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Iran Curbs Opposition Protests, Blocks Communications

Iranian opposition activists are facing a new crackdown around rallies today marking the thirty-first anniversary of the Iranian revolution. Reports have emerged from Iran of prominent figures arrested and government forces preventing opposition rallies. The Iranian government has also curbed cell phone and online traffic, blocking text messages and popular internet sites to disrupt communications amongst protesters.

Declaring Uranium Enrichment, Ahmadinejad Says Iran a "Nuclear State"

The crackdown comes as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has announced Iran has produced its first stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium. Declaring Iran a "nuclear state," Ahmadinejad addressed a large rally earlier today.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: "I would like to say to you that the day before yesterday the enrichment of fuel at 20 percent started. I would like to notify you and announce with a clear, loud voice that, thank God, our chief nuclear negotiator announced that the produce of fuel at 20 percent started under the watchful eye of our scientists."

Despite Ahmadinejad’s claims, the Washington Post reports UN inspectors have concluded Iran is experiencing major setbacks in its uranium program. Production has dropped at Iran’s main uranium enrichment plant, near the city of Natanz, over the past year. UN officials say the plant’s output was so poor that it may have been sabotaged. Several analysts have also cited the failure of Iran’s dated centrifuges at a faster rate than expected.

US, UK Lose Bid to Censor Docs in British Torture Case

A British court has forced the release of classified government documents on the torture of former Guantanamo Bay prisoner Binyam Mohamed. The US and British governments had long tried to keep the documents under wraps, citing the confidentiality of intelligence sharing. The documents contain a judge’s summary of a classified CIA report on Mohamed’s imprisonment, which notes he was subjected to "cruel, inhuman and degrading" treatment. A British citizen, Mohamed was released from Guantanamo a year ago after seven years in US custody. Clare Algar of Reprieve, a legal group that’s represented Mohamed, said the documents prove Britain was aware of Mohamed’s torture in US custody.

Clare Algar: "Well, it makes it pretty clear that the British intelligence services did know what was going on with Binyam. I think there are a number of ways in which that impacts. Obviously, it’s relevant in relation to his claim for damages. But also, I think it’s relevant in relation to another thing which Reprieve is working on, which is trying to get the torture policy, which the government had in place at that time, the 2004 policy, disclosed, because we still haven’t seen that. And actually, it would be very interesting to know what the government’s position was in relation to what the intelligence services were allowed to do at that time."

President Obama has continued the Bush administration’s effort to fight the documents’ release since taking office. In a statement, White House spokesperson Ben LaBolt called the court ruling "deeply disappoint[ing]" and said it could "complicate" intelligence-sharing with Britain.

Iraqi Official Calls for Expulsion of Ex-Blackwater Forces

Iraq’s Interior Minister says he’s ordered all guards formerly employed by the private military firm Blackwater to leave Iraq immediately. Jawad Bolani’s comments could lead to the expulsion of up to 250 former Blackwater employees still in Iraq with other companies. The Associated Press is reporting the ex-Blackwater forces have been told they have seven days to leave Iraq or face arrest.

Ex-Employees Accuse Blackwater of Defrauding US, Billing for Prostitutes

In other Blackwater news, two former employees are accusing the company of routinely defrauding the US government on a number of contracts in Iraq, Afghanistan, and in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. In a newly unsealed lawsuit, the husband-wife plaintiffs, Brad and Melan Davis, say Blackwater officials filed bogus receipts, double billed for the same services, and charged the government for hiring strippers and prostitutes. The suit also accuses Blackwater executives of ignoring "excessive and unjustified" force against Iraqi civilians by Blackwater forces. The accusations were unsealed after the Justice Department declined to join the Davis case.

Freed Iraqi Journalist Speaks Out Upon Release from US Military Prison

In other Iraq news, the Iraqi journalist Ibrahim Jassam Mohammed spoke out Wednesday hours after the US military released him following almost a year and a half behind bars. Jassam was seized when US and Iraqi forces raided his home in September 2008. He was held without charge despite an Iraqi court order for his release. Shortly after being reunited with his family, Jassam said he hopes to return to work as a journalist.

