MintPress News http://www.mintpressnews.com Independent, non-partisan journalism Thu, 23 Oct 2014 23:11:25 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0 Independent, non-partisan journalism Mint Press News clean Mint Press News mmuhawesh@mintpressnews.com mmuhawesh@mintpressnews.com (Mint Press News) All Rights Reserved Independent, non-partisan journalism MintPress News http://www.mintpressnews.com/wp-content/uploads/powerpress/MintPressLogo_iTUNES.jpg http://www.mintpressnews.com Austin Police Officer Shot ‘Point Blank’ Into Car Of Woman Fleeing Attackers http://www.mintpressnews.com/video-austin-police-officer-shot-point-blank-into-car-of-women-fleeing-attackers/198068/ http://www.mintpressnews.com/video-austin-police-officer-shot-point-blank-into-car-of-women-fleeing-attackers/198068/#comments Thu, 23 Oct 2014 15:43:18 +0000 http://www.mintpressnews.com/?p=198068 The officer fired his service weapon four times at point-blank range into the windshield of Ms. Daniels' vehicle as she passed by him, very narrowly missing her, and he "likely would have killed her had the bullets not lodged in the dashboard but instead had struck her at such close range." Continue reading

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Gwen Daniels

Gwen Daniels

AUSTIN, Texas – An Austin policeman shot four times “point blank” into the windshield of a waitress fleeing a late-night attack from drunks on a “crowded and boisterous” street, then arrested her and impounded her car for 10 months, the woman claims in court.

Gwendolyn Daniels sued Officer Robert Krummel and the City of Austin in Federal Court on Monday for excessive force, unlawful arrest and conversion. Daniels claims she had just finished her late night shift as a server at the Coyote Ugly bar when she tried to leave the barricaded East 6th Street area in her vehicle.

As she did so, she says, “several drunken patrons from the nearby bars” attacked her vehicle. It was about 2:20 a.m., Oct. 20, 2013.

Daniels says she accelerated to escape the mob, causing her tires to squeal and attract the attention of Officer Krummel and other Austin police officers, who ran in the direction of the commotion.

“Krummel then inexplicably and without warning pulled his weapon and opened fire on Ms. Daniels’ vehicle in complete and utter disregard for Ms. Daniels’ safety and the safety of the several hundred other citizens walking along the street there,” according to the lawsuit.  “Krummel fired his service weapon four times at point-blank range into the windshield of Ms. Daniels’ vehicle as she passed by him, very narrowly missing her, and he likely would have killed her had the bullets not lodged in the dashboard but instead had struck her at such close range.”

Daniels says she stopped her car at the next intersection, where she was “gruffly handled and ignominiously taken to the ground by the APD officers there.” She says it should have been a “routine traffic stop.”  Officers then interrogated her for hours at police headquarters while she was handcuffed to a metal bench in a cold room. Daniels says she was in a state of shock, was not offered any water, or even allowed to call her mother, who is a judge.

Watch the original news report from Austin affiliate KTBC below:

Police released her without charges after several witnesses came forward and said she had done nothing illegal and was merely trying to escape the mob attacking her vehicle, Daniels claims. Nonetheless, the police impounded her Pontiac Grand Am for 10 months. When she got it back, Daniels said, it was a total loss and inoperable because the dashboard had been destroyed by the police investigation.  Daniels says the city tried to duck liability for the incident.

“In several television interviews APD Chief [Art] Acevedo called Ms. Daniels ‘driving drunk’ without basis and without any evidence of alcohol in her system,” the complaint states.  Daniels says the abuse caused “severe psychological injury and could have easily caused her death. The graveness of the situation also caused her several episodes of witnessed aggression and the change in her personality was the cause for her loss of employment since that incident. Ms. Daniels now suffers because of the PTSD caused by Krummel shooting his service weapon at her. That PTSD continues to this day.”

She seeks costs of medical and counseling, damages for excessive force, unlawful arrest, false imprisonment, conversion, and physical and emotional injuries, and punitive damages from Krummel for gross disregard of her liberty, safety and well-being.

She is represented by Edmund Davis

This article was published by Courthouse News.

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Corporate Giants Spending Billions On State Ballot Initiatives http://www.mintpressnews.com/corporate-giants-spending-billions-state-ballot-initiatives/198066/ http://www.mintpressnews.com/corporate-giants-spending-billions-state-ballot-initiatives/198066/#comments Thu, 23 Oct 2014 15:26:16 +0000 http://www.mintpressnews.com/?p=198066 Many of the messages are tailored to defend or expand the business interests of companies such as Coca-Cola, Monsanto and ExxonMobil, yet few have their names in the ads. Continue reading

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Wal Mart WASHINGTON — Voters may not know it, but the millions of dollars paying for ads on ballot measures they will consider next month come from large companies and national advocacy groups.

Many of the messages are tailored to defend or expand the business interests of companies such as Coca-Cola, Monsanto and ExxonMobil, yet few have their names in the ads.

For example, $6.4 million in ads funded by Coloradans for Better Schools is backed by the Rhode Island-based Twin Rivers Casino in favor of a ballot initiative that would expand gambling to horse tracks. Opponents, calling themselves Don’t Turn Racetracks Into Casinos, are backed by a group of Colorado casinos and are helping fund $5.7 million in ads to defend their turf.

