‘A new Belgium in July 2014’
10 July 2013
Belgian Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo completed the sixth state reform on July 9, concluding what Le Soir describes as a “historic week”.
The reform, which is set to come into force on July 1, 2014, will grant greater autonomy to the country's regions and communities in the fields of benefits for families and employment policy, as well as health and elderly care. The overall transfer of competency has been estimated to be worth €20bn in the 2014 budget.
Announced in an “almost euphoric” atmosphere, in the presence of representatives of eight Belgian political parties — the hardline separatist Flemish N-VA was not at the negotiating table — the accord also marks the launch of campaigns for federal and regional elections in 2014.
In its editorial, Le Soir announces that in the light of the agreement —
… nothing is impossible in a Belgium that was said to be destined to disappear less than two years ago. [...] In particular the bid to finally convince Flemish citizens that an alternative to the N-VA’s confederalism is possible.
Land rights are empty, Yolngu elder tells Rudd on bark petition anniversary
Galarrwuy Yunupingu throws down gauntlet to PM over 'economic side of land rights' at Yirrkala commemoration
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 10 July 2013 06.30 BST
Fifty years ago the Yolngu people of Yirrkala in remote east Arnhem Land changed history, but to this day respected leaders of the community say not enough is being done for Indigenous land rights.
The Yirrkala bark petitions, signed in 1963 to protest against the federal government's approval of a bauxite mine on their reserve, were the spark for a land rights movement that engaged much of Indigenous Australia and resulted in the first formal acknowledgement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in law.
The two petitions, signed by 12 Yolngu clan heads, called on the House of Representatives to reconsider the mine approval and resulted in a parliamentary inquiry which concluded that the Yolngu should receive compensation for their lost land. The 1967 referendum, which recognised Indigenous Australians to be recognised in the census, followed, and then the landmark 1976 Aboriginal Land Rights Act in the Northern Territory.
At a commemorative ceremony in Yirrkala on Wednesday, the prime minister, Kevin Rudd, hailed the documents, which are the theme of this year's Naidoc (National Aboriginal and Islander Day Observance Committee) week, as the "Magna Carta for the Indigenous peoples of this land", adding: "These bark petitions present a bridge between two ancient and noble traditions."
Before Rudd took to the stage at Rika Park, the respected Yolngu elder Galarrwuy Yunupingu frankly threw down a gauntlet to the prime minister. Addressing Rudd directly, he said: "This land right is empty. It's full of everything, but it's full of nothing ... when you have a look at it, closely, there's nothing that gives to individuals."
The crowd applauded and Yunupingu continued: "We have looked forward to the land rights giving us something, at least they gave us something in its name. The land rights is for Aboriginal people but the land ownership and use of land ownership is not for Aboriginal people, it's for mining companies. For white fellas."
The crowds applauded again.
"This time it is [for the] economic side of the land rights, [for] the money that comes into the hands of the Aboriginal people through their own country and not to the mining company or contractors," he said. "We want to develop our country and we want to develop our own soil."
Rudd responded by pledging his support for a referendum on constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people within two years of the next election. He urged the opposition leader to work with him.
He said to Yunupingu: "It should not be for white fellas to tell you how to use your land."
Around Australia, events for Naidoc week and the commemoration of the bark petitions continue. In Sydney, the New South Wales Arts Council held a seminar examining the significance of the petitions for the south-east of the country.
Dr Heidi Norman, a specialist in Aboriginal history and politics at the University of Technology, Sydney delivered the keynote speech on new research which examines the link between the Yirrkala bark petitions and the Indigenous activist movements in NSW in the early 1970s.
"The land rights push that came from Yirrkala was the impetus for the many young activists who were agitating around land. The Yirrkala people's actions really inspired them to take land rights in NSW, a very settled part of the country, to a new level," she told Guardian Australia before the seminar.
Norman added: "What land rights really engineered was a political structure. An organisation [land councils] that could facilitate the interface between Aboriginal citizens and wider forms of institutional power."
Naidoc events continue throughout the week, culminating in the Naidoc awards ceremony in Perth on Friday.
Indigenous Australians deserve recognition, not posturing
What's needed on constitional reform is not political brinkmanship from Rudd or Abbott, but a simple, clean outcome
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 10 July 2013 09.47 BST
Through all the sound and the fury of the so-called conversation in national politics over the past couple of years, one issue has remained largely above the fray. That issue has been the recognition of indigenous people in the constitution.
Politics has shown every sign of maintaining good sense on this important policy reform. Labor has pushed back the timing of the referendum in order to maximise the chances of a successful outcome, and Tony Abbott has shown leadership. Abbott has locked in behind the change - a posture that isn’t cost free for a conservative political leader. Natural conservatives don’t like this change, fearing the creep of a “rights” agenda. Only a few years ago, the Coalition struggled to present a united front on the apology to the stolen generations. Some MPs thought the government ought not apologise, and made their feelings known.
Abbott faces a hard political task as this transaction enters the business end: he must hold his conservative base behind the change. If Abbott can’t hold his constituency then the reform will fail. History is quite clear on that. Constitutional change requires bipartisan support. Making this issue a partisan fight might score you a point on the day, but it makes the proposal vulnerable - it becomes a point of contestability.
Labor has thus far been very careful to keep the tone of the discussion even, so it was surprising to see Kevin Rudd arguing the toss publicly with Abbott on this issue during a visit to the Northern Territory.
Rudd on Wednesday essentially questioned Abbott’s good faith on constitutional recognition. He queried whether Captain Negative could be positive on anything at all.
Perhaps Rudd was making a subtle point that Abbott had opened positively on a separate issue of constitutional change, recognising local government, but pulled back from bipartisanship largely because of brewing trouble within his own ranks - splits on the issue between Liberals and Nationals.
Perhaps Rudd’s point was Abbott might do this again on constitutional recognition of indigenous Australians - promise support, but switch course.
A fair enough point in the abstract, certainly; somewhat fraught in the particular.
Abbott has not given anyone active of this campaign any reason to think he is anything other than sincere on indigenous recognition. As I’ve pointed out this change is hard politically for Abbott, and as Opposition leader, Abbott has largely avoided policy tough calls in favour of a bump free road to The Lodge. He clearly believes there is a moral case for amending the constitution, and has used his authority within the Coalition to assert it will be done.
Labor is intent on transiting through the cross-currents of the recent leadership change by painting Rudd as Mr Positive and Abbott as Mr Negative - it’s a key part of the daily framing, shorthand that says: “I’m prime ministerial, he’s not.” Labor’s research suggests there is a strong hesitation factor when voters contemplate voting for Tony Abbott, they are not yet sold on Abbott as alternative prime minister. This period is about reinforcing that hesitation factor.
Perhaps indigenous recognition just got caught in a daily sound bite. Perhaps Rudd’s remarks don’t herald any great tactical shift.
But if Rudd is considering playing a bit of intra-day politics on this issue, may I respectfully suggest a deep breath? Perhaps Rudd ought to pause and remember another Liberal leader he helped push into a political corner. Malcolm Turnbull came badly unstuck trying to deal with Rudd to secure emissions trading. Turnbull was the casualty of that in the short term, but Labor wore the consequences over the longer term, and is still in fact dealing with the consequences of those events.
Indigenous people deserve a simple clean outcome: recognition in Australia’s foundation legal document.
They do not deserve more posturing and brinkmanship. God knows, there’s been enough of that.
China warns of grim trade outlook after surprise 3% fall in exports
Figures defy expectations and likely to raise fresh concerns about extent of slowdown in economy and global demand
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 10 July 2013 07.57 BST
China has warned of a grim outlook for trade as the world's second-largest economy surprised financial markets by reporting a fall in exports and imports when both had been expected to rise.
The figures, which follow a government crackdown on the use of fake invoicing that had exaggerated exports earlier this year, are likely to raise fresh concerns about the extent of the slowdown in the economy and global demand.
The June data, showing that exports fell 3.1% from a year earlier and imports dropped 0.7%, may now reflect the true trade picture, customs officials said.
"China faces relatively stern challenges in trade currently," customs spokesman Zheng Yuesheng told a news briefing. "Exports in the third quarter look grim."
The customs agency said exporters were losing confidence in the face of weak overseas demand, rising labour costs and a strong yuan currency.
The export fall was the first since January 2012. Economists had expected exports to increase 4.0% and imports to rise 8.0%.
China's trade data is volatile and has been distorted by speculative capital flows across the country's border. Doubts about the accuracy of the figures had abated slightly since the customs office and top foreign exchange regulator launched a campaign in May to crack down on fake export invoices.
Fake invoicing inflated China's official import and export totals by $75bn (£50bn) in the first four months of 2013, local media reported on 14 June, citing an internal review by China's commerce ministry.
The customs data showed that exports to the United States, China's biggest export market, fell 5.4%, while exports to the European Union dropped 8.3%.
"The surprisingly weak June exports show China's economy is facing increasing downward pressure on lacklustre external demand," said Li Huiyong, an economist at Shenyin & Wanguo Securities in Shanghai.
"Exports are facing challenges in the second half of this year. The appreciation of the US dollar and the Chinese government's recent crackdown on speculative trade activities also put pressure on exports."
China had a trade surplus of $27.1bn in June, the customs administration said, largely in line with the $27bn expected by economists.
China's reform-minded new leaders have shown a tolerance of slower growth, although they still need to avoid widespread job losses that could threaten social stability.
Economists expect data next week to show that annual growth in China for the April-June quarter slowed down to 7.5%.
A continued slide in growth could test leaders' resolve to tolerate a short-term slowdown in the economy while pressing ahead with efforts to revamp the economy for the longer term.
uly 10, 2013
South Korean Managers Return to Shuttered Plant in North
By CHOE SANG-HUN
SEOUL, South Korea — South Korean factory managers returned Wednesday to a shuttered industrial park in North Korea for the first time in two months, as the two governments resumed talks on reopening the complex, once an iconic symbol of inter-Korean economic cooperation.
Sixty factory managers from the South arrived in the Kaesong Industrial Zone, the factory park located in the North Korean border town of the same name, for a day trip to check on their factories idled since the last of them withdrew from there in late April. North Korea halted production there in early April by withdrawing all its 53,000 workers, blaming tensions it said were caused by joint U.S.-South Korean military drills at the time.
The factory managers inspected their manufacturing equipment ahead of the possible resumption of operations. Another batch of South Korean factory mangers planned to make a similar trip to Kaesong on Thursday.
Representatives of the two Korean governments had met on the border over the weekend and agreed upon the factory managers’ trips to Kaesong, but they remained far apart over the terms of reopening the complex. The two sides resumed negotiarltions on Wednesday in Kaesong but again failed to reach a compromise. They planned to meet again on Monday.
Suh Ho, the chief South Korean negotiator, said on Wednesday that North Korea must accept “common sense and international standards” in Kaesong before the complex can be “normalized and further developed.”
South Korea is urging North Korea to take steps to assure that it will not let political and military disputes interfere again with the operation of the joint economic project in Kaesong. Its president, Park Geun-hye, has suggested that one such step would be for North Korea to agree to invite non-Korean factories to Kaesong.
She said in March that “if the Kaesong complex becomes internationalized with foreign factories, North Korea will not be able to do things intolerable under international standards, such as an abrupt travel ban or a sudden tax increase,” actions that she said South Korean firms had suffered there.
Before shutting Kaesong down in April, North Korea had demanded bigger wages for its workers and more taxes for South Korean firms there. It also had complained that South Korea’s investments there fell far short of what it had promised when the two Koreas started the joint project a decade ago. But it has opposed inviting foreign investors there, calling such a plan “a criminal plot” to help spread capitalist influence to undermine its socialist political system.
The chief North Korean negotiator, Pak Chol-su, is pressing South Korea to agree to an early resumption of work at the factory complex, citing fears among factory owners that if their plants were not restarted soon, their equipment would soon start deteriorating in the monsoon season.
“It’s raining a lot and I am worried about the factory facilities,” he was quoted as saying in South Korean pool reports from Kaesong.