Ibrahim Jassam Mohammed: "My feelings cannot be described after the year and a half that I spent in the prison. I returned home again with my family and friends. Thank God. If God is willing, I will resume my job as a journalist with Reuters."

In addition to holding Jassam without charge, the US military has never publicly explained why he was initially jailed.

Obama Hosts Civil Rights Leaders on African American Unemployment

President Obama hosted a group of civil rights leaders at the White House on Wednesday to discuss the toll of the economic crisis on African Americans. The leaders — the Reverend Al Sharpton, NAACP President Benjamin Jealous, and National Urban League chief executive Marc Morial — say they urged Obama to address economic woes facing people of color but backed his approach not to adopt "race-based programs." Critics have faulted President Obama for not advancing proposals focusing on African Americans’ economic plight. The official unemployment rate for African Americans stands at 16.5 percent, though it’s believed to be higher. While the national unemployment rate dropped below ten percent for the first time in five months in January, the rate for African Americans marked a slight increase.

Study: Lowest-Income Americans Face 30% Unemployment

A new study says low-income Americans are facing a higher unemployment rate today than at the height of the Depression. The Center for Labor Market Studies at Boston’s Northeastern University divided US households into ten groups based on annual income. The lowest tenth, with an annual household income of $12,499 or less, had a fourth-quarter unemployment rate last year of 30.8 percent. The next lowest-income group had an unemployment rate of 19.1 percent. The top two groups, with incomes above $100,000, had an average unemployment of 3.6 percent.

Student Files Suit over Detention for English-Arabic Study Materials

The American Civil Liberties Union is suing the federal government on behalf of a college student who was detained and interrogated for four hours because he was carrying a set of English-Arabic flashcards. The student, Nicholas George, says he was carrying the cards to help him learn Arabic as part of his college language studies. The cards had one word in English and Arabic printed on either side. George was detained at Philadelphia’s airport for over four hours, where he says he was handcuffed and harshly interrogated.

Nicholas George: "[The] four hours that I was in there, I could see them just pouring over my flashcards like they were going to find some secret on them. I saw them photocopying my flashcards. I heard them describing it on their phones to some superior, like, you know, 'Well, it's a small piece of paper with English writing on one side and Arabic writing on the other side.’ And the longer I was in there, it went — you know, you have the time to transition from being shocked to being really angry and saying, you know, this is just wrong, that they have nothing on me, I’ve done nothing wrong, and here I am locked in a cell for four hours."

The ACLU lawsuit accuses the Transit Security Administration, the Philadelphia police and the FBI of violating George’s Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable seizure and his First Amendment right to free speech.

Appeals Court to Hear Arguments in Cell-Phone Tracking Case

A federal appeals court in Philadelphia is expected to hear arguments tomorrow in a case challenging the constitutionality of the US government’s use of cell phone records to track the movements of suspects or persons of interest in investigations. Investigators have been able to identify an individual’s movements and locations based on GPS technology in many cell phones or the nearby phone towers used to beam a given call. The Electronic Frontier Foundation and ACLU have filed suit to block the tracking, saying it violates privacy rights.

Insurance Company Sued for Denying Treatment to 5-Year-Old Cancer Patient

In Philadelphia, the parents of a cancer-stricken five-year-old boy are suing the insurance company HealthAmerica for refusing to cover medical treatment that could prolong their son’s life. The boy, Kyler VanNocker, suffers from the rare childhood cancer neuroblastoma. HealthAmerica is refusing to pay for treatment known as MIBG, because it’s "investigational/experimental" and its effectiveness hasn’t been clinically proven. HealthAmerica had previously covered treatments that didn’t meet the same criteria and ended up helping save Kyler’s life. The hospital where Kyler is being treated has provided the MIBG treatment for free in the hopes HealthAmerica will reverse its stance or Medicaid will cover the costs. The VanNockers say the treatment has improved Kyler’s health and may even have eliminated some of his tumors.

Ex-Rep. Charlie Wilson Dies at 76

And the former Congress member Charlie Wilson has died at the age of seventy-six. Wilson helped fund and arm the Afghani mujahideen in their war against the Soviet Union in the 1980s. His exploits were the subject of the 2007 Hollywood film Charlie Wilson’s War.

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