repression

Benton Harbor Activist Will Remain Under House Arrest

The Associated Press reported Thursday that Benton Harbor community activist will remain under house arrest while he is waiting the outcome of his appeal. You can read more about Pinkney’s case online. For more on the ruling, see the AP article below:

(AP) — LANSING, Mich. – A Benton Harbor minister will remain on house arrest while he appeals a prison sentence for writing that God could punish a judge who presided over his election fraud conviction.

The Michigan Supreme Court declined to hear Edward Pinkney’s appeal of his house arrest in an unanimous order dated Wednesday.

Pinkney was sentenced to five years of probation in 2007 after being convicted of paying people to vote in a Benton Harbor election. He later wrote an article saying the judge who handled his case could be punished by God with curses unless he changed his ways.

Another judge ruled that Pinkney’s column violated his probation and sentenced him to prison. The state appeals court has released Pinkney on bond while considering an appeal of his sentence.

Government Targeting of Muslim Charities Stifling Religious Expression

A new report from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) titled “Blocking Faith, Freezing Charity” finds that U.S. anti-terrorism laws that target charitable giving are preventing Muslims from practicing their religion through charitable giving and are consequently impacting the perception of the United States in the Muslim world. The report argues that the U.S. government appears to many Muslims to be at war against Islam and that the lack of charitable contributions undermines humanitarian aid efforts in parts of the world where it could be key in helping to improve the United States’ image.

The report writes of the stifling impact of terrorism finance investigations:

The ACLU also found that there is a common perception among many members of the Muslim communities in Michigan and Texas that those active with Muslim community and religious organizations will be targeted for interviews with law enforcement or for criminal charges on account of their constitutionally protected association with legitimate Muslim community and religious organizations. Our research reveals that this perception of the price of association with Muslim community and religious organizations affects Muslims’ participation in Muslim community organizations.

As noted in the above excerpt, the ACLU interview several members of the Muslim community in Michigan:

In Michigan, 33 individuals were interviewed in Metro Detroit and Flint each expressing their concern over the government’s questioning of Muslim donors, the raids of large U.S. Muslim charities and the consequent chilling effect on their participation in religious activities such as congregational Friday prayer, Eid celebrations at the conclusion of Ramadan, and other communal religious activities.

The report further documents cases of Muslim charities being closed and raided in Michigan, along with questioning of donors and surveillance of Mosques.

A video released along with the report has more information on the issue:

Headlines: House Panel Holds Hearing on Single Payer Health Care; Utah Man Dies After Tasering

Democracy Now Headlines: House Panel Holds Hearing on Single Payer Healthcare; Utah Man Dies After Tasering

Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

White Supremacist Kills Guard in Holocaust Memorial Shooting

A white supremacist with a long history of anti-Semitic activity is in custody today after opening fire at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, killing a security guard and wounding another. The gunman, eighty-eight-year-old James W. von Brunn, was critically injured after other guards returned fire. The slain security guard, Stephen Johns, was thirty-nine years old. Washington, DC Mayor Adrian Fenty said police believe von Brunn acted alone.

Washington, DC Mayor Adrian Fenty: “In these days and times, you never know when someone is going to grab a gun and use it in an inappropriate way, as was done today. But we want to thank the heroism of the security guards, the Metropolitan Police Department, for being on hand very early to make an arrest. We believe we have someone who was a lone gunman, but we’re going to spend the night investigating any and all other leads.”

The attack marks at least the third recent shooting involving a gunman with ties to the white nationalist movement.

Following Senate Approval, Torture-Linked General Given “Carte Blanche” for Afghan Command

The Senate has confirmed the nomination of General Stanley McChrystal to head the occupation of Afghanistan. McChrystal’s promotion was approved Wednesday despite controversy over the abuse of prisoners by forces under his authority at the Joint Special Operations Command. McChrystal oversaw a secretive program to hunt down and assassinate suspected terrorists around the globe. The New York Times reports McChrystal has been given “carte blanche” in choosing his subordinates, including many Special Operations veterans that could be linked to prisoner abuse. Senior military officers say McChrystal is putting together a corps of 400 officers and soldiers who will rotate between the United States and Afghanistan for at least three years.

House Panel Holds Hearing on Single Payer

On Capitol Hill, a House subcommittee held a hearing Wednesday to consider single-payer healthcare. It was the first time a congressional panel had taken up single payer in the ongoing debate over healthcare reform. House Judiciary Chair John Conyers criticized Democratic leaders for declaring single payer “off the table.”

Rep. John Conyers: “There is some notion that universal single-payer healthcare is off the table. Well, that raises a very important question. If you take the most popular healthcare reform measure and take it off the table, heaven knows what it is, I guess, you think you’re left with. This is the most popular form, and it would be very unlike the party in the majority now to determine that the most popular system would not even be examined. I am asking for a hearing in every committee, every committee, and if they will let us into the Senate, as well.”

Conyers is the sponsor of House Resolution 676, which would grant universal healthcare to all Americans by making the government the lone provider of medical coverage.

