April 28, 2008

The new economics of hunger

Amid brutal convergence of events to hit global market, poor suffer most
by Anthony Faiola
The Washington Post

The globe's worst food crisis in a generation emerged as a blip on the big boards and computer screens of America's great grain exchanges. At first, it seemed like little more than a bout of bad weather.

In Chicago, Minneapolis and Kansas City, traders watched from the pits early last summer as wheat prices spiked amid mediocre harvests in the United States and Europe and signs of prolonged drought in Australia. But within a few weeks, the traders discerned an ominous snowball effect -- one that would eventually bring down a prime minister in Haiti, make more children in Mauritania go to bed hungry, even cause American executives at Sam's Club to restrict sales of large bags of rice.

As prices rose, major grain producers including Argentina and Ukraine, battling inflation caused in part by soaring oil bills, were moving to bar exports on a range of crops to control costs at home. It meant less supply on world markets even as global demand entered a fundamentally new phase. Already, corn prices had been climbing for months on the back of booming government-subsidized ethanol programs. Soybeans were facing pressure from surging demand in China. But as supplies in the pipelines of global trade shrank, prices for corn, soybeans, wheat, oats, rice and other grains began shooting through the roof.

At the same time, food was becoming the new gold. Investors fleeing Wall Street's mortgage-related strife plowed hundreds of millions of dollars into grain futures, driving prices up even more. By Christmas, a global panic was building. With fewer places to turn, and tempted by the weaker dollar, nations staged a run on the American wheat harvest.

Foreign buyers, who typically seek to purchase one or two months' supply of wheat at a time, suddenly began to stockpile. They put in orders on U.S. grain exchanges two to three times larger than normal as food riots began to erupt worldwide. This led major domestic U.S. mills to jump into the fray with their own massive orders, fearing that there would soon be no wheat left at any price.

"Japan, the Philippines, [South] Korea, Taiwan -- they all came in with huge orders, and no matter how high prices go, they keep on buying," said Jeff Voge, chairman of the Kansas City Board of Trade and also an independent trader. Grains have surged so high, he said, that some traders are walking off the floor for weeks at a time, unable to handle the stress.

"We have never seen anything like this before," Voge said. "Prices are going up more in one day than they have during entire years in the past. But no matter the price, there always seems to be a buyer. . . . This isn't just any commodity. It is food, and people need to eat."

Beyond hunger

The food price shock now roiling world markets is destabilizing governments, igniting street riots and threatening to send a new wave of hunger rippling through the world's poorest nations. It is outpacing even the Soviet grain emergency of 1972-75, when world food prices rose 78 percent. By comparison, from the beginning of 2005 to early 2008, prices leapt 80 percent, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. Much of the increase is being absorbed by middle men -- distributors, processors, even governments -- but consumers worldwide are still feeling the pinch.

The convergence of events has thrown world food supply and demand out of whack and snowballed into civil turmoil. After hungry mobs and violent riots beset Port-au-Prince, Haitian Prime Minister Jacques-Édouard Alexis was forced to step down this month. At least 14 countries have been racked by food-related violence. In Malaysia, Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi is struggling for political survival after a March rebuke from voters furious over food prices. In Bangladesh, more than 20,000 factory workers protesting food prices rampaged through the streets two weeks ago, injuring at least 50 people.

To quell unrest, countries including Indonesia are digging deep to boost food subsidies. The U.N. World Food Program has warned of an alarming surge in hunger in areas as far-flung as North Korea and West Africa. The crisis, it fears, will plunge more than 100 million of the world's poorest people deeper into poverty, forced to spend more and more of their income on skyrocketing food bills.

"This crisis could result in a cascade of others . . . and become a multidimensional problem affecting economic growth, social progress and even political security around the world," U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said.

The new normal

Prices for some crops -- such as wheat -- have already begun to descend off their highs. As farmers rush to plant more wheat now that profit prospects have climbed, analysts predict that prices may come down as much as 30 percent in the coming months. But that would still leave a year-over-year price hike of 45 percent. Few believe prices will go back to where they were in early 2006, suggesting that the world must cope with a new reality of more expensive food.

People worldwide are coping in different ways. For the 1 billion living on less than a dollar a day, it is a matter of survival. In a mud hut on the Sahara's edge, Manthita Sou, a 43-year-old widow in the Mauritanian desert village of Maghleg, is confronting wheat prices that are up 67 percent on local markets in the past year. Her solution: stop eating bread. Instead, she has downgraded to cheaper foods, such as sorghum, a dark grain widely consumed by the world's poorest people. But sorghum has jumped 20 percent in the past 12 months. Living on the 50 cents a day she earns weaving textiles to support a family of three, her answer has been to cut out breakfast, drink tea for lunch and ration a small serving of soupy sorghum meal for family dinners. "I don't know how long we can survive like this," she said.

Countries that have driven food demand in recent years are now grappling with the cost of their own success -- rising prices. Although China has tried to calm its people by announcing reserve grain holdings of 30 to 40 percent of annual production, a number that had been a state secret, anxiety is still running high. In the southern province of Guangdong, there are reports of grain hoarding; and in Hong Kong, consumers have stripped store shelves of bags of rice.

Liu Yinhua, a retired factory worker who lives in the port city of Ningbo on China's east coast, said her family of three still eats the same things, including pork ribs, fish and vegetables. But they are eating less of it.

"Almost everything is more expensive now, even normal green vegetables," said Liu, 53. "The level of our quality of life is definitely reduced."

In India, the government recently scrapped all import duties on cooking oils and banned exports of non-basmati rice. As in many parts of the developing world, the impact in India is being felt the most among the urban poor who have fled rural life to live in teeming slums. At a dusty and nearly empty market in one New Delhi neighborhood this week, shopkeeper Manjeet Singh, 52, said people at the market have started hoarding because of fear that rice and oil will run out.

"If one doesn't have enough to fill one's own stomach, then what's the use of an economic boom in exports?" he said, looking sluggish in the scorching afternoon sun. He said his customers were asking for cheaper goods, like groundnut oil instead of soybean oil.

Even wealthy nations are being forced to adjust to a new normal. In Japan, a country with a distinct cultural aversion to cheaper, genetically modified grains, manufacturers are risking public backlash by importing them for use in processed foods for the first time. Inflation in the 15-country zone that uses the euro -- which includes France, Germany, Spain and Italy -- hit 3.6 percent in March, the highest rate since the currency was adopted almost a decade ago and well above the European Central Bank's target of 2.0 percent. Food and oil prices were mostly to blame.

In the United States, experts say consumers are scaling down on quality and scaling up on quantity if it means a better unit price. In the meat aisles of major grocery stores, said Phil Lempert, a supermarket analyst, steaks are giving way to chopped beef and people used to buying fresh blueberries are moving to frozen. Some are even trying to grow their own vegetables.

"A bigger pinch than ever before," said Pat Carroll, a retiree in Congress Heights. "I don't ever remember paying $3 for a loaf of bread."

Ill-equipped markets

The root cause of price surges varies from crop to crop. But the crisis is being driven in part by an unprecedented linkage of the food chain.

A big reason for higher wheat prices, for instance, is the multiyear drought in Australia, something that scientists say may become persistent because of global warming. But wheat prices are also rising because U.S. farmers have been planting less of it, or moving wheat to less fertile ground. That is partly because they are planting more corn to capitalize on the biofuel frenzy.

This year, at least a fifth and perhaps a quarter of the U.S. corn crop will be fed to ethanol plants. As food and fuel fuse, it has presented a boon to American farmers after years of stable prices. But it has also helped spark the broader food-price shock.

"If you didn't have ethanol, you would not have the prices we have today," said Bruce Babcock, a professor of economics and the director of the Center for Agricultural and Rural Development at Iowa State University. "It doesn't mean it's the sole driver. Prices would be higher than we saw earlier in this decade because world grain supplies are tighter now than earlier in the decade. But we've introduced a new demand into the market."

In fact, many economists now say food prices should have climbed much higher much earlier.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the world seemed to shrink with rapidly opening markets, surging trade and improved communication and transportation technology. Given new market efficiencies and the wide availability of relatively cheap food, the once-common practice of hoarding grains to protect against the kind of shortfall the world is seeing now seemed more and more archaic. Global grain reserves plunged.

Yet there was one big problem. The global food trade never became the kind of well-honed machine that has made the price of manufactured goods such as personal computers and flat-screen TVs increasingly similar worldwide. With food, significant subsidies and other barriers meant to protect farmers -- particularly in Europe, the United States and Japan -- have distorted the real price of food globally, economists say, preventing the market from normal price adjustments as global demand has climbed.

If market forces had played a larger role in food trade, some now argue, the world would have had more time to adjust to more gradually rising prices.

"The international food trade didn't undergo the same kind of liberalization as other trade," said Richard Feltes, senior vice president of MF Global, a futures brokerage. "We can see now that the world has largely failed in its attempt to create an integrated food market."

In recent years, there has been a great push to liberalize food markets worldwide -- part of what is known as the "Doha round" of world trade talks -- but resistance has come from both the developed and developing worlds. Perhaps more than any other sector, nations have a visceral desire to protect their farmers, and thusly, their food supply. The current food crisis is causing advocates on both sides to dig in.

