A federal judge in Detroit has ruled that the Bush administration’s warrantless surveillance program is unconstitutional and must be stopped. On Thursday, US District Judge Anna Diggs Taylor found that the program violated freedom of speech, protections against unreasonable searches and a constitutional check on the power of the presidency. In her 43-page ruling, Taylor wrote: “There are no hereditary kings in America and no powers not created by the Constitution.” The wiretapping suit was filed in Michigan by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of a number of journalists, lawyers, scholars and rights workers who believed their communications had been monitored. The Justice Department has launched an appeal and a hearing is set for September 7th. The ruling is on hold while the appeals process is under way
The UN has launched a sixty-million dollar appeal to help clean a massive oil spill along Lebanon’s eastern Mediterranean coastline. Up to 15,000 tons of oil have poured into the sea following Israel’s bombing of a southern Beirut power station last month. On Thursday, U.N. Environment Programme Executive Director Achim Steiner warned the environmental dangers are growing by the day.
In other news from Lebanon, the UN has drawn pledges of more than 3500 troops for a new peacekeeping force. 2,000 soldiers will come from Bangladesh. On Thursday, the French government set back hopes for an immediate deployment by announcing it will commit just 200 troops, far less than had been expected. Meanwhile, United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon commander Alan Pellegrini vowed a stronger presence.
A new poll shows a majority of Americans appear to have taken a different position on Israel’s war in Lebanon than the White House and both major political parties. According to Zogby International, 52% of Americans believe the US should remain neutral in Israel’s conflict with Hezbollah. Last month, Republican and Democratic lawmakers overwhelmingly supported resolutions backing Israel’s attack.
In Iraq, the New York Times is reporting a military probe into the killing of 24 civilians in the town of Haditha has found several US Marines destroyed or withheld evidence. Investigators say the marines tampered with their unit’s logbook and held on to incriminating video taken by an aerial drone the day of the killings.
In Afghanistan, ten police officers died Thursday in what military officials are calling an accidental bombing by US-led troops. Another four officers were wounded.
In other news, a former CIA contractor has been convicted over the severe beating of an Afghan prisoner. According to witnesses, the contractor, David Passaro, beat young Afghan farmer Abu Wali with his fists and a flashlight. Wali died the next day. Passaro’s defense team tried to subpoena senior US officials in an effort to prove the beatings were implicitly authorized at the highest level. Passaro is the first civilian to be convicted for abusing a detainee in US custody. He faces up to eleven years in prison.
In Cuba, acting President Raul Castro has made his first public comments since temporarily replacing his brother Fidel. In an interview with the state newspaper Granma, Raul Castro said his brother is recovering and that thousands of troops have been mobilized to prepare for possible interference from the US government.
Back in the United States, eight major tobacco companies have escaped billions of dollars in penalties despite a ruling they have violated several racketeering laws. On Thursday, a federal judge ruled the companies conspired for decades to mislead consumers about the dangers of smoking. But the judge, U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler, said she could not apply penalties under the terms of an appeals court ruling that overturned billions of dollars in damages last year. Judge Kessler ordered the companies to stop using terms such as “low tar”, “light” and “mild” in the marketing of their products. The Justice Department had been seeking $280 billion dollars in damages.
In immigration news, the American Civil Liberties Union has filed the country’s first court challenges to new laws that target undocumented immigrants. In New Jersey, the ACLU is contesting a law in the town of Riverside that sets harsh penalties for hiring undocumented workers. The Pennsylvania town of Hazleton has imposed a similar law that also sets English as its official language. In its lawsuit there, the ACLU states: “If the ordinance is allowed to stand, anyone who looks or sounds ’foreign’… will not be able to participate meaningfully in life in Hazleton, returning to the days when discriminatory laws forbade certain classes of people from owning land, running businesses or living in certain places.”
A former Haitian death squad leader living in the United States has been found liable in a civil case brought by several of his victims. On Wednesday, a judge ruled against Emmanuel “Toto” Constant because he failed to meet a deadline to respond to the case. The suit was launched in December 2004 by a group of women who suffered gang rape and other abuses from Constant’s forces. Constant led the paramilitary group the Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti, or FRAPH, which killed thousands of supporters of former Haitian President Jean Bertrand Aristide. He has been allowed to live freely in the US after threatening to reveal the full extent of his ties to the CIA. The US government has ignored several requests for his extradition. Constant was arrested in a separate case last month — not for human rights abuses but for committing mortgage fraud.
In New Orleans, activists from the devastated Lower 9th Ward district are demanding answers over why parts of their neighborhood don’t have drinking water. The calls come nearly one year after Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans. Community leaders met with city officials Thursday but said they have yet to receive an adequate explanation.
In Florida, the government has shut down five abortion clinics run by a doctor it’s feuded with for several years. State officials say Dr. James Pendergraft has failed to follow proper procedures in performing late-term abortions. Dr. Pendergraft denies the accusations and says he’s the target of attempts to limit Florida women’s access to the abortions. Dr. Pendergraft has a history of disputes with Florida authorities. In 2001, he was convicted of attempted extortion after he vowed to sue the government over threats to one of his clinics. The conviction was later overturned.
And finally here in New York, protests continue against a new series of regulations that would criminalize many demonstrations and events. On Thursday, city council members joined organizers, entertainers and attorneys at St Mark’s Church for a People’s Public Forum.
The NYPD wants police permits be required for any gathering of 35 or more people on the city’s streets. In addition the NYPD wants to make it illegal for bikers to ride in groups of more than 20 people without a police permit. Activists say the rules have been drafted to prevent “critical mass” bicycle rides, which draw hundreds of people every month. A public hearing has been scheduled for August 23rd.