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What To Do When You're Stopped By Police - The ACLU & Elon James White

What To Do When You're Stopped By Police - The ACLU & Elon James White

Know Anyone Who Thinks Racial Profiling Is Exaggerated? Watch This, And Tell Me When Your Jaw Drops.

This video clearly demonstrates how racist America is as a country and how far we have to go to become a country that is civilized and actually values equal justice. We must not rest until this goal is achieved. I do not want my great grandchildren to live in a country like we have today. I wish for them to live in a country where differences of race and culture are not ignored but valued as a part of what makes America great.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Justice Brennan: A Liberal Icon Gets Another Look : NPR

Official portrait of Justice William J. Brenna...Image via WikipediaJustice Brennan: A Liberal Icon Gets Another Look : NPR

While the U.S. Supreme Court today is dominated by conservatives, it still abides by many of the landmark decisions written by the court's liberal icon, Justice William J. Brennan Jr., who retired in 1990 after 34 years of service.

This fall, a long-awaited biography, Justice Brennan: Liberal Champion, is on the nation's bookshelves — an account of Brennan's life, times and influence on the nation's highest court.

For those not familiar with Brennan's incredible record, let us recapitulate. As the conservative National Review put it in writing about the liberal justice: "An examination of Brennan's opinions, and his influence upon the opinions of his colleagues, suggests that there is no individual in this country, on or off the Court, who has had a more profound and sustained impact on public policy in the United States."

Justice Brennan: Liberal Champion
By Seth Stern and Stephen Wermiel
Hardcover, 688 pages
List price: $35

Brennan's legacy is spelled out in more than 1,300 legal opinions — from Baker v. Carr, his opinion for the court establishing the "one person, one vote" principle in legislative apportionment, to his passionate dissents on the death penalty.

For reasons that even the book's authors cannot fathom, Brennan agreed in the mid-1980s to cooperate on a biography with Stephen Wermiel, then of The Wall Street Journal and now a law professor at American University. The justice asked for nothing in return, not even editorial control. Wermiel spent four concentrated years with Brennan while the justice was still on the bench. The biographer had unfettered access to Brennan's papers, and unparalleled access to the justice. Not only was Wermiel permitted to be something of a fly on the wall in the Brennan chambers, but the justice also sat for more than 60 hours of tape-recorded interviews.
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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Club Mistakes Black Harvard Crowd For "Local Gangbangers"

Club Mistakes Black Harvard Crowd For "Local Gangbangers"

A party for black Harvard and Yale alums at a Boston club this weekend was shut down just after 11pm. Why? The club owner was concerned that a long line of black people outside would make the club look bad.

A group of recent graduates had sold tickets in advance for a party at a new Boston club, Cure, to follow Saturday's Harvard-Yale game. By 10:30pm, though, club management freaked out and claimed it had seen "local gang bangers" around, despite the strict guest-list policy implemented by organizers. At first they demanded that guests show student ID — not exactly practical given the fact that it was a party aimed at alums — and then eventually shut down the entire club.

"We were perceived as a threat because of our skin color," wrote one organizer, Michael Beal, in the email below. "I am further dismayed that after having spent the last few hours with the club owner, I do not believe him to be a racist; which only adds to my consternation around what this event says about race relations in our country."

It echoed a firestorm three years ago, on the other side of the Charles River. In May 2007, called by other students, Harvard University Police asked students at a gathering of black Harvard student organizations on a campus green to show ID. That sparked an independent review and a police restructuring.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty - Secretary Clinton Emphasizes Relationship Between Free Speech, Freedom of Religion

Official portrait of Secretary of State Hillar...Image via WikipediaBaptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty - Secretary Clinton Emphasizes Relationship Between Free Speech, Freedom of Religion
In her remarks introducing the State Department's annual International Religious Freedom Report, Secretary Hilary Clinton emphasized two important things: that religious freedom means more than the freedom to worship, and that it goes hand in hand with the freedom of speech.
This report reflects a broad understanding of religious freedom, one that begins with private beliefs and communal religious expression, but doesn’t end there. Religious freedom also includes the right to raise one’s children in one’s faith, to share one’s faith peacefully with others, to publish religious materials without censorship, to change one’s religion – by choice, not coercion, and to practice no religion at all. And it includes the rights of faith communities to come together in social service and public engagement in the broader society.
Now, some people propose that to protect religious freedom, we must ban speech that is critical or offensive about religion. We do not agree. The Defamation of Religions Resolution adopted by the United Nations Human Rights Council again this year, and now pending before the General Assembly, reflects the other view. And the United States joins in all nations coming together to condemn hateful speech, but we do not support the banning of that speech. Indeed, freedom of speech and freedom of religion emanate from the same fundamental belief that communities and individuals are enriched and strengthened by a diversity of ideas, and attempts to stifle them or drive them underground, even when it is in the name and with the intention of protecting society, have the opposite effect. Societies in which freedom of religion and speech flourish are more resilient, more stable, more peaceful, and more productive.
The first point may be the administration's answer to critics who questioned the use of "freedom to worship" as a short-hand for religious liberty generally. The White House, those detractors argued, did not fully appreciate the breadth of religious freedom. That first paragraph above, however, shows a broad understanding of what it means to be a free person of faith.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Banned books, Jordan: In Jordan, a bookstore devoted to forbidden titles -

