Friday, August 31, 2007

Church of England Report highlights long-term role for missionary deacons

The role of deacons as missionaries to their communities should be taken more seriously, and people exploring a vocation to the priesthood should be encouraged to consider ministering as a deacon – the ‘diaconate’ - as a long-term option, argues a report from the Church of England’s Faith and Order Advisory Group published this week.

In 2001, the General Synod called for work to be undertaken on providing a theological basis for relating ordained and lay (or unordained) forms of ministry to each other. The request was fuelled by significant growth in the number of different types of ministry being commissioned at a local level within the Church. As the scope of these ministries has grown in recent years and, in some cases, assumed the functions of deacons, the report – The Mission and Ministry of the Whole Church - seeks to answer questions about the hallmarks and boundaries of ordained ministry.

In addition to exploring the nature and meaning of ordination, and as part of its aim to set out a theological rationale for the orders within the Church of England, the report identifies three ‘hallmarks’ of ministry that can be applied to consider whether a form of ministry can be described as ordained. It proposes that these criteria are that the form of ministry:

* Involves a lifelong commitment that permanently marks a person’s public identity
* Receives national recognition and regulation; and the intention of interchangeability with other churches
* Embraces a comprehensive ministry, including word, sacrament and pastoral care.

Based on a close study of the meaning of ‘ministry’ and ‘service’ in the New Testament, particularly drawing on the work of Dr John N. Collins, the report proposes that the Church shifts its understanding of the term ‘diaconate’ from a term describing primarily a ‘servant’ role to one describing a mission-focused ministry. “This has profound implications for every aspect of Church life and very particularly for the ministry and ministries, ordained and lay, which express and serve this fundamental purpose of the Church,” it argues.

“If the diaconate is indeed fundamental, nothing is more important and time spent discovering what it means in practice is time well spent… We need to locate the diaconate more centrally in the overall mission of the Church and thus to correct the prevailing assumption that the diaconate is merely a transitional year before priesting, an apprenticeship for the priesthood, and that it is the latter that really matters,” the Group says. It follows, the report suggests, that those discerning a vocation to ordained ministry should be encouraged to consider their calling to the ‘distinctive diaconate’, and those going on to priesthood after serving as a deacon for a short period should consider whether they should extend the “unique opportunity to engage in primary pastoral work with a missionary intent and with an anchor in the liturgy” that the diaconate offers.

The report also urges the whole Church to celebrate the role of Readers, stressing the value of the “ancient, honourable and vital lay ministry of Readers that has the potential to find new paths of mission” for the Church. The report suggests that the ministry of Readers “comes close to” meeting the three criteria of ordained ministry, but it does not recommend any extension of the role of Readers in the celebration of the Sacraments – that is, presiding at the Eucharist or conducting baptisms or marriages. The key role that Readers can play in new developments such as ‘Fresh Expressions’ of Church, and the possibility that they may be given the necessary preparation to be designated lay pioneer ministers, is highlighted.

The work of Church Army Evangelists is highlighted for the capacity it has to take the mission of the Church far beyond its own walls; they are in the front line of the Church’s gospel mission.

The 100-page report also affirms the roles of Churchwardens and lay pastoral (or parish) assistants, and provides a theological underpinning for discussions about the scope, limits and the need to encourage these forms of ministry.

Same Sex Couples Can Marry in Iowa: Judge

The AP Reported today that:

DES MOINES, Iowa - A county judge struck down Iowa's decade-old gay marriage ban as unconstitutional Thursday and ordered local officials to process marriage licenses for six gay couples.

Gay couples from anywhere in Iowa could apply for a marriage license from Polk County under Judge Robert Hanson's ruling.

Less than two hours after word of the ruling was publicized, two Des Moines men applied for a license, the first time the county had accepted a same-sex application. The approval process takes three days.

Gary Allen Seronko, 51, was listed as the groom on the form and David Curtis Rethmeier, 29, the bride.

"I started to cry because we so badly want to be able to be protected if something happens to one of us," Rethmeier said.

Deputy Recorder Trish Umthun said she took five calls from gay couples after the judge filed his ruling Thursday afternoon and expected a rush of applications Friday.

County attorney John Sarcone said the county will appeal to the Iowa Supreme Court and immediately sought a stay from Hanson that would prevent gay couples from seeking a marriage license until the appeal is resolved. The Supreme Court could refer the case to the Iowa Court of Appeals, consider the case itself or decide not to hear it.