Through Oct. 20, TV ad spending on ballot issues totaled roughly $119 million, according to an analysis conducted by the Washington-based Center for Public Integrity, based on preliminary data from media tracking service Kantar Media/CMAG. Four of the five most expensive ballot initiatives — a process designed to give voters a direct say over public policy — feature at least one corporate patron.

Voters may not readily identify the patrons behind the hundreds of millions of dollars in ads using family farmers, concerned doctors and smiling teachers as spokespeople, as the corporations set up outside groups with nondescript names to handle the political ads.

For instance, food industry giants Monsanto, the J.M. Smucker Co., Coca-Cola and Pepsi are spending $3 million opposing an Oregon ballot measure that would require vendors to label genetically modified foods. Voters see the ad spending labeled as being from the No on 92 Coalition. Natural food companies are spending $2.1 million on ads to support the effort through a group called Vote Yes on Measure 92.

Citizens in 26 states can put on ballots proposals that would create new laws or veto existing ones. Every state but Delaware offers voters the chance to weigh in on constitutional amendments approved by the legislature. Once an initiative is approved to go before voters, the ad deluge begins.

California, home to some of the nation’s most expensive media markets, has the two priciest ballot questions as measured by TV ads.

A proposition to require drug testing for doctors and allow more expensive malpractice lawsuits has drawn $23.1 million in advertising.

Consumer Watchdog, a national advocacy group, teamed up with trial lawyers to back the measure. Lawyers stand to benefit because higher judgments against doctors translate to higher attorney fees. That coalition, calling itself Yes on Prop 46, has spent $3.9 million so far on ads supporting the measure.

But the bulk of the spending opposes the measure under the No on 46 banner. Doctors and hospital and insurance companies have helped fund $19.1 million trying to stop the ballot measure.

Consumer advocates and the California Nurses Association have thrown their money behind a separate proposition that would require insurers to receive approval for rate hikes from the state insurance commissioner, an elected regulator. Ballot committees supporting the measure have aired more than $679,000 in ads so far with the label Consumer Watchdog Campaign.

But their messages have been crowded out by those of insurers and doctors, who are spending almost $20 million on ads opposing the measures through a group branded No on 45. The two California ballot questions account for almost one-third of such spending nationwide.

There are likely many more ads to come: Groups opposing the two measures together have raised more than $100 million, according to California campaign finance records.

Spending alone doesn’t mean the insurance companies are heading toward victory. In 2010, a group backed by Pacific Gas & Electric Co. spent almost $14 million on ads supporting a California ballot measure that would require local voter approval for any new government-backed utilities. The electric company lost, even though its opponents did not buy any airtime.

The spending isn’t limited to California. Voters are considering 158 such statewide ballot initiatives this year, down from the 184 they considered in 2010. But this year already has surpassed the $87 million spent on TV ads in 2010.

Ballot measures are a reliable way to motivate a party’s base. For instance, liberal groups helped get measures to raise the minimum wage on five states’ ballots this fall. Yet only Nebraska’s appears to have drawn TV ads: a paltry $79,000 worth.

The Center for Public Integrity reviewed data about political advertising on national cable and broadcast television in each of the country’s 210 media markets. The organization used research from Kantar Media/CMAG, which tracks political advertising and offers a widely accepted estimate of the money spent to air each spot between Jan. 1, 2013, and Monday.

The group also used data from the National Institute on Money in State Politics.

These figures only represent part of the money spent on political advertising. They do not include the money spent on ads on radio, online and direct mail, nor do the numbers reflect ads that aired on local cable systems. The estimates also do not account for the cost of making the ads.

That means the total cost of spending on political ads is likely significantly higher.

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Police Officer Jailed For Forcing Sex On Inmates http://www.mintpressnews.com/police-officer-jailed-for-forcing-sex-on-inmates/198060/ http://www.mintpressnews.com/police-officer-jailed-for-forcing-sex-on-inmates/198060/#comments Thu, 23 Oct 2014 14:28:07 +0000 http://www.mintpressnews.com/?p=198060 The charges are: Coercion, Asking or Receiving Bribe by Public Officer, Voluntary Sex between Prisoner and Another, Preventing/Dissuading Victim from Reporting Crime, Misconduct of Public Officer, Open or Gross Lewdness, Indecent Exposure, and Inhumanity to a Prisoner.
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Jerry Peek

Mugshot of Jerry Peek courtesy Washoe County Jail.

Jerry Peek, a former Lyon County (NV) Sheriff’s Office employee, is now caged. After rumors that he was sleeping with those caged at the Lyon County jail surfaced, Peek was placed on paid vacation (aka Administrative Leave), and months later, fired when the claims were substantiated.

A related write-up from KOLOTV.com noted that:

The Nevada Division of Investigations found evidence of several crimes, filed these charges with the Nevada Attorney General and obtained a warrant for the arrest of Peek, who was taken into custody October 14, 2014. He is charged with six Felony charges and three Gross Misdemeanors with a total bail of $750,000.

The charges are: Coercion, Asking or Receiving Bribe by Public Officer, Voluntary Sex between Prisoner and Another, Preventing/Dissuading Victim from Reporting Crime, Misconduct of Public Officer, Open or Gross Lewdness, Indecent Exposure, and Inhumanity to a Prisoner.

Peek’s former colleagues at the Lyons County Sheriff’s Outfit attempted to mitigate the severity of the situation, by claiming that “these types of crimes occur across the country” before trying to shore-up the perceived legitimacy upon which they depend for the perpetuation of their coercion-backed institution, “We are a transparent agency and we want to ensure you that we will continue to be a transparent agency”

This article was published by Cop Block.

