Headlines: Court Rules U.S. Can Hold Prisoners Without Charge; Gaza War Crimes Probe to Hold Public Hearings

Democracy Now Headlines: Court Rules U.S. Can Hold Prisoners Without Charge; Gaza War Crimes Probe to Hold Public Hearings

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.

60 Killed in Multiple Iraq Bombings

At least 60 people have been killed in several attacks around Iraq over the last day. Earlier today at least 12 Iraqi civilians were killed when a suicide bomber hit a U.S. convoy in Baghdad. Seven members of a U.S.-backed Sunni militia died when a suicide bomber attacked their base in Kirkuk. The attacks come one day after 41 people were killed and another 70 wounded in a car bomb attack on a Shiite neighborhood in Baghdad.

8 Afghan Civilians Killed in NATO Attack

In Afghanistan, at least eight civilians have been killed in a NATO bombing in the southern Helmand province. NATO says its forces were responding to nearby insurgent gunfire. The attack came after Afghan President Hamid Karzai renewed a demand for an end to U.S.-led air strikes following last month’s bombing deaths of an estimated 140 people. The Pentagon meanwhile is now reviving its attempt to downplay the toll, saying between 20 to 30 civilians were killed.

Report: Afghan Insurgents Demand Timetable for U.S. Withdrawal

Meanwhile the New York Times reports leaders of the Taliban and other groups are discussing a potential peace agreement through intermediaries. The militant groups are reportedly demanding a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops as a precondition for laying down their arms.

Senate Removes Gitmo Closure Funding

Senate Democrats have followed through with a pledge to block funding for the closure of the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay. On Wednesday, the Democratic-led Senate voted 90 to six to remove $80 million dollars from a war appropriations bill that would have gone towards closing Guantanamo Bay and investigating torture there. Lawmakers have called on Obama to submit details on his plans for closing Guantanamo. Democratic Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois was one of the six to vote against stripping the funds.

Sen. Dick Durbin: “What happened in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo has sullied the reputation of the United States and has endangered alliances which we have counted on for decades. President Obama is trying to change that. By closing Guantanamo and responsibly allocating those detainees to safe and secure positions he is going to send a message to the world that it is a new day in terms of American foreign policy.”

Obama Considers “Preventative Detention” for Indefinite Jailings

The Obama administration meanwhile is reportedly considering a “preventive detention” system that would indefinitely jail terror suspects in the United States without bringing them to trial. The New York Times reports President Obama discussed the proposal at a meeting with human rights advocates at the White House. Two anonymous advocates told the Times that Obama indicated he favored applying the system to future cases, not prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay. Obama is set to deliver a speech later today outlining his plans on how to deal with closing Guantanamo.

Court Rules U.S. Can Hold Prisoners Without Charge

A federal judge has ruled the government can continue to indefinitely jail prisoners without charge. In a ruling this week, U.S. District Judge John Bates said anyone determined to have engaged in clashes with the U.S. military or its allies, or to have belonged to the Taliban or Al Qaeda can be held without trial. But Bates also rejected the Obama administration’s assertion it can jail anyone who “supports” those groups. The ruling came in a case challenging the jailing of several Guantanamo prisoners.

Pentagon Report Says 1 in 7 Freed Gitmo Prisoners Engage in Militancy

A newly-disclosed Pentagon report says that about one in seven of the 534 prisoners released from Guantanamo Bay have gone on to engage in militant activity. Opponents of due process rights are expected to use the report to advance their arguments in favor of the continued indefinite jailing of Guantanamo prisoners. But as with prior claims, the Pentagon report offers few details and prevents independent verification. Of the 74 prisoners said to have engaged in militancy after their release, only five can be independently verified to have actually engaged in or threatened to carry out militant acts. The report also fails to say how many of the former prisoners were believed to have gone on to militant activity as a result of their torture at Guantanamo. The most deadly act by a former Guantanamo prisoner was carried out by Kuwaiti national Abdallah al-Ajmi, who drove a bomb-laden truck into an Iraqi army base in March 2008, killing thirteen 13 people. Al-Ajmi’s attorney has said he was radicalized and left mentally unstable following his four years at Guantanamo.

