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The Canadian government has acknowledged for the first time that one of the most well-known victims of CIA extraordinary rendition is a completely innocent man. On Monday, a judge concluded a major investigation into the case of Maher Arar. He’s the Syrian-born Canadian detained nearly four years ago by US authorities at JFK airport in New York. Rather than being released and sent home to his family in Canada, Arar ended up in a Syrian jail where he was repeatedly tortured. US officials accused him of links to al-Qaeda. On Monday, Justice Dennis O’Connor wrote: "I am able to say categorically that there is no evidence to indicate that Mr. Arar has committed any offence or that his activities constituted a threat to the security of Canada." The inquiry concluded that Canadian officials did not play a direct role in Arar’s detention or deportation. However the judge found that the U.S. government’s decision to send Arar to Syria was likely based on inaccurate and misleading information provided by Canadian authorities. The judge also criticized Canadian officials for leaking confidential and sometimes inaccurate information about Arar to the media for the purpose of damaging his reputation or protecting the government’s interests. Although the report focused on the Canadian government, Judge O’Connor also had criticism for US officials. He wrote: "The American authorities who handled Mr. Arar’s case treated Mr. Arar in a most regrettable fashion. They removed him to Syria against his wishes and in the face of his statements that he would be tortured if sent there."
Sudan is facing growing international pressure to allow the African Union to maintain its troop presence in Darfur. The AU’s mandate is set to expire at the end of the month. On Monday, UN Special Envoy to Sudan Jan Pronk appealed for an extension.
The UN has warned a withdrawal of African Union troops could lead to more killings of civilians and cut off access for humanitarian workers. The Sudanese government has not decided on the African Union force, but continues to reject Western intervention.
In Iraq, more than seventy people were killed in another day of relentless violence. A suicide bombing killed thirteen outside a police center in Ramadi. In Talafar, at least twenty people died in a suicide attack on a busy market street. At the UN Monday, Secretary General Kofi Annan warned Iraq is descending into civil war.
French President Jacques Chirac has split with the Bush administration’s stance on Iran. Chirac now says the UN Security Council should not take action while negotiations continue over Iran’s nuclear program. Chirac is the first European leader to back Iran’s call to negotiate without pre-conditions. The Bush administration wants Iran to freeze nuclear activities before it comes to the table. It’s pushing UN Security Council sanctions if Iran does not agree.
In Hungary, massive protests were held Monday following the release of a secret recording in which the prime minister admits to lying about the economy. On the tape, Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany is heard admitting he lied: "morning, evening and night" to win elections in April. Hundreds of people took the streets to demand his resignation. A group of protesters briefly occupied Hungary’s state television station before being driven out by police. The Prime Minister has not denied making the statements but says he will not resign.
In Somalia, eleven people were killed Tuesday in a suicide bombing targeting President Abdullahi Yusuf. Yusuf escaped unharmed but his brother is among the dead. The attack is believed to be the first suicide bombing in Somalia’s history.
The US and Israel are warning Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas against finalizing a deal for a unity government with Hamas. Abbas reached an agreement with Hamas last week and is now working out the final details. But in separate talks Monday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice andi Israel Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni told Abbas they would not accept the Palestinian government unless Hamas renounces terror and recognizes Israel’s right to exist. Meanwhile, the UN Security Council has agreed to hold a session Thursday on a four-year old offer from the Arab league that calls for full peace with Israel in return for an Israeli withdrawal from all occupied territories. Both the US and Israel oppose the proposal.
In Geneva, the annual conference for a global ban on land-mines opened Monday with calls for new limits on the use of cluster bombs. The Swiss Foundation for Mine Action says new rules are needed in light of Israel’s recent bombardment of Lebanon.
The conference is also calling on forty remaining countries to sign the international treaty banning line mines, including China, Russia and the United States.
Here in the United States, Vice-President Dick Cheney’s former company Halliburton is again under scrutiny over its practices in Iraq. On Capitol Hill Monday, Democratic lawmakers held a hearing over a deadly ambush that killed seven employees and injured twenty-six others in Iraq two years ago. Relatives of the dead and surviving employees have filed suit against the company for sending them on an assignment despite knowing it was fraught with danger. According to CBS News, a former manager of the Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg Brown and Root said the convoy was sent because company executives wanted to show "improved performance." KBR denies wrongdoing and says it should be immune from lawsuits. But a newly-released document indicates KBR officials have had high concern over legal action. In a letter sent to Ray Stannard, one of the surviving emloyees, KBR offered to help him win a Defense of Freedom Medal in return for waiving his right to sue.
And finally in media news, the Federal Communications Commission is facing new allegations of censorship following the disclosure the agency buried another critical study of media consolidation. Last week, a former FCC lawyer revealed top officials ordered staff to destroy all copies of a draft study that warned against concentration of media ownership. That report found local ownership adds almost five minutes of total news to broadcasts and more than three minutes of "on-location" news. This week, the newly-discovered report argued the 1996 Telecommunications Act led to a drastic decline in the number of radio station owners — even as the number of radio stations increased. The study was never released. Both former FCC Chair Michael Powell and current Chair Kevin Martin deny ever seeing the report. In a letter sent to Martin this week, the StopBigMedia.com Coalition says the FCC should allow an independent investigation.
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