During talks on Wednesday, the two Koreas were expected to bicker over the estimated 700 billion won, or about $600 million, in damages that the three-month suspension of operations has caused to 123 South Korean factories in Kaesong.
The South Korean factory managers’ return to Kaesong and the continuing governmental talks were a sign that the two Koreas are easing tensions and edging toward a possible thaw after months of hostile exchanges, which reached a peak when the North threatened to attack the South with nuclear weapons and the South responded with warnings of counterattacks.
The Kaesong complex, where textile and electronic parts companies from the South employed low-cost North Korean workers, started producing goods in late 2004. It is the last remaining toehold for South Korea’s efforts from a previous era to use economic cooperation to help the North open up and move eventually toward the reunification of the peninsula.
But some hard-line conservatives in South Korea have demanded that the government shut the factory park for good. They argue that most of the between $80 million to $90 million paid annually as wages for North Korean workers ended up in the coffers of the Pyongyang regime, which was building nuclear weapons and running prison gulags.
When it pulled its workers from Kaesong in April, North Korea also blamed United Nations sanctions against its nuclear tests, as well as the joint U.S.-South Korean military drills. It also demanded that South Korea apologize for domestic news media reports that it said insulted its young leader, Kim Jong-un. Those reports quoted commentators as saying that Mr. Kim would not shut Kaesong down because it was an important source of cash for his regime.
The move to try to reopen Kaesong is welcome news for some South Korean liberals. They believe that engagement will work better to persuade North Korea to reform and give up its nuclear weapons than sanctions and diplomatic pressure.
But President Park’s conservative South Korean government insists that it has no intention of cooperating with the North unless it first changes its provocative behavior. And surveys show that her attitude remains popular among South Koreans after months of bellicose rhetoric from the North.
“We cannot go back to the old ways,” said Kim Hyung-suk, a South Korean government spokesman, about Kaesong.
Iran launches 'national email service'
Citizens must register identity to receive official email, but new president Hassan Rouhani may take softer line on censorship
Saeed Kamali Dehghan
The Guardian, Tuesday 9 July 2013 18.52 BST
Iran has launched its own "national email service", requiring all citizens to sign up to it to "safely" communicate with government officials.
Prior to use, account holders will have to provide their local post office with their full name, national identification number and postcode.
Mohammad Hasan Nami, Iran's minister for information and communication technology, said all citizens would be assigned a national email address, but did not say whether this would affect access to other email providers.
"For mutual interaction and communication between the government and the people, from now on every Iranian will receive a special email address along with their postcode," Nami was quoted as saying by the semi-official Mehr news agency.
"With the assignment of an email address to every Iranian, government interactions with the people will take place electronically."
Users will have to go to mail.post.ir to sign up to the service, which is not free, and receive an @post.ir email address. Mehr reported that the website can provide services to 100 million users and its emailing service is compatible with Farsi as well as English, French and Arabic. Each account is also said to have 50MB capacity, which can be upgraded to 2GB.
Independent experts, however, doubt the plan will materialise across the country as the newly elected president, Hassan Rouhani, who has taken a softer line on internet and web censorship, is due to be sworn-in in August.
Amin Sabeti, an Iranian media and web researcher, said the authorities had previously boasted about similar "national email services", including mail.iran.ir, but none has yet been come into force in earnest. Government employees are also being encouraged to use the national email providers instead of services such as Gmail or Yahoo Mail, which are popular in Iran.
Sabeti said there are serious security problems with the new service, which he said does not encrypt data and would be easy to hack.
Hadi Nili, an Iranian journalist, said Iranians use foreign services such as Gmail because they believe it provides anonymity and privacy, and said there is a lack of trust in the new service.
In an echo of some of the questions about the NSA surveillance by the US government revealed by the whistleblower Edward Snowden, he added: "Iranian users are worried how much the government can access their data and also how secure the new service is in the face of cyber attacks and intrusions from other parties."
Some 40% of Iran's 75 million population are estimated to have access to the internet and many services are provided online, such as bill payment and online banking.
Under Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran has announced various ambitious plans for its online community including an "Islamic Google Earth".
In 2012, the authorities said they were carrying out tests to launch Iran's "national internet", a countrywide network aimed at substituting services run through the world wide web. At the time, Iran's police also imposed tighter regulations on internet cafes, requiring owners to keep detailed records of their customers each time they use their services.
Iran has been a victim of western-backed cyber attacks against its nuclear programme and is therefore suspicious of western online services such as Google, Facebook and Twitter. In contrast to the current officials, Rouhani has said he considers Facebook a welcome phenomenon.
At least two institutions have been set up in recent years to enforce an online crackdown. Iran's cyber police, known as Fata, is in charge of policing the country's online community, identifying bloggers and users breaking its "Islamic" laws. The supreme council of virtual space is another body tasked with blocking access to websites deemed inappropriate. At least five million websites are blocked in Iran.
Last year the death of blogger Sattar Beheshti in jail, while he was being interrogated by Fata forces, prompted a national outcry.
UK forces in Helmand 'made matters worse', says report
Study says 'ignorant' troops alienated local people and the Taliban are likely to try to retake the Afghanistan province
The Guardian, Wednesday 10 July 2013
Under intense pressure from British and US troops, the Taliban have been demoralised and put on the back foot in the Afghan province of Helmand; yet they have proved remarkably resilient, and will try to "retake" the province once foreign forces withdraw, at the end of next year, according to a study published in the influential International Affairs journal .
The study, based on 53 interviews with Taliban commanders and fighters in Helmand, and published on Wednesday, contains damning criticism of the way British commanders sent thousands of their soldiers there in 2006. "Far from helping to secure Helmand, the arrival of the British triggered a violent intensification of the insurgency," it says.
A high level of casualties has produced widespread support among field commanders for ceasefire talks, but the resilience of the insurgency and the growing influence of Taliban military commissions in the Pakistani cities of Quetta and Peshawar means they are "unlikely to give ground easily in negotiations", says Theo Farrell, one of the study's authors.
Farrell, head of the war studies department at King's College London, and Antonio Giustozzi, visiting professor at the department, have published the study in the Chatham House thinktank's journal. They warn: "What we find is an insurgency that is driven both by a strong unifying strategic narrative and purpose – jihad against foreign invaders – and by local conflict dynamics: rivalry between kinship groups and competition over land, water and drugs.
"The manner of the Taliban return to Helmand shows clear intent to retake the province," the authors say.
The Taliban crept back into Helmand after the US-led air strikes in 2001, with small vanguards secretly preparing the way for larger groups to follow.
Farrell and Giustozzi add: "By arriving with insufficient force, aligning themselves with local corrupt power-holders, relying on firepower to keep insurgents at bay and targeting the poppy crop, the British made matters worse.
"Far from securing Helmand, British forces alienated the population, mobilised local armed resistance and drew in foreign fighters seeking jihad."
They describe British troops as "blindly ignorant of the local politics underpinning [the insurgency]".
"Indiscriminate use of fire by British forces alienated locals who were driven from their homes or lost family members," they write. "The pressure on what remained an undermanned force meant that the British lacked the presence and tactical patience to develop ties in most communities, and still had to rely on artillery and air power to get out of trouble."
An added cause of local resistance was the attempt by the British to eradicate opium production. The Taliban took advantage of this by promising to protect landowners and farmers from poppy-eradication programmes, thereby winning local support, they say.
"It was in this climate of gathering jihad that young Helmandi men flocked to the Taliban … the British presence made it far easier to recruit local fighters."
Two weeks, ago, General Nick Carter, deputy commander of the Nato-led coalition, and the most senior British officer in Afghanistan, told the Guardian the west should have tried talking to the Taliban a decade ago, after they had just been toppled from power.
10 things we learned from the Osama bin Laden report
Osama bin Laden hid from spy satellites under a cowboy hat, did not pay property taxes and had a run-in with a traffic policeman
Jon Boone in Islamabad
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 9 July 2013 13.44 BST
1 Osama bin Laden's 10-year stay in Pakistan was a cock-up on the part of Pakistani intelligence, not a conspiracy. The Abbottabad commission said "collective incompetence and negligence" by the intelligence agencies was the main reason the al-Qaida chief remained undetected for so long. However, it could not rule out some degree of "plausibly deniable" support at "some level outside formal structures of the intelligence establishment".
2 A traffic policeman could have ended the hunt for the world's most wanted man soon after 2001. Long before Bin Laden and his family moved to Abbottabad he hid in Swat, a region north of Islamabad that was then still popular with tourists. While travelling with one of his two trusted Pakistani henchmen his car was pulled over for speeding. A few words from Bin Laden's bodyguard "quickly settled the matter". Bin Laden, who shaved his beard at the time, was simply driven away.
3 Bin Laden was fully aware of the need to hide from US spy satellites. Much has been reported about the difficulty the CIA had in determining whether the tall man pacing around the compound was the al-Qaida chief. He was even in the habit of standing under a grape trellis. One of Bin Laden's wives, who survived the attack on the compound and was interviewed by the commission, revealed another technique: he wore a wide-brimmed cowboy hat when outside.
4 Osama was a man of frugal tastes. Before coming to Abbottabad he had just six pairs of shalwar qameez, the long-tailed shirt suit that is Pakistan's national dress – three for summer and three for winter. He also had one jacket and two sweaters. The lack of possessions in the house prompted some Abbottabad locals to tell the inquiry that they did not believe Bin Laden had been at the house for long and that he probably moved between locations.
5 Pakistan suffers from "governance implosion syndrome". The problem of the country's dysfunctional and incompetent institutions are vividly illustrated time and again by the report's authors. Of particular concern is the unwillingness of the ISI, Pakistan's well-resourced military spy agency, to share important intelligence with the police. The former spy chief Ahmad Shuja Pasha told the commission: "We are a failing state even if we are not yet a failed state."
6 For the children, life was one of simple pleasures. None of the children were free to go outside the compound, but Bin Laden tried to entertain his grandchildren by encouraging them to compete against each other in tending their vegetable patches. He had less contact with the children of his two trusted Pakistani couriers. Supposedly they were kept in the dark about his true identity and told he never went to the bazaar because he did not have any money for shopping. Thereafter they nicknamed him Miskeen Kaka, or Poor Uncle. His cover was partly blown when one of the children saw him on a news report, prompting an immediate television ban.
7 Abbottabad is home to lots of soldiers – and terrorists. It is often referred to as a "garrison town" because of the presence of Pakistan's military academy. However, the report makes clear that terrorists also favour it. One resident told the commission that the town was free of terrorist attacks precisely because so many militant families lived there. A house belonging to Abu Faraj al-Libi, a senior al-Qaida commander, was raided less than a mile from Bin Laden's compound, the report said. Umar Patek, one of the Bali bombers, was caught in Abbottabad in January 2011. The report says it is very likely that he was helped by the same al-Qaida network that assisted Bin Laden, and his interrogation should have turned up "actionable intelligence".
8 Bin Laden did not pay property taxes and flouted local building regulations. The property was bought using a fake national ID card, the third floor was built illegally and the occupants did not pay taxes. The commission said all of these things should have attracted attention. Local officials blamed negligence, corruption and staff shortages. The report says: "Either OBL was extremely fortunate to not run into anyone [committed] to doing his job honestly, or there was a complete collapse of local governance."
9 Pakistan's spies deeply distrust their US counterparts. The evidence given by Pakistan's former spy chief contains fascinating insights into how the ISI views the Americans. According to Pasha, the "main agenda of the CIA was to have the ISI declared a terrorist organisation". He did not think the CIA refused to share intelligence with the ISI because they did not trust their Pakistani counterparts, but because the US wanted to deny Pakistan the credit for nabbing the world's most wanted man.
10 More details of apparent CIA activity in Abbottabad. These "ground assets" could have included personnel to guide the US special forces helicopters to the house. The report said "suspicious activities" included the cutting down of trees to clear the approach of the helicopters and the renting of a nearby house for people supposedly working for the United States Agency for International Development. Vehicles from the US embassy in Islamabad were spotted heading towards Abbottabad shortly before the raid.
