Thursday, October 26, 2006

Congress Watch for 10/26: Severe Election Problems Possible in 10 States; Stem Cell Debate heats up; Green Party candidate drops out

Congress Watch for 10/26: Severe Election Problems Possible in 10 States; Stem Cell Debate heats up; Green Party candidate drops out

It wouldn’t be Congress without elections, and it wouldn’t be a U.S. election without electoral problems, now would it? It seems that we’ve had nothing but voter problems since 2000, and now a new report is stating that 10 states are at risk for disputed and damaged elections which will directly impact the outcome and credibility of the next Congress.

Two weeks before the midterm elections, at least 10 states, including Maryland, remain ripe for voting problems, according to a study released yesterday by a nonpartisan clearinghouse that tracks electoral reforms across the United States.

The report by says those states, and possibly others, could encounter trouble on Election Day because they have a combustible mix of fledgling voting-machine technology, confusion over voting procedures or recent litigation over election rules -- and close races.

The report cautions that the Nov. 7 elections, which will determine which political party controls the House and Senate, promise "to bring more of what voters have come to expect since the 2000 elections -- a divided body politic, an election system in flux and the possibility -- if not certainty -- of problems at polls nationwide."

In a state-by-state canvass, the 75-page report singles out places, such as Indiana and Arizona, where courts have upheld stringent new laws requiring voters to show poll workers specific forms of identification. It cites states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania, which have switched to electronic voting machines whose accuracy has been challenged. And it points to states such as Colorado and Washington, which have departed from the tradition of polling sites in neighborhood precincts.

Here’s something I didn’t expect. When Jessica from Cellar Door sent me a message a few days ago with the Michael J. Fox stem cell ad, I admit I was clueless about just what was going on, but it didn’t take me long to learn about what had happened and what was about to happen. It took very little time for the dialog of the election to shift gears, and now it seems to be splitting the Republican party right down the middle. I don’t think that was the intended effect, but it’s very, very interesting to watch.
Michael J. Fox, staring straight into the camera, boldly shows the effects of 15 years spent battling Parkinson's disease. He wants people to see what the illness has done to his body so they will support research that involves the use of human embryonic stem cells.

What Rush Limbaugh, the outspoken conservative radio show host, saw as Fox "acting" or not "taking his medicine," as he said publicly, was ignorance, say Parkinson's experts.

"It was ignorant and inappropriate," said Dr. Michele Tagliati, director of the Parkinson's Center at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in Manhattan. "This movement is a side effect of years spent on these medicines. But patients with Parkinson's can't afford not to take their medicines."

The movement disorder causes tremors, rigidity and balance problems. Half a million Americans suffer from Parkinson's. Fox was diagnosed in 1991 and went public about his illness in 1998. He started a foundation that has raised millions.

Christopher Reeve, who also started a research foundation soon after the riding accident that left him paralyzed, appealed to the public with an ad that had him standing on two legs, a feat of the cameras and not science. At the time, he said he did it to be provocative and interest people in supporting the science.

Now this is interesting…don’t hear much information on Green party candidates these days, but I just learned that the Connecticut Green Party candidate Richard Duffee decided to withdraw from the race, with the Party stepping forward and supporting Democratic nominee Diane Farrell.

Farrell, according to a poll this week, is running neck and neck with the Republican incumbant, Christopher Shays, who has been in Congress 19 years. Libertarian candidate Phil Maymin is also on the ballot.

Although Duffeee's withdrawal comes just two weeks before the Nov. 7 election, officials in the Westport Town Clerk's office said they will not have to reprint the absentee ballots that are to be sent out soon. Instead, officials will cross out Duffee's name on the ballot.

Duffee said this week, "Republican threats to the future and to our form of government are so serious that it is more important to bring the House of Representatives under the control of the Democrats than to run a Green candidate for Congress in the Fourth District.

"Our decision is a vote of confidence in Diane Farrell's seriousness about putting some brakes on Bush's imperial presidency and at least returning us to the rule of law." said Duffee, a former law professor.

By Connecticut law, Duffee alone has the right to take his name off the ballot. He chose in July to allow the Fairfield Greens to make that decision in caucus as the campaign developed.

