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« Reply #7770 on: Jul 27, 2013, 07:04 AM »


Tunisia: moment of crisis

Mohamed Brahmi's assassination has cast a growing shadow over a revolution that was widely welcomed in the region

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Editorial   
The Guardian, Friday 26 July 2013 20.45 BST   
       
With Syria in flames, Egypt deadlocked and Libya enfeebled, a Tunisian failure would complete the gloom casting a growing shadow over a revolution once so widely welcomed in the region and beyond. The murder of Mohamed Brahmi in Tunis on Thursday was followed on Friday by protest rallies, calls for the resignation of the government, the burning down of provincial offices of the ruling Ennahda party, and the calling of a general strike. Some of the government's opponents have stridently blamed Ennahda for Mr Brahmi's death, either directly or through a neglect of the need to police and detain Islamist extremists.

Ennahda and the country's powerful trade union body, the Union Générale Tunisienne du Travail, are in even deeper confrontation than was already the case. But the Ennahda leader, Rachid Ghannouchi, vowed: "Tunisia will not follow the Egyptian scenario." He was clearly seeking to calm the fears of those who worry that it is doing exactly that, while discouraging those who want to see a Cairo-style upheaval in the Tunisian capital.

There are good reasons to believe that Mr Ghannouchi is right. Shameful though this assassination was, and real though the anger may be, the reaction has in it elements of play-acting and manoeuvring for political advantage. It also undoubtedly represents a venting of the generalised frustration that has built up over two disappointing years since the transition from the old regime.

There are certainly aspects of the situation that recall the slippage in Egypt. The Tunisian government, like the Muslim Brotherhood administration in Cairo, has cosied up to businessmen who were allied to the old regime. As in Cairo, it has failed to reform the police or the justice system and, again as in Cairo, it has seemed slack in pursuing extremists on its side of the political spectrum. It has given jobs in large numbers to its followers. It has sacked respected technocrats, and it has been a less than competent manager of the economy.

But it has also, if belatedly and still not conclusively, edged toward a genuinely agreed constitution. It is in coalition with other parties, and it has reshuffled its cabinet after criticisms from the opposition. Above all, Tunisia does not have a powerful army. If Egyptian politics is a triangle of which the three points are the army, the Brotherhood and secular liberals, Tunisian politics is more a duopoly, Ennahda and the UGTT, with the liberals on the flank, being the two main structures of power. It would help if the killers of Mr Brahmi could be swiftly apprehended and those who directed them identified and pursued. That should now be the first order of the day.


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« Reply #7771 on: Jul 27, 2013, 07:05 AM »

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
07/26/2013 04:30 PM

'Big Mama' and the Massacre: ICC's Reputation at Risk in Kenya

By Erich Follath

Fatou Bensouda, chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, is doing all she can to put Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta behind bars. But the hurdles are high, and failure could spell doom for the dream of global justice.

The road to where she is today was long and rocky. But now, she is the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), empowered by 121 countries to hunt down the worst of the world's mass murderers and put them behind bars, a criminal prosecutor in cases involving genocide and the world's public prosecutor. She is, in a sense, everyone's supreme conscience.

Fatou Bensouda, 52, and her team have taken the bold step of indicting 51-year-old Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta. But in this case, there is a stark contrast between their aspirations and reality. At the moment, Kenyatta's attorneys seem to have the upper hand. They have demanded that the case be dropped, arguing that there is no evidence to prove that their client is guilty. In mid-June, they managed to postpone the planned court date a second time, this time for four months, on the grounds that the prosecutor's office had not produced evidence on time.

Throughout Africa, as well as in the West, doubts are growing as to whether the case has a future at all. Daily Nation, Kenya's leading newspaper, called the case "a farce," while a TV commentator in Nairobi referred to it as "suicide on the part of the world court."

In recent weeks, Bensouda has been doing all she can to save the situation, spending inordinate amounts of time behind the bulletproof glass windows of her office in The Hague. She works late into the night, only to take yet another look at the files early the next morning. She is possessed of an iron will.

There is a great deal at stake. If the case against Kenyatta were to collapse, the ICC would lose what little authority it still has and would become a tool as useless as it is costly. And it isn't just a matter of the court's survival: The long-cherished dream of global justice seems on the verge of failure. In addition to the permanent ICC, other, temporary United Nations courts have likewise failed to produce successes.

Holding Commanders Responsible?

The Cambodia Tribunal, for example, a court established to try the individuals responsible for the Khmer Rouge genocide, is merely treading water. The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), by contrast, has managed to produce some convictions, but a judge at the United Nations war crimes tribunal in The Hague recently deplored the political pressure that allegedly led to the spectacular recent acquittals of senior Serbian and Croat officers. The judge said that the decisions called into question the principle that military commanders could be held responsible for war crimes committed by their subordinates. It is a concern that will soon be tested on Bosnian Serb general Ratko Mladic, with relatives of the Srebrenica massacre victims fearful that he will be set free.

At the ICC, prosecutor Bensouda is respectfully referred to as "Big Mama," because of her big heart and her authority. She knows what is at stake in the Kenyatta case -- for her, for the court and for the concept of a global court.

As a little girl, Fatou Bensouda already had a clear idea of what her destiny was: She wanted to fight crime. She also knew how difficult that could be. In the early 1970s, she accompanied her aunt several times to a police station in Banjul, the capital of her native Gambia, in West Africa. The aunt's husband had beaten her repeatedly. But the police officers refused to investigate her complaints, because it was felt that the master of the house had every right to beat his wife. Such crimes were left unpunished. It was something that Bensouda felt had to change.

As a teenager, she always went to the courthouse after school, no matter what case the court happened to be hearing. She obsessively took notes and later discussed the cases with her mothers. Bensouda grew up in a polygamous Muslim household, in which her father had several wives.

Later, when she was studying in Nigeria and Malta, she turned her attention to international law. A brilliant jurist, Bensouda was the first woman to become the attorney general, and later the justice minister, of Gambia. But conflict with the country's president, in a system that is democratic in name only, was inevitable. She resigned after two years and later began working for the UN, including a stint as a trial attorney at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, established to prosecute individuals responsible for the 1994 massacre there.

A Symbol of Progress

Bensouda was named chief prosecutor in The Hague in June 2012. The same year, Time included her on its list of the world's 100 most influential people. She is seen as a symbol of African progress.

Nevertheless, it is becoming clear that her influence is greatly limited. When she indicts powerful people, like Kenya's president and vice-president, she is dealing with more than just the high-powered lawyers they hire. She also faces intimidation by those capable of manipulating public opinion in countries racked by civil war and turning it against a court that operates far away from the scenes of the crimes it addresses.

The ICC also lacks the support of some of the world's most powerful politicians. Although most countries have submitted to its jurisdiction, the United States and China never joined the ICC. Both Iran and Israel are also unwilling to relinquish a part of their judicial sovereignty.

The court began prosecuting crimes against humanity 11 years ago, but its track record has been deplorable. This is partly due to sloppy investigations and the arrogance of Bensouda's predecessor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, who once said: "We are changing the world, guys." So far, the ICC can boast of only one conviction, and that in a case relating to a second-tier defendant. In 2012, the ICC sentenced Congolese militia leader Thomas Lubanga to 14 years in prison for using child soldiers as cannon fodder. Arrest warrants have been issued against other butchers, like Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony -- but the men are still at large, because they are too important to be extradited.

The ICC is currently investigating eight cases, all of them in Africa -- a situation which has engendered criticism. The prosecution of crimes by the ICC has degenerated into "race-baiting," Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn said at the African Union (AU) summit in Addis Ababa at the end of May. In a resolution, the leaders of AU member states demanded that the case against Kenyatta be dismissed and remitted to the courts in Nairobi.

Bensouda calls the attacks "outrageous." Speaking with SPIEGEL, she pointed out that she herself is black and investigates cases without regard for skin color or nationality. "It is indisputable that Africans are being raped, displaced, tortured and held as child slaves by other Africans. Are we supposed to ignore that?"

Misplaced Optimism?

Besides, she added, the list of countries the ICC is currently focusing on also includes Afghanistan, Honduras and Georgia. "What offends me most of all is how quickly many concentrate on the words of the powerful, forgetting the millions who have no voice. We investigate without distinction of person or political rank."

"Big Mama's" staff members have rarely seen their boss looking as nervous as in recent days. Almost defiantly, as if to embolden herself, she says: "We will bring Kenyatta to trial here in The Hague, and I am very optimistic that we will achieve a guilty verdict against him and his vice-president, William Ruto."

But despite Bensouda's optimism, Kenyatta continues to reside in an opulent mansion next to the State House, the president's official residence in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi. Kenyatta is the country's largest landowner and he also controls its largest bank, not to mention a major hotel chain.

With an estimated net worth of $500 million (€378 million), Kenyatta is one of the 25 richest and most powerful men on the continent. Kenyan politics reflects the extent to which a handful of clans dominate the country. Fifty years ago, shortly after independence from Great Britain, a Kenyatta and an Odinga competed for power. In March 2013, nothing had changed except the first names of the contenders. The sons, Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga, had followed in the footsteps of their fathers, Jomo and Oginga.

The scourge of nepotism is compounded by ethnic division, in a country whose leaders are more likely to champion the interests of their tribes than ideologies or political platforms. They procure jobs and perks for their "blood brothers" and, if need be, they incite ethnic groups against one another, sometimes to the point of tribal wars.

The Kenyattas are part of the Kikuyu tribe, which makes up more than 20 percent of the population in Kenya and is the most economically successful ethnic group. Kenyatta did not run for the presidency in the December 2007 election, choosing to support Mwai Kibaki, a fellow Kikuyu, instead. After a highly disputed vote count, Kibaki was declared the winner and promptly sworn in. In the ensuing mayhem, members of the Kalenjin, Luhya and Luo tribes (US President Barack Obama's father was a member of the Luo tribe) exacted bloody revenge on the "imposters." The Kikuyu then struck back.

Divided by Hate

Before long, villages were fighting villages. In some "mixed" regions, it was street against street. It was only through the intervention of then UN Secretary General Kofi Annan that the situation settled down after a few weeks. But by the time the slaughter had ended, there were 1,100 dead with more than half a million people having been driven out of their home provinces. The country was divided by hate.

At the urging of a Kenyan judge, the ICC turned its attention to the instigators of the violence. In early 2012, the court in The Hague confirmed charges against Kenyatta and Ruto, his rival from the Kalenjin tribe. But can someone be locked up for this indirect form of culpability? And can prosecutors in the Netherlands prevail against men who are sufficiently cunning and unscrupulous to exploit racial hatred? In other words, can these crimes even be defined in legal terms? That is the existential question the ICC faces.

When it became clear that the two men were to be dragged before the world court, Kenyatta and Ruto devised a clever strategy: They joined forces to form a political alliance of convenience, the Jubilee Alliance. Before long, without any aspects of the 2012 massacres having been cleared up, they began campaigning for election together.

For much of the campaign, it looked as they had little chance, with Odinga -- the opposing candidate and a member of the Luo tribe -- maintaining a solid lead. But then Johnnie Carson, head of the Africa division in the US State Department at the time, publicly threatened "consequences" if the Kenyans voted the two men, who had been indicted by the ICC, into the country's highest offices.

The threat provided Kenyatta with fodder for his campaign. From then on, whenever he made a campaign appearance he would ask his "sovereign people" whether they should allow foreign powers to dictate to them their choice of national leaders. Kenyatta turned the election into a fight against foreign intervention and the "Western diktat." The overwhelming majority of Kenyans were unaware of the ironic fact that a London PR firm had developed the campaign strategy for Kenyatta -- and that British lawyers make up the bulk of his defense team for the ICC trial.

A Deaf Ear

Kenyatta won an absolute majority, with 50.07 percent of the vote. Observers noted that voter turnout was implausibly high, at 86 percent. Rival candidate Odinga suspected fraud and took his case to the country's supreme court, but it turned a deaf ear to his petition challenging the election results.

Of course, the West failed to make good on its threats to impose sanctions. Kenya's cooperation as a strategically important country in the fight against terrorism in Somalia and Sudan is too important to Washington, Paris and London, and they are also eager to prevent China from trumping the West in Nairobi. The new president has been self-confident recently, saying that he would cooperate with the ICC, submit to questioning by video link and, if necessary, even appear in person before the court in The Hague. His supporters refer to him as "Njamba," or "The Hero."

In The Hague, his adversary Bensouda says: "We want the trial to begin as soon as possible. And we deeply appreciate the witnesses' courage and willingness to make sacrifices. Nowhere else have they come under such great pressure as in Kenya."

Many witnesses live in the Great Rift Valley. The steep cliffs, which divide East Africa into two parts, open to form a kind of Garden of Eden, a landscape of volcanic cones, misty lakes and tropical vegetation that offers a habitat to rhinos, flamingos and myriad other forms of wildlife. Anthropologists see the region as a cradle of mankind. But in the first days of 2008, it was more of an Armageddon to residents in the Rift Valley towns of Nakuru and Naivasha.

A Raging Mob

"We lived here in peace and good neighborly relations with the other tribes for a long time. We rented our house from a Kikuyu," says Monicah Akinyi, a Luo woman. Her eyes are dull, rendered lifeless by sadness and desperation. "Then came the day when a raging mob of Kikuyu descended upon us with knives and machetes."

"I was pregnant at the time, awaiting our ninth child," says Akinyi, her voice faltering. "My husband and I worked at one of the big farms that grow roses for export to Europe. Our children played with the Kikuyu children." As the menacing mob approached, Akinyi took the children and fled to the police station. Her husband tried to help some friends and rushed back to the house. But he didn't get far before assailants swooped down on him with knives, dozens of them stabbing him again and again.

