December 21, 2005

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A federal judge from the 11-member Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court has resigned. This comes amid revelations that the Bush administration authorized the National Security Agency to carry out surveillance of Americans without warrants. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance court was set up to regulate government surveillance of suspected foreign agents. Although Judge James Robertson has not publicly commented on the reasons behind his resignation, the Washington Post today cited 2 sources close to the judge who say the resignation was in protest of the Bush administration’s domestic surveillance program.

After a two week hiatus for parliamentary elections, Saddam Hussein was back in court today. Charles Levinson reports from Baghdad.

The deposed Iraqi president today accused his American guards of beating and torturing him while in custody, saying he had marks all over his body to prove it. The rambling outburst came after witnesses detailed the torture they endured in a provincial intelligence headquarters during Saddam’s rule. Along with seven co-defendants, Saddam stands accused of murdering 150 Shiites from the village of Djail in 1982. The alleged mass murder came after an assassination attempt on Saddam’s life. One witness, who was 14 at the time, testified that intelligence agents poured molten plastic onto his skin. Ali al-Haydari said he watched as his two brothers were beaten with sticks until their bones were exposed. In past court proceedings Hussein has repeatedly interrupted witnesses. He told the judge to “Go to hell” and refused to appear in court two weeks ago. Through much of today’s testimony Hussein sat quietly, wearing a dark suit, a white shirt and no tie. He took notes and seemed to be listening intently. After tomorrow’s proceeding, the trial is scheduled to resume in mid-January. For FSRN, I’m Charles Levinson in Baghdad.

Members of a banned pro-democracy group are on trial in Africa’s last remaining absolute monarchy. Na’eem Jeenah has the story.

Nine members of the banned Swaziland opposition group, the People’s United Democratic Movement or “Pudemo” were yesterday remanded in custody after a court appearance related to a spate of bombings. The tiny country, surrounded by South Africa and Mozambique, is Africa’s last absolute monarchy. Arrested over the weekend, the activists are accused of bombing courthouses and the houses of three policemen and two government officials. Charges include attempted murder. There is growing frustration in the impoverished country. In 1973, Swazi King Sobhuza II banned political parties and the AIDS-ridden country has been ruled by royal decree since. A new constitution is due to come into effect next month. It strengthens human rights but entrenches the power of King Mswati III. Pudemo has denied any involvement in the bombings but warns there will be more explosions. The opposition group is calling for multiparty democracy and insists the new constitution be subjected to a referendum. For Free Speech Radio News, this is Na’eem Jeenah in Johannesburg.

Environmentalists and some local communities in Nigeria’s Niger Delta region have initiated contempt proceedings against the Anglo-Dutch oil company Shell Petroleum. The company has continued to flare gas in the region despite a court judgment barring it from doing so. Sam Olukoya reports from Lagos.

The contempt-of-court proceeding was filed this week by some communities in the Niger Delta with the support of Environmental Rights Action of Nigeria and the Climate Justice Programme of the United Kingdom. Last month, a Nigerian court ruled, in a case brought against Shell, that gas flaring violates the fundamental rights to life and dignity. The environmentalists and communities say Shell has continued to flare gas in violation of the court ruling. Even though Shell filed a notice of appeal, the environmentalists and communities argue that the company ought to have stopped gas flaring because the judgment to stop gas flaring took effect immediately. Nigeria flares the highest quantity of gas in the world. The poisonous gas from the flares cause environmental problems for local communities. The flares contain large quantities of greenhouse gases, a major source of climate change. Shell Petroleum has in the meantime shut down some of its operations in the Niger Delta following three different attacks on its facilities by gunmen on Monday. For Free Speech Radio News, this is Sam Olukoya in Lagos.

Another major toxic spill has poisoned a Chinese river used as a source of drinking water. Levels of cadmium in the waters of the Beijiang River are ten times the level of what is considered to be safe. The most recent spill was reportedly caused by a leak at a zinc smelting factory. The cadmium pollution has already caused cuts in water service in some areas along the river and is predicted to reach the city of Yingde sometime tomorrow. This is the second instance of a massive chemical spill in China in the past 5 weeks. A chemical plant explosion last month sent 100 tons of benzine into the Songhua River. Both cadmium and benzine are known carcinogens.

Senate Busy Before Session Comes to Close
After a 25 year struggle by Republicans to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling, it appears that Democrats will make it a 26 year struggle as they successfully upheld a filibuster against a Pentagon spending bill that contained the ANWR provision. Meanwhile, Vice President Dick Cheney cancelled his trip to Saudi Arabia and Egypt to cast a tie breaking vote in the Senate on a budget reconciliation bill that cuts $40-billion from the budget, mostly to programs for the poor. And finally, as the Senate attempts to end this year’s session, negotiators still appear to be far apart on reauthorizing the Patriot Act. 16 of the Act’s most controversial measures expire in less than two weeks. Mitch Jeserich has this wrap up from all of today’s actions at the US Senate.

Iraqis Allege Rampant Fraud in Parliamentary Elections
Saddam Hussein’s trial resumed in Baghdad today, as security restrictions in the country were eased following last week’s parliamentary elections. On Tuesday, Sunni leaders alleged that rampant fraud marginalized their supporters as election officials released preliminary tallies that indicate religious Shiites will continue to dominate Iraq’s government. FSRN’s David Enders has more.

UK Knowingly Lied about Indonesian Atrocities
According to newly released de-classified documents, the British Government knowingly lied about Indonesian atrocities in East Timor back in the 1970s; it was also involved in a cover-up about the murder of five journalists who were filming there, two of them British citizens. Their film would have exposed the Indonesian invasion in East Timor to the rest of the world. From London, Naomi Fowler reports.

Argentines Weigh in on Decision to Pay Entire IMF Debt
Thousands of people marched to the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires to mark the fourth anniversary yesterday of the popular uprising that swept away the government. Marchers remembered the 33 people killed in that uprising on December 20, 2001, and to continue to voice their demands for social change. During the rally in front of the Presidential palace, unionists, human rights organizations and unemployed worker movements had heavy criticisms for President Nestor Kirchner’s decision to pay off its $10 billion debt to the International Monetary Fund before the end of the year. FSRN’s Marie Trigona reports from Buenos Aires.

Bolivian Social Movements Expect Change from Evo Morales
Evo Morales has received numerous calls from Latin American leaders congratulating him on winning his Presidential bid in Bolivia, but Mexican President Vicente Fox is not one of them. And, Mexico’s Foreign Relations Secretary says he does not support Morales’s plan of creating a Latin American Trade bloc to counter the United States. Meanwhile, in Bolivia, although it’s only been three days since Morales was elected as the country’s first indigenous president, Bolivian people are expecting their new president will institute the changes he’s promised. FSRN’s Diletta Varlese reports.

New Orleans Justice Taking a Big Hit
The infrastructure of New Orleans ­ both natural and human-made, has been stretched beyond the breaking point. This includes the court system, which was physically displaced and now operates with a workforce decimated by budget cuts. FSRN’s Melinda Tuhus sat in on a recent morning session of municipal court, where some say justice has taken a big hit.

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