Saturday, June 30, 2007

Supreme Court Decides to review Guantanamo cases

The AP reported today that:

WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court agreed Friday to review whether Guantanamo Bay detainees can use federal courts to challenge their confinement, reversing an April decision not to hear arguments on the issue.

The unusual turnabout was announced without comment from justices who had twice before issued rulings critical of the way the Bush administration was handling detainees. Arguments are expected in the fall.

There was no indication why the justices changed course from three months ago, but lawyers for the prisoners pointed to intervening events as having changed the complexion of the long-running controversy.

A week ago, lawyers for the detainees filed a statement with the Supreme Court from a military officer who alleged U.S. military panels that classified detainees as enemy combatants for the past four years relied on vague and incomplete intelligence.

Under a law the Bush administration pushed through Congress last year, designating detainees as an enemy combatants strips them of any right to use the federal courts to challenge the legality of their detention.

Detainees challenged the law, and their appeal reached the Supreme Court earlier this year. On April 2, the court turned down the detainees' request to be heard.

At the time, Justices John Paul Stevens and Anthony Kennedy pointed to the "obvious importance" of the cases, but said it would be premature to intervene. Three members of the court said in April they wanted to step in immediately: Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and David Souter.

Five of the nine justices must agree to take a case that previously has been denied a hearing, according to an authoritative text on the Supreme Court. Court observers pointed to a 60-year-old case as the closest parallel to how the justices' handling of the detainees latest appeal.

Currently, 375 detainees are held at Guantanamo Bay.

Gordon Johndroe, a spokesman for the National Security Council, said that "we did not think that court review at this time was necessary, but we are confident in our legal position."

The operation of Guantanamo Bay has brought global criticism of the Bush administration and condemnation from Democrats on Capitol Hill. Democratic leaders say they will push next month to cut the president's budget for the prison in an effort to force its closure.

The White House says Bush has already decided to close the facility and transfer more than 370 terrorism suspects elsewhere.

In 2004, the Bush administration hastily created Combatant Status Review Tribunals after the Supreme Court faulted the government for note giving detainees access to courts.

On Friday, Washington attorney David Remes said that "the corrupted CSRT proceedings and the very restrictive government view of what the detainees can do in the lower courts led the justices to conclude that they should take up these issues."

The complete story may be found here:

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

ACLU Renews Call on Congress to Investigate U.S. Detainee Torture and Abuse on Eve of International Day Against Torture

WASHINGTON - JUNE 25 - In anticipation of the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture and on the eve of the 20th anniversary of the adoption of the Convention Against Torture, the American Civil Liberties Union reiterated its call on Congress today to create an independent and bi-partisan commission to thoroughly investigate policies and practices of torture and abuse against detainees held in U.S. custody.

"It is a sad commentary that on a day that used to be about calling on rogue countries to stop the practice of torture and abuse, Americans cannot at least hold their heads up high in the knowledge that their own government has behaved according to international legal and moral standards," said Jamil Dakwar, Advocacy Director of the ACLU's Human Rights Program. "It is time for Congress to finally thoroughly investigate the chain of command that allowed this to happen, and to also make sure that the victims of these disgraceful actions have a proper avenue for redress."

The Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment went into effect in 1987 and was ratified by the U.S. in 1994. It forbids governments from deliberately inflicting severe physical or mental pain or suffering upon those under their control and prohibits the use of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. The Convention also prohibits the transfer or the rendition of persons to countries where they could be at risk of being tortured. Over recent years, it has become clear that the U.S., as part of the so-called "war on terror," has repeatedly violated the Convention. Last year, the U.N. Committee Against Torture condemned the U.S. for its policies that had led to the widespread abuse against detainees, including the use of torture.

To date, no high-ranking senior officials in the government or military have been held accountable for U.S. detainee abuse, including that at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. According to a June 25 published report, the Pentagon and senior military officials were told about the now infamous Abu Ghraib abuses significantly earlier than they professed to have knowledge about them. Army Major General Antonio M. Taguba, in charge of investigating Abu Ghraib, informed Seymour Hersh of The New Yorker magazine that he had submitted more than a dozen copies of his report on the abuse through several channels at the Pentagon and to Central Command headquarters, and that he was given orders to investigate only military police at the prison, not those above them in the chain of command.

