June 20, 2008

  • FISA Legislation Easily Passes the US House
  • Former Bush Press Secretary Testifies Before Senate Judiciary Committee
  • Physicians Find Physical Evidence of “Torture” on US Detainees Abroad
  • 52 Illegal Detention Centers Identified in Pakistan
  • Tibetans in India Speak Out Against Chinese Detentions

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Iraq the Largest Source of Refugees for Third Consecutive Year
Today is World Refugee Day and Iraqis have topped the list of refugees for a third consecutive year. According to a survey released by the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, more than half a million Iraqis fled their country last year. That takes the overall total of Iraqi refugees since the start of the US-led invasion to nearly three million. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff stated in a press release today that the US has admitted 5,000 Iraqi refugees to date.

Big Oil Poised to Sign No-Bid Iraqi Contracts

Four big oil companies are poised to sign contracts that would give them acess to Iraq’s richest oil fields. The New York Times reports ExxonMobil, Shell, British Petroleum, and Total are expected to finalize the terms of their 2 year no-bid contracts with the Iraqi Ministry of Oil later this month. The four companies previously owned a joint venture known as the Iraq Petroleum Company, which monopolized Iraqi oil wealth for 36 years prior to the overthrow of a British-imposed colonial ruler. The companies lost their remaining concessions when the Iraqi government nationalized the country’s oil resources and industries in 1971. The upcoming two year service contracts, known as Technical Support Agreements – stop short of giving the companies direct access to the oil in the fields, but will give them an advantage in future exploration and extraction bids.

Indonesian Agent Arrested in Case of Poisoned Human Rights Activist
The former deputy head of Indonesia’s top intelligence body has been arrested for alleged involvement in the murder of the country’s leading human rights activist four years ago. The arrest is the first formal acknowledgment by authorities that the powerful spy agency may have been involved in the murder of Munir Thalib. Rebecca Henschke reports from Jakarta.

[Suciwai clip – bed under] Suciwati, the widow of poisoned human rights activist Munir says the arrest of the former deputy head of the state intelligence body is a important step in ending the culture of impunity surrounding her husbands murder. The police say they a holding Muchdi Purwo-prandjono as a formal suspect in Munir’s murder, meaning police believe they have enough evidence to bring the case to trial.
[Maarif clip – bed under] Muchdi lawyer, Zaenal Maarif, says his client is cooperating fully with police and says officers have yet to present any evidence linking him to the murder. Munir was a vocal critical of the intelligent agency and the military for its methods of quashing dissent in provinces such as Aceh and Papua. He was poisoned in September 2004, while flying to Amsterdam on Garuda the national airline. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court sentenced Garuda Pilot Pollycarpus Priyanto to 20 years in jail for his part in the murder. It was the first conviction in the case. For FSRN, this is Rebecca Henschke in Jakarta.

Controversial Education Bill Passes in Chilean Lower House of Congress
Chile’s Lower House of Congress passed a controversial new education law yesterday. The government says the reforms will change Chile’s education system for the better. But teachers accused the government of cowering to forces that want to privatize the education of children. FSRN’s Jorge Garretón has more from Chile’s seat of Congress.

With cries of “shame” raining from the gallery of the lower chamber of Congress, teachers angrily greeted the passing of the new education law. The framework legislation is designed to require strict funding oversights, enshrines, in principle, students and quality of education as its main priorities and guarantee access to pre-school through the twelfth grade. But teachers charge this legislation funnels public money into a profit-driven model at the expense of free public education. Teachers have ended their four-day strike, but students in parts of Chile continue with their mobilizations. Congressional representatives with the ruling center-left coalition admitted this bill does no go far enough because they lack the votes needed to fully repeal Pinochet era laws and introduce progressive legislation. Regardless President Michelle Bachelet called the bill’s passage historic and promised to introduce public school specific legislation in the next few weeks. Now the bill goes to the Senate for final approval, where it is expected to easily pass. For FSRN, this is Jorge Garretón in Valparaíso Chile.

