Global Notebook 8-02-05


Memos suggest Gitmo trials are rigged

SYDNEY – Leaked e-mails from two former U.S. prosecutors, obtained by the Australian Broadcast System, claim that the military commissions set up to try detainees at Guantanamo Bay have been rigged, fraudulent and thin on evidence against the accused. In March 2004, the e-mails were sent to supervisors in the Pentagon’s Office of Military Commissions, echoing previous charges made by international lawyers, U.S. military officers, the American Bar Association, the Australian Law Society, Amnesty International and Britain‘s Attorney General. 

In a message to his supervisor, Major Robert Preston said he considered “the insistence on pressing ahead with cases that would be marginal even if properly prepared to be a severe threat to the reputation of the military justice system and even a fraud on the American people." Adding that he couldn’t continue to work on a process he considers morally, ethically and professionally intolerable, he said, "I lie awake worrying about this every night." Preston was transferred less than a month later.

Another prosecutor, Capt. John Carr, who also ended up leaving the department, said the commissions appear to be rigged. "When I volunteered to assist with this process and was assigned to this office, I expected there would be at least a minimal effort to establish a fair process and diligently prepare cases against significant accused," he wrote. "Instead, I find a half-hearted and disorganized effort by a skeleton group of relatively inexperienced attorneys to prosecute fairly low-level accused in a process that appears to be rigged."

Carr claimed that the prosecutors were told by their superior that the panel sitting in judgment on the cases would be handpicked to ensure convictions. His boss, Col. Frederick Borch, called the claims “monstrous lies.”

Caribbean summit seeks common ground

PANAMA CITY – The Association of Caribbean States (ACS) wants the United States to cancel the Helms-Burton Act, the 1996 law that prohibits U.S. companies and individuals from investing in Cuba. Although Cuban President Fidel Castro didn’t attend the group’s fourth regional summit last week, a declaration signed at the close of the meeting condemned the U.S. economic boycott, rejecting “all types of unilateral coercive economic measures applied by one state.”

The 25-member group’s final declaration said, "We are deeply concerned with measures that strengthen and broaden the scope of such legislation," and "once more urge the government of the United States of America to put an end to such measures."

The group wasn’t unanimous on all topics. According to the Washington Post and other press reports, Venezuelan Foreign Secretary Ali Rodriguez argued, “We have a constitutional mandate to develop an economy based on solidarity, not mercantilism. In fact, we oppose the slimy, mercantilist view of things." However, Mexican Pres. Vicente Fox called for a "strategic alliance" of open markets and free trade, while Populist Panamanian Pres. Martin Torrijos took a middle path, calling for "democracy with social sensitivity." 

Despite some criticism of U.S. policy, there was praise for the Central American Free Trade Agreement, which was narrowly approved by the U.S. Congress last week. “This is a step for Central America toward development, that puts us in the big leagues of trade," said El Salvadoran Pres. Tony Saca. "This will mean jobs will be created."

The summit was attended by seven presidents and three prime ministers, as well as vice presidents and other high-ranking officials. The ACS includes the island nations of the Caribbean, Central America, Colombia and Venezuela.

In its 30-point declaration, the leaders also addressed poverty and drugs, terrorism, cooperation, trade, tourism, energy integration, corruption and natural-disaster warning systems. The declaration stressed sovereignty, territorial integrity, non-intervention, and "the right of every country to build its own political system in peace, stability and justice."

The leaders also pledged to promote “democracy, economic development and social progress" in Haiti, and urged the international community to "grant greater priority to mobilizing resources to boost" the development of impoverished nations.

U.S. loses Uzbekistan base

WASHINGTONUzbekistan has decided to evict the United States from a military base that has served as a hub for military missions to Afghanistan since Sept. 11, 2001, according to the Washington Post. The notice to leave the Karshi-Khanabad air base, known as K2, was delivered by a courier from the Uzbek Foreign Ministry to the U.S. Embassy in Tashkent, according to an unnamed senior U.S. administrative official involved in Central Asia policy.

Tashkent has reportedly given the United States 180 days to vacate the base. The announcement came shortly after U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld visited Central Asia for talks on the continuation of the U.S. military presence in the region. Rumsfeld visited Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, but didn’t stop in Uzbekistan.

World Bank economist points to global inequality 

TORONTO – A new book by World Bank economist Branko Milanovic confirms what many people suspect: The gap between the world’s rich and poor is enormous and, in certain respects at least, still growing. According to Worlds Apart: Measuring International and Global Inequality, almost all the middle-income countries in 1960 dropped into the ranks of the poor by 2000, and the club of rich countries became almost exclusively Western.

"While in the year 1960," Milanovic writes, "there were 41 rich countries – 19 of them non-Western – in 2000, there were only 31 rich countries, and only nine of them were non-Western. None of the African countries (except for Mauritius) and none of the Latin American and Caribbean countries (except for the Bahamas) were left among the rich. Latin America and the Caribbean, probably for the first time in 200 years, had no country that was richer than the poorest West European country."

