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web posted June 4, 2001

Sharpton begins hunger strike

The Rev. Al Sharpton began a hunger strike in jail on May 29 to publicize the Navy bombing exercises on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques and his arrest protesting them, his lawyer said.

"Both his legal team and his family are concerned about Rev. Sharpton's health, but the hunger strike will continue until the release of the Vieques Four -- as long as that takes," Sharpton's attorney, Sanford Rubenstein, said.

Sharpton was arrested in Puerto Rico with three other men -- City Councilman Adolfo Carrion, state Assemblyman Jose Rivera and Bronx County Democratic Party chairman Roberto Ramirez -- for taking part in protests May 1 against the Navy's use of Vieques for military exercises. The men have been dubbed the "Vieques Four."

Sharpton was sentenced to serve 90 days by a federal judge in Puerto Rico because of a prior conviction for civil disobedience. The other three men were each sentenced to 40 days. They are being held at the Metropolitan Detention Center in New York.

"Rev. Sharpton is committed to keeping the focus of his imprisonment and the imprisonment of the Vieques Four on the issue of Vieques," said Rubenstein.

The Rev. T.L. Walker, who accompanied civil rights leader the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. to jail in the 1960s, met with Sharpton on the afternoon of May 29, Rubenstein said.

Walker compared Sharpton's sentence with King's 40 years ago "when he protested Rich's Department Store with a sit-in," Rubenstein said. "The same thing has happened to Sharpton. He's been given twice the jail time just because he had a prior conviction for protesting over the Brooklyn Bridge."

Opposition to the bombing exercises grew after a civilian guard was killed on Vieques in 1999 by two off-target bombs. The Navy says the training is essential for national security.

Sharpton told The New York Times that he would not eat until he was released.

Rubenstein also said that Sharpton and the other three men were denied their constitutional rights because they were not given the right or time to prepare a defense.

The four men could be released any time, once an appeals court in Boston rules on whether the men can be released on bail while they appeal their convictions.

Grade 2 boy suspended for poultry prank

An eight-year-old boy was suspended from school for pointing a breaded chicken finger at a classmate and saying: "Bang."

Grade 2 student Billy Barnes was ordered to stay home for one day recently after the incident at Ragged Island Consolidated School in this village in southwestern Nova Scotia.

"Somebody told on me," Billy said May 30.

In a strikingly similar incident in Jonesboro, Ark., in January, another eight-year-old was suspended from school for pointing a breaded chicken finger at a teacher. The Arkansas Grade 1 student was suspended for three days after saying: "Pow, pow, pow."

The only person willing to say more than a few words about the Nova Scotia incident was Rhonda Barnes, the boy's mother.

"It's only a chicken finger," she said. "There are gun rules but this wasn't a gun. It was a chicken finger, something that you eat. And kids do play. Especially an eight-year-old boy."

Barnes said the suspension, Billy's second of the year, goes on his permanent record. Her son was also suspended for a day this year after he pointed his finger at someone and said, "Bang."

"I think it's going a little bit too far," she said.

"He's just playing. It's just Billy. He's just a rambunctious little boy."

The incident occurred while the students were eating lunch at school.

Teachers follow the discipline policy of the Southwest regional school board that includes a weapons category under the heading "Severely Disruptive Behaviour."

The possession or use of weapons at school, as defined by the Criminal Code of Canada, is prohibited and may result in immediate school suspension. The Criminal Code defines a weapon as anything designed to be used to cause death, injury or intimidation.

The school board policy says nothing about pointing fingers or chicken parts or uttering the word "bang."

Phil Landry, director of education for the Tri-County district school board, said he was reviewing the matter but declined further comment.

The incident in Arkansas last January apparently violated the Jonesboro School District's zero-tolerance policy against weapons.

Kelli Kissinger, mother of first-grader Christopher, said the punishment was too severe. "It's just a piece of chicken. How could you play like it's a gun?"

