November 17, 2009

  • Plan to bring detainees into US justice system hits political firestorm
  • Former civil rights lawyer Lynne Stewart ordered to serve prison sentence
  • Federal report finds high rate of hunger among American children
  • Residents in Fallujah face rise in birth defects after US bombardment
  • Argentina considers measures to legalize same sex marriage

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2009 Military suicide rate already eclipses last year
At the Pentagon today, The Army’s Vice Chief of Staff, General Peter Chiarelli, said today that the number of soldiers who killed themselves in 2009 has already caught up with those who chose to end their lives in all of 2008.

“The Army has reported 140 active duty suicides – which is equivalent to our total in 2008, with a month and a half remaining in the year. This is horrible. And I do not want to downplay the significance of these numbers in any way. But I believe we are making progress – in fact since March the general trend line, with the exception of a couple of months, has been down.”

More and more Army personnel have committed suicide each year since 2004, and last year, the suicide rate in the Army was even higher than that in the civilian population. And the 140 deaths General Chiarelli reported today include only those on active duty – not the 71 others who killed themselves after their tour ended.


Single mom-soldier confined to base, may face criminal charges for failure to deploy
The  US military put an infant into foster care after his mother refused deployment to  Afghanistan. Specialist Alexis Hutchinson did not show up for her flight because she did not have anyone to care for her 10 month old son. Hutchinson was arrested and her son briefly placed in temporary care 10 days ago.  She has since been released but is confined to her Georgia base. Her son has been sent to stay with his grandmother until other plans for his care can be made. Her civilian attorney says she was told by a superior that despite the circumstance – she was required to deploy and that her son could be placed in foster care. An Army spokesperson says they would not deploy a single parent with no one to care for their child – an investigation is ongoing.


NATO to send more troops into combat in Afghanistan
Speaking at gathering of the NATO parliament today in Edinburg, the Secretary General said today that the alliance will order “substantially more troops” onto the battlefield in Afghanistan in the coming weeks. Anders Fogh Rasmussen said: “In a few weeks, I expect we will decide, in NATO, on the approach, and troop levels needed, to take our mission forward.” He added that he is “confident it will be a counter-insurgency approach, with substantially more forces,” and promised a “new momentum” propelling NATO’s mission in Afghanistan.


Colorado classifies medical marijuana taxable property, orders dispensaries to add tax
In Colorado, Governor Bill Ritter says he will order medical marijuana dispensaries to pay sales tax. Governor Ritter’s announcement follows yesterday’s decision by the state Attorney General that medical marijuana is legally considered personal property – not a prescription. A spokesperson for the Governor says that the tax is expected to generate some 15 million a year in revenue.


University of Illinois grad students on strike over tuition waivers
Graduate students at the Urbana-Champaign campus of the University of Illinois are on their second day of a strike today – Mike Lehman has more.

Hundreds of classes were called off again today at the University of Illinois and major class buildings were completely shut down.  The Graduate Employees Organization – or GEO – is on strike to protest the University’s refusal to protect the existing policy of making graduate education affordable for all qualified students with tuition waivers for graduate employees. As of yet, the University refuses to guarantee tuition waivers in the new contract with the GEO in writing. Leighton Christiansen is a graduate student at the Graduate School of Library and Information Sciences and says that the dispute is not new.

Graduate students teach a quarter of the classes at the University of Illinois, and they’re the lowest paid educators on campus. The two sides are continuing negotiations today. Mike Lehman, FSRN, Urbana, Illinois.



Plan to bring detainees into US justice system hits political firestorm
The Obama Administration’s plan to transfer Guantanamo detainees to the U.S. criminal justice system has run into partisan warfare on Capitol Hill. Republicans are attempting to cut off funding, which would prohibit the transfer of detainees to the US. But cutting through party politics, three conservative leaders came out in support of the Obama Administration’s plan. FSRN’s Leigh Ann Caldwell reports.


Former civil rights lawyer Lynne Stewart ordered to serve prison sentence
Former civil rights lawyer Lynne Stewart has been ordered to immediately serve a 28-month prison sentence, and could face a longer period of incarceration. Today, a federal appeals court issued a 200-page ruling that directs a district court to review whether her sentence was too lenient. Stewart, now 70 years old, was convicted in 2005 of conspiracy and providing material support to terrorists by carrying messages from her client, Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman to a terrorist organization in Egypt. Rahman was convicted of plotting terrorist attacks in the US and is serving a life sentence in a North Carolina prison. Stewart was also convicted of defrauding the government for violating a post-September 11th rule called Special Administrative Measures which prohibits some prisoners from communicating with the outside world, and which can limit what an attorney speaks about with her clients.

In a letter to district judge John Koeltl in September 2006, Stewart wrote that while she did violate government policy limiting communications, she did so only to serve her client. Judge Koeltl, acknowledged Stewart’s 30-year career of representing controversial clients saying she provided a “public service, not only to her clients, but to the nation.” But he also said prison time was merited because of her “extraordinarily severe criminal conduct.”

Stewart, who’s garnered widespread support since her trial, has been released on bail since her sentencing. Two years ago, she spoke at a fundraiser for Pacifica’s WBAI:

“I just want you all to know, I really couldn’t believe my ears: that there was a federal judge saying this about me, in this circumstance as he’s about to sentence me for terrorism, he is saying I was of great service to the nation.  But you know I believe that John Cotle read every one of the letters that came in.  And he read them and he realized who I was, what my life had been about, and he honored me in that way.”

Stewart’s attorney did not return FSRN’s request for comment on today’s ruling. Two members of Stewart’s legal team, including a NYU graduate student who was hired to translate for Rahman, were also charged and sentenced. But today’s ruling also opened up the possibility of reconsidering these sentences.


Federal report finds high rate of hunger among American children
Seventeen million American families were food insecure last year. That’s according to a new report by the Department of Agriculture. It means that at some point during the year families didn’t have enough food for their children. In more than 500,000 families, children experienced hunger multiple times per year. Today, the Senate Agriculture committee held a hearing to find out what can be done to help. FSRN’s Karen Miller has more.


Residents in Fallujah face rise in birth defects after US bombardment
As U.S. military attention shifts from Iraq to Afghanistan and Pakistan, the effects of six years of warfare are emerging. Fallujah, in Central Iraq, was the site of some of the most intense fighting, including two battles in 2004, in which the US used heavy munitions.  Now, five years later, a sharp rise in birth defects in the area has doctors and residents concerned.

We’re joined by Martin Chulov, Iraqi correspondent for The Guardian. His article on the rise in birth defects in Fallujah came out over the weekend. FSRN spoke to him earlier today by mobile phone in Baghdad.

Read Martin Chulov’s article in The Guardian and watch a video here:


Argentina considers measures to legalize same sex marriage
This week a gay couple in Argentina has received the country’s first marriage license. A judge ruled last week that stopping the couple from marriage is a violation of the country’s constitutional guarantee to equality. The decision makes Argentina the first country in Latin America to allow same sex marriage. The ruling does not extend beyond the specific case, but Argentina’s parliament is now debating two measures that could legalize same sex marriage outright.  FSRN’S Marcos Federman has more from Buenos Aires.

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