Consider, for instance, the French.

The European Union doles out about $41 billion a year in agriculture subsidies, with France getting the biggest share, about $8.2 billion. The 27-nation bloc also has set a target for biofuels to supply 10 percent of transportation fuel needs by 2020 to combat global warming

The French, whose farmers over the years have become addicted to generous government handouts, argue that agriculture subsidies must be continued and even increased in order to encourage more food production, especially with looming shortages.

Last week, French Agriculture Minister Michel Barnier warned E.U. officials against "too much trust in the free market."

"We must not leave the vital issue of feeding people," he said, "to the mercy of market laws and international speculation."

Staff writers Dan Morgan, Steven Mufson and Jane Black in Washington and correspondents Ariana Eunjung Cha in Beijing, Emily Wax in New Delhi and John Ward Anderson in Paris contributed to this report.

Somalia/Ethiopia: Deliberate killing of civilians is a war crime

Amnesty International refutes statements made by the Ethiopian government on its report about a raid on the Al Hidya Mosque in Mogidishu on 19 April 2008. In the attack, Ethiopian forces killed at least 21 people, including 11 unarmed citizens inside the mosque, and detained at least 40 children and youths, aged 9 to 18. At least 10 others were killed by Ethiopian forces in the vicinity of the mosque.

Reports r
eleased by the organization are based on several cross-checked, independent sources such as family members of victims, testimonies gathered at the location, including individuals present in the mosque while the killings took place, and local Amnesty International contacts.

“Deliberately killing civilians is a war crime,” said Amnesty International. “We call on the Ethiopian government to ensure an independent investigation is carried out into the raid on the mosque and the subsequent treatment of those detained by its forces.”

Seven of the 21 killed at the mosque were reported to have had their throats cut, a form of illegal execution practised by Ethiopian troops in Somalia. Amnesty International has documented a pattern of these ‘throat-slitting’ executions, which often occur in security sweeps after attacks on Ethiopian forces in Somalia.
Save as Draft

Somali media today reported that forces of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) of Somalia have taken 18 of the children and youths detained by the Ethiopian forces at the Al Hidya mosque into custody at the Criminal Investigations Department of the Somali police. An additional 32 children and youths have been released, according to a TFG spokesperson. In line with international standards on the rights of the child, detention should only be as a last resort and for the minimum time possible. Amnesty International calls for the 18 who remain in detention to be charged with a recognized offence and brought before a court, or released.

Amnesty International again calls on the Ethiopian Government to commit to an independent investigation into the killings carried out during and after the Al Hidya mosque raid. Once such an investigation has been made, the findings should be made public and any Ethiopian soldiers implicated in the investigation should be brought to justice in line with international fair trial standards.

ACLU Disappointed With Supreme Court's Voter ID Decision

Decision Will Harm Eligible Voters, But Leaves Door Open To Future New Legal Challenges

WASHINGTON - In a 6-3 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court today rejected a challenge to Indiana's most-restrictive-in-the-nation voter identification law. The American Civil Liberties Union's case, Crawford v. Marion County Election Board - consolidated with Indiana Democratic Party v. Rokita - is an appeal of two lower court decisions that upheld the state's law requiring voters to present government-issued photo IDs in order to vote. The ACLU argued that the Indiana law creates an unconstitutional burden on voting rights.

"Today's decision minimizes the very real burden that Indiana's voter ID law places on tens of thousands of eligible voters who lack a government-issued identification while accepting at face value Indiana's unsubstantiated claim of voter fraud," said Ken Falk, Legal Director of the ACLU of Indiana and lead counsel on the case.

In January 2007, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Chicago upheld Indiana's voter ID law by understating the right of every individual to vote without being subject to undue burdens imposed by the state. There is no evidence that Indiana's voter ID law is justified by any actual problem of voting fraud, which is already prohibited by various criminal statutes in the state. No cases of in-person voting fraud have been prosecuted in the state in recent history.

"We are very disappointed in today's decision, but it leaves the door open to future challenges in Indiana and elsewhere by registered voters who are denied their right to vote based on onerous and unconstitutional voter ID laws," said ACLU Legal Director Steven R. Shapiro. "We should be seeking ways to encourage more people to vote, not inventing excuses to deny citizens their constitutional voting rights."

The Supreme Court's decision on the constitutionality of voter ID laws has broad national significance with the 2008 election underway. Indiana is one of over 20 states that have passed restrictive voter ID laws, while other states are considering similar legislation. Plaintiffs in the ACLU's case include the Indianapolis branch of the NAACP as well as organizations representing the elderly, the homeless, and people with disabilities, along with two elected officials.

"As the dissent notes, Indiana's law will sadly but predictably have its greatest impact on voters who are poor, elderly, belong to racial minorities, or have disabilities," said Angela Ciccolo, Interim General Counsel with the NAACP.

Attorneys on the case, Crawford v. Marion County, are Shapiro of the national ACLU; Falk, Jacquelyn Bowie Suess and Gavin Rose of the ACLU of Indiana; Laughlin McDonald and Neil Bradley of the ACLU Voting Rights Project; Ciccolo, and Victor Goode of the national NAACP: and Pamela Karlan and Jeffrey Fisher.

For more information on this case, including legal briefs, go to www.aclu.org/ scotus/2007term/32592res20071106/ 32592res20071106.html

More information on the work of the ACLU Voting Rights Project is available at: www.votingrights.org

April 27, 2008

Iraq combat veteran speaks out about opposing the war while in Iraq

An Iraq combat veteran speaks out about opposing the war while in Iraq and after his discharge and what it’s like being called a “coward” and a “traitor” by war supporters.

Arrest Now!

Darfur, Sudan: Ahmad Harun and Ali Kushayb

1. The armed conflict in Darfur, Sudan

Since 2003 an armed conflict has been taking place in Darfur, Sudan, between the government of Sudan and several armed opposition groups (including different factions from the Sudanese Liberation Army (SLA) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM)). To counter the insurgency in Darfur, the government of Sudan has mobilised, armed and funded militia known as Janjawid. More than 200,000 people have died in the conflict in Darfur and over 2.3 million have been displaced from their homes.

2. Referral by the UN Security Council

On 31 March 2005 the United Nations Security Council determined that the situation in Sudan constituted a threat to international peace and security. Acting under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, the Security Council adopted Resolution 1593, referring "the situation in Darfur since 1 July 2002" to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC).

3. Prosecution by the ICC

The ICC Prosecutor opened an investigation into the situation in Darfur, Sudan, on 1 June 2005.

On 27 April 2007, after a 20-month investigation, two warrants of arrest were issued for two people, Ahmad Muhammad Harun (commonly known as Ahmad Harun) and Ali Muhammad Al Abd-Al-Rahman (commonly known as Ali Kushayb). The arrest warrants refer to war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed between August 2003 and March 2004, during several attacks allegedly carried out by the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Janjawid on four West Darfur towns (Kodoom, Bindisi, Mukjar, Arawala) and surrounding areas. According to the arrest warrants, crimes were allegedly committed against civilians primarily from the Fur, Zaghawa and Masalit populations, resulting in the death of about 1,000 people.

What is the ICC?

The International Criminal Court (ICC) is a permanent independent judicial body created by the international community to prosecute crimes such as genocide, other crimes against humanity and war crimes. Its Statute was adopted at an international conference in Rome on 17 July 1998.

4. The charges against Ahmad Harun

Ahmad Harun is currently Minister of State for Humanitarian Affairs of Sudan. From 2003 to 2005 he was Minister of State for the Interior. In this capacity he was in charge of the management of the "Darfur Security desk" and coordinated the different bodies of the government involved in the counter-insurgency, including the police, the armed forces, the National Security and Intelligence Service.

According to the ICC arrest warrant, he allegedly recruited, mobilised, funded and armed the Janjawid, with full knowledge that they would commit crimes against humanity and war crimes against the civilian population in Darfur. He also is alleged to have personally incited the Janjawid to attack civilians.

The arrest warrant against him lists 42 counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes, including persecution, murder and forcible transfer.

5. The charges against Ali Kushayb

Ali Kushayb was an important leader of the Janjawid militia and a member of the Popular Defence Force. He was the aqid al-uqada ("colonel of colonels") in the Wadi Salih locality of West Darfur. By mid-2003 he allegedly commanded thousands of Janjawid militia.

According to the ICC arrest warrant, Ali Kushayb allegedly led the attacks on the villages of Kodoom, Bindisi, Mukjar and Arawala. He also allegedly enlisted, armed, funded and provided supplies to the Janjawid under his command.

The arrest warrant against him lists 50 counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes, including persecution, murder, attacks against the civilian population and forcible transfer.

Ali Kushayb was said to have been arrested by Sudanese authorities in November 2006 in relation to incidents in South and West Darfur, which are different from those referred to by the ICC. However, he was released and is now said to be in Khartoum.

6. Sudan's obligation to arrest and surrender

The ICC has no police force with which to execute warrants. If suspects do not comply with warrants, the ICC needs to rely on cooperation by Sudan, other states and inter-governmental organizations.

At the same time as the arrest warrants, the ICC issued requests to the government of Sudan and to all states parties of the Rome Statute of the ICC for the arrest and surrender of Ahmad Harun and Ali Kushayb.