Blackwater Contractors Flee Afghanistan to Avoid Charges

Two US contractors with the private military firm formerly known as Blackwater have reportedly fled Afghanistan to avoid prosecution for a fatal unprovoked shooting earlier this month. The two fleeing contractors and another two colleagues reportedly fired on a vehicle in Kabul after a night of drinking. One Afghan civilian was killed and another two wounded in the attack. The contractors say Blackwater supplied them with guns even though the Pentagon hadn’t granted them authorization. Defense attorney Daniel Callahan identified the two fleeing contractors as Steve McClain and Justin Cannon. Callahan says they fled their compound on Saturday and have now made it back to the United States.

Probe: U.S. Gave KBR $83M in Bonuses Despite Electrocutions

A Congressional probe has found the U.S. Army paid more than $83 million dollars in bonuses to the military contractor KBR despite its responsibility for the electrocution deaths of at least four troops in Iraq. On Wednesday, Senate Democratic Policy Committee chair Byron Dorgan accused the military of ‘stunning incompetence’ for rewarding KBR. In addition to the four electrocution deaths, hundreds of troops have received electrical shocks because of KBR’s electrical work in Iraq. The committee’s probe says more than half of the bonuses were awarded after the Pentagon first heeded warnings about the electrocutions. KBR is a former subsidiary of Halliburton, the company formerly run by Dick Cheney.

Gaza War Crimes Probe to Hold Public Hearings

A United Nations commission says its facing obstacles from the Israeli government ahead of its probe of alleged war crimes during Israel’s three-week assault on Gaza earlier this year. The commission is probing allegations of war crimes committed by both Israeli forces and Hamas fighters. But inquiry head Richard Goldstone says his team will likely have to enter Gaza through Egypt because Israel has refused to cooperate.

Richard Goldstone: “It would have been our wish to start there, to visit southern Israel, Sderot, to go into Gaza through the front door to go to the West Bank, which is also included in our mission. I made a number of approaches to the Israeli ambassador in Geneva even a direct approach to Prime Minister Netanyahu, but we’ve really received no official response.”

Goldstone says his team plans on holding public hearings for Gaza residents to share their testimony. More than fourteen hundred Palestinians were killed during the Israeli attack, most of them civilians. Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said Israel will ignore the inquiry’s mission.

Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon: “We have shown the U.N. all the documents, all the data and I think we’ll put this issue behind us. And certainly, there should never be a moral equivalency drawn between terrorists and those who fight terrorism and any attempt to try to single out Israel and to investigate this preposterous suggestion of war crimes is just ridiculous and of course Israel will not cooperate with such an idea.”

U.S. Pledges $110M for Pakistani Refugees

In Pakistan, the UN is warning the exodus of Swat valley residents fleeing government-Taliban clashes could turn into the worst displacement crisis since the Rwandan genocide. Around 2 million people have fled their homes since fighting broke out three weeks ago. The Obama administration meanwhile has pledged $110 million dollars in humanitarian aid for the displaced refugees. Critics have called the pledge a PR move as the U.S. has put increasing pressure on the Pakistani government to engage in the fighting that has caused the displacements.

Bolivia, U.S. Hold First Talks Since Ambassador Row

In Bolivia, U.S. and Bolivian officials have held their first talks since last year’s expulsion of a U.S. ambassador on allegations of aiding the opposition to President Evo Morales. On Wednesday, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Thomas Shannon met with Bolivia’s foreign minister in La Paz.

Bolivia to De-Classify Dictatorship Records

In other news from Bolivia, lawmakers have voted to declassify archives that could hold information on victims of Bolivian dictartorships from 1960 to 1980. A group of relatives of those disappeared under the dictatorships have been on a hunger strike seeking the documents’ release. Olga Flores Bedegal is one of three women on the fifteenth day of the hunger strike.

Olga Flores Bedegal: “Right now we think it’s a clear sign that the government intends to clear up this dark time in Bolivia’s history and answer our questions about where our relatives are. Once we see the results and it’s what we want we will lift the strike. If not, we are willing to die. What we are asking for, no less or no more, is that they follow the law, that they comply with the Inter-American convention against the disappearance of people.”

4 Arrested in Synagogue, Air Base Bombing Plot

Here in New York, four people have been arrested over an alleged plot to bomb two Jewish synagogues and a National Guard air base. The suspects were arrested after planting what they believed to be bombs outside a synagogue. New York police commissioner Ray Kelly said the bombs were actually fake and had been supplied by an FBI informant.

Ray Kelly: “In essence, four individuals were arrested for planting bombs in front of two synegogues in the area. The bombs had been made by the FBI technicians–they were totally inert, no one was ever at risk or danger of being injured this evening. This was a year-long investigation and Director Demeris can give you some information about that.”