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Another Man Has Breached The White House Fence Causing A Lockdown http://www.mintpressnews.com/another-man-has-breached-the-white-house-fence-and-caused-a-lockdown/198056/ http://www.mintpressnews.com/another-man-has-breached-the-white-house-fence-and-caused-a-lockdown/198056/#comments Thu, 23 Oct 2014 13:55:49 +0000 http://www.mintpressnews.com/?p=198056 The incident came about a month after a previous White House fence jumper carrying a knife sprinted across the same lawn, ran past armed uniformed agents and entered the mansion before he was felled in the ceremonial East Room and taken into custody. Continue reading

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APTOPIX White House Fence JumperWASHINGTON — The 23-year-old Maryland man who climbed over the White House fence Wednesday night has been charged with felonies for assaulting two police dogs and making threats, the Secret Service said Thursday.

Dominic Adesanya of Bel Air, Maryland, is in custody of the U.S. Marshals Service for previous outstanding warrants, Secret Service spokesman Brian Leary said. Adesanya has also been charged with four misdemeanor counts of resisting arrest and unlawful entry.

After climbing over the fence, Adesanya was swiftly apprehended on the North Lawn by uniformed Secret Service agents and their dogs. He was unarmed when he was arrested.

President Barack Obama was at the White House at the time of Wednesday’s incident.

Video of the incident recorded by TV news cameras shows a man in white shorts on the lawn just inside the fence. The man lifts his shirt as if to show that he is unarmed, then is seen kicking and punching the two Secret Service dogs.

Leary said the two dogs, named Hurricane and Jordan, were taken to a veterinarian and treated for minor bruising. Both dogs were cleared to return to duty.

The incident came about a month after a previous White House fence jumper carrying a knife sprinted across the same lawn, ran past armed uniformed agents and entered the mansion before he was felled in the ceremonial East Room and taken into custody.

That embarrassing Sept. 19 incident preceded the disclosure of other serious Secret Service breaches in security for Obama and ultimately led to Julia Pierson’s resignation as director of the agency after 18 months on the job.

After Pierson resigned, an agent who once led Obama’s protective detail came out of retirement to lead the Secret Service until Obama names a new director, pending the completion of internal and independent reviews of agency practices.

This week, a federal judge delayed the arraignment of Omar Gonzalez, the man charged in September’s fence-jumping incident, because of questions about his mental fitness to stand trial.

Gonzalez has been indicted on several charges, including carrying a knife into the White House and assaulting two Secret Service officers.

The latest security breach occurred the same day that a gunman went on a rampage in the Canadian capital of Ottawa.

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Activists Demand Comprehensive Federal Data On Americans Killed By Police http://www.mintpressnews.com/activists-demand-comprehensive-federal-data-americans-killed-police/198054/ http://www.mintpressnews.com/activists-demand-comprehensive-federal-data-americans-killed-police/198054/#comments Thu, 23 Oct 2014 13:48:19 +0000 http://www.mintpressnews.com/?p=198054 In the wake of Michael Brown's death, researchers say they can't find crucial data on police killings.
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Police Shooting Missouri FundraisingActivists who mobilized after the shooting death of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown said Wednesday they have collected 200,000 signatures backing their demand that federal agencies address a nationwide trend of police violence with major reforms — including the collection and release of comprehensive data on how many Americans are killed by law enforcement officers each year.

In the aftermath of Brown’s Aug. 9 death following what police say was an altercation with an officer in Ferguson, Missouri, rights groups and researchers have complained of a startling lack of official national figures on police killings.

A coalition of activists said they were set to deliver the signatures and demands to the White House, Department of Homeland Security and Department of Justice on Wednesday — which they have declared a “national day of action” against police brutality and alleged racial discrimination in law enforcement.

Protesters in cities across the United States planned to use the day to call for justice for victims of police violence, said Matt Nelson, organizing director for Color of Change, a group that says it works to strengthen black America’s political voice.

“Police targeting of primarily black and brown adults has been elevated to the level of a national crisis, a civil and human rights crisis,” Nelson said. “Color of Change believes that the government needs to step in and take the necessary leadership to make sure peoples’ rights and lives are protected in encounters with police.”

Wednesday’s events included one in New York City related to the July choke-hold killing of Eric Garner. In Ohio activists were calling for justice for John Crawford, a black man killed for holding an air gun in a Walmart where the gun was for sale. And in Ferguson, demonstrators planned to call for Darren Wilson, the police officer who killed Brown, to be held accountable for the shooting.

Brown’s death sparked weeks of racially charged protests, and elevated to national debate the issues of discriminatory policing — which refers to law enforcement targeting individuals based on factors including race, religion, or age — and whether minorities are more often killed by police officers.

But activists and researchers say the way the FBI collects data under its Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program makes it impossible to know exactly how many Americans are killed by law enforcement officials each year. Local and state departments only report such information on a voluntary basis, according to an emailed statement from FBI Relief Media Liaison Billy Estok.

The FBI only categorizes what it terms an “officer-involved homicide” differently from other homicides if a policeman killed a felon in the line of duty, in which case the FBI classifies it as a “justifiable homicide.” The FBI’s existing database does not include information on every incident of someone being killed by law enforcement, nor data beyond a count of justifiable homicides — which in 2012 amounted to 410, Estok said.

