May 13, 2009

  • Obama administration reverses course, will not release photos of detainee abuse
  • Former FBI interrogator says torture does not work
  • Sudanese immigrant community in Maine fears for their own safety
  • San Francisco residents split about JROTC’s return
  • India wraps up marathon voting process, three parties will likely share power
  • Narcan: helping save the lives of those addicted to heroin

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Dozens dead as mortar attack hits another Sri Lanka hospital
In Sri Lanka today, a second mortar attack on a makeshift hospital killed at least 50 civilians living in the war zone.   FSRN’s Ponniah Manikavasagam has the story.

Tamil Tiger rebels cornered in a tiny patch of coastal land blamed government forces for the attack and civilian deaths. But the army says this is false propaganda.  A volunteer in the hospital who requested to remain anonymous, says they were hit by two or three shells.  She says the situation is terrible.

“Because of the shelling in the morning and rounds as well, people are really frightened to stay in the hospital. I think the fighting is taking place about 500 meters away.”

The International Red Cross says one of its aid workers also died, along with his mother, in shelling near the hospital.   A spokesperson for the Red Cross says, for the second day, they have had to abandon attempts to evacuate the injured and the sick from the hospital.  Ponniah Manikavasagam.  FSRN.  Vavuniya, Sri Lanka.

Intense fighting continues in Pakistan

Fighting continues in Pakistan as the head of the country’s army told his troops to focus on keeping civilian casualties to a minimum, quote – “even at the expense of taking risks” – according to a statement from the military.  In Peshawar today, Taliban fighters raided a NATO depot and burned 8 trucks.  It’s estimated that now 800-thousand civilians in the conflict zone have fled their homes.

Arkansas Lawsuit seeks redress for abused guestworkers

Today four Mexican guestworkers filed suit against an Arkansas farm owner over labor trafficking and other abuses. Malcolm Glover in Little Rock, Arkansas has the details.

The federal lawsuit alleges that Jack Odom, of Odom Farms in Austin, Arkansas, brought the guestworkers to the U.S., forced them to live in deplorable conditions, and failed to pay them the minimum guestworker rate required by the US government.  Sarah Donaldson with Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid is working with Southern Migrant Legal Services as an attorney for the guestworkers. Donald says the workers lived and worked in a hot metal shed, they weren’t allowed to leave the farm without an escort, and after confiscating their passports, the grower threatened to report them to immigration.

“This case also outlines a bigger problem with the guestworker program, unlike US workers who have no problem with changing jobs when there exploited by an employer. Guestworkers are tied to an employer that’s what their visa says and a lot of employers  take advantage of that.”

Donaldson says the case may go to trial within a year. Odom farms would not return calls for comment.  Malcolm Glover.  FSRN.  Little Rock.

Climate bill compromise weakens emissions protections
House Democrats say they are close to reaching a compromise on a bill to cut greenhouse gas emissions. The bill would set up a “cap and trade” system for industries and set renewable power and energy efficiency targets for states.  FSRN’s Matt Pearson reports.

Last night House Democrats on the Energy and Commerce Committee announced a breakthrough in negotiations over the proposed emissions bill. The bill has faced some opposition from states that rely on coal and heavy industry.  But now, reported changes may make its passage onto the House floor possible.  The compromise bill is weaker. Among the reported concessions is a relaxing of renewable energy requirements for states. The bill originally called for all states to get 25 percent of their electricity from renewable power – like solar, wind, geothermal, and biomass – by the year 2025. The new version of the bill would lower the standard to 15 percent.  Also underway are negotiations over allotment of pollution credits to industries under the proposed “cap and trade” system, which the Obama administration has strongly supported.  Environmental advocates say the reported compromises are a small setback in the fight to pass climate change legislation.  Liz Perera is with the Union of Concerned Scientists.

“We need to move forward, and more importantly we need to give Obama’s negotiators something to walk into the Copenhagen meetings by the end of this year.  The only direction is forward and we need to do it any way we can.”

President Obama is set to visit key international climate talks in Copenhagen this December.  Matt Pearson.  FSRN. Washington.

US takes seat on UN Human Rights Council
Following a sea change in US policy toward the UN under the Obama Administration, a delegate from the US is now a sitting member of the United Nations Human Rights Council. The US will serve a three-year term on the 47-nation council, following elections yesterday. Ambassador Susan Rice:

“And we are gratified by the strong showing of encouragement for the United States to again play a meaningful leadership role in multilateral organizations, including the UN on the very vitally important set of issues relating to human rights and democracy.”

The Bush Administration formally boycotted the Council, partly because of its criticism of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.   Now the Obama administration says it wants to reform and strengthen the council from within.  The US took New Zealand’s place on the Human Rights Council. China, Russia, Cuba and Saudi Arabia are represented as within. The US took New Zealand’s place on the Human Rights Council. China, Russia, Cuba and Saudi Arabia are represented as well.



Obama administration reverses course, will not release photos of detainee abuse
President Obama has decided against releasing photos of detainee abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan. The administration said the pictures’ release could harm troops in the field. The Pentagon was set to make the photographs public at the end of this month due of a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU decried the decision.

Former FBI interrogator says torture does not work
Meanwhile, before a Senate panel on Capital Hill, a former FBI interrogator testified harsh interrogation techniques don’t work. Ali Soufan said he obtained critical information from detainees without using controversial torture techniques.  As FSRN’s Leigh Ann Caldwell reports, the Bush administration’s harsh interrogation methods continue to draw intense debate in Washington.

Sudanese immigrant community in Maine fears for their own safety

In Maine, member of the Sudanese immigrant community say their basic safety is threatened. The Sudanese Community Association is calling for an immediate meeting with the governor and attorney general. They’re also demanding justice in the case of David Okot. Just last month, Portland police shot and killed Okot, who they say brandished a firearm after officers approached him. However, family members don’t buy the story that he ever displayed a weapon, and are critical that that officers dragged his body down a flight of stairs and down a street after he was shot. This police shooting is the latest in a decade’s worth of sometimes dubious altercations between local police and members of Portland’s Sudanese immigrant community. Aura Bogado speaks to Dan Lilley, the attorney representing Mr. Okot’s estate.

San Francisco residents split about JROTC’s return
San Francisco’s School Board voted Tuesday to restore the Junior ROTC program to city schools. The Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps is a high school program sponsored by the US armed forces. The military says it encourages patriotism, leadership and physical fitness for youth. But critics say JROTC programs are a way for the Pentagon to recruit children and promote militarism. As Africa Jones reports, the program has sharply divided San Francisco’s residents.

India wraps up marathon voting process, three parties will likely share power
After a marathon month-long voting process, India’s national elections ended Wednesday. The main contest in this keenly fought political battle was between three alliances led by the ruling Congress party, the opposition BJP and the left. Results won’t be known until Saturday – but political bargaining has already started, with the three alliances seeking allies to form the government at the center. Bismillah Geelani has the story.

Narcan: helping save the lives of those addicted to heroin
A drug called naloxone, trade name Narcan, has proven effective when used by emergency medical personnel to reverse drug overdoses from opioids like heroin. More recently, efforts in several cities to get the remedy into the hands of those most likely to need it – that is, friends and family members of drug users – has saved lives. Melinda Tuhus reports from New Haven, Connecticut.

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