Briefs: Amnesty says Manning ruling a 'travesty'

Issue 

Amnesty says Manning ruling a 'travesty'

A decision by a US military judge not to drop the charge accusing Private Bradley Manning of “aiding the enemy” is a travesty of justice, Amnesty International said on July 18. If Manning, who leaked secret US cables to WikiLeaks, is found guilty of the charge, he faces a possible life sentence in military custody with no chance of parole.

Widney Brown, senior director of international law and policy at Amnesty International, said: “The charge of ‘aiding the enemy’ is ludicrous. What’s surprising is that the prosecutors in this case, who have a duty to act in the interest of justice, have pushed a theory that making information available on the internet ― whether through WikiLeaks, in a personal blog posting, or on the website of The New York Times ― can amount to ‘aiding the enemy’.”

To prove the charge that Manning has “aided the enemy”, the US government has to establish that he gave potentially damaging intelligence information to an enemy, and that he did so knowingly, with “general evil intent”.

Brown said the ruling “makes a mockery of the US military court system”.

British bill clears way to gay marriage

Legislation to legalise gay marriage finally cleared British parliament on the night of July 16, paving the way for the first gay weddings in England and Wales early next year, the Morning Star the next day.

MPs decided not to oppose a number of changes to the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill, made in the House of Lords.

Among the changes agreed by peers were protections for transgender couples, which will allow people to change sex and remain married.

There will also be a review of whether belief organisations such as the Humanists will be allowed to carry out marriages. Ministers said they were prepared to look at eliminating any difference in the treatment of gay couples when it came to pension schemes.

In a statement, gay rights charity Stonewall said: “This is an historic moment for lesbian, gay and bisexual people, their families and their friends. This bill will mean that, for the first time, children growing up to be gay in England and Wales will have full equality in law.”

Canada: Shell's destructive oil sands plan approved

Alberta's energy regulator has recommended approval of Shell Canada's plan to expand oil sands production, the Huffington Post said on July 10. But the regulator acknowledges the environmental impacts will likely be so severe and “irreversible” that new protected areas should be created to compensate for the damage.

A 413-page report contains an extensive list of recommendations and conditions for governments and Shell and contains some of the most strongly worded language yet on the industry's growing environmental toll.

But critics point out most of the report's recommendations are non-binding suggestions to government, which has the ultimate say on the project.

The report concludes the Jackpine project would involve the permanent loss of thousands of hectares of wetlands, which would harm migratory birds, caribou and other wildlife and wipe out traditional plants used for generations. It says Shell's plans for mitigation are unproven and warns some impacts would probably approach levels that the environment can't support.

It concludes that the effects of the development, which would allow Shell to increase its bitumen output by 50% to 300,000 barrels a day, would be so heavy they couldn't be fixed. The only answer would be to set aside relatively undisturbed land, says the report.

US company fined for pipeline explosion

California's utilities watchdog has called on privateer Pacific Gas and Electric to cough up at least US$300 million in fines for a deadly 2010 pipeline explosion, the Morning Star said on July 17.

Eight people were killed and 38 homes destroyed in the San Francisco suburb of San Bruno. Prosecutors allege that “the tragedy was directly caused by decades of unreasonable conduct and neglect by PG&E”.

Regulators had originally called for a $2.25 billion penalty, consisting entirely of funds spent or promised for pipeline improvements.

But San Bruno officials objected as it was tax-deductible and “littered” with credits and perks that would amount to a net penalty of almost nothing. Under the amended brief, $300 million of the original penalty would go into the state's general fund.

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