Activists have called on federal agencies to create a national public database of police shootings, use of excessive force, misconduct complaints, arrests and more — all broken down by race and other demographic factors, Nelson told Al Jazeera.

Read more at

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Four Blackwater Guards Found Guilty Of Shooting 31 Unarmed Iraqi Civilians http://www.mintpressnews.com/four-blackwater-guards-gound-guilty-of-murdering-31-unarmed-iraqi-civilians/198050/ http://www.mintpressnews.com/four-blackwater-guards-gound-guilty-of-murdering-31-unarmed-iraqi-civilians/198050/#comments Thu, 23 Oct 2014 13:27:48 +0000 http://www.mintpressnews.com/?p=198050 The men claimed self-defense, but federal prosecutors argued that they had shown "a grave indifference" to the carnage their actions would cause. All four were ordered immediately to jail. Continue reading

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In this April 4, 2004 file photo, plainclothes contractors working for Blackwater USA take part in a firefight as Iraqi demonstrators loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr attempt to advance on a facility being defended by U.S. and Spanish soldiers in the Iraqi city of Najaf. (AP Photo/Gervasio Sanchez, File)

Plainclothes contractors working for Blackwater USA take part in a firefight as Iraqi demonstrators loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr attempt to advance on a facility being defended by U.S. and Spanish soldiers in the Iraqi city of Najaf. (AP/Gervasio Sanchez)

WASHINGTON — Four former Blackwater security guards were convicted Wednesday in the 2007 shootings of more than 30 Iraqis in Baghdad, an incident that inflamed anti-American sentiment around the globe and was denounced by critics as an illustration of a war gone horribly wrong.

The men claimed self-defense, but federal prosecutors argued that they had shown “a grave indifference” to the carnage their actions would cause. All four were ordered immediately to jail.

Their lawyers are promising to file appeals. The judge did not immediately set a sentencing date.

The federal jury found Nicholas Slatten guilty of first-degree murder, the most serious charge in a multi-count indictment. The three other guards — Paul Slough, Evan Liberty and Dustin Heard — were found guilty of multiple counts of voluntary manslaughter, attempted manslaughter and gun violations.

The outcome after a summer-long trial and weeks of jury deliberation appeared to stun the defense.

David Schertler, a lawyer for Heard, said, “The verdict is wrong, it’s incomprehensible. We’re devastated. We’re going to fight it every step of the way. We still think we’re going to win.”

However, one of those struck by gunfire in the shootings, Hassan Jabir, said in Baghdad that “at last we are hearing good news where justice has been achieved and Blackwater will receive their punishment.” He said there are two bullets still inside his body, one in his hand and one in his back, which doctors have said it would be very risky to remove.

The shootings on Sept. 16, 2007, caused an international uproar over the role of defense contractors in urban warfare.

The State Department had hired Blackwater to protect American diplomats in Baghdad, the Iraqi capital, and elsewhere in the country. Blackwater convoys of four heavily armored vehicles operated in risky environments where car bombs and attacks by insurgents were common.

On the murder charge, Slatten could face a maximum penalty of life in prison. The other three defendants could face decades behind bars.

The case was mired in legal battles for years, making it uncertain whether the defendants would ever be tried.

The trial itself focused on the killings of 14 Iraqis and the wounding of 17 others. During an 11-week trial, prosecutors summoned 72 witnesses, including Iraqi victims, their families and former colleagues of the defendant Blackwater guards.

There was sharp disagreement over the facts in the case.

The defendants’ lawyers said there was strong evidence the guards were targeted with gunfire from insurgents and Iraqi police, leading the guards to shoot back in self-defense. Federal prosecutors said there was no incoming gunfire and that the shootings by the guards were unprovoked.

The prosecution contended that some of the Blackwater guards harbored a low regard and deep hostility toward Iraqi civilians.

The guards, the prosecution said, held “a grave indifference” to the death and injury that their actions probably would cause Iraqis. Several former Blackwater guards testified that they had been generally distrustful of Iraqis, based on experience the guards said they had had in being led into ambushes.

The four men had been charged with a combined 32 counts in the shootings and the jury was able to reach a verdict on all of them, with the exception of three against Heard. The prosecution agreed to drop those charges.

Slough was convicted of 13 counts of voluntary manslaughter and 17 counts of attempted manslaughter. Liberty was convicted of eight counts of voluntary manslaughter and 12 counts of attempted manslaughter. Heard was convicted of six counts of voluntary manslaughter and 11 counts of attempted manslaughter.

Voluntary manslaughter carries a penalty of up to 15 years in prison and attempted manslaughter carries a maximum seven years in prison.

All three were also convicted on gun charges that carry a mandatory minimum sentence of 30 years in prison.

Prosecutors said that from a vantage point inside his convoy’s command vehicle, Slatten aimed his SR-25 sniper rifle through a gun portal, killing the driver of a stopped white Kia sedan, Ahmed Haithem Ahmed Al Rubia’y.

At the trial, two Iraqi traffic officers and one of the shooting victims testified the car was stopped at the time the shots were fired. The assertion that the car was stopped supported the prosecution argument that the shots were unwarranted.

Defense lawyers pressed their argument that other Blackwater guards — not Slatten — fired the first shots at the Kia sedan and that they did so only after the vehicle moved slowly toward the convoy, posing what appeared to be a threat to the Blackwater guards’ safety.