Moreover, more than 100,000 pages of government documents released in response to ACLU Freedom of Information Act requests reveal that a pervasive and systemic pattern of harsh interrogation techniques have been used by military personnel indiscriminately in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guántanamo Bay. The documents include evidence that detainees have been beaten; forced into painful stress positions; threatened with death; sexually and religiously humiliated; stripped naked; hooded and blindfolded; exposed to extreme heat and cold; denied food and water; isolated for prolonged periods; subjected to mock drownings; and intimated by dogs.

It is estimated that there are currently about 18,000 detainees held in Iraq, over 660 in Afghanistan, and about 375 at the U.S. prison in Guantánamo Bay. Most do not have access to attorneys or family members, and, under terms of the Military Commissions Act eliminating habeas corpus protections, have been denied the right to challenge their detention in civilian courts. In addition, it has come to be known that the CIA is engaging in the unlawful practice of "extraordinary rendition" – the kidnapping of foreign nationals for detention and interrogation in secret overseas prisons in countries where it is known detainees are routinely tortured or abused.

According to the ACLU, violations of the Convention Against Torture are not limited to incidents abroad. Abusive conditions of confinement also persist in so-called Supermax prisons in the U.S.: prison rape and sexual assault are daily occurrences, and the use of Tasers and restraint devices have endangered prisoners.

"Too often, the women, men, and children in our nation's prisons are exposed to appalling living conditions and grossly inadequate medical care and are not protected from sexual abuse and the dangerous use of electroshock and other weapons," said Elizabeth Alexander, Director of the ACLU National Prison Project. "Moreover, federal law often makes it difficult to redress many of these human rights violations."

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

GAO Report Finds Federal Agency Media Policies Unclear

UCS Calls For Stronger Protections for Federal Scientists

WASHINGTON - JUNE 19 - The Government Accountability Office (GAO) today released a report supporting recent criticisms that federal agency media policies hinder government scientists from publicizing their research results relating to critical public health and environmental issues. The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) said the report's findings suggest agency policies for communicating scientific results need significant clarification and improvement.

"Public health and safety are at risk when federal scientists are prevented from speaking freely about their research," said Francesca Grifo, senior scientist and director of the UCS Scientific Integrity Program. "Current policies even with the new GAO recommendations do not protect these basic scientific freedoms."

The GAO investigation examined communications policies at several federal agencies where the censorship of science has become pervasive, including the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the Commerce Department's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The GAO report recommended steps federal agencies should take to address the problem. First, agencies need to clarify and better explain existing media policies to federal scientists. Fewer than half of the NOAA and NASA scientists surveyed understand they are allowed to "discuss potential policy implications of their research as long as they identify such views as their personal opinions and not those of the agency." Second, agencies should provide a robust appeal process for scientists who are refused permission to disseminate their research results. Only a quarter of the scientists at NASA, NOAA, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) are aware of an intra-agency appeals process.

While the GAO recommendations are important first steps, they are "insufficient to prevent political interference in the communication of research results and guarantee the First Amendment rights of government scientists," Grifo said.

The GAO report was released just a few weeks after the Commerce Department issued a new media policy that does little to improve the quality of federal scientific communications, according to UCS. Last month, UCS and the Government Accountability Project (GAP) sent a letter to Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez urging him to address policy shortcomings that are not addressed by the GAO report:

* All federal media policies should affirm scientists' rights to speak freely to the media on any topic, provided they make it clear that any views expressed are their own and do not reflect their department's official position;

* Scientists must have the right of final review of any communication citing their research; and

* Federal media policies should guarantee federal scientists' rights under the Whistleblower Protection Act and other free speech protections.

"The new Commerce policy restricts and confuses scientists," said Grifo. "Scientists do not leave their basic first amendment rights at the curb when they come to work for the government. The Commerce Department must address the new media policy's fatal flaws."

A revised NASA communications policy released in 2006 also fails to guarantee many critical rights, according to an analysis by UCS and GAP.

The GAO report confirms the findings of "Atmosphere of Pressure," a joint investigation by UCS and GAP that found that while the quality of federal climate science remains high, there is broad interference in the communication of results. The GAO report found that about 200 researchers at NASA, NOAA, and NIST had dissemination requests denied during the past five years.