The mob raged for days. Akinyi wasn't even able to recover her husband's body. She was left with nothing but a photo a journalist had taken of her husband's corpse. She later learned that similar acts of brutal violence had occurred in other Rift Valley towns, as well as along the coast. Who were the culprits? Can the chain of command in what were clearly actions controlled by others be traced to Kikuyu leader Kenyatta?

"Today I only live for my children," says Akinyi, who looks much older than her 37 years. She was pleased when she heard that a woman in a faraway country wanted to bring the culprits to trial. But now she no longer dares to hope. "It all happened more than five years ago," says Akinyi. "I think the world has forgotten ordinary victims like us."

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan


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« Reply #7772 on: Jul 27, 2013, 07:06 AM »

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
07/26/2013 08:32 PM

Marte Dalelv's Dubai Ordeal: 'I Was Fighting for My Life'

When Marte Dalelv reported her rape to Dubai police four months ago, she was charged and convicted to 16 months in prison. It was only after international pressure that she was later pardoned. The 24-year-old Norwegian discusses her traumatic experience with SPIEGEL ONLINE.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Ms. Dalelv, your pardon was announced very suddenly on Tuesday. Do you have any idea what led the government in Dubai to make the decision?

Dalelv: The Norwegian government, but also the social networks, created pressure to pardon me. That's just my personal speculation because no one told me the reason why.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: The news of your pardon must have come as an immense relief. How did you first find out?

Dalelv: My lawyer, an Egyptian who has been living in Dubai for 16 years, got a call from the prosecutor that they wanted us to come in for a meeting the following day. So we went there -- my lawyer and me as well as two friends and the Norwegian ambassador.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Were you given an apology?

Dalely: No, I was not. They only pardoned me. And for that I am very grateful.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: People around the world now know a lot about you. They know your name, your face and where you come from. Why did you decide to come forward publicly with your story?

Dalely: In the past months, I was in frequent contact with my family. Together we decided that we shouldn't contact the media at that stage because it could hurt my case -- that they might use me to set an example.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: At the very latest, that did happen with the verdict …

Dalelv: … and it couldn't have been any worse after that. So we then decided that we would have to go public and let everyone know what had happened. My father actually said, "Marte, now you have to talk to everyone." So I did. I was fighting for my life.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Reports in the Arab press claimed that you withdrew your rape allegations prior to your trial. They claimed that you had had consensual sex. Is that true?

Dalelv: Yes, it is.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Why did you do that?

Dalelv: The police and prosecutors told me that this case was extremely difficult to prove, and that there was no way anyone was going to believe me, not even the courts. They said the best thing for me to do would be to withdraw my accusation about rape, which would make it easier for them to close the case and get us out of Dubai. Even my boss at the time encouraged me to do this.

Dalvev had worked since 2011 at an interior design firm in Qatar . She was also in Dubai doing work for the company, and the man she accused of raping her also works for the firm. According to her account of events, she took a taxi with the colleague to a hotel after a party in March. She was drunk and asked him to take her to her room. Instead, after a bit of persuasion, she went to his room, where Dalelv fell asleep. She alleges that she was attacked the next morning.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Suddenly you were accused of being a criminal because extramarital sex is illegal in Dubai.

Dalvelv: That was a huge mistake on my part. At that point, I just wanted to go back home. Later, in court, following the advice of my lawyers, I went back to telling the original account, that it was rape.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: But the judges didn't believe you.

Dalvelv: I got the impression that they did believe me. We had evidence -- a DNA match, surveillance camera video and also a witness. When we got the verdict, we were very surprised.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: You never publicly named the man you accused of rape. Why not?

Dalvelv: Out of respect for his family. I will only say that he is from Sudan. We had been colleagues for a year and a half. I don't want to give any information about who he is -- that is entirely his decision.

SPIEGEL ONLNE: Have you been in contact with him since that night?

Dalvelv: No. However, he has been to every court hearing, so I have seen him every time. He got a sentence of 13 months, but he was also pardoned like me.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: When did you go to the police? Was it right after the fact?

Dalvelv: Yes. I was being raped when I woke up. There was someone at the door and he was answering it, and at that point I just ran for it. I ran to the reception and immediately called the police.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: How were you treated afterwards?

Dalvelv: My experience was that they did not believe me. There were lots of question that I based that feeling on. There were questions about the intercourse and they said that they didn't believe it. After I had given my statement, they asked me if I called the police because I didn't like it.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Your employer fired you several days ago.

Dalvelv: That's true. I was suspended after my arrest because of "improper behavior." And after the guilty verdict, they fired me. The suspension letter was hard, but the termination letter was even harder. It was a very hard message.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: The most recent reports in the press suggest your boss wants to give you your job back. How do you feel about that?

Dalvelv: I have seen that article and I think this is something I need to discuss with my boss before I give a statement about it.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Ms. Dalvelv, you come across extremely diplomatically -- we thought we would be speaking to a person who would be far more outraged. You even had friendly words for the government in Dubai before you left. Did anyone seek to intimidate you?

Dalvelv: This whole time that I was in Dubai, they could have done whatever they wanted with me, and that was very scary. But we also have to be honest here: The emir pardoned someone before that person went to jail and that has never happened before. I just choose to be happy about the fact that I got to go home and didn't have to go to jail for 16 months. I don't want to think about all the other issues.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Could you imagine ever traveling to an Arab country again?

Dalvelv: Here, too, I have to give you a very diplomatic answer. There are so many places in the world that I haven't seen yet, so I wish to explore those places before going back (to Dubai).

Interview conducted by Rainer Leurs


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« Reply #7773 on: Jul 27, 2013, 07:10 AM »

NASA’s WISE Finds That Most Centaurs Are Comets

PlanetSave
July 25, 2014

Celestial centaurs — the small sub-planetary bodies that are found orbiting the sun somewhere between Jupiter and Neptune — have remained something of a mystery since their discovery. What exactly are they? Asteroids? Comets? Well new research done using NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) may finally be providing an answer to those questions — most centaurs are comets.
"New observations from NASA's NEOWISE project reveal the hidden nature of centaurs, objects in our solar system that have confounded astronomers for resembling both asteroids and comets. The centaurs, which orbit between Jupiter and Neptune, were named after the mythical half-horse, half-human creatures called centaurs due to their dual nature. This artist's concept shows a centaur creature together with asteroids on the left and comets at right." Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“New observations from NASA’s NEOWISE project reveal the hidden nature of centaurs, objects in our solar system that have confounded astronomers for resembling both asteroids and comets. The centaurs, which orbit between Jupiter and Neptune, were named after the mythical half-horse, half-human creatures called centaurs due to their dual nature. This artist’s concept shows a centaur creature together with asteroids on the left and comets at right.”

Previously, astronomers weren’t entirely clear whether centaurs were simply asteroids that were flung out into the outer solar system, or perhaps comets which entered a stable orbit after traveling in toward the Sun from afar. As a result of their “dual nature”, the sub-planetary bodies were given the name of the creature in Greek mythology that possessed the head and torso of a human and the body of a horse.

“Just like the mythical creatures, the centaur objects seem to have a double life,” stated James Bauer of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “Our data point to a cometary origin for most of the objects, suggesting they are coming from deeper out in the solar system.”

What Bauer means when he says ‘cometary origin’ is “an object likely is made from the same material as a comet, may have been an active comet in the past, and may be active again in the future.”

NASA has more:

    The findings come from the largest infrared survey to date of centaurs and their more distant cousins, called scattered disk objects. NEOWISE, the asteroid-hunting portion of the WISE mission, gathered infrared images of 52 centaurs and scattered disk objects. Fifteen of the 52 are new discoveries. Centaurs and scattered disk objects orbit in an unstable belt. Ultimately, gravity from the giant planets will fling them either closer to the sun or farther away from their current locations.

    Although astronomers previously observed some centaurs with dusty halos, a common feature of outgassing comets, and NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope also found some evidence for comets in the group, they had not been able to estimate the numbers of comets and asteroids.

    Infrared data from NEOWISE provided information on the objects’ albedos, or reflectivity, to help astronomers sort the population. NEOWISE can tell whether a centaur has a matte and dark surface or a shiny one that reflects more light. The puzzle pieces fell into place when astronomers combined the albedo information with what was already known about the colors of the objects. Visible-light observations have shown centaurs generally to be either blue-gray or reddish in hue. A blue-gray object could be an asteroid or comet. NEOWISE showed that most of the blue-gray objects are dark, a telltale sign of comets. A reddish object is more likely to be an asteroid.

“Comets have a dark, soot-like coating on their icy surfaces, making them darker than most asteroids,” stated study co-author, Tommy Grav of the Planetary Science Institute. “Comet surfaces tend to be more like charcoal, while asteroids are usually shinier like the moon.”

The new research indicates that somewhere around 2/3 of centaurs are comets — having originated somewhere in the cold outer reaches of the solar system. It’s not clear whether or not the rest are asteroids, comets, or perhaps something else.

The new research was just published online in The Astrophysical Journal.


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« Reply #7774 on: Jul 27, 2013, 07:11 AM »


Moon may influence sleep, study finds

Even if moonlight isn't streaming through your curtains, the phase of the moon may affect how well you sleep

Simon Roach   
guardian.co.uk, Friday 26 July 2013 17.20 BST   

Science and myth rarely agree, but new research suggests that the lunar cycle could have an effect on the quality of sleep.

The study by researchers at the University of Basel in Switzerland found that even in the absence of moonlight, participants slept less deeply and for shorter periods during the full moon than at other lunar phases. It is a phenomenon already known in other organisms as the "circalunar rhythm", but has never before been shown in humans.

Christian Cajochen, who was the lead researcher on the study, said: "A lot of people complain about bad sleep during moon stages, or they claim that 'it was the moon', and there's a lot of myth involved. We decided to go back in our old data to see whether we could effectively quantify such an effect."

Previous research has found no association between the phases of the moon and human physiology or behaviour. "While I'm quite cautious and sceptical about the data myself, I have to say after a proper statistical analysis that, to our surprise, we found something there," said Cajochen. "There is a circalunar influence."

The brain pattern, eye movements and hormone secretion of volunteers were studied while they slept. Participants were also asked for subjective assessments of their sleep quality.

The results, published in Current Biology, showed that around the full moon, subjects' brain activity associated with deep sleep decreased by 30%, they took 5 minutes longer to fall asleep, had 20 minutes less sleep overall and lower levels of melatonin – a hormone known to regulate sleep. These findings correlated with the volunteers' own perception that sleep quality was poorer during the full moon.

"I think one issue in the past was that they compared a lot of people by mixing different laboratories, different devices, and including data from patients, so the entire thing was not standardised," Cajochen said. "The advantage here is that we really had a standardised protocol."

The data was taken from a previous study that was not originally looking at the moon's influence. Participants were kept in a very controlled environment, with artificial lighting, regulated temperature and no way of checking the time. This ensured that internal body rhythms could be investigated independently of external influences.

"The only disadvantage with such a standardised procedure is that we could only investigate 33 people," said Cajochen. "What I would like to do in the future is to increase the number of subjects and then to follow up each person through the entire moon cycle."

But such a study would have problems of its own, he added. "If you're actually going to tell people you're investigating the influence of the moon, then you may trigger some expectation or sensitivity in them. Sleep is also a psychological thing, of course."

If true, the mechanisms responsible for the phenomenon are unknown. Malcolm von Schantz, a molecular neurobiologist at Surrey University, said: "Essentially it could be either two things: the moon itself has a gravitational pull which somehow affects our physiology. I find that very unlikely as the gravitational pull of the moon is fairly weak. It doesn't cause tides in lakes for example, only in large oceans. In fact, if you're sitting within 15 inches of the wall right now then the wall has a stronger gravitational pull on you than the moon does. So I don't think we have a sort of mini-tide in ourselves.

"The alternative is that there is a 'counter', a mechanism which keeps track somehow of the phases of the moon."

Marine animals are already known to follow a circalunar rhythm and some believe it is tightly intertwined with the circadian rhythm – the other internal clock that many organisms, humans included, have which is entrained to the sun. "In worms, at least, there is a crossover between these two clocks," said Cajochen. "But we are not worms any more."

Other researchers have wondered why a human circalunar clock should exist in the first place. Michael Hastings, a neuroscientist studying circadian rhythms at Cambridge University, said: "In evolutionary terms, it sounds plausible to me at least. If you were a hunter gatherer, you'd want to be out there on a full moon, not a new moon. It might be that there's something about suppression of sleep under those circumstances because you should be out hunting.

"I think at best it's intriguing. There's a biological plausibility, if we take the hunter gatherer scenario, with regard to the mechanisms … It is such a striking and unexpected finding that replication by other sleep labs is absolutely critical."

Not everyone is concerned that there were only 33 subjects - von Schantz even said these numbers are "fairly sizeable" for such a study.

"It's true, the body of negative data on the effects of the moon on a huge number of parameters is fairly impressive," he added. "It's entirely conceivable that all those previous studies are correct, but that there is also an effect in a limited number of other parameters, one of them being sleep, for reasons we don't yet understand."


* 33dc28a5-d853-49ab-b18b-fbaad4cc12e2-460.jpeg (26.82 KB, 460x276 - viewed 13 times.)
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« Reply #7775 on: Jul 27, 2013, 07:25 AM »

In the USA...

Glenn Greenwald and other NSA critics to testify before Congress: Rep. Grayson

By Paul Lewis, The Guardian
Friday, July 26, 2013 14:34 EDT

Congress will hear testimony from critics of the National Security Agency’s surveillance practices for the first time since the whistleblower Edward Snowden’s explosive leaks were made public.

Democrat congressman Alan Grayson, who is leading a bipartisan group of congressman organising the hearing, told the Guardian it would serve to counter the “constant misleading information” from the intelligence community.

