then and saw the Iranian proposal. He described it as "a serious effort, a respectable effort to lay out a comprehensive agenda for U.S.-Iranian rapprochement."

While the Iranian approach has been previously reported, the actual document making the offer has surfaced only in recent weeks. Trita Parsi, a Middle East expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said he obtained it from Iranian sources. The Washington Post confirmed its authenticity with Iranian and former U.S. officials.

Parsi said the U.S. victory in Iraq frightened the Iranians because U.S. forces had routed in three weeks an army that Iran had failed to defeat during a bloody eight-year war.

The document lists a series of Iranian aims for the talks, such as ending sanctions, full access to peaceful nuclear technology and a recognition of its "legitimate security interests." Iran agreed to put a series of U.S. aims on the agenda, including full cooperation on nuclear safeguards, "decisive action" against terrorists, coordination in Iraq, ending "material support" for Palestinian militias and accepting the Saudi initiative for a two-state solution in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The document also laid out an agenda for negotiations, with possible steps to be achieved at a first meeting and the development of negotiating road maps on disarmament, terrorism and economic cooperation.

The complete story may be found here:

China: Secretive arms exports stoking conflict and repression

China is fast emerging as one of the world’s biggest, most secretive and irresponsible arms exporters, according to a new report issued earlier this month by Amnesty International.

The report shows how Chinese weapons have helped sustain brutal conflicts, criminal violence and other grave human rights violations in countries such as Sudan, Nepal, Myanmar and South Africa. It also reveals the possible involvement of Western companies in the manufacture of some of these weapons.

“China describes its approach to arms export licensing as `cautious and responsible`, yet the reality couldn‘t be further from the truth. China is the only major arms exporting power that has not signed up to any multilateral agreements with criteria to prevent arms exports likely to be used for serious human rights violations,” said Helen Hughes, Amnesty International’s arms control researcher.

China’s arms exports, estimated to be in excess of US$1 billion a year, often involve the exchange of weapons for raw materials to fuel the country’s rapid economic growth. But it is a trade shrouded in secrecy; Beijing does not publish any information about arms transfers abroad and hasn’t submitted any data to the UN Register on Conventional Arms in the last eight years.

Amnesty Internationals report, China: Sustaining conflict and human rights abuses, includes several examples of irresponsible Chinese arms exports.

The report’s main findings include:

* More than 200 Chinese military trucks -- normally fitted with US Cummins diesel engines -- shipped to Sudan in August 2005, despite a US arms embargo on both countries and the involvement of similar vehicles in the killing and abduction of civilians in Darfur;
* Regular Chinese military shipments to Myanmar, including the supply in August 2005 of 400 military trucks to the Burmese army despite its involvement in the torture, killing and forced eviction of hundreds of thousands of civilians;
* Chinese military exports to Nepal in 2005 and early 2006, including a deal to supply nearly 25 thousand Chinese-made rifles and 18,000 grenades to Nepalese security forces, at the time involved in the brutal repression of thousands of civilian demonstrators;
* An increasingly illicit trade in Chinese-made Norinco pistols in Australia, Malaysia, Thailand and particularly South Africa, where they are commonly used for robbery, rape and other crimes.

“As a major arms exporter and a permanent member of the UN Security Council, it is high time that the Chinese authorities live up to their obligations under international law. They must introduce effective laws and regulations banning all arms transfers that could be used for serious human rights violations or breaches in international humanitarian law,” said Helen Hughes

Amnesty International is also calling on China to report annually and publicly on all arms export licences and deliveries and to support a tough, comprehensive and enforceable international Arms Trade Treaty.

As long as China continues to allow arms supplies to the perpetrators of gross human rights violations, the international community must redouble its regulation of joint ventures involving military and dual-use technology in China and must strengthen the application of arms embargoes on China such as those imposed by the European Union and the USA.

US Plays Terror Card in Hearing on AT&T Wiretap Lawsuit

Published on Saturday, June 24, 2006 by the San Francisco Chronicle
by Bob Egelko

A lawsuit accusing AT&T of illegally collaborating in government electronic surveillance will help terrorists communicate "more securely and more efficiently'' unless it is promptly dismissed, a Bush administration lawyer argued in a packed San Francisco courtroom Friday.

The suit, the first of more than 30 now pending against major phone companies, was filed in January by the Electronic Frontier Foundation on behalf of AT&T customers. It alleges that the company has allowed the National Security Agency to intercept the phone calls and e-mails of tens of millions of customers for use in its program to monitor contacts with suspected foreign terrorists.

If the privacy-rights case is allowed to proceed, AT&T will have to admit or deny that it gave the National Security Agency access to its telephone and e-mail networks and database so the government could eavesdrop on communications between Americans and suspected terrorists in other countries, said Assistant Attorney General Peter Keisler.

An admission either way by AT&T would betray "a state secret of the highest order,'' he said.

When Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker pointed out that the alleged cooperation of AT&T and other telecommunications companies has been widely reported in the press, Keisler said public confirmation or denial would allow terrorists to replace suspicion with certainty.

A "reasonable terrorist'' deciding how to contact cohorts weighs the risk that communications on a commercial network will be intercepted against the difficulties of finding other channels, Keisler said. By clarifying AT&T's status, he said, "you are enabling them to communicate more securely and more efficiently.''

Also, he said, a confirmation of AT&T's role in the program would "immediately heighten the risk that the company and its facilities would be subject to attack.''

The suit, the first of more than 30 now pending against major phone companies, was filed in January by the Electronic Frontier Foundation on behalf of AT&T customers. It alleges that the company has allowed the National Security Agency to intercept the phone calls and e-mails of tens of millions of customers for use in its program to monitor contacts with suspected foreign terrorists.

The suit seeks damages, potentially into the billions of dollars, and a ban on AT&T's participation in the program.

President Bush acknowledged in December that the federal agency has eavesdropped on communications between Americans and alleged terrorists abroad without the court warrants required by a 1978 federal law. His claim that he has the constitutional power to authorize the surveillance is being challenged in another lawsuit in Michigan.

Walker, who also heard arguments by AT&T to dismiss the suit, did not issue a ruling and gave no clear indication of which way he was leaning during the three-hour hearing. But he seemed skeptical of the government's broadest claim: that the entire subject of the lawsuit is a state secret, requiring dismissal without further inquiry.

"The state secrets privilege is not unlimited,'' the judge told Keisler.

At another point, Walker questioned the government's reliance on a 1998 ruling by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco dismissing workers' lawsuits against a classified Air Force waste disposal program.

"Isn't this case different?'' he asked. In the 1998 case, "the whole program of disposal was a state secret,'' the judge said.

Walker could also dismiss the case on narrower grounds, by deciding either that AT&T's actions were authorized by the government; that the company does not have to provide proof of federal authorization because its role, if any, is a state secret; or that the individual customers have no right to sue because they can't show that their calls or messages were intercepted.

Electronic Frontier Foundation lawyer Kevin Bankston argued that the plaintiffs don't have to show that the federal agency monitored individual calls, because they have evidence that AT&T, in cooperation with the government, engaged in "wholesale surveillance of its customers.''

That evidence, he said, consists of company documents and a statement by Mark Klein, a former AT&T technician, describing the installation in 2003 of equipment at the company's building on Folsom Street in San Francisco that allowed Internet traffic to be routed to the government. Klein reported that only employees cleared by the National Security Agency were allowed into the room, Bankston said.