NASA to search for signs of life in next Mars expedition
By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, July 9, 2013 18:01 EDT
The next robotic rover to explore Mars in 2020 should scour the surface of the red planet more closely than ever for signs of past life, a NASA science team said Tuesday.
The US space agency’s science definition team (SDT) released a 154-page document containing its proposals for the next Mars rover, after five months of work.
The mission would use microscopic analysis for the first time, collect the first rock samples for possible return to Earth and test ways to use natural resources on site for a future human trip, it said.
The Mars 2020 mission would build on the work being done by NASA’s Curiosity rover, which has been exploring the red planet since August 2012 and has already found evidence of potentially habitable environments.
The mission would present “a major step toward seeking signs of life,” said Jim Green, director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA headquarters.
The next step is for NASA to analyze the recommendations and issue a call for scientific instruments, which could include higher resolution imaging devices, microscopes, fine scale minerology, chemistry and organic carbon detection tools to scan for biosignatures on the surface of Mars.
“To combine this suite of instruments would be incredibly powerful,” said Jack Mustard, SDT chair and professor of geological sciences at Brown University.
The rover would collect about 31 samples that might someday be returned to Earth, representing “a legacy for understanding the development of habitability on the planet,” he told reporters.
The US space agency has not yet devised the technology to bring the cache back to Earth without disturbing its contents, and no plans have been set for any potential sample-return.
The next NASA mission to Mars is a November launch of MAVEN, an orbiter that will study how Mars interacted with the solar wind and lost its atmosphere.
The European Space Agency will follow in 2018 with its ExoMars rover.
John Grunsfeld, NASA’s associate administrator for science, said the 2020 Mars rover would get the US space agency to the next step in the “quest to answer the grand questions,” before a planned human mission in the 2030s.
“Do we see any evidence of past life in those habitable environments?” he said, alluding to the aims of the future missions.
Australia tests telescope devoted to exploring origins of the universe
By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, July 9, 2013 15:09 EDT
Australia said it had taken a major step towards the ambitious Square Kilometre Array (SKA) astronomy project with the switching on Tuesday of a test telescope to explore the origins of the universe.
Innovation Minister Kim Carr said the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA), a low-frequency radio telescope operating at the remote Outback site that will host the SKA, began collecting its first data from Southern Hemisphere skies on Tuesday.
“This is an incredibly proud moment for Australia. The MWA is the first SKA precursor telescope to be completed and to become fully operational,” said Carr.
“In addition to helping us see back to the origins of the universe, the array will also help us to understand the interaction between the earth and the sun, give early warning of destructive solar flares and study our galaxy and other galaxies.”
Australia was jointly awarded the SKA contract with South Africa and New Zealand last year in a surprise multi-site decision. Construction is expected to start in 2016, with preliminary operations to be underway by 2020.
The SKA will use a forest of antennae, spread across remote terrain, to pick up radio signals from cosmic phenomena that cannot be detected by optical telescopes.
It will have a discovery potential 10,000 times greater than the most advanced modern instruments and will explore exploding stars, black holes, dark energy and traces of the universe’s origins some 14 billion years ago.
Philip Diamond, director-general of the 20-nation SKA consortium, said the MWA was an important radio telescope in its own right.
“It will also be a key precursor in the design and development of the SKA’s Low Frequency Array, to be hosted here in Australia,” said Diamond.
The MWA will explore the so-called “cosmic dawn”, when the first stars and galaxies formed in the early universe, as well as “space weather” including solar bursts.
It consists of 2,048 dipole antennae, arranged into 128 “tile” clusters, about 100 kilometres (60 miles) west of Meekathara in the deep radio silence of Australia’s remote red-sand desert.
In the USA...
‘Living wage’ mandate in D.C. sends Walmart running
By Eric W. Dolan
Tuesday, July 9, 2013 21:36 EDT
Walmart on Tuesday threatened to abandon three planned stores in Washington, D.C. if the city enacted a so-called “living wage” bill targeting big-box stores.
The Large Retailer Accountability Act was passed in the D.C. Council in late June by a 8-5 vote. If enacted, it would require retailers that make more than $1 billion per year and occupy at least 75,000 square feet to pay employees at least $12.50 per hour, minus benefits. Stores with collective bargaining agreements would not be effected by the law.
“From day one, we have said that this legislation is arbitrary and discriminatory and that it discourages investment in Washington,” Walmart regional general manager Alex Barron said in an op-ed piece published by The Washington Post.
“As a result, Wal-Mart will not pursue stores at Skyland, Capitol Gateway or New York Avenue if the LRAA is passed,” he added. “What’s more, passage would also jeopardize the three stores already under construction, as we would thoroughly review the financial and legal implications of the bill on those projects.”
The D.C. Council will vote on the living wage bill for a final time on Wednesday.
U.S. regulators proposes tougher requirements on big banks
By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, July 9, 2013 17:59 EDT
US regulators Tuesday unveiled tough new capital requirements for the nation’s eight largest banks in the newest move to strengthen the financial system in the wake of the 2008 crisis.
The proposed capital minimums are intended to reduce risk throughout the system and address the so-called “too big to fail” problem, in which the government could be forced into a rescue when giant institutions founder.
But banks said the new requirements would put them at a disadvantage with foreign competitors subject to lower capital standards.
The rules pertain to bank holding companies with more than $700 billion in consolidated total assets or $10 trillion in assets under custody.
The banks affected by the higher requirements are: Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, State Street, Wells Fargo and the Bank of New York Mellon Corp.
Under the new rules, developed jointly by the Federal Reserve, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation,and the Office of the Comptroller on the Currency, the parent companies of the largest banks would have to maintain capital of five percent of their total assets, compared with three percent for smaller banks.
The requirement would be six percent for the companies’ banking units.
The standards are higher than the three percent requirement under the Basel III international pact on bank capital and reserve standards.
Martin Gruenberg, chairman of the FDIC, said the higher capital requirements were needed because a three percent ratio would not have prevented the unsafe growth in leverage among big banks in the years preceding the 2008 financial crisis.
The greater requirements would place additional private capital at risk before public funds would be used, Gruenberg said.
“Maintenance of a strong base of capital at the largest, most systemically important institutions is particularly important because capital shortfalls at these institutions can contribute to systemic distress and can have material adverse economic effects,” Gruenberg said.
Frank Keating, president of the American Banking Association, criticized the measure for imposing stiffer requirements on large American banks compared with their foreign counterparts.
“Raising capital is not without cost – it means higher funding costs for loans and that fewer loans will be made,” Keating said in a statement.
“Doubling the capital requirements adds little protection, and may adversely affect the level and cost of credit that’s so vital to continued economic expansion.”
Federal judge orders Secret Service to release files on Internet activist Aaron Swartz
By Stephen C. Webster
Tuesday, July 9, 2013 12:13 EDT
The Secret Service’s files on deceased cyber-activist Aaron Swartz must be made public, a judge ruled Friday.
U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly issued her ruling in response to a lawsuit filed by Wired reporter Kevin Poulsen, who is investigating the reasons for the heavy-handed prosecution that spurred Swartz to commit suicide.
Swartz, who helped create the first RSS protocol at age 14 and co-founded the popular websites Reddit and Demand Progress, was charged in 2011 of stealing data from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology after he accessed a secure database of academic papers.
Prosecutors threatened him with up to 30 years in prison, and Swartz committed suicide by hanging in January, at just 26 years old. His family later blamed “prosecutorial overreach” for Swartz’s suicide and blasted MIT for failing to stand up for one of its brightest students.
Poulsen was quick to file a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), hoping to learn what exactly the Secret Service dredged up on Swartz during its investigation. That FOIA request was denied in February, so Poulsen sued.
The judge wrote Friday that the DHS has until August 5 to explain how long it will take to release its trove of files on Swartz, in accordance with FOIA law. “You’ll see there here when I get them,” Poulsen writes.
As a result of Swartz’s suicide, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) introduced bills last month that would clarify the difference between accessing information without permission and actually committing a cyber crime, a nuance they said is lacking in current law.
“The result is a proposal that we believe, if enacted into law, safeguards commonplace online activity from overbroad prosecution and overly harsh penalties, while ensuring that real harmful activity is discouraged and fully prosecuted,” Wyden and Lofgren wrote in Wired. “The law must separate its treatment of everyday Internet activity from criminals intent on causing serious damage to financial, social, civic, or security institutions.”
July 9, 2013
At Restaurant, Delay Is Help on Health Law
By ABBY GOODNOUGH
ELLICOTT CITY, Md. — Eric King has worked diligently to keep his family’s 35-year-old seafood restaurant here viable, most recently by expanding the menu beyond its well-loved crab cakes and other traditional dishes to draw a younger, freer-spending crowd.
The restaurant, Shanty Grille, is on track to make a profit this year — about $80,000, Mr. King predicts — for the first time since the economic downturn. Yet the prospect of providing health insurance to every full-time worker or paying a penalty starting in January, a provision of the Obama health care law, has overshadowed the good news.
Businesses with the equivalent of more than 50 full-time employees are subject to the rule, and Shanty Grille hovers right around that threshold.
Then came last week’s announcement that the mandate would be delayed a year after business owners begged the Obama administration for more time. Mr. King, who had been fretting for three years about whether the restaurant would be subject to the mandate and how it would affect the bottom line, was thrilled.
“It gives us another year to plan,” he said Friday, sitting in the Grille’s sleek, newly expanded pub as customers cracked crabs at the bar. “If we fall below the 50, fantastic. If we’re above, then we’ll have another year to figure out how to offset these costs.”
Shanty Grille already provides health insurance to 9 of its 85 employees, paying part of the premium for each at a total cost of about $26,000 a year. The chosen group includes the restaurant’s managers and chefs — skilled workers, Mr. King said, whom “I really want to take care of and retain.”
Others can opt into the plan, but only if they pay the full cost, about $4,700 this year. Only one, a waitress in her 50s, has done so. (Mr. King and his wife and children are insured through a smaller family business across the street, a fish market that does not employ enough people to have to comply with the mandate.)
If Mr. King had the equivalent of 50 full-time employees under the health care law, which uses a complex formula to determine precisely who is eligible for coverage, he estimates that would have to cover a total of 22 employees. That would bring his costs to about $62,000 a year if premiums did not rise, he said.
“If there’s no return on your investment,” he said, “there’s not really a point anymore. I put in 70, 75 hours a week. Is it really worth it?”
Restaurant owners have been among the most vocal critics of the employer mandate, saying it could hurt them more than other businesses in part because their profit margins tend to be low. Some have said they will lay off workers or shift more of them to part-time status to avoid having to comply.
Mr. King thinks his current system is fair — he offers insurance to his most valuable employees, who are also the most likely to stick around — and points to low turnover as evidence that his uninsured servers, busboys, dishwashers, line cooks and hosts are content. Most are young and in good health.
He said “not a soul” among the employees at Shanty Grille had asked him to comply with the mandate.
“Most of my servers are 25 to 30 years old,” he said. “They’d rather take the $200 a month and put it in a bar bill as opposed to insurance.”
Yet at least one of Mr. King’s young, uninsured employees is anxious about not having medical coverage — so much that this week, he is starting a second job that comes with health benefits. The employee, Vince Ritter, a bartender, started working at Shanty Grille a decade ago, when he was 16. The health care law allowed him to be covered under his parents’ insurance plan for the last few years. But next week, when he turns 26, he will by law lose that coverage.
That makes him nervous, he said, because he plays sports and has seen uninsured friends — including a colleague at Shanty Grille who tore a knee ligament on the basketball court — have to pay thousands of dollars for urgent care.
“I’ll be honest with you, if I could have gotten it through here I probably would have just stayed,” Mr. Ritter said. “I love this place.”
Good coverage has always been important to Faye McConnell, the pantry chef, one of the few who get health insurance through the restaurant. She worries that if the restaurant has to cover all full-time workers, her own plan could become more expensive or not as good.