The hearing, which will take place on Wednesday, comes amid evidence of a growing congressional rebellion NSA data collection methods.

On Wednesday, a vote in the House of Representatives that would have tried to curb the NSA’s practice of mass collection of phone records of millions of Americans was narrowly defeated.

However, it exposed broader-than-expected concern among members of Congress over US surveillance tactics. A majority of Democrat members voted in support of the amendment.

Grayson, who was instrumental in fostering support among Democrats for the the amendment, said Wednesday’s hearing would mark the first time critics of NSA surveillance methods have testified before Congress since Snowden’s leaks were published by the Guardian and Washington Post.

“I have been concerned about the fact that we have heard incessantly in recent weeks from General Keith Alexander [director of the NSA] and Mr James Clapper [director of National Intelligence] about their side of the story,” he said. “We have barely heard anything in Congress from critics of the program.

“We have put together an ad hoc, bipartisan hearing on domestic surveillance in on the Capitol. We plan to have critics of the program come in and give their view – from the left and the right.”

Grayson said the hearing had bipartisan support, and was backed by the Republican congressman Justin Amash, whose draft the amendment that was narrowly defeated.

“Mr Amash has declared an interest in the hearing. There are several others who have a libertarian bent – largely the same people who represented the minority of Republicans who decided to vote in favour of the Amash amendment.”

The hearing will take place at the same time as a Senate hearing into the NSA’s activities. That will feature Gen Alexander and possibly his deputy, Chris Inglis, as well as senior officials from the Department of Justice and FBI.

The simultaneous timing of the hearings will lead to a notable juxtaposition between opponents and defenders of the government’s surveillance activities.

“Both Congress and the American people deserve to hear both sides of the story,” Grayson said. “There has been constant misleading information – and worse than that, the occasional outright lie – from the so-called intelligence community in their extreme, almost hysterical efforts, to defend these programmes.”

Although not a formal committee hearing, Grayson’s event will take place on Capitol Hill, and composed of a panel of around a dozen members of Congress from both parties.

Grayson said those testifying would include the American Civil Liberties Union as well as representatives from the right-leaning Cato Institute.

“They are both going to come in and make it clear that this programme is not authorised by existing law – and if it were authorised by existing law, that law would be unconstitutional,” Grayson said.

The congressman added that Glenn Greenwald, the Guardian journalist who first revealed details of the surveillance programmes leaked by Snowden, had also been invited to testify via video-link from his base in Rio.

“Even today, most people in America are unaware of the fact the government is receiving a record of every call that they make, even to the local pizzeria,” Grayson said.

“I think that most people simply don’t understand that, despite the news coverage, which my view has been extremely unfocused. There has been far too much discussion of the leaker, and not enough discussion of the leak.”

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The Poverty Line: The Minimum Wage Doesn’t Apply to Everyone

July 26, 2013
by John Light

This week marked the four-year anniversary of the last time Congress increased the minimum wage — from $5.15 in 2007 to $7.25 in 2009. Groups demonstrated across the country, demanding increases at both the state and federal level. President Obama pledged that he would continue to press for an increase in his economic policy speech at Knox College.

But there’s another problem: Millions of working Americans make less than minimum wage. In fact, more Americans are exempt from it than actually earn it.

The Pew Research Center examined Bureau of Labor Statistics data and found that about one and a half million Americans earned the minimum wage in 2012, but nearly two million people earned an hourly wage that was even less than $7.25 an hour. These workers, for one reason or another, are exempted from the part of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FSLA) that requires employers to pay at least the minimum wage, and include tipped workers and many domestic workers, as well as workers on small farms, some seasonal workers and some disabled workers.

The largest of these exempted groups is tipped employees, many of whom work in food service. Today, tipped employees earn just $2.13 an hour — the rationale being that tips cover the rest. In fact, some of these workers do earn a reasonable living through their tips, but, as Saru Jayaraman, co-founder and director of the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, told us, many don’t.

“Imagine your average server in an IHOP in Texas earning $2.13 an hour, graveyard shift, no tips,” she said. “The company’s supposed to make up the difference between $2.13 and $7.25 but time and time again that doesn’t happen.”

The Obama administration proposal laid out in the State of the Union calling for $9 an hour also called for an increase in the minimum wage for tipped workers, and for that increase to be indexed to inflation. At the moment, the minimum for tipped workers has not changed for 22 years, because, in 1996, Congress detached tipped worker wages from the normal minimum wage at the bidding of the National Restaurant Association — a powerful lobbying organization headed, at the time, by Herman Cain. This leaves millions of tipped workers — a group that is mostly women — living in poverty.

Unemployment BenefitsUnemployment Benefits

Another large subset of American workers exempted from both minimum wage and overtime pay is domestic workers who provide “companionship services.” The actual duties of these workers range from providing medical care to the disabled and the elderly to helping with basic tasks like eating, dressing and bathing, shopping, transportation and cooking.

The “companionship” exemption was first created in 1974, when the FSLA was extended to cover domestic workers. At the time, in-home caregiving was a relatively small industry. But it’s grown; in 2011 the National Employment Law Project estimated that about 1.7 million Americans fell under the exemption. On Tuesday, hundreds of domestic workers rallied near the Department of Labor headquarters, urging newly confirmed labor secretary Thomas Perez to take action and extend to them the same workplace protections almost all other Americans enjoy. Vice President Joe Biden expressed his support for doing so last month, as did Obama in 2011.

Three and a half million workers make either minimum wage or less than it — that’s at most $15,080 a year, well below the poverty line for a family of two — and millions more Americans make something only slightly above it. Raising the minimum wage to $10.10 by 2015 , as many of the protests this week urged, would mean higher wages for the 21.3 million Americans who make less than that. The Economic Policy Institute blog reports that it would create a ripple effect, leading to higher wages for a total of 14.2 percent of all U.S. workers, creating a mild economic stimulus, helping to close the gender pay gap and decreasing income inequality.

Economic Policy Institute.

Recent polling has found that the majority of Americans, regardless of political party affiliation, support an increase to $10.10. And if Congress makes the (what seems at the moment unlikely) decision to take action and raise the minimum wage, pulling millions out of poverty, they should also reexamine the loopholes that exclude some two million American workers from the minimum.

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Eric Holder Puts Texas On Notice: Everyone’s Voting Rights Will Be Respected

By: Hrafnkell Haraldsson
Jul. 26th, 2013
PoliticusUSA

Eric Holder TexasRepublicans, busily advancing a partisan political agenda by passing draconian anti-voter laws – an agenda designed to put and keep Republicans in office in 2014 and beyond – are crying foul over Attorney General Eric Holder’s move to make Texas voting change laws subject to federal approval.

Holder said yesterday in a speech to the National Urban League in Philadelphia that “we believe that the state of Texas should be required to go through a preclearance process whenever it changes its voting laws and practices.”

Texas, Holder said, has a history of “pervasive voting-related discrimination against racial minorities.”

He said to a chorus of cheers, “today, I am announcing that the Justice Department will ask a federal court in Texas to subject the State of Texas to a pre-clearance regime, similar to the one required by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.”

Sen John Cornyn (R-TX) says – yes, he did go there – that Holder is advancing a “partisan political agenda.”

Because Republicans lose if everybody – not just white people – is allowed to vote – that’s all wanting to let everybody vote could be, right?

Christian nationalist Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), who wants to ignore the Constitution to turn the United States into a theocracy controlled by his thuggish religious extremist pals, said Holder’s action is just more of the Justice Department’s “longstanding pattern of refusing to follow the law.”

    Likewise, Holder continues to attack voter ID laws, even though the Supreme Court has concluded that voter ID laws are supported by multiple interests that are ‘unquestionably relevant to the State’s interest in protecting the integrity and reliability of the electoral process.’

Having done all in his power to sow a racial divide by ensuring minorities have no say in who runs the state, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbot announced that the Obama administration is “sowing racial divide.”

Republicans are acting like the Supreme Court’s Voting Right Act decision has given free rein to their fantasies of a Texas (and North Carolina – the old Confederacy really) becoming once again a whites-only club. But Holder said,

    Even as Congress considers updates to the Voting Rights Act in light of the court’s ruling, we plan, in the meantime, to fully utilize the law’s remaining sections to ensure that the voting rights of all American citizens are protected.

The goal does not sound partisan at all. The key here is the word “all citizens” – which stands in start contrast to the Republican goal of “all white citizens.”

Showing what he thinks of our democracy, Abbot calls the demand that everyone being allowed to vote “political theater.”

Holder wants a federal court in San Antonio to require the state of Texas to obtain prior approval for changes to voting laws. The Justice Department argued in its filing that, “in every redistricting cycle since 1970, courts have similarly found that one or more of Texas’ statewide redistricting plans violated the voting guarantees of the Constitution or provisions of the Voting Rights Act.”

If he gets his way, this preapproval requirement would be in effect for 10 years and “beyond 10 years in the event of further discriminatory acts.”

Of course, Rick Perry, who has previously announced that democracy will no longer be tolerated in Texas, said in a statement,

    Once again, the Obama Administration is demonstrating utter contempt for our country’s system of checks and balances, not to mention the U.S. Constitution. This end-run around the Supreme Court undermines the will of the people of Texas, and casts unfair aspersions on our state’s common-sense efforts to preserve the integrity of our elections process.

The Republican Party will learn that the Obama administration will not surrender meekly to its injustices, or to the theft of our precious democracy.

We, as liberal-minded Americans, are fighting for our collective future, for the promise of the Constitution’s promise of the equality of all before the law.

Republicans are fighting for the continuation and re-implementation of white privilege, an artifact not of a modern liberal democracy, but of racial and religious bigotry and hatred – a byproduct of an era -the old Confederacy – long overdue for the dustbin of history.

************

Perry slams ‘utter contempt’ of Holder’s Voting Rights Act lawsuit

By Stephen C. Webster
RawStory
Friday, July 26, 2013 16:19 EDT

Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) slammed the “utter contempt” of a lawsuit brought against the state by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder under Section 3 of the Voting Rights Act, saying the government’s effort to prevent Texas Republicans from discriminating against minorities flies in the face of the Constitution.

Holder announced the lawsuit in a Thursday morning speech to the National Urban League in Philadelphia, saying he would use all the tools available to him in the law to fight against racial discrimination.

“Once again, the Obama Administration is demonstrating utter contempt for our country’s system of checks and balances, not to mention the U.S. Constitution,” Perry said in a statement published online. “This end-run around the Supreme Court undermines the will of the people of Texas, and casts unfair aspersions on our state’s common-sense efforts to preserve the integrity of our elections process.”

Fellow Texas Republicans Sen. John Cornyn (R) and Rep. Dan Branch echoed Perry’s sentiment. Branch, who is running for Texas attorney general, went even further, saying the Obama administration is now discriminating against Texas. “The reason for this gross insult to the people of Texas is simple,” Branch wrote. “This is really about the Obama administration’s partisan opposition to voter ID laws and other efforts to combat voter fraud.”

The U.S. Supreme Court struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act in June, saying the guidelines for determining what constitutes a historically discriminatory jurisdiction must be updated to modern times. Officials in Texas announced immediately thereafter that plans for a voter ID scheme and newly redrawn congressional districts would move forward.

However, the Justice Department still has license to enforce the Voting Rights Act thanks to Section 3, a portion of the Voting Rights Act that the Supreme Court left standing. Section 3 of the Voting Rights Act is particularly troublesome to politicians like Perry, especially when they’re making proclamations of constitutionality. That’s because Section 3 specifically looks to enforce the 14th and 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

It does that by requiring preclearance for changes in voting laws, provided there’s actual evidence of intent to discriminate against minority communities. A federal court ruled in 2011 that the state’s redistricting efforts were in fact discriminatory, based upon emails between Republicans in the state who demonstrated clear discriminatory intent.

If a court rules in favor of Holder, it could send the whole dispute over the Voting Rights Act back to the Supreme Court. It would also send Texas Republicans back to the drawing board, facing newly resurgent Democrats and a gubernatorial election that could end up in a nail-biter depending upon who Democrats run.

**********

House Republicans Are on the Hook for Killing 1.6 Million Jobs

By: Sarah Jones
Jul. 26th, 2013
PoliticusUSA

Want jobs? Get Congress to end sequestration.

Representative Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), the ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee, requested an analysis of the costs of the sequester cuts – something I’ve been asking around for since they took place to no avail.

Guess what? The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) reiterated their projections about the sequester slowing growth, and estimated that the Republican inflicted spending cuts would cost up to 1.6 million jobs if left in place through fiscal 2014.

The CBO determined that canceling sequester cuts would create between 300,000 (.3 million) to 1.6 million new jobs. Gee, we’ll take it! Sounds pretty good to us.

Their break down:

    Those figures represent CBO’s central estimates, which correspond to the assumption that key parameters of economic behavior (in particular, the extent to which higher federal spending boosts aggregate demand in the short term) equal the midpoints of the ranges used by CBO. The full ranges CBO uses for those parameters suggest that, in the third quarter of calendar year 2014, real GDP could be between 0.2 percent and 1.2 percent higher, and employment 0.3 million to 1.6 million higher, under the proposal than under current law. Because those estimates indicate the effects of a prospective change in law, they do not encompass the full impact of the sequestration that has already occurred.

The sequester was always a Republican dream, and Republican Budget God Paul Ryan (R-WI) has been championing it since 2004.

On August 1, 2011, Paul Ryan went on Fox News to crow that he finally got his way when sequestration was put into place via the 2011 congressional debt ceiling deal. Yes, that’s right. We got there because House Republicans were holding the economy hostage over raising the debt ceiling because they didn’t want to pay for the things they’d already bought.