A hearing is likely to be held on the stay motion next week, said Camilla Taylor, an attorney with Lambda Legal, a New York-based gay rights organization.

House Minority Leader Christopher Rants, R-Sioux City, said the ruling illustrates the need for a state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

"I can't believe this is happening in Iowa," he said. "I guarantee you there will be a vote on this issue come January," when the Legislature convenes.

Massachusetts is the only state where gay marriage is legal, though nine other states have approved spousal rights in some form for same-sex couples. Nearly all states have defined marriage as being solely between a man and a woman, and 27 states have such wording in their constitutions, according the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Dennis Johnson, the lawyer for the six gay couples who sued in 2005 after they were denied marriage licenses, had argued that Iowa has a long history of aggressively protecting civil rights in cases of race and gender. He said the Defense of Marriage Act, which the Legislature passed in 1998, contradicts previous rulings regarding civil rights.

Roger J. Kuhle, an assistant Polk County attorney, argued that the issue is not for a judge to decide.

Hanson ruled that the state law allowing marriage only between a man and a woman violates the constitutional rights of due process and equal protection.

The complete story may be found here:;_ylt=AsXYteQw1o.bz7zrR71eDzys0NUE

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

California Legislature Calls on Congress, President to Pass Federal Hate Crimes Act

SACRAMENTO - August 29 - The California Senate on Monday approved a resolution urging Congress and the president to strengthen the federal hate crimes law. Senators passed AJR 29 by a 22-1 vote.

AJR 29, authored by Assemblymember Mike Eng, D-Monterey Park, and sponsored by Equality California, urges Congress and the president to protect hate crime victims who are targeted based on their real or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity or disability. It calls for passage of the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act, also known as the Matthew Shepard Act. The federal measure would expand the nation’s hate crimes protections and boost law enforcement’s ability to investigate and prosecute acts of violence against all protected communities of people. Current federal law only covers hate crimes that are motivated by race, color, national origin or religion.

In July, the Assembly passed the same resolution by a 70-1 bipartisan vote, with 46 Democrats and 24 Republicans casting an “aye” vote. That vote marked the most bipartisan support ever received in the California Legislature for a measure affecting the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. Unlike the Assembly, the hate crimes measure did not receive Republican support in the Senate.

“No person should have to live in fear of being harassed, assaulted, or even murdered, simply because someone else does not accept or understand their identity, appearance or behavior,” said EQCA Executive Director Geoff Kors. “It is encouraging to see California legislators put their partisanship aside to take a stand against the intolerance and violence that plagues our community and society. Our elected leaders in Washington D.C. should take note and follow the lead set today by California lawmakers.”

The federal legislation passed the House of Representatives with a 237-180 vote, but no vote has been set for the Senate version of the bill.

Last month, a young Sacramento man lost his life in an assault that was allegedly motivated by racism and homophobia. Satendar Singh, a native of Fiji, died on July 5 as a result of the injuries he suffered during an attack that occurred four days earlier at Lake Natoma. One man has been arrested in connection with Singh’s death and authorities are still searching for the primary suspect, who is being sought on suspicion of committing involuntary manslaughter and a hate crime.

“No community should tolerate acts of violence or hate crimes of any kind, regardless of a person’s race, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity,” said Assemblymember Eng. “My colleagues in the Legislature are sending a clear message to the federal government that all victims should receive equal protections under the law.”

AJR 29, which is co-authored by 58 Democratic and Republican lawmakers, does not require a signature by the governor.

‘Executive Excess’ Report Americans Pay A Staggering Cost For Corporate Leadership

WASHINGTON - August 29 - With leading Presidential candidates turning up the heat on overpaid CEOs, a new report from the Institute for Policy Studies and United for a Fair Economy documents for the first time the extreme pay gaps that have opened up not just between U.S. business leaders and American workers, but between U.S. business leaders and leaders elsewhere in American — and European — society.

The complete new report, Executive Excess 2007, is now available to journalists online at It is embargoed until Wednesday, August 29.


CEO-WORKER PAY GAP: CEOs of large U.S. companies last year averaged $10.8 million in total compensation, over 364 times the pay of the average U.S. worker, a calculation based on data from an Associated Press survey of 386 Fortune 500 companies.

The top 20 private equity and hedge fund managers, pocketed an average $657.5 million, Forbes magazine estimates. That’s 22,255 times the pay of an average U.S. worker.

