Saturday, March 31, 2007

Australian in Guantanamo to serve 9 months, plea deal accepted

Reuters reported today that:

GUANTANAMO BAY U.S. NAVAL BASE, Cuba - Australian al Qaeda foot soldier David Hicks was sentenced to seven years in prison on Friday but will only serve nine months, a U.S. military tribunal said.

Hicks, who became the first war crimes convict among the hundreds of foreign captives held for years at the Guantanamo prison camp, had pleaded guilty to providing material support to terrorism in an agreement with U.S. military prosecutors.

The deal allowed all but nine months of the sentence to be suspended, meaning he could be free by New Year's. Hicks will serve his sentence in Australia. The United States will send him home by May 29 after holding him for more than five years at the Guantanamo base in Cuba.

In Australia, Hicks' father said Saturday he was relieved his son would soon be home. "The bottom line of all this is that at least he's back home. He's out of that hell hole," Terry Hicks told local media.

The younger Hicks, a former kangaroo skinner from Adelaide, acknowledged that he trained with al Qaeda, fought U.S. allies in Afghanistan in late 2001 for two hours, and then sold his gun to raise cab fare and tried to flee by taxi to Pakistan.

Hicks, 31, denied having advance knowledge of the September 11 attacks. His attorney, Marine Maj. Michael Mori, portrayed him as a now-apologetic soldier wannabe who never shot at anyone and ran away when he got a taste of battle.

The prosecutor, Marine Lt. Col. Kevin Chenail, said Hicks freely joined a band of killers who slaughtered innocents. "We are face to face with the enemy," Chenail said.


Hicks was captured in Afghanistan in December 2001 and was among the first prisoners the United States sent to Guantanamo a month later. Washington considers them dangerous and unlawful "enemy combatants" who must be detained in the war against terrorism.

Hicks had previously said he was abused by the U.S. military but said in his plea agreement that he has "never been illegally treated while in U.S. custody."

Hicks was the first person convicted in a U.S. war crimes tribunal since World War Two, and the only one charged in the tribunals created by the U.S. Congress after the Supreme Court struck down an earlier version that President George W. Bush authorized to try foreign captives on terrorism charges.

A convert to Islam who later abandoned the faith, Hicks agreed to cooperate with U.S. and Australian intelligence services and testify in court against his former al Qaeda and Taliban colleagues.

Hicks' plea agreement bars him from speaking to the media for one year and requires him to give the Australian government any money received for the rights to his story.

Rights groups who monitored the trial said the deal seemed aimed at shielding the United States from scrutiny over its treatment of Guantanamo prisoners.

The complete story may be found here:

Friday, March 30, 2007

Mr. Asia USA pageant slated to benefit hospice for HIV patients in Thailand.

30 Contestants vie for Mr. Asia USA 2007

Los Angeles, CA - The Kasetsart University Alumni Association of USA (KU Alumni of USA), a non-profit organization, in cooperation with AIDS Healthcare Foundation, will host its third annual gala dinner, “The 3rd Annual Emerald Night Ball 2007,” on Saturday, April 7, 2007, 6 PM at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills (9876 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90210) featuring MR. ASIA USA 2007 pageant. The event is expected to be a star-studded event. Recently added to roster of celebrity judges are Sunkrish Bala (Notes from the Underbelly), Cathy Shim (MAD TV, Reno 911), Kellan Lutz (Accepted).

Also known as the 3rd Annual Teppabute Nonsi Competition, KU Prince Charming, the event is part of the annual fundraising which helps humanitarian projects. Teppabute means “a prince charming” in Thai, and Nonsi is a symbol tree of Kasetsart University. This year, the pageant supports Wat Phra Baht Nam Phu, a free hospice for HIV patients in Thailand.

The competition will consist of casual wear, swimwear, and formal wear categories. Ten finalists will be selected and seven titles will be awarded. The winner of Mr. Asia-USA will receive $1,500 cash prize, crown, a certificate, a year of acting classes at JohnMichael Studio, and will be featured in an Asian models calendar. The first and second runner-ups will receive $700 and $600, respectively.

In addition to the Mr. Asia-USA title and the runners up, winners will also be selected for the special categories namely, Super Model, Super Star, Mr. Photogenic, and Mr. Popularity, for which each will receive $500. It is noted that each contestant can win up to two titles, with cash prizes up to $2,000.

