Saturday, May 17, 2008

The Nightowl Newswrap

Bush feels the heat from Egypt's condemnation of his Knesset speech: President Bush said Saturday that "it breaks my heart" that the Palestinian people have been unable to establish an independent homeland and he vowed anew to try to forge an Israeli-Palestinian agreement by year's end. Bush's remarks from the sidelines of a regional conference here appeared aimed at Palestinians and other Arabs who consider the U.S. administration so staunch a supporter of Israel that it turns a blind eye to the human rights concerns of the Palestinians. Many also doubt Bush's commitment to the tough negotiations ahead if he's to succeed in helping to craft a deal in just seven months. "It breaks my heart to see the vast potential of the Palestinian people, really, wasted," Bush said, appearing alongside Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. "They're good, smart, capable people that when given a chance will build a thriving homeland." Bush said he is "absolutely committed" to achieving agreement. "It would be an opportunity to end the suffering that takes place in the Palestinian territories," Bush added. Egypt is one of Bush's most reliable Arab allies, yet even here state-backed media mocked Bush's peace efforts, especially after his cozy visit to Israel on Thursday to celebrate the Jewish state's 60th anniversary - a date the Palestinians call the "day of catastrophe."

Website gives readers uncensored news: The topic may be Tibet, earthquakes or outbreaks of dengue fever. But when people in China want to share news or commentary that government censors would likely squelch, many turn to a U.S.-based Web site run by Watson Meng of Durham, N.C. The site,, relies on a host of bloggers and citizen journalists — mostly in China — to break stories, often faster than state-controlled Chinese media or foreign news services. The site is banned in China, but Chinese people can skirt that Internet censorship through proxy servers hosted in the United States. Posting on Boxun (pronounced "bow shwin") is not without risks. Numerous contributors, including three in the past several weeks, have been jailed in China. "It's really aggravated the [Chinese] government because it takes stuff outside and puts it on display internationally," said Bob Dietz, of the New York nonprofit Committee to Protect Journalists. "For us, the site is required reading."

Gitmo trial delay: A military commission judge Friday delayed the scheduled trial of Osama bin Laden's driver until after the U.S. Supreme Court has decided another key detainee case. Navy Capt. Keith Allred said delaying the start of Salim Hamdan's trial until July 21 "avoids the potential embarrassment, waste of resources and prejudice to the accused that would" result were the Bush administration to lose the Supreme Court case. "Moreover, the accused has been in confinement for six years and another month wait will not prejudice any party to the case,'' Allred wrote. The decision also provided a window for Hamdan to undergo a mental health evaluation. Prosecutors had argued against such an evaluation, but Allred ordered it in response to defense lawyers' claims that that Hamdan has descended into a deep depression because of the conditions of his six-year detention. That depression makes it impossible for him to assist in his defense, his lawyers say. A California psychiatrist, who treats U.S. veterans, evaluated the driver for about 100 hours and found he suffers post traumatic stress and is at risk of suicide because of his conditions of confinement.

"Always Think Forfeiture" dropped as a slogan: Federal agents will no longer be carrying pocketknives with a specially engraved training slogan that enraged some gun and property rights activists. U.S. Rep. Bill Sali, R-Idaho, said Friday that his complaints about the slogan — "Always Think Forfeiture" — persuaded the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to end its use on the Leatherman tools handed out to participants in a training program. A spokesman for the federal agency said the slogan actually had been dropped about two months ago, when other members of Congress complained. The spokesman, Robert Browning, said the agency won't use the slogan in any of its training programs and not just on the pocketknives. "Because it has caused concern among the public, we are no longer utilizing that slogan in our training sessions," he said. The phrase was used as part of ATF's training program to teach investigators around the country how to properly seize the assets of the lawbreakers they arrest. The tools were just a reminder for police to "consider seizing a criminal's ill-gotten gains and proceeds," Browning said.

Myanmar's junta holds onto supplies: Myanmar's military rulers have thrown a tightening ring of security around Yangon, blocking aid workers, foreign diplomats and journalists from reaching cyclone-battered regions where millions need food and medicine. New roadblocks staffed by armed police have sprung up around Myanmar's largest city. Authorities at the checkpoints record passport information and license plate numbers and sometimes interrogate drivers and their foreign passengers before ordering them to return to Yangon. "A circle has been drawn around Yangon and expats are confined there. While you are getting aid through, it's like getting it through a 3-inch pipe, not a 30-inch pipe," said Tim Costello, president of the aid agency World Vision-Australia, in Yangon. "Foreigners can't go this way," a policeman told a driver for a foreign journalist Friday at a checkpoint with 10 police and an immigration official dressed in khaki.

Spencer Hsu's article on the Postville, Iowa immigration raid is a must-read: Antonio Escobedo ran to get his wife Monday when he saw a helicopter circling overhead and immigration agents approaching the meatpacking plant where they both work. The couple hid for hours inside the plant before obtaining refuge in the pews and hall at St. Bridget's Catholic Church, where hundreds of other Guatemalan and Mexican families gathered, hoping to avoid arrest. "I like my job. I like my work. I like it here in Iowa," said Escobedo, 38, an illegal immigrant from Yescas, Mexico, who has raised his three children for 11 years in Postville. "Are they mad because I'm working?" Monday's raid on the Agriprocessors plant, in which 389 immigrants were arrested and many held at a cattle exhibit hall, was the Bush administration's largest crackdown on illegal workers at a single site. It has upended this tree-lined community, which calls itself "Hometown to the World." Half of the school system's 600 students were absent Tuesday, including 90 percent of Hispanic children, because their parents were arrested or in hiding. Current and former officials of the Department of Homeland Security say its raid on the largest employer in northeast Iowa reflects the administration's decision to put pressure on companies with large numbers of illegal immigrant workers, particularly in the meat industry. But its disruptive impact on the nation's largest supplier of kosher beef and on the surrounding community has provoked renewed criticism that the administration is disproportionately targeting workers instead of employers, and that the resulting turmoil is worse than the underlying crimes.

This time, just more whack-a-mole? Nearly 1,000 people have been detained in a sweep to break al Qaeda in Iraq's sway in Iraq's third largest city, Mosul, but many of the fighters have fled to nearby areas, where troops are hunting for them, Iraqi officials said Saturday. Iraq's leaders presented the crackdown as a success so far in depriving the terror network of what has been its most prominent urban stronghold since it lost hold of cities in Iraq's western Anbar province. But the flight of al Qaeda fighters raises the concern they can regroup elsewhere, as has often happened in the past. Yassin Majid, an adviser to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, said most of the leading insurgents had fled to the outskirts of Mosul or to a neighboring country amid the operations. He did not name the neighboring country. Mosul is about 60 miles from the Syrian and Turkish borders. "Operations will continue and the Iraqi army will not leave Mosul until security and stability have been accomplished," he told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

Some issues about DNA testing: DNA is not a magic bullet - as it's portrayed on television. The weak link: The network of labs charged with collecting and testing DNA is overwhelmed. Three-hundred thousand evidence samples are backlogged on shelves - still waiting to be processed. "People are being victimized, raped and murdered because of that backlog," said DNA expert Chris Asplen, a former federal prosecutor. "Because we are not testing DNA samples, we are not putting profiles in the database. So we are not taking people off the street who are committing those rapes and murders," Asplen said.

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