But Keisler, the government's lawyer, said Klein's materials and a supporting statement by J. Scott Marcus, an expert on telecommunications networks, were legally worthless.

"With all respect to them, they don't know anything,'' Keisler said. He said Klein's purported information about the federal agency's involvement consisted of secondhand reports, and Marcus' statement was "a mixture of hearsay and speculation.''

AT&T's argument for dismissal was that federal law protects communications companies from being sued for taking part in government intelligence programs.

If the company had a role, which it refuses to confirm or deny, it was merely a "passive instrument of the government,'' said AT&T lawyer Brad Berenson. He also told Walker that the company had no obligation to consider the legality of the program because it was solely the government's concern.

The judge said AT&T appeared to be arguing that "these programs are essentially immune from any kind of review.'' Not quite, Berenson replied, but the review should come from Congress, not the courts.

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Friday, June 23, 2006

Hold Clean on $2.10 Minimum Wage Increase, AFL-CIO Tells Members of Congress

WASHINGTON - June 23 - “There is no good reason for preventing a House vote on a clean $2.10 increase in the minimum wage,” the AFL-CIO’s legislative director said in a letter sent today to all members of the U.S. House of Representatives. The federal minimum wage has been frozen for nine years.

Republicans have come under increased pressure for their blockade of a minimum wage increase. Yesterday a majority of the Senate, 52 members, voted for a $2.10 increase in the minimum wage with no “poison pills” attached to prevent its passage, and “it is widely believed that a majority of the House also supports the $2.10 increase,” the letter notes. But there have also been hints that the Republican House leadership is considering a lesser increase with poison pill provisions designed to provoke opposition.

A 2005 study by the Economic Policy Institute showed that a lesser minimum wage increase would affect a minimal percentage of the population and fail to restore the purchasing power of the minimum wage. A second study released jointly by EPI and the Center on Budget and Policy Priority just this week showed that the purchasing power of the minimum wage has now hit a 51-year low.

Samuels pointed out that the $2.10 increase is a moral imperative in light of the $3,300 congressional pay raise cleared in the House last week.

“Increasing the minimum wage is a statement about how we as a society value hard work,” Samuel wrote, “half-measures designed to benefit as few workers as possible are simply inadequate.”

“There is simply no excuse for using parliamentary maneuvers and ‘poison pills’ to prevent a clean vote on a clean $2.10 increase in the minimum wage,” he concluded.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Public Interest Groups Respond to New FCC Ownership Rules Rallies Public Opposition to Greater Media Consolidation

WASHINGTON - June 21 - A diverse alliance of consumer, civil rights, labor and media reform groups today raised serious concerns about the Federal Communications Commission's latest attempt to change longstanding rules on local media ownership. Urging greater public involvement in the debate over the future of the media, the groups launched a new campaign and Web site at

"For far too long, media policy in this country has been made behind closed doors in the public's name but without our informed consent," said Robert W. McChesney, president of Free Press. "Despite overwhelming public opposition to greater media consolidation from across the entire political spectrum, the FCC and industry lobbyists are trying to sneak through the same misguided rules rejected in 2003. Chairman Kevin Martin appears to have learned little from the last ownership rules debacle. But the public's views are clear: Big Media is already big enough."

At a meeting today in Washington, the FCC issued a "Notice of Proposed Rulemaking," the first step in any new media ownership regulations. But Chairman Martin did not outline the specifics of new rules the FCC could implement by the end of the year.

"This innocuous-looking document initiates the single most important public policy debate that the FCC will tackle this year," said Commissioner Michael Copps. "Don't let its slimness fool you. It means that this Commission has begun to decide on behalf of the American people the future of our media. It means deciding whether or not to accelerate media concentration, step up the loss of local news and change forever the critical role independent newspapers perform for our country."

The commissioners voted to launch the new process with partial dissents from Commissioners Jonathan Adelstein and Copps.

"The manner in which the Commission is launching this critical proceeding is totally inadequate," Adelstein said. "It is like submitting a high-school term paper for a Ph.D. thesis. The large media companies wanted, and today they get, a blank check to permit further media consolidation."

The new rulemaking allows 120 days for public comment, and FCC Chairman Kevin Martin pledged at today's hearing to hold "half a dozen" public hearings and conduct independent studies.

"The FCC needs to heed the lesson of its previous media ownership proceeding and this time adopt a more open, more inclusive process as it considers any changes to its rules," said Benton Foundation President Gloria Tristani, who served as an FCC Commissioner from 1997 to 2001. "The American public must have every opportunity to be engaged in and actively participate in the policy decisions that will determine the future of their media."

Opponents of greater media consolidation strongly criticized the lack of specific rules in the FCC's proposal.

"The essence of democratic government is to give the people a chance to effectively participate in writing the rules under which they live," said Mark Cooper, director of research for the Consumer Federation of America. "This Notice denies the public the opportunity to comment on the actual rules that will govern the media in America, since no rules are proposed. If the Commission does not allow further comment, the courts should reject this sham."

While today's FCC action lacks details, Chairman Martin has been outspoken in his desire to eliminate the longstanding "cross-ownership" ban that prevents one company from owning TV or radio stations and the major daily newspaper in the same market.

"The prohibition against owning a local broadcaster and a local newspaper in the same market is critical to preserving what the Supreme Court called 'antagonistic sources of news' at the local level," said Linda Foley, president of the Newspaper Guild-CWA. "While some argue that the onset of digital communications provides many sources for national and international news, the vast majority of Americans get local news from either their local TV stations or their local newspaper. Our members know firsthand that the goal of media consolidation is to gain economic efficiencies. The result is merged news operations and reduced numbers of reporters covering local stories."

The FCC also may try to lift local ownership caps to allow a company to own two or more television stations in a single market. If both rule changes were approved, one firm could potentially own the major daily newspaper, eight radio stations and three television stations in the same town.

"Instead of local ownership with a diversity of views, we now have homogenized, cookie-cutter media divorced from local concerns," said Nancy Zirkin, deputy director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. "While Latino Americans, African Americans, Asian Americans, and Native Americans make up fully one-third of our nation, that one third has control over less than 2 percent of the dominant means of communication in this country. This should be a national embarrassment."

When the FCC last tried to change the media ownership rules in 2003 under then-Chairman Michael Powell, nearly 3 million people contacted the FCC and Congress to oppose the rules. They were later overturned by the courts, sending the FCC back to the drawing board.

"We filed suit against the FCC's new media ownership rules because the local groups that we know have experienced, first hand, the inordinate power that corporations exert through the media," said Pete Tridish of Prometheus Radio Project, the plaintiff in the lawsuit, Prometheus v. FCC, which overturned the FCC's last attempt to change the rules.

"Last time, the FCC started with a presumption that its goal was to deregulate," said Andrew Jay Schwartzman, president of Media Access Project, who argued the Prometheus case. "This time, we have a court decision that tells the FCC to take its thumb off the scale. If the Commission follows that directive, I'm sure that it will leave the existing rules in place."

But some FCC watchdogs were not optimisitic that the majority of commissioners would place the public interest before the self-interest of Big Media.

"The FCC is placing the narrow interests of the country's media giants ahead of its duty to protect the public," said Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy. "Instead of a communications environment that supports diversity of expression and serious journalism, we will have one shaped by infotainment, commercialism, and private gain."