"I would like to thank the Green Party and Richard Duffee for their decision today," said Farrell. "I would also like to mention the valuable voice brought to the table by Richard Duffee in this year's debates, especially on topics such as human rights, the War in Iraq and socio-economic issues affecting our country, and I believe that the Green Party should be included in future debates here in Connecticut's Fourth district."

"We share a common belief that the Bush administration has led us astray, especially as it pertains to the War in Iraq, energy policy, education and environmental issues," Farrell said.

Farrell met with members of the Fairfield County chapter of the Green Party on Saturday and explained her position on issues of concern to the Greens.

Duffee said that the Greens decided to back Farrell because she appeals to a larger audience than the Greens at the present time and she can be most effective in reversing the current war policies on Iraq.

"Our decision to back Diane Farrell is not a decision to become Democrats," Duffee said. "Nearly all of us became Greens because we believed that the Democratic Party does not adequately serve the public interest because it is not sufficiently committed to resist corporate pressure."

Posted by crimnos @ 11:09 AM :: (0) comments

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Large and Small for 10/25: Halloween Pet Safety Tips, Adopting Black Cats at Halloween, Gay Marriage in the Animal Kingdom, Animal Populations Falling

Large and Small for 10/25: Halloween Pet Safety Tips, Adopting Black Cats at Halloween, Gay Marriage in the Animal Kingdom, Animal Populations Falling Fast, Seabed Microbe May Curb Global Warming, and Religion Expands its Role in Global Warming

With Halloween just around the corner, I wanted to share the following tips for pet owners everywhere:
Halloween's traditions of candy, costumes and trick-or-treating can be a potentially dangerous and distressing time for pets, warns the Ontario SPCA. Extra caution should be taken to protect pets from Halloween hazards, including keeping pets safely indoors to shelter them from children's "pranks" or other cruelty-related incidents - particularly black cats, the most frequent victims of abuse at Halloween.

Other precautions the Ontario SPCA recommends to help keep pets safe this Halloween include:

Ensure your pets are wearing collars with ID tags. If for any reason they escape and become lost there is a greater chance they will be returned to you if they are clearly identified with a tag, ideally combined with a microchip. For many pets the best way to spend Halloween is resting in a secure area within the house with a favourite toy, comfortable bedding and soothing music, where they won't have a chance to be spooked by strangers and dart outdoors.

Use decorations, such as pumpkins, fake cobwebs and decorative corn with caution. If ingested, many decorations can cause your pet gastrointestinal upset and even result in intestinal blockage. Lighted pumpkins or standing candles pose an additional risk. Pets, especially curious kittens, may knock candles over, cause a fire and/or get burned. Move electric lights, wires and cords or liquid potpourri beyond your pet's reach. If electric cords or lights are chewed, pets can receive a life-threatening electrical shock or damage their mouth from shards of glass; and exposure to both heated and cool liquid potpourri product can result in severe damage to the skin, mouth and eyes.

Keep candy out of your pet's reach. Chocolate, depending on the amount ingested, can be toxic to many animals including dogs, cats and ferrets. Generally the less sweet the chocolate the more dangerous it could be. In fact, as little as ¼ ounce of baking chocolate can cause diarrhea, vomiting, seizures, hyperactivity and increased thirst, urination and heart rate in a 10-pound dog. As well, if candies or gum containing the sweetener xylitol are ingested in large quantities it can produce a sudden drop in blood sugar for pets, resulting in depression, incoordination and seizures.

Keep candy wrappers away from pets. If ingested, aluminum foil and cellophane candy wrappers can cause vomiting and produce intestinal blockage.

Maintain your pet's normal diet and prevent access to alcoholic beverages. Even changing you pet's diet for one meal can give your cat or dog severe indigestion and diarrhea, and alcohol ingestion can cause your pet to become very ill and weak - and may even cause your pet to go into a coma or to suffer respiratory failure.

Don't dress your pet in a costume unless you know he (or she) enjoys it. Confining costumes can cause stress and injury to pets if it restricts their movement, hearing or ability to breath, bark or see, and small or dangling pieces may be chewed off and cause choking or intestinal obstruction. Never leave your costumed pets unsupervised.