Kelly says the suspects have been under investigation for over a year. All four are Muslim. One of the suspects is of Afghan descent and reportedly said he was motivated by anger over the U.S. invasion and occupation of Afghanistan.

Missouri Executes Dennis Skillicorn

In Missouri, the death row prisoner Dennis Skillicorn was executed Wednesday after a last failed attempt at clemency. Skillicorn was convicted for the 1994 murder of a commuter who had stopped to help him and two other men. But the court that tried him never got to hear that Skillicorn didn’t actually commit the murder and that the killer claimed Skillicorn didn’t know it was going to take place. I interviewed Amnesty International USA executive director Larry Cox about Dennis Skillicorn on Tuesday’s broadcast.

Larry Cox: “This illustrates one of the central truths about the death penalty, that the person you kill is often not the same person who committed the crime. He has become a model prisoner. He has reached out to the victims of crime, to restorative justice. He’s worked in a hospice. He has helped young offenders. And that’s the reason why you have this incredible assembly of people from the Corrections Department, you have Republicans, you have Democrats, you have people of faith, all speaking out, saying, “What purpose could possibly be served by killing this man, who has become, by all accounts, a very good man?”

Judges, Attorners Back Troy Davis Appeal

And a group of 27 former judges and prosecutors is asking the Supreme Court to grant an appeal by the Georgia death row prisoner Troy Anthony Davis. Davis, an African American, was convicted for the 1989 killing of a white police officer. Seven of the nine non-police witnesses have recanted their testimony since the trial. Three witnesses say another man later admitted to the killing. There is also no direct physical evidence tying Davis to the crime scene. In a filing to the Supreme Court, the group urged the Supreme Court to accept a final appeal from Davis’ attorneys to have the case sent back to a federal judge to hear from the witnesses who recanted their testimony. The signatories include former Deputy U.S. Attorney General Larry Thompson; two former state Supreme Court chief justices; and nine former U.S. attorneys, including former Georgia Congressmember Bob Barr and former FBI Director William Sessions.

Local/Michigan Headlines: Granholm Supreme Court News; Hoekstra Doesn’t Think Waterboarding is Torture

Grand Rapids and Michigan headlines from the past twenty-four hours:

  • Bias crime legislation vote put off by state House – Sponsors of a bias crime bill are delaying action in order to allow time to assess a series of amendments that have been proposed.
  • With governor as possible stealth nominee, legal observers ponder Justice Granholm – Michigan Messenger looks at what kind of Supreme Court Justice Governor Granholm would be. It’s difficult to predict since she doesn’t have a record of scholarly work or judicial opinions to review.
  • Right Michigan Calls Granholm a Tax Cheat–without Checking with the IRS – The conservative blog Right Michigan has been aggressively referring to Governor Jennifer Granholm as a “tax cheat,” saying that it will prevent her from being nominated for the Supreme Court while also asserting that it puts her in a similar category as other Obama nominees that had to bow out because of tax problems. However, the tax lien they take issue with was released last year according to Michigan Liberal. Ooops!
  • Hoekstra: Some waterboarding was legal – Representative Pete Hoekstra–and Republican candidate for governor in 2010–is now asserting that the waterboarding used by the United States in 2002 and 2003 was legal. Of course, he doesn’t mention that it has always been against U.S. law.
  • With contract ending in June, Dematic Corp. tells union workers it is considering moving their jobs to Memphis – A United Autoworkers (UAW) union contract is expiring in June and management has issued a letter threatening to move the facility to Tennessee. It’s a familiar script–try to force concessions from unions by threatening to move.
  • Police use of Tasers resparks debate following death of Bay City teen – Reading the headline, this story looked like it had potential. Perhaps the Grand Rapids Press would solicit comment from local law enforcement agencies on their usage of Tasers, talk to critics, and attempt looked into the issue in detail. Instead, the story is just a brief summary with the majority of comments focusing on an officer who trains other law enforcement officials in the use of Tasers. Oh, and it also has the seemingly obligatory selection of comments from The Press’ MLive.com website and an invitation for readers to join the discussion online.
  • FHA credit will give first-time home buyers $8,000 toward down payment – The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) is soon going to allow the $8,000 first-time home buyer tax credit to be used as a down payment towards a new home. It’s potentially very exciting news for people looking to purchase their first home. The Grand Rapids Press has reaction from local lenders and realtors.
  • State budget forecast: Cuts may grow to 8% – Lawmakers are saying that more cuts may be necessary in light of declining tax revenues, continued unemployment, and uncertainty over the future of the auto industry.

