December 14, 2009

  • Congress prepares to raise the roof on the national debt
  • Kyoto holds key to Copenhagen consensus
  • Mass arrests mark COP 15 protests
  • Investigative reporters re-visit New Orleans police shootings after Hurricane Katrina
  • Water pollution plagues China

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Iran says hikers will stand trial
Iran’s Foreign Minister said today that three hikers detained there since July had “suspicious aims” and will stand trial before an Iranian court. He gave no indication when the trial will take place – or any specifics of the charges against Shane Bauer, Sarah Shourd and Joshua Fattal. Just last week, the same Foreign Minister called on the US to release eleven Iranians currently held in US prison

US Supreme Court refuses further review of detainee rights and upholds immunity for senior officials
The US Supreme Court today refused to consider a case brought by former detainees at Guantanamo Bay against former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other senior military officials for ordering torture and religious abuse. While the Court had previously held that detainees have a constitutional right to habeas corpus, in refusing to hear Rasul v. Meyers the Court let stand a lower Court decision that held the detainees did not have the right to be free from torture while in US custody. Further, the Court upheld immunity for Rumsfeld and his codefendants – saying that even if torture of the detainees had been unlawful – they had no way to know that. The Obama administration asked the Court to stay out of the case. Eric Lewis represented the detainees.

“The Solicitor General tends to have a lot of influence in setting the agenda of the Court and the Obama administration, sadly you know, did not want the issue of the limits of executive power and immunity looked at. You know – every administration tends to like executive power a lot more than they thought they would when they got there. But you can’t triangulate torture – you can’t weigh the right to torture against the prerogatives of government. And I think that’s what happened here and I think it’s a terrible mistake on the part of the Obama administration. There’s no doubt that if the Solicitor General thought that the case should have been heard – it would have been heard.

The case was based on the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act – which expressly applies to all persons. Lewis notes that today’s order effectively denies Guantanamo Bay detainees the basic protection of law.

HRW calls for UN to quit all support for military in Congo

Human Rights Watch is calling on the UN to immediately end all support for military operations in Congo, citing more than 1400 civilian deaths in the first nine months of this year. In a report released today the group documents ongoing brutal murder and rape by both government and rebel forces. Further, while acknowledging challenges for UN peacekeepers in the region, HRW says that their role in military operations has implicated them in ongoing humanitarian abuses.

Hyderabad returns to normal after weekend protests over new state – opposition persists
Tension remains high in southern India today after a weekend of violent protests following a government decision to split a state in two – Bismillah Gellani has more.

Protests against the proposed bifurcation of the southern state of Andhara Pradesh continued for the fourth day today, even though the state capital of Hyderabad remained relatively calm. The city’s bus and train services resumed and most businesses reopened after three days of shut down. But the state assembly was adjourned soon after it reconvened amid disruptions by the legislators who demanded that the central government reverse its decision to create a new state called Telangana. Last week, India’s government gave in to demands by the Telangana regions to establish a separate state after violent protests broke out across Andhara Pradesh.  Statehood for Telangana has been a major issue in the region for the last several decades, but the creation of the new state is facing stiff resistance with several political parties who oppose the division of Andhara Pradesh. Meanwhile the Telangana peoples’ success has rekindled several other dormant movement s for separate statehood and many groups are now planning to intensify their campaigns. Bismillah Geelnai, Free Speech Radio News.

Belusconi remains hospitalized

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi will spend one more night in the hospital after he was attacked while signing autographs yesterday. Berlusconi suffered a broken nose and two broken teeth when a man with known psychological problems struck him in the face with a metal statuette of the Duomo. The Prime Minister has cancelled a Wednesday meeting with Turkey’s Prime Minster – it remains unclear if he will be able to travel to Copenhagen as planned on Thursday.

Voters in Chile fail to cast majority in presidential elecs – run-off in January
In elections in Chile yesterday, voters cast the greatest share of votes for conservative billionaire Sebastian Piñera, who now will square off against runner up Eduardo Frei, the ruling center-left coalition candidate. Jorge Garreton has more from Santiago.

The split in the ruling Concertacion coalition sets the stage for a run off election in January, when Sebastian Piñera who got 44 percent of the votes will take on Senator and former President Eduardo Frei who only received 30 percent of all votes cast. Independent candidate Marco Enríquez-Ominami came in third capturing the strong sense of disenchantment in the electorate. Enríquez-Ominami was a ruling coalition congress member up to until his bid for Chile’s highest office, but was prevented from competing for the Concertacion candidacy by an entrenched political establishment that imposed Frei on voters. Now Frei has to win back disenchanted voters in an effort to prevent a right-wing victory next month. Jorge Garreton, FSRN, Santiago.

