November 7, 2007

News You Might Have Missed * Vol. 6, No. 45

Important but overlooked news from around the world.

QUOTED:

“Good luck to the Knesset, we’ll leave the Knesset to you, and all the racists can choke.”

— Israeli-Arab legislator Muhammad Barakei trades heated words in Israel’s legislature (see “Middle East,” below).

CONTENTS:

*Top Stories*
The Taliban’s volatile mix … of foreign fighters
The twin horns of a co-epidemic: AIDS and TB
Whistle-blowers muted by bureaucracy

*War & Terrorism*
The persistence of rendition

*Middle East*
Israeli Arabs say home is not so sweet

*Religion & Society*
Thailand’s Muslim conflict


TOP STORIES

* The Taliban’s Volatile Mix … of Foreign Fighters

Foreign jihadists from Pakistan and Iran are infiltrating the ranks of the ruling Afghanis Taliban in Helmand Province, according to the Institute for War & Peace Reporting.

The fighters are blamed for near-daily suicide bombings, and for terrorizing the locals, committing extra-judicial killings, and arresting Afghanis who travel into government-controlled areas. The captives are accused of spying, and beaten in jail until relatives come to pay for their release.

Some Afghans say the fighters are being sent by Tehran to keep occupation forces “pinned down” and thus unable to attack Iran as the nuclear dispute there deepens.

Source:

“Foreign Taleban rile Helmand residents”
Institute for War & Peace Reporting, October 30, 2007

* The Twin Horns of a Co-Epidemic: AIDS and TB

Tuberculosis rates in South Africa’s Western Cape villages are among the highest in the world, due to a burgeoning co-epidemic of HIV and TB.

According to a new report by international health experts, the paired diseases, which first emerged 23 years ago, now afflict nearly one-third of the 40 million people infected with HIV worldwide, and without proper treatment kill 90 percent of patients within months.

In South Africa, overcrowded clinics are increasingly unable to diagnose or treat victims, a situation exacerbated by a spike in drug-resistant tuberculosis.

Source:

“HIV-TB combo to shake Cape townships”
Independent Online (South Africa), November 2, 2007

* Whistle-Blowers Muted by Bureaucracy

Whether speaking out about violations of national security or tainted meat, precious few government employees receive protection for their whistle-blowing from the Merit Systems Protection Board, according to an investigation by the Center for Investigative Reporting and Salon.com.

An unprecedented review of 3,500 cases filed since 1994 reveals that whistle-blowers win no more than 3.5 percent of the time, and can spend years fighting for their rights amid a backlog of thousands of cases.

Memos obtained by the writers show Republican judges stalling a case until a Democrat leaves the bench, while the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington, the only court of appeal for whistle-blowers, has ironclad rules about the workplace that make victory impossible.

President Bush said he would veto a Senate bill to reform the system over national security concerns.

Source:

“The war on whistle-blowers”
Salon.com, November 1, 2007


WAR & TERRORISM

* The Persistence of Rendition

When President Bush publicly acknowledged the existence of secret CIA jails, he also said they would be vacated — temporarily.

Today, parts of the rendition program are still being debated by U.S. courts — and investigated by foreign governments.

According to the Washington Post, 14 suspected Al Qaeda militants have been taken out of CIA prisons and moved to Guantanamo, but human rights groups say up to 30 other “ghost prisoners” remain unaccounted for.

Some have been transferred to their home countries, such as Libya or Pakistan, and held in government jails there.

Others are suspected of remaining at several CIA “black sites.”

Prisoners claim to have been flown to places as disparate as Jordan, Morocco, Afghanistan and Poland.

One of those black sites could be on Diego Garcia, British-controlled island 1,000 miles off Sri Lanka’s southern coast that is home to a large U.S. military base.

At the urging of human rights groups, British government officials recently launched an investigation into whether the CIA detained terrorist suspects there or still is — a revelation that would prove “hugely embarrassing” for the government, according to the Guardian.

A prison is known to have existed on the island since 1984.

British ministers have also disclosed that a building on the island was reassigned as a prison after the September 11, 2001 attacks.

There have also been reports of terrorist suspects held indefinitely in ships around the island.

British officials have asked the U.S. about the island several times over the past three years, as recently as a month ago, and say they are assured that no al Qaeda suspects have been held there.

Scottish officials were similarly faced with recent evidence that Scottish airports were used to refuel secret CIA rendition flights more than 100 times since the start of the war.

Government ministers say they “take seriously” any attempt to use Scottish airspace to transport prisoners to locations where they could be tortured, and have asked police to investigate, according to the Observer.

Amnesty International is meanwhile lobbying the government to adopt an “anti-rendition policy,” the first of its kind, which would empower air-traffic controllers to cross-check private flights against CIA aircraft registrations.

The measure would also ask the flight operator to find out what is on board and permit the police to board the plane to investigate.

Citing concerns over state secrets, the Justice Department has asked a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit against a flight planning and refueling company that is accused of organizing more than 70 CIA rendition flights containing prisoners bound for black sites, reports Bloomberg.