While awaiting the official schedule of hearings, allied groups are moving forward with plans for "unofficial hearings" on media consolidation — including a "Town Meeting on the Future of the Media" organized by Free Press on June 28 in Asheville, N.C., with Copps and Adelstein.

"The public understands that Big Media is growing bigger, more consolidated, and less accountable to the public," said Sydney Levy, program director of Media Alliance. "The question is whether the FCC is willing to listen. We call on the FCC to establish and encourage robust public participation."

The campaign is coordinated by Free Press and includes more than two dozen charter members, including the Action Coalition for Media Education, AFL-CIO, Department of Professional Employees, American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, Benton Foundation, CCTV — Center for Media and Democracy, Center for Creative Voices in Media, Center for Digital Democracy, Coalition for the People's Agenda, Common Cause, Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union, Future of Music Coalition, GRIID, Independent Press Association, Industry Ears, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Media Access Project, Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, Media Alliance, Media Empowerment Project, National Council of Churches, National Federation of Community Broadcasters, New America Foundation, Newspaper Guild-CWA, Prometheus Radio Project, Public Citizen, Rainbow/PUSH, United Church of Christ and U.S. PIRG.

"FCC Chairman Martin passed up a golden opportunity to make clear to American public that this was no longer Michael Powell's FCC," said Chellie Pingree, president of Common Cause. "Instead, the public remains uncertain about whether the FCC intends to change its ways and truly commit to involving them in these crucial media ownership decisions."

"There is widespread public concern about concentration and bias in the media," added Gene Kimmelman, vice president of federal and international affairs for Consumers Union. "We need to remind the Commission how important a variety of independent and locally owned sources of news and information are to our democracy."

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Human Rights Campaign Announces Support of ‘Groundbreaking’ Maurice Jamal Film

‘Dirty Laundry,’ a First-of-Its-Kind Film to Center Around an African-American Gay Person Dealing with the Issues of Family and Church

WASHINGTON - June 20 - The Human Rights Campaign proudly announced its support of a new Maurice Jamal film, Dirty Laundry, that is being called “groundbreaking” and “historically significant” for its candor in confronting a story of an African-American son returning home to deal with being out to his family and his church. HRC is a national sponsor of sneak preview screenings for the film across the country.

“This Maurice Jamal independent film chronicles one man’s story, but speaks to thousands of conversations happening in families across this country,” said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese. “We are extremely honored to play a role in supporting a film that openly and honestly brings to the screen issues of being out as a gay African-American man. At the end of the day, this film will sparks more conversations that will lead to the changing of hearts and minds.”

Dirty Laundry is a modern-day prodigal son story with a twist. The film follows the Davis family, a traditional southern family dealing with the return of prodigal son, Patrick (Rockmond Dunbar). After 10 years, Patrick has returned to discover a secret that could rock his seemingly perfect life as a New York magazine writer.

“I am so excited to be working with the Human Rights Campaign on the tour of my new film, Dirty Laundry. The film presents a view of an African-American family that we've never seen before. It's about sexuality, family, faith and redemption. It's great that the Human Rights Campaign recognized how universal this story and those themes are. From my work with their Historically Black Colleges and Universities program to Dirty Laundry they are making wonderful strides in our community,” said Maurice Jamal, writer/director of Dirty Laundry and The Ski Trip.

The film comes from the creators of last year’s hit, The Ski Trip, currently airing on the Logo network. Once again, writer/director Jamal (Chappelle’s Show, Make My Day) tackles uncharted territory with his unique brand of comedy and drama. “[Jamal] is quickly becoming an important fixture in the American cinematic landscape,” said author Keith Boykin, host of BETJ’s “My Two Cents.”

Dirty Laundry is currently set for previews in the following cities and festivals: Boston (June 16); New York City — Urban World Film Festival (June 22); San Francisco — International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival (June 23); Los Angeles — 24th Annual L.A. Gay and Lesbian Film Festival (July 15); Chicago — Gay Games (July 18); Miami — American Black Film Festival (July 20-23); New York City — Ebony’s Hollywood in Harlem Film Festival; Dallas — Black Academy of Arts and Letters (Aug. 26); Atlanta — In the Life Atlanta Film Festival (Sept. 2); New Orleans (Sept. 23).

Democracy 21 Opposes Pre-Approval of Privately-funded Trips by Discredited House Ethics Committee

WASHINGTON - June 20 - The House Ethics Committee is expected to shortly announce new rules that would provide for the Committee to pre-approve privately-funded trips taken by House members in this country and around the world.

''Pre-approval by the thoroughly discredited House Ethics Committee of privately-funded trips for House members is simply a way for the Committee to legitimize and perpetuate the existing system of widespread travel abuses by House members,'' according to Democracy 21 President Fred Wertheimer.

''A pre-approval process will ensure that private interest influence-seekers can continue to buy access and influence with House members by providing them with substantial financial perks in the form of expensive trips to desired locations domestically and throughout the world,'' Wertheimer said.

According to a recent study issued by the Center for Public Integrity (CPI), the Representatives on the House Ethics Committee and their staff alone spent nearly $1 million on privately-funded trips during the period from January 2000 to June 2005.

Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), the Ranking Democrat on the Ethics Committee, and his staff, led the way for Ethics Committee members, with about 80 privately-funded trips at a cost of $245,000 during the five and a half year period, according to the study.

''Is there any reason to believe that Representative Berman thinks that the 80 or so trips he and his staff took were improperly funded and should not be approved in the future by the Ethics Committee?'' Wertheimer said. ''Given his own past travel record, is there any reason to believe that Representative Berman is going to be prepared to crack down on his colleagues' trips in the future?'' Wertheimer added.

''The same concerns hold true for other members of the House Ethics Committee, who, with their staffs, have spent large sums on privately-funded travel according to the CPI study,'' Wertheimer stated.

In addition to Chairman ''Doc'' Hastings (R-Wash.) and his staff, who spent $70,000 on privately-funded trips during the period, the top spenders, including staff, were Representatives Gene Green (D-Texas), $198,000; Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-Ohio), $130,000; Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) 95,000; Tom Cole (R-Okla.), $78,000 and Judy Biggert (R-Ill.), $60,000.

According to the CPI study of House Ethics Committee members, ''The Democratic members took in excess of 140 trips--more than their Republican counterparts by a 4-to-1 margin. According to disclosure forms, the travel expenses of Democrats and their staffers also accounted for more than $690,000, roughly 70 percent of sponsors' spending.''

The CPI study found that members of Congress and their staff, as a whole, received nearly $50 million in privately-funded travel during the period, including at least 200 privately-funded trips to Paris, 150 to Hawaii and 140 to Italy.

In a letter sent to members of the House Ethics Committee on June 12, 2006, five reform groups expressed their strong opposition to the creation of a pre-approval process by the House Ethics Committee for privately-funded travel for Members.

The groups include the Campaign Legal Center, Democracy 21, the League of Women Voters, Public Citizen and U.S. PIRG. The groups stated in the letter:

We strongly oppose the use of pre-approval by the House Ethics Committee to legitimize privately-funded travel for two basic reasons.

First, pre-approval by the House Ethics Committee of privately-funded trips will not stop the widespread abuses that have occurred in the House as a result of private groups paying for trips by Members whose decisions and votes they are trying to influence. At the same time, it will reduce a Member's own accountability for taking privately-funded trips.

