July 13, 2010

  • Federal commission takes up drilling ban and use of dispersants in Gulf Coast
  • Obama administration releases new plan to fight HIV/AIDS
  • Senate returns to tackle financial reform, war spending, energy and unemployment
  • US military expansion in Costa Rica draws lawsuit, criticism
  • Gazans face delays, blocks in efforts to secure passports

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First civilian trial of Gitmo detainee proceeds
A judge in New York has cleared the way for the first civilian trial of a Guantanamo Bay detainee.  US District Judge Lewis Kaplan ruled today that Ahmed Ghailani was not denied a speedy trial, despite being held for two years at CIA run black site prisons overseas and then almost three years at Guantanamo Bay before he was transferred to the US. Judge Kaplan also said that if Ghailani was subjected to torture during his interrogation, he can seek remedy in civil or criminal court.


Appeals Court overturns release order for Gitmo detainee
And one current Guantanamo Bay detainee will stay there after all – a federal appeals court today ruled that Mohammed al-Adahi was “at the very least more likely than not” a member of al-Qaida and that is enough evidence to warrant his detention. Legal analysts say that today’s ruling may well make it easier for the government to balance of detainees at Guantanamo right where they are. Yesterday, another Gitmo detainee, Canadian citizen Omar Khadr, said he’ll boycott his military trial – calling the plea deal he turned down an “excuse for the torture and abuse” the government allegedly inflicted on him as a child. Khadr has been detained for eight years – since he was 15 years old.


California sued over school funding
For the second time this year, the state of California and its governor, Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger, are being sued over school funding. Kellia Ramares has the story.

Pro bono attorneys representing parents, students and community groups, filed  suit in Alameda County Superior Court in Oakland, alleging that the state’s school funding system is unconstitutionally unequal and inadequate. California law requires that the state provide children with a public education and that the state make education funding its first priority. According to the plaintiffs, low income and minority students are affected more often than their wealthier counterparts by increases in class size, cuts in electives, layoffs of nurses, librarians and counselors, and lower teacher quality. This is the second lawsuit of its kind in California this year. A spokesperson for Governor Schwarzenegger, a defendant in both suits, said that the governor is willing to work on a solution with the plaintiffs, but that “funding alone will not solve the fundamental problems facing our schools.” The two suits will be heard in Alameda County. Kellia Ramares, FSRN, Oakland, California.

Six NOLA cops indicted on civil rights violations over Danzinger Bridge shootings
Six New Orleans police officers were indicted today on federal civil rights violations in connection with shootings on the Danzinger Bridge in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. In the first incident, police allegedly fired at an unarmed family, killing one. Minutes later on the other end of the bridge, they fired on two brothers, again killing one. They are accused of then trumping up charges against the surviving brother. Four officers and two supervisors face various charges related to the shootings and the subsequent cover up. At least three of the officers surrendered to the FBI earlier today.


NY youth hold vigil over DREAM Act
A dozen immigrant youth in New York City are holding a 24-hour vigil outside Representative Nydia Velasquez’s office urging her to support the Dream Act. Karen Yi reports.

The youth are targeting Congresswoman Velaquez over her refusal to support the Dream Act – a proposed federal law that would provide a path to legalization for undocumented youth.  Congressmember Velasquez serves heavily immigrant areas in Lower Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn, and is the Chair of the National Hispanic Caucus. She is also the only New York City representative who has yet to support the Dream Act. Sonia Guinansaca is a member of the New York State Youth Leadership Council

“It’s sad because her district is immigrant she has also sits in the chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. The majority of the dream act students are Hispanic. It’s like you know why are you not representing the youth that you are supposed to represent as the chair of the national Hispanic caucus?”

In June, members of the New York State Youth Leadership Council staged a hunger strike outside New York Senator Charles Schumer’s Manhattan office. Despite the action, Senator Schumer failed to bring the Dream Act to a vote. The youth say they will continue to escalate their actions until the Dream Act is passed. Karen Yi, FSRN, New York.

ICC charges Sudanese President with genocide
The international Criminal Court issued a second warrant for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir – adding three charges of genocide to the war crimes and crimes against humanity charges it filed against him more than a year ago. The ICC judicial panel found reasonable grounds that al Bashir specifically tried to “destroy in part the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa ethnic groups.” It’s the first time the ICC has leveled genocide charges against a sitting world leader.


French Parliament’s lower chamber bans full face veils 
The lower chamber of the French parliament approved a ban on full-face veils today – by a vote of 336 to 1. Amnesty International condemned the vote- calling a total ban a violation of the “rights to freedom of expression and religion.”  The Ban now goes to the French Senate in September. Should it pass there it then must be constitutionally reviewed.



