Monday, July 31, 2006

ACLU and Lambda Legal Urge Federal Appeals Court to Reconsider Ruling Upholding Nebraska’s Extreme Anti-Gay Family Law

ST LOUIS, Missouri - July 28 - The American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal today asked a federal appeals court to reconsider its July 14th ruling upholding an extreme Nebraska law that bans all protections for same-sex couples.

"The federal appeals court panel that decided this case just ignored the U.S. Supreme Court, which has ruled that states can’t pass laws just to discriminate against gay people," said Matt Coles, Director of the ACLU’s Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Project. "We are hopeful that the court will recognize this decision simply can’t be squared with Constitutional guarantees of equality."

The motion for rehearing comes after a three-member panel of the Federal Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit reversed a district court ruling striking down Nebraska’s extreme anti-gay family law. The motion filed today asks the panel that heard the case to set aside its earlier decision and rehear the case or for the court to set aside the decision and set rehearing before the entire court. The motion argues that the decision should be reconsidered because of its conflict with Supreme Court precedent and because the constitutionality of measures like the Nebraska amendment is an issue of exceptional importance. Although 20 states have now amended their constitutions to bar same-sex couples from marriage, the Nebraska amendment, which passed in 2000, is the most extreme anti-gay amendment in the country, barring marriage and all other types of relationship recognition for same-sex couples.

"This case has never been about marriage. It is about whether a state can completely block gay people from the political process. It basically put a sign of the door of the Nebraska legislature telling gay people to stay away," said Jon W. Davidson, Legal Director at Lambda Legal. "If our constitutional guarantees of equality have any meaning, this law has to go."

The ACLU and Lambda Legal brought the legal challenge on behalf of ACLU Nebraska and two state-wide LGBT lobbying and education organizations — Citizens for Equal Protection (CFEP) and Nebraska Advocates for Justice and Equality (NAJE).

"The panel decision was very disappointing to the many hard-working, tax-paying lesbian and gay Nebraskans who need protections for their families just like straight couples," said Michael Gordon, Executive Director of CFEP. "But we continue to have faith in our Constitution and the judicial system and are hopeful we will eventually see the day when we can go back to the Nebraska legislature and fight for our families."

Amy Miller, Litigation Director of ACLU Nebraska, added, "We recognize that the Nebraska legislature isn’t eager to provide same-sex couples comprehensive protections for their families. But as long as this law stands, the door is shut and there’s no point in our even talking to our elected officials about the harms our families face."

The attorneys who are litigating the case include: Robert Bartle of Bartle & Geier in Lincoln, Nebraska; David Buckel and Brian Chase of Lambda Legal; Tamara Lange, Sharon McGowan, James Esseks and Coles of the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Project and Amy Miller of ACLU Nebraska.

The case is Citizens for Equal Protection, Inc., v. Attorney General Jon Bruning, filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit, number 05-2604. Legal documents are available at and

Thursday, July 27, 2006

ELCA Youth Gathering Raises More Than $1 Million

CHICAGO (ELCA) -- The 2006 Youth Gathering of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) offered about 40,000 Lutheran youth and adults the opportunity to participate in a variety of stewardship programs. The gathering took place in two back-to-back events in San Antonio, Texas. Some 15,000 young people, chaperones and volunteers participated July 5-9; more than 24,000 people participated July 12-16.
As of July 17 more than $530,000 had been raised for "Hamiltons for Hunger." Under the "Hamiltons for Hunger" effort, every participant was asked to bring $30 or "three Hamiltons" to raise $1 million for the ELCA World Hunger Appeal. Donations are still being collected.
Worship offerings from both weeks were about $580,000 and will benefit domestic and international ministries that support children, youth and families. About $100,000 in gift cards was collected during the gathering as an "in-kind" offering to benefit six San Antonio organizations.
In addition to gift cards, about $50,000 in leftover materials was collected that included everything from "TV sets to wood," said the Rev. William B. Kees, director for youth ministries, ELCA Vocation and Education.
Anything that could be reused was divided among seven different organizations, said Peggy Contos Hahn, assistant to the bishop, ELCA Gulf Coast Synod. The majority of the materials will benefit two mission centers that are part of La Frontera ministries along the U.S.-Mexico border. A mission center in El Paso, Texas, received 40 pallets of material to be used in El Paso and Juarez, Mexico, to build churches and aid those living in poverty. A mission center in Laredo, Texas, received 30 pallets of material that will benefit eight congregations along the U.S.-Mexico border, Hahn said.
Texas Lutheran University (TLU) Center for Student Servant Leadership, Seguin, received hand tools for the TLU chapter of Habitat for Humanity; landscape timber and benches for the Center; plants that Faith Lutheran Church, Seguin, will sell to raise money for Lutheran Border Ministry; and leftover Youth Gathering backpacks that will be sold to raise money for the Center for Student Leadership in conjunction with the center's fair-trade weekend, said Ron Quiros, director, TLU Center for Student Leadership. TLU is one of 28 colleges and universities of the ELCA.
Lutheran Social Services of the South received backpacks and Bibles. Lumber and other building materials were donated to Camp Chrysalis, Kerrville, Texas, as well as Bulverde United Methodist Church, San Antonio.

Episcopal Church will welcome Katharine Jefferts Schori as 26th Presiding Bishop; November 4-5 rites set for Washington National Cathedral

[Episcopal News Service] In rites on November 4-5 at Washington National Cathedral, the Episcopal Church will welcome Katharine Jefferts Schori as its 26th Presiding Bishop.

The Cathedral's 11 a.m. All Saints' Sunday liturgy on November 5 will include the formal seating of Jefferts Schori -- elected to office June 18 during proceedings of the 75th General Convention -- in the Presiding Bishop's cathedra, or official chair. All are welcome to attend the service on a first-come, first-seated basis as capacity allows.

Jefferts Schori's Investiture as 26th Presiding Bishop will occur in the context of a Eucharistic celebration at 11 a.m. on Saturday, November 4, when tickets are required due to seating constraints. General-admission tickets may be requested per procedures listed below and also posted online at

During the Investiture, Jefferts Schori will receive symbols of office, including the primatial staff to be presented by the 25th Presiding Bishop, Frank T. Griswold, whose nine-year tenure concludes as Jefferts Schori's begins on November 1.

General-admission tickets for the Saturday Investiture will be distributed on a first-come, first-served basis by the Office of the Presiding Bishop, which, in consultation with the Cathedral, has sought to achieve the fairest possible manner of ticket distribution. According to policy detailed below, tickets may be requested no earlier than August 15 and by postal mail only.

A webcast at will carry the Investiture service live online for those viewing around the world. Applications for credentialing of media representatives wishing to cover the Investiture will be made available online on August 15.

As Presiding Bishop, Jefferts Schori, 52, will become chief pastor to the U.S.-based Episcopal Church, which includes more than 2.4 million members in some 7,600 congregations in 111 dioceses spanning 16 countries.

She will also join the Anglican Communion's Primates Meeting, a body of principal bishops who oversee the Communion's 38 member Provinces, of which the Episcopal Church is one.

Jefferts Schori is the first woman in Anglicanism's five-century history to serve in this capacity. She has served as bishop of the Diocese of Nevada since 2001. A former university professor, Jefferts Schori is an experienced oceanographer and airplane pilot. She and her husband, Richard Miles Schori, a retired theoretical mathematician, have one daughter, Katharine Johanna, 25, who is a first lieutenant and pilot in the U.S. Air Force.

Known as a "house of prayer for all people" and "a great church for national purposes," Washington Cathedral is located on Mount Saint Alban at Massachusetts and Wisconsin avenues in the Northwest district of Washington, D.C. In 2007 the Cathedral will celebrate its centennial of service as the central church of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington.

The Rev. Carol L. Wade, the Cathedral's canon precentor, is coordinating the Investiture liturgy on behalf of Cathedral Dean Samuel T. Lloyd III in collaboration with the Presiding Bishop's Office.

Report: Poor oversight for billions Leads to Massive Waste in Homeland Security

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Homeland Security Department spent $34 billion in its first two years on private contracts that were poorly managed or included significant waste or abuse, a congressional report concluded Thursday.

Faulty airport screening machines, unused mobile homes for hurricane victims and lavish employee office space — complete with seven kitchens, a gym and fancy artwork — were among 32 contracts on which Homeland Security overspent, the report found.

"The cumulative costs to the taxpayer are enormous," concluded the report, which was prepared for Reps. Tom Davis, R-Va., and Henry Waxman, D-Calif., who head the House Government Reform Committee.

The House report was a comprehensive study of more than 350 earlier-reported government audits and investigations of Homeland Security contracts between 2003, when the department was created, and 2005.

Still, the broad look found that Homeland Security's procurement spending ballooned from $3.5 billion, on 14,000 contracts, to $10 billion for 63,000 contracts during the two-year period. The report also concluded that half of what the department spent on contracts in 2005 was awarded without full and open competition — creating potential waste and mismanagement.

Over the two-year period, spending on non-competitive contracts jumped from $655 million to $5.5 billion, the report concluded.

Questionable contracts highlighted in the report included:

• $1.2 billion to install and maintain luggage screening equipment at commercial airports that had a high false alarm rate.

• $915 million on nearly 26,000 mobile homes and trailers to house hurricane victims and relief workers — none of which could be sent to disaster zones in Louisiana and Mississippi because of prohibitions on their use in flood plains.

• $19 million for Transportation Security Administration office space for 140 employees that includes 12 conference rooms, seven kitchens, a fitness center, and $500,000 worth of artwork and decorative items.

