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The first-ever trial to assess the legality of force-feeding methods at Guantanamo Bay will continue today in federal court in Washington, DC.
Lawyers Cori Crider and Alka Pradhan, from international human rights NGO Reprieve, are representing Syrian Abu Wa'el Dhiab who has been cleared for release since 2009 and is a long-time hunger striker protesting his indefinite detention. Mr Dhiab has been waging a high-profile challenge to his abusive force-feeding at Guantanamo since June 2013.
Today, torture expert and bioethicist Dr Stephen Miles is expected to give evidence on the particular methods used to force-feed, including about the size of the tube used to pump liquid nutrient into the detainee's stomach.
Videos showing 'forcible cell extractions' (where a team of guards in riot gear manhandle the detainee to the force-feeding chair) and force-feedings, which on Friday Judge Kessler ruled must be released to the public, are expected to be watched in closed court.
Yesterday, lawyers for the government insisted that medical groups like the World Medical Association, and internationally accepted medical ethics standards like the Malta Declaration (on how doctors should treat hunger strikers), do not apply at Guantanamo.
Dr Stephen Xenakis, a former army brigadier general and psychiatrist, also testified yesterday, saying that Mr Dhiab poses no realistic threat to guards at the prison and that if he treated well could feasibly be force-fed in a single-point restraint chair rather than the five-point restraint chair currently being used. Dr Xenakis also testified that the 'forcible cell extractions' make it impossible for the detainees to have a constructive relationship with those force-feeding them.
The trial is being held in public after Judge Kessler denied the government's request to hold it in secret.
Cori Crider, attorney for Mr Dhiab and Strategic Director of Reprieve, said: "The government wants you to believe they offer top-flight medical care to my client, but this is laughable. As Dr. Crosby testified, it's cruel and punitive to take a hunger-striker's wheelchair away. The Defense Department is trying to stamp out our client's protest and punishing him by withholding needed medical care. This has to stop."
Reprieve is a UK-based human rights organization that uses the law to enforce the human rights of prisoners, from death row to Guantanamo Bay.
The Biden appointee accused the Court of overstepping its bounds in a ruling denounced by one labor leader as "shameful."
The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday ruled 8-1 in favor of a concrete company and against its striking workers, in a decision progressive advocates called "de-facto union busting."
The lone dissenting voice, liberal Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, argued that her colleagues overstepped their authority in siding with the company instead of deferring to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).
"Today, the Court falters," she wrote in her dissent.
\u201cBREAKING: The Supreme Court has ruled in favor of a concrete company that wanted to sue a union because a strike cost them money.\n\nThe 8-1 decision means the company, Glacier Northwest Inc., can sue the union over a strike where truck drivers left wet concrete in their trucks.\u201d— More Perfect Union (@More Perfect Union) 1685632085
The case dates back to 2017, when Seattle-area truck drivers belonging to Teamsters Local 174 engaged in a week-long strike against company Glacier Northwest, as The Seattle Timesexplained. At the time of the strike, the workers had wet concrete in their mixer trucks, but abandoning the trucks during the stoppage meant the cement could no longer be used and could have damaged the trucks, the company claimed.
"What Glacier seeks to do here is to shift the duty of protecting an employer's property from damage or loss incident to a strike onto the striking workers."
Glacier Northwest sued the Teamsters for damages in Washington state court, but the union argued that the suit conflicted with the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), which protects collective bargaining rights. The Washington State Supreme Court agreed with the workers, but the Supreme Court reversed this decision, meaning the lawsuit can proceed. Labor advocates worry that this decision could embolden other companies to file similar lawsuits against striking workers.
"The Supreme Court decision in Glacier, Inc. vs. Teamsters is the latest in a long line of examples that the conscience of this court is clearly up for sale to the highest bidder. The institution that was at one point the last line of defense for working people against oppression and corporate greed is now a bludgeon wielded against those very people by the wealthy and well-connected," Working Families Party National Director Maurice Mitchell said in a statement.
Thursday's ruling, added Mitchell, "is nothing more than a de-facto union-busting, strike-breaking tactic. It clears the way for deep-pocketed corporations to sue workers for withholding their labor in the face of exploitation and deplorable job conditions."
In her majority opinion, Justice Amy Coney Barrett argued that the NLRA did not protect the workers because "Glacier alleges that the Union took affirmative steps to endanger Glacier's property rather than reasonable precautions to mitigate that risk."