"While Halloween is a time of fun and excitement for kids and adults, it can be distressing and potentially dangerous for our pets," says Keri Semenko, Acting Director of Animal Sheltering and Wildlife Services for the Ontario SPCA. "Far too often the Ontario SPCA hears stories of animals being abused or exposed to avoidable dangers at Halloween. Keep your pets secure and safe inside the home, choose decorations with caution, and explain to children why they shouldn't share their treats with pets. With a little caution Halloween can be a safe and enjoyable holiday for everyone."

Members of the public are urged to report anything suspicious related to animals to their local Ontario SPCA branch or affiliated humane society. Cruelty to animals is a crime and abuse causing pain and suffering should not be dismissed as a prank.

If you suspect your pet may have ingested a toxic product or substance contact your local veterinary clinic immediately.


A commonly-known issue in rescue group circles is that of black cat adoptions: they lag behind almost every other animal in adoption rates, mostly because of the stupid superstitions that revolve around them. Some places go so far as to put a ban in place on their adoptions on Friday the 13ths or around Halloween. That’s why it’s encouraging to see the San Mateo, California Animal Shelter encouraging adoptions of the cats during this period:
There are superstitious souls who fear black cats are bad luck.

And there are well-meaning souls who worry that people are particularly cruel to the dusky critters around Halloween.

Some humane agencies go so far as to ban adoption of black cats close to the holiday to prevent them from becoming haunted house props or targets of teenage pranks.

But the Peninsula Humane Society & SPCA is encouraging people to adopt the agency's 16 or so black cats near Halloween. It's hard to find homes for them during the rest of the year.

``It's just perplexing to shelter workers across the country -- black cats and dogs stay longer in the shelter than light-colored ones,'' said PHS spokesman Scott Delucchi. ``No one knows exactly why.''

The Los Angeles Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals plans a one-week moratorium on black cat adoptions starting Wednesday.

``We've seen all kinds. Sometimes people see a dead animal and just assume it was a satanic cult,'' said SPCA LA President Madeline Bernstein. ``Sometimes it's a cat that's been eaten by a coyote.''

Other times, she said, the agency has heard reports from police of ritual or mock-ritual killings of black cats at Halloween. Corroborating those accounts, however, is difficult.
Bernstein said commercial haunted houses will pick up a cat from a city shelter for about $30 and dump it when business stops.

“When you look at the follow-up after the holiday and you look at the number of cats that are returned,” she said, “you realize you can be a little bit prophylactic.”

Delucchi said local stories of black cat abuse appear to be tall tales, and worries of mass abandonment after Halloween are equally overblown.

“I don't know that it's really based on anything except fear,'' he said. ``In San Mateo County, we don't see cats turning up Nov. 1 that have been harmed. As far as we know, it hasn't been realized.''

At the Peninsula Humane Society shelter, would-be adopters pay $70 and go through up to an hourlong orientation before they become pet owners.

Delucchi said it's unlikely someone would go through the screening hassle to snag a black cat for some unsavory short-term use, so the agency puts its faith in its usual adoption process, rather than risk throwing up roadblocks between potential pet owners and abandoned animals.

``You really can't afford to be that restrictive,'' said Delucchi, noting that holidays are an optimal time to link people and pets. ``If your goal is to find homes and find good homes, we feel we have the right approach. We have to trust people.''

I just wanted to include this because it’s cool: there’s finally an exhibit on homosexuality and bisexuality in the animal kingdom, showing that this is not an unnatural thing in humanity. This finally exposes the trump card of religious fundamentalism: if God created these animals, then why could God not also create humans in this mold?
Two male giraffes in unequivocal pose, a lesbian swan couple, two male whales stimulating each other: a new exhibit in Oslo displays examples of animal homosexuality.

"Normally," says Geir Söli with a smile, "natural history museums just show pretty boring things: rocks, stuffed birds and the like." Not so with the Norwegian zoologist's latest project. After three years of preparation, Söli and his colleagues from the Natural History Museum in Oslo have just inaugurated the world's first exhibit on animal homosexuality.