Workers on the bottom rung of the economy have just received their first federal minimum wage increase in a decade. But the inflation-adjusted value of the new minimum, despite the hike, stands 7 percent below the minimum wage level a decade ago. CEO pay, in that decade, has increased over inflation by roughly 45 percent.

“The CEO-worker pay gap is finally getting some high-profile attention from Presidential candidates,” says report co-author Sarah Anderson of the Institute for Policy Studies. “But lawmakers still aren’t doing nearly enough to tackle the gap.”

PENSION AND PERK GAPS: CEOs at major U.S. corporations enjoyed, on average, $1.3 million in pension gains last year. By contrast, only 58.5 percent of American households led by a 45-to-54-year-old even had a retirement account in 2004. Between 2001 and 2004, the retirement accounts of these households gained an average of only $3,775 in value per year.

CEOs of S&P 500 companies retire with an average $10.1 million in their special Supplemental Executive Retirement Plans, accounts not open to average workers. By contrast, only 36.3 percent of American households headed by an individual 65 or older held any type of retirement account in 2004. The accounts that did exist averaged only $173,552 per household.

The top 386 CEOs took in perks worth an average of $438,342 in 2006. A minimum wage worker would need to work 36 years to earn as much as CEOs obtained just in perks last year.

THE LEADERSHIP PAY GAP: Compensation for American business leaders now wildly dwarfs the pay that goes to leaders in other sectors of American society. The 20 highest-paid individuals at publicly traded corporations last year took home, on average, $36.4 million. That’s 38 times more than the 20 highest-paid leaders in the nonprofit sector and 204 times more than the 20 highest-paid generals in the U.S. military.

The 20 highest-paid figures in the private equity and hedge fund industry collected 3,315 times more in average annual compensation in 2006 than the top 20 officials of the federal government’s executive branch, a group that includes the President of the United States.

“Today’s soaring pay gap between business executives and elected leaders in government essentially makes corruption inevitable,” notes Sam Pizzigati, an Institute for Policy Studies associate fellow. “With such huge windfalls at stake, business leaders have a powerful incentive to manipulate the political decisions that affect corporate earnings.”

THE US-EUROPEAN EXECUTIVE PAY GAP: In 2006, the 20 highest-paid European corporate managers made an average of $12.5 million, only one third as much as the 20 highest-earning U.S. executives took home last year. These 20 top European execs led companies that generated $19 billion more in sales revenue than the corporations led by their higher-paid American counterparts.

PROPOSALS FOR CHANGE: Executive Excess 2007 highlights six practical initiatives that can rein in runaway executive pay. Five involve eliminating perverse tax incentives for excessive pay, while one would use government contracting dollars to encourage more reasonable pay.

According to report co-author Chuck Collins, “Meaningful change could be on the horizon, as many political leaders are finally catching up to the public outcry to rein in excessive compensation.”

Authored by Sarah Anderson, John Cavanagh, Chuck Collins, Sam Pizzigati, and Mike Lapham, Executive Excess 2007 is the 14th annual CEO pay study by the Institute for Policy Studies and United for a Fair Economy.

The Institute for Policy Studies is an independent center for progressive research and education in Washington, D.C. United for a Fair Economy is a national organization based in Boston that spotlights growing economic inequality.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Palisades Nuclear Plant Critics Warn Court about Catastrophic Earthquake Risks

WASHINGTON - August 23 - Atomic watchdog groups have told a federal appeals court that even a moderate earthquake affecting the Palisades atomic reactor could spell radioactive catastrophe for Lake Michigan and communities downwind and downstream.

In the face of a motion filed by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to dismiss the lawsuit, citizen groups have defended their appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The suit alleges that the high-level radioactive waste storage facilities at Palisades, on the Lake Michigan shore near South Haven, violate governmental earthquake safety regulations.

“Palisades' mounting radioactive wastes put our precious Lake Michigan at risk, and thus the drinking water supply and recreational destination for millions of people downstream,” said Alice Hirt of Don't Waste Michigan in Holland.

In early August, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) moved to dismiss the citizen groups’ appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Earlier this year, NRC rejected the groups’ petition urging the agency to enforce its own regulations at Palisades. Palisades now has over 30 concrete and steel silos holding deadly irradiated nuclear fuel rods. The silos, called dry casks, rest upon two concrete pads. The concrete slabs are located upon loose sand amidst the dunes of the Lake Michigan shoreline. Some containers of radioactive waste are just 150 yards from the water.