South Elementary principal Dan Sullivan said he was prevented by law from discussing Christopher's suspension, but said the school has zero-tolerance rules because the public wants them.

However a school discipline form provided by the boy's mother and signed by Mr. Sullivan says the child was suspended because he "took a chicken strip off his plate, pointed it at [a teacher] and said 'Pow, pow, pow,' like he was shooting her."

Weapon-scanner raises Constitutional concern

A federal agency is developing a radar-like device that uses electromagnetic waves to peer through clothing and detect concealed weapons from up to 15 meters (50 feet) away.

News of the planned system comes amid national angst over domestic terrorism while adding a new dimension to the debate over the Constitutionality of high-tech policing practices.

Government sources said they hope to have a working prototype of the device by year's end. The apparatus could one day be mounted on police vehicles and driven through unruly crowds to spot individuals carrying guns, knives and perhaps even plastic explosives.

Engineers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology's Boulder, Colo. office are developing the technology with funding from the National Institute of Justice and the Federal Aviation Administration. NIST is a non-regulatory federal agency.

The technology is based upon a radar-like apparatus that illuminates groups of people with low-level electromagnetic waves that penetrate clothing but reflect off objects concealed beneath them. The reflected energy is collected, focused onto a detector array and ultimately transformed into an image that is displayed on a policeman's laptop, said sources at NIST.

However, "When does a technology-based search constitute a search for constitutional purposes? How do you evaluate the level of intrusiveness?" posed James Dempsey of the Center for Democracy and Technology, a Washington-based privacy group.

Dempsey said U.S. courts have held that airport metal detectors do not violate the Fourth Amendment about unreasonalbe search and seizure in part because such searches are overt and minimally intrusive, and because individuals have a choice not to board an airplane.

"In this case, your right to be in the street and particularly your right to protest is more significant than the right to get on a jet plane. Furthermore, the use of this device is not overt and there is no warning of it. Already, there are two strikes against it," he told United Press International.

"My concern is over the way we think about these technological tools," said Kristian Miccio, professor of law from Western State University College of Law in Fullerton, Calif. "I fear we will put the concept of unruly crowds and crime on the back burner while putting the technologies to enhance law enforcement on the front burner.

"In our fear of crime and terrorism, we are giving up so many freedoms we haven't thought about," she continued in a telephone interview with UPI. "We have to decide what kind of culture and society we want to live in, that is, what are we willing to sacrifice in a war on crime."

The system uses a high-powered, commercially available power source that operates at 95 gigahertz in a pulsed mode. NIST engineers said that such a power range would not impact human health or cause stoppages in pacemakers.

"What we are doing is more along lines of radar," said Erich Grossman, a NIST researcher on the project. "We illuminate an area with high frequency radiation or three-millimeter-wavelength millimeter waves. That allows us to see details but anything finer than three millimeters we won't see."

While millimeter waves do not penetrate deep into human tissue, the device could conceivable detect, say, a metal plate near the surface of an individual's skin, said Grossman. But, he said, the system produces images of objects rather simply detecting them, which would allow officers to discriminate between benign objects and weapons.

Grossman said the device is more powerful than airport metal detectors.

"That's because our system doesn't require a cooperative subject," he said. "In other words, it's not a portal-based system where a subject has to cooperatively walk through a particular area. That is not intent of this program."

He said the device could operate in two modes. It can image an area two meters in diameter, which could cover one or two people. If the system detects a hotspot on a particular individual, the operator can zoom in more closely.

Experts said legal considerations over such a device are analogous to those involved in a case currently pending before the Supreme Court.

Police in 1992 arrested an Oregon man after authorities used a high-tech device to sense invisible heat waves emanating from his home. Police subsequently obtained a search warrant and found a marijuana growing operation. The suspect, Kyllo, claimed the search violated the Fourth Amendment prohibition against unreasonable search and seizure.

"Like the Kyllo case, here is another technology that raises what is currently a major issue under the Fourth Amendment," said Dempsey.