Homeland Security chief procurement officer Elaine Duke told the House Government Reform Committee that part of the problem stemmed from a lack of department officers to oversee the contracts. In 2004, congressional investigators concluded that each procurement employee was responsible for overseeing an average of $101 million worth of contracts.

The complete story may be found here:

Peru confronts escalating violence against women

Mon Jul 24, 8:33 AM ET

LIMA, Peru (Reuters) - Marlin Mata has awakened from a coma she suffered after throwing herself from a moving bus to escape two men trying to rape her, but Peru is still deep in the nightmare of spiraling violence against women.
More than half of all Peruvian women over the age of 15 say they have suffered sexual or physical violence by men during their lifetime -- one of the world's highest rates.

"I want justice for my sister. We can't let this kind of thing happen again and again," said Judith Mata, standing next to Marlin, 21, who still bears a bite mark in her bruised cheek from the recent attack.

Sexual violence against women in Peru is now so bad that Peru's President-elect Alan Garcia, who takes office on Friday, made it one of his central campaign issues and has vowed to tackle the problem and give women a greater say in government.

Male frustration at high unemployment in Peru despite the country' unprecedented economic growth since 2002 and a corrupt justice system that rarely makes convictions are exacerbating violence against women in an already macho society.

"The violence is a direct consequence of poverty," Peru's Women's Minister Ana Maria Romero told Reuters.

According to the United Nations, Peru is one of the most dangerous places for women in Latin America, a region that had the world's highest number of sexual assaults last year.

Cases like Mata's are reported almost daily basis by the local tabloid media, with incidents ranging from rape to murder.

"Jealous Man Strangles Wife!" and "Man Kills Wife After She Asked For Divorce!" are just two of the hundreds of headlines compiled in a study by Amnesty International and Peruvian organization Flora Tristan, which works to protect women.

The study found that more than 300 women have been killed by men committing sexual violence in Peru since 2003, even in cases when victims asked for police protection.


Some 51 percent of women in Lima and 69 percent of women in the southern Andean city of Cuzco said they have been victims of sexual or physical violence, the study added.

Indeed, the level of violence surges dramatically in Peru's impoverished rural areas.

In the southern Huancavelica province where 90 percent of the population lives in extreme poverty, the rate of sexual and physical violence against women is ranked as one of the world's worst in a recent study by the
World Health Organization.

Half of Peru's 13 million workers are underemployed, meaning they are forced into badly paid positions below their qualifications.

That stress of not having a decent job is unleashed onto female partners. More than 60 percent of women who reported being victims of domestic violence in Peru consider the economic crisis at home as the main trigger of violence, according to Amnesty International.

But according to the WHO study, violence against women in Peru is worse than in countries with lower economic development such as Ethiopia, Bangladesh or Namibia.

That is partly because of a corrupt judicial system and because violence against women has become almost the norm in Peruvian society.

"Violence against women is part of our culture and the judicial system is no help," said Doris Blas, a lawyer representing Mata and a member of Lima-based foundation Manuela Ramos, which works to uphold women's rights.


In rape cases, the responsibility of the crime falls on the victim's shoulders in Peru, as police and judges require women to prove their innocence before prosecuting the aggressor.

"Were you dressing sexy? Why you were walking alone so late at night?," are the kind of questions raped women face when they file a report with the police, says Carolina Ruiz, a lawyer at Flora Tristan.

Government doctors are also unwilling to confirm that a woman has been raped to avoid participation in often tedious judicial processes that can last more than two years.

"In most of the cases, doctors decline to issue a certificate of rape, arguing the woman has previously had sexual relations," Ruiz said.

The complete story may be found here:

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Domestic Workers Abused Worldwide

Report Spotlights Violence and Slavelike Conditions in 12 Countries

JAKARTA, Indonesia - July 26 - Domestic workers face a wide range of grave abuses and labor exploitation, including physical and sexual abuse, forced confinement, non-payment of wages, denial of food and health care and excessive working hours with no rest days, Human Rights Watch said in a new report today.

Governments typically exclude domestic workers from standard labor protections and fail to monitor recruitment practices that impose heavy debt burdens or misinform the workers about their jobs.

“Instead of guaranteeing domestic workers’ ability to work with dignity and freedom from violence, governments have systematically denied them key labor protections extended to other workers,” said Nisha Varia, senior researcher for the Women’s Rights Division of Human Rights Watch. “Migrants and children are especially at risk of abuse.”

The 93-page report, “Swept Under the Rug: Abuses Against Domestic Workers Around the World,” synthesizes Human Rights Watch research since 2001 on abuses against women and child domestic workers originating from or working in El Salvador, Guatemala, Indonesia, Malaysia, Morocco, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Togo, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States.

“Millions of women and girls turn to domestic work as one of the few economic opportunities available to them,” said Varia. “Abuses often take place in private homes and are totally hidden from the public eye.”

In the worst situations, women and girls are trapped in situations of forced labor or have been trafficked into forced domestic work in conditions akin to slavery.

The International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates that more girls under 16 work in domestic service than in any other category of child labor. In Indonesia, the ILO estimates there are nearly 700,000 child domestic workers, while in El Salvador more than 20,000 girls and women between the ages of 14 and 19 are domestic workers.

Exploitative working conditions often make domestic labor one of the worst forms of child labor.

Human Rights Watch said that the numbers of women migrants has increased significantly over the last three decades, and they now comprise approximately half of the estimated 200 million migrants worldwide. The feminization of labor migration is particularly pronounced in the Philippines, Indonesia and Sri Lanka, where national-level estimates indicate that women comprise 60-75 percent of legal migrants, many of whom are employed as domestic workers in the Middle East and Asia.

Estimating the prevalence of abuse is difficult given the lack of reporting mechanisms, the lack of legal protections and restrictions on the freedom of movement of domestic workers. However, there are many indications that abuses are widespread. In Saudi Arabia, the embassies of Indonesia, Sri Lanka and the Philippines handle thousands of complaints every year. In January 2004, for instance, the Sri Lankan embassy estimated it was receiving about 150 domestic workers each month who had fled abusive employers. According to information provided by embassies in Singapore, at least 147 domestic workers have fallen to their deaths from tall buildings since 1998 due to hazardous workplace conditions or suicide.

“Domestic workers are often hostage to labor agents and employers,” said Varia. “Governments must better regulate working conditions, detect violations and impose meaningful civil and criminal sanctions.”

Labor legislation in Hong Kong sets a positive example – domestic workers have the right to a minimum wage, a weekly day of rest, maternity leave and public holidays.

In general, labor legislation must be complemented by criminal laws allowing for prosecution of offenses such as: physical, psychological and sexual abuse; forced labor; forced confinement; and trafficking in persons. In increasing by 1.5 times the normal penalties for crimes like assault or forced confinement if they are committed against domestic workers, Singapore has rightly acknowledged the particular risks faced by these workers.

Punitive immigration laws, such as those used in Malaysia and Saudi Arabia, that discourage migrant domestic workers from fleeing abusive employers and militate against pressing charges for criminal offenses, should be reformed.

The U.N. General Assembly’s High Level Dialogue on Migration and Development in September 2006 will be an important venue for governments to increase their cooperation and prevent abuses associated with migration for domestic work. This week, national human rights commissions from across Asia met to discuss women migrants and irregular migrants in a conference hosted by Indonesia’s National Commission on Violence against Women.

Human Rights Watch urged governments to extend key labor protections to domestic workers, establish minimum standards of employment regionally to prevent unhealthy competition, and ensure that employers and labor agents are held accountable for abusive practices. They should also prioritize the elimination of the worst forms of child labor, including child domestic work.

Selected testimonies:

“As a domestic worker, you have no control over your life. No one respects you. You have no rights. This is the lowest kind of work.”
– Hasana, child domestic worker who began employment at age 12, Yogyakarta, Indonesia, December 4, 2004.

“It was hard to work for them because there was not enough food. I got food once a day. If I made a mistake … [my employer] wouldn’t give me food for two days. I often got treatment like that. Sometimes for one, two, three days. Because I was starving, I would steal food from the house. Because of that, the employer beat me badly.”
– Arianti Harikusomo, Indonesian domestic worker, age 27, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, February 25, 2004.

“If I did something the employer didn’t like, she would grab my hair and hit my head on the wall. She would say things like, ‘I don’t pay you to sit and watch TV! You don’t wash the dishes well. I pay your mother good money and you don’t do anything [to deserve it].’ … Once I forgot clothes in the washer, and they started to smell, so she grabbed my head and tried to stick it in the washing machine.”
– Saida B., child domestic worker, age 15, Casablanca, Morocco, May 17, 2005.

“I was locked up inside the agency for 45 days. We were Indonesians and Filipinos; 25 of us. We got food only once a day. We couldn’t go out at all. The agency said we owed them 1,500 Dhm – three months’ salary. Five of us ran away; we used a blanket to escape from the second floor. Four of us got injured.”
– Cristina Suarez, Filipina domestic worker, age 26, Dubai, UAE, February 27, 2006.

“When the lady went to drop off the children to the grandmother’s house, the man would stay at home … he raped me many, many times; once a day, every day for three months. He hit me a lot because I didn’t want to have sex. I don’t know what a condom is, but he used some tissues after he raped me. [After paying off my three months’ debt] I took a knife, I said, ‘Don’t get near me, what are you doing?’ I told the lady; she was very angry with me and [the next day] she took me to the harbor and said she bought a ticket for me to Pontianak. I had no money to get home from Pontianak. I haven’t gone to a doctor.”
– Zakiah, returned domestic worker from Malaysia, age 20, Lombok, Indonesia, January 24, 2004.