Second, the House Ethics Committee has no public credibility. The Committee has failed to enforce even the limited existing House ethics rules governing travel, failed to investigate the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandals and failed to even function during most of this Congress.

There is no reason for the public to have any confidence in decisions by the House Ethics Committee about what is acceptable privately-funded travel, even if such a process was an effective way to end travel abuses by Members, which it is not.

If members of Congress are traveling on official business for public purposes, it is the public that should pay for such trips, not private interests.

The five reform groups further stated in their June 12 letter:

There is no reason to believe that a system of pre-approval of privately-funded trips for Members is going to stop vacation-type trips for Members to Paris, Hawaii, Italy and the like.

There is no reason to believe that a system of pre-approval of privately-funded trips for Members is going to stop private interests from using privately-funded trips to gain special access to and influence with Members, and in particular with the most powerful members of the House.

ACLU Condemns U.S. for Failing to Uphold Civil and Political Rights

Report Documenting Abuses Submitted to the U.N. Human Rights Committee and Released on National Day of Action

NEW YORK - June 20 - The American Civil Liberties Union today released a report to the U.N. Human Rights Committee condemning the U.S. government for failing to comply with its treaty obligations to protect and preserve a range of human rights protections at home and abroad. Drawing attention to some of the most vulnerable members of society, including women, children, minorities, immigrants and the accused, the ACLU offered detailed recommendations to bring the U.S. in line with universally recognized human rights standards.

"America should be a beacon of freedom throughout the world, not a country that violates the basic human rights of its own people," said Ann Beeson, Associate Legal Director of the ACLU.

The report, Dimming the Beacon of Freedom: U.S. Violations of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, documents the U.S. record on human rights in five areas: national security, women's rights, racial justice, immigrants rights and religious freedom.

The Human Rights Committee is the U.N. body of experts charged with monitoring countries compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the primary human rights treaty. The United States ratified the treaty in 1992. The committee will review the official submission of the U.S. government on July 17 and 18 in Geneva. The ACLU will send a delegation to present the report and monitor the proceedings.

Dimming the Beacon of Freedom provides a detailed description of human rights violations in the United States. In addition to the impact of these rights violations on other vulnerable groups in the U.S., the report highlights how in the wake on September 11, 2001, Arabs, Muslims and South Asians, and to some extent all immigrants, were victims of discriminatory targeting by the government. It draws attention to the erosion of the right to privacy, discussing expanded surveillance and the government's growing use of the states secret privilege to avoid accountability for abuses.

The ACLU recommendations urge the United States to:

* Ensure that federal judicial remedies are available to all persons detained in the "war on terror," including immigrants, minorities, women and undocumented persons;
* Thoroughly and promptly investigate all allegations of torture and abuse in the U.S. or U.S.-controlled prisons, jails and other detention facilities;
* Immediately end the illegal practice of rendering individuals to secret detention facilities or to countries known to participate in torture;
* Cease and desist domestic surveillance of Americans without probable cause and prior judicial approval;
* Reform the nation's immigration policy and ensure its compliance with human rights standards;
* Curtail the excessive secrecy in the administration of justice;
* Require states to properly fund and supervise their indigent defense systems;
* Repeal laws that convict women based on who they associate with rather than their conduct;
* Reduce minority over-representation in juvenile detention systems;
* Allow all citizens, regardless of their criminal history, to vote; or, as an alternative, require all states to restore voting rights upon completion of a criminal sentence; and,
* Effectively plan for crises such as Hurricane Katrina, including seeking meaningful participation from the community at all stages.

"The government's actions in the post- 9/11 period - ill-treatment of Muslims and immigrants, secrecy in the administration of justice, erosion of American's right to privacy, restrictions on rights of assembly and freedom of expression -- as well as its indifference to the African Americans most devastated by Hurricane Katrina, reveal its nonchalance where human rights at home are concerned," said Laleh Ispahani, Senior Policy Counsel at the ACLU.

Accompanying the release of the report, ACLU affiliates across the country are recognizing that human rights begin at home with a day of action in Georgia, Mississippi, Louisiana, Michigan and Texas. The intent of the day is to educate Americans about their human rights under the ICCPR, to demand U.S. accountability for human rights violations, and to call for the protection and realization of human rights on the local, state and federal level. Representatives from these ACLU affiliates will be part of the delegation traveling to Geneva next month.

Monday, June 19, 2006

New US Episcopal church leader says homosexuality no sin

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Newly elected leader of the U.S. Episcopal Church Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori said on Monday she believed homosexuality was no sin and homosexuals were created by God to love people of the same gender.

Jefferts Schori, bishop of the Diocese of Nevada, was elected on Sunday as the first woman leader of the 2.3 million-member Episcopal Church. the U.S. branch of the worldwide Anglican Communion. She will formally take office later this year.

Interviewed on CNN, Jefferts Schori was asked if it was a sin to be homosexual.

"I don't believe so. I believe that God creates us with different gifts. Each one of us comes into this world with a different collection of things that challenge us and things that give us joy and allow us to bless the world around us," she said.

"Some people come into this world with affections ordered toward other people of the same gender and some people come into this world with affections directed at people of the other gender."

Jefferts Schori's election seemed certain to exacerbate splits within a Episcopal Church that is already deeply divided over homosexuality with several dioceses and parishes threatening to break away.

It could also widen divisions with other Anglican communities, including the Church of England, which do not allow women bishops.

In the worldwide Anglican church women are bishops only in Canada, the United States and New Zealand. The Robinson issue has been particularly criticized in Africa where the church has a growing membership and where homosexuality is often taboo.

Jefferts Schori, who was raised a Roman Catholic and graduated in marine biology with a doctorate specialization in squids and oysters, supported the consecration of Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, the first openly gay bishop in more than 450 years of Anglican history.

The complete story may be found here:

From Columbus: Archbishop of Canterbury welcomes 26th Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church

[Episcopal News Service] The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams issued a statement June 19 on the election of Katharine Jefferts Schori, Bishop of Nevada, as the next Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. Jefferts Schori was elected June 18 to succeed current Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold.

The full text of Williams' statement is as below.

"I send my greetings to Bishop Katharine and she has my prayers and good wishes as she takes up a deeply demanding position at a critical time. She will bring many intellectual and pastoral gifts to her new work, and I am pleased to see the strength of her commitment to mission and to the Millennium Development Goals.

Her election will undoubtedly have an impact on the collegial life of the Anglican Primates; and it also brings into focus some continuing issues in several of our ecumenical dialogues.

We are continuing to pray for the General Convention of the Episcopal Church as it confronts a series of exceptionally difficult choices."

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Task Force Policy Institute Launches Largest-Ever National Study of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Asian and Pacific Islander Americans

WASHINGTON - June 16 - The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force today announced the launch of the largest-ever study of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Asian and Pacific Islander (API) Americans. The study, conducted by the Task Force Policy Institute in collaboration with API organizations in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington D.C., seeks at least 500 participants to complete an online survey. The confidential and anonymous survey is available in four languages: English, Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese. The survey is available at

"The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Asian-American community is under-served, under-researched and under-studied. Its members are caught in the margins," said Alain Dang, Task Force Policy analyst and the study's lead researcher. "We need to better understand the experience of this diverse part of our community. The findings of this study will help us to include the voices of the LGBT Asian-American community at all levels of discussion."