According to an analysis of the book in Toronto‘s Globe and Mail, a recent report from the World Bank appears to back him up, indicating that about 1.1 billion people – one-fifth of the population of the world’s poor countries – live on less than what $1 a day would buy in the United States. About 2.7 billion people, or more than half the developing world’s population, live on less than $2 a day.

Not all economists paint such a grim picture, noting that income growth in China and India suggest that global income inequality is actually declining. The optimists also focus on the soaring standard of living in countries like Chile, Malaysia and Taiwan. Milanovic acknowledges this, but argues that it doesn’t gauge inequality between individuals within countries.

Using World Bank information, he concludes that inequality between individuals stayed roughly constant, and extremely high, in the last two decades of the 20th century. At the same time, the gap between rural and urban incomes widened.

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that 852 million people faced chronic hunger in 2004, up 15 million from the previous year. In the same year, according to UNICEF, one billion children — nearly half the world’s children – were severely deprived. At the other end of the spectrum, the world has about 587 billionaires with a combined wealth of $1.9-trillion, equivalent to nearly 20 percent of the annual economic output of the United States.

Atlantic whale on the critical list 

ITHACA, NY – "We are not just at a precipice to extinction, in many ways we are actually over that precipice," says whale expert Christopher Clark, co-author of a new study published in the latest issue of the journal Science. The paper concludes that the Atlantic right whale is on a path toward extinction due to collisions with ships and entanglements in fishing gear.

Estimates indicate only 350 North Atlantic right whales remain, and deaths are exceeding births by less than 1 percent per year. North Atlantic right whales mostly live in heavily trafficked and fished coastal waters off the North American eastern seaboard, from Florida to Canada.

"There is really no place along the east coast of the United States free of humans, and shipping creates a lot of opportunities for whales to get hit," said Clark, the director of bioacoustics research at Cornell University. “Swimming between ships and lobster pot lines, whales are constantly facing the gauntlets of traffic and snares. It’s hard for a big animal like that to get through."

The Department of Commerce and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are promoting emergency measures that include reducing ship speeds and rerouting commercial and military traffic. In June, however, the Coast Guard refused to even ask shippers to voluntarily reduce their speed when they enter the whales’ waters. The article also urges the modifying of fishing techniques and gear.


Roberts’ role in Bush-Gore case revealed

TALLAHASSEE – When Republican attorneys were creating their legal dream team for the litigation that followed the 2000 presidential election, one of the first names that came up was John Roberts, now Pres. George Bush’s choice for the U.S. Supreme Court. According to a report in the Miami Herald, Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz, a former domestic policy advisor for Bush, brought Roberts in to lend advice and help polish legal briefs. Later, he participated in a dress rehearsal to prepare the Bush legal team for the U.S. Supreme Court.

Gov. Jeb Bush and others involved in the election dispute have said they can’t recall much about Roberts’ role. But one thing was certain, Cruz told the Herald: “There was no one better for the job.” Even before Roberts’ role in the 2000 elections was known, Democrats wanted the issue brought up in his confirmation hearings.

Roberts, a constitutional law expert in a top Washington law firm at the time, is now a federal appeals court judge in Washington. At the time, his win-loss record at the U.S. Supreme Court was one of the most impressive. He also was a member of a tight-knit circle of former clerks for the court’s chief justice, William Rehnquist, a group jokingly referred to as “the cabal.”

Cruz’s account places Roberts firmly within the Bush vs. Gore battle, filling in blanks in the memories of everyone from Bush’s campaign lawyer, Ben Ginsberg, to the governor.

Ted Olson, the lawyer who successfully argued George W. Bush’s case before the Supreme Court, said Roberts helped, but couldn’t recall what legal briefs, if any, he reviewed. However, he was certain that Roberts participated in a “moot court” hearing to prep him for arguments before the high court.

Ginsberg, who met with Cruz just after the election to hire the dream team of lawyers, said he didn’t clearly remember Roberts, noting that the number of attorneys made it tough to keep track of everyone. 

The Republicans assigned lawyers to one of five teams: the U.S. Supreme Court, the Florida Supreme Court, local county litigation, trial attorneys and military affairs. Though apparently on the federal team, Roberts’ name appears on no legal briefs, a fact that Cruz attributes to Roberts’ modesty. ”He already had a name. He didn’t need the recognition,” Cruz said.

Parenting mag defends pesticides 

NEW YORK – In its August issue, Parents Magazine, one of the most influential family publications in the United States, tells parents not to worry about pesticide residues in children’s food. An article titled "Food Under Fire" calls the benefits of organic foods a myth and endorses pesticides in foods as safe.

"There’s no evidence that these chemicals, used at the low levels found in our food supply, are harmful to children," the article claims. The author based his research on the opinion of a single "expert," neglecting to mention decades of contrary scientific evidence from academic, government and industry sources. The magazine serves as a "parenting guide" for more than 14 million subscribers.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control recently reported that one of the main sources of pesticide exposure for U.S. children comes from the food they eat. According to the Food and Drug Administration, half of produce currently tested in grocery stores contains measurable residues of pesticides. Laboratory tests of eight leading baby foods revealed the presence of 16 pesticides, including three carcinogens.