“A business can only put out so much,” said Ms. McConnell, 62, who has worked at Shanty Grille for 15 years. “It might help people, but it seems like it’s also going to hurt people. That’s what I’m totally afraid of.”
Under the health care law, most Americans will be required to have insurance as of January 2014 or face tax penalties. The decision to delay the employer mandate does not affect this broader requirement, the cornerstone of Mr. Obama’s plan to reduce the ranks of the uninsured by 25 million over the next decade.
People who were likely to gain coverage through their employers next year, including Shanty Grille employees, must now either pay the tax penalty — 1 percent of their household’s taxable income or $95 per adult in the household, whichever is greater, in 2014 — or buy their own insurance through newly created markets in their states known as exchanges.
Businesses that do not comply with the mandate will also face penalties. Some employers have said they would prefer paying penalties to providing insurance, which would be more costly. But Mr. King said he could not live with that choice if it meant no longer covering anyone.
“We’d probably close first,” he said. “Even if I only earned a $20,000 profit, I couldn’t look at my employees who helped us get to where we are and say, ‘I’m putting $20,000 in my pocket but I can’t put it toward you guys.’ ”
On Monday, with an adding machine and an Excel spreadsheet, Mr. King determined that he had the equivalent of only 47 full-time employees in the year that ended June 30, according to the complex formula that the law relies on. That was down from 54 for the 2012 calendar year. Mr. King said he had cut back some busboy hours in recent months and had not replaced several employees who left. Meanwhile, he said, some servers worked just below the 130 hours per month that the law considers full time.
Mr. King said he had been trying “to run a little bit sleeker,” not to dodge the employer mandate but to reduce what he said were above-average labor costs for the restaurant industry. Still, he said he was greatly relieved that he might not have to provide insurance to more workers after all. The only drawback is that the restaurant could not grow.
“No more expansion,” he said.
July 9, 2013
Miami Police Department Is Accused of Pattern of Excessive Force
By ERICA GOODE
Federal officials have found that the Miami Police Department engaged in a pattern of excessive force that led to a high number of shootings by officers, among them episodes that resulted in the deaths of seven young black men over an eight-month period in 2011.
The findings, released on Tuesday, came after a two-year investigation by the Justice Department’s civil rights division, and they identified “troubling” practices, including delays in completing investigations of officer-involved shootings, questionable police tactics and a lack of adequate supervision. From 2008 to 2011, officers intentionally fired their weapons at people 33 times, the investigation found.
In a summary addressed to Tomas P. Regalado, Miami’s mayor, and Manuel Orosa, the police chief, the Justice Department noted that its own investigation would have been completed sooner if not for the Police Department’s “frequent inability to produce necessary documents in a timely fashion.”
Wifredo A. Ferrer, the United States attorney for South Florida, said that discussions would now begin with the department over what corrective measures should be taken.
Miami’s Police Department is one of a number of law enforcement agencies that have been investigated by federal authorities in recent years over abuses like excessive force, racial bias or the handling of sexual assaults. Such investigations usually result in a settlement, known as a consent decree, and the assignment of a monitor to see that changes are made.
Mr. Ferrer noted that this was the second time in a little over a decade that the Justice Department had been called in to investigate the Miami department: the first time was in 2002, when similar problems were found. In a 20-month period after John F. Timoney, formerly of the New York Police Department, became Miami’s chief, no officer discharged a firearm, the report noted. But problems resumed after he left in 2004.
The number of officer-involved shootings in recent years was especially high when compared with that of other big cities like New York and Washington, Mr. Ferrer said. In 2010, he said, there was one fatal shooting for every 4,300 officers in New York, compared with one for every 220 in Miami.
In its report, the Justice Department described “egregious” delays in the investigation of officer-involved shootings by the Miami police; in one case, the officers in a shooting had not provided statements about what occurred more than three years later.
In many cases, officers were returned to duty on the streets while investigations into shootings were still in progress. Officers also showed bad marksmanship and poor judgment, the investigation found, firing their weapons at moving vehicles or when pedestrians were nearby. Specialty units, like those devoted to robberies, gangs, special operations or crime suppression, were involved in a high proportion of shootings: 9 out of 17 total in 2010 and 2011.
Mr. Ferrer said that Chief Orosa, who was appointed in 2011, had already begun to make significant changes in the department, but “we are working with him to make sure those reforms become well ingrained into the Police Department and discussing what other reforms are needed.”
In response, Chief Orosa said in a statement, “The Miami Police Department welcomes this long-awaited response and looks forward to the opportunity to clarify several components of the letter, as well as to labor intensely to negotiate an agreement with the Department of Justice, as promptly as possible.”
Chuck Wexler, the executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, said that while instituting new polices was important in addressing problems, the most critical factor in turning a department around was having a strong leader.
“You need to have leadership and consequences when people don’t follow the policies,” Mr. Wexler said. “I think police are very sensitive to whether or not you tolerate excessive force, and if the message is that that’s going to be tolerated, it only expands.”
Republicans Around The Country Are On A Law breaking Rampage
Jul. 9th, 2013
]lawThe concept of law lacks a universally accepted definition, but it is safe to say that in the construct of society it is a system of rules and guidelines which are enforced through social institutions to govern behavior and maintain order. Obviously there are members of any society that find fault with specific laws for a variety of reasons, but because laws are for the common good, most people are inclined to follow them as responsible citizens; unless they are conservatives and specifically Republicans. The past four-and-a-half years have demonstrated that Republicans have no respect for the law on myriad levels, and it is in part based on the premise they are destined by god to rule America, and in part because they believe they are fundamentally above the law like common criminals. It is not a new development for Republicans, and conservatives in general, to disregard laws that are contrary to their ideological bent they have spent decades ignoring, circumventing, and blatantly subverting to impose their despotic ideology and rule America.
There is a definite pattern among Republicans of finding some means to ignore, break, and subvert laws by spending millions of dollars to fear-monger, pose legal challenges, change terminology, or insert unrelated, and constitutionally aberrant items into legislation unrelated to their original intent. Unsurprisingly, many laws Republicans undermine have been settled time and again in the courts, and yet they blatantly violate even decades-old Supreme Court rulings with impunity. Even though Republicans’ practice of undermining the law has been going on for decades, they ramped up their efforts since Barack Obama has been President to take advantage of racial animus permeating American society. What makes their efforts all the more despicable is that nearly all the laws of the land they are undermining or violating have little to no effect on their existence or rights as Americans; it is all about control.
For example, the Supreme Court ruled forty years ago that it is a woman’s Constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy up until the time a fetus is viable outside the womb, and for forty years Republicans and the religious right have used every means possible to violate the Court’s ruling. In just the past two weeks, Republicans redefined pregnancy with a personhood law in Ohio’s budget, inserted abortion bans into anti-Sharia legislation in North Carolina, devised disgraceful means to prevent physicians from having access to medical facilities in Texas, and mandated forced transvaginal ultrasounds to dissuade women for exercising their Constitutional rights. The Roe v. Wade decision has no impact on any woman, or man, who is not making a personal reproductive health choice, but Republicans are violating the law with impunity to force their ideology on every woman in America.
Conservative groups could not comport a campaign law requiring them to reveal their donors, so they illegally used social welfare designation to conceal dark money in campaigns, and to circumvent the law they committed perjury and then had the temerity to complain when the IRS followed the letter of the law governing tax exempt organizations. Religious tax-exempt organizations cannot tolerate a law that prohibits them from campaigning from the pulpit and still keep their tax-exempt status, so they videotape themselves violating the law daring the IRS to revoke their tax-exempt status. Their goal is overturning the Separation Clause in the Constitution’s First Amendment they have been violating for the past three decades.
There have been myriad court rulings prohibiting public schools from teaching the bible’s Genesis story as science because it is religious dogma that violates the first Amendment, and yet in nearly every state in the Union religious groups, school districts, and evangelicals violate the Constitution and teach creationism by renaming it, citing academic freedom, and in many cases encouraging teachers to violate the Separation Clause. It is another case of long-established Constitutional law conservatives refuse to abide under any circumstances, and it puts them in the same class as any other criminal who believes the law does not apply to them.
Despite the Supreme Court ruled the ACA is constitutional and John Boehner admitted it is the law of the land, Republicans have used every means at their disposal to thwart the law’s implementation. It was revealed this week that the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity belief-tank is spending over a million dollars to cast doubt on the law despite the millionaires and billionaires AFP and the Kochs represent are unaffected by it. There are still Republicans in states that claim the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional, and with their criminal cohort in Congress, ALEC, and Americans for Prosperity they are resorting to fear-mongering to delegitimize the law of the land.
Former Confederate states are still angry African Americans were given the right to vote in the 15th Amendment in 1870, and even though the Voting Rights Act has been in effect for 58 years, they spent the past two years passing unconstitutional laws restricting the right to vote to white middle class Southerners. When the Justice Department prohibited them from violating the law by suppressing minority votes under the Voting Rights Act, Republicans appealed to racists on the conservative Supreme Court to give them permission to legally suppress minority voting rights. The VRA had no effect on any Republican’s right to vote, but their racist ideology drove them to violate other Americans Constitutional rights; specifically African Americans with blessings from racist on the High Court.
The list of laws, regulations, Supreme Court rulings, and Constitutional rights Republicans and conservatives circumvent, subvert, and violate is endless, but it demonstrates one simple premise; they believe they are not beholden to follow the law of the land under any circumstance. They specifically target laws that guarantee Americans the right to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness and no group is immune from their blatant disregard for the law save their precious corporations, the rich, and the fanatically religious. They have ratcheted up their assault on legally passed legislation since extremist teabaggers helped them gain control of state legislatures and the House of Representatives in the 2010 midterm elections, but they began their crusade 80 years ago with the New Deal and escalated their assault on regulations thirty years ago when a b-movie actor became president.
The level of Republican abhorrence for the law has reached a point that government is at a standstill and it is exactly what they have worked for during the past four years. Republicans in Congress and states have made eliminating laws protecting the people their prime objective and no demographic has been left untouched by their crusade to erase regulations off the books while passing laws restricting democracy and personal liberty. America is alleged to be a nation of laws to maintain order and protect the rights of all the people, but when one party’s primary goal is destroying the laws, the result will either be government by dictatorial fiat, or open anarchy and it is apparent that Republicans are working diligently to establish either one.
Harry Reid Hints That He’s Finally Ready to Go Nuclear On GOP Filibusters
By: Sarah Jones
Jul. 9th, 2013
Asked Tuesday if he’s thinking about filibuster reform with Republicans continuing to block so many of the President’s judicial and executive branch nominations, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) hinted to reporters that he will have a caucus on this Thursday to discuss filibuster reform.
The Nevada Democrat said, “I’m going to have a caucus on this Thursday. And I think Thursday by the time the day is out you’ll have a better idea of what we’re going to try to do on this.”
Reid could change the rules with just 51 votes if he’s willing to use the “nuclear option” for the first time. The nuclear option is also known as the constitutional option, and basically allows the Senate to end a filibuster with a majority vote. It was, ironically, a Republican Vice President — namely Richard I-am-not-a-crook Nixon — who wrote the opinion allowing the residing officer the authority to override Senate rules.*
Democratic aides told Reuters that Reid is considering only changing the rule on filibusters for nominations, not legislation. Reuters says Reid will wait to see if Republicans block upcoming nominees before deciding to go nuclear on them. Since Republicans always obstruct, this is tantamount to saying he will wait to see if the sun comes up tomorrow.
Naturally with Reid making noise to stop the Republicans from abusing the filibuster, Republicans see themselves as victims. In the Senate, Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who in May accused Harry Reid of “intimidating” him by even mentioning filibuster reform, got his persecution on, “Let’s get real here. That’s not how a democracy functions!”
He ought to know precisely how a democracy does not function. McConnell will filibuster anything, including his own bills, just to obstruct progress.
Senator John McCain (R-AZ) concern trolled, “I’m worried, very worried. There has been wrong on both sides, but this could destroy the Senate.” Wrong on both sides of the aisle? What is destroying the Senate is the inability to get anything done because Republicans are faux filibustering even discussions of bills.