The environmental coalition’s attorney, Terry Lodge of Toledo, said: “The NRC's numbers racket is a big fraud, endangering public health and the Great Lakes. We've exposed the hidden de-regulation of earthquake safety by the NRC. This is not ‘inadequate enforcement,’ it is zero enforcement.

“The NRC's so-called experts pretend in their calculations that the slabs holding the casks are sitting on relatively stable clay,” Lodge added. “But in fact they sit on highly unstable sand dunes, which would amplify the vibrations from an earthquake. NRC didn't count the thousands of tons of steel and concrete represented by the slabs and casks in their number-crunching. As a result, they're denying the very serious risk that these slabs, and possibly even the casks, will shatter in the event of an earthquake and release catastrophic amounts of radioactivity. Earthquakes capable of doing that have hit the Great Lakes region before.”

NRC will almost certainly file a rebuttal within the next week. Palisades’ owner, Entergy Nuclear of New Orleans, may also seek to have the case dismissed. The federal court will then take the case under advisement, meaning it will review both sides’ arguments and then render a decision at some point in the future.

“Each of the casks contains 240 to 320 times the long-lasting radioactivity released by the Hiroshima atomic bomb,” said Kevin Kamps of Beyond Nuclear, a national watchdog group. “We must stop Palisades from generating any more of these forever deadly radioactive wastes, and safeguard and secure what’s already piled up on the beach against accidents, attacks, and leaks.”

The groups’ expert witness, Dr. Ross Landsman, can be contacted upon request. Dr. Landsman formerly served as NRC dry cask storage inspector at Palisades. He repeatedly raised warnings within the agency about the earthquake risks for over a decade, until his retirement in 2005.

For more information on concerned citizen efforts to address radioactive waste generation and storage risks at Palisades, including the most recent legal filing as well as Dr. Landsman's original 1994 letter to NRC's chairman, see

Monday, August 20, 2007

Jordan: Government Pledges to Grant Iraqis Education, Health Rights

Iraqis Still Denied Refugee Status

AMMAN, JORDAN - AUGUST 16 -The Jordanian government in a welcome step has pledged to provide public health care and education to Iraqis living in Jordan regardless of their legal status, but continues to refuse to recognize them as refugees, Human Rights Watch said today.

For the first time, Jordan has officially pledged to allow Iraqi children to attend public schools regardless of their residency status. Of an estimated 200,000 school-age Iraqi children in Jordan, only 20,000 went to school last year, of whom only about 6,000 completed the school year. Iraqis who overstayed their tourist visas or residency permits will also receive public health care, the World Health Organization reported.

“It is commendable that Jordanian officials are recognizing the rights of all children to education and the rights of all people, regardless of legal status, to basic health care,” said Bill Frelick, refugee policy director at Human Rights Watch. “But Jordan is blocking the entry of most Iraqis attempting to flee the violence in their country and is unwilling to recognize that the overwhelming majority of Iraqis living in Jordan are, in fact, refugees.”

Jordan has virtually closed its borders and, with few exceptions, is not allowing Iraqis to enter the country. Iraqis or their professional sponsors must now pay a US$5,000 deposit guaranteeing their departure. Jordan routinely turns back most Iraqis at the borders or airport. It does not conduct interviews with Iraqis seeking to enter Jordan to determine whether they are fleeing persecution or generalized violence and does not allow the UN refugee agency to do so. On July 27, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) issued a joint appeal for $130 million to provide educational opportunities for an estimated 500,000 Iraqi children of school age in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and Egypt.

“The international community bears a responsibility to support refugees inside Jordan and at its borders,” said Frelick. “International donors should quickly and generously support the UN appeal and directly support Jordan and other host countries so that they can meet the education needs of Iraqi refugees.”

Jordan has also closed its border during the past three years to a group of 194 Iranian Kurds who fled Iran in 1980 and became recognized refugees in Iraq. They remain stranded in the no-man’s land between the Iraqi and Jordanian land borders under harsh conditions without regular access to water, food or medicines because Jordan has refused them entry. The Kurds, who were recently joined by another group of 38 Iranian Arab refugees stranded in Iraq, say they fear persecution if they were to resettle to a northern Iraqi camp which has been offered to them.