“There was a woman who came to the market to buy charcoal. She found me and told my mother about a woman in Lomé who was looking for a girl like me to stay with her and do domestic work. She came to my mother and my mother gave me away. The woman gave my mother some money, but I don’t know how much.”
– Kéméyao A., child trafficking victim, age 10, Lomé, Togo, May 14, 2002.

Lance Bass of 'N Sync reveals he's gay, in 'very stable' relationship

Published: Wednesday, July 26, 2006

NEW YORK (AP) - Lance Bass, band member of 'N Sync, says he's gay and in a "very stable" relationship with a reality show star.

Bass, who formed 'N Sync with Justin Timberlake, JC Chasez, Joey Fatone and Chris Kirkpatrick, tells People magazine that he didn't earlier disclose his sexuality because he didn't want to affect the group's popularity.

"I knew that I was in this popular band and I had four other guys' careers in my hand, and I knew that if I ever acted on it or even said (that I was gay), it would overpower everything," he tells the magazine.

'N Sync is known for a string of hits including Bye Bye Bye and It's Gonna Be Me. The band went on hiatus in 2002. Bass has also found headlines for undertaking astronaut training and failing to raise money for a trip into space.

Bass says he wondered if his coming out could prompt "the end of 'N Sync." He explains, "So I had that weight on me of like, 'Wow, if I ever let anyone know, it's bad.' So I just never did."

The singer says he's in a "very stable" relationship with 32-year-old actor Reichen Lehmkuhl, winner of season 4 of CBS's Amazing Race.

Bass and Fatone, 29, are developing a sitcom pilot inspired by the screwball comedy The Odd Couple, in which his character will be gay.

"The thing is, I'm not ashamed," Bass says. "I don't think it's wrong, I'm not devastated going through this. I'm more liberated and happy than I've been my whole life. I'm just happy."

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Global Warming Endangers National Parks

Report: Droughts, Wildfires, Diminished Snowfalls Threatening America's Treasures

WASHINGTON - July 25 - Global warming is threatening the health of Yellowstone, Yosemite and ten other national parks in the West, according to a report released today by the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). Rising temperatures, prolonged droughts, severe wildfires and diminished snowfalls are likely to lead to extinctions of plant and animal species, flooding of popular beaches, losses of glaciers and snow-capped mountains, closures of parks from wildfire, and reduced recreational opportunities.

The report, "Losing Ground," also stressed that the worst of the predicted effects can be avoided if emissions of heat-trapping pollution is reduced compared to business-as-usual expectations and that state and regional leaders from the West and others around the country already are taking steps to slow, stop and eventually reverse global warming and should continue their efforts. The federal government must begin to significantly reduce our emissions within ten years, and cut them by more than half by mid-century.

"A climate disrupted by heat-trapping pollution is the gravest threat our national parks have ever faced," said Stephen Saunders, president of the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization and one of the report's principal authors. Saunders previously served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Interior over the National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Some of the report's park-specific findings include:

# Global warming has contributed to a bark beetle infestation that is endangering Yellowstone's whitebark pines, threatening to rob grizzly bears of a major food source.

# Many plant and animal species may be eliminated from western parks, with mountaintop species the most vulnerable.

# Glaciers and ice caves have melted in North Cascades and Mt. Ranier National Parks, and the majestic peaks of mountain parks across the West could be snow-free in summer within decades.

# Joshua Tree National Park may be without their namesake trees, at risk of dying off completely within the park's borders due to increasing temperatures.

# Temperature increases may make already-scorching parks like Zion National Park in Utah too hot to be visited.

The most popular beaches in the San Francisco area, part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, are in danger of being flooded by a rising sea level.

The report identifies the 12 western national parks most at risk from the effects of climate change: Bandelier National Monument in New Mexico, Death Valley National Park in California; Glacier National Park in Montana; Glen Canyon National Recreation Area in Utah and Arizona; Golden Gate National Recreation Area in California; Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming; Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado; Mount Rainier National Park in Washington; North Cascades National Park in Washington; Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado; Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho; and Yosemite National Park in California.

More information and the report on the web at:

National parks in the East also are not immune to the effects of global warming, but those in the West are particularly vulnerable because the western United States has warmed at twice the rate experienced in the East over the past half century, and because water scarcity puts the environments of the West at risk from changes in temperature and precipitation. Reports released from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration last week showed that the first half of 2006 was the warmest on record, including 11 states in the American West enduring much warmer temperatures than normal.

"The good news is that we have the technology and know-how to reduce global warming pollution," said Theo Spencer of NRDC. "State and local leaders are catching on that we need to save these parks and move towards a clean energy future. When will Washington hit the same trail?"

Bill Wade, the chair of the executive committee of the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, said, "Our national parks have been less impacted by human activities than other lands in the American West. They, therefore, will serve as indicators of the changing health of our planet -- a kind of 'climate change canary in the coal mine.' This validates the reason for their establishment and underscores their continued importance."

In the absence of federal legislation curbing the emissions that cause global warming, political leaders from the American West are taking action. California has led the way on tailpipe emission standards for vehicles. State governments in California, Washington, Oregon, Arizona, New Mexico, and Montana are implementing or developing comprehensive plans to reduce their contributions to global warming.

Global warming is caused mainly by heat-trapping carbon dioxide pollution from cars and power plants. Scientists say that we need to level off emissions in the next ten years, and reduce emissions by half by the middle of this century to avoid the worst effects of global warming.

Monday, July 24, 2006

US Soldiers Tell of Detainee Abuse in Iraq

Abusive Techniques Were Authorized, Soldiers’ Complaints Ignored

NEW YORK - July 24 - Torture and other abuses against detainees in U.S. custody in Iraq were authorized and routine, even after the 2004 Abu Ghraib scandal, according to new accounts from soldiers in a Human Rights Watch report released today. The new report, containing first-hand accounts by U.S. military personnel interviewed by Human Rights Watch, details detainee abuses at an off-limits facility at Baghdad airport and at other detention centers throughout Iraq.

In the 53-page report, “No Blood, No Foul: Soldiers’ Accounts of Detainee Abuse in Iraq,” soldiers describe how detainees were routinely subjected to severe beatings, painful stress positions, severe sleep deprivation, and exposure to extreme cold and hot temperatures. The accounts come from interviews conducted by Human Rights Watch, supplemented by memoranda and sworn statements contained in declassified documents.

“Soldiers were told that the Geneva Conventions did not apply, and that interrogators could use abusive techniques to get detainees to talk,” said John Sifton, the author of the report and the senior researcher on terrorism and counterterrorism at Human Rights Watch. “These accounts rebut U.S. government claims that torture and abuse in Iraq was unauthorized and exceptional – on the contrary, it was condoned and commonly used.”

The accounts reveal that detainee abuse was an established and apparently authorized part of the detention and interrogation processes in Iraq for much of 2003-2005. They also suggest that soldiers who sought to report abuse were rebuffed or ignored.

The Human Rights Watch report comes at a time when Bush administration officials and congressional leaders are hotly debating the applicability of the Geneva Conventions to detainee treatment. The report provides vivid demonstration of the abuses that result when these basic international standards are ignored.

Some of the most serious abuses detailed in the report concern a special task force, which was called at various times Task Force 20, Task Force 121, Task Force 6-26, and Task Force 145, and was stationed at an off-limits detention center at the Baghdad airport, called Camp Nama.

The report also describes serious abuses at a facility near Mosul airport, and at a base near al-Qaim, on the Syrian border.

According to soldiers’ accounts, detainees at Camp Nama were – in violation of international law – not registered with the International Committee of the Red Cross. They were regularly stripped naked and subjected to beatings, forced exercises, severe sleep deprivation and various forms of degrading and humiliating treatment.

An interrogator who served at Camp Nama told Human Rights Watch that the leadership of his interrogation unit encouraged abuse. “[P]eople wanted to go, go, go harsh on everybody,” he said. “They thought that was their job and that’s what they needed to do, and do it every time.”

The accounts given by soldiers reveal that many abusive techniques were authorized by the military chain of command. An interrogator posted at a facility near Mosul in 2004 told Human Rights Watch of a case in which the officer in charge of his interrogation unit told him and other interrogators to use abusive techniques on a set of detainees. The officer reportedly said, “Look, this is what we are gonna do – we’re gonna keep them up all night long, we’re gonna keep them on their knees and we’re not gonna let them sleep.”

According to the interrogator:

He [the MI officer] was very specific about it. He didn’t say, ‘I want you guys to go nuts on these guys,’ but he was very specific about what he wanted . . . Later, we had a few dogs on these guys too [i.e., used dogs to intimidate the detainees], and all the whole thing . . . [The MI officer] said, you know, ‘I’ve got these dog handlers, these MPs, they are going to come in and you’re gonna use them in the interrogation.’ . . . [W]e were making these guys do MPT [exercise], which were pretty rough on them. And the stretch positions were pretty rough on them too . . . you know, like kneeling in the gravel, walking on your knees in the gravel . . . having them stand with outstretched arms with water bottles in [their] hands for extended periods of time. Crawling through the gravel. And the guards in the prison were helping with this.

The interrogator stationed at Camp Nama, mentioned above, said the commander of the interrogation unit there had to authorize the use of the abuse techniques, but that the authorizations were so common that interrogators used a template to fill out authorization forms:

There was an authorization template on a computer, a sheet that you would print out, or actually just type it in. And it was a checklist . . . you would just check what you want to use off, and if you planned on using a harsh interrogation, you’d just get it signed off. I never saw a sheet that wasn’t signed. It would be signed off by the commander, whoever that was . . . He would sign off on that every time it was done.