On 14 September 2007 the INTERPOL issued Red Notices for the two suspects.

The government of Sudan has publicly refused to surrender either Ali Kushayb or Ahmad Harun to the ICC. Although Sudan has not ratified the Rome Statute, UN Security Council Resolution 1593 (2005) requires Sudan to cooperate fully with the Court and provide any necessary assistance to the ICC and its Prosecutor.

What can you do?

Ahmad Harun and Ali Kushayb are wanted for trial at the ICC to establish their guilt or innocence concerning multiple counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes.

Please write to the United Nations Security Council, urging it to:

* condemn Sudan's refusal to arrest and surrender Ahmad Harun and Ali Kushayb to the ICC;
* call on Sudan to enforce all ICC arrest warrants immediately;
* if the men travel outside Sudan, call on those states to arrest and surrender them to the ICC;
* take other effective measures to ensure that the two men are arrested and surrendered to the ICC.

Make a difference!
» Protect Human Rights in Colombia
» Stop Ruthless Arms Brokers that Fuel Deadly Conflicts


Special comment: Condi goes too far

Olbermann: Secretary Rice’s comparison of Saddam to Hitler is not accurate

On "Fox News Sunday" Feb. 25, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice paralleled World War II with the state of Iraq when discussing what would happen if Congress were to revise the Iraq authorization:

We already know about her suggestion that the president could just ignore whatever congressional Democrats do about Iraq.

April 26, 2008

Keith Olbermann Special Commentary *MR BUSH YOU ARE A FASCIST!*


Thank you, Larry King. When you bring it, YOU BRING IT! And last night, YOU BROUGHT IT!! Thanks to the few simple questions you asked Speaker Pelosi, viewers got a clearer insight into who Speaker Pelosi is, and how Speaker Pelosi feels - about President Bush, her self-described “day job,” and her Congressional opponent, Cindy Sheehan.

So how does Speaker Pelosi feel about President Bush? She likes him! She genuinely likes him. According to Pelosi, there’s nothing “personal” for her in the decisions and policies of George W. Bush. Why should it be personal? Nothing the President has done regarding the war has personally affected Mrs. Pelosi or her family. No Pelosis have been killed in Iraq, lost limbs, suffered traumatic brain injury, or committed suicide after returning home. And since Mrs. Pelosi dislikes the war, or so she proclaims, no young Pelosi will be prompted to fight it. So for Speaker Pelosi, the Iraq war, with its non-Pelosi casualties, will remain non-personal – and her relationship with its creator, George W. Bush, won’t be soured by her pain.

Still shouldn’t the war be more “personal” for Speaker Pelosi - and her feelings for its creator reflect the dislike she feels toward his war? Isn’t she mandated by her day job (as she calls her Speakership) and her Constitutional Oath to monitor impropriety and hold those accountable who do wrong?

Like Pelosi, I, too, have a day job, and colleagues with whom I disagree. Where I diverge from Pelosi in my relationships with my colleagues is if one committed an act that purposefully harmed another, IT WOULD BE VERY PERSONAL FOR ME! I would do everything possible to bring my colleague to justice – not needing sweeping Congressional powers or a Constitutional mandate to spur me on. George Bush’s policies have resulted in monumental harm and horror, yet his Madam Speaker colleague speaks of him fondly with a smile. That’s a filth I could never roll in. The strongest lye wouldn’t scrub me clean.

Throughout my life I have NEVER been a conspiracist. I demand much investigation before accepting a fact, but Pelosi’s steadfast protection of Bush renders me ever more suspicious. She removed all threats to Bush’s office when she ascended to her own. Impeachment, a Constitutional staple which should always be in play, was instantly “off the table.” In its stead were place settings and a candelabra – nourishing loyalty, starving our democracy. Mrs. Pelosi pays more attention to breaking bread than breaking rules. She prefers celebrations with the President (like the DeBakey event she describes to Larry King), to investigations of the President - which is what this nation needs.

As the President’s term draws closer to and end, calls for his impeachment wither, and Pelosi is further off the hook. But my impeachment juices were rallied last night by Pelosi’s acceptance of this architect of death.

Watching her effortlessly rattle off these Bush derelictions, Pelosi underscores the necessity for hearings

“he’s taken us into war, that he’s taken us into debt, that he’s taken us into recession, loss of life, reputation… the [in]capability of our military to protect America’s interests wherever it’s sent… missed opportunity on energy independence and reversing global warming…,”

but she always blocks their way. It makes one wonder – it makes ME wonder — why Mrs. Pelosi was so quickly persuaded to let Bush serve his full term? Mass murder aside, lying aside, torture aside, illegal surveillance aside, co-opting “Justice” aside, Speaker Pelosi just likes him!! HOW CAN YOU LIKE A MASS MURDERER?!

Here is the conversation (in video and text) between Speaker Pelosi and Mr. King:

King: What’s it like to work with the President?

Pelosi: The President and I have a fine relationship, I think.

King: Do you like him?

Pelosi: Personally, yes. It’s not anything personal. I just don’t like his policies. I think that he’s taken us into war, that he’s taken us into debt, that he’s taken us into recession, loss of life, reputation, [unintelligible], the capability of our military to protect America’s interests wherever it’s sent. It’s huge. I think missed opportunity on energy independence and reversing global warming is a missed opportunity. There’s so much we could have done but it’s just a matter of months and we’ll be able to do it.

King: My late friend Tip O’Neill told me he argued frequently with President Reagan but never with animosity.

Pelosi: No.

King: Do you [and the President] argue?

Pelosi: Yes, but I think he understands, as do I. He has to do what he has to do and I have to do what I have to do. And I have to try and find common ground and then stand my ground – the ground for the Congress when we don’t find that. But President was here yesterday [huge smile]. We gave the Congressional Gold Medal to Michael DeBakey [renowned heart surgeon]. Can you just imagine 99 years old?

King: Amazing.

Pelosi: We had a very amiable conversation. It’s not personal. And you know the President is not that kind of a person. He’s not a bitter kind of a person so – and I certainly respect our differences of opinion and I have very serious differences of opinion with the President.

There’s that “bitter” word again. I just wonder what George W. Bush could possibly be bitter about - that his mountain bike got scratched - or that Jeb outgrew his big brother? What the hell does this Speaker believe has not served this indulgent addict turned war criminal’s needs? She’s never let him down.

And now another big thanks to Larry King in his interview with Speaker Pelosi last night - for breaking corporate media’s silence on Cindy Sheehan’s campaign. Obviously there are huge differences between Pelosi and Sheehan. Pelosi is corporate roots. Sheehan is grassroots. Pelosi has green. Sheehan is green. Pelosi ignores the Constitution. Sheehan adores the Constitution. But the most glaring difference, as evidenced by the conversation above, is that for Pelosi this war is NOT personal, but for Sheehan it’s PERSONAL IN EVERY WAY. Sheehan lost her son in the war on Iraq. Sad that Speaker Pelosi, who has a son of her own, was so dismissive of Sheehan’s candidacy last night.

Cindy Sheehan first became famous when she begged George W. Bush to explain to her “for what noble cause my son [Casey] died,” but Mr. “Not Bitter” refused. George W. Bush, the man Speaker Pelosi shields from investigation, ignored the mother of a soldier who was killed. Yet Speaker Pelosi likes him!

Tell me, who should be in Congress in San Francisco – the protector and enabler of war criminals, or the person who battles the criminals and their war?

Here’s the conversation between Speaker Pelosi and Larry King (in video and text) that breaks the ban on corporate media’s refusal to cover Cindy Sheehan’s campaign. Thanks again to Larry King for addressing the campaign and for asking Speaker Pelosi if she’d debate Cindy Sheehan - a spectacularly democratic idea.

King: You mentioned Iraq. I guess the most famous anti-war activist, Cindy Sheehan, is gonna run against you.

Pelosi: Yes.

King: In the Democratic Primary?

Pelosi: No, as an Independent, I think.

King: She’s running as a [unintelligible]. How would you… would you debate her? How do you view that? I guess you share her views, don’t you?

Pelosi: Yeah, yes, well, god bless her. I think it’s a reflection of the dissatisfaction the people have that we have not been able to end war – but we were hoping that the President would have more – pay more attention to wishes that the American people - not turn a tin ear them to them and a blind eye to what’s actually happening in Iraq. But god bless her for her advocacy. Cindy Sheehan lost her son in Iraq and so she has all of my sympathy, respect for her sacrifice her family has made.

King: Surprised she picked you to run against?

Pelosi: I don’t even think about it. You know I have a day job…

Yes, Madam Speaker, you do have a “day job.” And your job description comes straight from the Constitution. Rather than continuing to protect and enable George Bush, Dick Cheney, and the rest of their cabal, why not abide by Article I Section 2 of the Constitution and initiate investigations of their acts? And how about debating Cindy Sheehan? It’s time to take your job personally, Mrs. Pelosi. The world is crumbling under your watch.

How ’bout HEARTING the Constitution rather than those who have torn it apart?

April 25, 2008

‘Justice for Darfur’ Campaign Launched

(The Hague, April 25, 2008) – One year after the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued arrest warrants for two war crimes suspects in Darfur, human rights organizations around the world are launching a “Justice for Darfur” campaign, calling for the two to be arrested.

