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Updated 12/15/2006

Human Rights–War on Terror News Update—December 15, 2006

1. Homeland Security assigns terror risk ratings to millions of airline passengers
2. New Secretary of Defense supported bombing Nicaragua
3. Italian prosecutors request trial of CIA agents
4. Canadian government memo says rendition may be legal
5. Federal judge rules Guantanámo detainees have no recourse in U.S. courts
6. Former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet dies while facing indictments
 

1. Homeland Security assigns terror risk ratings to millions of airline passengers
Since 2002 the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has been assigning millions of airline passengers computer-generated scores of the risk they pose of being terrorists. The existence of the program—called the Automated Targeting System, or ATS—was unknown until Homeland Security placed a notice about the program in the Federal Register on Nov. 2. The ATS calculates a score for people entering or exiting the United States based on a variety of factors including travel patterns, how airline tickets were purchased and seating preference. These scores cannot be accessed by the public and will be kept on record for 40 years. They can be shared with local, state and foreign governments for a number of purposes, such as hiring decisions and security clearance. Under certain conditions, they could also be given to courts, Congress and private contractors. Some members of Congress have expressed concern that the ATS may violate a congressional prohibition on certain types of surveillance. [AP, 11/30/06; CNN, 12/8/06; NewStandard,12/11/06]   

2. New Secretary of Defense supported bombing Nicaragua
The U.S. Senate on Dec. 6 voted 95-2 to confirm Robert Gates as Secretary of Defense, replacing Donald Rumsfeld. Gates was director of the CIA from 1987 to 1993. In 1984, while serving as CIA deputy director for intelligence, he advised in a memo to President Reagan that the United States should bomb Nicaragua to oust the leftist Sandinista government. Gates is also thought to have had a role in the Iran-Contra scandal. He takes over the post officially on Dec. 18. [Democracy Now!, 12/5/06; Democracy Now!, 12/6/06; Guardian, 12/6/06]
 

3. Italian prosecutors request trial of CIA agents
On Dec. 5 Italian prosecutors asked a judge to order 26 Americans and six Italians to stand trial for the 2003 rendition of Egyptian cleric Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr. Prosecutors claim Nasr was kidnapped from Milan by CIA and Italian intelligence agents and flown from a U.S. air base to Egypt, where he was tortured. Nicolo Pollari, the former head of Italian military intelligence, is one of the six Italians under indictment. Twenty-five of the 26 Americans are believed to be CIA agents. Before a trial can take place, the judge must order a preliminary hearing to determine if there is enough evidence to proceed. If a trial does go forward, it is expected to be in absentia of the American defendants, whom the United States will likely be unwilling to extradite. [Reuters 12/5/06; CNN, 12/5/06, background info: HRWT News Update, 12/1/06] 
 

4. Canadian government memo says rendition may be legal
According to government documents obtained by the Canadian Press, the Canadian Foreign Affairs Department may in some cases regard the practice of extraordinary rendition as legal. The internal legal briefing, written in December 2005, has acquired increased importance as a Canadian commission of inquiry has been investigating Canada’s involvement in the rendition of Syrian-born Canadian Maher Arar, who claims he was tortured after being sent to Syria from New York in 2002. Arar was released without charge after being held for four months. It is thought that some U.S. rendition flights may have been operating through Canada. [Canadian Press, 12/11/06; background info: HRWT News Update, 9/27/06] 

 
5. Federal judge rules Guantanámo detainees have no recourse in U.S. courts
In a Dec. 13 decision, U.S. District Judge James Robertson ruled that the Military Commissions Act of 2006 was not unconstitutional in denying federal court relief to inmates at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The plaintiff, Salim Ahmed Hamdan, was also the plaintiff in the June 2006 Supreme Court ruling that President Bush did not have the power to hold military tribunals. Congress proceeded to pass the Military Commissions Act in October to grant Bush the authority to hold such tribunals. While denying relief to Guantánamo detainees, Robertson also declared that it would be unconstitutional to use the Military Commissions Act to deny habeas relief to individuals within the United States. [Al Jazeera, 12/13/06; LA Times, 12/14/06; background info: HRWT News Update, 10/20/06]

 
6. Former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet dies while facing indictments
Former Chilean dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet died of a heart attack on Dec. 10 while still facing indictments for crimes against humanity. He was 91. Pinochet took power in 1973 following a coup against Chile’s elected president Salvador Allende. During his reign, more than 4,000 people were murdered or disappeared and hundreds of thousands were tortured. After being ousted from power in 1988, Pinochet was the target of international attempts to try him for crimes against humanity. He was arrested in London in 1998 to be extradited to Spain, but he was released back to Chile for health reasons. Pinochet also faced indictments from France and Belgium, as well as in his home country. His case is considered to have been a major precedent for the practice of universal jurisdiction of human rights abuses. [Znet, 12/12/06; Scoop (NZ), 12/13/06; Foreign Policy, 12/06]