"There are many things to consider such as how intrusive is this search? Is it like taking a person's clothes off? Can the police see a people's body or do they only get an image of the weapon? Those are factual questions that make a difference in how it is accessed from a privacy standpoint," he said.

When asked if officers would be able to see a detailed image of a human body, Grossman said that in theory engineers could incorporate a digital camera into the device, allowing the millimeter image to be superimposed over an optical image. Such a move would let officers see a person's body in detail.

"In a practical system you could certainly do that, but we are not planning to do that with the prototype," Grossman said.

Officials at the National Institute of Justice and the Federal Aviation Administration said they could not provide comment by press time.

The agencies have funded the project to the tune of $200,000 a year for about three years, said Grossman.

Ex-FBI agent: McVeigh evidence was withheld

The Justice Department turned over to Timothy McVeigh's lawyers a report by a former FBI agent who alleged that the government had not disclosed evidence he gathered in the Oklahoma City bombing case that could have helped McVeigh.

Justice Department officials said the report by former agent Rick Ojeda was not related to the bombing case, an assertion Ojeda disputes.

In a letter sent May 30 to lawyers for McVeigh and co-conspirator Terry Nichols, federal prosecutor Sean Connelly said, "I am not aware of any FBI ... interview reports, by Ojeda or any other agent, that have not been turned over."

But he said there was an interview report that Ojeda had prepared "not as a part of the ... investigation, but rather at the specific request of the federal prosecutors and the FBI case agent" handling a different case.

Ojeda, a former special agent in Oklahoma City, alleged last week on "60 Minutes II" that the FBI ignored some of his reports that would have helped the defense.

"In light of Ojeda's allegation, we are providing you the Ojeda report of interview, even though it is not an (Oklahoma bomb case) document," Connelly said.

Ojeda said the report is relevant to the Oklahoma City bombing investigation, but would not disclose the report's contents, citing a gag order over information in the case.

"My opinion is that it does pertain to the Oklahoma City bombing case," said Ojeda in a telephone interview.

Ojeda said he was fired from the FBI after testifying in a discrimination hearing against FBI management. He is now a private investigator in Austin, Tex.

Roger Charles, a former investigator for the defense team, said the report, which he became aware of only recently, deals with a white supremacist enclave called Elohim City, near the Oklahoma-Arkansas line, where McVeigh had some contacts.

Reno refuses to set deadline for decision on running for Florida governor

Former Attorney General Janet Reno hinted at interest in running for Florida's governorship May 31, but declined to directly criticize incumbent Republican Gov. Jeb Bush.

"I'm getting a very interesting reaction from people that says, 'Go for it. We're for you,'" Reno said in an interview on CNN's "Inside Politics."

Reno is considering a bid for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in her home state, where she returned after serving eight years as attorney general under former President Clinton.

If she decides to run for governor of Florida, she would supercharge what is already one of the hottest 2002 races. Many Democrats would love to see Bush -- the brother of President Bush -- defeated as a payback for the Florida presidential dispute, if nothing else.

The question for many Democrats is whether Reno could deliver a victory. A Miami Herald poll last week gave Reno 43 percent support to Jeb Bush's 49 percent. Her showing was the best of nine potential Democratic candidates.

Reno also enjoys unmatched name recognition and a record of public service in Florida. She was elected four times to public office in Dade County before becoming attorney general in 1993.

But her record as attorney general was controversial, particularly her leadership during the Branch Davidian crisis in Waco, Texas, and various investigations of Clinton and then-Vice President Al Gore. Her decisions led to criticism from both Democrats and Republicans at times.

But it may be the case of Elian Gonzalez -- the Cuban boy who was rescued off the Florida coast on Thanksgiving Day in 1999 only to be seized by U.S. authorities many months later so he could be returned to Cuba -- that remains hottest issue facing Reno in Florida. The state's sizeable Cuban-American population remains angry over the decision, but there are now as many non-Cuban Hispanics in the state as Cuban-Americans.