The survey includes questions about the basic demographics of participants, as well as questions that assess their public policy priorities and their experiences in mostly straight Asian communities and mostly white LGBT communities. It also assesses participants' experiences of harassment and violence related to their sexual orientation, gender identity, or racial/ethnic heritage, as well as their interactions with law enforcement authorities if they chose to report those experiences.

Findings from the study will be used to promote the particular concerns and priorities of API lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people to mainstream API and LGBT organizations, as well as to foster the Task Force's longstanding commitment to understanding the particular experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people of color and low-income LGBT people.

Partners in the study include the Gay Asian Pacific Alliance in San Francisco, Asian Equality, Invisible to Invincible in Chicago, and Asian Pacific Islander Queer Sisters (APIQS) in Washington, D.C.

"Our collective experiences as immigrants, often bicultural and multilingual, provide a depth and richness to building inclusive LGBT and API movements for social justice," said Trang Duong, co-chair of APIQS.

This study is the second phase of work that started in 2004 with the Task Force Policy Institute's Asian Pacific American Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender People: A Community Portrait. Written by Dang and Mandy Hu, that report concentrated on the New York City metropolitan area and discovered that 82 percent of those surveyed had experienced discrimination based on their sexual orientation, and the same percentage reported racial and ethnic discrimination. A PDF of the report can be downloaded at

"The Task Force Policy Institute is excited to be conducting the largest-ever survey of Asian-American LGBT people," said Sean Cahill, director of the Task Force Policy Institute. "We want to understand and advocate for all members of our community, especially for those who are often marginalized, ignored and underserved. We thank Asian Equality and the other Asian queer groups for partnering with us in this critical endeavor."

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

'War on Terror' Failing, and Distracting Politicians from the Genuine Threats to Global Security

OXFORD, England - June 13 -

* Major new study deeply critical of UK and US policies in the 'war on terror', finding that they make the risk of future terrorist attacks on the scale of New York, Madrid or London more likely, not less likely.
* One of Britain's leading independent think tanks concludes that the current focus on international terrorism is distracting politicians from more fundamental threats to global security, causing their responses to those threats to be wholly inadequate.
* Report receives worldwide attention and gains support from major international figures in the political, military and NGO world.

The 'war on terror' is a dangerous diversion and prevents the international community from responding effectively to the most likely causes of future conflict, according to a new report, Global Responses to Global Threats: Sustainable Security for the 21st Century, published 12 June 2006.

The result of an 18-month long study by Oxford Research Group, one of Britain's leading independent think tanks, the authors argue that the genuine threats to peace and the likely causes of future conflict are:

* climate change,
* competition over resources,
* socio-economic marginalisation, and
* global militarisation.

These are the trends that are likely to lead to substantial global and regional instability and large-scale loss of life of a magnitude unmatched by other potential threats, including terrorism.

They are far more important than the current focus on the 'war on terror'. This deeply flawed strategy is consuming hundreds of billions of dollars, creating more recruits and supporters of terrorism than it defeats, and is diverting attention from threats to security that are far more serious, lasting and destructive than that of international terrorism.

Furthermore, the current response to insecurity is essentially about "control" - attempting to maintain the status quo through military force, without addressing the root causes. The authors argue that such security policies are self-defeating in the long-term, and so a new approach is urgently needed.

An alternative "sustainable security" approach aims to address the root causes of those threats, cooperatively using the most effective means available. For example:

* renewable energy and conservation as the most important response to climate change;
* energy efficiency as a response to resource competition;
* intensive poverty reduction programmes as a means to address marginalisation; and
* the halting and reversal of WMD development and proliferation as a main component of checking global militarisation.

These provide the best chance of averting global disaster, as well as addressing some of the root causes of terrorism.

According to Oxford Research Group, it will be essential to encourage governments, especially in the United States and the United Kingdom, to rethink their current security outlook, with the next five years being the key period for change if we are to avoid a highly unstable global system by the middle years of the century.

Even though both governments look very set in their ways and repeatedly claim "there is no alternative", there is abundant evidence that the 'war on terror' is proving deeply counterproductive - making the risk of future terrorist attacks on the scale of New York, Madrid or London more likely, not less likely.

The Iraq war is now into its fourth year and the conflict in Afghanistan moves into its sixth year in October, yet both countries are increasingly unstable and violent while the al-Qaida movement is as active as ever. In such circumstances, the authors of the report believe there is now real opportunity for an intensive debate leading to a realistic chance of changes in policy.

Commenting on the publication of the report, former UK Secretary of State for International Development, Clare Short MP, said:

"Current US and UK foreign policy is totally counterproductive and is encouraging terrorism and proliferation of WMD. This report offers a serious alternative which would make the world safer. I hope it is widely read."

The Liberal Democrat spokesperson on defence in the House of Lords, Air Marshal the Lord Garden, added:

"This report takes a measured look at the challenges that the planet faces in the coming years, and offers a coherent strategy to make the world a safer place. If we are to reverse the deepening crisis, a global approach to security in all it aspects is needed. The authors offer a compelling starting point."

Monday, June 12, 2006

Independent investigation must be held into deaths of three Guantánamo detainees

Amnesty International today called for a fully independent investigation led by civilians into the deaths of three Guantanamo detainees after apparent suicides.

The organisation also called on the US government to give the group of five UN experts immediate and unrestricted access to the Guantánamo detention centre, and in particular allow the experts to talk privately with detainees.

The detainees who died have been identified as Saudi nationals Mane'i bin Shaman bin Turki al-Habardi al-'Otaybi and Yassar Talal 'Abdullah Yahia al-Zahrani, who was reportedly 17 when he was taken into custody, and Yemeni national 'Ali 'Abdullah Ahmed.

“This has been tragedy waiting to happen. A full independent investigation is a matter of absolute urgency particularly in the light of statements from high-ranking members of the US military and government, which risk undermining the investigation launched by the Naval Criminal Investigation Service,” said Rob Freer, Amnesty International’s researcher on the US.

The dismissal of the deaths of the three detainees by the US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy, Colleen Graffy as “a good PR move to draw attention” shows a chilling disregard for human life.

Amnesty International is also deeply concerned by the statement from the Commander of Joint Task Force Guantánamo, Navy Rear Admiral Harry B. Harris that the three detainees had not killed themselves out of desperation, but as “an act of asymmetric warfare”.

“The Commander’s statement is entirely inappropriate, and is part of a pattern of official commentary on the presumed guilt of detainees who have never had an opportunity to challenge their detentions in a court of law,” said Rob Freer.

Furthermore, the military authorities have shown themselves to be oblivious to the psychological suffering of the detainees. Earlier, military psychiatrists reportedly reclassified suicide attempts as “manipulative self-injurious behaviour”, resulting in a decrease in the rate of suicide attempts officially recorded.

Detainees, including released detainees interviewed by Amnesty International, have spoken of the psychological impact of the isolation and indefinite nature of the Guantánamo regime -- conditions that Amnesty International has defined as amounting to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment prohibited under international law.

“Amnesty International has long been concerned that some Guantánamo prisoners are so psychologically damaged by being held for years on end without charge or trial that they are becoming suicidal,” said Rob Freer.

“President George W. Bush has it within his power to order an end to this human rights scandal now and to ensure that detainees are either brought to fair trial or released with full safeguards as a matter of urgency”.