Mississippi River Floodwater Continues to Strain Levees
Floodwaters in the swollen Mississippi River continue to top or burst through levees along riverbanks in Missouri. Urban areas have been largely spared the level of damage seen earlier in Iowa towns, but Missouri farmland has been hard hit. The river is expected to crest just under the level of a flood record set in 1993.

Evergreen State College Students End Sit-In
A student sit-in at the Evergreen State College in Washington state has ended after school administrators agreed to allow the local chapter of Students For a Democratic Society back onto campus. Mark Taylor-Canfield has more from Seattle.

Student activists at the Evergreen State College announced this week that they have reached an agreement with school administrators to allow the group Students For A Democratic Society to hold meetings on campus once the fall semester begins. The students have been occupying part of an administration building since May 22nd school administrators banned the local chapter of Students For A Democratic Society. An unrelated clash between police and students at a concert in February led college administrators to prohibit all student organization events on campus. When SDS held an on-campus concert and discussion panel in March in defiance of the ban, the group’s official status as a registered student organization was revoked. Under a new agreement, SDS will be able to register as an officially sanctioned student organization next year removing the current ban on their campus activities. A college employee who was fired for participating in the student sit-in will also be rehired with full back pay. Students who organized the sit-in say they consider the agreement a victory for freedom of speech and assembly on campus. This is Mark Taylor-Canfield in Seattle for Free Speech Radio News.


FISA Legislation Easily Passes the US House

After months of debate, today the house voted 294 to 129 to pass the FISA Amendments Act of 2008. The legislation gives telecommunications companies a free pass by providing immunity against lawsuits connected to their providing the government access to private phone records. It also extends the powers for the government surveillance program until 2012. Republicans overwhelmingly supported the bill, but the real battle was between conservative and liberal democrats. FSRN’s Karen Miller has more.

Former Bush Press Secretary Testifies Before Senate Judiciary Committee

Scott McClellan, former press secretary for the Bush Administration, recently published a book damning the Bush White House for deceiving the American public. Today he testified before the House Judiciary Committee. He said he was told, under orders of the President and Vice President, to lie about Scooter Libby’s involvement in the identity leak of CIA operative Valerie Plame. McClellan’s testimony comes after a FBI and federal grand jury investigation into the origin of the security breach. Katharine Jarmul has more from DC.

Physicians Find Physical Evidence of “Torture” on US Detainees Abroad

Physicians for Human Rights recently did examinations of 11 former US detainees who were held as terrorism suspects in Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and Afghanistan. According to doctors, these men were never charged but were subjected to extreme abuse. Physicians for Human Rights released the results of the examinations earlier this week in a report called “Broken Laws, Broken Lives,” calling it the most detailed account yet of the treatment of prisoners by US personnel. I spoke with Dr. Sondra Crosby, who personally examined four of the men. Crosby is a General Internist at Boston Medical Center who specializes in the care and evaluation of torture survivors.

52 Illegal Detention Centers Identified in Pakistan

The Asian Human Rights Commission earlier this month identified 52 illegal detention centers in Pakistan. Since 2001 thousands of families have been searching frantically for their loved ones, but all in vain. According to the commission, intelligence agencies have kept these people in detention centers and forced them to confess involvement in terrorist activities. The only ray of hope dimmed, when President Pervez Musharraf removed Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry last November. The judge had directed the country’s intelligence chief to present the prisoners to the court. Now Pakistanis are protesting across the country, calling for the release of all disappeared persons, and the closure of the illegal detention facilities. FSRN correspondent in Peshawar Rahmanullah has more.

Tibetans in India Speak Out Against Chinese Detentions

Today the official Chinese news agency reported the government has released more than 1000 Tibetans detained during protests in March. The announcement comes one day before the Olympic torch is scheduled to make its way through the Tibetan capitol. But according to an Amnesty International report, the crackdowns against protesters have not ceased – and include beatings, torture and food deprivation. The report also denounces the lack of access to the region. FSRN’s Natalia Viana went to India to talk to Tibetans in exile.

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