If we missed anything, leave a comment below.

Michigan Supreme Court Wants to Restrict What Can Be Worn in Court

Under a new rule being considered by the Michigan Supreme Court, judges would be able to restrict what witnesses wear in the court room.

The proposed rule grows out of a 2006 case when a Hamtramck woman had her case dismissed because she appeared in court wearing a niqab and refused to remove it during testimony. The Muslim woman eventually took the case to court and sued the judge, but the lawsuit was dismissed and the state was told to come up with its own rules on the issue.

In response, the Michigan Supreme Court is proposing a rule change that “would clarify that a judge is entitled to establish reasonable standards regarding the appearance of parties and witnesses to evaluate the demeanor of those individuals and to ensure accurate identification.”

The rule change is being opposed by both the Michigan Civil Rights Commission and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Michigan. The Michigan Civil Rights Commission is sending a letter to the court saying that the law is discriminatory and that it might cause religious people to avoid going to court.

The ACLU argues that the rule would deny Muslim women access to the court:

In its comment, the ACLU and other groups warn that the court rule threatens to unconstitutionally deny individuals their fundamental right of access to the courts based on their religious beliefs. The groups ask the Supreme Court to add a sentence to the rule ensuring “that no person shall be precluded from testifying on the basis of clothing worn because of a sincerely held religious belief.

GVSU Student Pleads “Not Guilty” to Charges

032609-derek_copp.jpg

Grand Valley State University (GVSU) student Derek Copp who was shot by police during a drug investigation on March 11 and later charged with selling 3.3 grams (1/8th of an ounce) of marijuana to an undercover police officer plead not guilty to the felony charge of delivery or manufacture of marijuana.

In court yesterday, Copp entered the plea and asked for permission to contact Ottawa County Deputy Ryan Huizenga who shot Copp. Copp says that he wants to apologize to the officer for what has transpired since the shooting. According to media reports, Copp is “sorry the whole incident took place.”

It’s also worth noting that during the hearing, Copp said that he could not pass a drug test and admitted to smoking marijuana on April 14.

Copp’s supporters have planned another protest for tomorrow, April 24, at Rosa Parks Circle. The protest will begin at 1pm. According to the Facebook event for the protest, the organizers feel that Copp’s shooting is “enough punishment” for the charges he faces.

Headlines: Supreme Court Limits Warrantless Car Searches; In Reversal, Obama Leaves Open Prosecuting Bush Officials

Democracy Now Headlines: Supreme Court Limits Warrantless Car Searches; In Reversal, Obama Leaves Open Prosecuting Bush Officials

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.

Senate Report: Torture Planning Preceded Prisoners’ Capture, Legal Approval

An explosive Congressional report has revealed new details about the Bush administration’s torture program on foreign prisoners. According to the Senate Intelligence Committee, military and intelligence officials began developing the torture program in December 2001–well before any high-level al-Qaeda suspects had been caught. Bush administration officials have long maintained the so-called ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ were authorized only after standard questioning failed to yield intelligence. The report also shows the torture program was developed well before it received legal approval in the 2002 Justice Department memos de-classified last week. The report singles out top Bush administration officials for the torture of U.S. prisoners, saying they “solicited information on how to use aggressive techniques” and “redefined the law to create the appearance of their legality.”

Military Psychologist Proposed “Exploitation Facility”

The report also documents the role of the military psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen in developing the torture program. A memo written by Jessen in 2002 proposes creating what he calls an “exploitation facility” where prisoners would be subjected to a number of prescribed abuses, including physical violence, sleep deprivation, and waterboarding. Some of the techniques were based on torture used on American captives during the Korean war. Jessen proposed making the facility off-limits to outside observers, including the Red Cross. Soon after the memo, the suspected al-Qaida operative Abu Zubaydah was sent to a CIA prison where he was subjected to intense torture. Zubaydah’s attorneys have long contended the Justice Department memos were written in part to retroactively authorize the techniques used against him.

Drive to Invade Iraq Compromised Interrogations, Led to Abuses

Several army officials raised objections as the torture techniques were developed and taught. And in a development that traces back to the White House’s drive for invading Iraq, one Army major complained the interrogations were being compromised by an insistence on establishing “link between al-Qaeda and Iraq.”

