Saturday, October 13, 2007

ENGLAND: Archbishop of Canterbury says new national Armed Forces Memorial helps 'make the invisible visible'

October 12, 2007
[Lambeth Palace, London] The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, gave a sermon at the October 12 Service of Dedication of the Armed Forces Memorial, in which he said that the memorial is a reminder of the often invisible service and skill that keeps Britain's national community secure.

"We lift up a visible and tangible reminder, so that we don't get trapped in unthinking, complacent security...," Williams said. "[E]ach name here recorded represents a unique moment of loss and anguish for a family and a group of comrades. There is nothing abstract about this commemoration. In doing this, we rediscover things about our own humanity that we often shy away from - our urgent need of each other, the reality of a common life supported by gift and sacrifice."

Williams stressed the need for the memorial as a way to allow grief and compassion to enter human lives, however momentarily: "We have let ourselves be challenged and our comfort interrupted by this memorial," he said.

"For this brief moment we have seen more than we normally let ourselves see; and we pray the God upon whose risky, sacrificial love we all depend to teach us the honesty, the thanksgiving, and the pity we need to keep us fully human," he added.

Williams also spoke of the appreciation for all elements of the armed forces, whether in the front line or in more supportive roles: "When we recognize our debt to them, it is not only to those who have served and struggled heroically but to those whose daily work and faithful support make it possible for heroism to happen. When we say our thank you's to them, it is to all of them."

Friday, October 12, 2007

Illegal Government Surveillance Opens Door to More Privacy Violations

EFF Tells Congress About Hidden Costs of Dragnet Spying

SAN FRANCISCO - October 12 – The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) told a congressional committee today that the government's illegal dragnet electronic surveillance opens the door to even more privacy violations for ordinary Americans.

The sheer volume of personal information collected and the databases in which that information is stored create a giant target for attackers who want to steal or expose Americans' personal data. In a response to questions asked of EFF by the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, EFF Legal Director Cindy Cohn explained in comments submitted Friday that an increase in the number of databases introduces more points of vulnerability into the system, putting sensitive personal information from millions of people at risk.

"We have all heard about security problems with government databases. A report from the Department of Homeland Security found 477 breaches in 2006 alone," said Cohn. "The warrantless domestic surveillance going on now isn't just illegal -- it could expose your personal information to thieves and criminals."

The committee asked EFF for input as part of its review of the Protect America Act, deeply flawed legislation that broadly expanded the National Security Agency's authority to spy on Americans without warrants. Next week, the House is set to vote on the RESTORE Act, a bill designed restore the civil liberties lost under the previous law.

Since the committee had also sent a list of key questions to AT&T and the other major telecommunications firms about their involvement in illegal surveillance activities, EFF provided the committee information about the Hepting v. AT&T lawsuit. EFF represents the plaintiffs in this class-action lawsuit brought by AT&T customers, accusing the telecommunications company of violating their rights by illegally assisting the NSA's domestic surveillance. The Hepting case is just one of many suits aimed at holding telecoms responsible for knowingly violating federal privacy laws with warrantless wiretapping and the illegal transfer of vast amounts of personal data to the government.

EFF also provided the committee with a legal analysis of the use of so-called "exigent letters" by the government to obtain information about Americans and about their "communities of interest," two topics also raised by the committee in its letters to the telecommunications carriers. EFF's Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) work uncovered this illegal broadening of surveillance authority.

"We're pleased that the committee is interested in obtaining answers from the leading telecommunications carriers about whether they have been following the privacy laws protecting their customers' communications. Congressional oversight of the telecommunications companies' activities is long overdue," said Cohn.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Doctors Without Borders Warns More Food Will Not Save Malnourished Children

NEW YORK - October 10 – The international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) today called for increased and expanded use of nutrient dense ready-to-use food (RUF) to reduce the five million annual deaths worldwide related to malnutrition in children under five years of age. Current food aid, which focuses on fighting hunger—not on treating malnutrition—is not doing enough to address the needs of young children most at risk, MSF warned.