However, Jackson said the Court had historically deferred its judgment on labor cases involving a complaint pending with the NLRB, as in this case.
"[W]e have no business delving into this particular labor dispute at this time. But instead of modestly standing down, the majority eagerly inserts itself into this conflict, proceeding to opine on the propriety of the union's strike activity based on the facts alleged in the employer's state-court complaint," she wrote.
Further, Jackson expressed concern that the Court's ruling would interfere with the NLRB's development of labor law and "erode the right to strike."
Moreover, she pointed out that, in siding with Glacier, the Court was infringing on how the workers chose to carry out their right to strike.
"What Glacier seeks to do here is to shift the duty of protecting an employer's property from damage or loss incident to a strike onto the striking workers, beyond what the Board has already permitted via the reasonable-precautions principle. In my view, doing that places a significant burden on the employees' exercise of their statutory right to strike, unjustifiably undermining Congress's intent," she wrote.
\u201cShe also argues that the court is putting the onus on workers and their union here, when it is actually incumbent on Glacier, the company, to take steps to negotiate with the union and mitigate their losses. /3\u201d— More Perfect Union (@More Perfect Union) 1685632085
Chief Justice John Roberts, along with Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, and Brett Kavanaugh, signed on to Barrett's majority opinion, while Justice Clarence Thomas authored a concurring opinion joined by Neil Gorsuch and Justice Samuel Alito filed another concurring opinion joined by Thomas and Gorsuch.
Progressive advocates and lawmakers called out the majority for its ruling. Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) tweeted it was "another dangerous decision," while the Center for Popular Democracy Action said the current Court, with a right-wing majority, is one where "labor rights go to die" and argued in favor of legislation that would expand the Court to 13 justices.
"This morning, our highest court issued a ruling that makes it easier for companies to sue unions for striking," the group said in a statement.
"This is yet another example of this extremist court siding with the rich and powerful over workers—the everyday people who deserve the hard-fought right to have a union that fights for them against corporate abuses," the group continued. "More and more, we see how disconnected the Supreme Court is from the realities of communities that need and deserve good-paying union jobs to thrive. If we don't take immediate steps to expand the court by passing the Judiciary Act, we can expect these egregious decisions to continue."
Teamsters General President Sean M. O'Brien decried the Court's decision, but vowed to keep fighting.
\u201c\u203c\ufe0fStatement from #Teamsters General President Sean M. O\u2019Brien on the Supreme Court\u2019s ruling today in #Glacier Northwest, Inc. v. International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local Union No. 174, which opens the door for corporations to sue their own workers. \n\n#1u @TeamsterSOB 1/9\ud83e\uddf5...\u201d— Teamsters (@Teamsters) 1685632539
"The Teamsters will strike any employer, when necessary, no matter their size or the depth of their pockets. Unions will never be broken by this Court or any other," O'Brien said.
"Today's shameful ruling," he continued, "is simply one more reminder that the American people cannot rely on their government or their courts to protect them. They cannot rely on their employers. We must rely on each other. We must engage in organized, collective action. We can only rely on the protections inherent in the power of our unions."
Days when "hazardous" levels of particle pollution were recorded were virtually nonexistent in the U.S. for much of the early 2000s, but 73 were recorded in 2021.
As wildfire smoke from Nova Scotia drifted south this week and resulted in haze that blanketed parts of New England, New York, and New Jersey, the American Lung Association reported Thursday that rampant wildfires are triggering a significant rise in unhealthy air alerts in cities across the United States—enough to begin reversing progress policymakers have made in reducing ozone pollution.
The organization's State of the Air report warns that particle pollution—which includes soot from wildfires and has been linked to increased risk for heart attacks, asthma in children, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease—is putting more people at risk than ever.
Overall, 17.6 million fewer people in the U.S. are breathing unhealthy air compared to the group's 2022 report, an improvement that was credited to "falling levels of ozone in many places around the country, the continuation of a positive trend that reflects the success of the Clean Air Act."
"However, the number of people living in counties with failing grades for daily spikes in deadly particle pollution was 63.7 million, the most ever reported under the current national standard," reads the report.
Eight of the 10 cities with the most days in which authorities warned of high particle pollution were in California, which experienced a relatively "mild" year for wildfires last year, but still counted nearly 7,500 wildfires including the destructive Mosquito Fire.
Other cities that are thousands of miles away from areas prone to wildfires have also reported numerous days with high levels of particle pollution, including Fargo, North Dakota and Pittsburgh.