The same Herald poll showed a split over the question of whether the Gonzalez case would affect individual support of Reno for governor.

Reno said Florida needed to make a greater effort in education, preservation of natural resources, water quality and quantity, among other issues, but she carefully avoided criticizing the incumbent.

Asked whether Bush was vulnerable in 2002, she said, "I don't think I should comment on that. I want to talk about the issues, I want to talk about what I can do, and the decision I will make is how can I best serve Florida -- outside or inside government?"

Similarly, she refused to set a timetable for a decision. Reno said she will decide "as soon as possible, but I want to do it in a thoughtful, careful manner."

She also dismissed concerns that her Parkinson's disease would affect her ability to serve.

"I used to tell the press sometimes...you get used to it, and if you all get used to it, it won't bother you either," she said. Noting that the disease was diagnosed years before she ended her service as attorney general, Reno said she was "prepared" for the office.

Danforth called FBI uncooperative in Waco probe

Former Sen. John Danforth said the FBI was so uncooperative in his probe of the 1993 Waco standoff that he threatened to get a search warrant to obtain relevant documents, the Washington Post reported June 1.

"It was like pulling teeth to get all this paper from the FBI," Danforth said in a Post interview. The Missouri Republican led a 14-month investigation into the deaths of 75 Branch Davidians at Waco, Texas.

Danforth said in the interview that he could not be sure he received all the records from the FBI because of the agency's poor record keeping and it's "spirit of resistance to outside scrutiny."

But Danforth also told the Post that additional documents would not alter the investigation's conclusion that federal agents were not to blame for the deadly blaze that consumed the religious cult's compound.

Danforth was quoted as saying the investigation "had a lot of difficulty" getting documents from the FBI and in late 1999, his office threatened to seek a search warrant.

He said he agreed in a telephone conversation with FBI Director Louis Freeh not to seek a warrant if a team of postal inspectors would be allowed to search bureau files themselves.

The search turned up hundreds of pages of material that had not been turned over to Danforth's panel, the Post said, citing investigators.

The Post quoted an FBI official as saying that many of the problems Danforth ran into were because of strained relations with one key FBI lawyer.

Danforth's comments were published a day after lawyers for convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh requested a stay of his scheduled June 11 execution. The lawyers said McVeigh wanted to hold the FBI accountable for its failure to turn over in a timely manner about 4,000 documents related to his case.

Arsonists torch logging trucks in Oregon

Arsonists torched three trucks at a northwest Oregon logging company on June 1 just hours before they were slated to begin hauling trees out of nearby federal forest land, police said.

Firefighters doused the flames at Ray Schoppert Logging in Eagle Creek, Oregon, and found fuel-filled milk jugs under three other trucks, which a bomb squad removed, said Angela Blanchard, a deputy in the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office.

"This was definitely arson," Blanchard told Reuters. "We are not sure who did it. No one is claiming responsibility."

Environmental activists oppose logging in nearby national parks and several "tree-sitters" have camped high in tree branches to stall the chainsaws.

But Blanchard said those activists have disavowed the truck torching and condemned violent protests. "They are fairly passive and they have been well-behaved up there," she added.

The fires were set with slow-burning incendiary devices, not bombs, and came just nine days after arsonists destroyed a botany lab in Seattle and a tree farm near Portland, Oregon, some 35 miles from Eagle Creek.

Graffiti at those sites indicated the shadowy Earth Liberation Front was to blame and a spokesman for the group said ELF activists might eventually claim responsibility.

ELF has been linked to arson attacks across the country, targeting bioengineering projects, luxury home-builders in wild areas and alleged "sweatshop" labor employers.

McCain denies party switch and presidential run

Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona said June 2 he had no intentions of abandoning the Republican Party or of launching a presidential bid in 2004.