Republicans used the filibuster 252 times during Obama’s first term and as of May 22, Senate Republicans were averaging nearly three filibusters a month in so far in 2013. Republicans have abused the “silent” filibuster to stop progress on hundreds of bills over the last four years, stopping even floor debate. Senate Republicans have been abusing the filibuster not only to stop nominations but also to keep legislation at a stand still (more of their anti-Obama tactics, unrelated to the actual policy).
Republicans deny abusing the filibuster, but the record speaks for itself. CNN reported:
But the number of filibusters by Republicans has escalated, and they have been far more willing to use the tactic than their opponents. Since 2007, the Senate Historical Office has shown, Democrats have had to end Republican filibusters more than 360 times, a historic record.
Republicans have managed to give the public Republican rule even though the public elected Democratic rule. Republicans have admitted that being obstructionist is a deliberate strategy that is working for them so far, given Democratic majorities. In 2007, former Senate Minority Whip Trent Lott explained how Republicans were getting around Democratic majorities, “The strategy of being obstructionist can work or fail… So far it’s working for us.”
Maybe Harry Reid is sick enough of it finally, or maybe he figures Democrats have a good shot of maintaining control in the Senate now. While Reid is rumored to be focused on just the nominations, not even being allowed to debate bills is unacceptable result of Republican obstruction.
One thing Senator Reid should understand is that this is bigger than just abiding by the unspoken rules of the Senate. The obstruction of the Republicans is causing real harm to the American people. This is bigger than politics, and it’s time to pull the trigger on the nuclear option. Do it for the people.
Latin America demands answers from U.S. on spying
By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, July 11, 2013 5:18 EDT
From its neighbor Mexico down to Argentina, Latin American nations are demanding answers from the United States after a report of vast US spying on close allies and leftist critics alike.
Governments voiced a mix of outrage and concern after the Brazilian daily O Globo, citing documents leaked by fugitive former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, said several nations were targets of US electronic surveillance.
The snooping included lifting data on leftist Venezuela’s oil and military purchases and Mexico’s drug war and energy sector as well as mapping the movements of a Marxist guerrilla group in Colombia, the newspaper said.
Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto said Wednesday his government had asked for “an explanation to clear up” the spying claims and that if they turn out to be true, “it would be completely unacceptable.”
Pena Nieto, however, said the two allies still maintained relations of “respect and cordiality.”
The Mexican daily Excelsior reported Wednesday that Pena Nieto’s predecessor had allowed the United States to install a system to intercept phone calls and Internet chatter.
The Mexican attorney general’s office opened an investigation to determine whether a crime was committed.
Mexico and the United States have worked closely in the battle against drug trafficking in recent years, with the US government earmarking $1.9 billion in law enforcement training and equipment.
The reported spying on the energy sector comes as Pena Nieto, who took office in December, mulls a reform aimed at attracting more private investment in the state-run oil monopoly Pemex.
O Globo said other countries targeted by the National Security Agency were Argentina, Ecuador, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Paraguay, Chile, Peru and El Salvador.
“It sends chills up my spine when we learn that they are spying on us through their intelligence services in Brazil,” Argentine President Cristina Kirchner said, referring to another Globo report that the United States maintained a satellite spy base in Brasilia at least until 2002.
The issue will be on the agenda of Friday’s summit of the Mercosur trade bloc, which includes Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Venezuela. The leaders of Bolivia and Honduras were also invited to the talks in Montevideo.
“The Mercosur meeting is an opportunity to take a common stand. Any attack on the sovereignty of one country must be answered with great firmness, because if we lower our heads, they will walk all over us,” warned Brazil’s presidential chief of staff Gilberto Carvalho.
President Dilma Rousseff has ordered an investigation into the report of electronic spying on Brazilian citizens and companies.
Colombia, the top US ally in the region which has received billions of dollars in US military aid to combat drug trafficking and the leftist rebels, voiced concern and said it would seek answers from the United States.
A foreign ministry statement late Tuesday said that Colombia rejects “acts of espionage that violate people’s right to privacy and international conventions on telecommunications.”
The US ambassador to Colombia, Michael McKinley, said he understood “expressions of concern” and that the United States had an obligation to respond through diplomatic channels to its partners.
US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said that any answers to requests from countries such as Colombia would remain private.
“We have a range of diplomatic conversations with a broad number of countries, and as any allegations surface, we’re happy to have those, but we keep those private for obvious reasons,” Psaki said.
In Chile, the foreign ministry said it “firmly condemns espionage, whatever its origin, nature and objective.”
El Salvador’s deputy development minister, Jaime Miranda said, his government was checking the veracity of the claims, which would “clash with the principle of sovereignty and violate Salvadorans’ right to privacy.”
The outrage comes as Snowden, who is believed to be holed up in Moscow’s international airport, is considering taking asylum in Latin America after the leftist leaders of Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua offered to take in the 30-year-old fugitive.
US presses on with F-16 transfer to Egypt
Reluctance to call overthrow of Mohamed Morsi a coup leaves US free to continue lavish military aid
Reuters in Washington
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 11 July 2013 04.10 BST
The United States plans to go through with the delivery of four F-16 fighter jets to Egypt in the coming weeks, US defence officials have said, even after the Egyptian military brought down president Mohamed Morsi.
Washington has trodden a careful line, neither welcoming Morsi's removal nor denouncing it as a "coup", saying it needs time to weigh the situation.
Branding his overthrow a coup would, by US law, require Washington to halt aid to the Egyptian military, which receives the lion's share of the $1.5bn in annual US assistance to that country.
The jets, which are likely to be delivered in August and are built by Lockheed Martin, are part of the annual aid package, a US defence official said.
"There is no current change in the plan to deliver F-16s to the Egyptian military," a second US official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
Asked about the F-16s, White House spokesman Jay Carney said: "It's our view that we should not ... hastily change our aid programs." He directed specific questions about the jets to the defence department.
The Pentagon, responding to queries by reporters, later issued a statement echoing President Barack Obama's comments on 3 July that he had ordered a review of US assistance to Egypt. Asked whether Obama's review had put the F-16 delivery on hold, one of the US officials told Reuters: "The delivery remains scheduled as planned."
Lockheed Martin, the Pentagon's biggest supplier, declined to comment.
Egypt has been one of the world's largest recipients of US aid since it signed the 1979 peace treaty with Israel.
July 10, 2013
Sudden Improvements in Egypt Suggest a Campaign to Undermine Morsi
By BEN HUBBARD and DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK
CAIRO — The streets seethe with protests and government ministers are on the run or in jail, but since the military ousted President Mohamed Morsi, life has somehow gotten better for many people across Egypt: Gas lines have disappeared, power cuts have stopped and the police have returned to the street.
The apparently miraculous end to the crippling energy shortages, and the re-emergence of the police, seems to show that the legions of personnel left in place after former President Hosni Mubarak was ousted in 2011 played a significant role — intentionally or not — in undermining the overall quality of life under the Islamist administration of Mr. Morsi.
And as the interim government struggles to unite a divided nation, the Muslim Brotherhood and Mr. Morsi’s supporters say the sudden turnaround proves that their opponents conspired to make Mr. Morsi fail. Not only did police officers seem to disappear, but the state agencies responsible for providing electricity and ensuring gas supplies failed so fundamentally that gas lines and rolling blackouts fed widespread anger and frustration.
“This was preparing for the coup,” said Naser el-Farash, who served as the spokesman for the Ministry of Supply and Internal Trade under Mr. Morsi. “Different circles in the state, from the storage facilities to the cars that transport petrol products to the gas stations, all participated in creating the crisis.”
Working behind the scenes, members of the old establishment, some of them close to Mr. Mubarak and the country’s top generals, also helped finance, advise and organize those determined to topple the Islamist leadership, including Naguib Sawiris, a billionaire and an outspoken foe of the Brotherhood; Tahani El-Gebali, a former judge on the Supreme Constitutional Court who is close to the ruling generals; and Shawki al-Sayed, a legal adviser to Ahmed Shafik, Mr. Mubarak’s last prime minister, who lost the presidential race to Mr. Morsi.
But it is the police returning to the streets that offers the most blatant sign that the institutions once loyal to Mr. Mubarak held back while Mr. Morsi was in power. Throughout his one-year tenure, Mr. Morsi struggled to appease the police, even alienating his own supporters rather than trying to overhaul the Interior Ministry. But as crime increased and traffic clogged roads — undermining not only the quality of life, but the economy — the police refused to deploy fully.
White-clad officers have returned to Cairo’s streets, and security forces — widely despised before and after the revolution — intervened with tear gas and shotguns against Islamists during widespread street clashes last week, leading anti-Morsi rioters to laud them as heroes. Posters have gone up around town showing a police officer surrounded by smiling children over the words “Your security is our mission, your safety our goal.”
“You had officers and individuals who were working under a specific policy that was against Islamic extremists and Islamists in general,” said Ihab Youssef, a retired police officer who runs a professional association for the security forces. “Then all of a sudden the regime flips and there is an Islamic regime ruling. They could never psychologically accept that.”
When Mr. Mubarak was removed after nearly 30 years in office in 2011, the bureaucracy he built stayed largely in place. Many business leaders, also a pillar of the old government, retained their wealth and influence.
Despite coming to power through the freest elections in Egyptian history, Mr. Morsi was unable to extend his authority over the sprawling state apparatus, and his allies complained that what they called the “deep state” was undermining their efforts at governing.
While he failed to broaden his appeal and build any kind of national consensus, he also faced an active campaign by those hostile to his leadership, including some of the wealthiest and most powerful pillars of the Mubarak era.
Mr. Sawiris, one of Egypt’s richest men and a titan of the old establishment, said Wednesday that he had supported an upstart group called “tamarrod,” Arabic for “rebellion,” that led a petition drive seeking Mr. Morsi’s ouster. He donated use of the nationwide offices and infrastructure of the political party he built, the Free Egyptians. He provided publicity through his popular television network and his major interest in Egypt’s largest private newspaper. He even commissioned the production of a popular music video that played heavily on his network.
“Tamarrod did not even know it was me!” he said. “I am not ashamed of it.”
He said he had publicly predicted that ousting Mr. Morsi would bolster Egypt’s sputtering economy because it would bring in billions of dollars in aid from oil-rich monarchies afraid that the Islamist movement might spread to their shores. By Wednesday, a total of $12 billion had flowed in from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait. “That will take us for 12 months with no problem,” Mr. Sawiris said.
Ms. Gebali, the former judge, said in a telephone interview on Wednesday that she and other legal experts helped tamarrod create its strategy to appeal directly to the military to oust Mr. Morsi and pass the interim presidency to the chief of the constitutional court.
“We saw that there was movement and popular creativity, so we wanted to see if it would have an effect and a constitutional basis,” Ms. Gebali said.
Mr. Farash, the trade ministry spokesman under Mr. Morsi, attributed the fuel shortages to black marketers linked to Mr. Mubarak, who diverted shipments of state-subsidized fuel to sell for a profit abroad. Corrupt officials torpedoed Mr. Morsi’s introduction of a smart card system to track fuel shipments by refusing to use the devices, he said.
But not everyone agreed with that interpretation, as supporters of the interim government said the improvements in recent days were a reflection of Mr. Morsi’s incompetence, not a conspiracy. State news media said energy shortages occurred because consumers bought extra fuel out of fear, which appeared to evaporate after Mr. Morsi’s fall. On Wednesday, Al Ahram, the flagship newspaper, said the energy grid had had a surplus in the past week for the first time in months, thanks to “energy-saving measures by the public.”
“I feel like Egypt is back,” Ayman Abdel-Hakam, a criminal court judge from a Cairo suburb, said after waiting only a few minutes to fill up his car at a downtown gas station. He accused Mr. Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood of trying to seize all state power and accused them of creating the fuel crisis by exporting gasoline to Hamas, the militant Islamic group in the Gaza Strip.
“We had a disease, and we got rid of it,” Mr. Abdel-Hakam said.