International pressure for the closure of the detention centre has been mounting.

Three years ago, the International Committee of the Red Cross – the only outside organization with access to the detainees – took the unusual step of making public its concern that the indefinite detention regime at Guantánamo was having severe psychological repercussions on the detainees.

Last month the United Nations Committee Against Torture joined the growing calls for closure of the Guantánamo Bay detention facility, concluding that this indefinite detention without charge is itself a violation of the Convention against Torture.

Amnesty International reiterates its call for closure of Guantánamo Bay, which must be carried out without transferring the lawlessness elsewhere. There must be full disclosure of all other US “war on terror” detentions, which should be brought into full compliance with international law. Those detainees who are to be released but cannot be returned to their countries because they risk of grave human rights abuses must be offered protection by the USA. Other countries, if necessary, should assist.

The organization also reiterates its call for a full independent commission of inquiry into all aspects of the USA’s detention and interrogation policies and practices in the “war on terror”, including renditions and secret detentions.

In another development apparently related to the deaths, on 10 June, John D. Altenburg, the Appointing Authority for Military Commissions, issued an order staying all proceedings by military commission. Pre-trial hearings had been scheduled to occur this and next week.

Amnesty International opposes the trials by military commission, which fall far short of international standards for fair trial. The organization continues to call on President Bush to rescind the Military Order of 13 November 2001 establishing the commissions. He should not wait for the US Supreme Court to rule on the issue.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Archbishops’ Council publishes response to consultation on sexual orientation discrimination

9 June 2006

The Archbishops’ Council of the Church of England has today published a response to the Department of Trade and Industry’s Consultation on Proposals to Outlaw Sexual Orientation Discrimination in the Provision of Goods and Services.

The introduction to the submission says: “Church leaders have welcomed the steps taken over recent years to combat all prejudice, to repudiate homophobic violence and to create new legal safeguards. The proposed extension of the Equality Act through these regulations is an important part of that process.”

Acknowledging that there is a range of views on the underlying moral issues, the submission goes on to point out that the Church of England, along with other churches and faith groups, continues to draw a distinction between sexual orientation and behaviour, a distinction not generally recognised in legislation. As a result, the new regulations could, unless carefully drafted, cut across the right of churches and other faith communities and their members “to manifest their own doctrines and convictions in this area without fear of legal sanction. That means that the regulations need to strike a careful balance, as in other anti-discrimination legislation, between potentially competing rights.”

In a covering letter, William Fittall, Secretary General of the Archbishops’ Council, welcomes “the recognition that special considerations are likely to justify some exemptions in relation to churches and other religious organisations.” He adds: “Some of the analysis in the consultation document does, however, raise substantial difficulties for us, as for other churches and faith organisations.”

The Church’s submission offers a series of specific suggestions for ways in which these concerns could be met.

Episcopal Church Convention Will be Searching for a Comfort Zone

The Cleveland Plain Dealer Reported Today that:

Saturday, June 10, 2006
Frank Bentayou
Plain Dealer Reporter

The early wave of 10,000 or more Episcopal clergy, laity, staff and exhibitors arrives today in Columbus to prepare for the denomination's nine-day general convention, which starts Tuesday.

Some say the Episcopalians, who appointed their first openly gay bishop in 2003, want to ease toward the theological, ideological and social center. Meanwhile, America might be striving for that same comfort zone.

"Absolutely," said the Rev. William Sachs, a vice president at the Episcopal Church Foundation in New York. "I think there's an analogy between what the church is confronting and what we see in broader national politics, a move toward the middle."
Sachs and others also believe the church and nation are veering toward the center from opposite sides of the divide, especially regarding the hottest issue: sex.

In Washington this week, the U.S. Senate rejected a proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. Conservative Christian and family-values groups have supported the amendment, but Wednesday's vote, in effect, killed it for the year.

And area members of the church's house of deputies, one of two legislative bodies, expect it and the house of bishops (the other body) will use this 75th triennial convention to rein in the controversy that grew out of the previous convention in Minneapolis.

For the United States and the church, the driving force is acceptance of homosexuals in roles they might never have felt welcomed to fill before and of same-sex couples' proclamation of commitment through marriage or other ceremony, Sachs believes.

How the 110-member house of bishops and 880-member house of deputies position the church over the next week and a half could determine if the recent rift over homosexuality widens.

Already, the issue has driven some 20 formerly Episcopal churches (including four in Northeast Ohio) to align with foreign and more conservative dioceses of the Anglican Communion, parent church to the Episcopalians.

The legislative bodies' actions will show how a 400-year-old mainline Protestant denomination of 2.2 million Americans (2.4 million worldwide) navigates between its principles and its loyalty to the Anglicans (70 million strong worldwide), some of whose provinces hold to more cautious doctrine than the Episcopal Church.

The Complete Story May be found here:

Friday, June 09, 2006

Barbara Lee Blasts GOP Effort to Allow Permanent Iraq Bases

Says Upcoming Debate on Iraq Should Clearly Rule Out Permanent Bases

WASHINGTON - June 9 - Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-Oakland) condemned Republican efforts to quietly remove a provision to prevent spending to establish permanent military bases in Iraq during the conference committee on the emergency war supplemental spending bill.

"The House and Senate went on record opposing permanent bases, but now the Republicans are trying to sneak them back in in the middle of the night," said Lee. "The Republicans willingness to abuse the legislative process is clear evidence of their unwillingness to level with the American people about their plans for Iraq."

Although both the House and Senate unanimously approved amendments introduced by Lee and Senator Joe Biden (D-DE), respectively, to prevent funds appropriated in the bill from being used to establish permanent military bases in Iraq, Republican members of the joint committee appointed to reconcile the House and Senate versions voted to strip the provision from the bill.

Lee was emphatic that the upcoming floor debate on Iraq, expected next week, explicitly clarify the nation's position on permanent bases.

"The perception that the U.S. intends to occupy Iraq indefinitely is fueling the insurgency and making our troops more vulnerable. We need to make it perfectly clear that there will be no permanent US military presence in Iraq," said Lee. "If we are going to have a real debate on Iraq next week, it must explicitly address this question, and Republicans need to go on record as to whether they think we should stay in Iraq permanently."

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

New 'Caught Red-Handed' TV Ad Starts Airing Today: 4 Reps Charged with Voting to Protect War Profiteers like Halliburton

WASHINGTON - June 7 - Political Action launched a new television ad today charging four Representatives with voting to protect war profiteers like Halliburton. The launch coincided with rallies outside of the Members' offices where local veterans joined MoveOn members to demand the return of thousands in defense contractor contributions.

"At a time when our soldiers' lack of body armor was a national scandal, and most of us were worrying about the safety of our troops, these Congressmen and women's attention was focused on letting war profiteers like Halliburton off the hook for overcharging our military and defrauding American taxpayers,? said Eli Pariser, executive director of MoveOn Political Action.

"Even our troops in Iraq are subject to the effects of Washington's culture of corruption. These Members, who took tens of thousands in campaign contributions from defense contractors, protected them from stiffer penalties for war profiteering. It's an outrage because every dollar that Halliburton took through fraud could have gone to our Army and our troops," said Eli Pariser, executive director of MoveOn Political Action.

At the four rallies, hundreds of MoveOn members gathered petition signatures and held up large signs and giant yellow ribbons with a message to the Congressman: "Support Our Troops, Not Halliburton."