In a survey of climate scientists across nine federal agencies included in "Atmosphere of Pressure," scientists reported experiencing at least 435 occurrences of political interference in their work over the past five years. Nearly half of all respondents (46 percent) perceived or personally experienced pressure to eliminate the words "climate change," "global warming," or other similar terms from a variety of communications. Forty-three percent of respondents reported they had perceived or personally experienced changes or edits during review of their work that changed the meaning of their scientific findings. And nearly half (46 percent) perceived or personally experienced new or unusual administrative requirements that impair their climate-related work.

Today’s GAO report was requested in 2006 by Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), then-ranking member on the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies, in response to allegations of widespread political interference in science.

Monday, June 18, 2007

The Constitution Project Welcomes House Bill to Restore Habeas Corpus

WASHINGTON - JUNE 15 - Today the Constitution Project applauded the introduction by Representative Joe Sestak (D-PA) of H.R. 2710, which would restore the habeas corpus rights repealed by the controversial Military Commissions Act last year. Rep. Sestak, a retired three-star Navy admiral, has long supported restoring the constitutional right known as the Great Writ. As a candidate for the US House of Representatives Sestak said that the habeas-stripping Military Commissions Act "falls short of protecting American service members as well as ideals of fairness and justice." *

"Representative Sestak knows from personal experience that defending the Constitution is not always popular, when serving in the Navy or in Congress," said Sharon Virginia Sloan, president of the Constitution Project. "The unusual battlefields of the 'war on terrorism' should not lead us to abandon the constituional principles that have sustained this country for more than two hundred years. This bill will restore the rule of law and demostrates that our government need not concede the moral high ground to keep Americans safe."

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Beijing Olympics: IOC Called Upon to Act on Abuses in Chinese Olympics Suppliers

New Report from ITUC, ITGLWF and Clean Clothes Campaign Details Severe Workers' Rights Violations in Several Chinese Factories

BRUSSELS - JUNE 11 - On the eve of an International Olympic Committee (IOC) meeting in London, a new report "No medal for the Olympics on labour rights" released today by the PlayFair 2008 campaign group exposes gross violations of basic labour standards by several Chinese factories supplying goods under license for the Beijing Olympics, including adult wages at half the legal minimum, employment of workers as young as 12 years old, and employees made to work 12-hour shifts seven days a week in unsafe and unhealthy conditions. With freedom of association banned in China, the workers lack any effective means to defend their rights.

PlayFair 2008 researchers carried out interviews and investigations in early 2007 in four factories making Olympics licensed bags, headgear, stationery and other products. The companies are Lekit Stationary Co, Mainland Headwear Holdings Ltd, Eagle Leather Products, and Yue Wing Cheong Light Products. The report also reveals labour rights violations such as forced overtime, workers being instructed to lie about wages and conditions to outside inspectors, poor health and safety conditions, workers required to work 30 days per month and employers falsifying employment records.

"We’re so exhausted, trying to get the "Olympic bags" done in time! To hell with the Olympics product, I am so tired" said one worker interviewed by PlayFair 2008. The PlayFair 2008 organisations have since the Athens 2004 Games tried to get the International Olympics Committee to put worker rights standards into Olympics supply chain contracts, as set out in the new report, however the IOC has refused to do so. "Licensing of the Olympics brand is a major source of income for the IOC and national Olympics committees, and it brings shame on the whole Olympics movement that such severe violations of international labour standards are taking place in Olympics-licensed factories" said Guy Ryder, General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation, a PlayFair 2008 Campaign partner along with the global union Federation the International Textile, Leather and Garment Workers’ Federation (ITGLWF) and the Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC).

"Children as young as 12 years old working 15 hours a day. Workers cheated of more than half their legal wages. All working till they drop making Beijing Olympics related products. This isn’t sport! It begs the question if IOC actually means ’Ignoring Outrageous Conditions’ rather than ’International Olympic Committee’", said ITGLWF General Secretary Neil Kearney.

The IOC imposes a range of strict conditions on licensees, however these do not include requirements to respect fundamental labour standards. Beijing Games licensing is expected to generate some US$70million in income to the Olympics - 40% more than for the 2000 Sydney Games. Broadcast rights, sponsorship deals and ticket sales are other major sources of Olympics revenue, and substantial profits are also expected to be made through the sale of other Olympics-related merchandise.