Source: American Lung Association, State of the Air report, 2023
"A few weeks ago, I was speaking with someone from Colorado who was staying indoors because of smoke from forest fires in Calgary," William Barrett, national senior director for clean air advocacy at the American Lung Association (ALA), toldThe Hill Thursday.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says planetary heating creates hotter and drier conditions, leading to longer and more severe wildfire seasons in areas that are prone to them.
Michelle Donaldson, communications director for the Lung Association of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, told the CBC on Tuesday that people living far away from wildfire sites may not realize they are at risk for particle pollution.
"Wildfire smoke can travel really far and it can linger in the air for weeks at a time, so even if you can't see the smoke in your area, the particulate matter and the level of air quality go down, so people have to take precautions to protect their lung health," she said.
Emissions standards set by the Clean Air Act have been credited with significantly cutting down on ozone pollution in recent decades. New York City reported more than 50 days with high ozone pollution in the early 2000s, compared to 17 now, The Hill noted. Washington, D.C. has cut its high ozone pollution days from 60 per year to seven.
But the ALA's State of the Air report shows that the number of days when particle pollution levels are considered "very unhealthy" has skyrocketed in the last five years. Warnings were issued 10 times in 2016 compared to 113 in 2021.
The number of "hazardous" days—when the entire population of an area is likely to be affected by the pollution—has also gone up significantly. These warnings were not given between 2002 and 2014, but 73 of them were recorded in 2021.
Source: American Lung Association, State of the Air report, 2023
"Spikes in particle pollution related to heat, drought and wildfires are putting millions of people at risk," said the ALA, "and adding challenges to the work that states and cities are doing across the nation to clean up air pollution."
"Without full access to all performed toxicity studies, there can be no reliable safety evaluation of pesticides by E.U. authorities," researchers warn in a new study.
New research published Thursday in the journal Environmental Health found that pesticide companies did not disclose to European Union regulators at least nine studies examining the brain toxicity of their chemical products—a finding that experts said is a scandal that must spur reforms.
"It is outrageous," Christina Rudén, a professor of regulatory ecotoxicology and toxicology at Stockholm University and a co-author of the new study, toldThe Guardian.
The researchers behind the new study found that pesticide companies submitted 35 developmental neurotoxicity (DNT) assessments to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency between 1993 and 2015 as part of efforts to win regulatory approval for their products.
But the companies withheld nine of those 35 studies from E.U. regulators, the new analysis notes, raising concerns that the firms deliberately suppressed information that may have impacted risk assessments. The Guardian noted that "the pesticides identified in the new study include the insecticides abamectin, ethoprophos, and pyridaben and the fungicide fluazinam."
"These are, or have been, used on a range of crops including tomatoes, strawberries, potatoes, and aubergines," the newspaper added.
The researchers said their findings demonstrate that "non-disclosure of DNT studies to E.U. authorities, in spite of clear legal requirements, seems to be a recurring phenomenon." Last year, the same researchers discovered that an industry-sponsored DNT study on glyphosate found impacts on "neurobehavioural function, motor activity, in rat offspring"—findings that were not shared with E.U. officials.
Glyphosate is currently authorized for use in the E.U. through 2023, despite evidence of its negative effects on humans, animals, insects, and the environment.
"Without full access to all performed toxicity studies, there can be no reliable safety evaluation of pesticides by E.U. authorities," the researchers warned Thursday. "Rules should be amended so that future studies should be commissioned by authorities rather than companies. This ensures the authorities' knowledge of existing studies and prevents the economic interest of the company from influencing the design, performance, reporting, and dissemination of studies."
Bayer—which owns Monsanto, maker of the cancer-linked glyphosate product Roundup—and Nissan Chemical were among the sponsors of the studies withheld from E.U. authorities, who only learned about the assessments years after they were conducted.
As AFPreported, the brain toxicity studies "were conducted on pregnant rats, testing whether the offspring of those exposed to the compounds suffered developmental problems."
"Decreased weight gain, delayed sexual maturation, and deteriorating motor activity were among the side effects reported in adult offspring in the studies," the outlet continued. "Of the nine pesticide compounds, four have now been taken off the E.U. market, while another four are currently under review."
"It is outrageous and unbelievable that a good fraction of these studies do not make it to the authorities as required by law," Axel Mie, another study co-author, told AFP. "There must be legal consequences and serious ones for the companies if they do not follow the law."