Banned books, Jordan: In Jordan, a bookstore devoted to forbidden titles -
Banned books — on sex, politics, religion — are a specialty at Sami Abu Hossein's shop in Amman. 'We have them,' he says with a grin, 'but don't tell anyone.'
By Borzou Daragahi, Los Angeles Times
November 15, 2010
Reporting from Amman, Jordan
At Sami Abu Hossein's cramped bookstore, the hundred or so book titles listed on a wall aren't bestsellers. They're banned.
And the cheery Abu Hossein can you get you any of them, sometimes in the few minutes it takes to sit down and drink a cup of thick-brewed Turkish coffee.
"There are three no-nos," the owner of Al Taliya Books explains with a big smile. "Sex, politics and religion. Unfortunately, that's all anyone ever wants to read about."
He laughs uproariously.
"These are all the banned ones," he says, gesturing to the list taped to the wall above the store entrance, books on sexuality to ones that critically examine the life and times of the prophet Muhammad, the most taboo topic in the Arab world.
"We have them," he says, grinning broadly, "but don't tell anyone."
The tubby father of five seems to get a tremendous kick out of bucking the rules. (Not that they're strictly enforced; he's never been arrested or even summoned by the authorities.)
His partner in thought crime is Hossein Yassin, a self-described Marxist in a worn beige linen suit. Abu Hossein summons his wiry 48-year-old comrade in for the really tough jobs.
Yassin jokes that he's the Special Forces for getting banned or hard-to-find books. He makes allusions to a murky past as an underground revolutionary. He says he calls upon a network that stretches across the Middle East to locate and transport hard-to-find titles.
"I can get any book," he boasts. "But don't ask how I get them."
The most widely requested banned book remains "The Satanic Verses," the 1988 novel that suggested some parts of the Koran weren't God's words and thereby earned its author, Salman Rushdie, a fatwa issued by Iran's Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and the hatred of pious Muslims worldwide.
Other top requests include "23 Years," by the Iranian scholar Ali Dashti, which questions miracles ascribed to Muhammad in the Koran; and "The Joke in the Arab World," by the Egyptian writer Khaled Qashtin, a sarcastic view of the Middle East, its rulers and customs.
Abu Hossein's shop, in the capital's rambling but lively downtown, also sells nonblacklisted books. His shelves are filled with titles from serious political studies about the Middle East to romance novels and pirated software manuals.
But his shop is known as the place in Amman to get forbidden fruits of knowledge.
Censoring books in the age of the Internet may seem like a quaint idea. Even the government official in charge of restricting them recently announced in a newspaper article that "stopping books from reaching the people is a page we've turned."
The censor, Abdullah Abu Roman, occasionally stops by the bookstore to hobnob with Abu Hossein. So do plainclothes security officials. Abu Hossein serves them his Turkish coffee. They very politely ask him for the copies of the forbidden books. He hands them over. It's all very civilized.
"Allah maakon," he bids them farewell. God be with you.
"They are very sensitive to politics and criticism of politicians," says Abu Hossein, who has been working at his family shop for decades. "But there are some books that are banned arbitrarily. Sometimes a censor will ban a book for a sentence he doesn't like."

The Maddow Blog - McCain mints new reason for clinging to Don't Ask, Don't Tell

The Maddow Blog - McCain mints new reason for clinging to Don't Ask, Don't Tell

Legal challenge to US assassination policy divides rights groups | World news | The Guardian

Imam Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen October 2008, ta...Image via WikipediaLegal challenge to US assassination policy divides rights groups | World news | The Guardian
Civil liberties groups criticised for representing Anwar al-Awlaki, an Islamist cleric targeted by US for assassination
Mark Tran
Anwar al-Awlaki has openly urged followers to kill several people, among them Salman Rushdie. Photograph: AP
Human rights advocates have criticised two US civil liberties groups for mounting a legal challenge to the Obama administration's policy of targeted assassinations by representing the interests of Anwar al-Awlaki, the Yemen-based radical cleric.
Last week, the Centre for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) began a lawsuit in a federal court in Washington in connection with the US decision to authorise the killing of Awlaki, the only US citizen known to have been targeted for assassination.
The two groups have been retained by Awlaki's father, Nasser al-Awlaki. But a CCR board member has distanced herself from the group's decision to represent Awlaki's interests. Karima Bennoune, a law professor at Rutgers school of law, Newark, New Jersey, has gone public with her misgivings at the CCR's decision, reflecting a debate within human rights groups on how to deal with Islamist fundamentalists.
"I support the important work the centre has done on torture and extraordinary rendition," said Bennoune, "but I expressed grave concern at CCR offering to represent Awlaki's interests pro bono. Anwar al-Awlaki is not a detainee; he is still at liberty and able to gravely harm others by inciting and advocating murder."
Bennoune pointed out that Awlaki published an article in al-Qaida's English language magazine, Inspire, in July openly calling for assassinations of several people, including a young woman cartoonist in Seattle and Salman Rushdie. This was at around the time the CCR was offering to represent Awlaki's father, she said.
Bennoune, who is of Algerian descent, also expressed fears that the CCR and the ACLU were in danger of "sanitising" Awlaki to western audiences.
"Since the inception of the case," she said, "there has been increased mystification of who Anwar al-Awlaki is in liberal and human rights circles in the United States. This may in part have resulted from the fact that a highly reputable organisation like CCR was willing to represent his interests, and described him only as 'a Muslim cleric' or 'an American citizen', and repeatedly suggested that the government did not possess evidence against Awlaki."
The CCR has come under fire in the UK, too. Chetan Bhatt, director of the centre for the study of human rights at the LSE, who was approached by the CCR for advice on Awlaki, said: "I have considerable respect for CCR. But in this case they have made a serious error of ethical judgment. Does a highly respected organisation, founded in the midst of historic struggles for civil rights and racial justice, now wish to be perceived by some as al-Qaida's legal team? Can you fight extra-judicial assassinations by standing alongside someone who advocates extra-judicial assassinations?"
Five prominent Algerian non-governmental organisations, including associations of victims of terrorism and women's groups, have also sent a strongly worded letter to the CCR expressing their dismay that the group has decided to represent Awlaki's interests.
Vincent Warren, executive director of the CCR, argued that his group had actively opposed torture, indefinite detention and targeted killing for years by filing lawsuits against the US government, which few organisations had the capacity to do. "That's what we do," he said. "We file lawsuits. We had a dramatic effect on US policy and the treatment of detainees in Guantánamo."
As for the Awlaki case, Warren said the focus was on US policy and the US government "because we don't believe the US should be wreaking violence for political reasons. It should be up to a court, not just the US government, to decide whether Awlaki poses a threat. The US should not be conducting the killing of US citizens outside the legal process, far away from any battlefield."
The case echoes a dispute in the UK early this year when the head of Amnesty International's gender unit left the group because of its links with Islamist pressure groups. Gita Sahgal fell out with Amnesty after claiming that the charity's links with Moazzam Begg, a former inmate at Guantánamo bay, and his group, Cageprisoners, were undermining its campaign for women's rights.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Myanmar Junta Frees Dissident Daw Aung San Suu Kyi -