Once the shooting started, hundreds of Iraqi citizens ran for their lives.

It was “gunfire coming from the left, gunfire coming from the right,” prosecutor Anthony Asuncion told the jury in closing arguments.

One of the government witnesses in the case, Blackwater guard Jeremy Ridgeway, had pleaded guilty to killing the driver’s mother, who died in the passenger seat of the white Kia next to her son.

After Wednesday’s verdict, Liberty’s attorney William Coffield said he expected to appeal.

Among the grounds for doing so would be an issue involving the law under which the defendants were charged, the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act. Defense lawyers say that law should not apply because the guards were contractors for the State Department, not the Pentagon.

 

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The US Has Spent $7.6 Billion On A Drug War In Afghanistan, Where Opium Production Just Hit A New Record High http://www.mintpressnews.com/the-us-has-spent-7-6-billion-on-a-drug-war-in-afghanistan-where-opioum-production-just-hit-a-new-record-high/198047/ http://www.mintpressnews.com/the-us-has-spent-7-6-billion-on-a-drug-war-in-afghanistan-where-opioum-production-just-hit-a-new-record-high/198047/#comments Thu, 23 Oct 2014 13:21:33 +0000 http://www.mintpressnews.com/?p=198047 The US Has Spent $7.6 Billion On A Drug War In Afghanistan, Where Opium Production Just Hit A New Record High. Continue reading

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Afghanistan Opium

An Afghan farmer collects raw opium as he works in a poppy field in Chaparhar district of Jalalabad, east of Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, May 1, 2014.

KABUL, Afghanistan — Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, Afghanistan’s new president, has basked in a warm wave of national goodwill since taking office last month. Afghans are just happy the transfer of power happened without bloodshed — a rarity here.

But Ghani has his work cut out. As he whittles away at corruption, economic problems, and the insurgency, he also has to deal with the ever-increasing problem of drugs.

The Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) released a new report on Tuesday that lays out the facts in stark detail:

• The US has spent $7.6 billion on counternarcotics efforts in Afghanistan over the past 12 years. Yet poppy cultivation has reached unprecedented levels, with more than 516,000 acres of the opium crop now planted.
• Previously “poppy-free” provinces are now growing it.
• Deep-well technology has allowed farmers to reclaim almost 500,000 acres of desert land for cultivation — most of which has gone for poppy.
• The value of the crop and its derivative products is estimated to be about $3 billion — up from $2 billion the year before. Proceeds from drugs fuel corruption and the insurgency.

SIGAR — an independent US government watchdog — prodded President Barack Obama’s administration to take stock.

“The recent record-high level of poppy cultivation calls into question the long-term effectiveness and sustainability of [prior US government and coalition] efforts,” John Sopko, the agency’s special inspector general, said in a letter to top members of Obama’s Cabinet. “Given the severity of the opium problem and its potential to undermine US objectives in Afghanistan, I strongly suggest that your departments consider the trends in opium cultivation and the effectiveness of past counternarcotics efforts when planning future initiatives.”

In other words, it ain’t working.

 

Not our fault

The Department of Defense (DOD) took umbrage at SIGAR’s evaluation. The real culprit according to Michael Lumpkin, deputy defense secretary, is the Afghan government.

“The failure to reduce poppy cultivation and increase eradication is due to the lack of Afghan government support for the effort,” Lumpkin writes in a letter to Sopko that was included in the SIGAR report.

He also bristled at the suggestion that Defense may not be taking heed of past failures:

“The DOD always attempts to apply lessons learned,” he wrote, right before asking that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel be removed from the distribution list “since the report provides no new information relating to our department.”

The State Department also voiced its objections, although more diplomatically, as is its wont.

Charles Randolph, a program coordinator at the US Embassy in Kabul, allowed that the soaring poppy crop was “disappointing, as was the decline in poppy eradication by provincial authorities this year.”

But he delicately points out that “our counternarcotics goals can be accomplished only when they are also Afghan counternarcotics goals.” Ahem.

“We look forward to the new Afghan government assuming a leadership role in this regard.”

 

Not their fault, either

The office of the presidential spokesperson did not immediately respond to requests for comment, but Ghani has long made his feelings known about drugs.

In his campaign manifesto, “Continuity and Change,” he addressed the problem of the illegal drug trade, calling it “a dark stain that has marked us.”

Those most to blame, he insists, are “international drug users and consumers,” who create the demand that stimulates supply. After them comes “the international mafia.”

It is these evildoers who “play a direct role in corrupting government, judiciary bodies and boosting anti-security forces” — in other words, Afghanistan is once again being victimized by powerful forces from outside.

The poor Afghan farmer is trying to make a living in a land with poor infrastructure and is, moreover, at the bottom of the chain when it comes to revenue: “The largest part of profits from drugs belongs to the international mafia, smallest to afghan farmers,” Ghani writes.

If the international community wants to get rid of the scourge of drugs, it should invest yet more billions in roads, market development and skills training.

Ghani, of course, has inherited a host of other problems, which he’s attempting to tackle with his renowned intelligence and prodigious energy.

He’s made more than 100 promises to fix them, and so far has fulfilled three, according to the watchdog website Impassion Afghanistan.

One achievement was signing the Bilateral Security Agreement with the United States, which outlines the terms under which the US will keep 10,000 troops in the country after the withdrawal of American and international combat forces this year.