AMA Opposes Public Health Insurance Plan

In other healthcare news, the nation’s largest physician organization has announced it will oppose Democratic plans for a new government-sponsored insurance program that would compete with private insurers. In a statement, the American Medical Association said healthcare should be provided solely through “private markets.” The announcement comes just days before President Obama is set to travel to Chicago to address the AMA on Monday. The AMA represents around 250,000 doctors across the United States. Its position comes despite recent polls showing as many as 60 percent of doctors support the creation of a national public insurance plan.

Tiller Colleague Vows to Continue Performing Late-Term Abortions in Kansas

A doctor who worked in the clinic of the slain abortion provider Dr. George Tiller has announced he intends to continue performing late-term abortions in Kansas. Dr. LeRoy Carhart was one of a team of physicians to work with Tiller before his murder last month. Speaking to the Associated Press, Carhart declined to say whether the abortions would continue at Tiller’s clinic or whether he’d open a new site. His announcement comes one day after Tiller’s family announced the clinic’s permanent closure. It had been one of the only in the country to perform abortions in the third trimester.

Admin to Unveil New Rules on Mountaintop Coal Mining

The Obama administration is set to announce today new regulations of mountaintop removal, the controversial coal mining practice that has caused extensive environmental damage in the Appalachian region. The changes include ending fast-track approval for new mining permits and imposing a more extensive environmental review. Interviewed by the Washington Post, the chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, Nancy Sutley, said the administration hasn’t ruled out seeking a complete ban on mountaintop removal, with discussions still in the early stages.

New “Compensation Czar” to Oversee Exec Pay

The Obama administration has appointed a Washington, DC attorney to become the so-called “compensation czar” overseeing the salaries of top executives at bailed-out financial firms. Kenneth Feinberg will have authority to set the compensation for executives at seven taxpayer-rescued companies, including Citibank, Bank of America and General Motors. The White House, however, has dropped an initial pledge to cap executives at $500,000.

Peruvian Congress Suspends Land Laws

In Peru, lawmakers have temporarily suspended two land-use laws that led to an indigenous uprising and dozens of deaths in the ensuing police crackdown. Indigenous groups have opposed the laws that would allow an unprecedented wave of logging, oil drilling, mining and agriculture in the Amazon rainforest. On Wednesday, the Peruvian congress voted to suspend the laws, but for an unspecified time. Indigenous leader Efrain Pizango Wasy said the protests will continue until the laws are fully repealed.

Efrain Pizango Wasy: “Our reaction is not to suspend the strike, but to continue until the end. As you have heard, this measure is suspended for only ninety days. This is not convenient for us, the indigenous population. We will gather more and continue fighting until the end.”

President Alan Garcia’s government passed the land laws under “fast track” authority he had received to facilitate implementation of the US-Peru Free Trade Agreement.

Security Council Members Agree on North Korea Sanctions

UN Security Council members have agreed on a new round of sanctions in response to North Korea’s recent nuclear test and missile launches. The new measures include asking countries to inspect North Korean vessels carrying suspicious cargo and requiring them to deny the vessels fuel. The US ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, praised the agreement.

UN Ambassador Susan Rice: “We tabled a draft resolution to be considered by all colleagues on the Security Council, which we think provides a very strong, very credible, very appropriate response to the provocative nuclear test that North Korea launched and its subsequent activities.”

The UN Security Council is expected to approve the sanctions in a vote on Friday.

UN Withdraws Staff from Peshawar Following Deadly Bombing

In Pakistan, the United Nations has withdrawn most of its staff from the northwestern city of Peshawar following the killing of two officials in a massive truck bombing of a luxury hotel. The pullout is heightening concerns over the plight of the more than two million people who have fled their homes in the US-backed offensive on Taliban militants in neighboring Swat Valley. On Wednesday, the US envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan, Richard Holbrooke, praised the offensive in Washington.

US Envoy Richard Holbrooke: “What I saw in Pakistan on this trip was the slow emergence of a consensus behind the government’s actions. Everywhere, there was a dramatic change in attitudes from my previous trips, because of the outrages of the Taliban and their supporters.”

Blackwater Sued for 2007 Killing of Iraqi Civilian

The private military firm formerly known as Blackwater is facing a new lawsuit over the August 2007 killing of an Iraqi civilian in Hilla. The case was filed on behalf of the surviving relatives of seventy-five-year-old Husain Salih Rabea. At the time, Rabea’s relatives said he had pulled over to the side of the road to let a Blackwater convoy pass. The last vehicle in the convoy allegedly opened fire when Rabea pulled back onto the road. The suit also alleges Blackwater employees are guarding employees of the International Republican Institute in Iraq despite an Iraqi government ban.

Oregon National Guard Members Sue KBR for Toxic Exposure

In Oregon, five current and former Army National Guard soldiers have filed a lawsuit accusing the war contractor KBR of knowingly exposing them to a cancer-causing chemical in Iraq. A group of sixteen Indiana National Guard soldiers filed a similar suit last year. The soldiers were providing security for KBR during repairs of a water treatment plant in southern Iraq shortly after the US invasion. The National Guard members claim the site was contaminated for six months by hexavalent chromium, “one of the most potent carcinogens” on record. They allege KBR knew the plant was contaminated but concealed the danger. Attorneys for the soldiers say they expect several West Virginia National Guard members to file a similar suit.