Address by Aung San Suu Kyi at the NGO Forum o...Image via WikipediaMyanmar Junta Frees Dissident Daw Aung San Suu Kyi -

YANGON, Myanmar — Myanmar’s pro-democracy leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, was freed from house arrest on Saturday, setting her on the path to a possible new confrontation with the generals who had kept her out of the public eye for 15 of the past 21 years.

As she stepped out of the lakeside compound where she had been confined for the last seven and a half years in her latest period of house arrest, she was greeted by thousands of jubilant supporters, some of them in tears. Waving and smiling, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate could barely be heard over the cheering and chanting.

“We haven’t seen each other for so long, I have so much to tell you,” she said, immediately re-establishing the bond that has made her such a challenge to the military she confronts.

Her release, just five days after an election that recast the structure of military rule in Myanmar, suggested that the generals who rule the country were confident of their position and ready to face down the devotion she still commands both among her countrymen and among Western nations.

But the election itself, which drew accusations of fraud from almost all opposition parties, opened a new area of discontent that her lawyers said she planned to exploit by joining their challenge to the legitimacy of the election.

The government made no immediate statement regarding her release, but the police removed barricades from around her villa and allowed crowds to flood into the street. She said she would make a public address on Sunday.

The scene at the gates of her compound suggested that her popularity was undiminished. "She is our mother, she is our mother!” cried a woman in the crowd.
It was the kind of outpouring she had experienced twice before on earlier releases from house arrest, and both times she was detained again after testing the limits of her freedom.


DNA test too late for executed prisoner Nov. 12: Dave Mann, senior editor for the Texas Observer, tells Rachel Maddow about his paper's exclusive story that a new DNA test indicates that Claude Jones, the last prisoner put to death under Governor George W. Bush, was convicted on flawed evidence.

DNA Tests Undermine Evidence in Texas Execution
New results show Claude Jones was put to death on flawed evidence.