"It's not only about how much food children get, it's what's in the food that counts," said Dr. Christophe Fournier, president of MSF's International Council. "Without the right amounts of vitamins and essential nutrients in their diet, young kids become vulnerable to disease that they would normally be able to fight off easily. Calls for increased food aid ignore the special needs of young children who are at the greatest risk of dying."

RUFs, which come in individually wrapped rations, contain all the necessary nutrients, vitamins, and minerals that a young child needs. This dense therapeutic food, which has milk powder, sugars, and vegetable fats, can be produced and stored locally and transported easily, and requires no refrigeration, making it ideal for use in hot climates. It allows a child to recover from being malnourished and catch up on lost growth. Being easy-to-use, mothers—not doctors and nurses—are the main caregivers, meaning far more children at risk can be reached.

"In Somalia we are giving acutely malnourished kids packets of ready-to-use food and we see them gain weight and begin thriving within a couple of weeks," said Dr Gustavo Fernandez, MSF head of mission in Somalia. "RUFs are practical to use in places like Somalia where security is very bad. General food distribution is also needed, but it is not going to be very effective to treat kids under three years old."

Severe acute malnutrition in early childhood is common in large areas of the Horn of Africa, the Sahel, and South Asia -- the world's "malnutrition hotspots." The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that there are 20 million young children suffering from severe acute malnutrition at any given moment and MSF estimates that only three percent of them will receive RUF in 2007.

Therapeutic RUF for only severely malnourished children, as current WHO, World Food Program, and UNICEF guidelines recommend, is too restrictive. Given its nutritional benefits, RUF has the potential to address malnutrition at earlier stages and is far more effective than fortified blended flour, which is normally distributed. MSF is piloting a program using a modified RUF as a supplement to prevent children from becoming acutely malnourished.

"Instead of waiting for kids to get gravely ill we decided to act earlier," said Dr. Susan Shepherd, MSF medical coordinator, Maradi, Niger. "We are piloting a program that gives RUF to all children under three in at-risk communities so that they get the nutrients that are missing in their normal diet."

Through this early treatment or prevention approach in Niger, MSF is providing mothers with small containers of RUF as a supplement to their normal diet. Early results from this ongoing project, which is reaching more than 62,000 children, indicate that RUF is significantly more effective than the traditional approach of supplying fortified flours and cooking oil to mothers of young children.

MSF is calling for donors and UN agencies to urgently speed up the introduction and expansion of RUF. This is going to take a new allocation of funds to cover the cost of €750 million (approximately $1.05 billion) to reach the most vulnerable. But it will also take a realigning of food aid strategies with existing and newly developed products that have the nutrition needed to cure malnourished children.

MSF has been treating malnutrition with therapeutic RUF since the first products became available in the late 1990s, and in 2006 treated more than 150,000 children with acute malnutrition in 22 countries.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Why the Deafening Silence Regarding Iraqi Civilian Casualties?

COLORADO - October 8 – While we frequently hear references to the thousands of U.S. troops who have died in Iraq, there is little or no mention given by the U.S. government or media to the Iraqi civilian death toll. But three weeks ago, for the second time in about 14 months, reputable sources estimated Iraqi civilian deaths to be near a million. Unlike most other estimates, these are based on surveys conducted throughout most regions of Iraq. Why then are these casualty estimates largely ignored or downplayed, while relatively low estimates based solely on fatalities confirmed in media reports are treated as credible?

In July 2006, a study funded by MIT and conducted by Johns Hopkins researchers estimated the "excess deaths" in Iraq -- the difference between the pre- and post-invasion death rates. This estimate was determined by surveying "12,801 people living in 47 clusters" throughout Iraq, according to study co-author Gilbert Burnham. Participants were asked about the numbers of deaths in their household since the invasion. Teams asked for death certificates 87% of the time, and these were presented in 92% of the cases. The resulting death rate estimate was extrapolated over the entire population, resulting in an estimate of deaths due to the direct and indirect consequences of the invasion. The result: 654,965 deaths, within a 95% confidence interval of 392,979 to 942,636, with 92% of fatalities due to violence. At the time, John Zogby, whose polling company had done several surveys in post-invasion Iraq, said "The sampling is solid. The methodology is as good as it gets. It is what people in the statistics business do."