Paul Ryan and Eric Cantor (R-VA) admitted that they were the force behind sequestration when they admitted that they got House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) to walk away from the Grand Bargain because they were unwilling to give on any revenue at all. Their way or the highway. (Caving to Ryan and Cantor was the beginning of the end for John Boehner’s legacy as Speaker.)

So, Paul Ryan and House Republicans believed that sequestration was the Holy Randian Grail of austerity gold — the economy would trickle down once they got their way! They got their way, and nonpartisans are saying their way sucks for jobs, which are the driving force of the purchasing power of middle America, which is also known as the market; aka, consumers.

Thanks to House Republicans, we could lose up to 1.6 million jobs by fiscal 2014. Gosh, that’s a heck of a campaign slogan to hand to Democrats, but luckily for Republicans, they are gerrymandered into districts where their base doesn’t trust anyone but Fox News.

Meanwhile the rest of the nation suffers due to Republicans catering to pockets of low information voters while they line their pockets and enjoy the healthcare we provide for them.

The fiscal year ends September 30, so this could really give Republicans something to do for once when they come home from the appropriately named “recess”. But we all know that House Republicans aren’t thinking about how to reconcile the budget, because they’ve got extortion on their minds. They’ve already announced their plans to hold our economy hostage again over ObamaCare. Republicans won’t pay off our debts for money they already spent until the law of the land is defunded because they don’t like it.

It looks like there’s no time out long enough to help House Republicans learn how to play appropriately with others.

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Obama Challenges Republicans To a Good Old Fashioned Budget Street Fight

By: Jason Easley
Jul. 26th, 2013
PoliticusUSA

This week’s group of speeches along with the president’s willingness to shutdown the government show that Obama is challenging Republicans to meet him out back and settle this budget feud once and for all.

President Obama has made it clear that he would like nothing more than to make a deal to get rid of the sequester cuts, but he refuses to deal on Republican terms. Since his opposition is stuck on the word no, the White House has decided to play hardball if Republicans keep demanding nothing but more spending cuts.

According to The Washington Post, “Senior White House officials are discussing a budget strategy that could lead to a government shutdown if Republicans continue to demand deeper spending cuts, lawmakers and Democrats familiar with the administration’s thinking said Thursday. The posture represents a more confrontational approach than that of this spring, when President Obama decided not to escalate a fight over across-the-board reductions known as sequestration in an earlier budget battle with Republicans. The change in tone has been evident in repeated and little-noticed veto threats over the past few weeks by Obama, who has rarely issued the warnings with such frequency. He has made it clear that he will not sign into law Republican spending bills that slash domestic programs even more deeply than sequestration. If Republicans do not relent and the White House sticks to its position, a shutdown would be likely at the end of September, when Congress must authorize a new measure to fund the government.”

Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner responded with his characteristic weakness to the Post story. Boehner’s office is already trying to spin any potential shutdown as Obama’s fault, “This emerging White House strategy is consistent with recent administration threats to veto any spending bill unless Congress agrees to the president’s demand for a broader budget deal with higher taxes and higher spending – the type of explicit threat to shut down the government rarely seen in Washington.”

The part about a the threat of a government shutdown being rarely seen is especially laughable given that Republican Senators threatened to shutdown the government over Obamacare 4 DAYS AGO. Republicans are always threatening to shutdown the government. It’s their go to move. Republicans have threatened a government shutdown during each fiscal cliff and debt ceiling standoff. They are always threatening to shutdown the government.

President Obama isn’t playing along this time. In fact, he is taking the GOP’s favorite move away from them. Obama knows that House Republicans have to run for reelection next year. The president is betting that they don’t have the stomach for a long government shutdown. Republicans will see an advantage in shutting down the government for a little while as a symbolic gesture, but once military pay and Social Security checks don’t go out to millions of Americans they’ll be in a world of hurt.

The White House is cutting to the chase. If they want to pursue their second term agenda, they can’t waste time with this fight. Republicans are already divided on the idea of shutting down the government, and Obama is making bold strategic moves to paint them into a corner.

Barack Obama isn’t running for reelection. He can afford to wait, but the last thing House members want is millions of voters going to the polls with the memory of a government shutdown still fresh in their minds. The White House looks to be readying themselves for a political brawl. While House Republicans waste their time trying to repeal Obamacare, Obama is preparing for a showdown that could determine the outcome of the 2014 election and the direction of the remainder of his second term.

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Chris Christie Hammers Rand Paul As He Defends President Obama

By: Hrafnkell Haraldsson
Jul. 27th, 2013
PoliticusUSA

obama-christieWe all wondered what would happen to the Republican Party after 2012: would it collapse, would it reinvent itself, would it grasp cognitive dissonance to its breast like a baby it’s blanket? The latter seems to have been the most popular response, but lately, the Republican Party has become interesting again.

Why? The looming shadow of 2016 of course, a year to which the GOP has attached a religious significance.

Republicans continue scrambling to position themselves for the next presidential election and hawkish Republicans are pushing back at the libertarian branch of the Republican Party – at least where defense spending is concerned.

In case you missed it, on Thursday, Governor Chris Christie (R-NJ) said Rand Paul (R-KY) is dangerous because libertarians don’t understand the danger of terrorism. Speaking at a Republican governors forum at the Aspen Institute in Aspen Colorado, Christie opined:

    This strain of libertarianism that’s going through parties right now and making big headlines I think is a very dangerous thought. You can name any number of people and (Paul is) one of them.

Christie brought up 9/11:

    These esoteric, intellectual debates — I want them to come to New Jersey and sit across from the widows and the orphans and have that conversation. And they won’t, because that’s a much tougher conversation to have.

    “The next attack that comes, that kills thousands of Americans as a result, people are going to be looking back on the people having this intellectual debate and wondering whether they put …” He let his voice trail off.

Rand Paul’s response to all this is that Chris Christie needs a new dictionary. Doug Stafford, one of Paul’s senior advisers, said in a statement to Politico:

    If Gov. Christie believes the constitutional rights and the privacy of all Americans is ‘esoteric’, he either needs a new dictionary, or he needs to talk to more Americans, because a great number of them are concerned about the dramatic overreach of our government in recent years. Defending America and fighting terrorism is the concern of all Americans, especially Sen. Paul. But it can and must be done in keeping with our Constitution and while protecting the freedoms that make America exceptional.

By Friday, Paul was suggesting Christie was pulling a Charlie Crist, and changing parties.

Christian nationalist Paul then started tweeting, pressing his counter-attack, in the process revealing his incomplete understanding of what the U.S. Constitution means:

    Christie worries about the dangers of freedom. I worry about the danger of losing that freedom. Spying without warrants is unconstitutional.

    — Senator Rand Paul (@SenRandPaul) July 26, 2013

You would think imposing a theocracy on the democracy established by that Constitution is unconstitutional, too. You know, the First Amendment and all….

But hey, Christian nationalists have only an incomplete understanding of the Bible too. What’s an ignorant, white trash bigot going to do?

Other Paul tweets on Friday kept up the pressure:

    Chris (Crist)ie should hear from more Americans who value both security and privacy.

    — Rand Paul (@DrRandPaul) July 26, 2013

    Christie worries about the dangers of freedom. I worry about the danger of losing that freedom. Spying without warrants is unconstitutional.

    — Senator Rand Paul (@SenRandPaul) July 26, 2013

    Rand Paul to Chris Christie: You need to talk to more real Americans – Washington Times: http://t.co/PVvdIKXq9f via @washtimes

    — Senator Rand Paul (@SenRandPaul) July 26, 2013

And on Facebook, Paul said, “Chris Christie thinks freedom is dangerous. What’s dangerous is a foreign policy that borrows from China to pay people who burn our flag in Egypt.”

Ouch. I guess Christie really got him riled up.

Look at the next couple of tweets:

    Does Obama's favorite Republican Chris (Crist)ie support Obama's aiding of al Qaeda allies in Syria?

    — Rand Paul (@DrRandPaul) July 26, 2013

And because Chistie says he is championing the victims of 9/11:

    The President and Chris (Crist)ie need to explain to 9/11 victims their support for Islamic militants in Syria

    — Rand Paul (@DrRandPaul) July 26, 2013

Significantly, Christie hasn’t bothered to respond.

Ironically, Paul is echoing Obama’s rhetoric here by championing freedom with principles. But what is also interesting, is that while attacking Paul, Christie, having already had the president’s back in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, defended Obama – again, at least where foreign policy is concerned.

Of course, what Christie said lines up well with the progressive take on Obama’s foreign policy, in that it is a continuation somehow of that of the Bush administration:

    President Obama has done nothing to change the policies of the Bush administration in the war on terrorism. And I mean practically nothing. And you know why? Cause they work.

Christie says the proof is in the pudding,

    I want to say that I think both the way President Bush conducted himself and the way President Obama has conducted himself in the main on those types of decisions hasn’t been different because they were right, and because we haven’t had another one of those attacks that cost thousands and thousands of lives.

Christie is an interesting guy, a far more complex individual than Rand Paul, the man he is attacking. He is unusual in that he does not toe the doctrinaire line, a line so narrow today that to stray but a tiny bit means not only treason against the United States but to spit in the face of God.

Christie doesn’t seem to care. And he’s crazy like a fox. He no doubt understands that by going his own way, he is providing the only real alternative to the batsh*t crazy wing of the Republican Party – Christian nationalists, Tea Party extremists, and religious zealots. Without having to be very reasonable at all, he comes across as a moderate.

And let’s face it, sanity is a very attractive trait. He no doubt also understands just how unpopular Congress has become, in large part due to Republican extremism, and how unhappy Republicans are with their own party. Of all the potential Republican candidates for president, Chris Christie can get the moderate and independent votes that eluded the perpetually befogged and insincere Mitt Romney.

And Christie picked a good time to strike: Besides libertarianism reflecting a deep rift in the GOP, as David Grant noted at the Christian Science Monitor, Rand Paul hired a white supremacist, Virginia’s AG wants to ban sodomy between married couples, and Ted Cruz is cross-hugging Christian extremists in Iowa, and Rick Perry is engaging in total war on Texas women.

What better time to jump into the middle of the road, or at least as close to it as any Republican has been willing to get lately. Chris Christie is positioning himself as the man to beat in 2016.

As I said, crazy like a fox.

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« Reply #7776 on: Jul 28, 2013, 06:13 AM »


Raped, plundered, ignored: central Africa state where only killers thrive

The Central African Republic is all but lawless, with just 200 police to guard 4.6m people from rebel gangs who attack women, kill men and recruit children at will. Despite repeated warnings, the international community has done little, even as arms continue to flood into the country

Mark Townsend   
The Observer, Saturday 27 July 2013 19.00 BST   
   
The Observer's Mark Townsend journeys into the remote and dangerous north of the country, into the heart of the rebel stronghold, to uncover fresh allegations of summary executions, disappearances and mass rapes Link to video: The Central African Republic: a country abandoned to its fate

Link to video: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/video/2013/jul/27/the-central-african-republic-a-country-abandoned-to-its-fate-video

It was dusk when armed Seleka rebels dragged the teenager from the road leading north towards Kobe. They pulled her into the jungle and raped her for several hours. She was abandoned near Route Nationale 10 and, after stumbling into the town of Kaga-Bandoro, was taken to hospital. "There were five of them raping her until they tore her vagina. Her family paid the [hospital] expenses until she got well," said her friend, Lisa Moussa, 17.

Moussa was more fortunate. As soon as she saw the rebels, she began running. They tried to kill her, shooting until she stumbled and fell. The gang caught her and frogmarched her to a police station and threatened to rape her until her father paid 6,000 Central African francs (£7.90) for her release.

Moussa lives in the Camp Fleur district of Kaga-Bandoro, a town deep in the jungle of the CAR, which was tipped into anarchy when the Seleka rebels overthrew the government and seized power four months ago. The UN has declared the entire 4.6 million population to be victims and the country among its most dangerous destinations. Its refugee agency has called it the "most neglected crisis in the world". Médecins Sans Frontières warns that the country had been effectively "abandoned to its fate".

Although lootings and killings have been widely documented in the capital, Bangui, reports detailing the extent of the atrocities being committed in the country's vast hinterland remain scant, particularly in the north, where the Seleka uprising began.

Roads are impassable due to banditry and the rainy season. Kaga-Bandoro, 300km north of the capital, can only be reached via a mud airstrip, landing straight into a rebel stronghold where the rule of law has collapsed completely. Evidence of human rights abuses in the far north are clear. Seleka rebels have repeatedly mass-raped the region's women, say locals. Women are said to have been killed for refusing to have sex or surrender their food. Men have been summarily executed, tortured or have simply disappeared, witnesses say. Children have been recruited and, according to witnesses, provide a substantial proportion of the armed gangs. The Seleka rebels, it seems, are becoming more numerous and more violent. In the remote north, war crimes against civilians continue to be committed.

Events in Kaga-Bandoro were not only foretold but could have been prevented. Yet the international community refused to heed the escalating security warnings or answer requests for increased humanitarian funding. Europe's arms companies, with Britain a principal player, continued to flood the country, which has the world's second-lowest life expectancy, with military hardware.

Even inside Kaga-Bandoro's hospital they were not safe. The Seleka stormed the grounds in mid-April and, according to hospital worker Henrietta Kiringuinza, 44, began raping patients. Staff fled as the rebels destroyed the hospital's three ambulances and looted everything, including lamps, refrigerators, medicine – even hospital beds. Farmer Philippe Benezon, 63, recently carried one of his six daughters, who was heavily pregnant, 10km from the village of Botto to the hospital. "There was no ambulance. We were bringing her by foot, but her baby died on the way. When we got to the hospital they took the baby from her belly."