In several instances described in the report, detainee abuse was apparently reported to military leadership in Baghdad and Washington, but little or no action was taken to stop it. For instance, an investigation into a detention facility at Mosul airport in early 2004, initiated after a detainee there had his jaw broken, revealed that detainees at Mosul were regularly subjected to abuse. However, no action was taken to punish wrongdoers, and an interrogator stationed there described serious abuse continuing through 2004. A detainee died while undergoing interrogation at the facility in December 2003; another died in April 2004.

Abuses also continued at Camp Nama through much of 2004, even after various military officials registered complaints about abuse at the facility. Col. Stuart A. Herrington, a retired military intelligence officer, was brought to Iraq to assess intelligence gathering. He informed Gen. Barbara Fast, the chief of military intelligence in Iraq, in a memorandum that Task Force 121 was abusing detainees and not registering them either in the military’s detention records or with the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Herrington concluded, “It seems clear that TF 121 needs to be reined in with respect to its treatment of detainees.” Despite this warning, abuses by the task force continued.

Human Rights Watch said that the new report shows how soldiers who felt abusive practices were wrong or illegal faced significant obstacles at every turn when they attempted to report or expose the abuses. For example, an MP guard at the facility near al-Qaim, who complained to an officer about beatings and other abuse he witnessed, was told, “You need to go ahead and drop this, sergeant.”

The guard told Human Rights Watch, “It was repeatedly emphasized to me that this was not a wise course of action to pursue . . . ‘You don’t want to take this inquiry anywhere else,’ kind of thing. ‘You should definitely drop this; this is not something you wanna do to yourself.’

In another instance, after an interrogator complained about abuse at a facility near the Baghdad airport, commanders asked military lawyers to conduct a Power Point presentation for interrogators. During the presentation, the lawyers instructed the interrogators, erroneously, that the Geneva Conventions did not apply to the detainees at their facility, and that the techniques they were using were acceptable.

“They told us that they’re enemy combatants, they’re not POWs, and so we can do all this stuff to them and so forth,” the interrogator said.

Human Rights Watch has previously condemned Iraqi insurgent groups for routinely violating international humanitarian law, carrying out abductions and attacks against civilians and humanitarian aid workers, and detonating hundreds of bombs in bazaars, mosques and other civilian areas. Human Rights Watch has stated that those responsible for violations, including the leaders of these groups, should, if captured, be investigated and prosecuted for violations of Iraqi law and the laws of war.

“The crimes of insurgents are no excuse,” said Sifton. “Abuses by one side in a conflict, no matter how vile, do not justify violations by the other side. This is a fundamental principle of the laws of war.”

Human Rights Watch said that the report showed that criminal investigations of abuses need to follow the military chain of command, rather than focusing on low-level soldiers. To date, not a single military intelligence officer has been court-martialed in connection with abuse allegations in Iraq. Human Rights Watch is unaware of any criminal investigations into wrongdoing by officers overseeing interrogations and detention operations in Iraq.

Human Rights Watch called on the U.S. Congress to appoint an independent, bipartisan commission to investigate the true scope of detainee abuse in Iraq, the complicity of higher-level officials, and the systemic flaws that make it difficult for soldiers to report abuses they witness. Human Rights Watch also called on the president to appoint an independent prosecutor to investigate and prosecute the perpetrators of abuse, including the military and civilian leaders who authorized or condoned abuse.

“It is now clear that leaders were responsible for abuses that occurred in Iraq,” Sifton said. “It’s time for them to be held accountable.”

Amnesty Int'l New Report: Systematic Torture of Political Suspects Entrenched in Jordan

WASHINGTON - July 24 - Amnesty International released its new report, Jordan: "Your Confessions are Ready for You to Sign": Detention and Torture of Political Suspects, exposing Jordan for its continued use of torture on political suspects. The report reveals that Jordan maintains a military security agency that detains, interrogates and tortures suspected political opponents and alleged terrorist suspects. Jordan has also received and allegedly tortured nationals transferred to the country in apparent coordination with the United States, United Kingdom and other governments.

"The use of torture is widespread in Jordan, especially when political opponents are involved," said Larry Cox, Amnesty International USA's Executive Director. "Rather than demanding that Jordan cease this practice, the United States, United Kingdom and other nations have chosen Jordan as a central hub for transporting terror suspects knowing full well of Jordan's reliable use of torture, cruel and inhuman treatment of detainees. The irony is that these governments have criticized Jordan's use of torture numerous times, yet, the transport of terror suspects through Jordan continued with a wink and a nod."

The General Intelligence Department (GID) -- a military security agency directly linked to the Jordanian prime minister - - is the primary instrument of abuse of political detainees and for obtaining forced "confessions." GID agents have a wide range of powers and are virtually free from impunity. According to the U.S. State Department 2006 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, the most frequently reported methods of torture included beating, sleep deprivation, extended solitary confinement, and physical suspension. Defendants charged with security-related offenses before the State Security Court claimed they were tortured to obtain confessions and claimed to have been subjected to physical and psychological abuse while in detention.

Amnesty International describes dozens of cases of individuals subjected to torture and ill-treatment in Jordan, ten of whom appear to be victims of the United States' renditions program.

Yemeni national Hassan Saleh bin Attash was 17 when he was arrested in early September 2002 in Pakistan. After four days in a Karachi prison he was taken to the U.S.-run "Prison of Darkness" in Kabul where, he told his lawyers, he was held and tortured until September 19, 2002. He was then rendered to Jordan. Attash was held in Jordan for 16 months during which time he was repeatedly tortured in the "courtyard," believed to be within the GID detention center in Wadi Sir, Amman. The methods of torture he suffered during interrogation include being hung upside down, beaten on the soles of his feet, and threatened with electric shocks. His lawyer said that Attash told his interrogators "whatever they wanted to hear". There are reports that Attash was hidden from the International Committee of the Red Cross during their visits to this detention center. In January 2004, he was returned to the so-called Prison of Darkness in Kabul - likely, according to flight logs, via the January 8, 2004 US Gulfstream jet (N313P) flight from Marka military airport in eastern Amman to Khwaja Rawash international airport in Kabul. He was subsequently moved to the U.S.-run prison at Bagram, Afghanistan, before being sent to Guantánamo, reportedly either in May or September 2004, where he still remains.

The methods, likelihood, severity and duration of torture vary according to a number of factors. Suspected "Islamists" and Palestinian-origin Jordanians, for example, are more likely to be tortured. One victim of unlawful detention and transfer stated that while held in Pakistan, U.S. officials interrogating him said, "If you don't talk to us, you're going to Jordan...The Pakistanis can't do exactly what we want them to do. The Arabs will deal with you."

According to the Amnesty International report, Jordan has been known to obtain "confessions" of political prisoners through torture. Once these "confessions are attained, cases go to the State Security Court (SSC) -- where judgments regularly appear to be based on little more than these "confessions". Over the last ten years, over 100 defendants have alleged before the SSC that they were tortured to make them "confess". The SSC has failed to adequately investigate any of these claims. Disturbingly, the SSC has imposed death sentences in a number of these cases -- some of which have already been carried out.

"Jordan has a responsibility, for its citizens' safety, to bring to justice anyone who threatens that protection," said Zahir Janmohamed, Amnesty International USA's Advocacy Director for Middle East and North Africa. "But it cannot deny internationally agreed human rights, particularly the obligation to prohibit and prevent torture. The Jordanian government needs to implement strong measures to end torture and other cruel and ill treatment by its military and security agencies."

Amnesty International has been documenting the same torture concerns in Jordan and the same absence of safeguards for more than 20 years. Amnesty International recognizes that the Jordanian government has put in place certain mechanisms aimed at reducing incidences of torture, but notes that they have been largely ineffective, as torture persists in Jordan and is particularly entrenched in the GID.

Among the organization's recommendations to the Jordanian government is curtailing the powers of the GID and ensuring a separation of power -- both in law and in practice -- between the authorities responsible for detention of suspects and those responsible for interrogation and ceasing Jordan's participation in renditions and other secret transfers of prisoners.

For a copy of new report, Jordan: "Your Confessions are Ready for You to Sign": Detention and Torture of Political Suspects," please contact the AIUSA office at 202-544-0200 ext. 302.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Phone records lawsuit to proceed

The Mercury News reported Friday that:

In a setback for the Bush administration's secretive Terrorist Surveillance Program, a federal judge in San Francisco on Thursday denied a government motion to quash a warrantless-wiretapping lawsuit against AT&T.

U.S. Northern District Judge Vaughn R. Walker rejected the government's claim that allowing the suit to proceed would compromise state secrets.

In a 72-page order, which attorneys for the plaintiffs called a victory, Walker wrote that dismissing the case at this early stage ``would sacrifice liberty for no apparent enhancement of security.''

The ruling rejected the government's claim that the very existence of the super-secret National Security Agency (NSA) eavesdropping program was a state secret requiring dismissal of the case. Walker cited numerous newspaper stories, testimony by the U.S. attorney general and statements by President Bush to rebut that claim.

Walker is the first judge to rule in lawsuits filed in federal courts in Michigan, Illinois and elsewhere around the country against the program, the existence of which was disclosed in December by the New York Times. The government has since admitted monitoring domestic communications in which one party is outside the country, but says it's a targeted effort to identify Al-Qaida agents in the United States. But its critics claim that the program is an electronic dragnet that invades the privacy of millions of Americans by monitoring their phone calls and Internet communications.

The ruling means that the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a non-profit privacy group that brought the class-action lawsuit on behalf of AT&T customers, may soon begin asking AT&T to produce evidence. But first, the judge said he wants to appoint an expert to ``disentangle sensitive information from non-sensitive information'' and determine whether evidence would compromise national security if it is produced in court.