Audit Faults at Least $13 Billion in War Contractor Spending

The lawsuits follow the release of a new federal report detailing waste and abuse by war contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Commission on Wartime Contracting says auditors have questioned more than $13 billion in spending. The report also says over 240,000 contractors are employed in Iraq and Afghanistan, around 80 percent of them foreign nationals.

Witnesses: 2 Afghans Killed, Dozens Wounded in US Grenade Attack

In Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai has ordered a probe into an alleged US attack that killed two people and wounded more than fifty others in Kunar Province. Afghan witnesses have accused a US soldier of throwing a grenade at a crowd that had gathered to watch US troops working to free a large military vehicle that had become stuck on a road. Local doctors say the injured included several children, some in critical condition.

State Dept. Analyst, Wife Denied Bail in Cuba Spy Case

A former State Department analyst and his wife have been denied bail following their arrest on allegations of being longtime spies for the Cuban government. Walter Kendall Myers and his wife Gwendolyn appeared in a Washington, DC courtroom on Wednesday after pleading not guilty to charges of conspiracy, being agents of a foreign government, and wire fraud.

Study: Firms, Governments Funded over 22,000 Pentagon Trips

A newly released database shows Pentagon employees took more than 22,000 trips paid for by foreign countries, private corporations and other sources between 1998 and 2007. The Center for Public Integrity says the visits cost more than $26 million and often involved interests paying for officials who could make decisions benefiting those picking up the tab. The biggest travel funder was the medical industry, which footed the bill for more 8,700 trips worth over $10 million.

Utah Man Dies in Police Tasering

In Utah, a thirty-two-year-old man has been killed in a tasering by police. Brian Layton Cardall was confronted after running away from his vehicle near a highway road. He had recently struggled with mental health issues, and his wife had called police. When Cardall was found, a police officer used his taser weapon, causing Cardall to lose consciousness. He was pronounced dead after being taken to a hospital. In a statement, Cardall’s family remembered him as “a wonderful son, brother, father, and husband who loved being with people. He was full of personality and wanted to make a difference in this world.”

Texas Police Defend Tasering of 72-Year-Old Woman

Cardall’s death comes as video has emerged of a Texas police officer tasering a seventy-two-year-old woman after pulling over her vehicle. Kathryn Winkfein said she was stopped for going fifteen miles over the speed limit in a construction zone. Texas police have insisted the officer’s actions were justified.

Headlines: New Hampshire Legalizes Gay Marriage; Activist Convicted for Leaving Water Jugs for Migrants

Democracy Now Headlines: New Hampshire Legalizes Gay Marriage; Activist Convicted for Leaving Water Jugs for Migrants

Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

Obama Addresses Muslims Worldwide in Cairo Speech

President Obama spoke in Cairo earlier today in a much-anticipated speech aimed at Muslims across the world. Obama defended his decision to escalate the occupation of Afghanistan and refused to apologize for the invasion of Iraq that has led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. On the Israel-Palestine conflict, Obama refused to call for a full Israeli withdrawal from the Occupied Territories but said settlement building should stop.

President Obama: “Israelis must acknowledge that just as Israel’s right to exist cannot be denied, neither can Palestine’s. The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop.”

Israelis Protest Obama in Jerusalem

On the eve of his visit to Cairo, dozens of right-wing Israeli protesters demonstrated outside the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem. The protesters criticized Obama’s push for a freeze to Israeli settlements.

Protester: “Yes, it’s important to have good relations with America, but not at the expense of our survival. And today, we are once again-we are going to repeat this over and over again-Barack Hussein Obama-No you can’t. No You can’t.”

Israeli Defense Minister Threatens Iran Attack

Meanwhile, the Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak is again threatening an Israeli attack on Iran over its alleged nuclear activities. Barak spoke Wednesday after meetings in Washington.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak: “I’ve already given my opinion and it hasn’t changed even after meeting with the foreign secretary. I repeat what I have always said, Israel still thinks it’s time for engagement and sanctions but Israel isn’t taking any options off the table. But there needs to be a timeframe to how much time we give to these negotiations and if this doesn’t work, Israel will have to look at other options.”

China Increases Censorship Ahead of Tiananmen Square Anniversary

Today marks the 20th anniversary of the 1989 crackdown on student and pro-democracy demonstrators in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. The Chinese government has increased censorship ahead of the anniversary. Authorities have blocked access to social networking and email websites including Twitter and Hotmail. Foreign journalist have been barred from the Tianamnen square and many activists have been forced to leave Beijng or confined to their homes. Zeng Jinyan, the wife of the jailed AIDS activist Hu Jia, told reporters she’s been barred from leaving her residential community.

Zeng Jinyan: “Many people they don’t care about June 4th. But June 4th is really important for the whole country, for all the Chinese people. So if I have freedom, and I have the ability, I will just do the society education, through human rights education to the public.”