"Against Nature?" is the name of the exhibition in the red brick building on the edge of Oslo's Botanical Gardens. The question mark at the end of the title is of particular importance to exhibit director Söli. He wants to qualify the argument that homosexuality is against nature because, he says, the facts paint a different picture: homosexual behavior has been observed in at least 1,500 species, and in roughly 500 of these cases the findings have been well documented. "And that's only the tip of the iceberg."

All too often, Söli says, zoologists have simply ignored the homosexuality of their research subjects. Against the backdrop of a 4-meter-tall image of two giraffes in an unmistakable pose, Söli explains how the whole thing usually worked: In a study on giraffes in Africa, for instance, scientists classified the mere sniffing of a female by her male counterpart as "sexual interest." But when one male giraffe mounted another, the scientists recorded this as a "territorial fight" -- even when they observed an ejaculation -- because what must not be, cannot be.

Around 2,300 years ago, Aristotle had already described the remarkable behaviour of a group of hyenas: males flirting with males, females pleasuring females. But the idea of gay marriage in the animal kingdom never really fitted into the scientists' world view, and so was all too often ignored.

Not too far way, in Göteborg's Natural History Museum, an exhibition has been running since the beginning of June entitled "I love U," which presents, in laid back Scandinavian style, the mating and reproduction of all kinds of animals, including people. With a faint hint of Abba, the Swedish exhibitors illustrate "the winner takes it all" with a model of an egg surrounded by sperm. It's all about reproduction here -- up to now the only purpose for sexuality in the animal kingdom -- at least according to the traditional version.

The Oslo exhibit documents how reality has now caught up with the scientists: they observed whales, for example, rubbing up against each other with erect penises; a female dolphin gliding her fin into her partner's genital tract; or two male seagulls building a nest together. Scientists even discovered, to their great surprise, that approximately one out of ten couples in some king penguin colonies were homosexual.

The Joy of Animal Sex

"Biological Exuberance" is the name of a book published seven years ago by the biologist Bruce Bagemihl, which summarizes these types of cases. And "exuberance" is indeed the explanation for these observations, says Bagemihl. His somewhat controversial theory forms the cornerstone of the Oslo exhibition: animals enjoy sex, whatever the constellation may be. Geir Söli contends that this is especially true of more developed species like whales, dolphins, or primates. There is evidence everywhere of homosexual behavior.

Incidentally, the exhibit also shows cases where with a few tricks, homosexual animal couples can even raise offspring. Scientists have recently reported on parenthood among homosexual flamingos, vultures and storks, by means of borrowed eggs and "one-night stands." They have also found evidence of some same-sex relationships that last an animal's lifetime. "You can say what you will about homosexuality, but you can't say that it is contrary to nature," says Geir Söli, thereby answering in passing the question in the exhibit's title.

So far, there haven't been any large-scale protests against the exhibition -- it simply fits in too well with liberal Norway, where the government, by way of special subsidies, encourages the country's museums to get involved in the public debates. And so it should come as no surprise that it is above all families who crowd the dimly lit museum halls on the weekends. The merry sound of hollering children is constantly reverberating throughout the museum. "I am pleased that families continue to come here," Söli says. "We don't have any shocking images here, we don't want to hit anyone over the head."

Alarming news yesterday from the World Wildlife Federation (WWF): humanity is eating up the planet’s resources as if we were living on three planets, not just one. What does this mean for the ecosystems? Terrible, catastrophic things:
The group said the world's natural ecosystems were being degraded at a rate unprecedented in human history. On current projections, this means that as a whole, humanity will need at least two planets' worth of natural resources by 2050.

The report said humanity's ecological footprint was 25 per cent greater than the planet's annual ability to provide everything from food to energy and recycle all human waste in 2003. The figure has increased from 21 per cent five years ago.

James Leape, WWF's director general, said: "We are in serious ecological overshoot. The consequences of this are predictable and dire.

"For more than 20 years, we have exceeded the earth's ability to support a consumptive life-style that is unsustainable and we cannot afford to continue down this path.

"If everyone around the world lived as those in America, we would need five planets to support us."

WWF said forests and fisheries will eventually be harvested to such a degree that they might disappear altogether.

The report showed there was a one-third decline in the populations of more than 1,300 fish, bird and animal species between 1970 and 2003.