The selected top 30 candidates were presented to the international media on March 4, 2007, via media conference at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, California. Rigid rehearsals started on March 18, 2007. The first public appearance of the final candidates will be at the upcoming Thai New Year Parade on April 1st at 9:00 a.m.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Episcopal Bishops Reject Anglican Demands-Affirm Support For Gays

KSAT.Com reported today that:

NAVASOTA, Texas -- Episcopal bishops risked losing their place in the global Anglican family Wednesday by affirming their support for gays and rejecting a key demand that they give up some authority to theological conservatives outside the U.S. church.

In strong and direct language, the Episcopal House of Bishops said it views the Gospel as teaching that "all God's children, including gay and lesbian persons, are full and equal participants" in the church. The bishops also said they would not agree to an Anglican plan for leaders outside the U.S. denomination to oversee the small number of conservative American dioceses that disagree.

"We cannot accept what would be injurious to the church and could well lead to its permanent division," the bishops said in a resolution from a private meeting in Texas.

"If that means that others reject us and communion with us, as some have already done, we must with great regret and sorrow accept their decision."

The Episcopal Church is the U.S. wing of the 77 million-member Anglican Communion, a fellowship of churches that traces its roots to the Church of England. But it is at odds theologically with the vast majority of Anglican churches, which take a more conservative view on sexuality and other issues.

Episcopal bishops said they still have a "passionate desire" to stay in the communion. But the Anglican spiritual leader, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, issued a brief statement Wednesday calling their decision "discouraging." The small yet affluent Episcopal Church, with 2.3 million members, covers a significant chunk of the Anglican Communion's budget.

"No one is underestimating the challenges ahead," Williams said.

Anglicans have been debating for decades how they should interpret Scripture on salvation, truth and sexuality. Those divisions reached the breaking point in 2003 when Episcopalians consecrated the church's first openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire.

Williams has no direct authority to force a reconciliation, and has been struggling to negotiate a compromise.

The latest plan emerged from a meeting of Anglican leaders, called primates, last month in Tanzania - and it included an ultimatum for the U.S. church.

Episcopalians were given until Sept. 30 to unequivocally pledge not to consecrate another partnered gay bishop or authorize official prayers for same-sex couples. Otherwise, the church could have a much-reduced role in the communion.

As part of the Anglicans' demands, Episcopalians were told to accept a "primatial vicar" and special committee that would oversee U.S. dioceses that reject Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori. Six dioceses do not recognize her authority because of her support for gay relationships and liberal theology. Three of the six also do not accept the ordination of women.

In return, the Anglicans said they would stop Anglican bishops from coming on their own into the United States to take oversight of conservative U.S. parishes. Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola has started a conservative parish network as a rival to the Episcopal Church.

But the Episcopal bishops said ceding authority to a panel that included overseas Anglicans cuts against Episcopal church law.

"It violates our founding principles as the Episcopal Church following our own liberation from colonialism and the beginning of a life independent of the Church of England," the bishops said. "And for the first time since our separation from the papacy in the 16th century, it replaces the local governance of the church by its own people with the decisions of a distant and unaccountable group of prelates."

Episcopal bishops did not respond to the Anglican demand about gay bishops and blessing ceremonies. However, the leaders noted that they had previously met requests not to approve another gay bishop "at great cost to many, not the least of whom are our gay and lesbian members," only to have Anglican leaders say the pledges weren't sufficient.

Still, the bishops insisted in a news conference after the meeting that their new statement was not their last word on Anglican demands. The panel of lay people and clergy who oversee the Episcopal church, the Executive Council, will soon take up the bishops' resolutions, and the House of Bishops will meet again in September.

"It is not a final decision," Jefferts Schori said.

But Canon Kendall Harmon of the Diocese of South Carolina, a leading conservative thinker, called the bishops' statement "as strong a repudiation as you can get" of Anglican demands.

"The reality is that they've rejected what's been asked," Harmon said. "They went out of their way to both push back on Rowan Williams and the primates."

The complete story may be found here:

Texas is the unlikely home of World's biggest gay church

Reuters reported today that:

DALLAS: They say everything is bigger in Texas. But the Cathedral of Hope in Dallas makes one Texas-sized claim that few would expect in the conservative Bible Belt state – it says it is the world's biggest gay church.

"I think this shows that God has a tremendously great sense of humour," said senior pastor and rector Jo Hudson.