“While alleviating the plight of Iraqi refugees already in Jordanian cities, the government should not lose sight of the fact that others, including Iranians and Palestinians, are fleeing Iraq to save their lives,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Refugees have a right to seek safety and should never be returned to danger.”

Jordan hosts a higher number of Iraqi refugees per citizen than any of its neighbors. There are an estimated 800,000 Iraqis in Jordan, which has a population of 5.6 million, most of whom have overstayed their visas or residency permits.

After years of conflicting public policy that gradually pushed Iraqi children to costly private schools or out of education altogether, Jordan pledged at an international conference in Amman on July 26 to admit Iraqi schoolchildren this year regardless of their residency status.

On August 3, the World Health Organization announced that Egypt, Syria and Jordan had committed to providing Iraqis with health services equivalent to those their citizens enjoy. While Iraqi refugees in Jordan already had access to state-subsidized health-care, some could not afford even the small fees to access government services. Under the new commitment, Jordan will give priority “to ensuring access for displaced Iraqis to the most essential health services.”

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

ACLU Challenges Louisiana Law Funneling Taxpayer Funds to Favored Churches

NEW ORLEANS - AUGUST 13 - The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Louisiana filed a lawsuit today asking a federal judge to halt the payment of state taxpayer money to two Louisiana churches.

"The government cannot simply choose to subsidize its favorite houses of worship with taxpayer dollars," said Daniel Mach, Director of Litigation for the ACLU's Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief.

The state's general appropriations bill, HB1, signed into law last month, unconstitutionally directs taxpayer dollars in the amounts of $100,000 to Stonewall Baptist Church in Bossier City and $20,000 to Shreveport Christian Church. The grants were not subject to any oversight or competitive bidding process, and the bill offers no purpose or justification for the challenged earmarks. According to the ACLU, while the state can, in certain circumstances, provide funding to religious organizations for some programs that provide non-religious social services, the First Amendment squarely bars the government from funneling direct, unrestricted, cash payments to churches.

"The state of Louisiana has a responsibility to spend its taxpayers' money in a lawful manner," said Katie Schwartzmann, a staff attorney for the ACLU of Louisiana. "In this case, none of the requirements is present to allow the funding to pass constitutional muster."

Louisiana residents have long criticized the legislature for using earmarked appropriations bills to fund preferred private entities. The underlying problems of paybacks and slush funds have become increasingly clear following recent reforms that, for the first time, require each earmark to be listed individually. It is now clear that the earmarking process has been hiding unconstitutional efforts to send taxpayer dollars to favored churches for years.

Repeated attempts by the ACLU to learn more about the grants were largely ignored by the state, which refused to respond to several requests for documentation. The ACLU of Louisiana has filed the lawsuit on behalf of itself and its members in an effort to reaffirm the basic constitutional ban on government-funded religious activities.

The lawsuit, filed today in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, seeks a court order prohibiting the transfer of taxpayer funds to the churches.

Attorneys on the case are Mach with the national ACLU and Schwartzmann with the ACLU of Louisiana.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Nearly 80 percent of India lives on half dollar a day

Reuters reported today that:
Fri Aug 10, 10:08 AM ET

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Seventy-seven percent of Indians -- about 836 million people -- live on less than half a dollar a day in one of the world's hottest economies, a government report said.

The state-run National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganized Sector (NCEUS) said most of those living on below 20 rupees (50 US cents) per day were from the informal labor sector with no job or social security, living in abject poverty.

"For most of them, conditions of work are utterly deplorable and livelihood options extremely few," said the report, entitled "Conditions of Work and Promotion of Livelihoods in the Unorganized Sector," seen by Reuters on Friday.

"Such a sordid picture co-exists uneasily with a shining India that has successfully confronted the challenge of globalization powered by economic competition both within the country and across the world."

Around 26 percent of India's population lives below the poverty line, which is defined as 12 rupees per day, said officials.

Economic liberalization since the early 1990s has created a 300 million-strong middle class and led to an average annual economic growth of 8.6 percent over the last four years, but millions of the country's poor remain untouched by the boom.

According to the report, based on data from 2004-2005, 92 percent of India's total workforce of 457 million were employed as agricultural laborers and farmers, or in jobs such as working in quarries, brick kilns or as street vendors.

The report said the majority of those working and living under "miserable conditions" were lower castes, tribal people and Muslims and the most disadvantaged of these were women, migrant workers and children.