It said the loss of natural habitat to farming has been particularly acute in the tropics. Pollution, tree-felling and over-fishing were major factors elsewhere, with climate change-causing fossil fuels the fastest-growing factor.


Here’s some cause for hope and a potential ally in the battle against global warming. Could we create more of these to help scrub out the methane in the air?
Bacteria that live in volcanically heated mud deep under the sea off the coast of Norway feed on methane, a gas that is partly to blame for climate change, a Franco-German team of scientists have discovered.

The newly-discovered creatures were found in the Haakon Mosby Mud Volcano, a place in the Barents Sea where hot methane gas from deep under the earth seeps into the slime. The bacteria have evolved to live in conditions that would be lethal to other life forms.

The research was published Thursday in the British science journal Nature. Micro-organisms that consume methane have been discovered before, but the discovery helps science better understand how methane reaches the atmosphere.

Methane is a useful fuel, but when it escapes unburned into the air, it is a greenhouse gas that leads to nearly 25 times as much global warming as an equivalent amount of carbon dioxide.

The research, which was led by Antje Boetius of the Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology in the German city of Bremen, established that the three species of methane-eating micro-organisms found consumed 40 per cent of the escaping methane.


Finally, I’m very interested in and glad to see this. Not too long ago, I recall reading an article that talked about how the millennial nuts were embracing global warming as an agent of the coming of Christ and the end times. Now it seems that churches are remembering that, if they are supposed to focus on caring for others, that caring for others entails caring for the environment, as the world will keep on going and people will be harmed by global warming. I applaud these churches, even if I don’t agree with their views. Great work!
Religious groups have not always been at the forefront of environmental activism, but a new movement is gaining steam across this country. As the United States government continues to hem and haw about the state of global warming (they still can't decide if it actually exists), religious groups are positioning themselves to lead America to a greener future.

Organized religion has often been accused of focusing on the needs of humans while neglecting the state of the planet. However, an unprecedented wave of ecological awareness is now taking hold and changing that image. Last winter, 86 evangelical Christian leaders signed a statement acknowledging human effects on the changing climate and imploring Congress to legislate carbon dioxide emissions standards. This was just one step in a growing trend.

A Michigan coalition of congregations is working to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by taking localized steps, such as investing in fluorescent light bulbs and more efficient appliances, and powering a church with solar panels. These actions have been generally positive and the 124-member group has reduced carbon dioxide emissions by 14,000 tons. Locally, the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis just announced a new parishioner-run task force. The committee will look for options to fight global warming through individual choices and local policy changes.

These programs stand to make a large impact on global warming. While government action would go a long way toward decreasing carbon dioxide emissions, it is important to remember that individual efforts make a difference. If everyone took little steps to reduce energy usage, we could see significant results.

Posted by crimnos @ 10:24 AM :: (0) comments

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Get Local for 10/24: More Maryland Election Woes (Diebold Source Code Stolen in Maryland!)

Get Local for 10/24: More Maryland Election Woes (Diebold Source Code Stolen in Maryland!)

Maryland. What the hell. Let’s get this straight. First you completely screw up the primary, now it looks like the Diebold Source Code has been stolen from under your noses?
The FBI is investigating the possible theft of software developed by the nation's leading maker of electronic voting equipment, said a former Maryland legislator who this week received three computer disks that apparently contain key portions of programs created by Diebold Election Systems.

Cheryl C. Kagan, a former Democratic delegate who has long questioned the security of electronic voting systems, said the disks were delivered anonymously to her office in Olney on Tuesday and that the FBI contacted her yesterday. The package contained an unsigned letter critical of Maryland State Board of Elections Administrator Linda H. Lamone that said the disks were "right from SBE" and had been "accidentally picked up."

Lamone's deputy, Ross Goldstein, said "they were not our disks," but he acknowledged that the software was used in Maryland in the 2004 elections. Diebold said in a statement last night that it had never created or received the disks.

The disks bear the logos of two testing companies that send such disks to the Maryland board after using the software to conduct tests on Diebold equipment. A Ciber Inc. spokeswoman said the disks had not come from Ciber, and Wyle Laboratories Inc. said it was not missing any disks.