“PlayFair 2008 is ready at any time to enter serious discussions with the IOC on establishing an effective mechanism to protect workers being exploited in Olympics-related production,” said Ineke Zeldenrust of the CCC International Secretariat. “The IOC has been silent on these issues too long and we will be actively campaigning to get them to take action. As the organizer of the biggest global sports-event they should also use their authority to support full respect for fundamental workers’ rights in the sporting goods sector overall.”

"The IOC’s refusal to ensure internationally recognised core labour standards on freedom of association at Olympic-licensed factories is in direct conflict with the Olympic spirit of fair competition. The horrendous conditions faced by Chinese workers working on Olympic products puts the IOC and the Chinese Government to shame," said Lee Cheuk Yan, General Secretary of the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions. Prior to publishing the report, PlayFair 2008 sent a copy to the IOC at its Lausanne Headquarters, calling again for the IOC to adopt and implement effective mechanisms throughout Olympics licensing and supply contracts to ensure respect for fundamental labour standards. In the previous discussions between PlayFair and the IOC, the IOC rejected the Play Fair proposals, and to date has no effective mechanism at all to protect workers being exploited in Olympics-related production.

In a letter to PlayFair 2008 last Friday night, the IOC stated its commitment to social responsibility and ethical sourcing, however it did not respond to the specific proposals put to it by PlayFair, nor did it set out any concrete initiatives to deal with the problem. The PlayFair group has also called on the Beijing Olympics Committee not to proceed with its threat to cancel contracts with factories identified in the report, but to join in efforts to ensure respect for fundamental international labour standards throughout the supply chain.

"We warned the IOC at the time that failure to take the necessary action on labour standards would lead to situations such as those identified in the report, bringing lasting damage to the name and reputation of the Olympic movement. Unfortunately, they chose not to take action. This should not happen again", said Ryder.

Friday, June 08, 2007

North Carolina Cities fight bill to limit broadband

Legislature considers move some call "No Competition Act"

The Independent Weekly reported June 6, 2007 that:

The North Carolina state legislature is considering a bill that would severely restrict the ability of local governments to provide broadband Internet access. It would affect everything from Chapel Hill's evolving plan for downtown wi-fi access to city partnerships with private industry to some rural communities' efforts to provide access to citizens stuck with nothing but dial-up.

House Bill 1587, "The Local Government Fair Competition Act," is supported by the telecommunications and cable industries, which say cities have unfair advantages—they don't pay taxes and can subsidize a money-losing Internet business with revenue from the city budget. The bill sets out a long list of strict financial and political requirements should a government get into the broadband business. But the N.C. League of Municipalities and a growing number of cities oppose the measure, saying it would effectively make it impossible for local governments to provide Internet service in rural and low-income areas where private industry has decided not to.

Largely ignored by the media, this tug of war between local governments and private industry is part of a trend in which state legislatures are carving out the nation's digital future by enacting laws that will govern the next generation of communications technology. Like the fight over net neutrality, these local laws will have tremendous impact on Americans' access to the Internet in years to come. But unlike that widely publicized congressional battle, these state-level regulations are struggled over in obscurity.

But if the average citizen doesn't know much about this fight, city leaders certainly do. Durham, Chapel Hill, Fayetteville, Greensboro and a growing number of other cities have announced their opposition.

For Chapel Hill, the bill could mean an end to long-running plans. "Chapel Hill does oppose any law that would impede its ability to provide high speed broadband Internet service to the community, so we are in opposition to this bill," says a town spokesperson.

Cary has not taken an official position, but leaders there wrote members of the House committee saying the town "is very concerned about the negative impacts" of the bill, which "could severely limit a local government's ability to foster economic development and bridge the digital divide."