But the pending items list includes: “working with religious leaders to eradicate poppy production and consumption” and “launch projects for marketing alternatives to poppy.”

These approaches have been tried before — alternative livelihood and public outreach were prominent components of the anti-drug programs designed and implemented by both the US and the British during their tenure in the country.

So far, Ghani has come up with nothing new.

Neither has the US. In his testimony before US Senate in January, William Brownfield, the assistant secretary for international narcotics and law enforcement affairs, outlined “future US counternarcotics efforts in Afghanistan.” They include capacity building for Afghan government bodies, drug treatment, and alternative livelihood development.

He did announce a new thing: a “food zone” for Kandahar province that he said will be “building on the successes and the lessons learned of the Helmand Food Zone.”

But the Helmand province program — involving wheat seed distribution and aggressive poppy eradication — has had its problems. Initial successes were followed by backsliding and a resurgence of the opium crop.

So far, it’s a standoff.

Ghani, perhaps, may be forgiven for his lack of initiative — it is only his fourth week in office.

But the US government has had 13 years to get it right. What’s its excuse?

This article was published by Global Post.

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Dozens Of Civilians Killed By US-Led Bombing Of Syria: Report http://www.mintpressnews.com/dozens-civilians-killed-us-led-bombing-syria-report/198043/ http://www.mintpressnews.com/dozens-civilians-killed-us-led-bombing-syria-report/198043/#comments Thu, 23 Oct 2014 12:59:50 +0000 http://www.mintpressnews.com/?p=198043 In addition to hundreds of fighters reported killed in month of airstrikes, women and children among the many innocent bystanders left dead Continue reading

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bombing_syriaA new assessment released Thursday by a human rights monitor on the ground in Syria reveals that in addition to the confirmed death of hundreds of soldiers aligned with either the Islamic State (ISIS) or the al Nusra Front that have been killed by U.S.-led airstrikes over the last month, dozens of civilians have also been killed in the bombings, including innocent men, women and children.

According to the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory of Human Rights, 553 people have been killed airstrikes conducted by the U.S.-led coalition airstrikes between September 23, when the strikes first began, and Wednesday, October 22. Of those, the group reports, at least 32 were civilians, including 6 children and 5 women. In addition, the SOHR believes the number of casualties is much higher, but based its latest assessment only on those deaths it could positively confirm.

The group also notes the coalition airstrikes consistently targeted oil fields in the countrysides of Der-Ezzor, al-Hasakah, and al-Raqqa which led to material damages and devastated oil refineries which have negatively impacted the local population. U.S. military officials have said they have targeted those facilities because they have been taken over by ISIS, but SOHR points out that civilians in those regions own those facilities and now face lack of fuel supplies and increased costs.

As the Associated Press reports, “The U.S.-led coalition has aggressively targeted IS-held oil facilities in Syria, which provide a key source of income for the militants. But such strikes also endanger civilians, which could undermine long-term efforts to destroy the militant group.”

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In Pakistan, The Push To Eradicate Polio Competes With “The Zillion Other Issues” http://www.mintpressnews.com/in-pakistan-the-push-to-eradicate-polio-competes-with-the-zillion-other-issues/198040/ http://www.mintpressnews.com/in-pakistan-the-push-to-eradicate-polio-competes-with-the-zillion-other-issues/198040/#comments Thu, 23 Oct 2014 12:46:28 +0000 http://www.mintpressnews.com/?p=198040 Despite hundreds of millions in international aid funds, vaccination drives and decades of awareness campaigns, Pakistan remains polio’s last refuge. Continue reading

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Pakistan Polio

A Pakistani health worker gives a polio vaccine to children in Lahore, Pakistan, Wednesday, June 4, 2014.

KARACHI, Pakistan — The number of reported cases of polio crossed the 200 mark this month, confirming Pakistani health officials’ worst fears: The viral disease is out of control.

In 2012 and 2013, polio cases were down significantly — 58 and 93, respectively. However, when the country reported its 212th case this week, it shattered its own 14-year record, which had stood at 198 cases in 2011.

Reproaching Pakistan, which is considered polio’s last refuge, Dr. Margaret Chan, director general of the World Health Organization, told a high-level meeting at the U.N. General Assembly in September: “Pakistan is the single most important stumbling block along the road to ending polio, once and for all.”

Polio is spreading within Pakistan’s borders, with cases reported in Karachi, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and Lahore. Yet Dr. Durry Elias, the head of the WHO’s polio team in Pakistan, is worried it will soon spread to other countries and the 25-plus years of eradication work “will all come to naught.”

In Nigeria and Afghanistan, the other two countries where polio remains endemic, there has been a marked decrease in reported cases this year: Nigeria has reported six and Afghanistan 12.

The majority of the cases in Afghanistan can be traced back to the virus strain in Pakistan, Elias told MintPress News.

The reasons Pakistan can’t eradicate polio, he says, include the country’s “inability to reach children in North Waziristan and Khyber agency [tribal areas of Pakistan bordering Afghanistan where militancy is rife]; the attack on polio workers in Peshawar and Karachi; and lack of accountability and oversight at all administrative levels.”

Emphasizing that polio is “more than the health department’s concern,” Elias says the “highest level of political will and commitment” are needed to resolve what are ultimately complex issues.

“What I mean is, if we need to campaign in Karachi, we need enough police to go to all the difficult to access areas, so someone has to arrange it for the health department and this would mean a much higher level of leadership to make the decision.”