Diebold spokesman Mark Radke and Goldstein said that the labels on the disks referred to versions of the software that are no longer in use in Maryland, although the Diebold statement said the version of one program apparently stored on the disks is still in use in "a limited number of jurisdictions" and is protected by encryption. The statement also said the FBI is investigating the disks' chain of custody.

Michelle Crnkovich, an FBI spokeswoman in Baltimore, said she had no knowledge of an investigation.

In an unrelated development, Maryland state auditors said in a report yesterday that the State Board of Elections is not properly controlling access to a new statewide database of registered voters or verifying what changes are made to it. The report comes at a time of heightened concern over the security and effectiveness of electronic voting systems.

Legislative auditor Bruce Myers said it was unusual to allow "across-the-board access" by local election officials to a sensitive database, but Lamone defended the board's practices. In a letter released with the Office of Legislative Audits report, she wrote that the board "is unaware of any allegations of the falsification of additions or deletions to the system."

The FBI investigation into the disks could focus further scrutiny on the security of Maryland's electronic voting system.

Now let’s figure out exactly WHY Maryland residents wouldn’t be inspired with confidence?
The number of Marylanders requesting absentee ballots already exceeds the number cast in the last gubernatorial election. With three weeks left before the general election, ballot requests are still coming.

A new law that took effect this year has removed all restrictions on use of absentee ballots. They previously were available only to people who could not make it to the polls on election day.

That new availability, fallout from the problem-plagued primary election and questions about the reliability of the state's voting system from some political leaders, appears to have spurred demand.

If the flood of requests continues, it could swamp election officials with extra work and delay the outcome of closely contested elections next month. Absentee ballots are not counted until local election officials canvas their results.

This surprised the hell out of me. I mean, I dislike the Ehrlich Administration as much as anyone else, but apparently Ehrlich’s been underfunding predominantly black colleges and universities and is now facing a lawsuit over it. I don’t know the merits of the case, but the fact that it’s been brought at all speaks volumes:
In a move that hails back to the education battles of the last century, a local coalition filed a lawsuit in Baltimore Circuit Court Oct. 5, alleging the state of Maryland had not fulfilled its obligations under an agreement with the U.S. Department of Education to equitably fund and enhance historically Black colleges and universities with an eye to removing vestiges of legal segregation.

The Maryland Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Higher Education names Gov. Robert Ehrlich Jr. and Higher Education Secretary Calvin Burnett as two major defendants. The suit was filed on the heels of a report sent to USDE's Office for Civil Rights by the Maryland Higher Education Commission, which claimed that the state had lived up to the terms of its desegregation commitment. The coalition said it tried contacting OCR to address the matter but was ignored.

'The coalition enthusiastically embraces this action to resolve the matter of the lack of parity and equity between historically Black colleges and universities and traditionally White institutions and is resolved in making this a launching pad for a national discussion,' said coalition President David Burton. 'Previous actions to address this matter did not result in responsive action that satisfied our understanding of current law; therefore, a lawsuit is in order.'

The suit is based on premises laid out in the Supreme Court decision in {United States v. Fordice}, the higher education equivalent of {Brown v. Board of Education}. The law prohibits states from duplicating programs already established in HBCUs at proximate traditionally White institutions and requires equitable funding of Black and White state schools among other requirements. The intent of the law is to build up and raise HBCUs to a level playing field to draw White, Black and other students and complete the process of integration. Successful examples of that process are Howard University's School of Medicine and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore's hospitality management program.

Here’s a bit of mixed news: while Maryland hate crimes are on the decrease, religiously-motivated crimes are on the rise, according to FBI data. According to Southern Maryland Online:
The numbers of total hate crime incidents slid 20.4 percent from 2004 to 2005 alone, following a decade-long trend, the data show. In 1995, Maryland agencies reported 353 hate crimes, the vast majority of them racially motivated. By the end of 2005, that number had dwindled to 195.

The 2005 data does not include a recent spate of hate crimes in Charles County, where police are investigating at least a dozen instances of racially motivated graffiti and vandalism, or hate crimes in Montgomery County this month involving swastikas spray-pained on vehicles and on a new section of the King Farm development in Rockville.