The complete story may be found here:

U.S. Anti-Terror and Anti-Drug War Benefit Colombian Government, Despite Human Rights Concerns

WASHINGTON - JUNE 7 - Despite a post-9/11 shift to emphasize terrorism in the U.S.-backed fight against drugs in Colombia, policy goals have been stymied by ongoing human rights violations and a wave of scandals linking scores of government officials to paramilitary groups designated by the United States as terrorist groups, according to an investigation by the Center for Public Integrity's International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

Colombia benefited from a nearly half a billion dollar increase in overall U.S. military aid in the three years following the September 11, 2001 attacks. Foreign Military Financing (FMF), which finances foreign government purchases of U.S. military services and training, rose from zero in the three years before the attacks to more than $100 million in the following three years. This aid came on top of the nearly $2 billion during the same time period from U.S. taxpayers that Colombia received from the Pentagon and State Department to counter drug trafficking in the region, the Center's "Collateral Damage" series found.

American largesse has positioned the troubled nation among the top 10 recipients of U.S. military aid in the three years after 9/11. Despite that, U.S.-trained Colombian military and security forces have been criticized by human rights groups for their alleged kidnappings, torturing and murder of civilians.

"What matters now is the fight against terrorism, not the protection of human rights," said Professor Bruce Bagley, a Colombia expert at the University of Miami. "Despite the fact that the demobilization of paramilitary groups has contributed to fewer massacres and the kidnapping numbers are down, last year Colombia was still the most dangerous country on the planet for union leaders and activists."

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Media Consolidation Diminishes Diversity on the Radio

WASHINGTON - JUNE 6 - Reacting to a new Free Press study on radio ownership released today, national women's rights and civil rights leaders joined two Federal Communications Commissioners in condemning the FCC for its failure to address the low number of female and minority media owners.

"We found that women and people of color control just one-eighth of the country's full-power radio stations despite comprising two-thirds of the population," said S. Derek Turner, research director of Free Press and author of Off the Dial: How Media Consolidation Diminishes Diversity on the Radio. "These results are stark and a cause for alarm. The FCC should be aware of the consequences before enacting any policies that could further media concentration."

As the FCC considers eliminating longstanding media ownership limits, Off the Dial exposes how these changes could hasten the disappearance of the few female- and minority-controlled stations on the radio. On a national teleconference today, FCC Commissioners Jonathan Adelstein and Michael Copps blasted the agency's pro-consolidation policies for pushing out female and minority owners.

"This study presents fresh and challenging evidence about the lack of female and minority ownership in the radio industry," Commissioner Copps said. "My fervent hope is that we can harness the shame of our failures and recommit ourselves to creating a media that reflects the diversity of the American people."

"Women and people of color have been left off the dial because the FCC has pursued policies that are far off the mark," said Commissioner Adelstein. "It is our legal and moral obligation to promote diversity in the public airwaves. But as this landmark report shows, misguided policies have concentrated radio station ownership in a few hands and denied two-thirds of the American people an opportunity to serve the needs of their communities. The Commission needs to thoroughly study this report and develop a comprehensive strategy to remedy this injustice."

Off the Dial found that the average local radio market has 16 white male-owned radio stations — but just one female-owned station and two-minority owned stations. Women own just 6 percent of all full-power radio stations, even though they comprise 51 percent of the population. People of color own just 7.7 percent of stations but make up 33 percent of the population.

"I commend Free Press for compiling this thorough report on the lack of diversity in radio station ownership," said Congresswoman Hilda L. Solis (D-Calif.). "The incredibly low numbers of women and under-represented minorities that own radio stations — Latinos own just 2.9 percent, and women own just 6 percent of full-power commercial radio stations — run contrary to the public interest. This report demonstrates the problems associated with the increasing consolidation of media ownership. As the FCC re-examines media ownership rules, I urge them to pay close attention to this report and the disturbing statistics showing that we need more diversity among owners of radio and other media."

"All day, all night, all white, clearly does not represent the diversity of American culture," said Rev. Jesse Jackson, founder of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition. "When people of color own just 7.7 percent of radio stations but make up 33 percent of the population, we see how poor public policy decisions continue to lock more of the 'Rainbow' out of opportunities."

"Commercial radio may be one of the most unfriendly environments for women and people of color," said Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women. "Media consolidation has created an almost unbreakable glass ceiling at the top. The FCC must take action to promote more diverse ownership and end the white male stranglehold on the airwaves."

"Latinos own less than 3 percent of U.S. radio stations but make up 15 percent of the population," said Brent Wilkes, national executive director of the League of United Latin American Citizens. "These alarming statistics suggest that women and people of color have very few stations available to serve the needs of the community. LULAC urges the FCC to do better."