The ACLU brought the lawsuit against Colorado-based Jeppesen Dataplan on behalf of several detainees it claims were tortured using rendition flights.

The ACLU claims the company collaborated with the government by falsifying flight plans.

Sources:

“Claims of secret CIA jail for terror suspects on British island to be investigated”
Guardian (U.K.), October 19, 2007

“From CIA jails, inmates fade into obscurity”
Washington Post, October 27, 2007

“U.S. asserts state secrets, seeks to dismiss CIA case”
Bloomberg, October 19, 2007

“Call for outlawing of ‘rendition’ flights”
Observer (U.K.), October 28, 2007


MIDDLE EAST

* Israeli Arabs say Home is not so Sweet

Even as Israel prepares for peace talks with Palestinians in Maryland next year, its relations with native Israeli-Arab citizens have been deteriorating.

An exception to this is a court ruling — and a plot of land — won by an Arab-Israeli couple in the Galilee community of Rakefet.

The court agreed with their claim of bias in a screening process all potential new residents of the community must undergo.

Although the tests indicated they were both intelligent and well-suited to the community, officials rejected them due to their “social incompatibility.”

In another Israeli village, hundred of Druze Arabs say they were targeted by police looking for suspects who had damaged a cellular phone antenna.

Some 12 villagers were injured in the clashes that ensued, including who was shot with live ammunition, according to Deutsche Presse-Agentur.

Knesset Member Jamal Zahalka, meanwhile, has joined several other Arab-Israeli leaders in protesting a new government program to draft more young Arab citizens into national service, calling it “an attempt to Israelify our youths” and likening it to being required to serve in the Israel Defense Forces.

Members of the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee of Israeli Arabs have launched a counter-campaign to actively dissuade young Israeli Arabs from volunteering.

“Anyone who does national service will become a leper and Arab society will throw him up from its midst,” Zahalka told Ynetnews.com.

The Knesset also recently approved new legislation to ban its members from traveling to “enemy states” without permission, and removing all those who do so from Knesset deliberations.

The so-called “Bishara Law,” named after an Arab former minister who fled Israel after police accused him of plotting against his country during the 2006 war in Lebanon, is targeted at Arab lawmakers who have been taking trips to Syria and meeting with Hamas.

The bill’s authors claimed that such behavior “form(s) clear encouragement” of terrorist attacks on Israel.

Israeli Minister Esterina Tartman said it was “time for Israel to open its eyes. Enough of Arab Knesset members spitting in our faces and us saying it’s raining.”

“If we have to choose between loyalty to our people, or serving in the Knesset, then good luck to the Knesset,” responded Arab-Israeli Minister Muhammad Barakei. “We’ll leave the Knesset to you, and all the racists can choke.”

Sources:

“High Court orders Galilee community to accept Arab residents”
Ynetnews.com (Israel), November 1, 2007

“Arab-Israeli MK: Don’t Israelify us”
Ynetnews.com (Israel), October 27, 2007

“Over 28 injured in riots in northern Israeli-Arab village”
DPA (Germany), October 30, 2007

“Knesset bills spark fury of Arab MKs”
Jerusalem Post, October 31, 2007


RELIGION & SOCIETY

* Thailand’s Muslim Conflict

Violent conflicts between Thai armed forces and a rebel separatist group in the three Muslim-dominated southern provinces of Thailand flared up again last week when a series of small bombs planted in restaurants and karaoke bars killed a Buddhist civil servant and wounded four others.

The insurgency, and the government’s campaign to crush it, have resulted in 2,500 deaths in the past decade, according to the Jakarta Post.

The violence has now spread to neighboring provinces and could soon affect Bangkok as well.

Thailand’s population is 95 percent Buddhist.

Thai forces are empowered by martial law and have detained dozens of people without charge.

Last week, three provincial courts ordered the release of 86 Muslim detainees — though not to return home, but to enter a “forced job training program,” reports ADNKronos.

Meanwhile, lawmakers are pushing a draft law that would make Buddhism the de facto official religion of Thailand by strengthening and protecting the clergy and the face of Buddhism itself.

The law would dole out harsh punishment for anyone who assaults a monk, and proposes a jail term of up to 25 years for anyone caught “insulting, offending and distorting Buddhism and the Buddha.”

Critics say the law rewards “ambitious, greedy monks” and retains a “feudal system” under which all Thai citizens suffer.

Rather than fight the insurgency with guns alone, Thai officials have begun subsidizing madrassas and Islamic boarding schools that use “moderate” Islamic teachings and adopt the national curriculum, writes the Jakarta Post.

Accused militants are sent to these schools to learn non-violent beliefs, and many of the school’s graduates go on to university.

Local Muslim leaders say most residents of southern Thailand oppose the separatist violence that has brought high levels of drug-related crime, violence, and unemployment to their towns.

Sources:

“Bar bombs kill one, wound 4 in Thai Muslim south”
Reuters, October 31, 2007

“Thailand: Draft law to strengthen Buddhism criticized as ‘draconian'”
ADNKronos, November 2, 2007

“Thailand: Moderate Muslims fight radicalism in south”
Jakarta Post, October 16, 2007


Editor: Josh Wilson

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