January 30, 2008

News You Might Have Missed * Vol. 7, No. 5

Important but overlooked news from around the world.

QUOTED:

“Well, it really is signaling to me the tremendous duplicity with which the government has acted on this file. If you remember they first denied that there was any risk of torture.”

— Canadian law professor Amir Attaran on his government’s Afghan prisoner policy (see “Top Stories,” below).

CONTENTS:

*Top Stories*
War crimes trial spurs threat claim
California marijuana law takes a hit
Canada acknowledges Afghan torture

*World*
Uzbek strongman has powerful friends again

*Environment*
Erosion takes a toxic toll in Alaska


TOP STORIES

* War Crimes Trial Spurs Threat Claim

A witness in the war crimes trial of Charles Taylor, the former president of Liberia, said a group of men stormed his family compound and said they would “all be killed,” reports the BBC.

The witness — Vamba Sherif, a former aide to Taylor — claims that the ex-president provided shelter in Liberia to rebels from neighboring Sierra Leone.

The trial is currently underway in the Netherlands. Prosecutors say that by backing rebels in Sierra Leone, Taylor provoked border-crossing violence, extrajudicial killings, sexual slavery and looting.

Source:

“‘Death threats’ over Taylor trial”
BBC, January 25, 2008

* California Marijuana Law Takes a Hit

The California State Supreme Court found that employers can fire workers for using doctor-approved marijuana, despite a voter-approved state law permitting such use of the drug.

Plaintiff Gary Ross, an Air Force veteran with painful back injuries from his military career, was advised to use marijuana by his doctor.

He was drug tested at a telecommunications job despite having a note from his doctor, and fired not longer after.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the majority in the 5-2 decision found that nothing in the law prevented employers from firing employees who use drugs.

The dissenting justices said the court would have sided with Ross if he had been using legal drugs that nevertheless affect job performance, such as Valium, Vicodin or Ritalin.

They also say the majority ignored a provision of the law which prevented doctor-approved marijuana users from criminal prosecution and “sanction,” such as being fired.

State legislator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) called for new protections for workers with marijuana prescriptions.

Source:

“Workers can be fired for using medical pot off duty, court rules”
Los Angeles Times, January 25, 2008

* Canada Acknowledges Afghan Torture

Canada’s defense minister acknowledged that the military knew prisoners they transferred to Afghan jails were being tortured.

Although the military stopped such transfers last year, the decision was kept secret, and publicly Canada’s government denied any knowledge of torture of Taliban prisoners by Afghan jailers, according to the Globe and Mail.

Radio Netherlands reports that Canada’s government initially “ridiculed” allegations by the political opposition that torture was happening.

One law professor in Ottowa said the revelation makes him doubt Canadians are being told the truth about prisoners and torture in Afghanistan.

Amnesty International is suing to have prisoner transfers banned altogether, claiming that Canada risks violating the Geneva Conventions by handing prisoners over to potential torturers.

Sources:

“Canada halts Afghan prisoner exchange”
Radio Netherlands, January 28, 2007

“Prisoner transfer will resume once Canada sees ‘improvements’ in Afghan jails: MacKay”
Reuters, January 26, 2007


WORLD

* Uzbek Strongman Has Powerful Friends Again

Western nations are once again making diplomatic overtures to Uzbekistan, despite the former Soviet republic’s dismal human rights record.

Admiral William Fallon, of the U.S. Central Command, visited the Central Asian nation’s capital last week, and European officials have also made the trip in recent weeks.

The Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe congratulated President Islam Kamirov on his victory in last month’s elections, despite the fact that it said the vote was unfair.

Uzbekistan’s location bordering Afghanistan makes it an important player in the United States’ war on terrorism, but Western nations pulled away from Kamirov’s government in 2005 after troops fired on peaceful protestors in the Uzbek city of Andijon.

Hundreds of people were reportedly killed in that incident.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, which is funded by the U.S. Congress, quoted Ismoil Dadajanov, an Uzbek activist living in exile, denouncing the rapprochement between the West and Kamirov: “It will lead to the strengthening of Uzbekistan’s dictatorship and terrorist threats in the world in general because people will think: ‘If Western democracies support Islam Karimov, it means democracy is alien to us.'”

Meanwhile, the Boston Globe reported that strained relations since 2005 have stalled a deal to provide electricity from Uzbekistan to Afghanistan, which suffers from severe power shortages.

–Will Crain/Newsdesk.org

Sources:

“Uzbekistan: Rights Activists Decry Signs Of Western Rapprochement”
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, January 27, 2008

“Kabul gets only 3 hours of electricity a day”
Boston Globe, January 27, 2008


ENVIRONMENT

* Erosion Takes a Toxic Toll in Alaska

It has been widely reported that global warming threatens to sweep scores of coastal Alaskan towns into the sea.

Now, the Anchorage Daily News reports that severe erosion is also threatening the ocean by dumping toxins from landfills and garbage dumps into the water.

“A (dump) is kind of like a Pandora’s box of surprises,” said Tamar Stephens of the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation, the Daily News reported.

Among the materials of concern are heavy metals and biological contaminants.

The U.S. military has spent millions of dollars to try to halt the erosion at Cold War-era landfills, but funding is in short supply for many small town dumps and some former military bases.

At least five military bases threated by tidal erosion have no cleanup scheduled, the paper reported.

The Baltimore Sun reported on the quest of Stanley Tom, a resident of Newtok, Alaska, to try to raise funds to relocate his entire village.

The mostly Native American town is in such a precarious situation that the next big storm could wipe it out, activist Deborah L. Williams told the Sun.

“The situation is very urgent,” she told the newspaper. The area’s permafrost is “melting like chocolate ice cream in the sun.”

Newtok is just one of 180 Alaskan towns that are threatened with extinction as increasingly rapid erosion sweeps them into the ocean.

Historically, sea ice has protected the land from the brunt of winter storms, but scientists say that global warming has reduced the amount of sea ice, causing erosion to accelerate.

–Will Crain/Newsdesk.org

Sources:

“Fierce erosion sweeps wastes into Alaska waters”
Anchorage Daily News, Jan. 18, 2008

“Warming menaces Alaska villages”
Baltimore Sun, Jan 13, 2008


Editors: Josh Wilson, Will Crain

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