Claude Jones always claimed that he wasn’t the man who walked into an East Texas liquor store in 1989 and shot the owner. He professed his innocence right up until the moment he was strapped to a gurney in the Texas execution chamber and put to death on Dec. 7, 2000. His murder conviction was based on a single piece of forensic evidence recovered from the crime scene—a strand of hair—that prosecutors claimed belonged to Jones.
But DNA tests completed this week at the request of the Observer and the New York-based Innocence Project show the hair didn’t belong to Jones after all. The day before his death in December 2000, Jones asked for a stay of execution so the strand of hair could be submitted for DNA testing. He was denied by then-Gov. George W. Bush.
A decade later, the results of DNA testing not only undermine the evidence that convicted Jones, but raise the possibility that Texas executed an innocent man. The DNA tests—conducted by Mitotyping Technologies, a private lab in State College, Pa., and first reported by the Observer on Thursday—show the hair belonged to the victim of the shooting, Allen Hilzendager, the 44-year-old owner of the liquor store.
Because the DNA testing doesn’t implicate another shooter, the results don’t prove Jones’ innocence. But the hair was the only piece of evidence that placed Jones at the crime scene. So while the results don’t exonerate him, they raise serious doubts about his guilt. As with the now-infamous Cameron Todd Willingham arson case, the key forensic evidence in a Texas death penalty case has now been debunked.
“The DNA results prove that testimony about the hair sample on which this entire case rests was just wrong,” said Barry Scheck, co-founder of the Innocence Project, in a statement. “Unreliable forensic science and a completely inadequate post-conviction review process cost Claude Jones his life.”
Jones was 60 years old when he was executed on December 7, 2000—the last man put to death by then-Gov. Bush. The Observer and three innocence groups recently obtained the hair after a three-year court battle and submitted it for mitochondrial DNA testing.
That technology didn’t exist when Jones was convicted in 1990. But the DNA test had been developed by 2000, when Jones’ execution date was nearing. He requested a stay of execution from two Texas courts and from the governor’s office in order to test the hair evidence and prove his innocence. His requests were all denied.
Documents show that attorneys in the governor’s office failed to inform Bush that DNA evidence might exonerate Jones. Bush, a proponent of DNA testing in death penalty cases, had previously halted another execution so that key DNA evidence could be examined. Without knowing that Jones wanted DNA testing, Bush let the execution go forward.
Had the DNA tests been conducted before his execution, Jones might still be alive today. Scheck says these results, had they been obtained 10 years ago, probably would have led judges to throw out Jones’ conviction and grant him a new trial.
“I’m convinced that [Bush] would have granted this reprieve had he known about it," Scheck told the Observer on Thursday. "I find it just astonishing that he wasn’t told. That’s a pretty serious breakdown in the criminal justice system."
Claude Jones was no saint. Born in Houston in 1940, he was arrested numerous times and spent three stints in prison on robbery, assault and theft charges. While serving an eight-year sentence in a Kansas prison, Jones allegedly doused another inmate with lighter fluid and set him on fire.
But Jones wasn’t executed for his previous crimes. He was put to death for what allegedly happened on the afternoon of Nov. 14, 1989.
Jones and an accomplice named Kerry Daniel Dixon pulled into Zell’s liquor store in the East Texas town of Point Blank, about 80 miles northeast of Houston. They had a .357 magnum revolver given to them by a third man, Timothy Jordan.
Either Jones or Dixon remained in the pickup truck, while the other went inside and shot the store’s owner, 44-year-old Allen Hilzendager, three times and made off with several hundred dollars from the cash register.
The question is, which of them committed the shooting? Witnesses who saw the crime from across the street couldn’t positively identify which man they saw leave the store. The third accomplice, Timothy Jordan, would testify that Jones confessed to the shooting. (Jordan later recanted his testimony, claiming police told him what to say in exchange for a lesser charge. Jordan, Dixon and Jones had committed a string of robberies, though the liquor store heist was the only one that involved murder. Jordan was sent to prison for 10 years. Dixon was given a 60-year sentence.)
But Jordan’s testimony wasn’t enough to convict Jones of murder. In Texas, accomplice testimony can’t be the sole basis for a conviction; it must be corroborated by independent evidence.
At Jones’ 1990 trial in rural San Jacinto County, prosecutors offered only one piece of corroborating evidence—the strand of hair recovered from the liquor store counter.
Stephen Robertson, a forensic expert hired by the Department of Public Safety, examined the hair under a microscope—an inaccurate visual analysis that was common at the time. Robertson compared the hair with samples taken from 15 people who entered the store the day of the murder. He testified at trial that he believed the hair matched Jones. But he conceded, “Technology has not advanced where we can tell you that this hair came from that person,” he told the jury, according to court records. “Can’t be done.”
But in 2000, when Jones was fighting for his life, it could be done. On December 6, 2000, the day before the execution, Jones’ attorneys filed a last-ditch motion for a stay—in district court and with the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals—so they could submit the strand of hair for mitochondrial DNA testing. Both courts turned him down.
Jones’ last hope was Gov. Bush, who in December 2000 was embroiled in the Florida recount controversy that followed the presidential election. Bush had already overseen the execution of 151 people during his governorship, but he’d also expressed support for DNA testing. Earlier that year, Bush had granted a 30-day stay to Ricky McGinn so that DNA testing could be conducted on key evidence in the case. (The tests would prove McGinn’s guilt and he was executed.) Bush, explaining his decision in the McGinn case to CNN in June 2000, said, “To the extent that DNA can prove for certain innocence or guilt, I think we need to use DNA.”
But Bush was never told about Jones’ request for DNA testing. Through a public-information request, the Innocence Project obtained the Dec. 7, 2000, memo that lawyers in the governor’s office sent to Bush, briefing him on the circumstances of Jones’ pending execution. The four-page memo doesn’t mention Jones’ request for DNA testing. Rather, it describes the disputed hair evidence as “testimony from a chemist employed by DPS that the hair samples taken from the crime scene matched those taken from Jones.”
The memo from the general counsel’s office concludes, “At this time, I do not recommend that a reprieve be granted.” Jones was executed a few hours later.
But the strand of hair survived, tucked away in a box in the San Jacinto County courthouse for years.
In fall 2007, the Observer, the national Innocence Project, the Innocence Project of Texas and the Texas Innocence Network filed a lawsuit to obtain the hair for DNA testing.
The county district attorney’s office fought release of the hair sample and announced its intention to destroy it. But in June 2010, Judge Paul Murphy ruled in favor of the Observer and the innocence groups, and ordered prosecutors to turn over the remaining hair evidence for DNA testing.
Anti-death penalty advocates had hoped that the Jones case would provide the first-ever DNA exoneration of an executed person. While quite a few death penalty cases have been called into question, including several in Texas, no executed prisoners have been proven innocent by DNA testing, widely considered the most reliable form of forensic evidence.
Instead, Jones' case now falls into the category of a highly questionable execution—a case that may not have resulted in a conviction were it tried with modern forensic science. In that respect, it's much like the case of Cameron Todd Willingham, executed in 2004 for starting a house fire that killed his three children. Fire scientists now say the arson evidence used to convict Willingham was flawed. (The Forensic Science Commission will continue its investigation of the Willingham case at hearing on Nov. 19.)
Still, the revelations in the Jones case raise more questions about how Texas administers the ultimate form of punishment.
“My father never claimed to be a saint, but he always maintained that he didn’t commit this murder,” said Claude Jones’ son, Duane, in a statement released by the Innocence Project. Duane Jones didn’t know his father growing up and met Claude Jones when he was on death row. “Knowing that these DNA results support his innocence means so much to me, my son in the military and the rest of my family. I hope these results will serve as a wakeup call to everyone that serious problems exist in the criminal justice system that must be fixed if our society is to continue using the death penalty.”

