An Indonesian court March 3 sentenced militant cleric Abu Bakar Bashir to 30 months in prison for conspiracy in the 2002 Bali bombings, but cleared him of more serious terror charges. The sentence was criticized as too light by the US and Australia, who regard the aging preacher as a key regional terror leader. Judges also cleared Bashir of charges that as head of the al-Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiyah group he planned the 2003 suicide bombing of the Marriott hotel in Jakarta which killed 12 people, and that he incited his followers to launch terrorist attacks. (AP, March 4)
David Passaro, a CIA contract interrogator, is on trial in Raleigh, NC, for beating an Afghan prisoner who died the next day. The case has revealed several horror stories from the prison just north of Kabul—an abandoned warehouse code-named the "Sand Pit"—where nameless "ghost detainees" were brutalized and left to die of hypothermia in freezing cells. In his defense, Passaro says he will cite policy as articulated by administration officials up to and includding President Bush.
Pakistani authorities say they will appeal the acquittal by the country's Supreme Court of five men charged in an "honor rape" case that drew international condemnation.
Khalid ash-Shaykhli, an official at Iraq's Health Ministry says a survey of casualties from Fallujah indicates the U.S. used mustard gas and other internationally banned weapons in the city. Reports of survivors seeing "melted" bodies also indicates use of napalm, he said. (Al-Jazeera, March 5)
The Pentagon is funding development of a Pulsed Energy Projectile (PEP), a laser that generates a burst of expanding plasma when it hits something solid, like a human being, inducing excruciating pain from up to a mile away. The program came to light thanks to a Freedom of Information Act inquiry by the Sunshine Project. The Pentagon is calling it a "non-lethal" weapon for use again rioters. But pain researchers are furious that work aimed at controlling pain has been used to develop a weapon.
The anarchist scare that has hit New York since the January vandalism at two army recuiting stations has just escalated with the visit of two FBI agents to the home of a Brooklyn activist.
The NYPD has confirmed that an admittedly crude drawing of New York's Grand Central Station was found on a computer disk in the home of a suspect in the March 11, 2004 Madrid train station bombing. Authorities were quick to downplay the significance of the find, even as the media had a field day with it. Mouhannad Almallah, a Syrian arrested in Madrid March 24, was later released, but is still considered a suspect.
A March 3 account in Newsday indicates that Iran's secret police are hunting down dissidents who have taken refuge in neighboring countries. Newsday highlights the case of Abdulrahim Raeesi, political science professor who was arrested in Tehran by the Ministry of Intelligence and Security after he wrote an article calling for greater democracy in a banned newspaper. Tortured in custody, he was then hospitalized.