OAS Votes Lift Cuba Suspension

The Organization of American States has lifted its 47-year suspension of Cuba.

The surprise vote came Wednesday after the U.S. won conditions granting Cuba a path to membership if it carries out democratic reforms in line with the OAS’ founding principles. Cuba has rejected re-entry because it no longer considers the OAS a viable grouping.

UN Rapporteur Calls for Probe of U.S. Killings Abroad

A top UN official is calling for a probe into the killings of innocent civilians by U.S. forces and private contractors. Philip Alston, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions said many U.S. military strikes, shootings and drone attacks have killed scores of people without any accountability.

Philip Alston: “The government has failed to effectively investigate and punish lower-ranking soldiers for such deaths, and has not held senior officers responsible under the doctrine of command responsibility. Worse, it has effectively created a zone of impunity for private contractors and civilian intelligence agents by only rarely investigating and prosecuting them.”

Altson says the U.S. should establish a national commission of inquiry and appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the killings of innocents abroad.

Judge Dismisses Spying Suits Against Telecom Companies

A federal judge has dismissed more than three dozen lawsuits against telecommunications corporations that aided the Bush administration’s warrantless spying. On Wednesday, Northern California U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker ruled the companies including Verizon and AT&T are protected under the retroactive immunity granted in last year’s Democratic-backed surveillance act. The Electronic Frontier Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union say they plan to appeal on the grounds the retroactive immunity is unconstitutional. In a related ruling, Judge Walker rejected Obama administration efforts to dismiss a case from a defunct Oregon-based Islamic charity that says it was the target of illegal spying.

Justice Dept. Restores Legal Rights for Deportees

The Justice Department has reversed a Bush administration ruling that immigrants don’t have a constitutional right to proper legal counsel during deportation proceedings. On Wednesday, Attorney General Eric Holder restored the right of immigrants to appeal deportations on the grounds of attorney incompetence. But Holder also said he would leave intact existing government cases based on the rescinded Bush administration principle.

Katrina Victims to Remain in Trailer Homes

The Obama administration has announced it will let thousands of Hurricane Katrina victims remain in trailers they had been told to leave by the end of last month. The White House says the Gulf Coast residents will be allowed to purchase their trailers for nominal fees of $5 dollars or less. And it says it will give the more than 3,400 families living in trailers priority for $50 million dollars in housing vouchers. The eviction plans had come under wide criticism because almost none of the housing destroyed by Katrina has been rebuilt or replaced.

New Hampshire Legalizes Gay Marriage

New Hampshire has become the sixth state to legalize gay marriage. On Wednesday, Governor John Lynch signed legislation okaying same-sex marriages after winning exemptions for churches who choose not to officiate.

Activist Convicted for Leaving Water Jugs for Migrants

In Arizona, a human rights activist from the group No More Deaths has been convicted for leaving plastic jugs for undocumented immigrants crossing near the US-Mexico border. The activist, Walt Staton, says the water jugs were left to prevent migrants from dying of dehydration. On Wednesday, Staton was found guilty of ‘knowingly littering’ in the Buenos Aires Wildlife Refuge. In a move criticized by defense attorneys, the jury was ordered to reach a verdict after initial deliberations ended in a deadlock. Staton is a member of No More Deaths, which has worked for years to provide migrants with humanitarian aid. Over the past decade, nearly 2,000 men, women and children have died while trying to cross the border into Arizona. In a statement, No More Deaths said: “By penalizing life-saving work, the United States is showing callous disregard for the lives of our neighbors to the south, whose only crime is to seek a better life.”

Lawsuit Reinstated Against Shell Subsidiary in Nigeria Killings

A federal appeals court has reinstated a lawsuit against the Nigerian subsidiary of the oil giant Royal Dutch Shell over the 1995 killings of Ken Saro-Wiwa and other Nigerian activists. The case against the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria was initially dismissed in March 2008. The suit is separate from another case brought directly against Shell over the Nigeria killings. On Wednesday, that case was again adjourned indefinitely after its initial delay last month.

Baucus Meets Single-Payer Advocates

On Capitol Hill, Senate Finance Committee chair Max Baucus met with backers of single-payer health care Wednesday after excluding them from last month’s hearings on health care reform. Baucus reportedly expressed regret for refusing to hear their voices and said he would seek the dismissal of charges against thirteen single-payer advocates he had thrown out of the hearings after they protested their exclusion. But the advocates say Baucus expressed no willingess to reverse his principled opposition to single-payer. Dr. David Himmelstein, co-founder of Physicians for a National Health Program, said activists will need to continue protesting Baucus and other lawmakers who support for-profit health care.

Obama Signals Support for Mandatory Health Care Program

In other health care news, the Obama administration has indicated it could support establishing a health care system that would require Americans to purchase health insurance. President Obama opposed a similar plan from Hillary Clinton during their race for the Democratic nomination. But on Wednesday, Obama said he would consider the plan if it includes a waiver for low-income Americans.