This horrifying gut-wrenching estimate is now supported by a similar Iraqi household study released last month, and done by the respected UK-based ORB research group. It surveyed 1,499 Iraqis in 15 of the 18 provinces. Results showed that 83% died from violence. The total estimated death toll since the invasion was 1,220,580. Based on a 2.5% margin of error, there was a minimum of 733,158 deaths and a maximum of 1,446,063.

AFP National Chairman Jonathan Hill stated, "Our illegal and unjust invasion has probably, directly and indirectly, led to about one million Iraqi deaths. Respect for constitutional foreign policy principles would certainly have avoided this blunder and many others. It is high time for cheerleaders of this war to face their mistake and change direction. We all need to work together now to minimize further loss of life and end this tragic war."

Friday, October 05, 2007

Russia Should Rethink Use of Youth Groups to Police Protests

MOSCOW - October 5 – Russian police should rethink the use of police volunteers from pro-Kremlin youth groups, Human Rights Watch said in a letter sent to the Minister of the Interior today. At a minimum, the police should ensure accountability for the volunteers’ actions before proceeding with their use.

According to recent news reports, Moscow city police have recruited volunteers from the pro-Kremlin youth group “Nashi” (Ours) to patrol Moscow streets, including at demonstrations and opposition events. Members of Nashi have stated that they will mobilize Nashi patrols to prevent “destabilization” of the country from opposition groups.

“Nashi is no neutral group,” said Holly Cartner, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Our fear is that instead of keeping order, Nashi will try to silence critics.”

Nashi has stated that it will deploy police volunteers to an opposition event planned for Sunday, October 7, 2007. Members of the Russian People’s Democratic Union have announced plans to hold a public meeting of the “Dissenters’” March. The Moscow Mayor’s Office issued a permit for the meeting to be held at Pushkin Square in Moscow on the afternoon of October 7.

Human Rights Watch said that police volunteers do not have the right to use force or to detain people, and if they do, it’s a crime. If police give volunteers special authority, they must do so in accordance with the law, and volunteers are bound by the same rules as the police.

In the past year, police in Moscow and other cities around Russia have used disproportionate force to violently disperse the peaceful Dissenters’ Marches.

Federal Migration Service officials have also used youth group members for law enforcement purposes. They announced that on September 15 they enlisted members of a nationalist youth group called “Mestnye” (Locals) to seek out and detain migrants, whom they alleged were working illegally at Moscow’s busy Yaroslavskii market.

In the letter, Human Rights Watch urged the police not to use volunteers in this manner, and reminded them that, if they did, they must take measures to ensure transparency and accountability for any powers given to Nashi volunteers.

“Police using volunteers need to ensure they are held accountable for their actions,” Cartner said. “Police need to take steps to prevent the unlawful use of force or vigilante-style justice by its volunteers and investigate any complaints about their actions.”

Thursday, October 04, 2007

New Revelations About Secret Torture Authorizations From DOJ

NEW YORK - October 4 – The New York Times reported today that the U.S. government is still holding people at CIA black sites after purporting to end the program a year ago, and is generating secret memos to propagate a program of so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques" that in reality qualify as torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.

"Even as the government was publicly denouncing torture, our client Majid Khan and others were being subjected to it," said Vincent Warren, Executive Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR). The Center represents many of the detainees at Guantánamo including Majid Khan, a Baltimore resident who was held in secret CIA detention until last September. CCR is representing the detainees before the Supreme Court this term in a direct challenge to the unprecedented and unconstitutional expansion of executive authority to detain suspects without due process.

According to CCR attorneys, administration officials in both the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) wrote opinions and sought to justify U.S. torture tactics in order to support the president's will and not the rule of law. It is clear from reports that even within the Department of Justice and the administration there has been strong dissent against these policies, and that those who have opposed them have been phased out of their roles or sidelined.