Ahmed Nabawi, a gas station manager, said he had heard several reasons for the gas crisis: technical glitches at a storage facility, a shipment of low-quality gas from abroad and unnecessary stockpiling by the public. Still, he was amazed at how quickly the crisis disappeared.
“We went to sleep one night, woke up the next day, and the crisis was gone,” he said, casually sipping tea in his office with his colleagues.
Regardless of the reasons behind the crisis, he said, Mr. Morsi’s rule had not helped.
“No one wanted to cooperate with his people because they didn’t accept him,” he said. “Now that he is gone, they are working like they’re supposed to.”
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: July 11, 2013
Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this article mischaracterized a plan to name an interim president in Egypt, and it erroneously attributed a distinction to Hazem el-Beblawi. Mr. Beblawi is Egypt’s interim prime minister, not the chief of the constitutional court. And the plan, as described by Tahani El-Gebali, a former judge on the Supreme Constitutional Court, was to pass the interim presidency to the chief of the court, not to Mr. Beblawi.
Syria's al-Nusra Front – ruthless, organised and taking control
Special report: The main jihadi group is marshalling its resources shrewdly, and the 'emir of gas' is impressed
Ghaith Abdul-Ahad in Shadadi, eastern Syria
The Guardian, Wednesday 10 July 2013 15.14 BST
The al-Qaida-affiliated commander in charge of the oil company in Shadadi, eastern Syria – a lean, broad-shouldered man who is followed everywhere by a machete-wielding bodyguard – was explaining the appeal of jihadi rule to the people of the newly captured town.
"Go and ask the people in the streets whether there a liberated town or city anywhere in Syria that is ruled as efficiently as this one," he boasted. "There is electricity, water and bread and security. Inshallah, this will be the nucleus of a new Syrian Islamic caliphate!"
The al-Nusra Front, the principle jihadi rebel group in Syria, defies the cliche of Islamist fighters around the Middle East plotting to establish Islamic caliphates from impoverished mountain hideaways. In north-eastern Syria, al-Nusra finds itself in command of massive silos of wheat, factories, oil and gas fields, fleets of looted government cars and a huge weapons arsenal.
The commander talked about the services al-Nusra is providing to Shadadi's residents. First, there is food: 225 sacks of wheat, baked into bread and delivered to the people every day through special teams in each neighbourhood. Then there is free electricity and water, which run all day throughout the town. There is also al-Nusra healthcare, provided from a small clinic that treats all comers, regardless of whether they have sworn allegiance to the emirate or not. Finally, there is order and the promise of swift justice, delivered according to sharia law by a handful of newly appointed judges.
"God has chosen us to provide security to the people, and we do it for nothing," he said. "We have vowed to sacrifice ourselves to serve the people. If we leave, the tribes will start killing each other for the oil and the loot. We had to show force in dealing with the tribes. Even now, one to three people are killed every day because of feuding over the oil. We also protect the silos of wheat. All the silos are under our protection.
"All this wealth," he said, "is for the Muslims."
The emir of gas
A few miles from Shadadi, travelling through hills dotted with oil pumps that resemble giant, long-legged birds dipping their beaks into the earth, we came to al-Nusra's most valuable asset in the region, a gas refinery run by a young commander known to his followers simply as the "emir of gas".
The emir sat on a green mattress on the floor of his office, conspicuously eschewing the computer and desk in favour of the simple way of the Islamist warrior. He was almost skeletally thin, his handsome face framed by long black hair that wrapped lazily around his ears, giving him the air of a mischievous playboy.
When the rebels first captured the refinery, it was run by a joint committee that represented all the battalions in the area. But the emir decided to kick them out, for their "petty theft".
"The Free Syrian Army [FSA] have no funding so they steal stupid things," he said contemptuously. "They steal anything."
The secret to al-Nusra's power in the east, he said, was organisation: all their captured loot went to a central committee, which he called the "Muslim treasury". From there, it was directed to the various battle fronts.
"When we bring in cars or weapons, we don't keep them," said the emir: "the money is sent to the treasury, which distributes these resources."
Rival groups wasted the proceeds of their looting locally, he said. "If your money is scattered around, you can't succeed. But if you centralise your resources, you can do a lot."
The emir had been a law student when the revolution started, he said. Back then, he identified himself as a salafist, though he did not follow al-Qaida. For a full year, he fought under the FSA banner. When al-Qaida first emerged in the east, he thought they would harm the revolution. "I used to disagree with [al-Qaida] over their policies. Even now, they make mistakes on the ground and they have had setbacks in Iraq and Somalia because of this. They focus too much on the sword rather than the Qur'an and preaching," he said.
"I thought we shouldn't declare our animosity to America now. I said, we can be jihadis but raise the flag of the FSA."
What changed his mind was the chaos and corruption of the FSA. He had fought four battles with the FSA, he said, and seen how they argued over the spoils in the middle of the fighting.
"Religious leaders explained to me that we should not fight blindly, that the flag of the FSA is the flag of infidel secularism and that America is our enemy, whether we declare it or not. Americans will always fight us and will never be satisfied," he said.
"We can't topple Bashar and hand it to the FSA to establish the same apostate secularist state. We are not fighting against Bashar only; we are fighting the system."
The tactics with which al-Nusra is waging its war are no less brutal than those of its al-Qaida-affiliated counterparts in other areas of the Middle East. A few weeks before our visit, after a feud with a local tribe over oil, al-Nusra fighters had surrounded the village of Albu Saray and taken the whole male population of the village prisoner. A few of them were accused of killing an al-Nusra commander, and were executed, and many of the houses in the village were flattened. "Do you know why the Americans and Israelis are winning and we Arabs always lose?" asked the emir. "Because we Arabs are emotional."
Al-Nusra, by contrast, was an international organisation, and was "not built on emotions". Its members should be ready to kill their brothers or cousins if they were proved to have to committed apostasy.
"Hitting Albu Saray was a pre-emptive strike," he said. "They were weak. They had a bad reputation. Kill them, and you teach more powerful tribes a lesson. They will start fearing."
'This has broken our spine'
If the jihadis are in the ascendant in the east, they are not without challenges. The first of these is a strategy that bore fruit for the Americans in Iraq: the threat of an Arab "awakening", or sahwa, in which the US pays tribes to fight the jihadists on their behalf. In Iraq, this delivered a disastrous defeat for al-Qaida and other jihadis, but it has since achieved mixed results in Yemen, Somalia and Afghanistan.
But while it took the Americans months of intricate negotiations and huge sums of money to convince a few tribal elders in Iraq, in Syria almost every other marginal tribal elder and his many cousins flirt with the the idea of sahwa, and the money that it could bring.
"They used to tell us that the FSA will turn to sahwa and fight us, which I thought was an exaggeration," said the emir of gas before we departed. "Now I know that will happen for sure.
"After Bashar falls, I see the FSA battalions dividing into three parts. Some will go home to their previous lives, some will join us in establishing the rule of sharia, and a third part will become a sahwa and turn and fight us."
More feared even than the threat of an "awakening", is the risk of splits among the jihadi fighters themselves. In another part of the eastern countryside, I met a senior al-Nusra commander whose self-confident, jihadi way of speaking deserted him as he pondered the difficulties facing his group.
"I expected clashes with everyone: with the tribes, with the FSA, with anyone," he said. "But with other jihadis? I never thought that day would come."
In what many considered a coup against al-Nusra, the leader of the Iraqi branch of al-Qaida, Abu Bakra al-Baghdadi, declared that he would merge his own organisation with that of his Syrian brothers, under his leadership. The feud that followed was reminiscent of the infighting between warring branches of the Ba'ath party in Iraq and Syria in the 1960s.
"Yes, in the beginning they [al-Qaida in Iraq] did give us weapons and send us their leadership," said the commander. "May Allah bless them. But now, we have become a state. We control massive areas, and they are but a faction. They don't control land in Iraq: they were defeated. We have been sending them weapons and cars to strengthen their spear against the Iraqi rejectionist government, but now they want us to be part of them. That, I don't understand."
The foreign fighters – Iraqis, Tunisians, Egyptians and others – were angry with al-Nusra for not accepting the orders of the bigger emir of Iraq, he said. Eighty per cent of them had joined Baghdadi.
"This has broken our spine. Many of our fighters became lax. They ask: 'Why are we fighting if there is a dispute among the emirs?'"
What will happen to them when they become mired in the realpolitik of civil war? Will they gradually sink into the quagmire, like every other faction?
"They say that al-Nusra has become soft, [that] they deal with the infidel FSA and co-ordinate with them and fight together," said the commander. "The reality is that many of the people who have accepted al-Nusra in these area and started to accept our ideology did so because they saw people of the area join them. Now, they have retreated because al-Qaida entered very heavily."
He cites an old Arabic proverb, which states that the people of Mecca know its valleys better than the outsiders. "We know better than the outsiders, who are here just to fight and kill. We have to learn from the mistakes of Iraq and the mistakes that toppled al-Qaida there and turned the tribes against them."
Back at the oil company headquarters in Shadadi, the workers were discussing their new leaders in the shade of a corrugated metal sheet.
"We got rid of one despot [Bashar] and replaced him with another," one man told a young technician who had given his oath to al-Nusra, and thereby been allowed to keep his job.
"As in every place, there are good people and bad people," responded the technician.
"Why is it all right for you to take all the wheat silos and leave none for others?" the first man asked, bitterly.
"Because al-Nusra are the best to rule, and we can take care of the wheat," said the technician.
"Wallah [truly]," responded the man, "al-Nusra takes a cut of everything here – even the air that we breathe."
Will Hissène Habré's victims in Chad finally get justice?
Former Chadian dictator's arrest and forthcoming trial in Senegal offers some hope to those who suffered under his regime
Celeste Hicks in N'Djamena
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 11 July 2013 12.06 BST
"I would just like to look Hissène Habré in the eye and ask him why?" says Clement Abaifouta, who spent four years in jail after he was arrested in 1985 during the former Chadian president's "reign of terror". Abaifouta still does not understand what he did to justify the incarceration. "I was a 25-year-old student, I won a scholarship to go to Europe, and then … What was it all for?"
Abaifouta, who is now president of the Hissène Habré victims association in Chad, spends his days campaigning on behalf of others like him; tireless in his efforts to bring justice, he has worked closely with Human Rights Watch and other groups. "I was forced to bury my compatriots who died in the jail. We all had to dig their graves. If I didn't have faith that one day justice would come, I wouldn't have been able to continue," he says.
There is now a palpable sense of achievement among the victims of Habré's rule, who have been fighting for justice for more than two decades. Some of his victims have died without justice, and many doubted that they would ever see a day like Sunday 30 June when Habré was arrested in Senegal. He has been charged with crimes against humanity, war crimes and torture at a specially convened court in Senegal. In the last week it has been announced that 13 of Habré's closest lieutenants, including former directors and deputy directors of the secret police (the DDS) – who had been living at liberty in the Chadian capital, N'Djamena, since his overthrow in 1990 – have been arrested.
There have been many false dawns, including offers from Belgium and the African Union to hold a trial, but this time seems different. "Chad will turn the page now," says Abaifouta. "What's to stop us having a truth and reconciliation commission like they had in South Africa? Now everyone will know there is no more impunity."
At least 40,000 people died during Habré's reign, according to rights groups, many of them at the hands of the DDS. Documents found by Human Rights Watch in 2001 revealed details of what happened to people in prison. Habré was said to have an underground prison known as La Piscine where people were tortured.
The years of terror are blamed by many for sowing the seeds of hatred and misunderstanding in Chadian society, some of which continues. "Before Habré we never spoke of northerners and southerners, but today that is one of the biggest dividers between us," says Jacqueline Moudeina, a Chadian lawyer and president of the Chadian Association for the Promotion and Defence of Human Rights, which represents some of Habré's victims. "This is the first step towards the reconciliation we so desperately need but there should also be an inquiry, and compensation offered to the victims."
Habré has been living in exile in Dakar since 1990 but this year Macky Sall, who became Senegal president in 2012, made resolving Habré's situation a priority. For many years Chadians have been sceptical that anything would come of promises to hold a trial.