Inspector: Aviation Officials Ignored Warnings on Plane Model in Buffalo Crash

And a federal inspector has revealed aviation officials ignored his warnings about a twin-engine aircraft model more than a year before one flown by Colgan Air crashed near Buffalo in February. The inspector, Christopher Monteleon, told the New York Times he found pilots had flown the plane faster than manufacturer specifications allowed. Monteleon says Colgan Air refused to report the breaches and have the plane inspected for damage. He says he was then suspended overseeing sections of Colgan Air’s operations after he reported his concerns to Federation Aviation Administration superiors. Fifty people were killed in the crash of Continental Flight 3407 on February 12th. The victims included Alison Des Forges, one of the world’s foremost experts on Rwanda, and Beverly Eckert, who had become an advocate for 9-11 families after losing her husband in the attacks on the Twin Towers.

Headlines: Economic Crisis Fueling Repression; Dozens Protest Shell over Niger Delta Trial

Democracy Now Headlines: Economic Crisis Fueling Repression; Dozens Protest Shell over Niger Delta Trial

Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

US, South Korea Raise Military Alert Level

The United States and South Korea have raised their military alert level after North Korea said it would abandon the 1953 truce that ended the Korean War. North Korea’s move follows its nuclear test and several missile launches earlier this week. The US-South Korea Combined Forces Command says it’s raised the alert level to three, the highest since North Korea’s only other nuclear test in 2006.

Ex-Officer: Blocked Photos Showed Rape, Sexual Abuse at Abu Ghraib

The former Army officer in charge of investigating the Abu Graib scandal says the photos recently blocked by President Obama include images of rape and sexual abuse. In an interview with the Daily Telegraph, Major General Antonio Taguba said at least one picture shows a US soldier raping a female prisoner while another shows a male translator raping a male prisoner. Taguba says other photographs show sexual assaults with objects including a truncheon, wire and a phosphorescent tube. The Obama administration recently drew criticism when it reversed a pledge to allow the photographs’ release.

US Military Toll Highest in Iraq Since September ’08

In Iraq, four Iraqi civilians and a US soldier were killed Wednesday in a Baghdad car bombing. At least twenty US troops have died in Iraq this month, the most since September 2008.

Israel Vows Continued Settlement Building as Obama, Abbas Meet

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas visits the White House today for his first meeting with President Obama since Obama’s inauguration. Ahead of Abbas’s arrival, the Obama administration renewed calls for Israel to stop settlement construction in the Occupied Territories. But Israeli officials, meanwhile, said they’ll continue expanding settlements to accommodate so-called “natural growth” amongst settler communities.

Israeli Figures Attribute Settlement Growth to Migration

Israel says it needs to keep building to meet the housing needs of growing settler families. But recent Israeli government statistics show a large percentage of settlement growth was caused by settlers moving in from outside the territories. Despite its call for a settlement freeze, the Obama administration has still refused to demand Israel dismantle any of the large settlements that carve up the West Bank and that the World Court has deemed illegal. In Ramallah, independent Palestinian lawmaker Mustafa Barghouti called on the US to exert meaningful pressure on the Israeli government.

Mustafa Barghouti: “I believe that the Palestinian president should demand American immediate, clear-cut pressure on Israel. Without American pressure on Israel, there can be no progress for peace and there can be great threat to the idea of peace based on two-state solution.”

Report: Israel Taking Vast Majority of West Bank Water

A new World Bank study says Israel is now drawing four times as much water as Palestinians from a critical shared aquifer in the Occupied West Bank. Palestinians are taking just one-fifth of the water supply amidst a fifth-consecutive drought this year.

Amnesty: Economic Crisis Fueling Repression

The human rights group Amnesty International says the worldwide economic decline is leading to greater repression across the globe. In its annual global report, Amnesty warns, “We are sitting on a powder keg of inequality, injustice and insecurity, and it is about to explode.” The report says abuses are increasing as marginalized communities demand basic rights amidst worsening economic security. It also says incidents of racism and xenophobia are on the rise in addition to new restrictions on refugees and asylum seekers. Amnesty International Secretary General Irene Khan said the United States needs to address growing inequality at home.

Irene Khan: “We saw in the Americas in the last year still the issue of inequality very much on the agenda. The economic crisis has made it even more prominent now, where poor people are being ignored, indigenous peoples’ rights are being trampled upon, business and the economy taking precedence over livelihoods and lives of people. That is a major problem in the Americas.”

The full Amnesty International report comes out today.

Lengthy Sentences Handed Down in Holy Land Case

Five founders of a defunct Muslim charity have been sentenced to lengthy prison terms in a controversial case that critics have called a political witch-hunt. The Holy Land Foundation founders were convicted last year on charges of funneling money to the Palestinian group Hamas. Holy Land was the nation’s largest Muslim charity until the Bush administration shuttered it in 2001. The case relied on Israeli intelligence as well as disputed documents and electronic surveillance gathered by the FBI over a span of fifteen years. It was the second trial against the defendants after the first ended in a mistrial. Defendants Ghassan Elashi and Shukri Abu Baker were sentenced to 65 years apiece. At his sentencing hearing, Elashi said: “Nothing was more rewarding than … turning the charitable contributions of American Muslims into life assistance for the Palestinians. We gave the essentials of life – oil rice flour. The [Israeli] occupation was providing them with death and destruction.” Another defendant, Mohammad El-Mezain, was sentenced to 15 years in prison. He was found guilty of supporting Hamas but acquitted on 31 other charges. Volunteer fundraiser Mufid Abdulqader was sentenced to 20 years in prison. And the fifth defendant, Abdulrahman Odeh, was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Army Halts Training at Base over Record Suicides

The U.S. Army has temporarily suspended regular operations at a Kentucky base that leads the military in suicides. At least eleven soldiers have taken their lives at Fort Campbell this year. The Pentagon says it will halt regular training for three days so commanders can identify and help soldiers at risk of suicide.