On a more serious note, she says the church, affiliated with the United Church of Christ, is a spiritual refuge for gay people of faith in a region associated with more conservative brands of Christianity.

"Because we are in the Bible Belt we have a lot of people of tremendous faith," she said in an interview.

"But a lot of them have been alienated and rejected by their faith community, which is fundamentalist, so they hanker for a place where they can encounter God," she said.

Gays and the church are no small matter in America. Many of the country's 60 million evangelicals view homosexuality as a sinful lifestyle choice – a stance that angers gay activists who say their sexual orientation is not a choice.

The Episcopalian church – the American wing of the Anglican Communion – is sharply split on the matter of gay clergy, while the Republican Party has used state ballot initiatives banning gay marriage to get its supporters out to the polls.

Hudson estimates that over 90 per cent of the Cathedral's 3500 members are gay, lesbian or transgender.

Founded in 1970 by a dozen gays and lesbians who gathered in a home and decided they wanted a safe and tolerant place to worship, it has grown into a large and affluent institution centred on a cavernous church that can seat up to 900.

Last year it became part of the United Church of Christ, which claims 1.3 million members in 5725 US congregations and traditions of diversity and pioneering action on social justice.

On a recent Sunday during Lent – a period of prayer and penance in the run-up to Easter – mostly gay couples, men and women, streamed in for morning services.

The big pickup trucks and sports utility vehicles gave the parking lot a Texan flavour and most were on the expensive side – highlighting the fact that being openly gay remains a mostly white-collar phenomenon in America.

The church offered liturgical worship with an Episcopalian flavour, complete with communion. It also provides contemporary and Spanish-language services.

But there was no discussion of homosexuality from the pulpit. One pastor spoke of South African Archbishop and Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu and the importance of forgiveness.

Hudson's sermon focussed on humanity's propensity to wander.


Members of the congregation said that while the church was a place of spiritual comfort for gays, its focus was on ministering to the wider community, especially the poor.

"We don't talk much about gay stuff here," said Coy James, who has been attending the church for almost 30 years.

"We give over $US1 million each year in aid and services to the poorest of the poor and we have adopted elementary schools in low-income areas and helped them with tutoring and other things," he said after the service.

Others are drawn by its liberal theology in a range of areas that go beyond sexual orientation.

"I'm from a Catholic background and have an issue with its stance on women in the priesthood," said Chris Kuntz, who said he joined the Cathedral in 1994.

All of this places the church firmly on the left of America's political and cultural divide – another anomaly in the red-blooded, Republican-dominated state of Texas.

The church's store prominently displays books such as "The Real AntiChrist: How America Sold its Soul," with a cover photo of President George W. Bush with his hands clasped in prayer.

But its liberal views on sexual orientation are also clearly a big part of its attraction for many members who might not feel comfortable or welcome in other churches.

"Homosexuality & Christianity: no matter who you are, God loves you," declares the church's Web site, which features a discussion on the matter, stressing among other things Jesus' silence on the subject.

Southern Baptists and other socially conservative denominations point to mostly Old Testament passages that they say shows God's dim view of homosexuality.

The complete story may be found here:

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Italian gay demonstration rips Catholic Church leaders

CW News reported that:

Rome, Mar. 12, 2007 - Homosexual demonstrators railed against the influence of the Catholic Church during a demonstration in downtown Rome on March 10.

Organizers claimed that 50,000 people had joined in the Saturday-afternoon rally at the Piazza Farnese, although officials say that the square can only accommodate about 10,000 people. The demonstration was called in support of a bid for legal recognition of civil unions, and held in front of the French embassy in recognition of a French policy that is the model for the Italian proposal.

However, the gathering took on a distinctly anti-Catholic tone, as participants protested the opposition raised against the civil-union proposal by Church leaders. Dario Fo, a Nobel Prize winner in literature and harsh critic of the papacy, was a leader of the demonstration. The noisiest applause of the day came with the arrival of of Father Francesco Barbero, who in 2003 was suspended by Pope John Paul II (bio - news).

Some participants in the rally wore episcopal miters or clerical vestments; others passed out stickers identifying the Pope as “Maledictus XVI.” One sign visible in the crowd was a portrait of the Holy Father, doctored so that he appeared to be making an obscene gesture, with the slogan: “Human Rights? The Church speaks clearly!”