EFF sued AT&T in January for allegedly violating the First and Fourth Amendments by illegally helping the NSA intercept its customers' communications, and for violating various federal statutes concerning covert government eavesdropping programs.

A Department of Justice official said it is reviewing the judge's ruling and has made no determination as to what its next step will be in the case.

The government had argued that ``the very subject matter'' of the case involves a state secret, and that even if the court found AT&T to have violated the law, it couldn't award damages because that would confirm the allegations and disclose the secret.

The government can appeal the order to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. But in crafting it, Walker adhered closely to rules established by earlier cases for granting state-secret dismissals. It is simply too early in the case to do so, he ruled.

The complete story may be found here:

Friday, July 21, 2006

Griswold, other church leaders press Bush to call for Hezbollah-Israel ceasefire

Friday, July 21, 2006

[Episcopal News Service] Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold today called upon President Bush to “work with other world leaders to secure an immediate ceasefire in the violent conflict raging now between Hezbollah and Israel." In a letter sent by Churches for Middle East Peace, Griswold and other Christian leaders noted that: "This violent conflict has created a grave humanitarian crisis, and no hoped-for benefit should outweigh the cause of saving innocent lives."

The full text of the letter follows:

July 21, 2006

The Honorable George W. Bush
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear President Bush:

We urge you to work with other world leaders to secure an immediate cease-fire in the violent conflict raging now between Hezbollah and Israel.

We are deeply concerned for the innocent victims of the attacks and reprisals between non-state parties in Lebanon and the government of Israel. This violent conflict has created a grave humanitarian crisis, and no hoped-for benefit should outweigh the cause of saving innocent lives.

If this conflict continues, the current humanitarian crisis could escalate toward a catastrophe. Already in the first days of attacks and reprisals, reports say that 34 Israelis have been killed, including 15 civilians, others injured, and thousands have been made to leave their homes, and, in Lebanon, at least 335 people, most of them civilians, are reported killed and hundreds of thousands have been displaced or sought refuge in other countries.

In the face of such a humanitarian crisis, calls for the fighting parties to be restrained in their actions fall short of what is needed. Your presidential leadership and the full weight of the United States, acting in concert with the international community, must be applied now to achieve an immediate cease-fire and to launch an intensive diplomatic initiative for the cessation of hostilities. This is a necessary first step toward the diplomatic resolution of this crisis and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the way toward a comprehensive Middle East peace.


Leaders of churches and church-related organizations of Churches for Middle East Peace

Churches for
Middle East Peace

Dr. Robb Davis
Executive Director
Mennonite Central Committee

Marie Dennis
Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns

Rev. Robert Edgar
General Secretary
National Council of Churches USA

Rev. Wesley Granberg-Michaelson
General Secretary
Reformed Church in America

The Most Rev. Frank T. Griswold
Presiding Bishop
The Episcopal Church in America

The Rev. Mark S. Hanson
Presiding Bishop
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

The Rev. Dr. Stan Hastey
Executive Director
Alliance of Baptists

Very Rev. Dominic Izzo, OP
Roman Catholic Conference of Major Superiors of Men's Institutes

Rev. Dr. Clifton Kirkpatrick
Stated Clerk of the General Assembly
Presbyterian Church, (USA)

Rev. John L. McCullough
Executive Director & CEO
Church World Service

Metropolitan PHILIP Saliba
Archbishop of New York and
Metropolitan of North America
Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese of North America

Rev. William G. Sinkford
Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations

Rev. John H. Thomas
General Minister and President
United Church of Christ

Joe Volk
Executive Secretary
Friends Committee on National Legislation

The Rev. Dr. Sharon E. Watkins
General Minister and President
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

James W. Winkler
General Secretary
General Board of Church and Society
United Methodist Church

Sundays suit some but churches must look outside box, says Church researcher

21 July 2006

A senior Church of England researcher has called on parishes to expand the scope of their vision, urging churches to think beyond their own walls and beyond the hours of Sunday in their attempts to engage communities with the message of the Gospel.

“Are we prepared to be flexible and responsive in our approach to church buildings and church services as we seek ways to respond to the widening gap between the inherited faith of the nation and its current practice, understanding and nurture of that faith?” asks the Revd Lynda Barley, Head of Research and Statistics for the Archbishops’ Council, in a booklet published today.

Churchgoing today, is the second in a series branded Time to Listen, which presents current research in an accessible way to help resource the Church’s mission in today’s society.

The research points to the emergence of Sunday as the only day for quality ‘family time’, when people of all ages have the chance to travel some distance to meet, and when non-custodial parents tend to be granted access rights to their children. “Sunday will always be at the heart of Christian patterns of worship,” stresses Lynda. In the book, she points out that “modern-day weekends are full with domestic and personal agendas” that combine to mean that Sunday services “present difficult choices for many and slowly they drift away from church attendance at these times.”

Lynda Barley points to the success witnessed by churches who are discovering that by scheduling services for late afternoon on Sundays, or on midweek evenings, they can attract significant numbers of worshippers. “We need to give permission to put energy into providing opportunities for worship that accommodate the different lifestyles in our neighbourhoods,” she concludes.

Following this logic, Lynda highlights examples of churches that have developed a ‘multi-congregational’ approach, offering a range of services that “meet with the neighbourhood rather than expecting people to come to them”: one vicar, for instance, holds two services on the day of the harvest supper - one traditional service and another for young families and those new to the church.

Lynda explains how current methods for counting church attendance, and the blossoming number of worship events taking place during weekdays, means that estimates of church attendance are usually grossly misrepresentative – “in reality, around one in six of Britain’s adults attend a church service at least once a month,” she argues.

The booklet also showcases a number of churches using innovative venues - such as a barge moored in London’s Docklands, a pub in Brighton or even a Devon Fish and Chip shop - to meet the need for flexible spaces that can help break down the apprehension that some may feel when approaching a more traditional church building.

Churchgoing today follows in the footsteps of Christian Roots, Contemporary Spirituality, published last month, in which Lynda examined how the task of communicating the Christian message has turned full circle, with churches increasingly turning to visual methods such as prayer stations and rosary beads to reacquaint communities with the basics of Christianity.

The Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell, Bishop of Reading, crystallises the questions that Lynda explores when he asks in his foreword: “Churchgoing is changing. It is changing whether we like it or not. The question remains: are we stubbornly going to fight a corner for a certain way of being church, or go with the flow of the Spirit and develop ways of worshipping that chime with our culture, and times and locations for services that fit better with demands of contemporary living?”

Hot New Entry Into Global Warming Solutions Debate in Senate

Political Heat Wave Starting to Burn on Capitol Hill

WASHINGTON - July 20 - A new global warming bill introduced today by Senator James Jeffords (I-VT) would set bold targets to cut the heat-trapping pollution that causes global warming. The plan would trim emissions based on solid science and is a positive vision for the future of global warming solutions, says the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). The bill also reflects growing momentum in Congress for responsible action to cut emissions using cleaner, more efficient energy technologies.

The Global Warming Pollution Reduction Act, introduced by Senators Jeffords and Barbara Boxer (D-CA), would freeze global warming emissions in 2010 and then gradually cut emissions each year, reaching about 83 percent below current levels in the year 2050 (80 percent below 1990 levels).

"These Senate leaders are proposing action on the scale we need to prevent the worst effects of global warming," said David Doniger, Policy Director for the Climate Center at NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council). "We must start cutting heat-trapping pollution now and steadily reduce them year by year. Delay will only make the task harder and more expensive."

Reports released last week show the first half of 2006 was the warmest on record in the United States, with no states below average temperatures and several states breaking temperature records for the period. This follows a study released by the National Academy of Sciences in late June that ratified the already established findings that the past few decades are the hottest in hundreds, if not thousands of years.

Bi-partisan support for real action on global warming is growing. The Senate approved a resolution last year calling for mandatory cuts in heat trapping emissions, and several global warming bills have been introduced from both sides of the aisle and in both houses of Congress. In April, Maryland became the eighth state to join a Governors' partnership to cut global warming emissions, and Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and several of his colleagues in the American West are also working on bold plans to cut emissions and encourage the development and use of new energy technologies. In addition, more than 200 American cities have signed onto an agreement to substantially cut their global warming emissions.

The scientific community has been clear that emission cuts on this scale are needed to avoid the worst effects of global warming. And leading American businesses have called for cuts as well, with GE, Wal-Mart, Duke Energy and others calling for emissions cuts and business certainty for their industries in a Senate workshop in April.

Amnesty International Denounces Ban of LGBT Pride March in Latvia

NEW YORK - July 21 - Amnesty International today denounced the decision by the city council of Riga, Latvia, that it would not permit the "Riga Pride 2006" march scheduled for July 22nd. The council's announcement -- citing information it had allegedly received concerning several threats of violence against march participants -- represents the newest step in Latvia's failure to protect the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) citizens.

"The threat of anti-gay violence is no excuse for the Riga City Council to ban the pride march," said Michael Heflin, Director of OUTfront, the Amnesty International USA (AIUSA) program on LGBT human rights. "The authorities' responsibility is to allow and protect free speech and demonstrators -- not to give in to violent threats."

The Riga City Council claimed that the police could not guarantee security and order during the march. Amnesty International believes this assertion lacks credibility, given that Latvian law enforcement agencies had the capacity to effectively ensure security during previous events of a similar or larger scale such as the 2006 ice hockey World Championships, and are expected to do so during the NATO summit in Riga in November 2006.