 

International pressures

The international community slapped Pakistan with travel restrictions in May.

India, which was declared polio-free by the WHO in March, was the second country to impose travel restrictions on Pakistanis this year, after Saudi Arabia mandated polio vaccination drops for every person entering the country from Pakistan. (For its part, Pakistan also mandates polio drops for anyone residing in the country for over six months and planning to leave.)

Alleging that several Pakistanis applying for Indian visas had filed phony polio vaccination certificates, the Indian High Commission recently warned that such documents could result in a visa request being denied or even a permanent ban on travel to India.

Experts acknowledge that India has every reason to be cautious. In 2011, a strain of polio isolated in China’s Xinjiang province was traced back to Pakistan. In December 2012, a virus from Pakistan was detected in sewage in Cairo. In April 2013, Pakistan exported the virus to Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which had eradicated the disease decades ago, and then in October the same year polio was confirmed in 13 of 22 Syrian children in Deir al Zor province — the first cases in Syria in 14 years. Over and over again, the strain of the virus has been traced back to Pakistan.

Thus, pleading Pakistan’s case at the Global Polio Eradication Initiative’s Independent Monitoring Board Meeting, held in London on Sept. 30 and Oct. 1, must not have been easy for Ayesha Raza Farooq.

Farooq is the focal person of Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s polio cell, which means she’s also the point person for international donors who are losing their patience with Pakistan’s inability to contain the spread of the virus. Aid agencies, including the WHO and UNICEF, have been spending hundreds of millions of dollars in Pakistan every year. The current three-year (2013-2015) polio eradication program will cost an estimated $300 million, $250 million of which will be financed by a loan from the Islamic Development Bank.

“I told them they had to set realistic targets, given the precarious and peculiar ground situation Pakistan is facing, instead of thinking of taking punitive measures,” she told MintPress over phone from Islamabad. “I assured the board Pakistan was not being negligent of its responsibility, nor was the country’s campaign a failure.”

Meanwhile, Dr. Zulfiqar Bhutta, founding director of the Centre for Excellence in Women and Child Health at Aga Khan University in Karachi, says that those criticizing Pakistan for its polio situation need to consider the “zillion other issues” the country is facing, including conflicts at its borders and domestic political squabbling.

“It’s unfair to be rapped on your knuckles all the time for just one issue which has become the albatross around the neck of the government in relation to public health,” he said.

 

Roadblocks

In terms of polio, Bhutta says, Pakistan has had to face the “campaign fatigue that has set in after more than 150 national and sub-national campaigns, displacement of population, baseless propaganda that erupts every now and then against an effective vaccine that upsets the progress made.”

Perhaps worst of all is the issue of polio workers being killed. Since 2012, more than 60 health workers and police providing security have been killed. In response, National Health Services Minister Saira Afzal Tarar said that polio teams in high-risk areas will be accompanied by paramilitary forces in the future.

“The targeted killing of polio workers and security personnel that accompany them is unprecedented,” said Farooq.

“The biggest barrier we face toward achieving our goal of eradicating polio is accessibility,” Farooq said, noting 80 percent of this year’s cases were reported from the security compromised areas of the FATA and in cities like Peshawar and Karachi.

Meanwhile, deep-rooted views against the administration of polio drops continue to hamper the work of vaccinators. “Prior to the CIA’s fake vaccination drive back in 2011, we never faced so many refusals or ban on vaccination drive by the militants,” Farooq said, referencing the CIA’s scheme to obtain DNA from Osama bin Laden’s family by staging a vaccination drive.

“Till the program wins the hearts and minds of the people, it would remain ineffective,” said Bhutta.

Farooq says the government has been somewhat able to confront the issue of refusals. “We are now engaging with the community in the high-risk areas through influential people, especially clerics, whom the community holds in high esteem. These people, in turn, will tell the locals about the dividends of vaccinating their children, in their own language,” she said.

“Pakistan can make the last ditch effort and put the program back on track,” said the WHO’s Elias. “The virus has been cornered now. What is needed is its hot pursuit.”

Bhutta criticizes the abysmally low coverage of routine childhood immunizations against infectious diseases including polio, which averages at a mere 53.8 percent, and even lower in some districts. Unless routine immunizations can be scaled up to a minimum coverage of 80 percent or more and issues like malnutrition, poor hygiene and sanitation addressed seriously, he warns, Pakistan will continue to “play host” to the polio virus.

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American Citizen On The Verge Of Death In Egyptian Jail http://www.mintpressnews.com/american-citizen-verge-death-egyptian-jail/198036/ http://www.mintpressnews.com/american-citizen-verge-death-egyptian-jail/198036/#comments Thu, 23 Oct 2014 12:40:02 +0000 http://www.mintpressnews.com/?p=198036 Imprisoned for over a year in an Egyptian jail without proper medical care and under a self-imposed hunger strike, an American citizen’s health is fast deteriorating. But because of his ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, the U.S. hasn’t been very vocal in demanding his release. Continue reading

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Soltan

Photo from Change.org page of the Free Soltan Campaign.

WASHINGTON — “Last year I put my hands up like #Mike Brown did and the Egyptian police shot me twice with bullets my US gov’t paid for!” wrote Mohamed Soltan, 26, in a letter from a prison cell in Egypt.

“It pains me that this type of injustice is still taking place in America, and I wholeheartedly declare my solidarity with #Ferguson from my Egyptian solitary confinement dungeon,” he continues in the letter, posted to Twitter on Aug. 30.

