January 4, 2010

  • Iraqi government pledges new lawsuits on behalf of civilians killed by Blackwater guards
  • Human rights and health advocates fight anti-homosexual bill in Uganda
  • 2010: the year ahead in Washington, D.C.
  • California communities continue to look for solutions to police brutality, one year after killing

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More embassies close and Yemen’s Foreign Minister says no to US military action 
France joined the US and the UK in shuttering its Embassy in Yemen today. Japan Suspended consular services in the Yemeni capitol and Spain limited access to its mission. And after meeting with leaders in Qatar today, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said they discussed ways to collaborate:

“How can we work together and with others to stabilize Yemen, assist in securing its borders, providing for its people and combating al Qaeda.”

Yemen’s Foreign Minister Abu Baker al-Qirbi, however, summarily dismissed any direct US military action in the country, saying “Yemen is going to deal with terrorism in its own way.”

New international security measures at airports in effect today – but not in practice

And new security measures for all travelers headed to the US were to begin today, but a number of countries have yet to implement them. Everyone traveling into the country from nations that are considered by the US to be “state supporters of terrorism” or “countries of interest” is to undergo a full-body pat down, physical inspections and body scan. Travelers from other countries will be subject to more frequent random screening.

HIV/AIDS Travel and Immigration Ban ends

In an ease to travel restrictions, for the first time in 22 years people infected with HIV/AIDS can freely enter the United State today and they can apply for residency without taking an AIDS test. Kellia Ramares has more.

The HIV Travel and Immigration ban was introduced at the height of a global AIDS panic. Now, the development of treatments has changed HIV/AIDS from a death sentence to a manageable chronic disease. And the public is more informed about HIV. President Obama lifted the ban, stating that it was incompatible with the American goal of becoming a world leader fighting the disease. Debra Holza of the San Fransisco AIDS Foundations applauded the President’s decision.

“Previously the travel ban prevented prospective immigrants, foreign students, refugees and others from entering the US, and there was no evidence whatsoever to support that in terms of public health.”

11 other countries, including Russia, Saudi Arabia and South Korea, still maintain a ban. The US will host its first international AIDS summit in 2012. Kellia Ramares, FSRN.

Houston and Atlanta inaugurate Mayors
Two major US cities inaugurated mayors today – former Georgia state Senator Kasim Reed became the 59th mayor of Atlanta, succeeding two term leader Shirley Franklin, who was term limited out of the job. And in Houston, Annise Parker became the Mayor of the nations 4th largest city. The openly gay Parker took her oath today in front of a thousand supporters – her long-time partner held the bible upon which she swore. Outside, a handful of protestors from the Westboro Baptist Church held hate filled signs and were met by about 40 counter protestors who held a dance party in celebration – Chuck Jackson was among them.

“Most of us there know that the Westboro Baptist Church’s message of hate is ridiculous and it’s pointless, but we didn’t want the mainstream media to show up and film them without a visible critique of their presence. Our music and our dancing was a kind of joyful expression of inclusion designed to counter their dourness and hostility.”

Voters in Texas have outlawed gay marriage and a Houston city referendum on granting benefits to same-sex partners of city employees failed.

Some 17,000 chemicals unregulated and unreported to EPA

Nearly two-thirds of new chemicals approved in the last three decades are kept secret – neither the public nor top government regulators have information about what’s in them, or what risks they present. Tanya Snyder has more.

The nonprofit Environmental Working Group has discovered an information blackout about 17,000 chemicals that show up in art supplies, detergents, plastics, and even paper. The 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act allows companies to keep their ingredients hush-hush if they say the recipe is a trade secret that, if revealed, could bring unwanted competition.

“The chemical policy in the United States rewards and enables the lack of information.”

Environmental Working Group Senior Scientist Dave Andrews.

“The EPA states that they don’t have the resources to necessarily challenge or check these claims of confidentiality.”

Currently, if a company requests confidentiality, the EPA has the burden of proving confidentiality isn’t necessary to protect that company’s business. And according to Andrews, the EPA only checks about ten claims a year. US lawmakers are set to rewrite the measure this year and the EPA wants to shift the burden of proof.  Also — changes could be made that would Make it easier for first responders and state governments to get the information when there’s a public health emergency. Tanya Snyder, FSRN, Washington.