Federal commission takes up drilling ban and use of dispersants in Gulf Coast
The US Department of the Interior has issued a second ban on deepwater offshore oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, after a first attempt was blocked in court. Gulf coast businesses and some local politicians say a drilling ban will hurt the economy. The ban was the focus of some panelists at the second day of hearings at the federal commission looking into the cause of the BP oil disaster. The Interior Department’s Michael Bromwich said that the ban is necessary to avoid future disasters. Bromwich explained to the panel that the temporary ban targets BOPs, or Blow Out Preventers, like the device that caused the BP explosion in April.

“This moratorium is defined in terms of specific technologies that is used. And in particular, BOP stats. So the suspension, the moratorium, is directed at subsurface Blow Out Preventers, which are much more complex than surface BOPs. They’re much less accessible for intervention and so forth.”

Bromwich, who leads the new Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, said this ban would last through November 30, 2010, but the date could be adjusted.

But some local leaders speaking to the commission criticized the ban. David Camardelle, mayor of Grand Isle Louisiana, called the ban an added challenge to residents already facing a financial strain.

“We’re not gonna give up, but I can tell you, by taking everything away from us from the waters, I don’t know what the hell is going to happen to us. Hoping that we get some help some kind of way, we can come across and five-thousand dollars is nothing and to come in and nickel and dime our people, that’s not the way to do it. And remember, it’s hurricane season, all our insurances our due. Flood insurances, the banks are calling every one of the people, every one of our residents to renew it. There’s just no money, there’s no money.”

Panelists also questioned the continued use of chemical dispersants. The EPA’s Mathy Stanislaus said the agency was concerned over what it called the “skyrocketing” use of dispersants and in May, forced BP to scale back the use.

“EPA and the Coast Guard raised this issue with a meeting with BP on May 26th. We collectively required BP to ramp down to 75 percent from their peak usage. The directive that was issued limited BP usage to 15,000 gallons use of dispersants subsea and barred them from dispersant use on the surface without prior written of the FOSC [Federal On-Scene Coordinator].”

FOSC is the Federal On-Scene Coordinator.

Despite this directive, BP continues to regularly use surface dispersants. As Mother Jones and ProPublica recently reported, letters on the Deepwater Horizon website show BP requested and received exemptions to use chemical dispersants for the entire month of June except for three days. For example, a letter dated June 30 requests dispersants to be used as the “primary mechanism for spill response” and requests to use 10,000 gallons. It’s approved, signed by the US Coast Guard.

Meanwhile, in the latest effort to stop the gushing well, BP installed a new containment cap and today engineers will attempt to temporarily shut off the flow of oil through a series of valves. Engineers will then measure pressure from the well to determine weather there are more leaks below the ocean floor.


Obama administration releases new plan to fight HIV/AIDS
Today the Obama administration released a plan to reduce the number of new HIV / AIDS cases by 25 percent over the next five years. The ambitious plan is part of a comprehensive strategy to combat the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the US.  The plan shows the public’s awareness of the disease is declining and the number of new cases is particularly high in the South, and among blacks and the poor – aspects the new strategy aims to address.  FSRN’s Matt Pearson reports.


Senate returns to tackle financial reform, war spending, energy and unemployment
Both the Senate and the House are back in business today after a short break over the July 4th holiday. The Senate appears to have enough votes to pass financial reform legislation as three Republicans have come out in support. Although they are on the verge of passing this monumental bill, the Senate’s to do list is long, and as FSRN’s Leigh Ann Caldwell reports, time is running out.


US military expansion in Costa Rica draws lawsuit, criticism
Earlier this month, Costa Rica’s congress approved an agreement allowing US military forces – including some 7,000 Marines and 46 Navy warships – to operate in Costa Rica’s territory. Both the Costa Rican and US governments say it is an important step to fight drug trafficking, but the deal has drawn criticism from within Costa Rica, from those who say it violates sovereignty and Costa Rica’s constitution. Now it is the subject of a lawsuit that challenges the agreement in the Supreme Court.

We’re joined from San Jose by attorney Roberto Zamora. He successfully challenged the government over its support of the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and he’s the person behind the current legal challenge to the military agreement.


Gazans face delays, blocks in efforts to secure passports
In the Gaza Strip, thousands of people who want to leave the coastal territory lack passports. Although travel for Palestinians is restricted, with a passport some can leave for medical treatment, study and to visit family members. But a back log of passport applications has been growing, and Human rights groups say both the Hamas-led government in Gaza and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank are to blame. FSRN’s Rami Almeghari has more.