Women appear to be the main target of the rebels. "Most of the time women are the victims of the atrocities. They attack them, sexually abuse them, rape them," said Thibault Ephrem, 25, who lives in Kaga-Bandoro. He had heard that women who refused their advances had been hacked to death with machetes. "If they want them or to get food and the woman says no, then she can be killed."

The Seleka seem to attack most frequently at night, prowling the streets of Kaga-Bandoro to abduct women and girls. "In our Abdala neighbourhood, if you go anywhere late at night when you are on your way back home they capture you or shoot you," said Moussa.

Kiringuinza said the rebels would melt away, only to suddenly return, beating people randomly and shooting throughout the night so "we are unable to sleep". Albert Vanbuel, the town's Catholic bishop, said Kaga-Bandoro's 26,000 population were trapped in a state of terror. Vanbuel says they have been utterly abandoned by the international community, allowing the Seleka to commit war crimes against civilians with impunity.

"There is nobody to help the population. There are no authorities, no militaries. When you resist, they kill you," he said.

It is impossible to verify how many people have been killed in Kaga-Bandoro, though Vanbuel believes the figure to be between 50 and 100. Ephrem says he knows of about 100, pointing to a looted petrol station whose owner was dragged on to the forecourt and shot. Benezon described how men were shot in the chest at close range and tortured. He had found bodies killed by the rebels, but how many lie undiscovered in the jungle is unknown. Similarly, how many have disappeared, taken into the jungle to never return, is impossible to ascertain. "We don't see them again, they just take them," said Vanbuel, who believes 60,000 of the region's 130,000 may now be hiding in the jungle.

It is also unclear how many have perished from illness, succumbing to a diet of roots and the leaves of manioc plants. At night the tens of thousands decamped within the jungle are impossible to locate – the CAR is regarded as the least light-polluted country in the world, its darkness due to its lack of development. By day, the exodus has rendered Kaga-Bandoro strangely silent. Outlying villages lie deserted, torched to the ground. Even the sprawling UN compound 3km from the town has been looted, its food stores pillaged. Mother of seven Marguerite Mallot, 57, said: "They burned my son's house that he uses for selling some things, everything is burned."

Attacks continue. "They are still taking people's sheep, food and any other stuff by force. If you try to say anything, they point a gun at you," added Mallot. "They break into your house and take your stuff and if you say anything they beat you and tie you up," said Kiringuinza.

Anyone whose task was to monitor events in the CAR knew the atrocities were close to inevitable. The UN security council was first briefed last December over a rebel offensive involving a coalition called Seleka operating from the settlements north of Kaga-Bandoro. During the next six months it would be briefed seven times over Seleka's evolving threat. No effective action was agreed.

In the UN field office in Bangui, however, officials were becoming acutely concerned over the effectiveness of a plan to pay off fighters who agreed to disarm. Exactly one year – on 14 December 2011 – before the UN security council received its initial assessment on Seleka, officials in Bangui told the security council that a lack of funding to complete the disarmament process could push the country "to the brink of disaster".

On 4 April 2012, and evidently starting to panic, the UN office in the republic hastily organised a donors' conference. According to a security council report pledges were made by just two countries: Luxembourg offered £67,000 and Australia £134,000, despite £14.2m being required to complete the disarmament and reintegration process.

When questioned last week, the UN said that around 5,000 former fighters were disbanded under the programme. Yet the Observer has learned that practically none were Seleka. The lack of money meant that the entire north-east – where Seleka drew their fighters – was left untouched. "The disarmament process for the north-east could not start because no fund was available," the UN confirmed. Further pleas from the UN office in Bangui followed: the country was at a "critical juncture" and needed outside help. Tensions among the thousands of fighters amassed in the north were growing, voicing frustrations that promises made under a peace deal had not materialised. Late last year five rebel groups elected to amalgamate forces: Seleka was born.

Still, the international community did nothing. Interest in the CAR remained negligible, a malaise perhaps symbolised by the fact that the Twitter following for the UN office in Bangui stands at 14. Britain, along with the CAR's colonial owner France, is among those accused of neglecting the country. A Foreign Office source said he could not recall if a UK minister had ever visited the country. The British ambassador is based in Cameroon, 500 miles away. In January the Africa minister, Mark Simmonds, told parliament the UK was "active" on the ultimately ineffectual security council discussion on the CAR. What he didn't say was that the UK cuts its annual aid to the republic from £2.7m to £1.29m two years ago, though an emergency £5m package is expected to be announced by the Department for International Development this week.

Fundraising attempts have been characterised by failure. A UN request for £129m of aid received £40m. A recent Unicef emergency appeal outlined a need for £21m, but received under £6m.

Swimming against the tide is Kristalina Georgieva, the European commissioner for humanitarian aid and crisis response, who admitted being motivated by "guilt" and a sense that the world had turned its back on the CAR. Georgieva, who recently visited the country, has secured an emergency £4m aid package and says a "much more forceful contribution from the international community" is needed. "I pray that other donors will follow suit," she added. There is a darker narrative rarely mentioned by ministers or commissioners, however. Bangui-based Pascal Hounier, of the European Commission's humanitarian department, said: "Arms are flooding into the country. There were many AK47s, now there are rocket-propelled grenades and heavy weaponry. If someone wants to buy a weapon in CAR, it's very easy, $10 to $20." A study of the UK arms export licences revealed that eight months ago an unknown quantity of cryptographic equipment was sent from Britain to CAR. Earlier orders include an official consignment of military vehicles. One UK export to CAR for explosives and "bombing devices", used an open licence, meaning the actual amount of hardware sent is unknown.

Since 2005 the UK has been the fourth largest European exporter of arms to the CAR. Equally alarming is the role of Britain as the key supplier of arms to the increasingly unstable region of central Africa. Britain is Europe's largest arms exporter to Uganda and the third largest to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, both CAR neighbours. The Seleka rebellion has been boosted by large numbers of foreign fighters and warlords from Chad and Sudan. Britain is the fourth largest supplier of arms to Chad and the second largest to Sudan, both officially classified as "countries of concern" by the Foreign Office. Almost £670,000 of mainly tanks and vehicles have been sent to Chad, while the UK government last year approved £7.6m of military export licences to Sudan including weapon sight mounts. The UK has emerged as the second largest exporter of arms to the volatile, embryonic state of South Sudan – and its sole supplier of explosive devices.

To the east another threat is starting to emerge. Below the canopy of forests that smother eastern CAR, the cult-like militia of Joseph Kony is on the move. Attempts to catch the leader of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), once the focus of the world's largest manhunt, have become clouded with doubt. Seleka have refused to cooperate, compromising the efforts of 100 US special forces and 3,000 mainly Ugandan troops to capture the warlord, who is accused of abducting tens of thousands of children and hacking off civilians' limbs, lips and noses.

"The threat is moving north. For weeks we have seen an increase in attacks. If we have a state in crisis who cannot push back the LRA, we can expect more attacks. If CAR becomes a safe haven, then it's a real problem for the country and the region," said Hounier.

Kony's reliance on child soldiers has been mimicked by Seleka. Witnesses in Kaga-Bandoro describe youngsters involved in the killings. The concern is that a state with no functioning schools and minimal employment prospects will lead to a generation of youngsters joining the rebels. Hounier added: "More children are joining and it gets more difficult to get them back. There has been a lot of recruitment." Signs indicate that the Seleka are mushrooming into a significant force, their fighting strength of 5,000 now thought to have quadrupled.

Scores of child soldiers have been rescued and are being rehabilitated in a centre near Bangui. Papy Kabwe of the centre confirmed that every Seleka chief had an allocation of children that they used in the recent killings.

In Bangui, the atmosphere remains tense. Despite assurances that armed militia have been removed from the streets, convoys of gangs can be seen speeding through its suburbs and are blamed for looting and indiscriminate shootings. The country's infrastructure has been effectively demolished. Human rights groups say the justice system has been dismantled, the prisons destroyed. The army has been disbanded. Just 200 policemen are left in the entire country.

But it is away from the capital where the crisis is most pronounced. Malnutrition rates have skyrocketed and malaria cases have risen by 30% since the Seleka assumed control. Latest assessments reveal 484,000 people at risk of food insecurity, with more than 206,000 people displaced . Georgieva warns of a "multi-headed monster" of armed groups running amok in a state the size of France, free to plunder as they wish.

The likes of Moussa can do little but wait for the rebels to return.

A NATION IN CRISIS

10 December 2012

First attacks are launched by the Seleka alliance against several towns in the north of the Central African Republic, one of the poorest countries in the world.

14 January 2013

Seleka rebels agree to a ceasefire with President François Bozizé on the grounds that political prisoners are released and fighters paid.

12 February

Initial reports of looted and empty villages in rebel-held territory in the CAR, with residents describing intimidation by armed groups.

24 March

Seleka rebels, left, capture the capital, Bangui, the president flees to Cameroon, and Michel Djotodia is named the new president. Warlords from Chad and Sudan are prominent among the governing militia.

July

Humanitarian groups voice concern at the deepening crisis inside the country. With the infrastructure destroyed, health officials note a 30% increase in malaria cases. Food insecurity and malnutrition rise. At least 70% of HIV-positive patients and half of TB sufferers no longer receive their medication.


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« Reply #7777 on: Jul 28, 2013, 06:16 AM »

Yemeni Reporter Who Exposed U.S. Drone Strike Freed from Prison After Being Jailed at Obama’s Request

By Diane Sweet
CrooksAndLiars
July28 2013

Prominent Yemeni journalist Abdulelah Haider Shaye has been released from prison after being held for three years on terrorism-related charges at the request of President Obama. Shaye helped expose the U.S. cruise missile attack on the Yemeni village of al-Majalah that killed 41 people, including 14 women and 21 children in December 2009. Then-Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh announced his intention to pardon Shaye in 2011, but apparently changed his mind after a phone call from Obama. In a statement, the White House now says it is "concerned and disappointed" by Shaye’s release. "We should let that statement set in: The White House is saying that they are disappointed and concerned that a Yemeni journalist has been released from a Yemeni prison," says Jeremy Scahill, national security correspondent for The Nation, who covers Shaye’s case in "Dirty Wars," his new book and film by the same name. "This is a man who was put in prison because he had the audacity to expose a U.S. cruise missile attack that killed three dozen women and children."

"Shaye’s release Tuesday reportedly comes in the form of a presidential pardon that requires him to remain in Sana’a for two years," explains Amy Goodman. "This could prevent him from traveling to the sites of U.S. drone strikes in Yemen, a topic he has previously reported on. Shaye was first imprisoned in 2010 after he helped expose the United States’ role in a 2009 cruise missile attack on the Yemeni village of al-Majalah that killed 41 people, including 14 women and 21 children. The Yemeni government initially took credit for the strike, saying it had targeted an al-Qaeda training camp. But it was later revealed through WikiLeaks cables that it was in fact a U.S. attack."

"First of all, we should—we should let that statement set in," begins Jeremy Scahill. "The White House is saying that they are disappointed and concerned that a Yemeni journalist has been released from a Yemeni prison. The White House is citing his conviction, that he supposedly was a supporter of al-Qaeda, in a kangaroo court, a court that was condemned by every major international media freedom organization, every major international human rights organization, that it was a total sham trial, where he was kept in a cage during the course of his prosecution and was convicted on trumped-up charges. So, Mr. Constitutional Law Professor President is saying that this Yemeni court, that has been condemned by every international human rights organization in the world, is somehow legitimate."

    "Secondly, when I’ve asked the White House and the State Department for a shred of evidence that Abdulelah Haider Shaye was guilty of anything other than journalism, critical journalism, they won’t provide it. They just say what they often do: "State secrets. Trust us."'

    "The fact is, Abdulelah Haider Shaye is a journalist who did very critical interviews with people like Anwar al-Awlaki. If you go back and you read his interviews with Awlaki, he’s challenging him on his praise of the underwear bomb attempt, saying, "But that was a plane full of civilians. How was that a legitimate target?" In fact, I would put forward that Abdulelah Haider Shaye asked more critical questions of figures within the al-Qaeda organization in Yemen than a single member of the "Caviar Correspondents Association" in the United States, those jokers who sit in the front row and pretend to play journalists on television."

    "This was a man who was put in prison because he had the audacity to expose a U.S. cruise missile attack that killed three dozen women and children. And the United States had tried to cover it up. They had the Yemeni government take responsibility for the strikes. The U.S. role was not initially owned. They said that they had blown up an al-Qaeda training camp. The reality was, women and children were killed. And why do we know that? We know it for two reasons. One is because Abdulelah Haider Shaye went to the scene, he took photographs of what were clearly U.S. cruise missile parts with "General Dynamics" on them, "Made in the United States" on them, and because of the WikiLeaks cables showing that General David Petraeus, who at the time was the CENTCOM commander, conspired with the Yemeni dictator, Ali Abdullah Saleh, for the United States to begin bombing Yemen in the form of drones and cruise—drone strikes and cruise missile strikes and to have the Yemeni government publicly take responsibility for it. So when Abdulelah Haider Shaye exposed this and it became clear to the world that the Obama administration was starting to bomb Yemen, he was abducted by Yemen’s U.S.-backed political security forces. He was taken to a jail and beaten and told that if he continued to report on the U.S. bombing campaign in Yemen, that he would be put back in jail. He went straight from his beating onto the airwaves of Al Jazeera and said, "I was just abducted by Yemen security forces, and they threatened me." And then, some months later, his house was raided in a night raid, and he was snatched and disappeared for 30 days. He was then brought into a court that was set up specifically to prosecute journalists who had committed crimes against the U.S.-backed dictatorship and was sentenced to five years in that court."

