We begin in Haiti where ousted Prime Minister Yvon Neptune is said to be on the verge of death as he enters his 24th day of a jailhouse hunger strike. He is now reported to have grown so weak that he cannot walk and slips in and out of consciousness, raising fears that he could die at any moment. A top UN official, Thierry Fagart, told The Miami Herald that when he visited Neptune on Monday night, the prisoner was gaunt and could no longer get to his feet. He said Neptune was too weak to talk. This week on democracy Now! President Jean-Bertrand Aristide called on the world to ’’mobilize’’ to save Neptune.
Now to Iraq. The confirmed death toll from yesterday’s large-scale resistance attacks across the country has now risen to 79 people with more than 120 wounded. In the past two weeks, more than 415 people have been killed in such attacks, including 250 Iraqi soldiers, police and recruits. Meanwhile, 14 U.S. soldiers have died in a Marine offensive near the Syrian border. And US officials have now been forced to admit that that operation was not as successful as previously claimed and that the Marines are wrapping up “Operation Matador” with no clear objective achieved. The New York Times said the eruption of violence “has carried the insurgency to levels rarely seen in the 25 months since American troops seized Baghdad.” The paper goes on to say it has left the new government of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari looking vulnerable only nine days after it was sworn into office.
Back in this country, a Senate committee report on the so-called Oil-for-Food scandal released last night alleges to have uncovered “significant evidence” that the antiwar British politician George Galloway was allocated millions of barrels of oil from the government of Saddam Hussein. The committee says it based its charges on documents from the Iraqi ministry of oil and interviews with senior officials of Saddam’s government, including former Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan. Galloway immediately refuted the allegations. He said “It is merely the repetition of false accusations that have been made and denied before. Something does not become true because it is repeated by George Bush’s Senate majority.” Galloway just won a hotly contested race for parliament against one of Tony Blair’s strongest allies. The Senate investigation is led by Minnesota Republican Norm Coleman. The report also accuses former French Interior Minister Charles Pasqua of profiting as well.
The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that Turkey’s trial of Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan was unfair, saying he was not tried by an independent and impartial tribunal. Ocalan is currently serving a life sentence as the only prisoner in a jail on a Turkish island. In 1999, he was convicted of treason. Although the ruling is not binding, Turkey has said it will do whatever is necessary to fulfil the law.
Cuban President Fidel Castro made clear this week he will not hand over political exile Assata Shakur who has been living in Cuba since escaping from prison in 1979. U.S. officials put Shakur on a government terrorist watch list this month. On the same day, New Jersey officials announced a $1 million reward for her capture. She was convicted in 1973 of killing a New Jersey State Trooper. In a major televised address, Castro called Shakur a victim of “the fierce repression against the Black movement in the United States” and said she had been “a true political prisoner.” He called the charges against her “an infamous lie.” Castro’s remarks were his first comment on the new U.S. actions. Castro suggested that the threats against Shakur were meant to divert attention from Cuba’s demand that U.S. officials arrest Luis Posada Carriles, a former CIA asset who has admitted to carrying out acts of terrorism against Cuba. Fidel Castro called for a massive rally on May 17 in front of the U.S. Interests Section to demand the arrest of Posada.
Lawyers for an American student charged with conspiring to kill President Bush say that Saudi officials tortured the student “at the direct behest” of the FBI, whose agents did nothing to stop the abuse. Ahmed Omar Abu Ali’s legal team filed motions this week saying the 24-year old was tortured while FBI agents were in Saudi Arabia to interview him in September 2003. They said the abuse came at the hands of the Saudi equivalent of the FBI. When Abu Ali complained to a US FBI agent, the agent reportedly stormed out of the room. The lawyers said Abu Ali was beaten, whipped and subjected to what they called “the most sadistic forms of psychological torture.” Defense attorneys have long argued that Abu Ali was tortured while in Saudi custody before being flown back to the United States to face terrorism charges in February. The government says Abu Ali confessed to the assassination plot against Bush. He insists he is innocent. Abu Ali’s trial is scheduled for Aug. 22.
In a special court martial proceeding yesterday in San Diego, a military judge convicted Iraq War resister, Navy sailor Pablo Paredes of one of two charges against him for refusing to redeploy to Iraq. The judge dismissed the second charge, saying it was duplicative. Paredes could get up to a year in jail. He faces sentencing today.
Meanwhile in Fort Stewart Georgia, the court martial of another war resister, Army Sergeant Kevin Benderman, came to a sudden halt yesterday when a military judge ordered a new investigative hearing for the soldier. The judge ruled that the investigating officer who recommended trying him in a general court-martial had compromised her impartiality in an e-mail to a military prosecutor.
Meanwhile, the US Army announced it will halt its recruiting efforts for one day this month amid widespread national protest and several scandals. The military says the halt is aimed at re-training recruiters. The stand-down will take place May 20 and will affect almost all 7,500 recruiters at 1,700 stations around the United States. The military is currently facing a major crisis in recruitment with rates plummeting in the face of the Iraq occupation and other military operations globally.
And it seems that some recruiters have resorted to threatening recruits. In late April in Houston recruiter, Sgt. Thomas Kelt, threatened to have a prospect arrested if he resisted recruiting efforts. Kelt left a voice mail message on the cell phone of 20 year old Christopher Monarch ordering him to show up for an appointment — under the false pretense that Monarch would be violating the law if he didn’t. This is a recording of that voicemail obtained by Houston TV station KHOU:
“Hey Chris, this is Sgt. Kelt with the Army man. I think we got disconnected. Okay, I know you were on your cell probably and just had a bad connection or something like that. I know you didn’t hang up on me. Anyway, by federal law you got an appointment with me at 2 o’clock this afternoon at Greenspoint Mall, okay? That’s the Greenspoint Mall Army Recruiting Station at 2 o’clock. You fail to appear and we’ll have a warrant. Okay? So give me a call back.”
That was army recruiter Sgt. Thomas Kelt leaving a voicemail on a prospective recruit’s voicemail. Kelt reportedly said that threatening to issue an arrest warrant was a “marketing technique.” Army officials confirm the threat was made.
More details are emerging on what exactly is contained in that controversial $80 billion military spending bill passed by Congress this week. In a little-noticed provision, Congress bans the government from using any money in the bill to subject anyone in US custody to torture or “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment” that is forbidden by the Constitution. Drafted since the disclosure of abuses in Afghanistan and Iraq and at Guantánamo Prison Camp in Cuba, it lays out a definition of illegal treatment that human rights groups say is broader than the Bush administration’s current interpretation, and links the ban directly to military spending. The measure draws no distinction between US citizens and foreign prisoners, placing it at odds with statements of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales who said foreign prisoners had very few rights.
The International Labour Organization is reporting that over 12 million people worldwide now live in modern slavery. Of those, one-fifth are trafficked, generating profits of over $30 billion. While the largest numbers are in poor Asian countries and in Latin America, more than 350,000 enslaved people are living in industrialized nations.