"This is the other world which can be characterized as the India of the Common People, constituting more than three-fourths of the population and consisting of all those whom the growth has, by and large, bypassed," said the report.

The complete story may be found here;;_ylt=AntG7.7KyRSa.y__iLNX3jK9F4l4

Monday, August 06, 2007

Congress Demands ex-School of the Americas Release Information on Graduates and Instructors

Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation is directed to release the names, ranks, courses and country of origin of graduates and instructors

WASHINGTON - AUGUST 6 - In a historical move to demand transparency, the House of Representatives approved the FY 2008 Defense Appropriations bill with an accompanying report that demands the former School of the Americas, renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (SOA/WHINSEC), release to the public the names of all students and instructors who attended the school during the fiscal years of 2005 and 2006. The directive also requires that the same information be available to the public in all future fiscal years.

The report is a victory for the School of the Americas Watch (SOA Watch), a non-profit human rights organization which has monitored the institution since 1991. “At the beginning of each fiscal year, SOA Watch has filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to obtain WHINSEC attendance information as part of our commitment to human rights monitoring. In 2006, our FOIA request for fiscal year 2005 was denied,” said Pamela Bowman, Legislative and Research Coordinator for the SOA Watch. “This report that forces WHINSEC to release the names of its graduates comes as a result of constituent pressure and the recognition by Congress that WHINSEC will not voluntarily comply with an expectation of transparency.”

The SOA/ WHINSEC is a military training facility for Latin American security personnel located at Ft. Benning, Georgia. The institution was catapulted into the headlines in 1996 when the Pentagon released training manuals used at the school that advocated torture, extortion and execution. Despite this shocking admission and hundreds of documented human rights abuses connected to soldiers trained at the school, no independent investigation into the training facility has ever taken place.

As a result of previous FOIA requests, researchers at human rights organizations were able to access SOA Watch’s extensive graduate database to inform Congress, media outlets, and the public about the numerous instances of SOA/ WHINSEC graduates and instructors who have been implicated and convicted of human rights atrocities in Latin America.

Support for the School of the Americas, now called the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, continues to erode. In May, President Oscar Arias joined three other South American countries to send a strong message of support for human rights and military accountability by ceasing all military training of their troops at the controversial school. Citing concerns around the image of the institution in Latin America, Argentina and Uruguay announced that they would no longer send soldiers to train at the military school based at Fort Benning.

Since 1996, Congress has debated several times whether to prohibit funding for the institution. On June 21, 2007 the McGovern/Lewis amendment to the FY 2008 Foreign Appropriations bill that would have prohibited funding for the SOA/WHINSEC lost by a margin of only six votes.

Congress Votes to Expand Unchecked Warrantless Wiretapping

WASHINGTON - AUGUST 6 - Following the Senate's lead, the House of Representatives on Saturday night voted to expand warrantless intelligence surveillance of international communications -- including those between people in the United States and people abroad. The Center for Democracy and Technology strongly opposes the measure.

The legislation, which the President is expect to sign, includes virtually none of the checks and balances that civil liberties advocates had called for to ensure that warrantless surveillance did not result in unchecked snooping on innocent Americans in the United States.

"Congress should be focusing on restoring checks and balances to intelligence surveillance, not on authorizing more warrantless wiretapping of communications that involve people in the United States," CDT President Leslie Harris said. If there is a person in the United States on the line, court authorization should be the rule."

The new warrantless surveillance authority will expire in six months. Immediately after the vote, House speaker Nancy Pelosi declared "unacceptable" many provisions of the bill that had just passed, and called on the chairs of the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees to report more comprehensive legislation to reform the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act "as soon as possible."

The White House proposed comprehensive legislation in April to amend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to permit more warrantless surveillance of international communications and of communications between Americans and foreign embassies in the United States.

Said CDT Senior Counsel and Director of CDT's Program on Freedom, Security and Technology, Gregory T. Nojeim, "the Administration's FISA reform legislation would make court supervision of intelligence surveillance both rarer and less effective in protecting privacy," Nojeim added. "It's up to Congress to chart a new course."