Amnesty International mobilized its membership to appeal to Andris Grinbergs, Deputy Director of the Riga City Council, and Dzintars Jaundþeikars, Minister of the Interior, to permit the march. The organization welcomes reports that Catherine Todd Bailey, the United States Ambassador to Latvia, met with the interior minister to urge him not to cancel the march.

The ban on the “Riga Pride 2006” march is in violation of international human rights laws and standards. Under international and European law, Latvia is not only obliged to respect the rights to freedom of assembly and expression, but also has a positive duty to take active measures to protect the march participants from attacks against them.

Amnesty International calls on:

# The Riga City Council to give permission for the “Riga Pride 2006” march to go ahead.

# The Latvian authorities to ensure, in accordance with their positive obligations under international human rights law, that the “Riga Pride 2006” demonstrators are properly protected in a manner that allows them to exercise their rights to freedom of assembly and expression.

# Latvian law enforcement agencies to act under all circumstances with due diligence to protect LGBT people against violence from the wider community. The authorities should also make clear that such violence is a criminal offence and will be prosecuted as such.

Violations of LGBT rights have become an increasing concern in Latvia in recent years; in July 2005, the first gay pride march in the country’s history was originally banned by the Riga City Council. Several leading Latvian politicians, including the deputy speaker of the Latvian Parliament, made homophobic remarks and statements at the time. The Riga Administrative Court later overruled the decision; when the march did take place, several LGBT people were subjected to physical and verbal abuse by counter-demonstrators.

In June 2006, the Latvian Parliament voted against an amendment to Article 7 of the Latvian Labor Law. The amendment would have explicitly banned discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. The European Union’s Employment Equality Directive explicitly requires EU member states to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation in the workplace.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Lebanon/Israel: Israel Must Provide Safe Passage to Relief Convoys

Shortages of Food, Medicine a Risk as IDF Blockades Air, Sea and Land Routes

BEIRUT, Lebanon - July 20 - Israel must allow relief convoys safe entry into and passage inside Lebanon, and take all feasible precautions to avoid attacking them, Human Rights Watch said today. Border towns in Lebanon are already facing serious shortages of food and medicine, and are in urgent need of supplies.

According to news reports, eyewitnesses and official Lebanese sources, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have struck several supply trucks entering Lebanon over the last two days.

In one incident on Monday, Israeli missiles struck a convoy of trucks from the United Arab Emirates near the town of Zahleh as it approached Beirut from Syria, damaging or destroying three of the trucks, as well as four passenger vehicles. Washington Post and Agence France-Press reporters at the scene wrote that the trucks contained supplies of medicines, vegetable oil, sugar and rice. The Red Crescent Society of the United Arab Emirates (UAE RC) said in a statement that the convoy contained medical supplies and medicines, as well as several ambulances. The statement said that at least one person was killed. UAE officials have said that the convoy was clearly marked as a relief operation.

A Human Rights Watch researcher who saw the aftermath of the attack on Tuesday observed at the scene that the lead vehicle was completely burned out, and that a projectile had penetrated the cab of a second truck. A third truck was carrying what appeared to be large bags of flour or rice.

The International Committee of the Red Cross confirmed that it had been approached by the UAE RC about the matter.

“Israel is legally obliged to permit free passage of materials essential for civilians and to protect humanitarian personnel delivering those supplies,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, director of the Middle East and North Africa division at Human Rights Watch. “If attacks are hitting relief and medical convoys, the implications for civilian protection are serious. Such attacks would indicate that Israel is failing to take appropriate precautions to avoid targeting civilian objects.”

In a July 19 statement on its website, an IDF spokesperson said that the IDF had carried out aerial attacks on “Trucks carrying weaponry, including four trucks in the Beka valley area carrying weapons from Syria to Lebanon.” When told that the trucks appeared to be carrying food, an IDF spokesperson, according to the Washington Post, responded, “We attack only terror targets that relate to Hezbollah and their terror infrastructure.”

The duty to respect and protect humanitarian relief personnel and objects used for humanitarian relief is a well-established norm of customary international law – a rule about which the International Committee of the Red Cross reminded the parties to the conflict on Wednesday. International law also obliges parties to an armed conflict to take all feasible precautions to minimize harm to civilians and civilian objects, and to refrain from attacks that would disproportionately harm the civilian population or fail to discriminate between combatants and civilians.

Following Israel’s attacks on Lebanese airports and roads, its ongoing blockade of Lebanese seaports, and its attacks on the Lebanese-Syrian border, Lebanon has seen its food and medical supplies reduced over the last few days. Representatives of two major international relief organizations in the country told Human Rights Watch that they were having difficulty purchasing relief and medical supplies inside the Lebanese market, and were unable to import these goods by air or sea. They also said that many drivers were unwilling to bring supplies across the Syrian border due to the security risk.

Israel has said that the goal of its blockade is to shut off the supply of weapons to Hezbollah. However, Human Rights Watch said that Israel must weigh any legitimate military goal against the costs to the Lebanese civilian population. The United Nations’ top humanitarian official, Jan Egeland, told the BBC on Tuesday that air strikes on roads and bridges were hampering relief teams from reaching the displaced. “It's already very bad, and it is deteriorating by the hour,” he said.

“The blockade has started to affect the availability of essential supplies,” said Whitson. “Israel must facilitate the provision of food and other humanitarian aid, and assure those providing assistance that they are not risking their lives to do so.”

The availability of essential goods is particularly worrisome in villages along the Israeli-Lebanese border that the conflict has left completely isolated. Lebanese officials from the Ministry of Social Affairs said that some villages had run out of food and hunger had begun to set in.

On Tuesday night, the inhabitants of `Ain Abel, a village in the far south of the country, issued a plea for assistance after they said they were experiencing shortages of food and essential goods. Nicolas Farah, mayor of the border town of `Alma Al-Cha’ib, called on aid organizations to assist “the villagers under siege … who have a lack of medication, bread and water, and that no one has tried to help yet.”

Freddy Yarak, an advisor to the Lebanese Ministry of Social Affairs, stated, “We’re having problems with the malnutrition of babies.” The local head of an international aid organization that operates four relief centers near the Lebanese-Israeli border confirmed to Human Rights Watch that medicine and food supplies, especially for infants and children, were in short supply. He said that even convoys able to make the journey were arriving in southern villages after long delays. One convoy that his organization sent to the town of Beint Jbeil on Saturday arrived only on Tuesday, a trip that ordinarily takes three hours.

Judge Advances PFAW Foundation's Freedom of Information Act Request On Secret Trials

WASHINGTON - July 20 - In the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks the United States government detained hundreds of foreign nationals from Middle Eastern and Muslim nations, frequently for long periods of time and without ever filing charges. The court filings and proceedings concerning these detentions were in some cases sealed at the behest of the government, preventing the very existence of such cases from becoming public knowledge, and creating the potential for people to disappear into government custody without a public trace.

After a clerical error at the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals briefly exposed a secret federal habeas corpus case, People For the American Way Foundation filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act to the Department of Justice to ascertain how often the government had sought to seal cases involving post-9/11 detainees. The November, 2003 request was stonewalled from the outset by the government.

In August, 2004 PFAWF filed suit, with the law firm of Arnold & Porter LLP serving as pro bono co-counsel, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to compel the DOJ to provide responsive records. The DOJ infamously responded by requesting nearly $400,000 to perform the search and then, after a fee waiver was sought, rejected the request as unreasonably burdensome.

Negotiations continued haltingly and the DOJ was able to identify 44,000 cases that could contain responsive records, which could be easily analyzed using a court database to help determine whether or not they are sealed cases. But in March, 2006 the DOJ cut off discussions and asked the court to dismiss the request as unreasonably burdensome. The DOJ argued that the search would have to be done by hand and that it could not be compelled to use the court database “no matter how quickly and easily” it could be done. PFAWF filed a cross motion.

On Tuesday, District Court Judge John D. Bates rejected the DOJ’s argument about the court database and ordered the government to use it as a tool to help identify documents responsive to PFAWF’s FOIA request. The court opinion is available here and the court order is available here.

“This ruling affirms the right of Americans to know what their government is doing,” said Elliot Mincberg, PFAWF legal director. “Excessive government secrecy puts our liberties at risk, and this ruling will send a clear message to the administration that they can’t stonewall legitimate FOIA requests forever.”

Former Beijing Policeman Reveals an Assembly Line System of Organ Harvesting

A former Beijing policeman and member of the Coalition to Investigate the Persecution of Falun Gong (CIPFG) revealed that there is an 'assembly line' system of organ harvesting in Beijing and the Chinese Communist regime forcefully removes people's organs without their consent. After a prisoner is sentenced to death in China, the actual date of his death seems to depend on the needs of transplant operations.

The Assembly Line Begins on Marco Polo Bridge and Continues to Beijing Friendship Hospital

The former policeman, Sun Liyong, said that he enrolled in the Beijing Police Academy in 1979 and after gradation was assigned to the Dongcheng Police Department in Beijing, where he worked until1987. There were 650 students who graduated with him and they were assigned to various public security and legal organizations in Beijing, including enforcement teams responsible for executing prisoners. Classmates kept in touch with each other and exchanged information.

One of Sun Liyong's classmates worked in the organization responsible for executing prisoners. That's how Sun Liyong was able to find out that, back then, Beijing Friendship Hospital was the only hospital in Beijing that could obtain organs from executed prisoners. The process was as follows: Beijing Police Department would first confirm the date of a prisoner's execution and then inform both Beijing Friendship Hospital and the courts. The hospital staff would go to the detention centre to carry out blood tests before the prisoner was executed in order to find compatible organs. The No 7 section of the Beijing Police Department was responsible for this.

