Newscast for Monday, October 24, 2011

  • With US troops set to leave Iraq, private contractors and police training come under scrutiny
  • Proposed changes to FBI’s DNA database could have wide implications for civil rights, privacy
  • Argentina re-elects Cristina Kirchner for second term
  • In Central California, residents say access to safe water still a problem

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Libyan ‘liberated’ with questionable killings

In Libya, the National Transitional Council declared the country “liberated” this weekend. But graphic photos of the body of Moammar Ghaddafi are raising concerns over how and why the ex-leader was killed. UN Human Rights Office spokesperson Rupert Colville is calling for an investigation into Ghaddafi’s death, and says he should have been spared in order to stand trial for his crimes:

“When there are such serious charges against people you always want to see them in court. And because of the rigorousness of court proceedings and what they require of the prosecution, it can be a very important element in a transitional justice situation that people get a clearer picture of what has happened, who was responsible for what, so it can be a rather cathartic exercise as well as being a fundamental tenet of rule of law.”

On Sunday, Human Rights Watch discovered the bodies of 53 apparent Ghaddafi loyalists in a Sirte hotel, and the group is demanding that those responsible for the mass execution be brought to justice.

US Syrian Ambassador recalled over safety concerns

As violence escalates in Syria, U.S. Ambassador Robert Ford is temporarily returning to Washington. Ford has been outspoken in his support for those protesting President Bashar al-Assad, which has made him the target of multiple threats and acts of intimidation. US state department spokesperson Mark Toner told reporters Monday that Ford’s return to Damascus depended on a “assessment of Syrian regime-led incitement and the security situation on the ground.”

UN Security Council passes Yemen resolution

The UN Security Council unanimously passed a resolution late Friday calling for a peaceful transition of power in Yemen, and an immediate end to the violence and political repression. The resolution backs a proposal from the Gulf Cooperation Council, which calls for president Ali Abdullah Saleh to transfer power to his vice-president followed by the formation of an interim government, a new constitution and elections. But Amnesty International criticized the announcement, saying it gives President Saleh immunity from investigation and prosecution.


Earthquake hits Eastern Turkey

Rescue operations are underway in Eastern Turkey following a 7.2 magnitude earthquake on Sunday afternoon near the city of Van, on the Turkish border with Iran. Hermione Gee reports from Istanbul.

The death toll from Sunday’s earthquake now stands at 239, according to government officials, with around thirteen hundred people injured. Turkey’s Interior Minister Idris Naim Sahin said that while the number of dead is expected to increase, the figures are not likely to be as bad as initially feared.

The small city of Ercis — 55 miles north of Van — took the brunt of the tremor and around 80 multi-story buildings collapsed, including four or five apartment blocks and a student dormitory. Rescue operations were initially hampered by power outages and frequent aftershocks but MANY survivors have been pulled from the rubble.

The Turkish Red Crescent is setting up tents, field hospitals and kitchens for people left homeless by the earthquake. But many residents still spent Sunday night outdoors in near freezing temperatures.

The country’s health minister said that situation in the region is good and no outside help is needed. Turkey’s Hurriyet Daily News, however, is reporting that doctors in Van say local hospitals have been damaged and they don’t have adequate supplies to treat all the victims. Hermione Gee, FSRN, Istanbul.

Israel and Egypt near prisoner swap agreement

Israel and Egypt are nearing a prisoner exchange deal that would free 20 to 30 Egyptians from Israeli jails in return for the release of an Israeli-American student. 27-year old Ilan Grapel, a former IDF paratrooper, was detained in Tahrir Square last June on espionage charges. Israeli officials say the deal won’t go forward until the recently signed Palestinian-Israeli prisoner swap is complete.

Islamist party leads in Tunisian elections

Millions of Tunisian citizens lined up at the polls Sunday for the nation’s first free democratic election. Officials say participation topped 90 percent as voters selected delegates for the upcoming constituent assembly that will draft a new constitution.  The moderate Islamist party Ennahda has a reported early lead in many districts. The formerly-banned group has said that even if it wins a majority in the 217-seat assembly, it will join a coalition with other parties to create a government that represents all Tunisians.