Off the Dial shows that media consolidation is a barrier to ownership diversity. Female and minority owners are more likely to be local radio station owners and more likely to own a single station. Off the Dial also found that female and minority owners were more likely to have a female president or CEO and employ women as general managers.

"We are concerned about the status of the invisible majority," said Carol Jenkins, president of The Women's Media Center. "That women are acutely under-represented in ownership is part of the larger crisis of representation and participation in the media overall. In the case of radio, it's a pipeline issue: When 85 to 90 percent of general managers and program directors are men, women simply don't acquire the skills to run — and then own — radio stations."

"Our entire federal government, from the FCC to Congress and the courts, is to blame for the shameful lack of media diversity this important report reveals," said Mark Lloyd, senior fellow at Center for American Progress and chair of the Media and Telecommunications Task Force at the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. "We must begin to hold our representatives responsible for licensing who gets access to the public spectrum. And a licensing scheme that has locked out women and minorities since the early 1920s must be corrected to reflect America in the 21st century."

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Former Cheney Chief of Staff Libby sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison

The AP reported minutes ago that:

WASHINGTON - Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison Tuesday for lying and obstructing the CIA leak investigation — the probe that showed a White House obsessed with criticism of its decision to go to war.

I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the highest-ranking White House official sentenced to prison since the Iran-Contra affair, asked for leniency, but a federal judge said he would not reward someone who hindered the investigation into the exposure of a CIA operative. The operative's husband had accused the administration of twisting intelligence to justify the Iraq war.

No date was set immediately for Libby to report to prison.

"Mr. Libby failed to meet the bar. For whatever reason, he got off course," said U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton.

Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, who spent years investigating the case, said, "We need to make the statement that the truth matters ever so much." He had asked for a sentence of up to three years, while Libby had asked for probation and no time in prison.

Reaction from the White House was still supportive — but somber.

President Bush, traveling in Europe, said through a spokesman that he "felt terrible for the family," especially Libby's wife and children. Libby and his wife, Harriet Grant, have two school-age children, a son and a daughter.

Cheney said he hoped his former top aide would prevail on appeal.

Libby did not apologize and has maintained his innocence.

"It is respectfully my hope that the court will consider, along with the jury verdict, my whole life," he said in brief remarks in court before the sentencing, his first public statement about the case since his indictment in 2005.

A Republican stalwart, he drew more than 150 letters of support from military commanders and diplomats who praised his government service from the Cold War through the early days of the Iraq war.

He was convicted in March of perjury and obstruction of justice for lying to investigators about his conversations with reporters about CIA official
Valerie Plame. Fitzgerald questioned Bush and Cheney in a probe that became a symbol of the administration's deepening problems.

"Mr. Libby was the poster child for all that has gone wrong in this terrible war," defense attorney Theodore Wells said. "He has fallen from public grace. It is a tragic fall, a tragic fall."

Cheney, looking to Libby's appeal, said, "Speaking as friends, we hope that our system will return a final result consistent with what we know of this fine man."

Defense attorneys sought to have the sentence delayed until appeals run out. A delay also would give Bush more time to consider calls from Libby's allies to pardon the longtime aide.

Walton said he saw no reason to put the sentence on hold but agreed to consider it. He scheduled a hearing for a week from Thursday.

Libby and Fitzgerald left court without speaking to reporters.

The complete story may be found here:

Senate Outrage Over Southwick?

Judicial Nominee Heads for Committee Vote

WASHINGTON - JUNE 4 - The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote this Thursday on the nomination of former Mississippi Court of Appeals judge Leslie Southwick to a seat on the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. Ralph G. Neas, president of People For the American Way, cited Southwick’s troubling record on the rights of African Americans, gays and lesbians, and workers, and today urged Democratic and Republican Senators to come out forcefully against the nomination prior to the vote.

He made the following statement:

“Leslie Southwick upheld the reinstatement with back pay of a white worker after she had been fired for using the single most offensive racial epithet, calling a black colleague a ‘good ole nigger.’ In the wake of heightened racial sensitivity engendered by the Don Imus imbroglio, it’s amazing that there is so little outrage over the unbelievably insensitive position taken by a nominee for a lifetime appointment to the federal bench.”