While Maryland's falling incidence rate outpaced a 6 percent decline nationally in hate crimes last year, the state's police agencies reported the 10th highest incidence of hate crimes among the 48 states that contributed to the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting Program.

Interesting news.

Posted by crimnos @ 9:54 AM :: (0) comments

Monday, October 23, 2006

Civil Rights Watch for 10/23: DOJ appeals Wiretapping case, Allies Keep Gitmo Open, Probe into Gitmo Abuses Begins

Civil Rights Watch for 10/23: DOJ appeals Wiretapping case, Allies Keep Gitmo Open, Probe into Gitmo Abuses Begins

Due to personal commitments, today’s entry is presented with minimal commentary; tomorrow’s entry should resume as normally scheduled.

U.S. govt appeals court's NSA wiretapping decision
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Bush administration on Friday appealed a federal judge's ruling this summer that a controversial post-September 11, 2001, domestic spying program was illegal.

The U.S. Justice Department, in documents filed with a federal court in Cincinnati, argued that President George W. Bush had acted within the law in authorizing the surveillance of domestic wiretaps of international telephone calls.

In its appeal, the government stated that the federal judge's ruling "dismantles a tool that already has helped detect and disrupt al Qaeda plots."

It stated that U.S. District Judge Anna Diggs Taylor's decision directly conflicts with the Supreme Court's direction to "proceed with great caution in resolving challenges in this extraordinarily sensitive context."

Nearly a year ago, media reports revealed the existence of the domestic spying by the National Security Agency.

Civil libertarians, including the ACLU, which brought the suit, have argued the government could gain the same type of intelligence information through warrants.

Judge Taylor ruled in August that NSA's five-year-old surveillance program, implemented as part of the government's war on terrorism, violates the civil rights of Americans because the government does not have to present justification for its monitoring in court and obtain a warrant.

In its appeal, the government argued the surveillance program was narrowly targeted and thus did not violate Americans' constitutional rights, while being an effective tool in stopping potential terrorist attacks.

The expedited appeal called for the government to submit its arguments to the appeals court by Friday, with a response due a month later.

U.S. allies impede Guantanamo releases

Britain and other U.S. allies have demanded closure of the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, but have also blocked efforts to let some prisoners return home, The Washington Post reported on Tuesday.

British officials recently rejected a U.S. offer to transfer 10 former British residents from Guantanamo to the United Kingdom, arguing that it would be too expensive to keep them under surveillance, the newspaper said, citing documents made public this month in London.

Britain has also staved off a legal challenge by the relatives of some prisoners who sued to require the British government to seek their release, The Washington Post said.

While all British citizens in Guantanamo were freed starting in 2004, Britain has balked at allowing former legal residents of the country to return, the newspaper said.

Germany and other European allies, which have spoken out against Guantanamo, also have balked at accepting prisoners from the facility, the Post said.

Human rights groups have condemned U.S. practices at Guantanamo, where detainees have been held indefinitely without charge.

Some 335 prisoners have been transferred out of Guantanamo since the prison camp's creation in January 2002 and another 110 of the 440 still at the jail have been declared eligible for transfer or release, the Pentagon said.

The Pentagon has already freed all but a few European citizens from Guantanamo. However, U.S. officials have struggled to persuade Britain, Germany and other allies in Europe to accept prisoners who once had legal residency there, or who are effectively stateless, The Washington Post said.

U.S. Army colonel arrives at Guantanamo to investigate abuse allegations

A U.S. Army colonel arrived at Guantanamo Bay on Wednesday to investigate whether guards at the prison beat detainees, as they allegedly boasted about doing, the spokesman for the U.S. Southern Command said.

Col. Richard Basset will conduct interviews for up to a month at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in southeast Cuba, said Jose Ruiz.

"He's going to interview everyone he thinks he needs to talk to, to be able to establish the facts," Ruiz said from the Southern Command headquarters in Miami, where Basset is based.

Basset has authority to interview any member of the military Joint Task Force that runs the detention center at Guantanamo regardless of their rank, Ruiz said, clarifying an earlier statement he made that the colonel would not be able to interview senior officers.

Basset will submit his findings to the commander of the U.S. Southern Command, which oversees the detention center.

Posted by crimnos @ 11:38 AM :: (0) comments