Occupy London Stock Exchange faces pressure, support from the Church

Protesters in London have maintained a tent city outside St Paul’s cathedral since the Occupy Wall Street movement went global in mid-October. But officials from the cathedral and the City of London say the camp creates health and safety problems, and want to evict the protesters. FSRN’s Naomi Fowler reports.

Protesters tried to bring their message directly to the London Stock Exchange, but St Paul’s Cathedral’s as close as they can get to London’s financial district. Now, there are around 200 tents pitched on the sidewalk outside one of the world’s largest centres for the shadow banking system. One of many protesters summarized the cause:

“The current system is unsustainable. It is undemocratic and unjust. We need alternatives. This is where we work towards them.”

Cathedral officials have closed St Paul’s to visitors since Friday and say they’re losing about $30,000 of revenue a day. Yet Christian groups such as Eklessia, Christianity Uncut and the London Catholic Worker are calling on the Cathedral to support the movement. They say resisting economic injustice with non-violence is ‘in complete alignment’ with religious values. It’s a direct challenge to church authorities just as they’re consulting with lawyers alongside City of London officials to evict the campers. Naomi Fowler, FSRN, London.

Occupy encampments in the US are also struggling. 15 were arrested at Occupy Philadelphia on Sunday during a sit-in against police brutality. And in Portland, Maine, the protesters’ camp was attacked with a homemade bomb. There were no major injuries, but organizers say they fear more acts of violence.


With US troops set to leave Iraq, private contractors and police training come under scrutiny

President Obama has pledged a full troop withdrawal from Iraq by the end of the year, but concerns remain over the thousands of contractors – some of them armed – who will stay past the deadline as well as the training of Iraqi police. A new report from an Iraq reconstruction watchdog criticized the State Department’s handling of a program to train Iraqi police. And human rights groups are calling for greater oversight of contractors. Michael Lawson reports.

Proposed changes to FBI’s DNA database could have wide implications for civil rights, privacy

Proposed changes to the FBI’s DNA data base system could have wide implications for years to come. The FBI calls it a major upgrade, but some forensic scientists question the move. One of the changes would increase the number of genetic markers tested and kept in records, broadening the pool of data. Meanwhile, concerns over privacy and the data’s role in criminal defense persist. For more, we are joined by Barry Steinhardt, chair of Friends of Privacy USA and an expert on privacy and the law.

And in related news, a Texas death row inmate is requesting DNA testing for evidence that he says would prove his innocence. Today, lawyers in Amarillo are arguing before a federal judge for Henry Watkins Skinner, who was convicted for the 1993 killings of his girlfriend and her two sons. Skinner’s lawyers say previous DNA testing by prosecutors was selective, and only prove that he was present at the scene of the crime, but not that he committed the murders. The Texas State Attorney General calls the request a delay tactic. Skinner is scheduled for execution on November ninth.

Argentina re-elects Cristina Kirchner for second term

Argentina re-elected President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner in the South American nation’s presidential elections on Sunday. The president has ridden a wave of support driven by a strong economy and public sympathy after the death of her husband, and former president, last year. But at times her style of leadership has come under criticism. FSRN’s Marie Trigona reports from Buenos Aires.

In Central California, residents say access to safe water still a problem

The United Nations officially recognized the Human Right to Water and Sanitation in 2008, with the US signing on last year.  The UN Human Rights Commission appointed Portuguese human rights attorney Catarina de Albuquerque as the Special Rapporteur for that right, with the authority to investigate and report on conditions throughout the world. Today, de Albuquerque presented findings to the UN General Assembly from a visit to three US communities in March. What she found, she said, were patterns of discrimination and exclusion due to lack of political will. Some US leaders seemed to take notice – earlier this month, California’s Governor Jerry Brown signed into law a bill package addressing safe drinking water and in signing it he called access to water a human right. Yet similar patterns persist in communities around the country.  FSRN’s Vic Bedoian describes one such community in California’s Central Valley.

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