Other rally participants mocked lawmakers who have stated their opposition to civil unions. A poster showed an apparently pregnant man, and the words, “I tell you, the father is Mastella”-- a reference to justice minister Clemente Mastella. Another said, “More rights, less Binetti”-- reference to Senator Paola Binetti, who is a member of Opus Dei. Several demonstrators carried placards saying, “Better gay than Opus Dei.”

The complete story may be found here:

Gonzales refuses to resign over widening U.S. prosecutor scandal

The Canadian Press reported today that:
WASHINGTON (CP) - An emotional U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales admitted Tuesday there were mistakes made in a purge of prosecutors but said he won't resign amid a widening controversy involving the White House.

At issue is the Justice Department's changing answers and its independence in firing eight U.S. attorneys last year.

It's become clear officials closely consulted with top advisers to President George W. Bush.

Bush and Gonzales also discussed concerns from Republicans that some prosecutors weren't aggressively addressing voter fraud cases involving Democrats.

The 93 U.S. attorneys are presidential appointees who can be hired and fired at will. But critics say the eight got the boot for political reasons.

Now even some Republicans are criticizing how the whole thing was handled and say the White House owes everyone an explanation.

"I stand by the decision and I think it was the right decision," said Gonzales.

But he admitted Congress should have been told during recent hearings on the issue that Bush officials were involved.

At one point in 2005, former Bush counsel Harriet Miers suggested all 93 attorneys be fired at the start of the president's second term, something Gonzales dismissed as a "bad idea" and "disruptive."

Instead, he said he directed his chief of staff Kyle Sampson to evaluate "weak performers."

Sampson resigned this week. Gonzales said he wasn't involved in any of the discussions about who should be fired and he regretted the prosecutors weren't told why they were going.

"This has become as serious as it gets," said Democratic Senator Charles Schumer, who's leading an investigation and called on the weekend for Gonzales to resign.

"Just when we though our faith couldn't be shaken any further, it has been.

"The latest revelations prove beyond any reasonable doubt that there has been unprecedented breach of trust, abuse of power and misuse of the Justice Department."

Sampson's resignation "does not take heat off the attorney general," he said.

"In fact, it raises the temperature."

E-mails released Tuesday by Congress reveal the firings were discussed by the White House and Justice Department for two years.

White House spokesman Tony Snow said that kind of contact was appropriate and Bush never meddled.

In congressional hearings, some of the fired prosecutors said they'd been improperly pressured by Republicans on pending cases.

It's the latest blow for Gonzales, who has been closely linked with Bush since the president was Texas governor and has taken flak for siding with him on expanding executive powers in the fight against terrorism.

"I've overcome a lot of obstacles in my life to become attorney general," he said.

"I am here not because I give up. I am here because I've learned from my mistakes, because I accept responsibility and because I'm committed to doing my job,"

"Simply claiming responsibility is not enough," responded Schumer.

"Did the attorney general not know that eight U.S. attorneys were to be fired? If he didn't know he shouldn't be attorney general, plain and simple."

Even some Republicans are miffed about it all, including Senator John Ensign of Nevada who wanted answers about the dismissal of the Las Vegas prosecutor.

"I was either intentionally misled or someone was misinformed."

The complete story may be found here:

Gen. Pace regrets comments about gay acts being 'immoral' but doesn't apologize

The Chicago Tribune reported today that:

WASHINGTON -- Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, expressed mild regret Tuesday for voicing his belief that homosexual acts are "immoral," but he stopped short of an apology as gay rights groups and a powerful Republican senator rebuked the general for the comments he made to the Chicago Tribune.

As critics fired rhetorical volleys, Pace issued a statement expressing regret that he had put so much stress on the morality issue when he defended the Pentagon's "don't ask, don't tell" ban on gays serving openly in the military during a Monday interview with the Tribune's editorial board.

"In expressing my support for the current policy, I also offered some personal opinions about moral conduct," Pace said in his statement. "I should have focused more on my support of the policy and less on my personal moral views."

But this statement did not mollify critics who called the general's statements insensitive and outrageous and said he should apologize.

Pace's statements in the interview turned into a huge news story on radio, television and the Internet during the day and showed how sensitive the Pentagon's policy has become. His senior staff members said he was expressing personal views and did not intend to apologize.