The organizations behind the campaign, including Amnesty International, Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, Coalition for the International Criminal Court, Human Rights First, Human Rights Watch, and Sudan Organization Against Torture, have joined forces to call on the United Nations Security Council, regional organizations and individual governments to press Sudan to cooperate with the ICC.

The ICC has been investigating crimes in the region following a decision three years ago by the UN Security Council to refer to it the situation in Darfur. One year ago – on April 27, 2007 – the ICC issued two arrest warrants against Sudan’s former State Minister of the Interior Ahmad Harun and “Janjaweed” leader Ali Kushayb for 51 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Today the two men – who face charges of persecution, rape, and killing of civilians in four West Darfur villages – remain at large.

“The thousands of people who suffered murder, rape and persecution in Darfur deserve justice,” said Dismas Nkunda, co-chair of the Darfur Consortium, a group of African and Middle Eastern nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). “Instead, all they have had is disdain from their own government, and empty words from the international community. It is time for that to change.”

The Sudanese government has publicly and repeatedly refused to surrender either Kushayb or Harun to the court. Instead, Harun has been promoted to state minister for humanitarian affairs, responsible for the welfare of the very victims of his alleged crimes. As well as having considerable power over humanitarian operations, he is responsible for liaising with the international peacekeeping force (UNAMID) tasked with protecting civilians against such crimes. The other suspect, Ali Kushayb, was in custody in Sudan on other charges at the time the ICC warrants were issued, but in October 2007 the government announced he had been released, reportedly due to “lack of evidence.”

“The Sudanese government has shown blatant disregard both for the authority of the Security Council and for the victims of their brutality,” said Richard Dicker, director of the International Justice Program at Human Rights Watch. “So far, Sudan has faced no consequences for this brazen snubbing of the court and the council”.

The members of “Justice for Darfur” are urging the UN Security Council to pass a resolution calling on Sudan to cooperate fully with the ICC and immediately arrest Harun and Kushayb and surrender them to the court.

“Now is the time for the Security Council to act to ensure that the men are arrested and surrendered to the ICC without further delay, as a first step towards ending impunity for the vast scale of horrific crimes committed in Darfur,” said Christopher Hall, senior legal adviser for Amnesty International’s International Justice Project.

The “Justice for Darfur” campaign organizers called on states and regional organizations – including the European Union, a strong supporter of the ICC and a key player in bringing the Darfur crimes to the ICC prosecutor – to press Sudan to cooperate with the ICC and comply with the warrants.

“Through the ‘Justice for Darfur’ campaign, organizations will work together to generate as much pressure as possible on the international community to follow through on its commitment to justice for the victims of these crimes,” said Moataz El Fegiery, executive director at the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies.

The following organizations are part of the “Justice for Darfur” campaign: Action des chrétiens pour l’abolition de la torture - France Aegis Trust Amnesty International Arab Center for the Independence of the Judiciary and the Legal Profession Bahrain Centre for Human Rights Bahrain Human Rights Society Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies Center for Peace, Legal Advice and Psychosocial Assistance – Vukovar Civil Resource Development and Documentation Centre – Nigeria Coalition for the International Criminal Court Collectif Urgence Darfour Darfur Consortium Darfur Union UK Fédération Internationale des ligues des Droits de l’Homme Human Rights First Human Rights Watch International Criminal Court Student Network UK Kalangala District NGO Forum Land Center for Human Rights League of Human Rights Prepared Society Kenya Recherches et Documentation Juridiques Africaines Save Darfur Canada Society for Threatened Peoples International Socio-Economic Rights & Accountability Project Students Taking Action Now: Darfur – Canada Sudan organization against Torture UN Watch Waging Peace To view a letter from the “Justice for Darfur” campaign to the United Nations Security Council, please visit:

http://hrw.org/english/docs/2008/04/24/darfur18636.htm To view a letter from the “Justice for Darfur” campaign to the European Union, please visit:

http://hrw.org/english/docs/2008/04/24/darfur18635.htm For more information on the “Justice for Darfur” campaign, please visit: www.justice4darfur.org

South Korea: Olympic Torch Spotlights China Rights Crisis

(Seoul, April 25, 2008) – South Korean President Lee Myung-bak should use the occasion of the Olympic torch’s passage in Seoul on April 27 to urge Beijing to stop arresting and repatriating North Korean refugees in China, Human Rights Watch said today. The torch relay, which up to now has been dogged by protests over China’s human rights abuses at home and in Tibet, will also pass through the North Korean capital Pyongyang on April 28, one place where protests are not expected.China is likely to welcome the torch’s protest-free leg in North Korea, where basic freedoms have been restricted for so long and on such a scale, that there is no known record in the past 50 years of any major public demonstration calling for political freedoms or human rights.

Members of Lee Myung-bak’s new administration have repeatedly vowed to speak out about human rights violations in North Korea, unlike the two previous South Korean governments that maintaineda policy of “engaging” North Korea, while keeping silent on human rights issues.

“President Lee’s commitment to speak out for North Koreans who suffer human rights abuses should not be limited to those inside North Korea,” said Elaine Pearson, Asia deputy director at Human Rights Watch. “He should speak out for all North Koreans suffering human rights abuses, including those living in China.”

In an April 2008 report, “Denied Status, Denied Education: Children of North Korean Women in China”, Human Rights Watch documented how children of North Korean women living in northeast China (some born in North Korea, and others born in China to Chinese fathers and North Korean mothers), are denied legal identity and access to education. It also described how China summarily arrests and deports North Korean women back to North Korea, often separating them from their children.

“South Korea should call on China to ensure that all children go to school regardless of their legal status,” Pearson said. “It should also press China to stop arresting and summarily repatriating the children’s North Korean mothers.”

Under the North Korean penal code, leaving the country without state permission can be considered an act of treason, punishable by heavy penalties including imprisonment, forced labor, and in some cases the death penalty. This means that many of the North Koreans in China, most of whom left the country without state permission, are at a strong risk of persecution if they ever return. They would, therefore, qualify as refugees under the 1951 Refugee Convention. As a state party to the convention, China has an obligation to investigate the risk North Korean women face if they were returned to North Korea and should not summarily arrest or repatriate them.

Under international law, and its own domestic laws, China is legally obligated to grant all children access to free elementary education, regardless of their nationality or legal status.

“To give the children access to elementary education, all China has to do is to respect its own laws and international conventions it already ratified,” Pearson said. “It is the right and humane thing to do.”

The Olympic torch is stopping in North and South Korea on its way to Beijing for the August 8, 2008 opening ceremony of the Olympic Games.

ACLU Urges House to Remain Firm as FISA Stalemate Continues

Washington, DC – In response to reports that Republicans in the House of Representatives have filed a discharge petition in order to force a vote on a Senate-passed update to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), the American Civil Liberties Union released the following statement.

The following can be attributed to Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office:

"Contrary to the administration’s persistent fear mongering, the expiration of the Protect America Act has not caused the collapse of our intelligence capabilities. All that has happened is that an unnecessary law has not been renewed. In fact, while testifying before Congress yesterday, FBI Director Mueller claimed he was unaware of any wiretaps being imperiled or denied since the PAA lapsed.

"As all sides continue to negotiate on FISA reform, we strongly urge the House to remain steadfast. The House stood strong last month and we expect it to do so again. The bottom line here is that we are nine months away from a new president. There is no reason for this Congress to hand this administration a going away present of unfettered and warrantless wiretapping."

To read more about the ACLU’s work on FISA, go to:

Civil Rights, Immigration Policy And Workers' Rights Groups Present New Evidence On Devastating Impact Of "No Match" Rule

WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union, Immigration Policy Center (IPC), National Immigration Law Center (NILC) and Low Wage Immigrant Worker (LWIW) Coalition presented new evidence today that confirms that if the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) proposed "no match" rule goes into effect, it will result in the mass firings of U.S. citizens and other authorized workers and have a devastating impact on American businesses and the economy.

The rule, which was republished on March 26 for public comment, would unlawfully use the error-ridden Social Security Administration (SSA) database for immigration enforcement by requiring employers to fire workers who are unable to resolve discrepancies in their Social Security records.

Today was the final day the DHS accepted comments on the rule. A broad range of organizations from civil rights to business groups have submitted comments in strong opposition to the rule, including the ACLU and the LWIW Coalition.

The LWIW Coalition's comments and a new report from the Immigration Policy Center include data from a new economic analysis commissioned by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and authored by Richard B. Belzer. Belzer, who holds a Ph.D. in Public Policy from Harvard University, is an expert in federal agency regulatory policies and practices. For ten years he served as an economist with the President's Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Belzer's analysis shows unambiguously that the proposed "no match" rule would have significant negative economic costs to employers and work-authorized immigrants.