Today's launch is the third in a series of Political Action's "Caught Red-Handed" television ads slated to run through June 16th. The group is spending over $300,000 to run the ad on stations in the four districts.

Substantiation for the ads can found on the following Web sites:

Americans United Hails Senate Derailment of Federal Marriage Amendment; Says Floor Vote Was Disgraceful Election-Year Stunt

WASHINGTON - June 7 - Today's Senate derailment of the Federal Marriage Amendment is a good thing, but the floor vote never should have taken place, according to Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

The amendment, S.J. Res. 1, failed on a 49-48 procedural vote. Sixty votes were necessary to bring the measure to the floor.

"This vote was election-year politics at its worst," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director. "I'm glad the amendment was derailed, but it never should have been voted on. This vote was nothing but ammo for attack ads.

"Playing politics with the Constitution is disgraceful," Lynn continued.

Lynn noted that James Dobson's Focus on the Family Action is already running ads attacking 15 senators who fail to conform to Dobson's agenda. The ads show a sad-looking boy and feature the headline, "Why doesn't Senator (senator's last name here) believe every child needs a mother and a father?"

"This is pure demagoguery," said Lynn. "Dobson and his Religious Right cronies are playing the worst kind of hardball politics."

The so-called "Marriage Protection Amendment" would revise the U.S. Constitution to mandate that marriage "shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman." Americans United charged that the measure is a Religious Right-inspired effort to write the majority faiths' marriage doctrines and rituals into the Constitution.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

The National Lawyers Guild Opposes Bush’s Proposed Constitutional Amendment to Ban on Same Sex Marriage

New York -- The National Lawyers Guild strongly condemns the constitutional amendment to ban same sex marriage proposed by President Bush on Monday, June 5, 2006 as an attack on the civil and human rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals. The amendment would interfere with the rights of states to recognize same-sex marriages.

The Guild criticized the President for targeting the GLBTQI community in an attempt to drum up support from his conservative followers at a time when his approval rating is at a record low and he is being characterized as one of the most unpopular presidents in U.S. history. The Guild noted that most observers believe that the proposed amendment will not receive the two-thirds majority necessary for it to pass in the House and Senate. The Guild concluded that the same sex marriage amendment is a political tactic, in which Bush seeks to promote homophobia and fear to increase his own popularity. “Although polls indicate that support for same-sex marriage is on the rise, queer people still face harassment and discrimination in our society. Rather than address the real issues contributing to his low ratings, such as the unpopular and unjust war on Iraq, the president is pandering to the religious right and seeking to scapegoat the GLBTQI community.” said Mel Campagna, Queer Committee member and Legal Worker VP for the National Lawyers Guild.

NLG President Michael Avery stated, "If this Amendment were to pass it would be the first time that the Constitution had been amended to deny any group of citizens the equal protection of the law. President Bush is joining the politics of fear with the politics of hate in a way that is fundamentally un-American."

The amendment is unnecessary to protect freedom of religion because the First Amendment ensures that religious organizations have the right to decide who will be consecrated in holy matrimony without interference from the government. At the same time, the First Amendment protects all citizens from government mandated religious beliefs. The Guild believes that if passed the amendment would hamper the protections of every citizen provided by the First Amendment and erode the power of the Bill of Rights. “The right to marry the person whom one chooses and all the protections and benefits afforded to marriage are basic civil rights which should be guaranteed to every citizen, without regard to another person’s particular religious beliefs” said Anne Befu, co-chair of the NLG Queer Committee.

Founded in 1937 as the first racially integrated national bar association, the National Lawyers Guild is the oldest and largest public interest/human rights bar organization in the United States, with more than 200 chapters.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Zimbabwe: Satellite images provide shocking evidence of the obliteration of a community

Amnesty International today released the first-ever satellite images of the wholesale destruction of a large community in Zimbabwe -- providing the clearest possible evidence to date of the devastating impact of the Zimbabwean government's policy of house demolitions.

"These satellite images are irrefutable evidence -- if further evidence is even needed -- that the Zimbabwean government has obliterated entire communities -- completely erased them from the map, as if they never existed," said Kolawole Olaniyan, Director of Amnesty International's Africa programme.

The organization commissioned the satellite images to demonstrate the complete destruction of Porta Farm -- a large, informal settlement that was established 16 years ago and had schools, a children's centre and a mosque. The organization also released graphic video footage showing the forced evictions taking place prior to the demolitions.

"The images and footage are a graphic indictment of the Zimbabwean government's policies. They show the horrifying transition of an area from a vibrant community to rubble and shrubs -- in the space of just ten months," said Kolawole Olaniyan.

On 27 June 2005, approximately one month after the start of Operation Murambatsvina ("Restore Order"), police officers came to Porta Farm and distributed fliers telling residents to pack up their property and leave their homes. The police told the residents they would be back the following morning, giving them less than 24 hours to comply.

Early in the morning of 28 June, a convoy of vehicles and police descended on Porta Farm. The police were heavily armed.

Residents watched helplessly as bulldozers and police officers in riot gear reduced their homes to rubble. Police officers reportedly threatened the residents, saying anyone who resisted eviction would be beaten. The destruction of Porta Farm went on all day -- only ending when darkness fell. Thousands of people were forced to sleep outside in the rubble in mid-winter.

The next day, the police returned to continue with the demolitions. They also began to forcibly remove people on the back of trucks.

The Porta Farm evictions took place while the UN Special Envoy, Mrs. Anna Tibaijuka, was in Zimbabwe. On 29 June members of the Special Envoy’s team visited Porta Farm and witnessed demolitions and forced removal of people in police and government trucks. The subsequent report of the UN Special Envoy describes how the team was "shocked by the brutality" of what they witnessed. Local human rights monitors reported that during the chaos several deaths occurred, including those of two children.

In May 2005 the government of Zimbabwe embarked on Operation Murambatsvina (Restore Order), a programme of mass forced evictions and the demolition of homes and informal businesses. The operation, which was carried out in winter and against a backdrop of severe food shortages, targeted poor urban and peri-urban areas countrywide.

In a critical report released on 22 July 2005 the United Nations (UN) estimated that in the space of approximately six weeks some 700,000 people lost their homes, their livelihoods, or both.

The communities affected by Operation Murambatsvina were amongst the poorest and most vulnerable in Zimbabwe. In several cases, such as Porta Farm, they had been the victims of previous forced evictions carried out by the authorities. They were given almost no notice before their homes were demolished and no alternative accommodation was provided. The government stated publicly that the evictees should go back to the rural areas.

The satellite images released by Amnesty International were analysed by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, with funding from the MacArthur Foundation in the US.

The satellite images and video footage will be available on

Thursday, June 01, 2006

HEALTH:Bird Flu Adds to Indonesia's Woes

Marwaan Macan-Markar

BANGKOK, May 30 (IPS) - Fears that Indonesia may emerge as the epicentre of a global bird flu pandemic are adding to the woes of a country struggling to cope with the aftermath of Saturday's temblor that left more than 5,500 people dead in central Java.

Reports of seven bird flu deaths in a single family, in northern Sumatra, have exacerbated the fears.

Indonesia has witnessed 33 bird flu deaths so far, compared to 42 in Vietnam. But, while Vietnam has recorded no outbreaks in its poultry flocks since December last year, the archipelagic country is still struggling to contain the deadly H5N1 virus that has spread to 27 of its 33 provinces.