Still, the reaction provided a strong hint that Congress may hold hearings this year on the "don't ask, don't tell" policy approved during the Clinton administration, which allows gays to serve in the military as long as they do not disclose their sexual orientation. That clue came when Sen. John Warner (R-Va.), ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, took issue with the general.

"I respectfully but strongly disagree with the chairman's view that homosexuality is immoral," the senator said. "In keeping with my longstanding respect for the Armed Services Committee hearing process, I will decline to comment on the current policy until after such hearings are held."

Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), the chairman of the committee who has the right to call hearings, had no comment on Pace's remarks. When a spokeswoman was asked if hearings on "don't ask, don't tell" may be held, she said, "They've not made any decision about that."

Repeal of the ban on gays who acknowledge their sexual orientation and serve in the military would be highly controversial. Sens. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and John Edwards (D-N.C.) favor repeal while Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and other GOP contenders would maintain the policy.

An Obama spokeswoman said the senator agrees with Gen. John Shalikashvili, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the Clinton administration, who wrote recently that he favors the repeal because the military is having a tough time recruiting and training troops.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who is seeking the presidency, called Pace's comments unfortunate and said the administration should reject them.

Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.), also a presidential contender, said, "General Pace's comments were completely out of line. Many gay and lesbian members of our military have served their country honorably over the years and I find it outrageous that at a time when we need as many good people serving in the military as possible, we are still talking about excluding people based on their sexual orientation."

Legislation to repeal the "don't ask, don't tell" policy has been introduced in the House by Rep. Martin Meehan (D-Mass.), and it has more than 100 co-sponsors. Meehan said Tuesday that Pace's comments are not in line with those of a majority of the public or the military, and that sentiment for repeal "is strong and growing," according to the Associated Press.

Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, an advocacy group that has represented those dismissed from the military for being gay, said, "Gen. Pace's comments are outrageous, insensitive and disrespectful to the 65,000 lesbian and gay troops now serving in our armed forces."

Eric Alva, spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign, a civil rights group supporting gay rights, said, "This policy—and Gen. Pace's bigotry—is outdated, unnecessary and counter to the same American values our soldiers are giving their lives for each and every day."

In the interview with the Tribune, Pace said his views were based on his personal upbringing.

"I believe homosexual acts between two individuals are immoral and that we should not condone immoral acts," Pace told the Tribune editorial board. "I do not believe the United States is well served by a policy that says it is OK to be immoral in any way.

"As an individual, I would not want [acceptance of gay behavior] to be our policy, just like I would not want it to be our policy that if we were to find out that so-and-so was sleeping with somebody else's wife, that we would just look the other way, which we do not," he said. "We prosecute that kind of immoral behavior."

While his senior staff made clear Tuesday that he would not apologize for these remarks, the general issued his statement in an effort to play them down and declare that he should have dealt with policy and not his personal opinion.

The complete story may be found here:,1,1192332.story?track=rss

Friday, March 09, 2007

Gonzales, Mueller admit FBI broke law

The AP reported today that:

WASHINGTON - The nation's top two law enforcement officials acknowledged Friday the FBI broke the law to secretly pry out personal information about Americans. They apologized and vowed to prevent further illegal intrusions.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales left open the possibility of pursuing criminal charges against FBI agents or lawyers who improperly used the USA Patriot Act in pursuit of suspected terrorists and spies.

The FBI's transgressions were spelled out in a damning 126-page audit by Justice Department Inspector General Glenn A. Fine. He found that agents sometimes demanded personal data on people without official authorization, and in other cases improperly obtained telephone records in non-emergency circumstances.

The audit also concluded that the FBI for three years underreported to Congress how often it used national security letters to ask businesses to turn over customer data. The letters are administrative subpoenas that do not require a judge's approval.

"People have to believe in what we say," Gonzales said. "And so I think this was very upsetting to me. And it's frustrating."

"We have some work to do to reassure members of Congress and the American people that we are serious about being responsible in the exercise of these authorities," he said.

Under the Patriot Act, the national security letters give the FBI authority to demand that telephone companies, Internet service providers, banks, credit bureaus and other businesses produce personal records about their customers or subscribers. About three-fourths of the letters issued between 2003 and 2005 involved counterterror cases, with the rest for espionage investigations, the audit reported.

Shoddy record-keeping and human error were to blame for the bulk of the problems, said Justice auditors, who were careful to note they found no indication of criminal misconduct.

Still, "we believe the improper or illegal uses we found involve serious misuses of national security letter authorities," the audit concluded.