    "So, my question for the White House would be: You want to co-sign a dictator’s arrest of a journalist, beating of a journalist, and conviction in a court that every human rights organization in the world has said was a sham court? That’s the side that the White House is on right now, not on the side of press freedom around the world. They’re on the side of locking up journalists who have the audacity to actually be journalists."
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« Reply #7778 on: Jul 28, 2013, 06:23 AM »


Egypt: scores killed as army launches offensive against Muslim Brotherhood

Over 100 supporters claimed dead as soldiers are accused of shoot-to-kill policy to clear protest urging Morsi's release

Patrick Kingsley in Cairo and Peter Beaumont   
The Observer, Saturday 27 July 2013 18.26 BST   

Link to video: Egypt: '100 Muslim Brotherhood members killed' in Cairo

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/video/2013/jul/27/egypt-100-muslim-brotherhood-killed-video

Egyptian security forces and armed men in plain clothes killed scores of Muslim Brotherhood protesters on Saturday as the brutal and organised crackdown on the Islamist party and its supporters appeared to be gathering pace.

In what is the worst single mass killing in Egypt since the fall of president Hosni Mubarak two-and-a-half years ago, a Brotherhood spokesman said 66 of the party's supporters were shot and killed on the fringes of a sit-in at a Cairo mosque demanding the return of former president Mohamed Morsi, who was deposed on 3 July, and another 61 were "brain dead" on life-support machines. Government officials claim that the number of dead was 65, a death toll greater than the Republican Guards massacre on 8 July that saw 51 killed.

The deaths came as men in helmets and black police fatigues fired on crowds gathered before dawn on the fringes of a round-the-clock sit-in near a mosque in north-east Cairo, Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood movement said.

"They are not shooting to wound, they are shooting to kill," said Brotherhood spokesman Gehad el-Haddad. "The bullet wounds are in the head and chest."

The latest violence came amid the continuing sharp polarisation within Egyptian society that has made the country increasingly ungovernable. Elsewhere on Friday, eight people were reported killed in clashes in Alexandria.

The latest violence was condemned by members of the international community. The head of European Union foreign policy, Baroness Ashton, said she "deeply deplored" the latest deaths, while Britain's foreign secretary William Hague said: "Now is the time for dialogue, not confrontation. It is the responsibility of leaders on all sides to take steps to reduce tensions."

The dead and injured were ferried into a makeshift field hospital near the Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque, where the floor was slick with blood.

In a bizarre episode, most western journalists in the country were invited on a helicopter ride over Cairo's Tahrir Square an hour before the massacre began. After the killings, the ministry of the interior denied it had used live ammunition on demonstrators, despite eyewitness accounts from journalists, including BBC correspondents, who were present during the killings.

"There must have been an injury every minute," said Mosa'ab Elshamy, a photojournalist unaffiliated with the Brotherhood, who photographed the attack for half an hour at around 4am.

"I did not see any Morsi supporters with [firearms] at this point," he added. "I hid behind a tree, and all I saw were Morsi supporters throwing stones, or fireworks, or throwing teargas canisters."

The shootings occurred as the interior minister, Mohamed Ibrahim, said that Morsi – who has been held incommunicado at an army base for the last three weeks – was being moved to Torah prison, where Mubarak is also being held. He added, chillingly, that the pro-Morsi sit-ins in Cairo would be "God willing, soon … dealt with. With regards to the timing to disperse the protesters, there is complete co-ordination between us and the armed forces."

On Friday, civilian prosecutors announced they had launched an investigation into Morsi on charges of murder and conspiring with the Palestinian militant group Hamas. At the heart of the case are allegations that Morsi and the Brotherhood worked with Hamas to carry out an attack on a prison that succeeded in breaking Morsi and around 30 other members of the group out of detention during the 2011 uprising against Mubarak. The attack killed 14 inmates.

During the three weeks Morsi has spent in secret detention, he has been extensively interrogated by military intelligence officials about the inner workings of his presidency and of the Brotherhood. They have been seeking to prove that he committed crimes, including handing state secrets to the Islamist group. According to the Associated Press, briefed by unidentified military officials, Morsi has been moved three times under heavy guard and is currently in a facility outside Cairo.

The lethal assault on the Muslim Brotherhood's supporters came after national demonstrations called by the chief of the army, General Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, to give him backing to confront "violence" and "terrorism" – understood by many to be a thinly veiled code for a crackdown on the Brotherhood.

Although there is bitter dispute over how the violence began, and whether some of the Brotherhood supporters had weapons, most independent witnesses reported that most of the gunfire was being directed at those associated with the sit-in.

A leading figure in the Brotherhood, Mohamed el-Beltagy, has blamed the violence on Sisi's call for demonstrations on Friday.

"This is the mandate Sisi took last night to commit massacres and bloodshed against peaceful protesters denouncing the military coup," el-Beltagy said in a statement on his Facebook page.

On Saturday afternoon police released helicopter footage purporting to show Muslim Brotherhood members firing sporadically on police.

The clashes began after hundreds of Morsi supporters moved out of their encampment outside the Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque late on Friday and towards a bridge in central Cairo.

One group began to set up tents on an adjoining boulevard, where they were planning to stay for at least three days, said Mahmoud Zaqzouq, a Muslim Brotherhood spokesman.

************

Egypt: 'The injuries were very precise … the snipers were shooting to kill'

The crush of dead and injured in the field hospitals was so intense that exhausted doctors struggled to cope

Patrick Kingsley   
The Observer, Saturday 27 July 2013 21.54 BST   

By early Saturday afternoon, there were so many corpses arriving at Cairo's Zeinhom mortuary that the street outside was blocked with a queue of orange ambulances. Inside one of them, mechanical engineer Mohamed Khamis waited with the body of his 15-year-old son, Omar, shot in the head by police.

"He will go back to school this autumn, God willing," said Mohamed, struggling to come to terms with Omar's death, his hands still covered in his son's dried blood.

Six hours earlier, both father and son had been surveying the scene of Cairo's most recent massacre. They had taken care to avoid the frontline, but suddenly they heard gunfire close by. Mohamed turned to run.

"And as I turned, I felt him fall on my shoulder," said Mohamed, his body shaking slightly. "I put my hand out to catch him and his head fell on my hand. I felt his crushed skull. There was blood on the floor. He was already dead."

Omar Khamis was one of at least 100 pro-Mohamed Morsi supporters killed by state officials in an eight-hour-long massacre on Saturday morning – Egypt's second mass killing of Islamists in three weeks. In post-revolutionary Cairo, now more divided than ever after the toppling of Morsi on 3 July, the narrative of history is rarely straightforward. On Saturday the city was awash with claims and counterclaims about whether the bloody events had been provoked.

According to Egypt's interior ministry, pro-Morsi supporters, who have camped in their tens of thousands outside the Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque in east Cairo since Morsi's removal, tried to extend their camp at around midnight on Friday as far as the nearby memorial for another of the country's fallen presidents, Anwar Sadat, who was assassinated in 1981. Officials said the protesters had fired live ammunition at police when they tried to clear the alleged new campsite, which forced the police to respond in kind.

But the protesters have a different story – that two separate pro-Morsi marches returning to Rabaa al-Adawiya after circling the surrounding area found the site so crammed that they could not re-enter it. Many were forced instead to sit down outside Sadat's memorial, several hundred metres up the road.

Then officers and armed men dressed in civilian clothing started to fire on them from a flyover beyond the memorial – first, with teargas and shotgun pellets.

Fearing that if they left their position the police would seek to take the camp itself, Morsi's supporters – many of them from the Muslim Brotherhood – responded with rocks, fireworks and spent teargas canisters. The fighting lasted from the small hours of the morning until 8am or 9am. No state officials were reported to have been killed.

"There must have been an injury every minute," said Mosa'ab Elshamy, a photojournalist unaffiliated with the Morsi movement, who photographed the Islamists' frontline for half an hour at around 4am.

"I did not see any Morsi supporters with [firearms] at this point," said Elshamy, while refusing to rule out the possibility that some may have been firing live ammunition. "I hid behind a tree, and all I saw were Morsi supporters throwing stones, or fireworks, or throwing teargas canisters … They just wanted to hold their ground. They were protecting the sit-in because they believed that, if they left, the police would follow them."

At 7am a medic treating the wounded at the site said he saw police shooters target those rescuing the wounded. "Even at that time, people were still dropping like flies," said Dr Ahmed Said, a volunteer at the Rabaa al-Adawiya field hospital, a clinic set up originally to deal with minor injuries.

Back at the field hospital itself, medics could not cope with the number of bodies being brought back. "By 7am or 8am, doctors were falling down with exhaustion," said Dr Alaa Mohamed Abu Zeid, a radiologist volunteering at the hospital. All were observing Ramadan, so many had not had time to eat or sleep before they were called into action.

"Nobody should see what we had to see today," said Amr Gamal, a young doctor at the clinic. "It was like a war zone. The whole area was so full with bodies that we couldn't move."

By the time the Observer arrived in the late morning, the hospital was in chaos – many bodies already evacuated, but the floors smeared with blood, and strewn with used and bloodied surgical gloves. One man held the bloodstained wallets and mobile phones of the dead. Another held a stack of their ID cards. In the next room 16 bodies lay scattered on the floor, doctors and family members clambering over them – some screaming. Several people prayed, while others chanted: "The people demand the execution of Sisi" – a reference to Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, the army chief who forced Morsi from power, and who earlier in the week called for Egyptians to back his campaign against what he termed terrorism. Cynics saw Sisi's speech as a veiled reference to a brutal crackdown on Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood – a prophecy that came true on Saturday.

Some casualties reported seeing police or army snipers firing on protesters from buildings inside the nearby Al-Azhar University, and medics said the accuracy of the shooting suggested that snipers may have been in action.

"The injuries were very precise – which suggests they were shot by snipers," said Dr Mohamed Lotfy, in charge of the clinic's medical supplies. "There were bullet holes in the centre of the forehead and right in the back of the skull. It was not just shooting to injure. They were shooting to kill."

Additional reporting by Marwa Awad

***********

Kerry asks Egyptian leaders to pull country ‘back from the brink’

By Reuters
Saturday, July 27, 2013 18:30 EDT

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Egypt’s leaders must pull their country “back from the brink,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Saturday, saying Egypt was at a pivotal moment after the killing of dozens of protesters.

Egyptian security forces shot dead dozens of supporters of ousted Islamist President Mohamed Mursi, witnesses said, days after the army chief called for a popular mandate to wipe out “violence and terrorism.”

Kerry spoke to two members of Egypt’s interim government – Vice President Mohamed ElBaradei and Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy – to voice his “deep concern about the bloodshed and violence” while U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel called army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to urge restraint.

“This is a pivotal moment for Egypt,” Kerry said in a written statement. “The United States … calls on all of Egypt’s leaders across the political spectrum to act immediately to help their country take a step back from the brink.”

He also said it was essential that the security forces respect Egyptians’ right to protest peacefully, and that this “a moral and legal obligation.” He repeated the U.S. call for an inclusive political process involving all elements of society to restore the country to a free and fairly elected government.

The military toppled Mursi on July 3, plunging the Arab world’s most populous nation into further upheaval two and a half years after long-time autocrat and U.S. ally Hosni Mubarak was himself ousted in a popular revolution.

HAGEL’S HALF-HOUR CALL TO SISI

In the latest of a series of calls in recent weeks, Hagel urged Sisi, who led the military in toppling Mursi and handing power to an interim administration, to forestall further violence.

“Secretary Hagel spoke by phone with Egyptian Defense Minister al-Sisi to express deep concern about the security situation and recent violence in Egypt, and to encourage that restraint be exercised during this difficult period,” Pentagon spokesman George Little said. The call lasted about 30 minutes, he said.

“The United States believes that the current transition needs to be marked by inclusivity, that Egyptian authorities should avoid politicized arrests and detentions, and take steps to prevent further bloodshed and loss of life,” Little added.

Hagel has spoken regularly with Sisi in recent weeks as the U.S. military has sought to leverage the ties with the Egyptian armed forces built up over three decades of military aid and training that followed Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel.

How much influence the United States has over Egypt remains an open question despite the roughly $1.55 billion in annual aid that it provides, including $1.3 billion to the armed forces, chiefly for military hardware such as tanks and aircraft.

Washington has been criticized both by those who supported the ouster of Mursi, Egypt’s first freely elected president, and by his Muslim Brotherhood supporters, who say the United States acquiesced in his overthrow by the military.

The Obama administration has at times sent equivocal signals to Egypt and its military, including in the past week.

On Wednesday, the administration said it would delay the delivery of four F-16 fighters to the Egyptian armed forces.

A day later it sidestepped a decision on cutting off most of the annual $1.55 billion in aid, saying it does not plan to rule on whether a military coup took place, a determination that would have forced it to end most of the aid under U.S. law.

(Reporting by Arshad Mohammed and Phil Stewart; Editing by Peter Cooney)

[Image via Agence France-Presse]



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« Reply #7779 on: Jul 28, 2013, 06:26 AM »


Tunisia on the brink of conflict after Mohammed Brahmi funeral

Unrest in Egypt fuels tensions between secular and Islamist groups as police use teargas to disperse protests

Agencies in Tunis
guardian.co.uk, Sunday 28 July 2013 02.53 BST   

Tunisian police fired teargas late on Saturday to disperse violent protests in the southern town of Sidi Bouzid, cradle of the country's revolution and hometown of slain secular opposition figure Mohammed Brahmi, witnesses said.

Thousands of protesters chanting anti-government slogans had earlier joined Brahmi's funeral march in the capital, Tunis.

"Down with the party of the Brotherhood," chanted mourners, referring to the ruling Ennahda Party's affiliation with the regional Muslim Brotherhood religious group. "The people demand the fall of the regime."

Tensions have run high in Tunisia since Brahmi's assassination on Thursday, and large protests throughout the day were met with police teargas.