“In another case, he agreed that an eight-year-old girl could be taken away from her birth mother, in large part because the mother was living with another woman in a ‘lesbian home.’ Southwick went even further, joining a gratuitously anti-gay concurrence suggesting that he believes sexual orientation is a ‘choice,’ and that one legally acceptable consequence of that ‘choice’ is losing one’s child.”

“Today we read that Senator Barack Obama is opposing the nomination. Bravo. My question is, why is Senator Obama’s voice the only senatorial voice we have heard? I urge other senators to come out forcefully today to object to this nomination, and to urge their Republican and Democratic colleagues on the Judiciary Committee to reject it.

“Last November, the American people voted for change. Change does not include rubber-stamping George W. Bush’s federal court nominees, and giving them lifetime seats on the federal bench. In fact, that’s one way to ensure that the legacy of the Bush administration far outlasts his term. Elections matter.”

Friday, June 01, 2007

ACLU Calls for Immediate Investigation into Death at Guantánamo Bay

Prisoner Death Comes Just Days Before ACLU Set to Monitor Military Commission Proceedings

New York - JUNE 1 - The American Civil Liberties Union today called for an independent investigation into the death of a Saudi national held at the U.S. detention facility in Guantánamo Bay. Military officials have described the death as an “apparent suicide,” making it the fourth death in custody at Guantánamo in the past year.

The U.S. government has previously downplayed the significance of suicides and suicide attempts at Guantánamo Bay, said the ACLU. Last year, officials drew widespread criticism after calling the suicides of three detainees “an act of asymmetric warfare.”

“Further deaths at Guantánamo should not surprise us when prisoners are afforded a second class system of justice, are held indefinitely without charge, and are given only limited access to their lawyers,” said Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director of the ACLU. “Guantánamo Bay has operated for far too long under a shroud of secrecy. The global community and the American public have rightfully lost their trust in the U.S. government after countless reports of abuses and injustices at Guantánamo.”

“Guantánamo remains a legal black hole,” Romero added. “This is inconsistent with American values and must stop immediately.”

The ACLU has called on Congress and the Bush administration to shut down Guantánamo Bay. Last week, the ACLU endorsed legislation introduced by Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) that would effectively end the practice of indefinite detention without charge or due process for detainees who have been held for as long as five years without knowing the reason for their detention. It would also provide an incentive for the government to finally charge those detainees it believes are guilty of crimes against the United States.

“The military commission system at Guantánamo Bay delivers only the illusion of justice,” said Jameel Jaffer, Director of the ACLU’s National Security Project. “Most of the prisoners have not been charged at all, and those prisoners who have been charged are being tried under rules that are fundamentally unfair.”

Jaffer will travel to Guantánamo Bay to observe the arraignments of Salim Ahmed Hamdan and Omar Khadr, both of which are scheduled to take place on Monday, June 4. Hamdan is a Yemeni national who is alleged to have been Osama bin Laden’s bodyguard and chauffeur. He is charged with conspiracy and providing material support to terrorism. Hamdan previously challenged the military commissions system in a case that reached the United States Supreme Court. In June 2006, the Supreme Court ruled in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld that the military commissions authorized by President Bush violated U.S. military law and international treaties. Following that ruling, Congress enacted the Military Commissions Act (MCA), which was signed by President Bush on October 17, 2006. Hamdan and Khadr are being tried under the MCA.

Khadr, a 20-year-old Canadian citizen, will be arraigned on charges of murder, attempted murder, conspiracy, material support and espionage. Most of the charges relate to a 2002 incident in Afghanistan in which Khadr is alleged to have thrown a grenade, killing a U.S. soldier. At the time, Khadr was 15 years old. Khadr’s lawyers argue that he should be treated as a minor and that he was abused by U.S. forces at Guantánamo Bay.

At their respective arraignments, Khadr and Hamdan will be asked to enter pleas. It is not yet known how they will respond. The ACLU’s Jaffer will post his observations of the hearings to the ACLU’s blog at

The ACLU is one of four organizations that have been granted status as human rights observers at the military commission proceedings. When the tribunals began in 2004, Romero and two ACLU lawyers attended the proceedings and blogged about their observations.