FBI Director Robert S. Mueller said many of the problems were being fixed, including by building a better internal data collection system and training employees on the limits of their authority. The FBI has also scrapped the use of "exigent letters," which were used to gather information without the signed permission of an authorized official.

"But the question should and must be asked: How could this happen? Who is accountable?" Mueller said. "And the answer to that is, I am to be held accountable."

Mueller said he had not been asked to resign, nor had he discussed doing so with other officials. He said employees would probably face disciplinary actions, not criminal charges, following an internal investigation of how the violations occurred.

The audit incensed lawmakers in Congress already seething over the recent dismissals of eight U.S. attorneys. Democrats who lead House and Senate judiciary and intelligence oversight panels promised hearings on the findings. Several lawmakers — Republicans and Democrats alike — raised the possibility of scaling back the FBI's authority.

"It's up to Congress to end these abuses as soon as possible," said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee. "The Patriot Act was never intended to allow the Bush administration to violate fundamental constitutional rights."

The complete story may be found here:

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Amnesty International says U.S. Foreign Policy Hinders Human Rights Work Around the World

WASHINGTON, DC – March 6 –In response to the Department of State’s release today of its Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, Amnesty International said that while the reports recognize the plight of human rights defenders around the world, they fail to acknowledge that U.S. foreign policy may have exacerbated conditions for many of these brave individuals. In the name of national security, the Bush administration continues to turn a blind eye to many instances of abuse by countries cited by the State Department for appalling human rights records.

“Today’s reports provide useful data that should be factored into foreign policy decisions,” said Larry Cox, Amnesty International USA executive director. “However, if the Bush administration persists in allowing other considerations to trump human rights concerns, the real-world impact of these reports will be greatly diminished.”

“There are many countries listed in these reports that have questionable human rights records, including Turkey, India, Ethiopia and Saudi Arabia,” said Cox. “The United States can, in its capacity as a major donor, provide the leadership to help end abuse around the globe. However, for meaningful change to occur, the Bush administration must not only give lip service to condemn the abuses, but also must refuse to conduct business as usual with repressive governments.

“While Amnesty International welcomes the reports’ emphasis on accountability, until the United States changes its own policies of holding detainees indefinitely, in secret prisons and without basic rights, it cannot credibly be viewed as a world human rights leader,” added Cox. “Human rights abuses must not be hidden behind a façade of national security rhetoric.”

Amnesty International and others have reported that the United States is believed to have transferred, “rendered” or “disappeared” more than one hundred detainees in the war on terror to countries that the report cites for torture or ill-treatment of detainees. Some detainees are believed to be held in a labyrinth of secret prisons around the globe run by the United States government in collusion with regimes that have problematic human rights records.

Amnesty International’s analysis reveals that the United States, in the context of the war on terror, has been silent on human rights abuses committed by many of its new-found friends. In the Balochistan province of Pakistan, for example, Amnesty International has documented torture, possible extrajudicial executions and other unlawful killings and disappearances. In January, Amnesty International issued an urgent action on behalf of Baloch political leader Akhtar Mengal, currently being held incommunicado in solitary confinement in Karachi without access to needed medical care. The administration has thus far failed to take any effective public action on his case.

The section regarding Iraq omits crucial elements of the full human rights picture in that country. It lacks any information about human rights abuses against Iraqis perpetrated by U.S. personnel, especially in detention centers. It fails to acknowledge the severe legal and judicial flaws in the Iraqi judicial system, epitomized by the rushed execution of Saddam Hussein. It does not adequately document patterns of abuse and discrimination by the Iraqi government against vulnerable groups such as religious minorities, women, and gays and lesbians. Finally, the section fails to recognize the sheer scale of the Iraqi refugee problem -- some 1.2 million people, according to most estimates, who have fled Iraq due to the utter lack of security there.

In today’s report, the State Department asserts that in Egypt, “The continued imprisonment of former presidential candidate Ayman Nour raised serious concerns about the path of political reform and democracy in the country. Continuing a trend begun in 2005, the government arrested and detained hundreds of activists affiliated with the banned-but-tolerated Muslim Brotherhood, generally for periods lasting several weeks.” Yet Egypt remains one of the United States’ largest recipients of foreign assistance and a key landing pad for U.S.-sponsored “extraordinary renditions” of terror suspects. Amnesty International has reported that President Hosni Mubarak has expanded Egypt’s emergency laws to suppress freedom of speech and expression. Recently, an Egyptian student was sentenced to four years in prison for expressing his views on his blog. In 2006, the Egyptian government cracked down on NGOs.