CCR Condems FISA Modernization Law

Democrats Complicit in Broad Expansion of Warrant-less Spying on Americans

WASHINGTON - AUGUST 6 - The "FISA Modernization" bill that passed both houses and was signed into law by the President on Sunday night broadly expands the federal government’s power to conduct surveillance on Americans without a court warrant. The bill went beyond earlier reports that the new law would merely allow the government to listen in to communications between two overseas parties that just happen to route through a switching circuit located in the U.S. Under the new statute the Attorney General and Director of National Intelligence may approve listening in on the conversations of Americans so long as the target of the surveillance is “reasonably believed” to be abroad, with no prior review by the courts.

“The Democratically controlled Congress has now joined forces with the Bush Administration in undermining the Constitution,” said CCR Executive Director, Vincent Warren. “Make no mistake, this law is not merely a technical fix, rather it enshrines in law the ability of the NSA to listen in to the conversations and read the emails of millions of Americans.”

This legislative development comes in the wake of recent media reports that a secret ruling by a federal judge who sits on the FISA court reversed a January 10th ruling from the same court that had allowed the administration to carry out the NSA’s warrantless surveillance program in almost exactly the same manner as before. This reversal is supposedly what prompted the Bush administration's current push for “emergency” legislation to expand its wiretapping powers and legitimate the NSA Program and let to the passage of the FISA Modernization Act, although the decision appears to have occurred in April, several months ago.

According to CCR attorney Shayana Kadidal, “This new act effectively deprives federal judges of their rightful role in the warrant process. As agents of accountability and oversight, judges ensure that law enforcement will do a more rigorous job and, in the long view, that makes us all more safe.”

The issue of the constitutionality of the original spy program is still wending its way through the Courts. On August 9th, CCR’s challenge to the program, CCR v. Bush, will be the subject of oral argument before a federal district court in San Francisco.

About CCR

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Those Who Authorize and Use CIA 'Enhanced' Interrogation Tactics Risk Criminal Prosecution

Landmark Report: Techniques Previously Authorized for CIA Use — Not Ruled Out by President’s CIA Executive Order — Likely Violate U.S. Law

WASHINGTON - AUGUST 3 - A landmark report released today by two leading human rights groups concludes that U.S. officials who authorize or use “enhanced” interrogation techniques risk violating U.S. law and could face criminal prosecution. The CIA had suspended its interrogation program in 2005 out of reported concern about its legality. On July 20, President Bush issued an Executive Order that he claimed would allow that program to resume.

The unprecedented analysis by Human Rights First and Physicians for Human Rights combines medical and legal expertise to comprehensively examine ten techniques widely reported to have been authorized for use in the CIA’s secret interrogation program, including sleep deprivation, simulated drowning, stress positions, beating, and induced hypothermia. The Report —“Leave No Marks: ‘Enhanced’ Interrogation Techniques and the Risk of Criminality”— demonstrates the mental and physical consequences of the use of these techniques, and its title refers to the techniques’ intended design, which is to inflict psychological trauma and pain without leaving physical scars. U.S. law requires an assessment of the physical and mental impact of an interrogation method to determine its legality. The report concludes that each of the ten tactics is likely to violate U.S. laws, including the War Crimes Act, the U.S. Torture Act, and the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005.

“These ‘enhanced’ interrogation techniques can cause severe and often irreversible harm to their victims,” said Dr. Scott Allen, who co-authored the report, and is an Advisor for Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) and Co-Director of the Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights at Brown University. “The report’s full and independent review of the medical literature and case studies concludes that these methods are likely to cause significant physical and mental harm to detainees, and they should be immediately and explicitly prohibited by the Bush Administration and by Congress,” he added.

Defenders of the use of severely coercive treatment in interrogations have argued that “enhanced” interrogation techniques are “aggressive” and “tough,” but not particularly harmful. But the report reviews an extensive body of medical and psychological literature and applies the experience of experts who have treated victims of torture and abuse to show that although “enhanced” interrogation techniques may not result in visible scars, they often cause severe and long-lasting physical and mental harm. The use of such methods can and does frequently result in posttraumatic stress disorders, depressive disorders and psychosis. The common use of physical and emotional abuse in combination with one another “compounds their devastating psychological impact,” the report finds.

In conducting the medical analysis, Physicians for Human Rights drew upon experts in the physical and psychological effects of torture. Human Rights First’s legal analysis applied its expertise with the relevant statutes, treaties, case law, and legal history. The report’s conclusions are based on extensive research in both fields and have been reviewed by widely respected medical experts.