Admin Mulls Single Agency for Regulating Banks

The Obama administration is reportedly considering establishing a single agency to regulate the banking industry. The new bureau would replace the several bodies that failed to prevent or foresee the nation’s economic collapse. The White House is expected to unveil a formal proposal in the coming weeks.

Obama Orders Secrecy Review

In other White House news President Obama has ordered a review of government secrecy and whether too many documents are being kept from the public. Obama has asked national security adviser James Jones to vet Cabinet officials on their disclosure process and appointed Attorney General Eric Holder and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to head a task force on government secrecy.

Torture-Linked Firm Vacates Spokane Headquarters

The torture-linked military contractor Mitchell, Jessen and Associates has moved out of its Spokane, Washington office to an undisclosed location. Named for its founders, the military psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, the firm played a key role in developing the Bush administration’s torture methods used on foreign prisoners. The investigative website ProPublica reports Mitchell-Jessen has disconnected its phone number and hasn’t left a forwarding address at its now vacated offices.

Activists Raise Environmental Concerns at Chevron Meeting

Activists gathered in and outside a shareholders meeting for the oil giant Chevron Wednesday in an attempt to call attention to the company’s environmental practices. Activist shareholders were able to address the meeting and propose a motion calling for a report evaluating Chevron’s environmental record. Hundreds of people also gathered outside for a protest against Chevron’s practices in several countries. Chevron is facing a $27 billion dollar damage claim over jungle pollution in Ecuador.

Dozens Protest Shell over Niger Delta Trial

Meanwhile dozens gathered outside a New York courthouse where a landmark civil trial against the oil giant Shell had been set to begin. The case accuses Shell of supporting human rights abuses in the Niger Delta, including complicity in the torture and execution of Nigerian writer and environmentalist Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other activists. The trial has been delayed until next week. Steve Kretzmann of Oil Change International said he hopes the trial will bring attention to problems facing the Niger Delta.

Steve Kretzmann: “What we really hope as a result of the trial is the underlying issues that Ken and the other Niger Delta peoples were trying to address, the constant gas flaring, the pollution of their homeland, the complete abject poverty, we hope these issues are addressed in Nigeria because that is ultimately what Ken and the Ogoni were struggling for and what communities in Nigeria are still struggling for today.”

The case was brought under the Alien Tort Claims Act, which allows non-citizens to file suits for human rights abuses overseas.

Illinois Senate Backs Medical Marijuana

In Illinois, the state Senate has passed a measure to legalize medical marijuana. The measure now goes to the state House, where it’s already passed in a committee vote.

U.S. Plans Massive Embassy in Pakistan

The U.S. is planning a massive diplomatic presence in Pakistan similar to its current embassy in Iraq. In a recent funding request, the Obama administration asked Congress for $736 million dollars to build a new U.S. embassy as well permanent housing for U.S. officials in Islamabad. The request falls just below the $740 million dollar cost of the U.S. embassy in Baghdad.

Burmese Court Bars Suu Kyi Witnesses

In Burma, the court overseeing the trial of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi has rejected three of four witnesses that would have testified on her behalf. Suii Kyi is accused of violating her house arrest over an unwanted visit from an American citizen who swam across a lake to reach her home. The American, John Yettaw, testified Wednesday he was prompted by a ‘vision’ of Suii Kyi’s assassination. Yettaw is believed to be mentally unstable. Wednesday marked both the 19th anniversary of Suu Kyi’s victory in national elections that Burma’s military junta has refused to acknowledge and the sixth anniversary of the last time she was free from house arrest.

Ex-Chilean Soldier Indicted in Jara Killing

In Chile, a former soldier has been indicted on charges of involvement in the 1973 killing of the Chilean protest singer Victor Jara. Chilean military forces tortured and killed Jara days after the U.S.-backed overthrow of the elected President Salvador Allende. Jara’s hands were smashed so he could no longer play guitar before he was shot 44 times. The former soldier, Adolfo Paredes Marquez, has admitted to involvement but denies pulling the trigger. Chilean human rights attorney Nelson Caucoto said he hopes the commanding officers can be located and prosecuted.

Nelson Caucoto: “I hope we get to the bosses, the ones who gave the orders. Because I imagine that in this chain of command an 18-year-old didn’t have much of a chance to resist orders.”