Vehicles from the police department, law courts and Friendship Hospital would arrive at the scene of the execution. A red cross sign was hung on the hospital's vehicle and the people inside couldn't leave. An operating table, knives and scissors would all be ready in the vehicle.

The execution site for carrying out death sentences in Beijing is usually at the Marco Polo Bridge. The prisoner would kneel in a hole dug in the ground and would be shot through the head. Because his organs would be removed, he couldn't be shot in the heart.

After the prisoner was shot, he would collapse forward into the dug out hole. The coroner would check that he was dead and then place his body in a large plastic bag, tie it up and dump it in the vehicle with the red cross sign.

Staff in the vehicle would immediately begin removing the organs as the vehicle drove back to the hospital. At the same time, the organ recipient would be in the hospital, anaesthetized, and ready for the transplant operation.

Sun Liyong said that, as far as he knew, people who have been sentenced to death have their organs taken regardless of whether they consented or not. There is no choice when the Chinese Communist regime is involved – to them, harvesting people's organs is perfectly justified.

The complete story may be found here:

IRS Warns Churches to Avoid Campaigning

Tuesday July 18, 2006 12:46 PM

LOS ANGELES (AP) - The Internal Revenue Service has been warning churches and nonprofit organizations that improper campaigning in the upcoming political season could endanger their tax-exempt status.

In notices to more than 15,000 tax-exempt organizations, numerous church denominations and tax preparers, the agency has detailed its new enforcement program, called the Political Activity Compliance Initiative, the Los Angeles Times reported Tuesday.

Under the initiative, the IRS plans to expedite investigations into claims of improper campaigning, no longer waiting for an annual tax return to be filed or the tax year to end before launching a probe. A three-member committee will make an initial review of complaints and then vote on whether to pursue the investigation in detail.

``While the vast majority of charities and churches do not engage in politicking, an increasing number did take part in prohibited activities in the 2004 election cycle,'' IRS Commissioner Mark W. Everson said in a statement. ``The rule against political campaign intervention by charities and churches is long established. We are stepping up our efforts to enforce it.''

Since 2004, the IRS has investigated more than 200 organizations, including All Saints Church in Pasadena.

Two days before the 2004 presidential election, the Rev. George F. Regas, the church's former rector, delivered a guest sermon that pictured Jesus in a debate with George W. Bush and John Kerry. Although Regas didn't endorse a candidate, he said Jesus would have told Bush that his pre-emptive war policy ``has led to disaster.''

The church drew national attention when the Rev. Ed Bacon, rector of All Saints, disclosed the IRS investigation and later said the agency believed the church had violated federal tax code barring tax-exempt organizations from intervening in political campaigns and elections.

Church leaders have not heard from the IRS since October, when the agency said the investigation was being taken to a higher level, according to Regas. The IRS has not confirmed whether the investigation is still ongoing.

The complete story may be found here:,,-5958387,00.html

Justice dep’t to investigate 6 bishops, Lacson on coup plots

Wednesday, July 19, 2006
MANILA -- The Department of Justice will investigate allegations of two former jueteng witnesses linking six Catholic Church leaders and Senator Panfilo Lacson in attempts to grab power last February.

Former jueteng witnesses Richard Garcia and Abraham “Abe” Riva claimed that Bishops Oscar Cruz, Deogracias Iñiguez, Antonio Tobias, Teodoro Bacani, Julio Labayen and Angel Lagdameo and Lacson were part of the conspiracy to topple the administration of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Garcia and Riva revealed such information a day after Bishop Tobias was named by 1st Lieutenant Lawrence San Juan, involved in the short-lived Oakwood mutiny in July 2003, as the one who provided shelter after his escape in January.

Justice Secretary Raul Gonzales said they would thoroughly evaluate the allegations of Garcia and Riva. He said the six Church leaders are not above the law in case they are proven guilty.

“No one is above the law, though we respect the protection that shall be given to them by the Catholic Church,” Gonzales said.

Meanwhile, Cruz in a television interview shrugged off the claims of the two former jueteng witnesses.

Cruz is confident that no one would believe the two former jueteng witnesses because they lack credibility.

Cruz alleged that Garcia and Riva could have made the statements out of financial needs.

The two were among the witnesses presented by Cruz when the Senate conducted an inquiry into alleged jueteng payola-payoffs.

On the other hand, Novaliches Bishop Emeritus Teodoro Bacani who was also link to the coup talks denied allegations that they plotted a coup.

Bacani denies participation in coup talks calling the allegation as a “terrible lie”. He said he never met Lacson nor is he acquainted with Garcia or Riva.

Senator Lacson also denied conspiring with the bishops claiming the statement of the two former jueteng witnesses is motivated by money.(Sunnex)

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

New agreement with leading Chinese university will strengthen Indiana University's IT efforts

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- An agreement reached July 10 between Indiana University and Tsinghua University in China establishes a cooperative research program that will focus on student exchanges and expanding and improving worldwide use of the Internet for scientific research.

The agreement was signed at a ceremony in Beijing by IU Bloomington Interim Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Michael A. McRobbie (pictured right) and Tsinghua Vice President Chen Jining.

Tsinghua is often described as the MIT of China because its students are at the top of a highly competitive admissions process to the Chinese university system.

McRobbie said the agreement will bring a variety of benefits to both IU and the state of Indiana. For IU, it will help attract even more funding for information technology and supercomputing research projects.

The agreement will bring some of China's top science and information technology students to Indianapolis and Bloomington for advanced study, and that in turn will help IU attract more top American students in these fields.

For the state as a whole, McRobbie hopes that over time Indiana will become even more attractive to commercial enterprises that need to be close to a "critical mass" of the world's best-trained information technology workers.

Patrick O'Meara, IU's dean of international studies, said he is very pleased with the agreement. "Provost McRobbie has established a very special relationship with China's top university in the field of information technology, and it gives IU a beachhead into that country for exchanging both students and academic expertise," he said.

The agreement sets up cooperative research ventures in engineering, management and cybersecurity for high-speed, broadband data networks, especially those used by scientists around the world to transfer large quantities of digital data.

McRobbie pointed out that just as IU manages the nationwide Internet 2 system of broadband connections from a control center at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, Tsinghua manages a similar network in China known as "CERNET." IU also manages the TransPAC network, which provides Internet connections with Japan and China.

This makes IU an ideal location to help train China's future information technology managers, McRobbie said.

"Managing these networks is a complex and difficult matter," he said. "IU and Tsinghua both have expertise in these areas, and we want to work together jointly in solving the problems that arise in the operation of international high-performance networks."

McRobbie noted that IU and Tsinghua are also in the early stages of holding a joint China-U.S. symposium on network security to develop international standards on fighting viruses, worms, phishing attacks and other destructive uses of the Internet.

"Building academic expertise in these areas is vitally important to the future of the Internet as the world's primary means of communication," McRobbie said.

McRobbie is currently leading a delegation from IU on an 11-day visit to several universities in China to discuss cooperation and potential partnerships in both information technology and life sciences research.

The delegation will also be meeting with officials at Peking University in Beijing, Zhejiang University in Hangzhou and Fudan University in Shanghai.

China: Amnesty accuses Yahoo!, Microsoft and Google of hypocrisy in China and urges users to take action against them

Amnesty International today (20 July) urged users of Yahoo!, Microsoft and Google to use their power as consumers to help end corporate complicity in suppression of the internet in China. The call to action - part of a new campaign for free speech online called - came as Amnesty launched a new report accusing the firms of hypocrisy by talking about freedom of expression and access to information while denying it in order to access the lucrative Chinese market.

The report calls on the companies to come clean and reveal which words they have banned from blogs or filtered out of web searches in China, and make public all agreements with the Chinese authorities. Amnesty is also asking Yahoo!, Microsoft and Google to publicly call for the release of 'cyber-dissidents' jailed for expressing peaceful opinions online, and to stand up to the Chinese authorities by exhausting all legal appeals before complying with demands that run counter to human rights.

Amnesty is calling on UK users of Yahoo!, Microsoft and Google to email the companies directly and use their online feedback forms, to call for changes to the way they operate in China.

Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:

'Yahoo!, Microsoft and Google have all facilitated or colluded in China's censorship of the net. They claim they are obeying local laws when in fact they are succumbing to political pressure.

'The argument that the companies are 'bringing the internet to China' is spurious: the internet has been in China for ten years. These companies are simply trying to get a slice of a vast and growing market. And it's at a great cost: their activities are aiding and abetting government censorship rather than challenging it.

'All businesses claim to 'put the customer first' - but these companies don't seem to be listening to users in China. So we want them to hear from customers here in the UK. If enough people tell them that they're not happy with their actions in China, we hope it will make them think again.'

Amnesty's new report contrasts the public statements and of Yahoo!, Microsoft and Google, and the company values that they espouse, with their actions in China:

Yahoo! via its Chinese partner company, Alibaba, has provided the authorities with private and confidential information about its users that has been used to convict and imprison two journalists - Shi Tao and Li Zhi -, both of whom have been adopted by Amnesty International as Prisoners of Conscience. The company has also voluntarily signed China's 'Public Pledge on Self-discipline for the Chinese Internet Industry' - agreeing to censor and deny access to information.

Microsoft shut down the blog of New York Times researcher Zhao Jing on the basis of a government request. The company has also admitted that it responds to directions from the Chinese government in restricting users of MSN Spaces from using certain terms.

Google has launched a censored version of its international search engine in China.