Speaking of the upcoming confirmation process for the new attorney general, Vincent Warren said that in order to restore honor to the office, the nominee must publicly promise to rescind the broad torture framework unlawfully built up by this administration, turn over all relevant documents to Congress, and mount an investigation of DOJ complicity in subverting the rule of law. "Torture is illegal, immoral, and it doesn't work. Detainee torture policies that produce faulty intelligence and exaggerated confessions result in innocent men being locked up. Without access to real courts and the ability to challenge the basis for their detention, the detainees will never see justice."

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Amnesty International USA and Responsible Endowment Coalition Launch Guide to Support Responsible Investing by U.S. Colleges and Universities

WASHINGTON - October 3 – The first-ever step-by-step guide to encourage colleges and universities to adopt responsible investment practices in pursuit of social and environmental change is being released today in a collaboration between Amnesty International USA and the Responsible Endowments Coalition. The guide is aimed at higher education trustees and administrators and student activists who want to push for responsible investing on their campuses.

Available online at no cost ( the handbook, Integrating Environmental, Social and Governance Issues into Institutional Investment: a Handbook for Colleges and Universities, is a comprehensive guide with real-world examples and best practices from leading academic institutions.

Amy O'Meara, a business and human rights campaigner for Amnesty International USA, said that while the trend toward responsible investing has been gaining over the last decade most academic institutions continue to invest in at least some companies whose policies and practices offer no protections for the environment or human rights and may, in fact, hurt either or both. "Colleges and universities could use their power as investors to press companies to improve how they respond to social and environmental challenges. But often they do not," O'Meara said.

"The truth is, academic institutions in the United States lag behind public and private pension funds, foundations, and even mutual funds in adopting strategies and policies for responsible investing," said O'Meara. "The value of college and university endowments now exceeds $340 billion in the United States. If higher education devoted a larger share of these endowments to responsible investments, the impact on the common good and on social and environmental change could be enormous."

Morgan Simon, executive director of the Responsible Endowments Coalition, said: "Our handbook explains in depth how college trustees, investment managers and students can align investment strategies with their institutions' values and missions. Long term, colleges with responsible practices can have a significant impact on how companies define their response to social and environmental challenges in addition to supporting their own communities."

Simon said: "The guide provides many compelling examples of best practices from colleges and universities who have taken some leadership in this area."

Sixteen of the top 20-ranked colleges and universities (2008 U.S. News and World Report rankings) have adopted some practices that incorporate social, environmental and governance concerns in investment decisions.

The practices range from committees on investor responsibility to formal processes that allow students to petition for shareholder advocacy on issues that are of concern

Overall, more than $2.29 trillion in assets in the United States are currently managed using one or more strategies that consider environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues. This means that one out of ten dollars under professional management in the United States today is involved in some form of ESG investing.

The handbook offers information on legal issues, investment strategies, including positive investment screening and community investment, sample investment policies, and outlines various methods of shareholder advocacy and direct engagement with companies whose practices may be of concern. The guide was endorsed by the Social Investment Forum, the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility and Friends of the Earth.

"This resource can offer win-win solutions for those seeking creative yet responsible approaches to university investing,” said Timothy Smith, Senior Vice President for Walden Asset Management and Chair, Social Investment Forum.

Lisa Sachs, a co-author of the handbook and currently a third-year student at Columbia Law School, is now a leader pushing for action on this issue on her campus. "The world of finance and investments is often confusing to students, even those who are intent on getting their schools to change their endowment policies. I think we have been able to break down complex ideas and put them into a form that students can turn into action."

"College students today have a low tolerance for hypocrisy, and many are getting an education so that they can better fight the massive injustices they see in the world, including human rights abuses by companies. These students are ready to undertake sophisticated efforts to reform their college endowments with the guidance this handbook offers," said Sachs.

The Responsible Endowments Coalition works to foster social and environmental change and promote corporate reform through university endowments by educating and empowering a diverse community of university members and allies.