Ethnic Studies Pioneer Ronald Takaki Dies at 70

Back in the United States, the ethnic studies professor and author Ronald Takaki has died at the age of 70. Takaki taught at University of California Berkeley for more than three decades. He is widely considered a founding figure in the field of multicultural studies.

Haitian Priest, Activist Fr. Gerard Jean-Juste Dies at 62

And the Haitian spiritual and political leader, the Reverend Gerard Jean-Juste, has died. He was sixty-two years old. Doctors say he suffered a stroke unrelated to the leukemia he battled three years ago. Jean-Juste was well-known as an advocate for Haitian refugees and later an outspoken supporter of the ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide after his overthrow in the 2004 U.S.-backed coup. The U.S.-appointed provisional government jailed Jean-Juste two times during its rule. The latest came in 2005, right before he was expected to register as a favored candidate in Haiti’s national elections. In 2004, I interviewed Father Jean-Juste right after his release from his first prison term.

Fr. Gerard Jean-Juste: “Look what they have done to Haiti, it is broken into pieces. Now we have to collect the pieces, and allow the people to come together, and I don’t see any way now unless President Aristide is restored to power and democracy has been corrected. The same way we do it in 1994.”

FBI Infiltrated Iowa Anti-War Group in Advance of RNC Protests

Republican National Convention (RNC) Protests

The legal fallout from the protests surrounding the Republican National Convention (RNC) last year has been intense. Eight activists from the Twin Cities have been charged as being a part of a criminal conspiracy, while at the same, extensive infiltration of protest groups by local and federal law enforcement has been documented. This attention didn’t just focus on activists in the Twin Cities as activists in Texas who were planning to participate in the protests were monitored for months beforehand by an undercover FBI informant.

Now news has come out of still more infiltration, this time of a protest group in Iowa City. According to the Des Moines Register, an FBI informant was used to spy on a group of anarchists from Iowa City. The local police department was not familiar with the FBI surveillance, but they have indicated that they were aware of an undercover officer being sent to the city by Ramsey County (where St. Paul is located) to spy on activists.

According to the newspaper, the FBI agent collected detailed information regarding Iowa City activists planning to attend the RNC:

The FBI documents provide in-depth descriptions of more than a dozen Iowa political activists. This includes personal information such as names, height, weight, place of employment, cell phone numbers and e-mail addresses. The documents also include individuals’ plans for the convention demonstrations.

Some of the surveillance occurred when the activists met last year at the Iowa City Public Library.

The FBI documents show the investigative reports were written in August 2008 by Special Agent Thomas Reinwart, who is assigned to Cedar Rapids, based on reports from a “confidential human source” in Iowa City.

Individual names of protesters were blacked out of the copy of the FBI documents obtained by the Register, but the dossiers included personal facts.

For example, one woman was described as white, 5 feet 10 inches, 140 pounds, with blond hair and glasses. The report said she lived in Cedar Rapids, and it provided her cell phone number. She was characterized as a member of a specific subgroup who had interests in medic training and as a legal observer.

“She drives a little, dark green four door hatchback,” the report said.

A white man in his 20s who had recently moved to Iowa from Mississippi was also profiled by the FBI informant. “He is planning on attending the RNC and participating with the ‘Queer Block’ and ‘Bash Back,’ which are groups affiliated with the lesbian, bi-sexual, gay and transgender movement. Several hundred people associated with these two groups plan on doing their own thing and blocking an unknown (intersection),” the document said.

According to law enforcement officials, it was a fear of possible “crime” at the RNC that motivated the spying. And just what was the crime? Non-violent civil disobedience. Activists from Iowa City planned to organize a non-violent street blockade to disrupt access to the convention in order to have their political grievances heard. It’s a time-honored tradition that dates back centuries and something that has a rich history in the United States. The Civil Rights movement, the anti-Vietnam War movement, the labor movement, and many other movements in United States’ have all used civil disobedience.

Religious Right Group Files Lawsuit Against Radical Queer Group over Church Disruption

Bash Back Protest

The rightwing Alliance Defense Fund has announced yesterday that has filed a lawsuit in federal court (Western District of Michigan) against activists who disrupted a church service in Lansing last Fall. The activists–part of a national queer/transgender network called Bash Back!–disrupted a church service at the “anti-queer mega church” Mount Hope outside of Lansing, Michigan. Bash Back! targeted the church over its anti-gay politics.

While the protest resulted in no arrests or local charges, the Alliance Defense Fund is now pursuing an effort in federal court to hold the activists responsible for civil rights violations (physical obstruction to a place of worship and intimidation at a place of worship) and trespassing.

According to independent media sources and Bash Back! the lawsuit has resulted in subpoenas being served on three activists in the Midwest. The federal complaint lists 14 activists by name who are believed to be associated with Bash Back! and the protest. In some cases, the complaint says specifically what activists are accused of doing–i.e. providing transportation–or that they were documented as being there by local law enforcement.

Much of the complaint focuses on Bash Back!’s use of so-called violent imagery of guns and activists glad in bandanas. It also argues that Bash Back! deliberately sought to intimidate the congregation and instill fear.