According to EPA’s "Guidelines for Carcinogen Risk Assessment," children receive 50 percent of their lifetime cancer risks in the first two years of life. In blood samples of children ages , concentrations of pesticide residues are six times higher in children eating conventionally farmed fruits and vegetables compared with those eating organic food.

Old is in the eye of the beholder

WASHINGTON – How old is old? It depends, to some extent, on the age, race and marital status of the person being asked.

According to a new Zogby poll developed for the Met Life Mature Market Institute, 60 percent of U.S. citizens in general think age 71 and over fits the definition. However, about the same percentage of those between 18 and 24 think the dividing line is 60. Whites are slightly more likely than African Americans and Hispanics to choose a lower number, as are single respondents

There’s even a gender difference. Men are more likely than women to say an age under 60 is old: 22 percent of men vs. 8 percent of women.

Not unexpectedly, many people wish they were younger. About 65 percent of those who responded said wish they were under 40. Among 30- to 49-year-olds, 40 percent said they would prefer to be in their 20s. For 50- to 64-year-olds, however, it’s a toss up: 24 percent said they would prefer to be in their 20s, while 21 percent would be happy to shave off just a few years.

It’s no shock that those 18 to 29 are the most satisfied with their current age. But 31 percent of those over 70 also say they are content.

Free trade vote stretches the rules 

WASHINGTON – The Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) squeaked through the U.S. House of Representatives by a one vote margin in a vote. Or did it?

The final count was 217-215 in the House; anything closer would have blocked approval. But according to coverage by Democracy Now!, last-minute maneuvering by GOP leaders raises questions about the process used to secure passage. When the official 15-minute voting period expired at , legislators had actually voted to defeat the measure 180-175. But the final vote was held open for an extra 47 minutes, giving Republican leaders time to round up enough holdouts in their party.

According to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, "The Republicans turned the floor of the House of the Representatives into a Let’s Make a Deal set that was reminiscent of what happened at the time of the Medicare prescription drug legislation that evening, and again this time they kept the vote open a long time.”

Rep. Charles Taylor, R- NC, said he actually voted against the bill, but that a problem with the electronic voting system failed to record it.

To pass the agreement, the White House and GOP leaders had to overcome resistance from dozens of Republican members who opposed CAFTA because of issues ranging from the threat to the U.S. sugar industry to worries about the impact of global trade on jobs. The president made a rare visit to Capitol Hill, and Vice President Dick Cheney reportedly spent hours personally lobbying members of Congress. 

In part, the administration sold CAFTA as a national security issue. As White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan put it, “This goes right to our own national security. This is an agreement that will help extend peace and prosperity throughout the Western hemisphere. While we’re working to advance freedom abroad we also need to be looking at our own hemisphere and make sure that we’re supporting the democratic efforts that continue to advance in our own hemisphere."

Illinois seeking more prescription imports

SPRINFIELD, IL – A report prepared for Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich recommends the importing of personal prescription drugs from Australia and over-the-counter drugs from New Zealand as part of a program to ease access to cheaper drugs for U.S. citizens.

The British Medical Journal noted last week that Illinois‘ Office of the Special Advocate for Prescription Drugs is looking at which drugs could be obtained from Australia and New Zealand. The report, Australia and New Zealand: Recommended Expansion of the Illinois Personal Importation Program, referred to the I-Save-Rx program, through which refill prescriptions written by doctors in Illinois, Wisconsin, Kansas, Missouri and Vermont are being supplied by doctors in Canada, Ireland and Britain. Since October 2004, 14,600 citizens from the four states have enrolled in the program, placing more than 10,000 orders and yielding average savings of between 25 and 50 percent, the Journal says.

Facing the prospect that the Canadian government will ban the export of prescription drugs to the United States, I-Save-Rx is considering potential supply options from other English-speaking countries with a well-regulated drug industry.

Since only 40 of the 205 drugs included in the program wouldn’t be available from Australia, "customers would enjoy continued access to most medications currently offered by the Illinois program," the report says. However, Mukesh Haikerwal, president of the Australian Medical Association, was cautious about the proposal. “We can understand why it is being done. But, even if it is legal, there is still a responsibility on a doctor to act in the best medical interests of the patient," he said.

Citing concerns by Medsafe, New Zealand‘s government drug regulator, over whether it would be legal for New Zealand doctors to rewrite prescriptions for patients that they had not seen, the report recommends that only 30 over-the-counter drugs be included in the program.

Are we paranoid yet?

NEW YORK – Over the past few weeks, New York City police have been riding the subways and buses, looking for suspicious behavior and educating passengers about the sorts of personality quirks might reveal a terrorist about to strike. According to the New York Press, a variety of tips also have been circulating widely in the print and electronic media.

So, if you want to play a role in Homeland Security, keep an eye out for the following warning signs:

clenched fists

patting one’s clothes

wearing too much perfume

too much sweat

refusal to make eye contact with others


any other suspicious behavior