Levin Calls for Probe of Bush Officials

In a statement, Senate Intelligence Committee chair Carl Levin said the new evidence provides a direct line from top Bush officials to abuses at prisons such as Abu Ghraib. Levin said: “Senior officials sought out information on, were aware of training in, and authorized the use of abusive interrogation techniques…[They] bear significant responsibility for creating the legal and operational framework for the abuses.” Levin went on to call on Attorney General Eric Holder to establish a high-level commission to investigate high-level Bush officials.

In Reversal, Obama Leaves Open Prosecuting Bush Officials

The report’s release came hours after President Obama reversed course on ruling out the prosecution of Bush administration officials who wrote the legal memos authorizing torture. The White House had previously said it opposes any legal action against both the officials who provided legal cover for torture and the CIA interrogators who carried it out. But on Tuesday, Obama said now he won’t preclude legal action against the memos’ authors.

President Obama: “For those who carried out some of these operations within the four corners of legal opinions or guidance that had been provided from the White House, I do not think it’s appropriate for them to be prosecuted. With respect to those who formulated those legal decisions, I would say that that is going to be more of a decision for the attorney general within the perimeters of various laws, and–and I don’t want to prejudge that. I think that there are a host of very complicated issues involved there.”

UN Racism Conference Passes Declaration

In Geneva, delegates at the UN Conference on racism adopted a final declaration on Tuesday without the support of the United States. The U.S. and several other Western nations have boycotted the conference over concerns it would include criticism of the Israeli government. The conference president, Amos Wako, criticized the boycott.

Amos Wako: “What we have decided shows the outcome when you remain engaged in the process, it shows that boycotts do not assist, it shows that one can remain constructively engaged and reach a consensus.”

Bowing to U.S.-Israeli concerns, the declaration avoids any references to Zionism. Instead, it reaffirms a conference text from 2001 that recognizes the Palestinian right to self-determination and calls for a Palestinian state alongside Israel. The text also urges signatories to fight all forms of racism, in particular naming anti-Semitism, anti-Arab racism and Islamophobia.

Reports: Ahmadinejad Deleted Holocaust Denial from Speech

The declaration came one day after nearly two dozen diplomats walked on a speech by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad after he called Israel a “cruel and repressive racist regime.” According to several reports, Ahmadinejad omitted prepared comments denying the Nazi Holocaust from his final speech. Instead, he appeared to acknowledge it, referring to the “abuse of the Holocaust.” Ahmadinejad has previously denied the Nazi Holocaust and questioned the number of Jewish victims.

Israeli FM: “America Accepts All Our Decisions”

Israel’s new foreign minister is claiming the Obama administration will only pursue peace initiatives with the Palestinians if Israel gives its approval. In his first extensive since taking office, Avigdor Lieberman said: “Believe me, America accepts all our decisions.” The Washington Post is reporting the Israeli government is now telling the U.S. it will condition any willingness to enter peace talks with Palestinians on U.S. policy towards Iran. The Israeli government has long advocated military action against Iran.

Poll: Most Palestinians, Israelis Support Two-State Solution

The developments come as a new poll shows a majority of both Palestinians and Israelis would support a two-state solution. According to the group One Voice, 74% of Palestinians and 78% of Israelis say they would accept the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza alongside Israel. Palestinian leaders including Hamas have accepted the two-state solution. Successive Israeli governments have rejected returning Palestinian land and have instead expanded Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank while maintaining the stranglehold over the Gaza Strip.

Report: Prosecutors Mull Dropping AIPAC Spy Case

The Washington Post is reporting prosecutors are considering dropping charges against two former pro-Israeli government lobbyists accused of violating the Espionage Act. Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman, formerly of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, are accused of conspiring to obtain and disclose classified national defense information to journalists and the Israeli government. The review follows a series of court rulings that prosecutors say could hinder their prospects at winning a trial, including allowing the defense to use classified information and forcing the government to prove the accused knew they would be harming the United States. Prosecutors say the review has nothing to do with recent controversy surrounding Democratic Congresswoman Jane Harman. It was revealed this week Harman was overheard on an NSA wiretap telling a suspected Israeli agent she would lobby for reducing the espionage charges in return for AIPAC support in her bid to chair the House intelligence committee.