And although some of Habré's victims may be confident that this time is different, others in N'Djamena say they are not yet convinced. "We never believed we would see this moment, but we still have to wait and see what they do next," says Therese Mekombe, a lawyer. Taxi driver Omar Mahamat says: "Yes, we're happy to see the arrest, but I don't believe the trial will be open and transparent."
Following Habré's arrest, Chad's president, Idriss Déby Itno, who was a general in Habré's army before unseating him in a coup in 1990, made a rare public statement on the issue, suggesting the country will co-operate with Senegalese prosecutors. "Chad will support the Senegalese judiciary; Chad will open all its doors to shed light on what happened during this grim period," he said. This comes despite fears that Habré may spill secrets on Déby in the witness box. The Chadian government has promised 2bn CFA (about £2.6m) towards the costs of the trial in Dakar.
But will the trial have an impact on good governance and the rule of law in Chad, which is struggling to overcome the wounds of three decades of conflict? According to Amnesty International, "the criminal justice system [is still] used to harass political opponents, and impunity for human rights violations and abuses continues". Amnesty accuses Chad's government of arbitrary detention and holding prisoners without trial.
At a recent press conference on Habré, hundreds of his victims and their families were crying, singing and cheering. Abaifouta says: "Justice is part of democracy and that will come to Chad now. There must be a clear separation of powers between politicians and the judiciary. This will change."
Moudeina is less sanguine. "Senegal is far away and we're only talking about one man," she says. "If those who were complicit in Habré's crimes still living in Chad can be dealt with by the Chadian justice system, that will be a step towards convincing the population that we can take responsibility for ourselves."
Former Chad leader Hissène Habré charged with crimes against humanity
Ronald Reagan's support for dictator accused of killing and torturing tens of thousands of opponents offers cautionary tale for American intervention
Michael Bronner in New York
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 3 July 2013 13.17 BST
Paramilitary troops from Senegal's rapid intervention force surprised exiled former Chadian dictator Hissène Habré in his plush Dakar villa on Sunday morning, charging him on Tuesday with crimes against humanity, war crimes and torture.
The cunning and charismatic former Chadian president, who seized power in a CIA-backed coup in 1982 and ruled with an iron fist until his own overthrow in 1990, has lived openly and with impunity in Dakar for 22 years. He will now be remanded to Dakar's Cate Manuel jail, a 50-person lock-up that Senegalese government workers have been quietly refurbishing over the past several months in preparation. There he will await trial in a special court, scheduled to begin within two years.
The arrest is the culmination of a nearly 15-year quest by Chadian accusers and an international legal team led by a quietly obsessive American human rights lawyer named Reed Brody.
"The wheels of justice are turning", said Brody, who has worked with Habré's victims on behalf of Human Rights Watch. "After 22 years, Habré's victims can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel."
The arrest comes just days after the US president, Barack Obama, hailed Senegal's efforts to prosecute Habré during a meeting in Dakar with the country's president, Macky Sall. The US state department has pledged $1m towards the cost of the trial, a decision tied to the creation of Obama's year-old atrocities prevention board.
But the recent American support contrasts significantly with the its response the last time Hissène Habré's fate hung in the balance – in December 1990, when the CIA and state department's Africa bureau loaded C-141 cargo planes with weapons in a crash effort to save the dictator in return for his eight-year collaboration with Ronald Reagan's covert effort to destabilise Muammar Gaddafi in Libya.
The case of the obscure Chadian dictator offers a profound, if little known, cautionary tale for American intervention – and a breakthrough in the landscape of international justice.
It began, not with the Senegalese rapid reaction force this week, but a Friday night in London nearly 15 years ago when agents from Scotland Yard slipped into the London Bridge Hospital, an advanced private surgical facility on the south bank of the Thames, and arrested Augusto José Ramón Pinochet Ugarte, the then-82-year-old former dictator and 30th president of Chile, who had just undergone back surgery. It was the first-ever arrest in Britain of a former head of state traveling on a diplomatic passport, and it set off a storm.
When Pinochet's appeal against extradition for trial in Spain was heard months later in the gilded chamber of the House of Lords – he was charged with 94 counts of torture, the assassination of a Spanish diplomat and one count of conspiracy – there was a young American human rights lawyer sitting on the edge of his seat. Reed Brody had represented Human Rights Watch as a party to the case, and knew it could forever change the scope of human rights law.
"International law has made plain that certain types of conduct, including torture and hostage-taking, are not acceptable conduct on the part of anyone," said Lord Nicholls of Birkenhead in his verdict, capturing the sentiment that would tip that round against Pinochet. "This applies as much to heads of state, or even more so."
The ruling of the Law Lords allowed for Pinochet's extradition. Cheers erupted in the courtroom and in the courtyard outside.
The Pinochet case would continue, but the stakes were clear.
"Henceforth, all former heads of government are potentially at risk," said the then British prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, expressing her shock at seeing Pinochet stripped of his immunity. "This is the Pandora's box which has been opened – and unless Senator Pinochet returns safely to Chile, there will be no hope of closing it."
That's, in fact, just what Reed Brody was thinking. Brody had helped write the United Nations Torture Convention upon which the Pinochet verdict hinged. Now he needed a case to build on "the Pinochet precedent" – not a hard case, like Saddam Hussein in Iraq or Gaddafi in Libya but a case he could win.
"How about Hissène Habré?" said a colleague, referring to the former Chadian dictator, who had been living in gilded exile in Dakar since his overthrow in December 1990. Brody had barely heard of him then – few Americans had.
An exception were veterans of the Reagan-era CIA and the state department political-military bureau, to whom Habré was the tip of the spear in the Reagan administration's first, and perhaps bloodiest, covert action.
Chad was one of veteran US national security and intelligence operative Charlie Duelfer's first assignments in a long career in government service. He became so closely involved with the country that he was known as "Charlie Chad".
In the early 1980s, the ginger-haired, ginger-mustachioed 30-something was a fresh-faced civil service officer at the bureau – with a taste for adventure, good contacts at Langley, open for anything that would get him out of the office. "We had about the same level of knowledge about Chad early on as we did about Iraq, which is basically very little," he said. "N'Djamena sounded like a disease."
In fact, N'Djamena is the Chadian capital, to which Duelfer would accompany several plane-loads of arms shipments. Reagan was looking for an easy win against the scourge of international terrorism, and Chad offered an opportunity.
America's arch enemy, Muammar Gaddafi, had thousands of troops camped in the remote desert of northern Chad, a forward front in his pan-African expansionist plan, but a thousand miles from Tripoli on tenuous supply lines and thus highly vulnerable.
At the time Habré was the leader of a group of rebels camped on Chad's border with Sudan, readying his troops to take the presidency by force. The CIA's station chief in Khartoum visited the camp and won assurances that in exchange for the American assistance, Habré would be more than willing to support the Reagan administration's effort to "bloody Gaddafi's nose" and "increase the flow of pine boxes back to Libya," as then US secretary of state Alexander Haig put it.
Covert shipments of weapons and cash began flowing, and Habré took the Presidential Palace. Soon, the proxy war against Gaddafi was underway, and "Charlie Chad" and his CIA counterpart were there, ferrying Habré C141 Starlifters full of weapons, eventually including a dozen Stinger missiles, the coveted and deadly shoulder-fired anti-aircraft weapon system lusted after by terrorists and aspirant armies worldwide.
The CIA also established a secret camp a few miles outside the Chadian capital where it trained a "fifth column" of anti-Gaddafi Libyan fighters – the Libyan National Salvation Front (LNSF) – comprising some 200 men with Warsaw Pact arms, including Soviet-made main battle tanks.
It was a huge success: Over the next eight years, Habré's forces killed some 10,000 uniformed Libyan troops – often from the backs of nimble CIA-purchased Toyota Hilux 4x4s - a success that won Habré an invitation to the White House to meet Reagan.
"Oh, it just went swimmingly," recalled then US Ambassador to Chad John Propst Blane, who accompanied the Chadian president. "Mr Habré and Mr Reagan got along just dandily – yes, indeed."
It was during the same eight years Habré was armed and supported by the US government, however, that he and his forces are accused of having disappeared, tortured, starved to death and/or executed some tens of thousands of Chadians.
"This regime was completely inhuman – they were worse than animals," recalled Souleymane Guengueng, a former bookkeeper who was held on the flimsiest of political charges in three secret jails over nearly three years – first in solitary confinement, then packed so tightly with other prisoners they couldn't lay down to sleep; alternately in total darkness or blazing electric light, 24-hours-a-day for months on end, which would leave him nearly blind. He'd be hung from his testicles after being caught leading prayers for other prisoners, and suffer from malaria, pulmonary edema and hepatitis, losing the ability to walk for months.
Guengueng survived, regaining enough strength to stagger onto the streets with thousands of other prisoners in December 1990, when a new set of rebels, led by Chad's current president, Idriss Déby, ousted Habré and flung open the jails.
Habré escaped, eventually to Senegal, with some $12m pilfered from national bank accounts, which he reportedly put towards the purchase of two mansions and, it is widely believed, enough Senegalese newspaper editors, police officials, religious leaders and politicians to keep the heat off for years to come.
Guengueng, meanwhile, spent the next months quietly collecting testimonies of fellow prison survivors, fulfilling a pact he had made with God one unbearable night in prison: that if he was spared, he would dedicate his life to telling the truth about what Hissène Habré had made of Chad. He would eventually hide some 700 testimonies in the back of his house, threatened with death by Habré's henchmen, who remain in Chad, many still in power to date.
It would take an ambitious American lawyer to help Guengueng fulfill his pledge, turning those testimonies, years later, into the core of a groundbreaking legal effort by Chadian victims and Chadian and international attorneys to hold Habré to account.
Traveling with Guengueng and other Chadian victims, Brody and his team filed the first criminal complaint against Habré in Dakar in January 2000. "The Habré case was instant gratification at the very beginning," Brody recalled.
The case made international headlines and Habré, who had lived openly with impunity in Dakar, was called in for questioning. Human Rights Watch put out a press release anticipating a trial within a year.
But the former dictator would fight tenaciously on the legal front, and members of Brody's team were targeted: the case's lead Chadian lawyer, Jacqueline Moudeina, was seriously injured in a grenade attack in N'Djamena thought to be orchestrated by his supporters.
And even more powerful impediments came in the form of chronic dissembling from African and international leaders, many of whom, including powerful members of the George Bush administration, felt sensitive to having their records called into question in an international court and thus impeded the prosecution.
Disappointment after disappointment led Brody to some of the lowest points in his life, he admits – saying his single-mindedness led to the end of his marriage and the loss of several job opportunities over the years. But now, as the case finally heads for trial, he considers his own hardships slight compared to what his Chadian partners have borne, and highly worth the wait.
In the strange sort of irony that defines US foreign policy, even as the Obama administration hails the Habré prosecution, the current president actually finished the job of the Reagan administration's covert action. The CIA, under Obama, secretly inserted some of the very same Reagan-era LNSF fighters into Libya as part of the 2011 US-led intervention, which precipitated Gaddafi himself ending up in "a pine box."
For Brody, however, the wheels of international justice are turning irrevocably. "I now feel we're on the verge of a historic moment – not only for the victims," Brody said. "People who were inspired by the use of the law to arrest Pinochet can be even more inspired when they see Souleymane Guengueng testifying – when they see Jacqueline Moudeina, still with shrapnel in her leg, cross-examining Hissène Habré. I want to see that happen on my watch."
Michael Bronner is a founding editor at Warscapes, which will be running an in-depth series on the Habré case and the US government's secret courtship of the dictator. Research assistance provided
by the Investigative Fund of The Nation Institute
Chad divided over former dictator who could finally face justice
After 21 years in exile, the net is closing in on Hissène Habré, but many in Chad prefer to forget a painful period in history
guardian.co.uk, Monday 6 August 2012 17.37 BST
The rusty tank abandoned on a pile of rocks sticks out awkwardly on the flat Sahel scrub, which stretches as far as the eye can see. "When is that from?" I ask my Chadian journalist colleagues. We're driving along a bumpy track, pocked with puddles after the recent rains, to visit a Darfur refugee camp north of Iriba.
