In Iraq, a militant group claims it has killed kidnapped US security consultant Ronald Schulz after the US failed to meet its demand for the release of Iraqi prisoners. A separate group has threatened to kill four kidnapped aid workers with the Christian Peacemaker Teams by Saturday unless Iraqi prisoners are released from US and Iraqi-run detention centers.
On Thursday, Moazzam Begg, recently released after being held for several years at Guantanamo, called for the Peacemakers’ release.
New details are emerging in the case of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi — the detainee whose faulty claims on links between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein were used to justify the invasion of Iraq. The New York Times is reporting government officials have acknowledged al-Libi fabricated his claims to avoid harsh punishment while in Egyptian custody. Al-Libi was handed over to Egypt by US agents in January 2002. The Times notes the disclosure provides the first public evidence that bad intelligence on Iraq may have resulted from the administration’s heavy reliance on third countries to carry out interrogations of detainees.
Meanwhile, the US military has announced a probe into allegations private contractors with the defense company Aegis have randomly shot at Iraqi cars. A video recently posted on a website maintained by Aegis employees contained footage of an unidentified gunman shooting at cars in Iraq. In one clip, a Mercedes is fired on before it crashes in to a civilian taxi. In another, a white sedan is shot at repeatedly as it drives on an open highway. London-based Aegis is in Iraq under a $290 million dollar contract. In a written instruction posted on the same website, Aegis CEO Tim Spicer wrote employees: “Refrain from posting anything which is detrimental to the company since this could result in the loss or curtailment of our contract with resultant loss for everybody.”
Amnesty International is criticizing European leaders for accepting Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s recent explanation U.S. interrogators are forbidden to use torture both at home and abroad. The issue followed Rice throughout a trip to several European countries this week amid allegations the CIA has used European airports to transfer detainees and is also running a secret prison in a former Soviet state. European leaders had hailed Rice’s comments as a major shift in US policy. Natacha Kazatchkine, Amnesty International’s top officer for human rights in Europe, said: “The European Union, as a Union of States, must reaffirm that they do not accept any practise violating the international convention on torture, and they have to explain what occured, and be all transparent on information we recently heard about this case.”
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is again drawing international protests over remarks directed at the state of the Israel. In an interview with Iranian state television, Ahmadinejad said Israel should be relocated to Europe. He said quote: “You believe the Jews were oppressed, why should the Palestinian Muslims have to pay the price? You oppressed them, so give a part of Europe to the Zionist regime so they can establish any government they want. We would support it.” Ahmadinejad drew world-wide condemnation in October for saying “Israel must be wiped off the map.”
In Venezuela, allies of President Hugo Chavez are pressing with allegations the CIA has drafted plans to kill him. Nicolas Maduro, president of the country’s National Assembly, said he planned to file charges with the attorney general over “a plot orchestrated by the CIA against the Venezuelan democracy”. At a news conference, pro-Chavez leaders played taped conversations in which current and former army officers reportedly discuss assassinating Chavez and other top government officials. Opposition leaders and a CIA official denied the charges. In a vote boycotted by the opposition last weekend, pro-Chavez legislators were overwhelmingly elected to fill a majority of seats in the National Assembly.
Newly released e-mails show former Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Michael Brown was warned at least a year before Hurricane Katrina the agency was unprepared for a major disaster. In one e-mail dated June 2004, a FEMA official wrote national response managers were getting: “zero funding for training, exercise or team equipment.” The managers, the official wrote, “provide the only practical, expeditious option for the (FEMA) director to field a cohesive team of his best people to handle the next big one.” The official, William Carwile, said top FEMA officials ignored his recommendations and subsequent budget requests to fund national response teams.
In California, governor Arnold Schwarzenegger heard final pleas in the case of death row prisoner Stanley “Tookie” Williams Thursday. Convicted in 1981 for the murder of four people, Williams has become a leading advocate against gang violence and has been nominated several times for the Nobel Peace Prize. At the closed hearing Thursday, prosecution and defense attorneys were each given 30 minutes to present their arguments. Over 100 anti-death penalty advocates demonstrated outside. Williams is scheduled for execution December 13th.
In campus news, the university senate at New York University has voted to stop the sale and promotion of Coca-Cola products on school grounds. Coca-Cola currently markets over 1,000 different products, including Dasani water, Nestea, Evian, Minute Maid, Odwala and Powerade. Campaigns have been launched on campuses across the country in response to allegations the company has overseen and covered up human rights abuses at bottling plants in Colombia. Advocates say seven Coca-Cola workers with the country’s largest food and beverage workers’ union have been killed in the last 16 years. Coca-Cola representatives had appeared before the university senate to discourage the vote. The ban will remain in place until Coca-Cola agrees to an independent investigation into conditions at its Colombia bottling plants.
Federal agents have conducted a series of coordinated raids in New York, Virginia, Arizona and Oregon and arrested six environmental activists in connection to a string of arsons in the Pacific Northwest. Daniel McGowan of New York and Stanislas Meyerhoff of Virginia were arrested for allegedly setting fires in 2001 at a lumber company and an experimental tree farm in Oregon. Although no one was injured in the blazes, they both face up to life in prison. McGowan is a prominent New York activist who also went by the pen name of Jamie Moran. He was a member of the RNCNotWelcome collective and an advocate for imprisoned environmental activist Jeffrey Leurs. He has denied any role in the incidents. The four others arrested face between 20 and 25 years in prison. Chelsea Gerlach of Portland, Oregon, was accused of destroying an Oregon power transmission tower in 1999. Kevin Tubbs of Oregon and Bill Rodgers of Prescott Arizona were accused of arson at the Animal and Plant and Health Inspection facility in Olympia, Washington. And Sarah Harvey of Flagstaff Arizona was accused of a 1998 arson at U.S. Forest Industries in Medford, Oregon. Earlier this year a top FBI official called groups such as the Earth Liberation Front and Animal Liberation Front the nation’s top domestic terrorism threat. The FBI however has been accused of overzealously prosecuting alleged members of the movement. Last month the FBI agreed to pay an environmental activist named Josh Cannole $100,000 for mistakenly jailing him as a suspect in a string of arsons and vandalism at SUV dealerships in California.
Twenty-five U.S. citizens are in Cuba to protest prison conditions at the U.S. Naval base at Guantanamo. The group began a 50-mile march to the prison from Santiago de Cuba on Wednesday. Freda Berrigan, in Cuba with Witness Against Torture told Democracy Now: “It’s unlikely that we’ll get all the way into the base at Guantanamo. We’re marching with a prayerful intention to visit the prisoners. at the same time we’re calling on our friends around the world, people in the United States to call on the American government to let us in. And we intend to arrive as close to Guantanamo as we can get on Saturday which is International human rights day.Because we don’t believe the President we don’t believe that torture and abuse isn’t happening at Guantanamo and we also don’t believe that the men who are there, the fathers the brothers the sons who are being held there are making us that much safer as Americans.”
And Richard Williams has died at the age of 58 from cancer after spending two decades in jail. He was a member of the United Freedom Front, a clandestine organization that was linked to about two dozen bombings in the late 1970s and early 1980s of government installations and corporations that backed the South African apartheid regime. He was arrested in 1984 and accused of a series of the bombings and the killing of a police officer. Advocates for political prisoners had long called for Williams’ release.
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