Bailed-out Firms Spend Millions on Lobbying

Newly-disclosed records show some of the top recipients of the federal bailout continue to spend millions on political lobbying. According to the Washington Post, the top bailed-out firms spent more than $10 million dollars in the first three months of this year, $22 million dollars over the last six months. The lobbying included efforts to block initiatives such as executive pay caps and new financial regulation.

IMF: Financial Crisis Losses Total $4.1T Worldwide

The International Monetary Fund is estimating banks and financial institutions have lost an estimated $4.1 trillion dollars during the financial crisis. Of the losses, $2.7 trillion originated in the United States. Testifying on Capitol Hill, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said banks’ vast amount of toxic assets is limiting their ability to lend and borrow.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner: “The cost of credit is still very high. Reports on bank lending show significant declines in lending for consumer loans and for commercial and industrial loans, although mortgage refinancing has picked up considerably. We may have to adapt and expand them over time, but they represent the foundation of any credible strategy to help ensure the financial system is working for, rather than against, economic recovery.”

Court Hears Arguments in Iraq War Suit

In New Jersey, a federal court heard arguments Tuesday in a case seeking to have the U.S. invasion of Iraq declared unconstitutional. An Iraq war veteran and two mothers of soldiers filed the case last May. They argue then-President George W. Bush violated the constitution by failing to formally declare war and attacking a country that didn’t threaten the United States.

Colorado House Votes to Abolish Death Penalty

In Colorado, the state House has passed a measure to abolish the death penalty. Tuesday’s measure passed by a single vote. The bill now goes to the Colorado state Senate.

Somali Pirate to Be Tried as Adult

The lone surviving Somali pirate involved in the kidnapping of an American cargo captain earlier this month was charged Tuesday in a New York courtroom. The pirate, Abduhl Wal-i-Musi, surrendered before US Navy snipers shot his three accomplices aboard their boat. Musi will be tried as an adult, even though his family claims he is only fifteen years old. He appeared to weep during his arraignment. Defense attorney Deirdre Von Dornum called Musi “young and terrified.”

Deirdre Von Dornum: “Judge Peck may have found for today that he is of the age of majority, but as you could tell he is extremely young, injured and terrified. We’re pleased that he will have the protection of the United States Constitution, and that the government chose to bring him to an open court and not to a secret prison or any other form of non-public proceeding.”

Supreme Court Limits Warrantless Car Searches

The Supreme Court has issued a ruling to make it more difficult for police to conduct warrantless car searches. On Tuesday, justices ruled five to four police must seek a warrant to search a vehicle if the suspect has been removed from the vehicle and poses no threat to others.

On Earth Day, Reports Warns of Growing Numbers Endangered by Global Warming

And today is Earth Day. Millions of people around the globe are expected to take part in events honoring the protection of the environment. A new report from the Oxfam aid agency warns relief groups will be overwhelmed within the next six years by people affected by climate-related disasters. More than 375 million people are expected to be effected each year until 2015, up from the 250 million people today. Oxfam is calling for greater support for aid groups to offset the dangers. Oxfam says: “There is nothing inevitable about a future in which greater numbers of people die and are made destitute by natural hazards and conflict.”

Deputy in GVSU Shooting Arraigned; Warrant Available Online

Ryan Huizenga Shot GVSU Student Derek Copp

The felony warrant issued last week that resulted in charges against Ottawa County Deputy Ryan Huizenga in the shooting of GVSU student Derek Copp is available online.

For the most part, there is little new in the warrant. The following exchange between the Detective in the case and the judge offers some insight into what happened:

Deputy Huizenga — were executing a search warrant at the residence there in Georgetown Township where Derek was staying. As they approached the apartment to execute that search warrant another deputy has shown a flashlight into the eyes of Derek Copp as he was opening up the sliding door to answer the door.

As he opened up the door, opened up the curtain, he shielded his eyes from the flashlight. Derek Copp did not have any weapon in his hand…

… was reaching for the door with his weak hand and shot with his strong arm a departmental issued .40 Caliber Glock. The bullet struck Derek Copp in the chest.

THE COURT: And this caused injury to Mr. Copp?

DETECTIVE LIEUTENANT SCHRAM: It caused serious injuries to him and he was immediately taken to the hospital in Grand Rapids.

THE COURT: Is the standard of care, then, from your knowledge, that a deputy in executing a search warrant should employ involving the finger of the strong arm — as you put it — not being on the trigger of the weapon?