Amnesty International USA, as part of its overarching mission to protect and promote human rights, works to ensure that companies abide by international human rights obligations in their global business operations.

Canada Refuses Entry to CODEPINK Cofounder Medea Benjamin and Retired Colonel Ann Wright

WASHINGTON - October 3 – Two well-respected US peace activists, CODEPINK and Global Exchange cofounder Medea Benjamin and retired Colonel and diplomat Ann Wright, were denied entry into Canada today (Wednesday, October 3). The two women were headed to Toronto to discuss peace and security issues at the invitation of the Toronto Stop the War Coalition. At the Buffalo-Niagara Falls Bridge they were detained, questioned and denied entry. They will hold a press conference on Thursday afternoon in front of the Canadian Embassy in Washington DC to ask the Canadian government to reverse its policy of barring peaceful protesters.

The women were questioned at Canadian customs about their participation in anti-war efforts and informed that they had an FBI file indicating they had been arrested in acts of non-violent civil disobedience.

WHEN: Thursday, October 4th at 1pm

WHERE: Canadian Embassy, 501 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington DC

"In my case, the border guard pulled up a file showing that I had been arrested at the US Mission to the UN where, on International Women's Day, a group of us had tried to deliver a peace petition signed by 152,000 women around the world," says Benjamin. "For this, the Canadians labeled me a criminal and refused to allow me in the country."

"The FBI's placing of peace activists on an international criminal database is blatant political intimidation of US citizens opposed to Bush administration policies," says Colonel Wright, who was also Deputy US Ambassador in four countries. "The Canadian government should certainly not accept this FBI database as the criteria for entering the country."

Both Wright and Benjamin plan to request their files from the FBI through the Freedom of Information Act and demand that arrests for peaceful, non-violent actions be expunged from international records.

"It's outrageous that Canada is turning away peacemakers protesting a war that does not have the support of either US or Canadian citizens," says Benjamin. "In the past, Canada has always welcomed peace activists with open arms. This new policy, obviously a creature of the Bush administration, is shocking and we in the US and Canada must insist that it be overturned.

Four members of the Canadian Parliament--Peggy Nash, Libby Davies, Paul Dewar and Peter Julian-- expressed outrage that the peace activists were barred from Canada and vow to change this policy.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

ACLU Urges Senate to Move Ahead With Contempt Charges, Rejects Claim of Executive Privilege

WASHINGTON, DC - October 2– Today, the American Civil Liberties Union called on Congress to move forward with contempt proceedings against White House officials who refused to cooperate with legitimate subpoenas issued under congressional authority. The ACLU also released a memo to assist Congress in understanding the limits of executive privilege and the authorities it has to compel compliance with the subpoenas issued by the Senate Judiciary Committee on the National Security Agency’s warrantless wiretapping program. The ACLU’s memo concludes that the documents requested are not covered under the privilege and should be released immediately. The administration has already missed two deadlines set by the committee.

"Many presidents have overreached by claiming executive privilege to hide documents and witnesses from public oversight, and each time Congress has slapped their hands," said Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. "Today’s Congress must do the same if it wishes to operate as a meaningful and equal branch of government."

The courts have long held that executive privilege is not absolute, and even where it applies it can be overcome if the other branches of government can show they need the information. Congress has significant legislative and oversight interests in the NSA warrantless wiretapping program because it is currently considering legislation to replace the Protect America Act.

Most importantly, the courts have held that the privilege cannot be invoked to hide government wrongdoing. Even where issues concerning national security are at stake Congress has a right to the information it needs to fulfill its constitutional obligations. Facing a possible constitutional crisis capable of destroying our crucial checks and balances, the ACLU also reminded Congress just how vital its oversight and legislative role is.

"The federal courts have long held that Congress has the authority not only to pass laws, but investigate their implementation," added Fredrickson. "Congress is facing an historic moment where it can either fight for its rightful place in our constitutional system of government or accept the president’s continued and sweeping claims of supremacy. It’s do or die time for the separation of powers."