Veteran human rights attorney Lynne Stewart was convicted yesterday in a New York court of 5 counts of conspiracy and lying and of helping her client, the imprisoned blind sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman, send messages to his followers. Rahman was found guilty in1995 of conspiring to attack U.S. targets. He was serving a life term when the crimes charged against Stewart occurred. Stewart was convicted of all five counts against her, including two terrorism charges that combined carry a maximum15-year prison term. All five counts combined carry a maximum term of 30. The verdict has sent shock waves through the legal community and many analysts say it will have serious ramifications for the defense of people charged with terrorism because defense lawyers could be intimidated by fears they too could be charged with terrorism. Stewart’s co-defendants were also convicted on all counts. The trial lasted more than seven months. The Manhattan federal jurors deliberated 13 days.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice warned North Korea to reconsider its choice to break off disarmament talks or face deepening isolation from the rest of the world and greater suffering for its people. Rice was responding to North Korea’s announcement that it has built nuclear weapons and was abandoning the talks. Some analysts say the North Korean move was aimed at extracting concessions from Washington before any reconvening of the nuclear talks among the United States, two Koreas, Japan, Russia and China.
A month after President Bush warned that the United States hasn’t ruled out military action against Iran, President Mohammad Khatami responded Thursday that his country would turn into a “scorching hell” for any possible attackers. Khatami’s comments were made at a rally of tens of thousands gathered on a snowy square in Tehran to mark the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Last week, Bush accused Iran of being “the world”s primary state sponsor of terror,” and last month he said his administration won”t rule out using military force against Iran over its nuclear program. Despite the rhetoric between Washington and Tehran, Iran signaled yesterday that it could reach a deal with European Union negotiators on its nuclear program.
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas dismissed three security commanders yesterday after a Hamas mortar barrage of Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip, just two days after the ceasefire declaration. Among the commanders was the head of public safety in the occupied territories.
Eight months before the September11 Eleventh attacks, the White House’s then counterterrorism adviser, Richard Clarke, urged then national security adviser Condoleezza Rice to hold a high-level meeting on the al-Qaeda network. This according to a memo dated January 25, 2001 that was made public yesterday. Clarke left the White House in 2003 and accused the Bush White House of having ignored al-Qaeda’s threats before September 11. Clarke testified before inquiry panels and in a book that Rice, his boss at the time, had been warned of the threat. But, in a 2004 column in The Washington Post, Rice wrote, “No al-Qaeda threat was turned over to the new administration”. The memo was released by the National Security Archive, an independent group that solicits government documents for public review.
Germany’s federal prosecutor has rejected calls to investigate allegations that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was guilty of war crimes over the Iraq prisoner abuse scandal. The Center for Constitutional Rights and four Iraqis who say they were abused by American soldiers at the Abu Ghraib prison filed the criminal complaint in Germany in November. The case was filed under a 2002 German law allowing for the prosecution of human rights abuses and war crimes regardless of the where they occur.
The Senate approved a measure Thursday that gives greater protection to corporations from major class action lawsuits like the ones that have been brought against tobacco companies, giving President Bush the first legislative victory of his second term. The legislation was long sought by big business and would mean that large multi-state class action lawsuits could no longer be heard in small state courts. Such courts have handed out multimillion-dollar verdicts. Instead, the cases would be heard by federal judges, who have not proven as open to those type of lawsuits. The Senate passed the bill 72-26. It now goes to the House. The Association of Trial Lawyers of America said insurance, tobacco, drug, chemical and other companies had financed the push to get the legislation through the Senate.
Meanwhile, the House of Representatives passed legislation yesterday setting federal standards for state drivers” licenses and rules to make it more difficult for immigrants to claim asylum. The legislation also calls for the completion of a border fence in California and more leeway for judges in deporting suspected terrorists. All of the bill’s provisions were approved by the House last year and were removed during negotiations with the U.S. Senate. State and local governments opposed the bill’s provisions on drivers” licenses. In a letter to lawmakers, the National Association of Governors objected to a requirement that states verify the identity of immigrants applying for licenses. The bill will likely be attached to legislation funding the war in Iraq to force the Senate to consider it soon.
The White House is facing fresh accusations of a clandestine propaganda campaign after it emerged this week that it granted regular access to a rightwing blogger with a habit of asking President Bush easy questions. Jeff Gannon, who represented a rightwing site owned by a Texas-based Republican activist, had been a regular at White House briefings since 2003 but aroused reporters” suspicions after posing ideologically loaded questions. The fake White House correspondent quit his job at the Talon News site on Wednesday after bloggers found he had been operating under a pseudonym, and that he was linked to several gay pornographic web domain addresses under his real identity, James Guckert; web sites such as hotmilitarystud.com and militaryescorts.com are registered to the same owner as Gannon’s Web site, jeffgannon.com. White House spokesman, Scott McLellan, has dismissed charges that Gannon was part of an underground propaganda effort as “just a wild conspiracy theory”. But questions remain about why the White House suspended the normally rigorous vetting process to issue daily passes to an organization rejected by the Senate last year for not being a legitimate media outlet. The extent of Gannon’s links to an earlier White House scandal–the leaking of the name of the CIA operative Valerie Plame–also remained unclear yesterday. Gannon has been targeted for questioning in that case. Gannon’s unmasking comes only weeks after the Bush administration admitted paying handsome sums to three conservative commentators to promote its social programs in print, radio and TV.
Air America host Al Franken announced yesterday that he is not running for the US Senate. There had been speculation that Franken would run in his native Minnesota. Franken made the announcement yesterday on his radio program.
The community media movement lost one of its most prominent activists this week. Dirk Koning died Wednesday during a medical procedure in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He was director of the Grand Rapids Community Media Center for more than 20 years. He was 48. Koning dedicated his life to building community media and he traveled across the US and the world in that mission.