DETECTIVE LIEUTENANT SCHRAM: That would be correct. Based on my investigation Derek Copp posed no threat to the officers, including Deputy Ryan Huizenga, and that his finger should’ve been on the outside of the trigger guard, not on the trigger unless he was attending to shoot.

THE COURT: All right. And that’s the negligence or carlessness that’s being alleged here?

DETECTIVE LIEUTENANT SCHRAM: Yes, sir.

THE COURT: All right. The Court’s satisfied based on the testimony that probable cause exists to issue the warrant, and I will issue that warrant.

Huizenga was arraigned earlier today on the charges. A preliminary hearing has been scheduled for April 23 and Huizenga is free on a personal recognizance bond. He was also allowed to go on a previously arranged vacation because he did not pose a flight risk according to investigators.

Nearly a month after the shooting, no charges have been filed against Derek Copp.

Deputy Charged in GVSU Shooting

Deputy Charged in GVSU Shooting

A 12-year veteran of the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Department is being charged in the shooting of unarmed Grand Valley State University (GVSU) Derek Copp following an investigation by the Michigan State Police.

Deputy Ryan Huizenga is being charged with the careless discharge of a weapon causing injury or death. The misdemeanor charge carries a maximum penalty of two years in prison or a fine of up to $2,000.

Huizenga could ultimately lose his license to perform police work in Michigan if he is convicted. He has also been placed on unpaid suspension according to media reports. Huizenga was previously on paid leave while the Michigan State Police finished their investigation. He will be arraigned next week in Hudsonville District Court.

Charges against Copp or other students living at the house have not been filed.

Source: Student Shot after Opening Blinds

Unfortunately, the results of the investigation have not been released to the public.

The Grand Rapids Press spoke with an unnamed source and gave a summary of what happened according to the investigation:

“Copp, 20, was hit once in the chest by a .40-caliber handgun bullet when he went to a glass sliding door and pulled open the blinds after police knocked, a source familiar with the investigation said.

A gun-mounted flashlight shined in his eyes, causing him to raise a hand to deflect the light.

That’s when Huizenga fired at Copp, who was not armed and not aggressive toward officers, the source said.”

The article further reports that a police officer or undercover informant purchased marijuana at the apartment.

Officers Still Looking out for their Friend

Since the shooting, there has been concern–much of it valid–that there would never be a fair investigation of the shooting and that the deputy who shot Copp would likely get away without being charged. That opinion stemmed in part from early reports indicating that the police union advised the deputy not to speak to investigators. Critics of police behavior and corruption have often pointed to the perception of a “Blue Code of Silence” where police are believed to protect each other no matter what. Various sociological studies have explored this phenomenon at length.

Even though Deputy Huizenga was charged in this case, there was an interesting bit in The Grand Rapids Press coverage of the announcement. The Press reports:

“A Press reporter seeking comment at the deputy’s home was turned away by two Ottawa County sheriff’s deputies who advised him about trespassing laws. The deputies were in uniform and in a sheriff’s cruiser.

Ottawa County Undersheriff Greg Steigenga said he was not aware of any deputies being assigned near Huizenga’s home and planned to investigate the incident.

‘It wasn’t something that was sanctioned through our department,’ he said.”

It looks like a pretty clear example of officers seeking to protect their own.

A Clear Goal for Future Protests

Now that the officer has been named and charged, hopefully additional protests will make the clear demand that the officer be removed from office and be put in jail. Additionally, the report should be made public.

Michigan to be Lead Plaintiff in Lawsuit against AIG

Michigan AIG Lawsuit

Late last week, Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox announced that the State of Michigan will be the lead plaintiff in a class action lawsuit against AIG. The company–which is now largely owned by the government–lost considerable value after it was revealed that it was conducting risky financial transactions whose true value was disguised.

Michigan’s pension system was invested in AIG and the Attorney General is hoping to recover lost value.

In a press release announcing the lawsuit, the Michigan Attorney General’s office wrote:

“AIG is one of the world’s largest insurance and financial service companies. The class action suit alleges that between November 10, 2006 and June 6, 2008, AIG mislead investors of the true value of Credit Default Swaps, which were securities tied to sub-prime mortgages. When the true value was revealed in 2008, AIG’s stock plummeted from more than $70 per share in 2007 to about $1 per share today.