The State Department reports emphasize the further limiting of freedom of press and speech by Russian President Vladimir Putin. In 2006, he temporarily closed NGOs operating in the country, including Amnesty International. Government pressure continued to erode media organizations’ autonomy. The government used controlling interest in all major media outlets to blunt criticisms against it and to prevent news from Chechnya from reaching the masses. There were credible reports that government pressure led to self-censorship on the part of many journalists. The United States should take a lead role to ensure that Russia cease curtailing the freedom of its citizens.

“We welcome the State Department's contribution to the effort to protect individual human rights defenders around the world,” said Cox. “But the administration as a whole must ensure that its deeds match its words. Courageous human rights defenders deserve no less."

Transpartisan Coalition Calls for Whistleblower Hearings

WASHINGTON, DC - March 7 - The Liberty Coalition, a transpartisan public policy group dedicated to preserving the Bill of Rights, personal autonomy and individual privacy today sent a petition signed by 30 liberal, libertarian and conservative groups including the American Civil Liberties Union, Citizen Outreach, OMB Watch, Electronic Privacy Information Center, Government Accountability Project, Electronic Freedom Foundation, and the National Coalition Against the Censorship to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform urging prompt hearings on the case of Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Whistleblower Sibel Edmonds.

Edmonds, a former FBI Language Specialist, brought charges of wrongdoing, criminal activity, cover-ups and national security threats inside the agency following the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Edmonds was promptly fired, which she asserts was an act of retaliation. The Department of Justice (DOJ) then used the State Secrets Privilege to shut down court proceedings in her case and prevent Congress from exploring the matter. Civil Liberties advocates argue that Edmonds’s case in an example of other instances where whistleblowers who tried to inform Congress and taxpayers about national security threats were intimidated silenced and retaliated against.

“Mrs. Edmonds is not a national security threat but a national hero and the American public deserves to hear the truth of her case. Congress must act and act now by having public hearings. Without them, the cover-ups and criminal activities will just continue.” Said Michael Ostrolenk, National Director of the Liberty Coalition.

Mr Ostrolenk was supported in his contentions by Liberty Coalition partner Stephen Kohn, President of the National Whistleblower Center who said “Congress must hear from Mrs. Edmonds and others who corroborated her case - we cannot wait until after another attack to learn about threats to our security."

This popular position is echoed by Danielle Brian, Executive Director of the Project On Government Oversight, a watchdog group that signed the appeal brief in Mrs. Edmonds case who said "The issues surrounding the Edmonds case are so significant that Congress must hold hearings to investigate the government's actions.”

The issues reported by Ms. Edmonds include:

Espionage activities within the FBI, DOD, and the Department of State.
Cover-up of information and leads pre and post 9/11, under the excuse of protecting certain diplomatic relations.
Deliberate mistranslation of crucial intelligence by FBI translators and management.
Foreign entities bribing government officials and elected representatives.
Civil Liberty advocates assert that these issues point to an abuse of power, a criminal conspiracy and attempts to cover -up wrong doing by using the coercive power of the state.

In regards to abuse of power, Ann Beeson, Associate Legal Director, ACLU National Office, and Lead Counsel in Mrs. Edmonds case said. “The government abused the state secrets privilege to deny Sibel Edmonds her day in court, and to prevent accountability in other cases for illegal spying and rendition. It is high time for Congress to intervene.”

Dr. William Weaver, Senior advisor and Board Member of the National Security Whistleblower’s Coalition, who is an expert on the state secret privilege agreed with Mrs. Beeson when he said, “In Edmonds' case tyranny comes in the form of the state secrets privilege, a foolproof mechanism of the federal government to hide executive branch corruption, incompetence, and illegal activity. This is a practice more at home with Czars and nabobs, and should have no place in the United States."

Ostrolenk continued by saying “This is worse than Watergate in that American lives have been lost and our national security has been compromised. Mrs. Edmonds case has been vindicated by the Justice Department office of Inspector General, and several congressional offices. The public has a right to know. The excuse of protecting national security is fallacious. They are protecting their own power and not the American people. Mrs. Edmonds must be heard.”