Friday, November 12, 2010

Supreme Court Won't Block 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' : The Two-Way : NPR

Supreme Court Won't Block 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' : The Two-Way : NPR
"The U.S. Supreme Court is refusing to block enforcement of the Defense Department's 'don't ask, don't tell' policy on gays in the military while a federal appeals court considers the issue," the Associated Press writes.
SCOTUSBlog sums up the news this way:
"The Supreme Court, without noting any dissent, agreed on Friday to leave the military's 'don't ask/don't tell' policy in effect while its constitutionality is under review in lower courts."
The High Court's order is posted here. It says simply that:
"The application to vacate the stay entered by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on November 1, 2010, presented to Justice Kennedy and by him referred to the Court is denied. Justice Kagan took no part in the consideration or decision of this application."
The request had been brought to the court by the Log Cabin Republicans, which, as the AP writes, has "challenged the constitutionality of the policy."

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Bush's Waterboarding Admission Prompts Calls For Criminal Probe

Bush's Waterboarding Admission Prompts Calls For Criminal Probe
WASHINGTON -- The American Civil Liberties Union on Thursday joined a growing chorus in the human rights community calling for a special prosecutor to investigate whether former president George W. Bush violated federal statutes prohibiting torture.
In his new memoir and ensuing book tour, Bush has repeatedly admitted that he directly authorized the waterboarding of three terror suspects. Use of the waterboard, which creates the sensation of drowning, has been an iconic and almost universally condemned form of torture since the time of the Spanish Inquisition.
Except for a brief period during which a handful of Bush administration lawyers insisted that the exigencies of interrogating terror suspects justified its use, waterboarding has always been considered illegal by the Justice Department. It is also a clear violation of international torture conventions.
The ACLU is urging Attorney General Eric Holder to ask Assistant U.S. Attorney John Durham to investigate Bush. For nearly three years now, Durham has been acting as a special prosecutor investigating a variety of torture-related matters involving government officials considerably lower on the food chain. Just this Tuesday, it was widely reported that Durham had cleared the CIA's former top clandestine officer and others in the destruction of agency videotapes showing waterboarding of terror suspects -- but that he would continue pursuing other aspects of his investigation.
"The ACLU acknowledges the significance of this request, but it bears emphasis that the former President's acknowledgment that he authorized torture is absolutely without parallel in American history," the group wrote in its letter to Holder.
"The admission cannot be ignored. In our system, no one is above the law or beyond its reach, not even a former president. That founding principle of our democracy would mean little if it were ignored with respect to those in whom the public most invests its trust. It would also be profoundly unfair for Mr. Durham to focus his inquiry on low-level officials charged with implementing official policy but to ignore the role of those who authorized or ordered the use of torture."
In his new memoir, "Decision Points," Bush recalls his thought process after CIA director George Tenet asked for permission to waterboard alleged al Qaeda mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in early 2003. Bush's response: "Damn right."

Oklahoma fear faces First Amendment Nov. 10: Muneer Awad, Oklahoma executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, talks with Rachel Maddow about his lawsuit challenging the Oklahoma Sharia law ballot initiative.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Newspaper Sues FBI Over Civil Rights Photographer's Informant File - The BLT: The Blog of Legal Times

WASHINGTON - SEPTEMBER 16:  Federal Bureau of ...Image by Getty Images via @daylifeNewspaper Sues FBI Over Civil Rights Photographer's Informant File - The BLT: The Blog of Legal Times
A newspaper in Memphis, Tenn., is suing the FBI over access to documents about civil rights era photographer Ernest Withers and his reported domestic surveillance work for law enforcement authorities.
The Commercial Appeal, represented by Holland & Knight, wants the FBI to produce Withers' informant file and photographs he submitted to the bureau, according to a suit the newspaper filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia this month.
The newspaper’s lawyers, including Charles Tobin, chair of Holland & Knight’s national media practice, said in the suit that the documents will “help determine what our government was up to when it recruited citizens to surreptitiously gather information about the civil rights movement.”
Tobin said “serious questions remain about the government’s motives and actions in spying on the civil rights movement.” Tobin was not immediately reached for comment this afternoon. The Justice Department has not yet responded to the suit, filed under the Freedom of Information Act.
“The country continues to examine whether the government’s surveillance of civil rights leaders reflected a genuine concern for public safety or, instead, an effort to harass citizens and squelch protest,” the suit said. A copy of the complaint is here.
The Commercial Appeal first submitted a records request to the FBI, asking for documents pertaining to Withers, in February 2008. In March 2009, the FBI released 115 pages. One of the documents included Withers’ FBI informant number. The newspaper earlier fought for additional records outside of court.
In September, the newspaper published an article detailing Withers’ activity as an FBI informant. The New York Times, The Washington Post and NPR subsequently published similar articles about Withers.

