November 15, 2006

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An American soldier has admitted to raping a 14 year old Iraqi and to helping other soldiers kill the girl and her family in their home in Mahmudiyah. Four soldiers in all have been implicated in the multiple homicide, but Army Specialist James Barker is the first to plead guilty.

The US Department of Justice has appealed the sentence of the so-called “Millennium Bomber” by a federal judge in Washington State. Mark Taylor-Canfield reports from Seattle.

A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard the government’s challenge to Ahmed Ressam’s 22-year prison sentence on Tuesday. Authorities arrested Ressam in December of 1999 at the US border in Port Angeles, Washington after discovering explosives in his rental car. His arrest prompted the cancellation of millennium celebrations in Seattle. US District Court Judge John Coughenhour sentenced Ressam last year for the so-called “millennium” bomb plot, but prosecutors think the punishment is too light. The Justice Department claims the judge abused his discretion and misused Ressam’s sentencing to criticize U.S. policy about having terrorism suspects held indefinitely or tried before secretive military tribunals. In sentencing Ahmed Ressam, Judge Coughenhour said, “We did not need to use a secret military tribunal, detain the defendant indefinitely or deny the defendant the right to counsel…” Federal prosecutors reportedly want a 35-year sentence. This is Mark Taylor-Canfield for Free Speech Radio News in Seattle.

Former lobbyist Jack Abramoff began serving a 5 year, ten month prison sentence in Maryland today. Abramoff was convicted on fraud charges related to the purchase of casino boats in Florida. The one-time lobbyist has also pleaded guilty to charges of tax evasion, conspiracy and mail fraud as part of an investigation into a separate lobbying and corruption scandal that has stained the reputations of a number of high-profile Republicans.

One member of Denver’s 3-person Election Commission has offered his resignation, citing major problems with the voting process in the recent election. Many voters in Denver were literally left out in the cold on election day, waiting in long lines that stretched beyond the doors of the polling centers. Denver has also had multiple problems with machines that print and count the ballots. The final results of a number of Colorado races were not announced until this week.

Education workers in Peru have called for a 24-hour long national strike today in protest of a World Bank-inspired program to break up the nation’s public education system along municipal lines. Pamela Cueva reports from Lima.

What the so-called “municipalization” program aims to do is take the administration of the country’s public health and education systems out of the hands of the national government and make it the responsibility of individual cities or municipalities. Peru’s current Education Minister has announced a “municipalization” pilot project will take affect in certain areas next year. In Peru, many municipal governments have demonstrated serious problems when it comes to the administration of local resources. Many fear that turning public education over to an incompetent or corrupt local government could spell disaster for local schools and eventually lead to their privatization. Critics of the plan point to the results of a similar experiment in Chile. High school students there have carried out months of protests to reform the country’s education system and make education a right and not a privilege. Organized labor also opposes the project, as it would fracture strong national unions representing employees in the sectors of public health and education. The unions backing today’s national strike in Peru are calling for an end to all municipalization plans and an increase in funding for public education and health care. For FSRN, I’m Pamela Cueva with Alfredo Cuadras.

Two Paris airport-workers have been given back their security clearance today. They were among seven Muslims who took legal action last Friday to regain the right to work in the security zone of the Charles de Gaulle airport. But another 68 remain affected by the ban and an anti-racist group is to take legal action against the local officials responsible for the move, accusing them of racial or religious discrimination. Tony Cross reports from Paris.

The local court in Cergy, near Paris, gave security badges back to two airport-workers. One of them was Mohammed Seddiqi, who had been summoned to answer secret service accusations against him while he was on holiday in Algeria. Today he urged his colleagues to fight on, declaring “Look at me. I was wrongly accused and I won.” Another two workers won back their badges last week, but today’s judgment upheld the ban on five others, judged to be potential security threats. In all 72 workers have had their clearance lifted since May last year; most of them Muslims of immigrant origin. The anti-racist group, Mrap, claims that the only basis for action against them was their racial or religious affiliations. It’s taking the top local official, the Prefect, to court for discrimination. Meanwhile, trade-unionists have made public a film in which they brought modeling-paste, that resembled the explosive semtex, through security. They say that proves that it’s employers’ laxness which is the real danger. For FSRN, I’m Tony Cross in Paris.

Washington Weighs in on Iraq
Congress focused on Iraq today. Democrats in both houses seized the opportunity to challenge U.S. policy in Iraq, less than one week after the country voted against the current Iraq strategy. And for Republicans, it was one of their last chances to hold an Iraq oversight hearing; they too showed concern with the situation there. Washington Editor Leigh Ann Caldwell has the story.

Kidnapped Hostages Freed in Baghdad
The death of 6 U.S. soldiers in Iraq yesterday has brought the U.S. military death toll to at least 2,859 since the start of the invasion. As the violence continues, dozens of hostages were released in Baghdad after a kidnapping at a ministry of Education building in the center of the capital on Tuesday. David Enders reports with Salam Talib.

Republicans Choose Leadership as Minority Party
Now that Senate Democrats have elected their new leadership, Mississippi Senator Trent Lott has made a major political comeback securing the second ranking post for his party as Republican Whip. He beat Tennessean Lamar Alexander by one vote: 25-to-24 after announcing his bid for the position just two days ago. Lott fell from the leadership power he held for 6 years in 2002 when he made controversial comments about race and segregation at Senator Strom Thurmond’s 100th birthday party. But he convinced fellow Republicans that his knowledge and experience in the Senate will make him the better assistant leader.

India and Pakistan Resume Peace Talks
India and Pakistan concluded their first peace talks in nearly a year today, with both sides promising to do more to achieve lasting peace in South Asia. The two nuclear rivals fought three wars and were at the brink of another war in 2002 when international diplomatic pressure persuaded both sides to start a dialogue process on their differences, including Kashmir. But after recent train bombings in the Indian city of Mumbai killed more than 200, India canceled the talks, accusing the Pakistani intelligence agency of “masterminding terrorist attacks” in India. FSRN’s Vinod K. Jose has the latest on the peace process.

A Look at the Korean Demilitarized Zone
Washington’s efforts to enforce the U.N. sanctions on North Korea have hit a sticking point. Seoul announced this week that it will not participate in inspections of North Korean vessels, something the Bush administration had been pressuring the South to do. South Koreans are concerned about sparking another conflict with their isolated neighbor, and as FSRN’s Jason Strother reports, signs of their half century old civil war are still visible at the border between the two nations.

Civil Rights Groups, Lawyers Challenge City’s Anti-Immigrant Ordinance
A federal district court judge will hear oral arguments regarding a temporary restraining order tomorrow filed by a coalition of civil rights organizations and law firms to stop the enforcement of an anti-immigrant ordinance which bans the rental of homes and apartments to undocumented residents. FSRN’s Alonso Rivera reports.

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