In a bid to stave off unrest amid intensifying protests, particularly in the capital, secular coalition partners of Tunisia's ruling Islamist party said they were in talks to reach a new power-sharing deal.

The spokesman for the constituent assembly, Tunisia's transitional parliament tasked with drafting a new constitution, said he expected a deal within hours.

"The trend now is to move towards expanding the base of power," Mufdi al-Masady told a local radio station.

In Sidi Bouzid, protesters "lit tyres on fire to block roads and they threw rocks at the police", resident Mahdi al-Horshani told Reuters by telephone. "There is a lot of anger and frustration at the situation."

Brahmi's killing came just months after another secular opposition figure, Chokri Belaid, was gunned down, apparently with the same gun. On Saturday Brahmi's coffin was carried by soldiers to Jellaz cemetery and buried next to Belaid.

The efforts of secular opposition groups demanding the dissolution of the Islamist-led government have been fuelled by the unrest in Egypt. Tunisia's Islamist and secular movements appeared on the brink of confrontation on Saturday night.

Thousands of secular protesters faced off with hundreds of Islamists in one of the biggest sets of rival rallies to hit the Tunisian capital in months. No clashes were reported, but hundreds of police were standing on the sidelines.

Earlier on Saturday, police fired teargas to disperse secular protesters who gathered in front of parliament following the Brahmi's funeral.

Secular opposition parties are demanding the dissolution of the Islamist-dominated constituent assembly.

The speaker of the assembly urged MPs who had withdrawn from it in protest to return to work at this critical juncture for completing the constitution. By Saturday, at least 52 had withdrawn from the 217-member body.

"I call on them to back down from their decision. It's not rational to throw in the towel just metres away from the finish line," Mustafa Ben Jaafar said in a televised speech.

"The constitution will be agreed on in August and the assembly will finish its work on October 23."

Witnesses said one man was killed early on Saturday in an anti-government protest in the southern city of Gafsa. Violence also broke out in several other cities. A bomb in a police car exploded in Tunis but caused no casualties.


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« Reply #7780 on: Jul 28, 2013, 06:28 AM »


Israeli cabinet split over Palestinian prisoner release

Binyamin Netanyahu backs unpopular move to free 104 jailed Palestinians as precondition for Washington talks stirs emotions

Harriet Sherwood in Jerusalem
guardian.co.uk, Sunday 28 July 2013 10.47 BST   

The Israeli cabinet was engaged in a fierce battle on Sunday over a proposal to release around 100 long-term Palestinian prisoners from its jails as part of a US-brokered effort to begin preliminary talks on a possible resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict this week.

The start of the weekly cabinet meeting was delayed by 90 minutes as the prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, lobbied ministers to support his plan. A close vote was expected.

The Palestinians have said that without the release of the prisoners, who have been in jail for more than 20 years, they will not participate in talks about talks in Washington, scheduled to begin on Tuesday. The Palestinian leadership is anxious to secure a tangible gain for returning to negotiations amid deep scepticism among the public.

Netanyahu told the cabinet that resuming peace talks was important to Israel, and tough decisions needed to be taken for the good of the country. He acknowledged that the move to release prisoners was not easy for him, cabinet colleagues or Israeli families.

On Saturday, the prime minister issued an "open letter" to the Israeli public. "I agreed to release 104 Palestinians in measured stages, after the start of the negotiations and in accordance with their progress. This is an incredibly difficult decision. It's painful to the bereaved families, it pains the entire people of Israel, and it's very painful to me," he said.

But, he added, "prime ministers from time to time make decisions that go against public opinion, when it is important for the country to do so".

Netanyahu is facing stiff opposition. Naftali Bennett, a key coalition partner and the leader of the rightwing Jewish Home party, said on Saturday: "Terrorists must be killed, not released. In every one of my previous positions, I fought against releasing terrorists, and I have no intention of acting any differently when I'm in the cabinet. Let my hand be cut off should I vote in favour of releasing terrorists. We support the peace process, but no country in the world would agree to release murderers as a gift."

Danny Danon, deputy defence minister and chairman of the central committee of Likud, Netanyahu's party, said he opposed "a crazy release of dozens of terrorists with the blood of hundreds of Israelis on their hands. All the more so since the release would represent a reward to the Palestinians just for agreeing to sit with us around the negotiating table."

The transport minister, Yisrael Katz, said before the meeting he would vote against. "I am against releasing murderous terrorists. It hurts the bereaved families and encourages terror."

Dozens of protesters demonstrated outside the prime minister's office, where the cabinet meeting was taking place, some carrying posters of bloodied handprints. The Israeli media has carried emotional articles from bereaved relatives in recent days, calling for the move to be blocked.

Other cabinet members backed Netanyahu. "It is not a happy day, but we need to do what is right for Israel and for the peace process," said the finance minister, Yair Lapid.

The defence minister, Moshe Ya'alon, said he would vote for the measure with a heavy heart.

Details of the planned release have not been formally disclosed, but it is expected to include 104 prisoners, to be released in four stages spanning nine months. The first release is expected just before Eid al-Fitr, the Muslim holiday marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan next week.

The prisoner issue is highly emotive among Palestinian families. The release of long-term prisoners is likely to warm public attitudes towards renewed talks.

Netanyahu is likely to be acting under heavy pressure from the US secretary of state, John Kerry, who has invested four months of intensive diplomacy to get preliminary talks under way. Discussions in Washington between negotiators from both sides will be the first talks for almost three years.


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« Reply #7781 on: Jul 28, 2013, 06:33 AM »

July 28, 2013, 9:00 am

The Risky Missile Systems That Syria’s Rebels Believe They Need

By C.J. CHIVERS
IHT

Since the civil war in Syria erupted more than two years ago, one type of weapon has been a source of persistent fascination and dispute: heat-seeking, shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles. A potential menace to military and civilian aircraft alike, they are a modern version of the proverbial sword that cuts two ways — a weapon that in the particular context of Syria’s violence offers both tactical promise and grave security risk.

Depending on who uses them, these missile systems could either down a MIG attack jet on a bombing run or a passenger-laden Airbus during an airport approach. It is the second possibility that has made this class of weapons the focus of such concern. Reduced to simple terms, few weapons on earth could be used by one person to kill, with a press of a trigger, as many as several hundred people, and cause rippling disruptions to international travel and trade.

So as the war grinds through its third bloody year, and with the European Union’s arms embargo lifted and the United States reviewing how to provide military support to the opposition, At War is sharing a set of field and research notes examining questions that surround anti-aircraft missile proliferation in and near Syria, and the competing views about their roles in the war.

Q: How many portable anti-aircraft missiles are in Syria?

A: No one seems to have a solid public estimate of the number of these weapons in Syrian government stocks. And the exact count of the missiles in rebel possession is impossible to tally, in part because the means by which they change hands – capture and smuggling – do not lend themselves to accounting, but also because there is no reliable way to survey the far-flung and sometimes secretive rebel groups.

Then there is the problem of definitions. People often write or speak in shorthand when discussing this class of missiles. The limited publicly circulating estimates that do appear (like the reference in this very interesting Foreign Policy piece to the alleged recent smuggling of 120 SA-7s from Libya to Syria’s rebels) rarely differentiate between complete weapon systems and the missiles themselves. This is a difference that matters, because the missiles require at least one model-specific battery and a grip stock to be fired. Missiles and batteries are, in a word, consumable. The grip stock is reusable — the piece that pulls the entire system together.

So, to cite the example from Foreign Policy, the movement of 120 missiles from Libya to Syria’s rebels would be significant, but less significant than the movement of 120 missiles and, say, 90 batteries and 30 grip stocks, which would convert the missiles and batteries (think: ammunition) into ground-to-air firepower. But from most available references, and even information from many interviews with rebels, it is not possible to scale the significance of any supposed transfers.

Q: What types of missiles are circulating through the conflict?

A: A clearer picture is available of the models in circulation. Nic R. Jenzen-Jones, an independent arms and munitions researcher, noted that thus far arms spotters have principally documented the presence of SA-7s and SA-16s, along with a few SA-24s and FN-6s. The first three systems hail from Soviet and Russian design bureaus; the last system is Chinese-made. (Readers interested in seeing the different systems can subscribe to this YouTube list, which tracks many of the rebels’ social media video posts related to the missiles.)

As for the capabilities of these systems, the SA-7 is a Vietnam-era design. The SA-16 hails from the late Soviet period and is much more effective. The SA-24 is a state-of-the-art Russian system. The Chinese FN-6 is a recent design, too, though its debut in Syria has been accompanied by many reports of technical problems. More on that later.

Q. How many portable anti-aircraft missiles have been used?

A. At least several dozens (and perhaps many more) portable anti-aircraft missiles are known to have found their way to rebel possession, via a mix of battlefield capture and smuggling. This includes batches provided through Qatar’s shadowy arms-trafficking network, including of the missile seen in the video below in an attack on a Syrian Air Force helicopter.

Syrian military aircraft have been destroyed multiple times by rebel missiles, beginning with a strike last November. And the weapons have become something of a staple in opposition videos. There is even online instruction in the basics of these weapons’ use.

Q. What is the argument for keeping them out of rebels’ hands?

A. The dark view, rooted in fears about future terrorism, gets most of the attention, as it should. It goes like this: As the war began in Syria in 2011, President Bashar al-Assad’s military had been suspected of holding large stocks. When fighting intensified and government forces began to suffer defeats, arms-trafficking analysts warned that as Mr. Assad’s military ceded control of territory and his soldiers defected, many of these weapons would move from secure storage into black markets. From there, the reasoning followed, it would be only a matter of time before missiles and their shoulder-held launchers would reach terrorist hands.

In aviation security circles, the idea of terrorists with weapons of the so-called Stinger class presents an especially frightening risk. Unlike the security measures used to prevent terrorists from sneaking bombs aboard planes or hijacking aircraft, missiles cannot be deterred by passenger or luggage screening, locked cabins, or with security in flight. And several social media posts this year, including the video below, have shown the missiles in jihadist hands.

Governments, aviation officials and arms-trade researchers worry that such fighters could have intentions of moving the missiles away from Syria for an attack near airports elsewhere — Tel Aviv, Baghdad, Paris, you name it.

Q: What is the argument in favor of arming rebels with these missiles?

A: There has been a rival perspective – that in the circumstances of Syria’s civil war, these weapons could hasten the end of brutal tactics in which civilians are sometimes the targets, and thereby, in the tricky calculus of measuring human suffering, be considered legitimate weapons for rebels to possess. This is because since mid-2012 Mr. Assad’s helicopters and jets have taken the rather extraordinary step of repeatedly attacking Syrian residential neighborhoods, typically in predominantly Sunni areas, including this cluster-munitions strike in Maara late last year.

Attacks from the air are not the principle cause of injuries and death in Syria; small arms, artillery and mortars cause far more wounds. But air power gives the Syrian military lethal reach where its ground forces can no longer venture, and has displaced civilians from areas that otherwise might be much more secure, thereby compounding the humanitarian crisis and increasing the number of refugees. It has also allowed the government to mass firepower when on the offensive or when countering rebel attacks. And the Syrian helicopter fleet is a lifeline to remote army outposts. In these ways, the Syrian Air Force’s tactical significance is outsized.

Q: Who provided portable missiles to the Syrian armed forces?

A: Because some missiles that were designed in the Soviet Union have later been manufactured by multiple countries, it is not fully clear yet who provided missiles from the former Eastern bloc. The Soviet Union and Russia were known suppliers, perhaps the main providers. Where Qatar procured the Chinese FN-6s is also unclear. But taken in sum, the insights available thus far do align with general trends in portable missile proliferation worldwide – Russian and Chinese systems are more commonly seen than others.

Q: What are ratios of grip stocks to missiles in the missiles in rebel hands?

A: This blog also knows of no data on grip stock density relative to the missiles. For the Eastern bloc systems (SA-16s, SA-7s and SA-24s), however, grip stocks seem scarce in the limited views available on social media, in photographs by journalists, etc.

Q: What did the systems cost the Syrian government, and what is the black market price for missiles out of state hands and sought after by rebels?

A: This blog knows of no comprehensive public data on the pricing of Manpads (an acronym for Man-Portable Air Defense System), much less by component, provenance, condition or type.

Q: How effective have the systems been?

A: Less effective than what many people might expect, and certainly less effective than rebels had hoped. Rebels say their portable missiles to date have been plagued with technical difficulties. Sometimes the batteries fail to power the missiles, and do not allow the operator to acquire a target. Other times the missiles’ propellant does not ignite and they fall quickly to the ground.

There are many other examples. Mithqal Abdullah, a field commander in Ahfad al-Rasul, one of Syria’s prominent fighting groups, said his fighters had received four FN-6 missiles that did not fire. He was not sure why. A member of the North Storm brigade, which operates in and near Aleppo, said the brigade received seven FN-6s. The first two shot from the tube but flew only a short distance. Another field commander in the Idlib and Hama countrysides for Ahfad al-Rasul said his fighters had captured as many as 50 SA-7s at Base 46, a government stronghold near Aleppo that rebels seized in late 2012, but almost none of them have worked. They have had better success, he said, with captured SA-16s, with which they have shot down at least one MiG and a helicopter near the Abu ad Duhur air base. But they also had four SA-16s, he said, that failed to fire before the fifth one launched and struck an aircraft.

It is impossible to extrapolate from the data available and offer a percentage of malfunctions (the more so because malfunctions could be tied to specific lots of missiles or batteries, and also because fighting groups who had had higher rates of success with their missiles would be less likely to complain). But there is no question that gripes about missile reliability have been a recurring feature of conversations with rebels about their portable missile supply.