Bush on economy, Kanye, Mosque controversy Nov. 10: In a live interview, former President George W. Bush defended his economic stewardship and reacted to a clip of Kanye West apologizing for calling him a racist. He also talked about the controversy over an proposed Islamic community center near the site of the World Trade Center.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

The Canadian Press: US rejects call in UN human rights body to abolish death penalty

The Canadian Press: US rejects call in UN human rights body to abolish death penalty
GENEVA — The United States dismissed international calls Tuesday to abolish the death penalty as friends and foes alike delivered their recommendations on how Washington can improve its human rights record.
U.S. State Department legal adviser Harold Koh said capital punishment was permitted under international law, brushing aside long-standing appeals by European countries and others to temporarily halt or completely abolish the death penalty, which critics say is inhumane and unfairly applied.
"While we respect those who make these recommendations, we note that they reflect continuing policy differences, not a genuine difference about what international law requires," Koh told the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Council.
The call to abolish the death penalty was repeated throughout the list of 228 recommendations by other nations that formed part of the first comprehensive review of Washington's human rights record before the council.
Other nations also urged the U.S. to reduce overcrowding in prisons, ratify international treaties on the rights of women and children, and take further steps to prevent racial profiling.
Koh said the U.S. was committed to rooting out injustices and would seriously consider some of the recommendations, including one to sign a U.N. declaration on the rights of indigenous people.
But in response to recommendations made by adversaries such as Iran, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea, Koh said some proposals were "plainly intended as political provocations, and cannot be taken seriously." He didn't elaborate.
Civil society groups have praised the United States for involving them in the review process, which all U.N. member states have to undergo every four years.
"This international engagement must be followed by concrete domestic policies and actions and a commitment to fixing all domestic human rights abuses, not just the ones that are most convenient," the director of the American Civil Liberties Union's human rights program, Jamil Dakwar, said in a statement.

Netanyahu Sharply Insists on Building in Jerusalem -

Netanyahu Sharply Insists on Building in Jerusalem -

JERUSALEM — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office sharply rejected international criticism of Israel’s most recently announced building plans in East Jerusalem, saying in a statement: “Jerusalem is not a settlement: Jerusalem is the capital of the State of Israel.”

The statement said that Israel had “never agreed to limit its construction in any way in Jerusalem where 800,000 inhabitants live.”

The comments came on the heels of President Obama’s criticism of the construction plans. Speaking during his visit to Indonesia, Mr. Obama said that the Israeli announcement — plans for 1,000 new units for a contested part of East Jerusalem — added to the difficulties of Israeli-Palestinian talks. “This kind of activity is never helpful when it comes to peace negotiations,” he said, “and I’m concerned that we’re not seeing each side make the extra effort involved to get a breakthrough.”

The statement from Mr. Netanyahu’s office addressed the talks by saying that “Israel sees no connection at all between the peace process and building plans in Jerusalem.”

It also noted that Israeli governments had built housing in Jerusalem for the past 40 years and that Egypt and Jordan had signed peace treaties with Israel during that time.

“The differences of opinion between the United States and Israel on the subject of Jerusalem are well known,” it said. “We hope to overcome them and to continue to make progress in diplomatic negotiations.”

The Israeli announcement came in the form of plans published for public review in the back pages of local newspapers on Friday, just before Mr. Netanyahu headed to Washington. But as in previous announcements of new construction plans on disputed land, Israeli officials said that the timing was bureaucratically determined, not politically.

They said the latest announcement was a result of a decision by housing bodies three weeks ago. . Still, the timing coincidence raised questions of what Mr. Netanyahu knew and when.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Japan must end the scourge of parental child abduction | The Japan Times Online

Japan must end the scourge of parental child abduction | The Japan Times Online
Parental child abduction to Japan has become an epidemic that has received its share of dramatic media coverage this year, and even though many countries have long been pressuring Japan to address this issue, the demands for a solution have recently become more frequent, and noticeably more urgent.
Over the years, ambassadors from Spain, the United Kingdom, Italy, France, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United States have all repeatedly called upon Japan to resolve the problem of parental child abduction, but progress has been sorely lacking, resulting in the buildup of international pressure that has finally exploded onto Japan's newspapers and into policy discussions at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
In October, envoys of 11 nations plus the European Union (comprised of 27 countries) told Justice Minister Minoru Yanagida that they believe children should grow up while keeping in touch with both their parents, and that Japan should sign the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, which provides rules and procedures for the return of abducted children. Japan is "considering the matter."
For years, the Japanese government refused to acknowledge that parental child abduction was even a problem, but this issue has finally become too big to ignore. In September, Virginia Rep. Jim Moran warned Japan that Congress "is watching and expecting action." Now the Japanese authorities are, at long last, talking about child abduction to the media and to foreign governments, although they are unfortunately doing so in a highly guarded and disingenuous manner, often with the complicity of the Japanese press, who use "quotes" when discussing "abduction" in order to minimize the "issue."
One of Japan's favorite myths, proffered to justify parental kidnapping, is that joint custody is strictly an undesirable "Western value," and therefore Japan should not have to capitulate by adopting such a peculiar foreign practice. However, since Japan's Asian neighbors — Taiwan, South Korea and China — as well as other non-Western countries, such as Nigeria and countless others, recognize joint custody and also routinely enforce U.S. and other valid custody orders for joint-parenting time, this "Western value" assertion falls flat on its face.
Furthermore, loving one's children and wanting to spend time with them is most certainly not just a "Western" value.
It can be very frustrating to navigate around the Japanese facade (tatemae) of ridiculous parental child abduction excuses, but with the U.S. Congress recently condemning Japan for its complicity in the child abduction problem (by a landslide vote of 416 to 1), and with President Barack Obama's visit to Japan approaching, it seemed timely to provide a few insights.
• Excuse #1: It is Japanese culture for the father to forget about his children after a divorce.
It is presumptuous and embarrassing for the Japanese government to argue that it is "Japanese culture" to care so little about one's own flesh and blood — that Japanese fathers want to have nothing to do with their kids after the breakup of a marriage. Japanese parents, fathers included, love their children immensely, and samurai warriors used to literally fight wars over the safety of their eldest sons.
The real indigenous cultural problem here is that it is a feature of Japanese culture not to openly complain about clearly unjust or irrational rules, regardless of their dire consequences. The Japanese even have a popular word for this forbearance principle: gaman.