The statements below can be attributed to the following:

Michele Waslin, Immigration Policy Center Senior Policy Analyst:
"By attempting to turn the Social Security Administration 'no match' letters into an immigration enforcement tool, DHS will not stop the flow of undocumented immigration nor substitute for meaningful immigration reform. The new rule, however, will result in U.S. citizens and lawful residents losing their jobs, will be costly for employers, and will place additional burden on an already overworked, understaffed and under-resourced Social Security Administration. More than 165,000 lawful U.S. workers could lose their jobs because of their inability to resolve discrepancies with the SSA. The cost to employers will be at least $1 billion per year. While the 'no match' program began as an effort to correct the SSA records so that workers could receive the benefits they earned, it will end up sending more workers into the underground cash economy where they will no longer contribute taxes to the SSA, and it will harm those hardworking Americans who can expect longer delays when applying for benefits."

Lucas Guttentag, ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project Director:
"Relying on the error-filled Social Security database is a recipe for disaster. The Bush administration rule will punish hardworking lawful workers, deny jobs to U.S. citizens and cause discrimination and retaliation against workers who may appear foreign or who assert their workplace rights. Rather than punishing American workers who will be the innocent victims of a fatally deficient database, the administration should abandon this rule unless it can guarantee that no American worker will lose her job.

Sarita Gupta, Jobs with Justice Executive Director, representing Low-Wage Immigrant Worker Coalition:
"This ill-conceived rule will undermine the rights of all workers and do nothing to address the reality of some seven million vulnerable workers at work in America. We have already seen that employers, to protect themselves from liability under immigration laws, incorrectly assume that workers listed in 'no match' letters are undocumented and simply fire them without giving them a chance to correct their records. Other even less scrupulous employers have used no-match letters as a tool to get more cover to hire and exploit undocumented workers, and thereby undermine all workers' rights."

A copy of the ACLU comments is available at:

A copy of the LWIC comments is available at:

The executive summary of the IPC comprehensive analysis of the SSA "no match" rule is available at:

Belzer's analysis is available at:

The following includes a sampling of organizations from across the country that are on record as being opposed to the DHS proposed rule:

National and Regional Organizations
ACORN AFL-CIO American Civil Liberties Union
American Friends Service Committee
Center for Community Change
Change to Win
Fair Immigration Reform Movement
Interfaith Worker Justice
Jobs with Justice
Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund
National Employment Law Project
National Immigration Law Center
National Korean American Service & Education Consortium (NAKASEC)
Northwest Federation of Community Organizations
Northwest Workers' Justice Project
South Asian Americans Leading Together
United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE)

State and Local Organizations
California Rural Legal Assistance, Inc., CA
California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, CA
Chicago Workers' Collaborative, IL
Conexión Américas, TN
East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy, CA El CENTRO de Igualdad y Derechos, NM
El Centro, Inc, KS
Greater Boston Legal Services, MA
Hate Free Zone, WA
Idaho Community Action Network, ID
Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, IL
Korean American Resource & Cultural Center, IL
Korean Resource Center, CA
La Fuente, NY
La Raza Centro Legal, CA
Maintenance Cooperation Trust Fund, CA
Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, MA
Nebraska Appleseed Center for Law in the Public Interest, NE
North Carolina Justice Center, NC
Oregon Action, OR
Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition, PA
Services, Immigrant Rights, and Education Network, CA
South Chicago Workers Center, IL
Sweatshop Watch, CA
Washington Community Action Network, WA
Working Hands Legal Clinic, IL
YKASEC - Empowering the Korean American Community, NY

Lenient sentences for perpetrators of "honour killings" a step backwards for protection of women in Jordan

Amnesty International has written to the Jordanian authorities expressing its concern over what appear to be disproportionately lenient sentences received in March by two men convicted of killing close female relatives. In separate cases the men were sentenced to six months' and three months' imprisonment by the Jordanian Criminal Court after the court accepted that they had killed their female relatives in "a fit of fury" in the name of family honour. Taking into account article 98 of the Penal Code, the court ruled in each case that the crime should be considered a misdemeanour and so would merit a much reduced sentence compared to the penalty for murder, which is 15 years' imprisonment.

Article 98 of the Penal Code says that if a crime is committed in "a fit of fury caused by an unlawful or dangerous act on the part of the victim" the perpetrator shall benefit from a reduced penalty. This article is used in cases of violence against women in a discriminatory manner, largely excusing many killings of women by men, and contravenes a basic requirement of international human rights law that individuals should have equality before the law and should not suffer discrimination on the grounds of sex. Amnesty International opposes the use of this law and is urging the Jordanian authorities to amend it.

In the first case, according to court documents, a man identified as S.A. choked his 27-year-old wife to death after discovering that she had been alone in their house with someone with whom she was previously alleged to have committed adultery. In the second case, a man identified as B.A. shot dead his 29-year-old married sister because of what he considered her "immoral behaviour," which included leaving home without her husband's consent and speaking to other men on her mobile phone. The two victims were among 17 women recorded officially as having been killed in "honour crimes" in 2007 in Jordan.

In view of the apparent leniency of the sentences, Amnesty International has asked the Justice Ministry if the prosecuting authorities are appealing the Criminal Court's decisions in these cases. The Attorney-General, reportedly, has 30 days within which to appeal against Criminal Court judgements to the Court of Cassation.


The Jordanian authorities have taken several measures in recent years to protect women from violence, including the establishment of a Family Protection Department within the Public Security Directorate (police) that has helped ensure that allegations of violence against women are subject to more thorough investigation and opening the first government-run shelter, named Dar al-Wifaq, for women victims of domestic violence. Only last week, Queen Rania released a web-video in which she declared that "there is no honour" in so-called honour killings and described them as "horrific" and "inexcusable" crimes.

Despite this, "honour killings" continue to occur and, as these recent cases indicate, when prosecuted can result in disproportionately lenient sentences being imposed through the application of article 98 of the Penal Code.

In January 2008, the Protection from Family Violence Law was passed by Parliament. The law facilitates the reporting of abuse of domestic violence and provides for victims to receive compensation, but it fails explicitly to criminalise domestic violence although this was recommended last year by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. The new law emphasises reconciliation and other forms of remedy for victims but fails adequately to provide for prosecution of perpetrators.

P&J Legislative Action Alert: Tell Congress: Pass the Education for All Act (H.R. 2092, S. 1259).

Tell Congress: Pass the Education for All Act (H.R. 2092, S. 1259).

In 2000, the United States and 180 other nations resolved to work together to achieve universal basic education by 2015. The Education for All Act would:
Make universal basic education a focus of U.S. foreign policy.

Provide $10 billion over five years to help poor nations create and execute plans to educate all of their children.

Help carry out a key recommendation of the 9-11 Commission.

Urge your representatives to cosponsor the Education for All Act

Contact Congress TODAY!

Tell your representatives to fulfill the U.S. commitment to basic universal education and cosponsor the Education for All Act.

P&J Legislative Action Alert: Tell Congress: the so-called "Academic Bill of Rights" is NOT needed

A conference committee is crafting a final reauthorization bill for the Higher Education Act. The Senate bill includes an "Academic Bill of Rights," which NEA strongly opposes. The House bill does not include this provision.

Like the wolf clad in sheep's clothing, the so-called "Academic Bill of Rights" is NOT what it claims to be. Under the guise of protecting students from purported faculty bias, it would encourage ideologically-driven intervention in course content and teaching.
Contact Congress TODAY!

Tell your representatives NOT to support the "Academic Bill of Rights."

Joint Chiefs Chairman Says U.S. Preparing Military Options Against Iran

By Ann Scott Tyson | Washington Post Staff Writer

The nation’s top military officer said today that the Pentagon is planning for “potential military courses of action” against Iran, criticizing what he called the Tehran government’s “increasingly lethal and malign influence” in Iraq.

Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said a conflict with Iran would be “extremely stressing” but not impossible for U.S. forces, pointing specifically to reserve capabilities in the Navy and Air Force.

“It would be a mistake to think that we are out of combat capability,” he said at a Pentagon news conference.

Still, Mullen made clear that he prefers a diplomatic solution to the tensions with Iran and does not foresee any imminent military action. “I have no expectations that we’re going to get into a conflict with Iran in the immediate future,” he said.

Mullen’s statements and others by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates recently signal a new rhetorical onslaught by the Bush administration against Iran, amid what officials say is increased Iranian provision of weapons, training and financing to Iraqi groups that are attacking and killing Americans.

In a speech Monday at West Point, Gates said Iran “is hell-bent on acquiring nuclear weapons.” He said a war with Iran would be “disastrous on a number of levels. But the military option must be kept on the table given the destabilizing policies of the regime and the risks inherent in a future Iranian nuclear threat.”

Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, who was nominated this week to head all U.S. forces in the Middle East, is preparing a briefing soon to lay out detailed evidence of increased Iranian involvement in Iraq, Mullen said. The briefing will detail, for example, the discovery in Iraq of weapons that were very recently manufactured in Iran, he said.

“The Iranian government pledged to halt such activities some months ago. It’s plainly obvious they have not. Indeed, they seem to have gone the other way,” Mullen said.

He said recent unrest in the southern Iraqi city of Basra had highlighted a “level of involvement” by Iran that had not been understood by the U.S. military previously. “It became very, very visible in ways that we hadn’t seen before,” he said.

But while Mullen and Gates have recently stated that Tehran must know of Iranian actions in Iraq, which they say are led by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, Mullen said he has “no smoking gun which could prove that the highest leadership [of Iran] is involved in this.”