Iraqi government pledges new lawsuits on behalf of civilians killed by Blackwater guards – 5:06 minutes (4.67 MB)
Iraqi government officials say they will continue pursuing legal action against military contractors who open fired on civilians two years ago in Baghdad, killing more than a dozen unarmed civilians, and injuring about 20 others. Last week, a US judge threw out a lawsuit against five Blackwater security guards charged with manslaughter. Iraqi government spokesperson Ali Al-Dabbagh spoke to Al-Jazeera about the ruling.

“We are sorry that the federal judge had that verdict. We keep them and we hold them criminals. As for our investigation here in Baghdad, the Blackwater personnel, those five people, they had used excessive force and they didn’t follow the rule of engagement and they killed innocent Iraqis on the sixteenth of September 2007, and we reserve the right of our victims, Iraqis and all the citizens which have been harmed during this criminal act, we reserve the right to follow and to bring them to the justice, either through the American justice system or through the strategic agreement which we have with the United States which keep the reserve of our citizens for all the military operations, all the victims of military operations.”

Blackwater guards killed 17 civilians in Baghdad’s busy Nisoor Square in September 2007. The guards say they were attacked, but Iraqi investigators and US military officials have said they used excessive force and acted without provocation. The Iraqi government canceled all Blackwater contracts following the shooting, and yesterday spokesperson al-Dabbagh said former Blackwater employees now working for other companies were also not welcome in the country.

Last Thursday’s ruling wasn’t a surprise to many involved in and watching the case. The Blackwater guards’ provided statements in the hours and weeks following the shooting which government prosecutors used to incriminate them, violating their 5th Amendment rights. In the 90-page ruling throwing out the case, judge Ricardo M. Urbina outlined the prosecution’s misconduct and use of tainted evidence. The Justice Department can appeal the ruling or even bring new indictments, but it would need to find untainted evidence to make their case.

In the streets of Baghdad, civilians expressed dismay and frustration. Earlier today, we spoke to Ned Parker, Baghdad bureau chief for the LA Times. He and journalist Raheem Salman have interviewed survivors of the shooting.

Read “Iraqis express dismay over Blackwater ruling,” in the Los Angeles Times.

Human rights and health advocates fight anti-homosexual bill in Uganda – 4:38 minutes (4.24 MB)
Uganda’s government is considering a bill that would impose harsh penalties for homosexuality, including possibly the death penalty. The effort has received international criticism. Recently, supporters of the bill in Uganda have indicated they may back away from the most severe aspects of the legislation, but human rights groups and HIV-AIDS agencies say that there is still plenty to be worried about. The proposed bill could have wide implications that may extend beyond Uganda’s borders.

We’re joined by Amanda Lugg. She’s the director of advocacy at the African Services Committee, a community-based organization in New York that provides health and social services to the African and Caribbean community. It also has services in Ethiopia.

2010: the year ahead in Washington, D.C. – 4:34 minutes (4.18 MB)
Last week, FSRN looked back at a busy 2009 in Washington, DC. It was an ambitious first year for President Barack Obama and a Democratic Congress which attempted to reform the health care system, divert a financial catastrophe, and develop a military strategy in Afghanistan and Iraq. Today, FSRN’s DC Editor, Leigh Ann Caldwell, takes a look at what the year ahead could look like.

California communities continue to look for solutions to police brutality, one year after killing – 6:53 minutes (6.29 MB)

New Years day marked the one-year anniversary of the police killing of Oscar Grant in Oakland, California. The murder trial of Johannes Mehserle, the transit police officer who killed Grant, is set to begin later this year in Los Angeles. The shooting of Grant was one of many incidents of apparent police misconduct in 2009, as a result, the issue of police accountability is receiving increased attention. More than 100 cities and counties have gained some sort of civilian oversight of their police department. Public scrutiny is increasing, in part because of more frequent use of tasers, and because more incidents of police brutality are being recorded on cell phone cameras. But many communities still say they’re unable to find any semblance of justice. FSRN’s Andrew Stelzer has more.