This is one reason some rebels are willing to share data and other information about their missiles; some worry that Qatar has been procuring weapons that do not work and say the Qataris need to change or challenge their suppliers. Rebel suspicions about the missiles’ uneven performance fit a well-established pattern. Arms smuggling is a dirty business. In the case of the FN-6s, Qatar may have been sold bad goods.

Q: How can a clearer understanding of the quantities and sources of missiles be gained?

A: Generally, absent honest public declarations by manufacturers or the discovery of sales, shipping or inventory sheets, the primary way for arms-trafficking researchers to gather data is to build the data themselves.

Above is a sample of how data can be assembled, point by point. It is a close-up photograph of the expended SA-16 tube seen at the top of this post. It shows the serial number and production period of the missile, which tells us something of how SA-16s may have found their way to Syria. These kinds of images are important for arms-trade accountability and when trying to assess the relative effectiveness of different weapons. (This particular tube had worked, its owners said, and had been used to down a Syrian Air Force attack jet.)

At War showed photographs of this tube to Matthew Schroeder, an analyst covering missile proliferation at the Federation of American Scientists. He sent this reply:

    “The markings in these photos appear to confirm that they are indeed Russian/Soviet SA-16s, and that they were manufactured in 1990. The markings also include serial numbers and other information that, when combined with other sources of information, could help us to determine the proximate source of these and other SA-16 Manpads in Syria.”

In a follow-up note, Mr. Schroeder wrote that he could not be certain that the missile had not been made in Bulgaria; the scarcity of publicly available photographs and identification keys, he cautioned, make precise identification difficult.

Remember: Outside of the disorder of collapsing states, these weapons are almost never seen or inventoried by researchers. Given how rarely SA-16s and other Manpads surface in circulation, any information from almost any specimen is potentially valuable for those seeking to establish accountability in the global arms trade. The weapons are not the only source of information. Data can also be assembled from stenciling and markings on shipping crates, and from documents sometimes found within. More on thathere .

Q: What is the likelihood that the United States will approve transfers of this class of weapons to the rebels?

A: These kinds of questions are usually hard to answer. The United States often takes strong public stands against conventional weapons proliferation, and has taken especially strong stands against the proliferation of portable anti-aircraft missiles. But the United States also has a history of extensive weapon handouts to proxies and perceived allies, and often has done so quietly, via middlemen, or in distributions that have had scant accountability, and would not appear to make clear sense or align with the United States’ interests.

(The repeated shipments of anti-armor projectiles for RPG-7 rocket-propelled grenades and SPG-9 recoilless rifles into Afghanistan offer a case in point. The only armor in Afghanistan belongs to NATO or Afghan government forces. And yet the United States has flooded the country with anti-armor weapons. American service members in convoys or guard towers that are attacked by these weapons understandably wonder what the International Security Assistance Force’s arms-procurement officers are thinking.)

Thus far the dominant voices in American government appear to have been strongly against providing heat-seeking missiles to rebels. But officials, speaking privately, say there is a contingent that has been exploring ways to introduce this kind of missile into the conflict in a fashion intended to reduce the risks of some of the missiles getting loose and being fired at civilian aircraft later.

One idea under discussion includes embedding small teams of foreign special forces soldiers (perhaps from Jordan or another Arab nation) with these weapons in rebel units. Another includes developing programs that would issue a small number of missile systems to vetted and trained rebel teams, who would not be provided fresh missiles and batteries for their launchers unless they returned each expended tube and battery, along with evidence showing how the last missiles had been fired. The odds of such ideas developing into programs are hard to draw up. But virtually all the arms-trade researchers this blog has talked with expected to see more missiles in the conflict, and the possibility of Western sources for future missiles will be a possibility to watch for, and to try to track.


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« Reply #7782 on: Jul 28, 2013, 06:36 AM »

Abuse at Ecuadorian ‘gay conversion’ facilities shocks authorities

By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, July 27, 2013 20:00 EDT

Sent to a center offering to “cure” her attraction to women, Denisse Freire was raped and tortured — in a practice Ecuadoran authorities admit has been tolerated for too long.

The country of 15.8 million people has at least 80 unlicensed drug and alcohol rehab clinics, many that are also used for anti-gay conversion therapy, Health Minister Carina Vance, who is openly gay, said.

Two people, admitted for addiction issues, died last year at the clandestine centers, she told foreign reporters at a press conference, adding that authorities have begun to crack down.

At these centers, “we have reports of physical attacks, the use of ice water on inmates,” Vance said.

“We have lesbians who have reported what the clinics called ‘sex therapy,’ but which consists of being raped by men,” the minister said.

Freire, now 25, was just 15 when her mother discovered her in her room with a female schoolmate.

Outraged, she sent her daughter to a “Christian camp” in a remote area in southeastern Ecuador.

There, Freire said, “they tortured me with electric shocks, didn’t let me bathe for three days, gave me almost nothing to eat, hit me a lot, hung me by my feet.

“They told me it was for my own good.”

There were also sexual punishments, all aimed at ridding the young girl of her homosexuality.

The center was nominally a evangelical Christian rehabilitation clinic for drug and alcohol addiction. But Freire said she was there with four other young people — all because they were gay.

After two months, Freire escaped.

Her case was not an isolated one. Authorities say the inhumane practice is a wide-ranging problem that has ensnared even government officials — such as the health ministry official who was recently the subject of a criminal complaint after it emerged she owned a clandestine clinic offering therapy against homosexuality.

“We are talking here about a mafia, a network that operates nationally in each of the provinces, which are violating human rights,” Health Minister Vance said.

Since March 2012, authorities have closed 18 rehab clinics: 15 for human rights violations and three for violations of health standards, the ministry said.

Still, more clinics remain.

In June, Zulema Constante, a 22-year-old psychology student, escaped a clinic in the eastern city of Tena, where she said her family had forcibly admitted her to cure her of homosexuality.

She was handcuffed and locked in a straightjacket. “I had to pray, they gave me food poisoning, forced me to clean toilets with my hands, and told me I was wrong to be a lesbian,” she told reporters.

The clinic is owned by a health official in the region.

Constante’s girlfriend, Cynthia Rodriguez, launched a social media campaign to report the case, building public pressure that allowed her to be set free after three weeks.

But activists say too many complaints are unsuccessful.

“Why?” asks Leah Burbano of the Lesbian Women and Woman Movement. Because the people forcing the victims into the clinics “are family and that creates an emotional weight.”

“But this is not a struggle between parents and children. It’s a struggle against these clinics.”

Ecuadoran law authorizes forced treatment for addicts with approval from a judge.

But health minister Vance emphasized in no case is the forced treatment allowed to seek to “cure” homosexuality.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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« Reply #7783 on: Jul 28, 2013, 06:39 AM »

Young Catholics flood Rio’s streets after Pope Francis speech

By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, July 27, 2013 16:30 EDT


Heeding Pope Francis’ call to shake up the Church, hundreds of thousands of young Catholics marched across Rio on Saturday, singing, beating drums and chanting “this is the pope’s youth!”

They waved flags from around the world — Brazil, Australia, South Africa, the United States — and pitched tents on the crescent-shaped beach of Copacabana for an all-night vigil and final mass with the pope to cap World Youth Day festivities.

Since his election in March, history’s first Latin American pope has sought to re-energize Catholics, using his Rio trip to urge young believers to spread the Gospel and “make a mess” in their dioceses.

Flanked by the Sugarloaf mountain and Christ the Redeemer statue atop a peak, the faithful reflected on the pope’s message during a nine-kilometer (5.5-mile) pilgrimage to the beach.

Many agreed that the Catholic Church needs a dose of energy, lamenting that too many have lost interest in a religion that has been hurt by pedophilia scandals.

Some suggested that social media can help spread the Gospel, others said young Catholics needs to be more active, join missions and open up about their faith.

“Oh yeah! Shake it up, big time! You have to,” said Adrian Antonio Flores, a 31-year-old from the US state of Minnesota who works for a website catering to young Catholics.

“We’re alive, we’re on fire. When people see others on fire, it’s contagious,” he said before a prayer with 33 other Americans. “The Church needs to say to young people, here’s social media and there’s a light in media.”

Roque Sanchez, a 22-year-old mathematics student holding a flag of his native Mexico, said the Church “needs to adapt, use things like Facebook.”

“The Church must renew itself, otherwise it will be like in the Middle Ages,” he said.

While Yu-Chun Hung, a 25-year-old English teacher from Taiwan, agreed that the Church needs to adapt to a fast-moving society, she warned that social media must be used carefully.

“Young people can be easily seduced. Using social media could be bad or wrong, but it depends on how we use it. Like a gun, it can hurt people but a gun can also protect people,” she said, wearing a conical straw hat.

Although many said the Church must stick to dogma, Priti Khatiwada, a 16-year-old Catholic school student from Australia, said it should consider allowing priests to marry.

Some of the sins committed by clergymen, she said, may be due to the fact that “they have been deprived of basic human necessities.”

The Church has struggled with scandals that have alienated some faithful. Even Brazil, the world’s biggest Catholic country, has seen its flock dwindle while Evangelical churches and secularism advance.

But Pope Francis has generated wall-to-wall news coverage of his visit.

Many pilgrims said the 76-year-old pontiff has connected with them with his charisma and tendency to break protocol to embrace people who have lined the streets to see him.

“I think he’s lovely, really down to earth,” Khatiwada said.

The mass of people at World Youth Day, however, has caused logistical headaches for organizers, who have come under fire over a metro breakdown and the sudden switch of venue for the vigil.

The grand finale was supposed to take place on a field west of Rio, but rain turned it into a mud pit, forcing authorities to move the events to Copacabana.

During Saturday’s march, some pilgrims stood in huge lines for as long as three hours to receive a food box being distributed near a war monument. Some shouted at people trying to break in line.

“It’s very chaotic,” said Yolanda Chao, 48, of Vancouver, Canada.

But Chao and most pilgrims have remained upbeat despite the rain and logistical missteps.

“There are a million people so it will be hard for everything to run smoothly,” said Australian student Bronte Dunne, 16. “People should understand and be patient.”

And many were looking forward to spending the night on Copacabana, usually famous for curvacious women in tiny bikinis.

“God will work a miracle after we’re gone,” said Father Pierre Claver of Ivory Coast. “The girls in the sexy bikinis will see that the young people here today are giving another message, that Jesus is here and everywhere.”

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« Reply #7784 on: Jul 28, 2013, 06:41 AM »


BMA urges Obama to stop doctors force-feeding Guantánamo prisoners

Global drug companies are told practice is 'a gross violation of internationally accepted standards of medical ethics'

Mark Townsend   
The Observer, Saturday 27 July 2013 20.52 BST   

The British Medical Association has written to Barack Obama urging him to immediately suspend the role of doctors and nurses in force-feeding prisoners held at Guantánamo Bay and to launch an inquiry into how the "unjustifiable" practice has been allowed to develop.

The association has also approached pharmaceutical companies that are reportedly supplying the US military with nutritional products used in the force-feeding, requesting that they disassociate themselves from issues surrounding the continuing hunger strike inside the detention facility.

The correspondence – sent to companies including Nestlé, whose product Boost Plus has been reportedly given to inmates being forcibly fed – says that "force-feeding of mentally competent adult hunger strikers is a gross violation of internationally accepted standards of medical ethics" and is "never ethically acceptable".

The BMA has also outlined its deep concerns to the US secretary of defence, Chuck Hagel, as international pressure continues to mount over the administration's handling of the hunger strike, which is understood to involve more than 100 of the 166 inmates.

Already ANI Pharmaceuticals, the US-based manufacturer of the drug Reglan, which is reportedly used on Guantánamo's hunger-strikers without their consent, has admitted that it is "deeply concerned" by the issue.

Responding to a letter sent by human rights charity Reprieve, which raised concerns over reports that Reglan is being used to treat nausea in detainees during force-feeding, Arthur Przybyl, chief executive of ANI, admitted that he was as "deeply concerned as you are by the complexity of the issues raised". He added: "Obviously it is our hope that all of our products are used in a medically acceptable manner."

Concerns over Reglan include claims that prolonged use of the drug can cause serious side-effects, including tardive dyskinesia, a neurological disorder which causes involuntary movements.

Reprieve has called on ANI to control the distribution of the drug and prevent it from being used in further force-feeding inside Guantánamo Bay.

Catherine Gilfedder of Reprieve said: "Reglan has been designated by the FDA as a harmful drug which must only be administered where patients fully understand and accept the risks. The policy of using this drug in force-feeding at Guantánamo adds a further level of horror to what is already a painful and degrading process."

Meanwhile, concern continues to mount that Shaker Aamer, the last British resident inside Guantánamo, might be on the brink of being transferred to Saudi Arabia. Aamer, whose family live in south London, has already been threatened by both the American and Saudi governments that he will be forcibly sent to the kingdom. The most recent incident was on 8 February, during which Aamer reports that Saudi officials told him: "When you are brought back to Saudi Arabia, you'll be interrogated, be tried, and you'll be jailed. Then you'll be put in the rehabilitation programme."

Signs are emerging that the Washington administration is again agitating over sending Aamer, a Saudi Arabian citizen, to the country instead of London, his preferred choice. An unidentified state department official was recently quoted as saying that it would be "unfortunate if a detainee didn't consent to a transfer to his home country, but that in and of itself wouldn't prevent such a transfer from happening".

In addition Aamer's family had been approached by a mysterious Saudi attorney, raising fears that attempts are being made for the family's lawyers to facilitate such a transfer. Clive Stafford-Smith, Shaker's lawyer and Reprieve's director, said: "Of course, the US has been a travel agent – the travel agent of shame, rendering Shaker and others all over the world against their will, to and from and via at least 54 countries that were complicit in torture and abuse. It is absolutely vital that David Cameron urgently acts to get Shaker back to his family in the UK before he is shipped off to Saudi to silence him for ever."


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