In an incident early local time yesterday, a cargo ship contracted by the U.S. military fired “several bursts” of warning shots at two fast boats that approached in international waters off the Iranian coast, defense officials said today.

The unidentified small boats approached the Westward Venture, a ship carrying U.S. military hardware, as it headed north through the central Persian Gulf at about 8 a.m. local time, said Cmdr. Lydia Robertson, spokeswoman for the Navy’s Fifth Fleet, which is based in Bahrain.

The U.S. ship initiated bridge-to-bridge communications, and, after receiving no response, it fired a flare. The speed boats continued to approach, so the ship fired warning shots with a .50-caliber machine gun and M16 rifle. The boats then left the area, she said.

“They fired several bursts, it went pretty quickly,” Robertson said.

Soon afterwards, an Iranian coast guard boat queried the Western Venture, Robertson said. It was unclear whether that was one of the small boats.

“There have been some Iranian boats that have operated this way, and some unidentified boats,” said Robertson, adding that the crew had no voice communication with the small boats.

In January, five Iranian patrol boats sped toward a U.S. warship and dropped small, boxlike objects in the water, an incident that alarmed military officials and that President Bush called “a provocative act.” The objects turned out to pose no threat to the USS Port Royal or two other U.S. vessels accompanying it.

A National Disgrace

John Bruhns | Huffington Post

During the Vietnam conflict the American people had personal reasons to care about their country being at war. Now, if Americans don’t have their own blood or money in the game, they couldn’t care less.

During the Vietnam War emotions were high. Kids were being pulled into a draft right out of high school and sent off to fight and die in war most of them didn’t believe in. In addition, we had the most crucial stages of the civil rights movement, the peace movement, the women’s movement, and the labor movement. This powerful combination sparked a revolutionary time in American history that brought about great change for the betterment of this nation. At the same time it paved the way for “generation X” & the “me” generation - my generation.

Instead of choosing one of the many different capacities of serving one’s country, most pursue routes that will ultimately benefit themselves.

Now, America’s burdens are beard by only a handful of volunteers and their families.

How does a country fight two wars simultaneously without a military draft and tax cuts for those in the highest income brackets? How can a country turn a blind eye while the blood of their service members continues to flow and our lawmakers dump $12 billion dollars per month into the Iraq conflict? The answer is simple: Our country is not at war, our troops are, their families are, and the Iraqi people are.

Just like President Bush will leave this war and recession behind for the next administration, we are standing idle, and setting a course for our kids and grandkids to pick up the tab - so be sure to spend that stimulus check wisely.

I look out my front window and see a plethora of American flags decking out the entire block of my neighbors’ homes - a true patriotism contest. Yet, if they didn’t know me, they probably wouldn’t know anyone who served in Iraq.

I see peace vigils countered by “victory” demonstrations populated by young males who lack the courage to put their own bodies where their rhetoric is. They stand on street corners like cowards chanting … Victory, Victory, Victory - all while they stay completely out of harms way.

However, if these same young men were required (by a military draft) to fight the war they so strongly support, they would be on the other side of the street burning their draft cards chanting … Bring the troops home, Bring the troops home, Bring the troops home. (That is the difference between my generation and the baby boom generation).

And while these same cowards will accept nothing less than victory, I wonder - What is victory in Iraq? Will we sail a battle ship into the Gulf and sign a treaty with Muqtada al-Sadr? Not likely.

Is Iran now our biggest threat? If so, why did we prepare them a bride (Iraq)?

If anyone has the answers, by all means, let me know - because I’m drawing a total blank.

For the record, I’m not advocating for a draft. Primarily because I wouldn’t want these clueless, cowardly, street corner mouthpieces sharing a foxhole with our patriotic men and women who exemplify the best of all that is American. (The “victory” cheerleaders who refuse to serve exemplify all that is un-American).

Plus, my concern is that the “Dick Cheneys” of the world would always find an out, while the poor kids of small towns & urban ghettos would be the ones selected to have their blood spilled for rich elitists who feel entitled to live lavishly and protected during a time of war & recession - a true national disgrace.

At the same time, I fully acknowledge there are veterans groups out there who wholeheartedly agree with our mission in Iraq. Most of them have served in the “war on terror.” I may disagree with them, but I respect them for their service. They fought the war they believe in.

My gripe is with this despicable element in American society who thump their chests, wave the flag, support the war, but just stay home - all under their perverted perception that they are doing their part by fighting the cultural war here at home — oh how convenient for them.

I understand that Americans hate losing wars. I’m not relishing in the fact that Iraq has been a total disaster. Actually, it saddens me a great deal, but I can’t ignore the obvious. Therefore, my perception of supporting the troops is not keeping them in Iraq indefinitely to achieve an undefined victory. The tragic fact is that we can not accurately define victory. We are just hoping the bad doesn’t get worse.

But if you feel that you know what victory is and you advocate for the troops to be kept in harms way — go join them.

My final message to all the young, able-bodied, male cheerleaders advocating for victory in Iraq with no intention of ever wearing the uniform is this: SUPPORT THE TROOPS - DRAFT YOURSELF.

ACLU And HRF Ask Circuit Court To Reconsider Rumsfeld Torture Case

Precedent Used To Dismiss Case Wrongly Ignores Constitution, Groups Say

NEW YORK - The American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights First (HRF) today filed an unusual motion in federal court in an effort to overturn the dismissal of a lawsuit against former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. The March 2005 lawsuit was filed on behalf of nine Iraqi and Afghan former civilian detainees who were tortured while in U.S. military custody and eventually released without being charged with a crime. The lawsuit charged that then-Secretary Rumsfeld was legally responsible for policies and practices leading to the torture and abuse of detainees.

"It is increasingly obvious that responsibility for widespread and systemic abuse of detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan lies at the top of the chain of command, but no one has been held accountable," said Lucas Guttentag, ACLU lead counsel for the plaintiffs. "The rule of law and the protections of the Constitution cannot stop at the water’s edge when United States officials adopt policies that violate fundamental rights and core American values."

Today’s motion asks the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to hear the case in the first instance as an “en banc” matter, meaning the entire court would hear the request rather than the standard procedure of assigning the case to a panel of three judges. The motion asks the court to sit “en banc” in order to reconsider its existing decisions that suggest that foreign nationals outside the United States can never bring a claim against government officials for violations of the Constitution.

In March 2007, Chief Judge Thomas A. Hogan of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia dismissed the ACLU’s lawsuit even though he described the case as “lamentable” and “appalling” and noted that “the facts alleged in the complaint stand as indictment of the humanity with which the United States treats its detainees.” Still, he concluded that under the governing precedent the case must be dismissed.

Today’s motion argues that the appellate court decisions on which the district court relied are inconsistent with key U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia decisions and should be reconsidered by the court of appeals.

“We are asking the court to reconsider its decision. We seek accountability for senior American officials who ordered and allowed torture and cruelty overseas," said Deborah Colson of Human Rights First. “Especially in light of recent revelations about the involvement of high-level officials, reliance on the judicial process is a critical safeguard against abuse of power.”

The original lawsuit charges that the Constitution and international law clearly prohibit torture and require commanders to prevent such actions when they know or should have known of abuses. In addition to direct orders and authorizations, then-Secretary Rumsfeld and other high ranking officials who were named as defendants in the lawsuit knew of the torture and abuse at detention facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan and failed to act. Recently, President Bush admitted to ABC News that he knew his top national security advisers, including Rumsfeld, had discussed and approved specific details of the CIA’s use of torture.

Rear Admiral John Hutson, former Judge Advocate General of the Navy, and Brigadier General James Cullen, former Chief Judge of the U.S. Army Court of Criminal Appeal, are of counsel to HRF. In addition to Guttentag, Colson, Hutson, and Cullen, attorneys on the case are Steven Shapiro, Cecillia Wang, Jennifer Chang, Mónica Ramírez, Omar Jadwat, Amrit Singh, Steven Watt, and Hina Shamsi of the ACLU; Arthur Spitzer of the ACLU of the National Capital Area; Michael Posner and Sahr Muhammed Ally of Human Rights First; Bill Lann Lee of Lewis, Feinberg, Lee, Renaker & Jackson P.C.; Paul Hoffman of Schonbrun DeSimone Seplow Harris & Hoffman LLP; David Rudovksy of Kairys, Rudovsky, Epstein & Messing LLP; and Erwin Chemerinsky of Duke University School of Law.

Today’s motion is available online at:

Judge Hogan’s decision is online at:

More information about the case against former Defense Secretary Rumsfeld is available online at: www.aclu.org/safefree/torture/detention.html and www.humanrightsfirst.org/us_law/etn/lawsuit/index.asp

Sudan: Open letter to the United Nations Security Council

Your Excellency,

One year ago, the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued arrest warrants against Ahmad Harun and Ali Kushayb for their alleged role in war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur. On the anniversary of their issuance, we write to you to urge the Security Council to take immediate steps to ensure the prompt arrest and surrender to the ICC of these two suspects.

As you will know, three years ago, the UN Security Council moved towards ensuring justice for the victims of horrific crimes in Darfur when it decided to make its first ever referral to the ICC. However that step risks being completely undermined if the Security Council fails to respond to Khartoum's ongoing and flagrant defiance of the Court.