Restoring Justice In Civil Rights Cold Cases | WBUR

Restoring Justice In Civil Rights Cold Cases | WBUR
The struggle for universal civil rights in this country is remembered as a non-violent revolution led by luminaries like Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks, but many, many activists died for the cause. Margaret Burnham, a law professor at Northeastern University, hopes to make sure that none of the civil rights crusaders are ever forgotten.
Burnham runs the Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project (CRRJ) at Northeastern where she and her students examine cases of injustice from the civil rights era and looks for ways to correct the historical record to help bring justice to victims.
Some civil rights activists were murdered for their work and some were wrongfully charged with crimes. In other cases, crimes against civil rights activists went unpunished. Burnham wants to bring these cases of injustice to light.
“We can’t change the sentence, which was obviously unfair,” Burnham said in an interview with Radio Boston’s Sacha Pfeiffer. “We do find ways of entering into the process to make those that were affected by it feel that they have now some stake in what transpired. And one of the ways that we can do that is to correct documents that we find mistake the facts.”
With help from her students at Northeastern, Burnham investigates anti-civil rights violence and helps provide communities impacted by that violence small measures of peace by unearthing truths that, in some cases, have long been buried.
Take the case of John Earle Reese.
Just 16 years old in 1955, Reese was shot to death in an East Texas cafe by white men hoping terrorize local blacks into shelving plans for a new school. The two men were arrested, but spent no time in jail.
“We do find ways of entering into the process to make those that were affected by it feel that they have now some stake in what transpired.”
–Margaret Burnham
Residents of Reese’s town said that the case was barely contested because in the 1950s, African-Americans had little power in much of the South.
“African-Americans were not part of the political process,” Burnham said. “They had no vote. They, effectively, were closed out of the political process, and therefore, they had nothing to say about all of the law enforcement officials and judicial officers who presided over the criminal justice process. There were no African-American police officers, there were no sheriffs, there were no judges. There were very, very few lawyers.”
Reese’s name had largely been forgotten, until students at the CRRJ spent two years looking into the circumstances surrounding his death.
Now, the town of Rusk County, Texas named a road after Reese and created a small memorial to remember his family’s tragedy.

Israel moves ahead with new east Jerusalem housing  |

Benjamin NetanyahuImage via WikipediaIsrael moves ahead with new east Jerusalem housing |
ERUSALEM — The Israeli government is moving ahead with plans to build nearly 1,300 apartments in disputed east Jerusalem, an official said Monday, drawing a harsh U.S. response just as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is there for meetings with American leaders.
The plan drew renewed attention to Israeli settlement policies just as Washington was pressing Israel to curb construction in a bid to get stalled peace talks back on track.
Israel's Interior Ministry said the decision to seek public comment on the building plans was merely a procedural step.
Even so, the announcement risked setting off another Israeli run-in with Vice President Joe Biden, who met with Netanyahu in New Orleans on Sunday. Israel infuriated Biden early this year by announcing other construction plans in east Jerusalem while the vice president was visiting.
In Washington, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Monday's announcement was "deeply disappointing" and "counterproductive to our efforts to resume direct negotiations between the parties."
Netanyahu's office did not comment.
The U.S., along with the rest of the international community, opposes Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem — captured territories claimed by the Palestinians.
Washington is already frustrated over Netanyahu's refusal to renew curbs on settlement construction in the West Bank that expired in September. The Palestinians say they will walk away from peace talks, relaunched just two months ago, if the building restrictions aren't renewed.
Netanyahu's talks with Biden, and later this week with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, are aimed at finding a compromise to restart the talks. Clinton has said that the settlements are a secondary issue that would be solved automatically if the two sides agree on borders.
News of the new building plans came from Israel's Interior Ministry, which is controlled by the ultra-Orthodox Jewish Shas Party, and it was not known whether Netanyahu was told about it ahead of time.
Interior Ministry official Efrat Orbach said the plans to build 978 apartments in the Har Homa neighborhood and 320 in the neighborhood of Ramot were approved six months ago but that for unspecified "technical reasons" the ministry only recently published the plans to give the public an opportunity to appeal.
She denied the timing of the move had anything to do with Netanyahu's U.S. trip and said it would take years before building actually starts.
The anti-settlement Israeli group Peace Now denounced the move as a "huge provocation by Netanyahu at a very sensitive time in the negotiation process." It said in a statement that "it is going to take a few years until the bulldozers can start the construction."
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said regardless of when the building actually takes place, the latest Israeli move was a sign of bad faith.
He said the Palestinians had hoped Netanyahu had gone to the U.S. "to make a choice for peace and not settlements."
"Unfortunately, once again, when given the choice, he chooses settlements," Erekat said. "We hold him fully responsible for the collapse of these negotiations."