As lead plaintiff, Michigan will manage the litigation on behalf of a class of AIG stock and bond holders, negotiate potential settlement terms, and seek to maximize the recovery for the class. If the case goes to trial, the lead plaintiff will lead all strategy decisions.”

Michigan is also the lead plaintiff in a similar lawsuit against Bear Stearns.

NAACP Sues Charging Systemic, Institutionalized Racism in Lending Practices Leading to the Mortgage Crisis

Systematic Racism Alleged in Sub-Prime Lending

Last week, the NAACP filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court against two of the country’s largest lenders alleging systemic, institutionalized racism in mortgage lending practices. The lawsuit alleges that Wells Fargo and HSBC purposefully steered people of color towards higher cost, risky loans.

According to the lawsuit, lenders named in this suit and a companion suit filed by the NAACP made high cost sub-prime loans to qualified African Americans 54% of the time compared to 23% for Caucasians. African-Americans were disproportionately steered into these loans even when credit scores, income, and down payment were equal to that of Caucasians.

The sub-prime crisis has led to historic wealth lost for communities of color.

Study Finds People of Color Bear Heaviest Burden in Recession

A new study from the Center for Social Inclusion says that people of color are bearing the heaviest burden in the recession. Looking at the New York metropolitan area as a microcosm for the nation, the authors argue infrastructure, job creation, and other services have been denied to communities of color.

Discussing the study on Democracy Now! and the sub-prime crisis, Maya Wiley said:

“…imagine if we had had a financing system where people actually fairly got the loans that they should get. Most of those are people of color. And even when you look at the expansion of the subprime industry, a lot of it was around the fact that communities of color didn’t have fair access to credit. So we’re in this mess in part because we didn’t look at the warning signs. The warning signs for our economy were in communities of color. We tend to be first–hit first and hit hardest.”

A study earlier this year backed up this assertion, finding that people of color were experiencing a recession considerably earlier than the rest of the country.

Briefs Filed in Support of Preacher Sentenced to Prison for Criticizing Judge

Rev. Pinkney had Three Friend-of-the-Court Briefs Filed on his Behalf this week

The Benton Harbor community activist Rev. Edward Pinkney–who had his been the target of a wide-ranging campaign of repression that he charges is politically motivated–had three friend-of-the-court briefs filed earlier this week on his behalf in a case in which he was sentenced to 3-10 years in prison for criticizing a judge.

Pinkney, who is now represented by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), had his probation revoked following a newspaper article he wrote in 2007. In that article, Pinkney quoted a Bible verse and predicted that God would punish the judge unless he “hearken[ed] unto the voice of the Lord thy God to observe [and] to do all that is right.” Pinkney also expressed his opinion that the judge was racist, dumb, and corrupt. The judge resentenced him to 3-10 years in prison for violating his probation.

The ACLU eventually took up the case, arguing that Pinkney’s claims were constitutionally protected speech. In support of this argument, over a dozen national and local faith-based organizations, a group of law professors, and the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Speech, filed three friend-of-the court briefs.

They include:

  • The religious freedom brief represents the views of a wide array of religious and faith-based groups including: the National Association of Evangelicals, the American Jewish Congress, the Christian Legal Society, the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, the Liberty Legal Institute, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, the National Baptist Convention, the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, the Gamaliel Foundation, the American Baptist Home Mission Society, the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, and Rev. Harry T. Cook.

    According to the brief, Rev. Pinkney’s article is “a textbook example of one important rhetorical and theological tradition within both Christianity and Judaism… Quoting scripture is core religious speech; the Framers of the First Amendment could not have imagined that it would ever be a criminal offense to quote scripture.”

  • The professors’ brief represents the views of 18 law professors at the University of Michigan Law School, Michigan State University College of Law, Wayne State University Law School, the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law and the Thomas M. Cooley Law School. The brief explains that under well-established constitutional law, Rev. Pinkney’s newspaper editorial could not be the basis for punishment in a court of law. “In this country, under this Constitution, and on this Court’s watch,” they explained, “he must not be imprisoned for speaking his conscience.”
  • The Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression argued in its brief that Rev. Pinkney’s editorial was not a “true threat” under well-established First Amendment law. According to the Center’s brief, “In finding that Rev. Pinkney’s newspaper editorial violated his conditions of probation, the lower court punished speech at the core of First Amendment protection: public criticism of the judiciary.” The Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression is a nonprofit, nonpartisan institution dedicated solely to the protection of the First Amendment rights of free speech and free press.