On March 31, 2005, when the Council referred the situation in Darfur to the ICC under resolution 1593, it imposed on Sudan a binding legal obligation to cooperate with the Court. On April 27, 2007, the ICC Pre-Trial Chamber issued arrest warrants for two men, Ahmad Harun and Ali Kushayb, charging them with 51 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for their leading roles in a series of attacks against civilians in West Darfur in 2003 and 2004. The charges include acts of murder, persecution, torture, rape and forcible displacement.

Since the referral, the government of Sudan has repeatedly refused to cooperate with the Court. In the year since the warrants were issued, Sudanese authorities have not only refused to arrest and hand over the two suspects, they have given one of them increasingly prominent public positions and released the other from prison. Ahmad Harun has been promoted to State Minister for Humanitarian Affairs, responsible for the well being of the very victims of his alleged crimes, and is now a key liaison to the United Nations - African Union peacekeeping force (UNAMID) in charge of their protection. In September 2007, he was reportedly appointed to a committee in charge of hearing complaints of victims of human rights abuses in Sudan. In October 2007, the Sudanese Minister for Foreign Affairs announced that Ali Kushayb -- who was in Sudanese custody on other charges at the time the warrants were issued -- had been released for alleged lack of evidence.

When the ICC prosecutor last briefed the UN Security Council in December 2007, he set out very clearly Khartoum's complete and persistent failure to cooperate with the Court. In response, each of the ten ICC state parties on the Security Council issued strong statements of condemnation, but the Council as a whole failed to follow up with any real action to support the prosecutor's work. The prosecutor is due to report again in June 2008. At that time, the Security Council should ensure that the government of Sudan is no longer able to continue obstructing justice and flout the will of the Council without consequences.

The "Justice for Darfur campaign", a group of human rights organizations from around the world, has come together today to call on the Security Council and the international community as a whole to ensure the prompt arrest and surrender to the ICC of these two suspects.

We urge the Security Council to finally deliver on its promise to provide justice for the victims of human rights abuses in Darfur. To do so the Council should:

* On the occasion of the ICC prosecutor's briefing to the Council in June, issue a resolution recalling that Sudan has a legal obligation to cooperate with the ICC under resolution 1593 and requiring that it immediately arrests Ahmad Harun and Ali Kushayb and surrenders them to the Court;

* Ensure that when the Council undertakes its next visit to Sudan, cooperation with the ICC is a key point on its agenda, with clear and public calls on the Sudanese government to cooperate with the Court.

Three years ago the Security Council made a historic move by referring the Darfur situation to the ICC, a move that showed its commitment to pursuing peace in the region and justice for the victims of atrocities. The Council should now honor that commitment and finally put an end to Khartoum's flagrant disregard for the ICC, the UN Security Council, and the victims themselves.


The "Justice for Darfur" campaign:

Anne-Cécile Antoni, President, Action des chrétiens pour l'abolition de la torture - France

Nasser Amin, Director General, Arab Center for the Independence of the Judiciary and the Legal Profession

Dr James Smith, Chief Executive, Aegis Trust

Widney Brown, Senior Director, International Law, Policy and Campaigns, Amnesty International

Nabeel Ahmed Rajab, Vice President, Bahrain Centre for Human Rights

Abdulla Alderazi, General Secretary , Bahrain Human Rights Society

Moataz El Fegiery, Executive Director, Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies

Ljubomir Mikic, President, Center for Peace, Legal Advice and Psychosocial Assistance -- Vukovar

Oby Nwankwo, Executive Director, The Civil Resource Development and Documentation Centre

William Pace, Convenor, Coalition for the International Criminal Court

Jacky Mamou, President, Collectif Urgence Darfour

Dismas Nkunda, Co-Chair, Darfur Consortium

Khatir M Kayabil, Secretary General, Darfur Union UK

Souhayr Belhassen, President, Fédération Internationale des ligues des Droits de l'Homme

Betsy Apple, Crimes against Humanity Program Director, Human Rights First

Richard Dicker, International Justice Program Director, Human Rights Watch

Caroline Wojtylak, Director, International Criminal Court Student Network UK

Farouk Bagambe, chairperson, Kalangala District NGO Forum - Uganda

Karam Saber, Executive Manager, Land Center for Human Rights

Jiri Kopal, Chair, League of Human Rights, Czech Republic

Hassan Greeve, Chairman, Prepared society Kenya

Chris Baruti, Board Member, Recherches et Documentation Juridiques Africaines

Tara Tavender, Executive Director, Save Darfur Canada

Tilman Zülch, President, Society for Threatened Peoples International

Adetokunbo Mumuni, Executive Director, Socio-Economic Rights & Accountability Project

Yoni Levitan, Executive Director, Students Taking Action Now: Darfur - Canada

Isobel Renzulli, Project Coordinator, Sudan organization against Torture

Hillel Neuer, Executive Director, UN Watch

Louise Roland-Gosselin, Director, Waging Peace

April 24, 2008

ACLU Urges Senate Committee to Pass Strong State Secrets Bill

Washington, DC – As the Senate Judiciary Committee meets today to mark up key legislation, the American Civil Liberties Union urged the body to pass a bill that would allow Americans to hold their government accountable. The bill, introduced by Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA), would limit the scope of the state secrets privilege. The Bush administration, which has threatened to veto Senator Kennedy’s bill, has used the privilege to halt several important lawsuits against the government, including an ACLU case involving the extraordinary rendition of an innocent German citizen, Khaled El-Masri.

"The administration’s frequent and broad use of the state secrets privilege goes to the very root of its abuse of power," said Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. "The privilege has been misused and abused for long enough. Senator Kennedy’s legislation will allow for a court to review the government’s national security claims and will rightly reinstate the role of the judiciary."

Attorney General Michael Mukasey voiced the administration’s opposition to Senator Kennedy’s bill in a letter to the committee last month. In it he made the astonishing claim that the executive branch is virtually unaccountable to the other two branches when it comes to the national security. The ACLU noted his argument is unconstitutional on its face and is urging Congress to exercise its constitutional authority and pass legislation to narrow the state secrets privilege and require courts to exercise independent judicial review over all government state secrets claims.

The ACLU has also been fighting the expanding claims of executive power in the courtroom, bringing legal challenges to the Bush administration’s policies of warrantless surveillance, extraordinary rendition and torture. The administration has frequently invoked the state secrets privilege not to protect sensitive evidence from disclosure, but to stymie entire lawsuits alleging executive misconduct – even before any requests for evidence have been made.

"Barricading the courthouse door with the assertion of state secrets has had a dire effect on the American justice system," said Fredrickson. "Not only has the public been denied the facts about illegal programs, but individuals have been prevented from holding the government accountable for its misconduct. Khaled El-Masri and other victims of extraordinary rendition have been stripped of their freedom and dignity at the hands of our government, and have had their only avenue of recourse completely and conclusively thwarted. The committee should vote Senator Kennedy’s bill out of committee and send it to the floor as soon as possible."

To read the ACLU’s letter to the Committee on S. 2533, go to:


To read more about the case of Khaled El-Masri, go to:

April 23, 2008

Amnesty International Demands Release of 41 Children Held by Ethiopian Military After Mosque Raid in Somalia

(New York) -- Amnesty International today called on the Ethiopian military to release some 41 children held after a raid on Mogadishu's Al Hidya mosque last Saturday, which left 21 people dead.

"The safety and welfare of the children, some as young as nine years old, must be paramount for all parties,"said Amnesty International.

Witnesses have told Amnesty International that Ethiopian forces would only release the children from their military base in north Mogadishu "once they had been investigated" and "if they were not terrorists."

While Amnesty International has received reports that a small number of children were released on Tuesday, the majority are still being held by Ethiopian forces.

Amnesty International strongly condemns the targeted killing of civilians in the raid. Eleven of the 21 dead were killed inside the mosque, including the Iman Sheik Saiid Yahya, Sheik Abdullah Mohamud and several Tabliq Islamic scholars. Eyewitnesses report that those killed inside the mosque were unarmed civilians taking no active part in hostilities. Seven of the 21 were reported to have died after their throats were cut – a form of extra-judicial execution practiced by Ethiopian forces in Somalia. A spokesman for the Ethiopian government has denied the involvement of Ethiopian troops in these killings.

The U.N. Security Council must take steps to end impunity across Somalia by launching an International Commission of Inquiry, or similar mechanism, to investigate human rights violations committed during the armed conflict, said Amnesty International.

"The Ethiopian government and the Transitional Federal Government must allow an independent investigation into these killings, and those found responsible must be prosecuted according to international standards of justice," said Lynn Fredriksson, advocacy director for Africa for Amnesty International USA. "The U.S. government must use its significant influence to call on the government of Ethiopia to ensure accountability for this disturbing incident of egregious human rights violations committed by its armed forces."


The attack on the Al Hidya mosque occurred during two days of fighting between the Ethiopian military and TFG against armed groups opposed to them, in which the Elman Human Rights Organisation documented 81 deaths and more than one hundred injured. It is not known how many of these were civilians. The attack also followed increasing attacks by armed groups opposed to the TFG on towns in southern and central Somalia, including an attack on Beledweyne by Al-Shabab militia on April 13, where local residents reported that militia members killed four teachers. An Al-Shabab leader has claimed the teachers were shot in crossfire.