Of all the countries that have been affected, Indonesia has suffered the highest number of human fatalities since the beginning of the year. The current global death toll stands at 124 in nine countries out of more than 220 infections in 10 countries.

Most worrying to epidemiologists and public health experts is the recent confirmation of a large cluster of bird flu deaths in Simbelang, a remote village in Sumatra. ''This is unprecedented,'' Peter Cordingley, spokesman for the World Health Organisation's (WHO) Western Pacific regional office, told IPS.

Over the weekend, international health experts decided to increase the number of Indonesians in Simbelang placed under quarantine in order to limit the possible spread of H5N1 virus through the human-to-human route. Fifty four villagers were confined to their homes, up from the initial 33 that WHO experts thought were vulnerable.

According to the WHO, most of the family members had died from bird flu during the first two weeks of May. But the Geneva-based health body also confirmed, last week, that the seven members of this family who succumbed to the virus may have infected one another.

As one Thai health expert explained, reports of such clusters are a cause for greater concern -- than reports of an isolated fatality --because of the possibility that the H5N1 virus could mutate into a strain that is capable of being passed among humans..

The complete story may be found here:

EU Duties Would Have a Serious Impact on the Livelihoods of Nearly One Million Workers in Vietnam

BRUSSELS - June 1 - The European Commission should reconsider the imposition of anti-dumping duty and ensure that Vietnamese footwear workers are not the ones paying the price of mounting trade dispute, ActionAid said today.

A new report of the international development NGO reveals the impact that the EU sanctions would have on one million people in Vietnam, living on just around €1 a day.

The research on the “Impact of anti-dumping proceeding by EC on Vietnam footwear industry” has been conducted by ActionAid Vietnam and the Vietnam Leather and Footwear Association(LEFASO).

It was undertaken in the first half of May 2006 after the imposition by the European Commission of a provisonal anti-dumping duty of 4.2% on April 7, 2006.

The research report will be submitted to the European Commission in relation to a hearing on this case in Brussels on the 2nd June, together with a collective letter and more than 2,000 signatures of Vietnames footwear workers.

On the same day, the provisional anti-dumping duty will be doubled to 8.4%.

This imposition has been making a negative impact on production of Vietnam's footwear industry, which is the the country’s biggest export to EU with revenues of € 2.1 billion in 2005.

According to initial estimates, the new duty could put up to 500,000 workers in the local footwear industry and a large number of employees in related industries out of work.

“From our point of view, fighting against poverty by ensuring the livelihood of the most excluded people, we consider this proceeding unfair as it is harming vulnerable workers’. That’s why we decided to do this research to bring the workers’ voice to the EC.” – said Mr. Phan Van Ngoc, Country Director of ActionAid Vietnam.

According to LEFASO, the number of orders fell rapidly right after the proceeding began in July 2005 and several orders have not been confirmed for the year 2006. As a consequence, a lot of shoe-makers reduced their production and released part of their labour force.

“Due to lack of orders, we now have only 20 working days per month instead of 26 days as normal, which means our income is much lower.

“With just US$ 0.95-1.25 income per day, we spend US$ 0.3 for food, mainly cereals (rice, corn, sweet potato and cassava).

“We have tried several times to find odd jobs out of working time, but there is excess of labour supply while limited labour demand.

“We are just robbing Peter to pay Paul. We are really living from hand to mouth. It is impossible to know about tomorrow. Our only wish is to get a stable job at the factory as previously”, said Dang Thi Nhien, representative of the experienced employees in Haiphong Leather and Footwear Company.

89 Guantanamo detainees on hunger strike

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico - More Guantanamo Bay detainees protesting their indefinite confinement joined a hunger strike, raising the number to 89 from 75, the U.S. military said Thursday.
The military said the strike is an attempt to pressure the United States to release them, but a human rights attorney described it as a desperate appeal for justice.

Six of the hunger strikers at the isolated U.S. naval base in southeast Cuba were being force-fed, said Navy Cmdr. Robert Durand. That's two more than were being force-fed last weekend.

"All are being closely monitored by the ... medical staff and being counseled on the health effects of long-term hunger striking," Durand said in a statement from Guantanamo Bay.

The hunger strike is now the biggest of the year at the base, where about 460 men are being held on suspicion of links to al-Qaida or the Taliban.

Military officials said the hunger strikers are trying to gain public sympathy to pressure the United States to release them. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen and British Attorney General Lord Goldsmith are among those who have recently called on the United States to close Guantanamo.

The complete story may be found here:

New York High Court Hears Oral Argument in Lambda Legal’s Lawsuit Seeking Marriage for Same-Sex Couples

‘In 1966, my parents couldn’t get married in many states because my father is black and my mother is white; in 2006, I hope to be able to marry my partner.’

(New York, May 31, 2006) — The New York Court of Appeals (the state’s highest court) heard oral argument today in Lambda Legal’s lawsuit seeking marriage for same-sex couples.

“Today is an historic day for same-sex couples and their families in New York,” said Susan Sommer, Senior Counsel at Lambda Legal and lead attorney on the case. “Our clients Mary Jo Kennedy and Jo-Ann Shain hope to be able to celebrate their 25th anniversary together next year as lawfully wedded spouses. I hope that what the Court heard today showed them why the unconstitutional practice of barring such couples from marriage in New York needs to come to a swift end.”

Lambda Legal’s lawsuit Hernandez v. Robles was the first case seeking the right to marry for same-sex couples that the New York Court of Appeals agreed to hear. Three additional cases seeking the right for same-sex couples to marry in New York were also heard today. The Court heard arguments for two hours and 20 minutes.

“In 1966, my parents couldn’t get married in many states because my father is black and my mother is white; in 2006, I hope to marry my partner,” said Curtis Woolbright, who along with his partner, Daniel Reyes, is one of five couples seeking the right to marry in New York represented by Lambda Legal. “Should Daniel and I be privileged to have our own children, we hope that they will be able to one day look back with the same shock and astonishment that I felt when my parents told me that there was a time in our country when two people who loved each other and wanted nothing more than to spend the rest of their lives together and make a family together were denied that right in many states.”

Lambda Legal filed Hernandez v. Robles in March 2004. The lawsuit seeks marriage for same-sex couples in New York and argues that denying these couples marriage violates the state constitution’s guarantees of equality, liberty and privacy for all New Yorkers. The trial court issued its ruling in the couples’ favor in February 2005, and New York City decided to appeal. The mid-level appeals court handed down its decision in the City’s favor in December, and Lambda Legal appealed to the Court of Appeals (the state’s highest court).

In addition to Hernandez v. Robles, Lambda Legal has filed similar cases seeking marriage for same-sex couples in California (with lead counsel, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and the ACLU), Washington (with the Northwest Women’s Law Center), New Jersey and Iowa. A decision from the Washington Supreme Court in the Andersen v. King County case is imminent, and oral argument in the New Jersey case was held on February 15, 2006.

Susan Sommer, Senior Counsel for Lambda Legal, is lead counsel on Hernandez v. Robles. David Buckel, Lambda Legal’s Marriage Project Director, and Alphonso David, Lambda Legal Staff Attorney, are also working on the case. Jeffrey S. Trachtman and Norman C. Simon of Kramer, Levin, Naftalis & Frankel of New York are cooperating counsel.