Responding to a newspaper report that had him considering a third party run at the White House, McCain said he hoped his statement would "put an end to further speculation on the subject."

"I have not instructed nor encouraged any of my advisers to begin planning for a presidential run in 2004," McCain said in a written statement. "I have not discussed running for president with anyone. As I have said, I have no intention of running for president, nor do I have any intention of, or cause to, leave the Republican Party."

The Washington Post article, citing McCain loyalists who had lunch together recently and discussed the idea of a McCain run as an independent, came as the senator was playing host to South Dakota Democratic Sen. Tom Daschle and his wife at McCain's ranch near Sedona, Arizona.

The visit prompted speculation that Daschle, who will become Senate majority leader when the Senate reconvenes on June 5, was trying to persuade McCain to jump to the Democrats.

Daschle ascended to the Senate's top spot when Vermont Sen. Jim Jeffords' left the Republican Party to become an independent, tipping the balance to the Democrats in the evenly divided Senate.

McCain's aides said the visit was strictly social and had been planned well before Jeffords' move.

Daschle is on a Western swing that has included a fund-raiser for Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nevada, and events in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Asked if Daschle will talk to McCain about leaving the GOP, Ranit Schmeltzer, Daschle's press secretary, told CNN, "I won't speculate about what they're going to talk about. ... Sen. Daschle is interested in talking to any Republican interested in becoming a Democrat."

Four advisers and friends of the Senator had lunch on May 31 and discussed the idea of McCain leaving the GOP and running as an independent candidate for President, according to two of those at the meeting.

"Did it come up? Sure," said John Weaver, a longtime McCain adviser. "Some people want him to do it, but as far as we know it is not an option on the table."

Weaver spoke with the senator at his ranch in Arizona early June 2. "He told me to 'knock that thing down,'" referring to the Washington Post article, Weaver said.

"I believe that McCain thinks about it a little bit," said Weekly Standard Editor, William Kristol, who also attended the lunch. "But he's been very discreet. All the talk has been among aides and friends."

McCain's chief of staff, Mark Salter, acknowledged that those around McCain may be talking about the future but said the senator is not involved in those conversations.

Salter said the senator "has never at any time indicated anything to suggest that he's even thinking of running or running as a third party candidate."

"McCain has discussed, winked at, encouraged in any way -- no one," Salter said emphatically. "He has not discussed this with his advisers. He hasn't even discussed it with his family. Nor has he directed anyone to start planning a third party run."

McCain told CNN's Dana Bash on May 25 he was not going to switch to the Democratic Party and he had no immediate plans to switch to being an independent. He said even if he were to become an independent, he would not caucus with the Democrats because it would defeat the purpose of being an independent.

But McCain's advisers point to staunch differences between the senator's positions and those of President Bush -- who defeated McCain in the 2000 Republican primaries -- and the Republican-controlled House on several key issues, particularly campaign finance reform.

Additionally, McCain has split from conservative Republicans in the past to join Democrats -- and even sponsor legislation -- on such issues as patients' rights, reducing the number of tax breaks that benefit only wealthier people and gun control. McCain was one of two Republicans who voted against Bush's $1.35 billion tax cut bill that Congress passed on May 26.

Such moves have targeted him for some sharp criticism from within his own party.

"People are upset with McCain bashing President Bush," Arizona State Sen. Scott Bundgaard, a Republican from Glendale, told The Arizona Republic. "He's more concerned about grabbing headlines than party unity."

But others say McCain's positions are the same ones that have kept him in the Senate since 1985 and in the House for two terms before that.

"I was on his staff in the early '80s when he was a congressman and he worked even then with members of the opposing party," Doug Cole, a lobbyist and one-time spokesman for recent Arizona Gov. Fife Symington, told the Arizona Daily Star.

Nathan Sproul, Arizona Republican Party executive director, Sproul told The Arizona Republic that while calls against the senator rose sharply after the tax bill vote, he had no indication McCain was planning to bolt the party.

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