March 13, 2008

  • EPA Creates New Air Quality Standards
  • Mexico Judicial Reform Treats Social Protest at Criminal Activity
  • Armenia Fights to End Effective Blockade
  • Congress Commemorates Iraq War Anniversary, While Winter Soldier Begins
  • Iraqi Refugees in Syria

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Justice Dept Report Finds National Security Letter Abuse by FBI
The Justice Department released a report today reviewing the FBI’s use of National Security Letters – or NSLs. The audit found that the FBI had used the letters to improperly obtain personal information about US citizens under the guise of terrorism or espionage investigations. Senator Russ Feingold reacted to the report, stating “The continued misuse of the NSL authority laid out in this report can be directly attributed to the USA Patriot Act, which granted the FBI a blank check to obtain sensitive information about innocent Americans without judicial review.” Feingold is a co-sponsor of the National Security Letter Reform Act – a bill that attempts to limit the broad powers given to the FBI through the Patriot Act and to correct some of the abuses that have been identified with the use of national security letters.

Pentagon Backtracks on Plan to Publicly Release Report Finding No Ties Between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda
In other news from Washington, the Pentagon has backtracked on plans to publicly release a study that found no ties between former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. The study analyzed more than 600 thousand Iraqi government documents. The study concludes that the secular Saddam Hussein did sponsor state terror against opponents of his regime, but did not have a link with the Islamic fundamentalist network led by Osama Bin Ladin. The Pentagon has agreed to release the report to journalists who specifically request it.

Sudan-Chad Peace Agreement Stalled in Senegal
The 11th summit of the world’s largest forum of Muslim-majority countries opened today in the Senegalese capital, Dakar. The presidents of Sudan and Chad were to sign a peace agreement there prior to the start of the summit, but the signing ceremony was postponed. The summit opened with lingering doubts that any progress will come from the peace agreement. In Senegal, Ndiaga Seck has more.

Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade tried to bring together his Chadian and Sudanese counterparts ahead of the start of the 11th Organization of the Islamic Conference summit. Tensions between Chad and Sudan have been particularly high since rebels launched a major assault on the Chadian capital last month. Chadian President Idriss Déby accuses the Sudanese government of funding the rebels that tried to topple his administration. Chad also blames Sudan for fueling violence in Darfur, which has sent waves of displaced persons streaming into refugee camps in Chad. The two sides were to take a first step towards ending their rivalry by signing a peace agreement last night. But Sudanese President Omar El-Bashir did not appear at the signing ceremony, blaming his absence on a headache. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and Gabonese president Omar Bongo Ondimba left the presidential palace a little before midnight, leaving Senegalese president Abdoulaye Wade to tell the press that the ceremony would be postponed until after the OIC summit opening. But the summit opened today with the Chadian President announcing that rebels based in Sudan had launched a new offensive against his government. Sudan called the accusation a pretext to avoid peace agreement. At deadline, the Chadian and Sudanese presidents were in a closed door meeting, leaving many political observers skeptical about the prospects for peace. For FSRN in Senegal, I’m Ndiaga Seck.

Rebel Pipelines Discovered in Niger Delta
Nigerian authorities say they have discovered illegal pipelines used by Niger Delta militants to steal fuel from the area’s oil installations. Sam Olukoya reports from Lagos.

Authorities say they have discovered at least two illegal oil pipelines in the past week. One of the pipelines passes through the abandoned headquarters of a Niger Delta militia leader. The second pipeline is located close to the abandoned headquarters. Authorities say they believe the pipelines were transporting stolen oil from a government-owned refinery in the area. Oil theft is a major problem in Nigeria, Africa’s largest oil producer. State officials estimate about 3.5 billion dollars worth of oil is stolen every year from Nigeria’s extensive network of pipeline. Local militants fighting for a share of oil proceeds are believed to be behind some of the thefts… although it has also become a widespread practice in many poor communities. The discovery of rebel pipelines reveals that oil theft by militants is on a larger scale than previously believed and indicates that the operation was large enough to provide the armed groups with a sufficiently large revenue stream to purchase weapons used to continue their fight against the Nigerian government and Western oil companies. For Free Speech Radio News, this is Sam Olukoya in Lagos.

Gitmo Detainee Outburst Delays Tribunals

The military tribunal of an Afghan detainee at Guantanamo Bay has been put on hold in the wake of a dramatic outburst during the start of his trial yesterday. Twenty-three year old Mohammed Jawad has been in military detention for more than 5 years. He’s accused of throwing a grenade during a battle with US forces in Afghanistan. Reporters present during Jawad’s hearing write that he was dragged into the courtroom where he refused to comply with the proceedings which he called illegal. He accused military authorities of lying about his age at the time of his arrest in order to cover up that he was a minor when captured. Jawad also claimed to have been tortured during his detention at the naval base. Prior to the outburst, many had expected the trial to serve as an example of how the backlog of cases at Guantanamo could be quickly processed through the newly created military commissions system there. Jawad’s war crimes trial has now been postponed for a least a couple of months.


EPA Creates New Air Quality Standards

The Environmental Protection Agency is under fire from Congress for failing to move forward on regulating greenhouse emissions from motor vehicles. The head of the EPA, Stephen Johnson, told Congress that he needs more time to think about the complexity of the issue. This comes as the EPA enacted ozone air-pollution standards that many scientists and environmentalists say are weak. FSRN’s Leigh Ann Caldwell reports.

Mexico Judicial Reform Treats Social Protest at Criminal Activity

US ambassador to Mexico Tony Garza has congratulated Mexican president Felipe Calderón for yesterday’s arrest of one of the FBI and DEA’s most wanted drug traffickers. According to the embassy, the arrest of Gustavo Rivera Martinez, head of the Tijuana cartel, demonstrates the effectiveness of the newly reformed prosecution policies within Mexico’s law enforcement system. While framed as a measure to crackdown on organized crime, the judicial reform package has also drawn criticism from sectors of society who say the reforms confuse social protest with criminal activity. FSRN’s Vladimir Flores reports from Oaxaca.

Armenia Fights to End Effective Blockade

The Caucasus region is the gateway to Central Asia’s rich oil and gas deposits. Following the collapse of the USSR, a series of conflicts left the small republic of Armenia isolated by hostile neighbors on nearly all sides. A railway construction project – potentially vital to the region’s transportation and economy – linking Turkey, Azerbaijan and Georgia pointedly left Armenia out. Garegin Khumaryan reports from Yerevan on a rival project that aims to break the blockade.

Congress Commemorates Iraq War Anniversary, While Winter Soldier Begins

While Congress memorialized the war, veterans from across the country have convened in the area to hold an event exposing the horrors of war. The event, Winter Soldier, is reminiscent of the Vietnam War action with the same name in which soldiers publicly spoke about war atrocities. This war’s four day long Winter Soldier begins today. Live coverage begins tomorrow on Pacifica Radio – go to for more information.

Iraqi Refugees in Syria

The war in Iraq has caused an estimated 2.5 million Iraqis to flee their homeland. One point five million of those refugees are now living in Syria. The head of the UN’s refugee agency said the Iraqis in Syria are running out of money and options. The United Nations says if the international community doesn’t provide enough relief support, many Iraqi refugees could try to move to European Union nations. Zack Baddorf has more from Damascus.

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