"It's from the war between Hissène Habré and Idriss Déby Itno. Habré lost. It's his tank," says Daossa Mohammed, the perennially cheerful editor of Iriba's Radio Absoun. "It's been there for 22 years as a reminder to the population not to go to war."
On 20 July, the international court of justice ordered that Senegal should immediately organise a trial of Habré, who is accused of a catalogue of human rights abuses during his eight years in power in Chad, or extradite him to Belgium for trial.
Another journalist pipes up from the back seat, "People are no longer interested in Hissène Habré. We need to move on. It's old news." "You mustn't say that!" shouts Daossa, the smile falling abruptly from his face. "He killed thousands of people. He threw people in boiling water and banished families from this very land. Chadians deserve justice!"
It's a powerful indication of how polarised reactions to attempts to bring Habré to justice can be; between the older generation who lived through the terror (Habré was said to have had an underground swimming pool in which the DDS, his secret police, tormented victims), and younger people who see Habré's alleged crimes as from another place and time – a Chad from the history books.
Many young people have never known a time when Habré was in Chad – he fled the country shortly after Idriss Déby's forces progressed westwards from Iriba, and eventually sought refuge in Senegal. Many of his victims have since left the country, and 22 years later others are now elderly or have died.
On the day of the international court judgment, not one Chadian in the restaurant I was sitting in looked up when the news story with images of Habré was on television. Later in the day, I chatted to young people around town and the comment that stuck most in my mind was: "Yes, Chadians want justice, but this has gone on so long now we won't believe it until we see it."
But for those who suffered at the hands of the notorious DDS, the judgment is an important step on the road to justice. Victims have been supported by organisations such as Human Rights Watch, which obtained papers showing that more than 1,000 people were killed in detention and thousands of others were tortured during Habré's rule.
"Today, my friends who were tortured, the people I saw die in jail, those who never gave up hope, are one step closer to achieving justice," says Souleymane Guengueng, who almost died in prison when Habré was in power, and founded an association to help victims.
So what is the priority for Chad? Is it more important to face the past head-on or should Chadians put the dark days of the 1980s behind them?
"Habré's crimes have caused deep wounds in Chadian society – people look at each other like dogs with their teeth bared," says Emmanuel N'Dalbaye, a sociology lecturer at the University of N'Djamena. "They say they forgive each other but then everyone is scared of everyone else. We are a tolerant country, but without justice Chad will never move away from the ethnic and religious division that it suffers from today."
The Habré case has presented unique challenges for international justice. The former dictator has been living in exile in Senegal for 21 years, but efforts to prosecute him have faltered. Former Senegalese president Abdoulaye Wade made several unfulfilled pledges to put him on trial, and at one point demanded that international donors should pay for the establishment of a special court there.
Frustrated with the lack of progress, lawyers representing Habré's surviving victims went to Belgium, which has international jurisdiction, and asked them to try the former president. Hopes had been riding high that last week's judgment would effectively force Senegal to hand him over to Belgium.
But there is a glimmer of hope that, with the recent peaceful handover of power in Senegal to Macky Sall, there may be a window of opportunity for progress.
"The Senegalese government appears to be committed to trying Habré and has taken steps in that direction," says Clement Abaifouta, the N'Djamena-based representative of the association for the victims of the crimes of Hissène Habré. "However, we've been disappointed and betrayed before by Senegal so we will remain vigilant until we see Habré in that courtroom."
World Updated: July 10, 2013, 12:47 p.m. ET
One Million Children Labor in Africa's Goldmines
In Burkina Faso, gold production has more than doubled in recent years. Though child labor is against the law in the West African nation, the economics and the nature of mining make labor law enforcement extremely difficult.
BY LARRY C. PRICE
TIÉBÉLÉ, Burkina Faso -- On the rocky ground outside the Kollo mining village near the border between Burkina Faso and Ghana, about 100 people are working, 30 or so of them children. They smash boulders into pebbles and pebbles into grit with primitive hammers and sticks. They haul buckets of well water up the hillside and, pouring this water into shallow pans filled with rock and dirt, they swirl the muddy mix, looking in the silt for tiny flecks of gold.
Nearby, a small hill rises from this barren gold field, and atop this hill are hand-dug shafts that plunge 150 feet into the ground. Joseph, 15, and Germain, 12, lead the way down into the mine, gripping knotted ropes, finding footholds and squeezing past support timbers in the yard-wide pits. They get to the bottom after 20 minutes and silently begin to fill buckets of ore to be hauled up by rope.
The shaft ends in a cramped, pitch-dark pit. The bottom widens a bit to reveal a tiny, wedge-shaped crevice. In the darkness, sitting cross-legged with a flashlight strapped to his head, is a small boy. He chinks at the rock walls with a handmade pickax and scoops the shards into a large green bucket. His hands never stop moving - scooping and chipping, chipping and scooping. The older boys call him Théophile. They say he is 7 years old.
The United Nations' International Labor Organization estimates that as many as a million children between ages 5 and 17 work in the small-scale gold mines of Africa for as little as $2 a day. In the African Sahel, a semiarid region that stretches from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea across parts of Mali, Ghana, Burkina Faso, and Niger, 30 percent to 50 percent of small-scale mine workers are children, according to ILO estimates. Child labor is against the law in Burkina Faso, where last year the government announced a plan to significantly reduce the numbers of exploited children by 2015. But enforcement is lacking.
The U.S. Department of Labor also is funding a four-year, $5 million project in Burkina Faso, one of the world's poorest nations, to reduce child labor in cotton farming and gold mining. The grant will be used to help raise awareness about child labor laws and build government capacity to monitor and enforce the laws, said Eric Biel, acting associate deputy undersecretary for the Bureau of International Labor Affairs.
The project aims to help 1,000 households and 10,000 children avoid "exploitative child labor" by offering schooling, financing, and alternative employment.
Child labor in the gold mines here is so prevalent -- and so obvious -- that the U.S. government prohibits its agencies and contractors from buying the gold directly from Burkina Faso. The prohibition, however, does not extend to private dealers.
Observers say porous borders, which facilitate black-market trades, and the very nature of the world gold supply chain make tracking gold mined in Burkina Faso almost impossible. Furthermore, federal purchases of gold from legitimate international sellers do not necessarily preclude some of the gold originating here.
The Canada-based Artisanal Gold Council, which is working to implement tracking systems and promote fair-trade policies, says there are no hard data to pinpoint whether gold mined by children in Burkina Faso reaches the United States or ends up in jewelry purchased by Americans. Anthony Persaud, a policy and field operations coordinator for the council, says it is "unlikely" but not out of the question.
Burkina Faso does not refine its gold but sells it through exporters to refiners in Dubai and Europe, he says. From there the gold enters the world supply chain.
"The thing about gold, you can fit $50,000 of it in your pocket without anybody noticing," says Persaud. "It's quite easy to move across borders like that."
Juliane Kippenberg, a senior researcher for Human Rights Watch, said the group's 2011 report on child labor at small-scale mines persuaded one gold refiner to suspend purchases from Mali.
"We are not calling upon companies to boycott gold that has been mined by children," Kippenberg said, "but to remediate the situation if they find child labor in their supply chain -- by engaging the relevant government, their suppliers, and demanding progress to get these children out of the mines and into school."
Gold production in Burkina Faso has more than doubled in recent years, reaching 43.2 metric tons in 2012, according to the World Bank. (Unlike its neighbors Mali and Ghana, ancient gold kingdoms and major producers today, Burkina Faso is a relative newcomer to the market.) The return of international mining companies, banned for a time in the 1990s, has boosted production. Still, much of the gold comes from small-scale mines.
Small-scale gold mining began here in earnest in the 1980s as droughts and famines forced families from farms and into mines to earn a living. It remains a family affair.
"You cannot eliminate child labor in a community when the income of the family is so low," said Alexandre Soho, senior program officer for the International Program for the Elimination of Child Labor of the ILO. "You need to tackle the issue of the livelihoods for the parents."
The U.S. Labor Department and the ILO consider mining one of the worst forms of child labor because of the risks of injury and death and the long-term health consequences from constant exposure to dust, toxic chemicals, and heavy manual labor. The list of documented ills includes permanent lung damage caused by inhaling pulverized minerals, muscular and skeletal injuries, hearing loss, accidental blinding, and mercury poisoning with its attendant neurological damage. And then there is the fact that when children are working, they are not in school.
In Tiébélé, near the Kollo mine, Daouda Ganno, general secretary of the mayor's office, says local communities are trying to establish a prefect near each village to enforce school attendance. When a child is absent, he said, "the prefect will go out and find the parent and ask, 'Where is your child?' and then they will find the child and bring him to school." This is Ganno's plan, but for now, he says, it is still only a plan.
The nature of the mining makes enforcement difficult. Often the mines are illegal and hastily dug on private property. A claim is worked and then abandoned and the miners move on. The government collects taxes from miners who work or prospect on public land and has made efforts to regulate the small mines, but with an estimated 200 mining sites, most of them very remote, the task is overwhelming, authorities say.
At a new mining site in the Bilbalé region 12 miles west of Diébougou, about 200 people show up overnight, drawn by the rumor of gold. About 50 children are in the crowd and even the tiniest will work. In hours, the men and older boys have cleared the ground of scrub trees and sparse grass and the digging begins at a frantic pace.
Little children, some naked, squat on the ground to claw dirt and rocks into shallow bowls. The families fill as many vessels with raw dirt and rock as possible. This rock and dirt is weighed and becomes their share of the "take" from the mine. If gold is found, all the miners will get a little money. If there is no gold at this site, the miners move to the next place where gold is rumored to be.
Miners earn little for their work -- children even less. ILO surveys found children often were paid no more than $2 a day or only received food for filling buckets with gravel, Soho said. An entire family might make $5 at an undeveloped site. At established mines, such as Kollo, workers say they can earn about $40 a day.
If the yield at a field is good, word gets out and a boomtown springs up with shanties, supply huts, and cafes among the plastic-covered huts where miners live. Such is the case at Kollo, now home to 3,000 people.
With the established mines and villages also come the ore-processing centers where miners take large sacks or rocks and pebbles to be ground into powder. This powder will be processed, usually with mercury, and further refined into gold nuggets at another location.
The ore-crushing machines are makeshift contraptions cobbled together with pulleys, belts, grinding plates, and smoke-belching diesel engines. And while it takes the strength of a man to empty the bags of rock into the crushers, children do most of the other work. They sharpen metal grinding wheels without eye protection; scoop and bag fine powder without dust masks; and fetch and carry just inches from pulleys, belts, and spinning motors with the power to rip and shred anything caught in their works.
The pounding and clanking of the crushers are deafening. The machines spew constant clouds of dust, which coats the children from their heads to their bare feet. Water is scarce, so the children use the bilge water from the machines to wash their faces and brush their teeth. When the children are not working, they lie down near the machines and sleep, oblivious to the noise. Their coughing is constant.
At the Kouékowéra camp near Gaoua, Karim Sawadogo works with his uncle. The boy says he thinks he is nine years old, but he isn't sure. He has been to school, but only a little. Before the gold field, he was a goatherd near his home in northern Burkina Faso. In the camp, he cooks, fetches water. In the mine, Karim works barefoot and shirtless, his feet thickly callused, his muscles flexing as he chips ore and fills buckets.
Speaking in his native dialect, Karim smiles when he is asked what he wants to do with his life. "I came here to make money," he says. "My dream is to make enough money so I don't have to do this anymore."
Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story reported Burkina Faso had produced 32 metric tons of gold in 2012, according to the World Bank. Since publishing in April 2013, the World Bank has updated that number to 43.2 metric tons.
This piece was originally published in The Philadelphia Inquirer on April 28, 2013. Price received funding from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. View more of his work on its project page, The Cost of Gold: Child Labor in Burkina Faso.