Massive protests continue to spread across Latin America’s poorest country, Bolivia. Late yesterday, the embattled US-backed president, Carlos Mesa, signed an emergency decree ordering a referendum on greater autonomy for the richest area of the country and a vote in mid-October to elect members for an assembly to rewrite the constitution. Mesa made the announcement late yesterday after the country’s Congress failed to reach a consensus for the third day in a row and with indigenous-led protests raging in the streets of La Paz, bringing the capital to a standstill. The protests have cut off the capital from the airport and blockades have shut down two-thirds of the country’s highways. Meanwhile, the Bolivian Foreign Ministry rejected what it called "international mediation" after the US State Department said Bolivia would be discussed at the Organization of American States general assembly next week. Riot police armed with tear gas continue to guard Congress and protests have spread to other areas in the country. Jim Shultz of the Democracy Center in Cochabamba reports that there are rumors of a coup in the air and said the protests "show all the signs of growing more intense and bold in their willingness to shut the country down."
Now to the Middle East where opposition groups in Lebanon are calling on President Emile Lahoud to resign over the killing of a leading journalist in Beirut yesterday. The journalist Samir Kasir, was an opposition figure and a critic of Syrian influence in Beirut. He died yesterday after his car blew up when he turned the key in the ignition. President Lahoud has condemned the attack and Syria has rejected opposition charges that it engineered Qasir’s killing.
Back in this country, President Bush has named conservative California Congressmember Christopher Cox to run the Securities and Exchange Commission. His appointment is considered a great victory for big corporations who have donated tens of thousands of dollars to Cox over the years. Cox replaces William Donaldson, who disappointed many Republicans for showing some independence, often siding with Democrats. That is highly unlikely with Cox, who describes himself as a devoted student of Ayn Rand, a major promoter of unfettered capitalism. Cox has a long record in the House of promoting big business. He is a major recipient of contributions from business groups, the accounting profession and Silicon Valley, he has fought against accounting rules that would give less favorable treatment to corporate mergers and executive stock options. He opposes taxes on dividends and capital gains. And he helped to steer through the House a bill making investor lawsuits more difficult. That measure, which Congress adopted over President Bill Clinton’s veto, was hailed by business groups. Consumer groups say it helped create the climate that fostered the big accounting scandals at companies like Enron and WorldCom.
A federal judge has ordered the Pentagon to turn over dozens of photographs and four movies depicting abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq as part of an ongoing lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU’s Executive Director Anthony Romero said "These images may be ugly and shocking, but they depict how the torture was more than the actions of a few rogue soldiers." The ACLU is calling for the appointment of an outside special counsel to investigate the torture and abuse of prisoners. The court order came in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the ACLU, the New York Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights.
Meanwhile, the head of Amnesty International, Irene Khan, called on the United States to open its detention centers at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere to human rights investigators if it wants to dispute allegations of abuse. Khan was responding to the Bush administration’s dismissal of the group’s allegation that the US was running a gulag and she defended the use of that word, gulag, in particular. Here is Irene Khan, speaking yesterday: "What we wanted to do is to send a strong message that Guantanamo, Bagram and this sort of network of prison, detention centres that have been created as part of this war on terror is actually undermining human rights in a dramatic way, can only evoke some of the worst features of human rights scandals of the past." That was Irene Khan, the head of Amnesty International.
An appeals court has ruled that the city of Seattle had the right to create a restricted area, the so-called "no protest zone" in downtown Seattle during the 1999 protests of the World Trade Organization. The case is being heard as part of a series of lawsuits stemming from the protests. The decision from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturns a lower court decision challenging the restricted zone as a violation of the right to freedom of assembly and freedom of speech. The case now moves to a federal court in Seattle to determine if the constitutional rights of protesters were violated on an individual basis. The case is considered an important one for First Amendment rights. Some legal observers believe it will set a precedent for litigation resulting from various demonstrations around the US where protesters have been barred from certain locations during major demonstrations in New York, Philadelphia, Miami and Washington, DC.
And, nearly 50 years after Emmett Till’s mutilated body was found in a Mississippi river, federal investigators this week unearthed the Chicago teen’s casket in hopes of finding clues to a murder that helped kindle the civil rights movement. Mississippi prosecutors and the FBI have said DNA or other evidence might help determine who killed the 14-year-old and whether anyone still alive should be prosecuted. Two white men charged with the murder were acquitted by an all-white jury. The two, now dead, later confessed to beating and shooting Till, saying in a magazine article that they killed the teenager because he had whistled at one of their wives. The Justice Department announced plans last year to reopen the Till investigation.