"Administration lawyers may try to convince interrogators that the secret interrogation techniques authorized by the President are lawful because they cause no 'permanent damage.' But interrogators shouldn't buy it," said Elisa Massimino, Washington Director of Human Rights First. "Stress positions, prolonged isolation, sensory bombardment, mock-drowning and other such abuses can cause serious physical and mental pain. They need not inflict permanent damage in order to violate the law and potentially result in very serious criminal sanctions."

Massimino added: "Authorizing such abuses as consistent with the Geneva Conventions has profound -- and dangerous -- consequences for our own military, now and in future wars The administration's argument that doctors will oversee the program to ensure that interrogators don't go too far gives new meaning to the term 'calculated cruelty.'"

The report urges the US government to “refrain from repeating the mistake of allowing the euphemistic descriptions of interrogation techniques to blur the line between permissible and impermissible treatment.” It calls on the government to instead adopt the recommendations it sets forth as necessary steps to creating “a single standard of humane treatment.”

The report calls on the executive branch to:

* Prohibit the “enhanced” interrogation techniques, in order to protect U.S. officials and personnel from potential criminal liability and to ensure that all U.S. personnel adhere to U.S. law.

* Prohibit the use of any other method that, alone or in combination with other interrogation methods, presents a significant risk of causing serious or severe physical and/or mental pain or suffering.

* Instruct all U.S. interrogators in effective, legal, non-harmful methods of interrogation.

* Declassify and release all documents, from all relevant U.S. agencies, which contain information on U.S. interrogation policy and practice, including but not limited to the “enhanced” interrogation methods.

The report urges the U.S. Congress to:

* Clarify existing language in the MCA, which under a reasonable interpretation currently prohibits the use of the “enhanced” techniques, by explicitly listing the techniques, forbidding them, and making clear that they remain criminal.

* Establish a single standard for detainee treatment and interrogation practices to be followed by all U.S. personnel, including CIA personnel.

The Administration’s CIA Executive Order, issued on July 20, undermines the attempts of the McCain Amendment and the Pentagon’s revised Army Field Manual governing interrogations, issued in September 2006, to establish a single standard of humane treatment for detainees. By refusing to clearly identify abusive techniques and to take them off the table for use by the CIA, the Executive Order effectively leaves the decision of when, how and upon whom to use these tactics to the discretion of the CIA Director.

ACLU Condemns Administration's Circumvention of Spy Judge

WASHINGTON - AUGUST 3 - Following reports that a judge overruled the Bush Administration’s wiretapping procedures, the American Civil Liberties Union today slammed the White House for attempting to rush new domestic spying legislation through Congress this week. The alleged ruling by a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court judge against a “basket warrant” led the administration to begin fiercely lobbying Congress to make sweeping changes to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) before Congress recesses.

"A campaign of fear and misinformation has spread on Capitol Hill that needs to be stopped," said Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union. "When a judge rules against the government, we shouldn't just rush to change the law. We can't allow an administration that breaks the laws to simply bully lawmakers into rewriting them. Congress must stop caving in and start standing up to this administration."

For months, the Bush administration has been shopping its proposed FISA changes around Congress. Director of National Intelligence, Mike McConnell, has been heavily involved in the lobbying for gutting FISA. Late last night, Senators Christopher Bond (R-MO) and Mitch McConnell (R-KY) introduced legislation that is very similar to the administration’s proposal. The senators’ bill would permit the wiretapping of Americans without warrants and without judicial review. Its proposed changes are sweeping. As long as the National Security Agency targets someone overseas, whether that person is sending or receiving information via the phone or email, the communications of Americans on the other end will be caught up in the surveillance dragnet.

Also yesterday, Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Senator John D. Rockefeller (D-WV), released his plan for an interim FISA fix. His proposal would also allow mass collection of Americans’ communications, would permit the vast amount of data to be subsequently datamined. This would bury any useful intelligence and would guarantee the collection and retention of countless phone calls and emails in the event that one party is within the United States. In addition, Senator Rockefeller proposes a sunset provision to re-examine the changes in six months. The Patriot Act reauthorization debacle makes clear that sunsets are a bad idea.

“This administration’s continued aversion to oversight and the rule of law shows a remarkable lack of respect for the American people,” added Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “The FISA court is notorious for rubberstamping most applications for warrants. The moment that one judge says no, the administration calls foul and attempts to browbeat Congress into passing legislation that will give them carte blanche authority to wiretap Americans. Lawmakers must reject this political ambush and carefully consider any changes to FISA.”