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Gates Urges Repeal Of Military's Ban On Gays : NPR

Official portrait of United States Secretary o...Image via WikipediaGates Urges Repeal Of Military's Ban On Gays : NPR
Defense Secretary Robert Gates is encouraging Congress to act before year's end to repeal the ban on gays serving openly in the military. It's a position shared by his boss, the president.
But his new Marine commandant thinks otherwise and the Senate has not yet taken action, setting up yet another hurdle for gay activists who see their window quickly closing. After Tuesday's elections that saw Republicans chip away at Democrats' majority in the Senate and wrest the House from their control, their hopes for ending the 17-year-old law have dimmed.
"I would like to see the repeal of 'don't ask, don't tell,' but I'm not sure what the prospects for that are and we'll just have to see," Gates told reporters traveling with him to Australia this weekend.
Gates said he would prefer Congress act after the Pentagon releases its study of how repeal would be implemented, which is due Dec. 1.
That goal, though, lacks to backing of the Marine Corps commandant at a moment the country is fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"This is not a social thing. This is combat effectiveness," Gen. James Amos said.
That hesitation could be enough to give senators permission not to act, activists fear.
The House has passed legislation repealing "don't ask, don't tell," but it has not yet seen a vote in the full Senate, where Democrats don't have the votes to overcome a Republican filibuster. Democratic leaders says they are trying to reach a deal across the aisle now that Election Day has passed.
"The Senate should call up the defense bill reported out of committee and pass it before it goes home for the year," said Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. "If the president, Majority Leader Reid, Secretary Gates and a handful of Republican senators are committed to passing the comprehensive defense bill, there is ample time to do so."
Gay activists worry the repeal could be stripped from the bill that funds the Pentagon.
"Any talk about a watered down defense bill, whereby the 'don't ask' revisions would be stripped out, is unacceptable and offensive to the gay and lesbian service members who risk their lives everyday," said Sarvis, whose organization provides legal services for gays and lesbians who face discharge.
Obama on Wednesday also said he wanted a repeal before the new Congress arrives.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Early Lessons in Tolerance Prompt Fights Over ‘Hidden Homosexual Agenda’ -

Early Lessons in Tolerance Prompt Fights Over ‘Hidden Homosexual Agenda’ -
HELENA, Mont. — Alarmed by evidence that gay and lesbian students are common victims of schoolyard bullies, many school districts are bolstering their antiharassment rules with early lessons in tolerance, explaining that some children have “two moms” or will grow up to love members of the same sex.
But such efforts to teach acceptance of homosexuality, which have gained urgency after several well-publicized suicides by gay teenagers, are provoking new culture wars in some communities.
Many educators and rights advocates say that official prohibitions of slurs and taunts are most effective when combined with frank discussions, from kindergarten on, about diverse families and sexuality.
Angry parents and religious critics, while agreeing that schoolyard harassment should be stopped, charge that liberals and gay rights groups are using the antibullying banner to pursue a hidden “homosexual agenda,” implicitly endorsing, for example, same-sex marriage.
Last summer, school officials here in Montana’s capital unveiled new guidelines for teaching about sexuality and tolerance. They proposed teaching first graders that “human beings can love people of the same gender,” and fifth graders that sexual intercourse can involve “vaginal, oral or anal penetration.”
A local pastor, Rick DeMato, carried his shock straight to the pulpit.
“We do not want the minds of our children to be polluted with the things of a carnal-minded society,” Mr. DeMato, 69, told his flock at Liberty Baptist Church.
In tense community hearings, some parents made familiar arguments that innocent youngsters were not ready for explicit language. Other parents and pastors, along with leaders of the Big Sky Tea Party, saw a darker purpose.
“Anyone who reads this document can see that it promotes acceptance of the homosexual lifestyle,” one mother said at a six-hour school board meeting in late September.
Barely heard was the plea of Harlan Reidmohr, 18, who graduated last spring and said he was relentlessly tormented and slammed against lockers after coming out during his freshman year. Through his years in the Helena schools, he said at another school board meeting, sexual orientation was never once discussed in the classroom, and “I believe this led to a lot of the sexual harassment I faced.”
Last month, the federal Department of Education told schools they were obligated, under civil rights laws, to try to prevent harassment, including that based on sexual orientation and gender identity. But the agency did not address the controversy over more explicit classroom materials in grade schools.
Some districts, especially in larger cities, have adopted tolerance lessons with minimal dissent. But in suburban districts in California, Illinois and Minnesota, as well as here in Helena, the programs have unleashed fierce opposition.
“Of course we’re all against bullying,” Mr. DeMato, one of numerous pastors who opposed the plan, said in an interview. “But the Bible says very clearly that homosexuality is wrong, and Christians don’t want the schools to teach subjects that are repulsive to their values.”
The divided Helena school board, after four months of turmoil, recently adopted a revised plan for teaching about health, sex and diversity. Much of the explicit language about sexuality and gay families was removed or replaced with vague phrases, like a call for young children to “understand that family structures differ.” The superintendent who has ardently pushed the new curriculum, Bruce K. Messinger, agreed to let parents remove their children from lessons they find objectionable.
In Alameda, Calif., officials started to introduce new tolerance lessons after teachers noticed grade-schoolers using gay slurs and teasing children with gay or lesbian parents. A group of parents went to court seeking the right to remove their children from lessons that included reading “And Tango Makes Three,” a book in which two male penguins bond and raise a child.
The parents lost the suit, and the school superintendent, Kirsten Vital, said the district was not giving ground. “Everyone in our community needs to feel safe and visible and included,” Ms. Vital said.
Some of the Alameda parents have taken their children out of public schools, while others now hope to unseat members of the school board.
After at least two suicides by gay students last year, a Minnesota school district recently clarified its antibullying rules to explicitly protect gay and lesbian students along with other target groups. But to placate religious conservatives, the district, Anoka-Hennepin County, also stated that teachers must be absolutely neutral on questions of sexual orientation and refrain from endorsing gay parenting.
Rights advocates worry that teachers will avoid any discussion of gay-related topics, missing a chance to fight prejudice.