Zimbabwe: No supply of arms until state sponsored violence ceases

All shipments of small arms, light weapons and ammunition ordered from China by the Zimbabwe Government must be halted as there is a real risk that it may lead to increased human rights violations in Zimbabwe, said Amnesty International.

“The international community must not supply small arms to Zimbabwe until state sponsored violence has ceased and the rule of law is re-established.”

Amnesty International extended its call to include a halt of sales to Zimbabwe of security equipment including tear gas, water canons and other anti-riot equipment which has been used in the past by the Zimbabwe Republic Police to suppress the right to peaceful protest. Since 2000, police have used excessive force against human rights defenders.

The organization has documented serious human rights violations committed by soldiers and police in Zimbabwe against opposition supporters after the elections held on 29 March 2008. These abuses assaults and torture by soldiers, police, so-called “war veterans” and supporters of the ruling party, ZANU-PF, against people who have been accused of not having voted “correctly.” Though some victims have reported these crimes to the police, no arrests have been reported and it appears that perpetrators continue to commit abuses with impunity.

Amnesty International welcomed the mobilization of civil society in South African and other southern African countries to stop the delivery of arms to Zimbabwe through legal and civil action taken in solidarity with victims of state sponsored violence in Zimbabwe. The organization welcomed the mobilization of the trade union movement which has appealed to its members not to offload the cargo if the ship docks at any African port.

“The mobilization of civil society has proved critical in view of the inaction of governments to put an end to arms trade to countries where there is a pattern of gross human rights violations,” said Amnesty International.

“All political leaders in southern African must urgently support the efforts of civil society and demand an end to state-sponsored violence in Zimbabwe and the return of the rule of law.”

The An Yue Jiang Chinese cargo ship carrying arms supplies to Zimbabwe, highlights the absence of a global treaty to ensure proper regulation of the conventional arms trade. Following a vote of 153 states in favour to one against, Members States of the United Nations are considering the feasibility, scope and parameters for a global Arms Trade Treaty that would prevent the irresponsible trade in conventional arms, and Amnesty International and its partners are appealing for such a treaty to contain provisions to fully respect international human rights and humanitarian law.

Amnesty International called on all states to support the early establishment of a global Arms Trade Treaty that contains robust provisions to reflect states’ obligations under international law and ensure these are incorporated into national law.

On 10 April 2008 the arms shipment arrived aboard a Chinese cargo ship – the MV “An Yue Jiang” - in Durban, South Africa. The ship’s owner was the parastatal Chinese Ocean Shipping Company and it was carrying cases of weaponry and ammunition in six containers. The shipper of the arms was Poly Technologies Inc of Beijing China, the delivery address on the shipping documents was the Zimbabwe Defence Force, Harare, and the point of origin on the cargo manifest is Beijing, China. The cargo in question consisted of 3080 cases of arms contained in six containers. The Arrival Notification described the contents as follows:

7.62 x 54mm Ball - 1000 cases containing 1 million rounds
7.62 x 39mm Ball - 1331 cases containing 2 million rounds
RPC7, 40mm Rockets - 250 cases containing 1500 rounds
60 mm mortar bombs - 227 cases containing 2703 rounds
31mm mortar bombs - 176 cases containing 581 rounds
31mm mortar tubes - 93 cases containing 31 items

Legal action to stop this Chinese arms consignment was taken on 18 April by concerned South Africans with the support of human rights legal organizations in a bid to constrain the authorities from allowing transhipment of the arms through South Africa to Zimbabwe. The application was brought in the Durban High Court on the grounds of South African national law, which prohibits arms transfers that may contribute “to internal repression or suppression of human rights and fundamental freedom” or “to governments that systematically violate or suppress human rights and fundamental freedoms”. An interim ruling was issued on 18 April to confine the arms to Durban harbour pending a final court hearing but the ship sailed away. Currently many governments, including in the SADC region, and organisations worldwide are appealing for the arms transfer to be prevented to Zimbabwe, but it is feared that the arms cargo may be delivered to Zimbabwe through another route.

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Human Right Groups Charge Documents Reveal CIA Stonewalled Congressional Oversight Committees; CIA Says Many Documents too Sensitive to Release

(New York and Washington, DC)—The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) must stop stonewalling congressional oversight committees and release vital documents related to the program of secret detentions, renditions, and torture, three prominent human rights groups said today. Amnesty International USA (AIUSA), the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and the International Human Rights Clinic at NYU School of Law (NYU IHRC) reiterated their call for information, following the CIA’s filing of a summary judgment motion this week to end a lawsuit and avoid turning over more than 7000 documents related to its secret “ghost” detention and extraordinary rendition program. This motion is in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit filed in federal court last June by these groups. The organizations will file their response brief next month.

Among other assertions, the CIA claimed that it did not have to release the documents because many consist of correspondence with the White House or top Bush administration officials, or because they are between parties seeking legal advice on the programs, including guidance on the legality of certain interrogation procedures. The CIA confirmed that it requested—and received—legal advice from attorneys at the Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel concerning these procedures.

“For the first time, the CIA has acknowledged that extensive records exist relating to its use of enforced disappearances and secret prisons,” said Curt Goering, AIUSA senior deputy executive director. “Given what we already know about documents written by Bush administration officials trying to justify torture and other human rights crimes, one does not need a fertile imagination to conclude that the real reason for refusing to disclose these documents has more to do with avoiding disclosure of criminal activity than national security.”

The CIA’s admission that it possesses at least 7000 documents relating to rendition, secret detention and torture generated renewed calls by the human rights groups for transparency and accountability from the government.

“The Freedom of Information Act is one of the major checks on government criminality in this country,” said CCR Executive Director Vincent Warren. “The CIA has acknowledged that it has well over 7000 documents that relate to the torture and disappearance of men. These include some of our clients, like Majid Khan, who were known to be in the program. The public needs to know what crimes were committed in our name and how they were justified. This has been the most secretive, least transparent administration in history, and it is well past time for accountability.”

AIUSA, CCR, and NYU IHRC have filed FOIA requests with several U.S. government agencies, including the CIA. These FOIA requests sought information about individuals who are—or have been—held by the U.S. government or detained with U.S. involvement, and about whom there is no public record. The requests also sought information about the government’s legal justifications for its secret detention and extraordinary rendition program. Comprehensive information about the identities and locations of prisoners in CIA custody—as well as the conditions of their detention and the specific interrogation methods used against them— has never been publicly revealed. This lack of transparency continues to prevent scrutiny by the public or the courts and leaves detainees vulnerable to abuse and torture.

Although the CIA did release a paltry number of documents in response to the FOIA request, most were already in the public domain, such as newspaper articles and a single copy of the Fourth Geneva Convention which governs the treatment of civilians in times of war. The limited relevant documents that were released were documents pertaining to briefings demanded by the House and Senate Intelligence Committees regarding various aspects of the overseas detention and interrogation program.

Documents released to plaintiffs by the CIA demonstrate that many within the government itself have been unable to obtain accurate information from the CIA. These documents, which include letters from Members of Congress to the CIA, demonstrate a pattern of withholding information from Congress. In a pointed bipartisan letter on October 16, 2003, then-Chair and Ranking Member of the House Select Committee on Intelligence requested that CIA Director George Tenet provide senior level briefings on the treatment of, and information obtained by, three men known to be held in secret CIA detention, admonishing the CIA by stating that the committee was “frustrated with the quality of the information” provided in past briefings.

The CIA appears to have avoided answering detailed requests for specific information, responding instead with form letters and references to briefings. These practices led to a forceful letter from Senator Carl Levin, Current Chairman of the Senate Committee on Armed Services, (then the Ranking Member) who was attempting to investigate CIA involvement in detainee deaths. In a letter dated Oct. 24, 2005, Senator Levin noted that “[t]he lack of CIA cooperation with the investigations to date has left significant omissions in the record.” The CIA’s failure to cooperate with members of Congress demonstrates the need for public scrutiny of the secret detention and extraordinary rendition program under FOIA.

“The CIA has employed illegal techniques such as torture, enforced disappearances, and extraordinary rendition,” said Meg Satterthwaite, Director of the NYU IHRC. “It cannot use FOIA exemptions as a shield to hide its violations of U.S. and international law.”

In its legal filings, the CIA acknowledged that this program “will continue.” Some prisoners have been transferred to prisons in other countries for proxy detention where they face the risk of torture and where they continue to be held secretly, without charge or trial. Human rights reports indicate that the fate and whereabouts of at least 30 people believed to have been held in secret U.S. custody remain unknown.

In September 2006, President Bush publicly acknowledged the existence of CIA-operated secret prisons. At the same time, 14 detainees from these facilities were transferred to Guantánamo and several more have arrived since. The administration has admitted to using so-called “alternative interrogation procedures” on those held in the CIA program, including waterboarding. The international community and the United States, in other contexts, have unequivocally deemed these techniques torture.

For more information or copies of the CIA’s legal filings and released documents, please contact ssingh@aiusa.org, jnessel@ccrjustice.org or opgenhaffen@juris.law.nyu.edu.