ADF says that the actions of Bash Back! indicate “how dangerous the homosexual agenda is to our First Liberty, religious freedom.”

In response to the lawsuit, Bash Back! said:

The work of devoted Bash Back!ers and allies determined that this morning’s hysteria is the result of the Alliance Defense Fund, a notorious anti-womyn, anti-queer, racist organization. The ADF decided to sue Bash Back!, Bash Back! Lansing and individuals because the authorities would not file a single criminal complaint regarding an action at the Mount Hope Church in Lansing last fall. But that’s not all! Those pesky evange-fascists are trying to identify and out up to 20 other people involved with Bash Back! in the hopes that criminal charges will be placed against them.

Interestingly, the lawsuit is alleging that Bash Back! Violated the church’s and its congregation’s first amendment rights under the FACE Act, a federal act that was first passed to limit the activities of anti-abortion protestors.

In the past, the Alliance Defense Fund has campaigned against measures aimed at giving civil rights to transgendered and gay citizens.

No Charges Against Bay City Police for Killing Teenager with a Taser

Taser

Prosecutors in Bay City have decided not to charge police in the killing of a 15-year old boy with a Taser.

According to a report in the Bay City Times, none of the police officers involved in the incident will be charged. Prosectutor Kurt C. Asbury said that Elder “was highly agitated and combative, tried to start fights with numerous people, as well as the police officers called to the residence to deal with his ‘uncontrollable behavior,’ all of which contributed to his untimely death.” He went on to say that:

“the unfortunate reality of the situation was that the under-aged Brett Elder was very intoxicated… and without any meaningful adult supervision or guidance, placed himself in a situation which resulted in his death.”

The prosecutor said that the police will not be charged because there was no evidence that officers committed a criminal act. Instead, the prosecutor has repeatedly cited how intoxicated Elder was and his “combative” behavior.

An autopsy in the case had previously determined that the teenager died due to a combination of alcohol and shock from the Taser.

FBI Places “Animal Rights Extremist” on Most Wanted List

Animal Research Bombing

Today, the FBI announced that it has placed an animal rights activist on its list of “Most Wanted” terror suspects. The activist, Daniel Andreas San Diego is the first “domestic terrorist” to make the list. San Diego is wanted for the bombings of two companies conducting animal research. The bombs caused only “minor damage” according to news reports. The FBI has issued a $250,000 reward for information leading to the capture of San Diego, an amount that is five times higher than rewards offered for other so-called “eco-terrorists” and “animal rights extremists.”

The bombings were undertaken as part of an international campaign called Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC). SHAC was an international direct action campaign that sought to put Huntingdon Life Sciences–Europe’s largest contract animal testing corporation–out of business. Activists targeted not only Huntingdon, but also investors, business partners, and other companies that had a relationship with Huntingdon. Over the years, SHAC almost brought the company to the bring of collapse.

Bombing was Notable Escalation of Rhetoric

The bombing was claimed by a group called “The Revolutionary Cells” in a strongly-worded communique that marked an escalation in rhetoric by animal rights activists:

It is time for this war to truely have two sides. No more will all of the killing be done by the oppressors, now the oppressed will strike back. We will be non-violent when the these people are non-violent to the animal nations.

The communique was full of references to personal harm towards the scientists engaged in animal research. At the time, Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC) wrote:

Never before has the otherwise completely nonviolent animal rights movement witnessed such threatening rhetoric and explicitly aggressive intentions. SHAC does not materially, vocally or strategically support the use of violence against any human or animal. SHAC does not support terrorism.

Since 2003, other actions claimed by The Revolutionary Cells–an autonomously and loosely structured group that likely has no defined membership–have also targeted scientists doing animal research at UCLA, but no lives have been harmed.

The radical animal rights movement has also largely continued to use its traditional tactics–harassment and economic sabotage–rather than adopting the more violent approach advocated by The Revolutionary Cells.

Another Michigan Teenager Killed by Police using Tasers

Michigan Teen Killed by Taser

Another teenager in Michigan has died after being struck by a Taser. On April 10, 16-year old Warren teenager Robert Mitchell died after police used a Taser on him.

The Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality called the death “a straight-up execution.” The teen’s family are also questioning why the 5 feet 2 special-education teenager was shocked with a Taser and are promising to file a lawsuit.

According to the Detroit Free Press:

Warren police say the teen bolted from a car being stopped for an expired plate, ran into an abandoned house and fought with officers inside. He quit breathing after one of the three pursuing officers used the Taser, police said.

Police have said that the teen was “was violently resisting arrest” but would not intially release any additional information. A later news report said:

“He came down the stairs. He assaulted the officers. There was a struggle that took place,” Green said. “One of the officers Tasered him to get compliance. After that they noticed he was non-responsive. Officers started CPR until the Warren Fire Department arrived.”

The officers involved were temporarily placed on administrative review but have since been reinstated. Police have said “Everything we did was within policies and guidelines. All of our actions were appropriate”

Last month, a 15-year old Bay City teenager was killed by police using Tasers.

The international human rights group Amnesty International has called for limits on the use of Tasers following the deaths of 334 people in the United States between 2001 and August 2008.