Amnesty is calling on the companies to be transparent about their dealings with the Chinese authorities, revealing details of agreements and web filtering arrangements. It asks the companies to publicly state their principled opposition to implementing requests which flout human rights standards, and to call for the release of 'cyber-dissidents'. And the organisation is also calling on companies to exhaust all judicial processes and appeals before complying with government requests with human rights implications, such as providing email account details.

Kate Allen said:

'There is a huge gulf between the companies stated values and their actions. Yahoo!, Microsoft and Google need to stop denying their culpability, acknowledge where their responsibilities lie, and begin to focus on solutions in China. '

Journalist Shi Tao sent an email to an overseas website in 2004 describing the Chinese government's instructions on how his newspaper should cover the 15th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown. Yahoo helped the Chinese authorities identify Shi through his email account. He is now serving a 10-year sentence in a Chinese jail. Amnesty International is calling for his immediate release.

Amnesty International's new campaign website '' enables people to oppose internet repression in countries all over the world by signing a simple pledge calling on all governments and companies to respect internet freedom. These will be presented to a UN meeting on the future of the internet in November 2006. So far over 23,000 people have signed the pledge and over 6,000 have taken action on behalf of imprisoned journalist Shi Tao.

Amnesty's campaign against internet repression is not confined to China. Filtering technology also exists in countries like Iran, which recently announced that it would be able to monitor every citizen's web use; and Amnesty is campaigning for imprisoned web users in Tunisia and Vietnam. The organisation recently highlighted the case of Sayed Ahmad Sayed Sigarchi, an Iranian blogger who was reportedly subjected to 30 lashes in Tabriz Prison in October last year while serving a four-month sentence. He was arrested in connection with a blog he had started in 2003, and convicted of "insulting the Leader and senior officials" and "propaganda against the system'.

Gates Foundation to Spend $287m on AIDS vaccine

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has announced $US287 million in grants to create an international network of 16 labs to try new approaches to making a vaccine against AIDS.

The foundation says it wants the program to transform the so-far unsuccessful AIDS vaccine effort by rewarding individual labs that come up with innovative ideas and helping them develop those ideas, but also ensuring that they collaborate with other researchers, who under ordinary circumstances would often be considered rivals.

"This is the foundation's largest-ever investment in HIV vaccine development. In fact, it's our largest-ever package of grants for HIV and AIDS," Dr. Nicholas Hellmann, acting director of the Gates Foundation's HIV, TB, and Reproductive Health program, told reporters in a telephone briefing.

AIDS was first described in 1981 and the human immunodeficiency virus that causes AIDS was found soon after - but it has proven extremely difficult to find a way to make an effective vaccine.

The complete story may be found here:

The Archbishop of Canterbury condemns the escalating violence in the Middle East

Writing to the Heads of Churches in Lebanon, Dr. Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury said:

“I have been alarmed at the spiral of violence, the vicious circle of attack and retaliation, that has developed over the last few days. My prayers and sympathy are with the principal victims, the innocent civilians on both sides of the border, who now live in terror and are powerless to prevent the collective suffering at the hands of Hizballah and the Israeli military.

“The distress felt at the destruction not only of life but also the infrastructure so painstakingly rebuilt after years of conflict will, I know, be acute and reinforce the sense of helplessness at being caught up in a wider regional struggle. My condemnation of this resort to violence is unequivocal.”

The full text of the letter is below:

To Our beloved Brothers in the Lord
The Heads of Churches in Lebanon

Grace and Peace from the Lord Jesus Christ at this traumatic time for you and the people of Lebanon.

Today, as thousands of foreign passport-holders are evacuated from Beirut, I am only too conscious of the plight of those, from all communities, who have no place of refuge from the violence that has been unleashed. It pains us all greatly to see again the ancient Christian communities of the Middle East fleeing the land where they have borne witness for two millennia and to contemplate the hardships that will be faced by those who stay.

I have been alarmed at the spiral of violence, the vicious circle of attack and retaliation, that has developed over the last few days. My prayers and sympathy are with the principal victims, the innocent civilians on both sides of the border, who now live in terror and are powerless to prevent the collective suffering at the hands of Hizballah and the Israeli military. The distress felt at the destruction not only of life but also the infrastructure so painstakingly rebuilt after years of conflict will, I know, be acute and reinforce the sense of helplessness at being caught up in a wider regional struggle. My condemnation of this resort to violence is unequivocal. I offer you every support in your efforts to bring it to an end and allow Lebanon to be, once again, a living message of co-existence and solidarity between different religious communities.

Remembering the times we have met, even recently, I look forward to the chance to do so again in calmer times - either here or in Lebanon. Although our Christian message may seem, in these dark days, a small voice in a terrible wilderness of suffering it is delivered in the confidence that God’s purposes for us and his people will prevail and that purpose is one of peace, harmony and reconciliation.

May our Lord Jesus Christ give you, as chief pastors of his flock, every strength and blessing in your ministry.

++ Rowan Cantuar

ACLU Urges House Intelligence Committee to Protect Fourth Amendment, Says FISA Must Not Be Gutted in the Name of "Modernization"

WASHINGTON - July 19 - As the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence met to consider the "modernization" of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the American Civil Liberties Union urged members of the panel to reject attempts to further erode the Fourth Amendment protections of ordinary Americans. That law has been constantly violated since President Bush in 2001 authorized the warrantless wiretapping and data-mining of Americans by the National Security Agency.

"We must not repeat the mistakes of the past," said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. "America must not forget the circumstances under which FISA was enacted. President Nixon had ordered warrantless wiretapping of Americans and claimed that he was above the law. FISA does not need to be further ‘modernized’; the president simply needs to comply with law and the Constitution."

Congress has already taken extraordinary steps to modify FISA. Much of the debate surrounding the initial passage and reauthorization of the Patriot Act focused on "modernizing" FISA, to the detriment of FISA’s original civil liberties protections. Ironically, despite significant changes made to make it easier for law enforcement to seek warrants to conduct surveillance, the Bush administration - the main proponent of those changes -- has been secretly wiretapping Americans without a court order since 2001.

The ACLU endorsed two bipartisan bills that would curtail the administration’s abuse of power. H.R. 5371, the "Lawful Intelligence and Surveillance of Terrorists in an Emergency by NSA Act (LISTEN Act)," reinforces the requirement that the president must follow FISA and criminal wiretap rules as the "exclusive" procedures for wiretapping Americans in this country. H.R. 4976, the "NSA Oversight Support Act," also reinforces the legitimate and necessary role of Congress as a check on any president, by requiring additional and prompt reporting to Congress of all secret surveillance of Americans.

The ACLU also raised strong objections to S. 2453, the National Security Surveillance Act. This Cheney-Specter bill would give the president the option of complying or not complying with FISA and the protections of the Fourth Amendment. The bill would vastly expand the government’s ability to data-mine the private information of ordinary Americans without cause and without an independent judicial check.

Such steps would repeat history’s mistakes and re-establish the conditions that led to FISA’s passage in the first place. Thirty years ago, Senator Frank Church (D-ID) warned that Congress must protect against the NSA’s potential technology that "could be turned around on the American people, and no American would have any privacy left. Such is the capacity to monitor everything: telephone conversations, telegrams, it doesn’t matter."

"By law, Congress must be apprised of the nation's intelligence activities, a requirement that this president violated," said Timothy Sparapani, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. "Congress must not reward deceit and subterfuge by authorizing the very programs that have violated the law. To ‘modernize’ FISA as the Cheney-Specter bill proposes would shred the Fourth Amendment’s protections."

The ACLU’s letter to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence can be found at:

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

House Pushes Social Issues Agenda To Curry Favor With Religious Right

'Court-Stripping,' Cross Votes Are Shameless Political Posturing, Says AU's Lynn

NEW YORK - July 18 - Americans United for Separation of Church and State today decried impending politically motivated action in the U.S. House of Representatives on bills that threaten basic constitutional rights.

The House is scheduled to vote tomorrow on a “court-stripping” bill that would bar federal courts from hearing challenges involving the Pledge of Allegiance and a bill that would intervene in an ongoing legal battle over a towering Christian cross on public property in California.

“The leaders of the House are shamelessly pandering to their Religious Right base,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “The forthcoming votes on these measures hit a new low for election-year posturing.

“These bills are not meaningless resolutions,” Lynn concluded. “They pose a threat to the fundamental rights of religious minorities and the American system of government. Congress is interfering with the ability of the federal courts to decide important church-state questions and to enforce decades-old fundamental constitutional rights. That’s an appalling attack on the separation of powers and the judiciary’s role in protecting the rights of religious minorities from majoritarian control.”

The so-called “Pledge Protection Act of 2005” (H.R. 2389) would strip federal courts from hearing legal challenges involving the Pledge of Allegiance. The measure states that no federal court, including the U.S. Supreme Court, would have jurisdiction to “hear or decide any question pertaining to the interpretation of, or the validity under the Constitution, of the Pledge of Allegiance.” The bill deeply threatens the separation of powers and would make it impossible for religious minorities to vindicate a fundamental constitutional right, recognized by the Supreme Court in 1943, of religious minorities against coerced recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools

Representatives are also set to consider H.R. 5683, a bill that would transfer ownership of a plot of land in San Diego that features a towering cross to the federal government. After 17 years of litigation, a court has ruled that the Christian religious symbol, which sits atop a prominent hill above San Diego and has been referred to in historical maps as the “Mount Soledad Easter Cross,” violates church-state separation and ordered its removal. In early July, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy issued a stay of that order during the appeals process.

"This bill is a gratuitous attempt by Congress to improperly intervene in an ongoing lawsuit,” concluded Lynn. “Congress needs to butt out.”