FORT LEWIS, Wash: Mistrial in Watada case

The court-martial of the first Army officer to refuse to go to Iraq because he felt the war was illegal ended in a mistrial, Feb. 7. Last June, Lt. Ehren Watada refused to board an Iraq-bound plane, saying, “An order to take part in an illegal war is unlawful in itself.”

Watada’s mother Carolyn Ho said, “I continue to remain hopeful my son will be exonerated.”

Retired Army Col. Ann Wright called the Army’s case “a mess,” adding it reflects the “mess in Iraq.” Wright resigned a diplomatic post in protest against the invasion of Iraq.

Military judge Lt. Col. John Head, who declared the mistrial, set a mid-March retrial date, but legal experts expect that date to change and some say a trial may not occur at all. Noting that a person cannot be tried twice for the same crime, University of Washington law professor John Junker said a new trial for Watada would constitute “double jeopardy.”

National Lawyers Guild President Marjorie Cohn, who was scheduled to testify in Watada’s defense, said his “orders to deploy were unlawful, and Lt. Watada had a duty to disobey them.”

FRANKFORT, Ky.: Students demand funding for colleges

Hundreds of students from the state’s public universities packed the Capitol gallery and knocked on legislator’s doors demanding restoration of higher education funding cuts.

In the last decade, students said, their college costs have increased 145 percent. Kentucky is running a $401 million surplus.

“We want more attention paid to higher education,” said University of Kentucky student body President Jonah Brown. “We want a commitment from our state legislators and the governor’s office that higher education is going to remain a top priority in the budget.”

University of Louisville students carried signs and handed out leaflets tying cuts and lack of funding to tuition increases.

NASHVILLE, Tenn.: Mayor vetoes ‘English only’ ordinance

“If this ordinance becomes law, Nashville will be a less safe, less friendly and less successful city,” said Mayor Bill Purcell as he vetoed a measure that would have made English the city’s official language. “This ordinance does not reflect who we are in Nashville.”

The city’s Metro Council passed the measure 23-14 earlier this month. Councilman Eric Crafton, who sponsored the ordinance, claimed it would encourage immigrants to learn English. But the Chamber of Commerce said it would hurt the city’s image as “Music City, USA.”

Other smaller communities have enacted such ordinances including Pahrump, Nev., Taneytown, Md., and Farmers Branch, Texas, a Dallas suburb.

Nashville, a city of 600,000, is home to the largest Kurdish community in the U.S. and is a resettlement site for refugees from Africa and Southeast Asia. The city’s foreign born population has grown 350 percent since 1990.

FARGO, N.D.: Park free or die

It is against state law for a city or municipality to install parking meters on their streets and a recent effort by the state Legislature to change the law drew fighting words from politicians and residents around the state. “I would fight it with every bone in my body,” said Sen. JoNell Bakke (D-Grand Forks). She is the granddaughter of the originator of the ban, Howard Henry.

In the state’s largest city, Fargo, city planners said since the city is experiencing a revival, some believe parking needs regulation. “There is an amply supply of parking downtown,” said city planner Bob Stein. “But the expectation among a lot of people is that if they have to drive around to find a space, there isn’t enough.” Parking is limited to 90 minutes in Fargo, and downtown workers take many spaces. Stein said that workers run out every hour or so to move their cars or erase the chalk marks from tires. A ticket in Fargo is $10.

TAMPA, Fla.: Al-Arian hunger strike protests ‘abuse of power’

Sami Al-Arian, the former University of South Florida professor targeted by the Justice Department as part of the Bush administration’s “war on terror,” began a second hunger strike Jan. 22 to protest federal prosecutors’ insistence he testify against others in violation of a plea agreement.

Under the agreement, which Al-Arian said he accepted in order to spare his family further anguish, he would have been released from prison on April 13 and deported. However, Al-Arian refused to testify before a Virginia grand jury and was immediately cited for civil contempt after the judge denied his request for a delay. This judge’s hostility toward Islam and Arabs is well known.

Al-Arian’s first hunger strike began with his incarceration in 2003 and lasted 140 days. Al-Arian, who is a diabetic, lost 45 pounds and was hospitalized.

The Tampa Bay Coalition for Justice and Peace called the latest developments “an outrageous display of government … abuse of power.”

“In spite of an agreement intended to resolve his case once and for all, the government has continued to harass Dr. Al-Arian and mire him further in legal purgatory,” the group charged. The coalition called on the government to end its “vindictive campaign” against Al-Arian.

National Clips are compiled by Denise Winebrenner Edwards (dwinebr696 @ aol.com). Lawrence Albright contributed to this week’s clips.

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