Dozens of civilians killed in air raid on Yemen market

In northwestern Yemen, as many as 70 civilians were killed yesterday when bombs struck a marketplace. Rebels in the area say Saudi forces carried out the air raids, but a Yemen army spokesperson claimed responsibility. The attack took place in a village called Bani Maan, where Yemen forces have been fighting Shiite rebels since early November, trying to put down five years of separatist uprising.

Schwarzenegger calls UC protest “terrorism” after Chancellor’s house damaged
California’s Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger called Friday’s action by protestors against the UC Berkeley Chancellors home a “type of terrorism that will not be tolerated” and called for prosecution under the fullest extent of the law. Eight people were arrested after protestors damaged property and allegedly threw incendiary devices at the house. The incident followed a four day non-violent sit in opposing a 32 percent tuition hike and the arrests of dozens of students.



Congress prepares to raise the roof on the national debt

In Washington, DC today, President Obama met with CEOs of 12 big banks that received tax-payer funded bailouts. He described the meeting as “candid and productive,” but said banks have a responsibility to help get the economy moving again.

“Given the difficulty business people are having as lending have declined . . . are still having problems giving them loans.”

Obama said he also made clear the importance of passing financial reform and consumer protection legislation, which is encountering strong opposition from the financial industry.

The House or Representatives is prepared to raise the debt ceiling this week. This comes as Congress is working to pass its spending bills, and possibly another jobs creation bill. FSRN’s Leigh Ann Caldwell reports.


Kyoto holds key to Copenhagen consensus
In Copenhagen today, international climate negotiations grew tense after African countries objected to what they described as an attempt by rich countries to kill the Kyoto Protocol. The United States has expressed it will not sign on to the legally binding treaty that is currently in effect, saying reduction targets would apply only to a new treaty. But African nations are reluctant to move forward with the negotiation without the Kyoto treaty.

The dispute put the brakes conference negotiations for a few hours. The African countries want separate agreements for Kyoto and for the new protocol rather than merging the two into one, as the agenda called for today. Maria Bengashi is a negotiator from South Africa.

“We support our African chair…We support an open, bottom up , party driven process… the Kyoto process should come first.”

As we go to broadcast, it appears the African countries succeeded in getting Kyoto back onto the negotiating agenda. A member of Ghana’s delegation told FSRN he is hoping the negotiation gets back under way quickly.

“There’s an acute sense that we’re running out of time on this on this one. Maybe it’s good and whips up the urgency on everybody’s part but we’ve lost time and it’s not going to be put together in the final analysis.”

Another key issue moving forward at the conference is REDD – the program to reduce emissions from forest destruction and degradation when land is cleared for agriculture. Negotiators have been looking to the program to achieve 20 percent of the needed reductions in greenhouse gases. But indigenous groups and environmentalists say safeguards are missing from the text that has emerged out of the weekend negotiations. FSRN’s Jenny Johnson has the story.


Mass arrests mark COP 15 protests
Activists at the climate talks in Copenhagen kicked off a week’s worth of protests with a single massive demonstration that marched from Copenhagen’s Parliament square and ended in a candlelit candlelight vigil at the entrance to the conference center where the official talks are taking place. Organizers say over 100,000 people participated. Brian Edwards-Tiekert was there.


Investigative reporters re-visit New Orleans police shootings after Hurricane Katrina
Much of the news from Copenhagen contains grim warnings about the effects climate change can have on human societies – from the drowning of island nations to mass migrations fueled by natural disasters. The most devasting natural disaster in recent US history continues to be Hurricane Katrina, which made landfall near New Orleans in late August 2005 and wrecked the city’s levees. The storm profoundly impacted New Orleans society, leaving scars that have yet to heal and questions that remain unanswered.

More than 4 years after the storm, a group of reporters from the Times-Picayune, PBS’s Frontline, and the non-investigative newsroom ProPublica are taking a fresh look at 10 police shootings of civilians in the days after the levees broke. Shannon Young spoke with AC Thompson, an investigative reporter with ProPublica.

Articles and other materials from the ongoing investigation can be found here.


Water pollution plagues China
Water pollution is one of China’s most severe environmental problems. According to environmental monitors it affects almost 70% of the country’s rivers, lakes and reservoirs. The Chinese government has tried to implement a number of laws to address the problem, but a series of recent reports by Greenpeace has shown that the situation is only getting worse – and they’re blaming major companies for continuing to dump their waste. From Beijing, FSRN’s Shuk-Wah Chung has more.

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