Soltan, a dual U.S.-Egyptian national and a graduate of the Ohio State University, is currently imprisoned and on hunger strike in Cairo, Egypt, where his life is in danger because authorities have denied him continued medical care and put him in solitary confinement, according to Amnesty International. He was arrested on Aug. 25, 2013 for participating in a sit-in at Rabaa al-Adawiya Square in Cairo, where he acted as an unofficial media spokesperson for the protesters.

He was not charged with any crime until a hearing in January. He is officially charged with “forming an operations room to direct the Muslim Brotherhood group to defy the government during the Rabaa sit-in dispersal,” according the Egyptian prosecutor general’s office, as reported by the Daily News Egypt. He is being charged along with 52 other defendants, and no evidence has been presented against him.

 

The Rabaa Square Massacre

The Rabaa al-Adawiya sit-in was part of a series of protests that started following the ouster of Egypt’s democratically-elected President Mohammed Morsi on July 3, 2013. It culminated in the Egyptian military killing over 1,150 people, including protesters at a sit-in at Al-Nahda Square in Giza and smaller protests throughout the country, according to Human Rights Watch.

HRW concluded that “the killings not only constituted serious violations of international human rights law, but likely amounted to crimes against humanity, given both their widespread and systematic nature and the evidence suggesting the killings were part of a policy to attack unarmed persons on political grounds.”

“Our main concern is the political nature of the charges laid against him and his deteriorating situation, which the United States government doesn’t seem to be very vocal about,” said Charles Dunne, director of Middle East and North Africa programs at Freedom House, in an interview with MintPress News.

“This is part of the government’s overall vendetta against the Muslim Brotherhood after the coup last year in July.”

In a video posted to YouTube of Soltan, shot in January and addressed to President Barack Obama, Soltan says that before getting arrested he was documenting crimes against justice and humanity. He explains that he was trying to share his American values with “young Egyptians, hoping to build bridges between the two free generations, the very same youth that President Obama publicly praised following the January 25th [2011] revolution.”

“Essentially, my crime is doing exactly what I thought my president wanted me to do: learning from the Egyptian youth and sharing with them my experience of freedom,” he says.

 

Some Americans are more important than others

In 2012, 19 Americans working at non-governmental organizations in Egypt were accused of “manipulating the Egyptian political process and improperly collecting information to send home to the United States,” according to The New York Times. The groups included Freedom House, the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute, where Sam LaHood was the country director. At the time, LaHood’s father, Ray Lahood, was the U.S. Secretary of Transportation. As a result of the groups’ federal connections, both financially and politically, the U.S. government became involved with the case, going so far as to threaten the $1.5 billion in annual aid disbursed to Egypt every year since 1979.

In a letter to then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and then-Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, 41 members of Congress wrote: “The absence of a quick and satisfactory resolution to this issue will make it increasingly difficult for congressional supporters of a strong U.S.-Egypt bilateral relationship to defend current levels of assistance to Egypt.”

It is also important to note that the organizations were illegal entities under Egyptian law at the time. The New York Times reported that year that “almost every independent human rights or advocacy group is unlicensed, foreign financed and therefore illegal.” Despite this, the United States was able to evacuate the Americans, who were taking refuge at the U.S. Embassy, before they were prosecuted.

Soltan references this incident in his video letter to Obama: “Your government moved mountains and sent a chartered plane to evacuate my fellow blond-haired, blue-eyed Americans, who were being detained by the same Egyptian military back in 2012, so why am I any different?”

Dunne said that the case for Freedom House was different because they were “operating with U.S. government funds to work on pro-democracy and pro-human rights activity.” While Soltan may have been conducting similar work, he was doing so without official sanction of the U.S. government. Dunne said that several of his people were interrogated by the authorities and the charges put against them were political, just like Soltan, but “[o]ur people were very fortunate not to be imprisoned, and not on the verge of a major health crisis.”

Soltan has been held for over one year without any evidence presented against him. In his video letter to Obama, he alludes to why he believes his case is different. He asks, “Is my life not worth anything to you? Has the life of American citizens become worthless? Or is it because my name is Mohamed?”

“With your continued silence, you, sir [Obama], are saying there are in fact different variations of American. And my type in this period and this time just happens to be the one that matters less or not at all,” he continues.

Soltan has political connections, too, but of a different nature. His father is a prominent figure in the Muslim Brotherhood, the political party deposed in the 2013 coup. The group was responsible for the sit-ins around the country and was banned after Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi took power. However, Mohamed Soltan is not a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, according to Freedom House and The Washington Post.

On Sept. 19, the U.S. State Department said in a daily press briefing, “We continue to provide appropriate consular services to Mr. Soltan, including monitoring his health, pressing Egyptian authorities to ensure he has access to appropriate care, and maintaining regular access. We routinely seek consular visits with him and we arranged for him to be seen by an outside physician to assess his condition, and we continue to closely monitor this case and to raise it with Egyptian officials, urging the Egyptian Government to speedily present its evidence against him or to release him.”

His brother, Omar Soltan, tweeted a message to Obama on Wednesday saying Obama asked Egyptian President Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi to release Soltan “on medical grounds and [the U.S.] embassy submitted [a] request to [the] prosecutors office that he be released, [the] court refuses.”

 

Life-threatening condition  

Amnesty International issued a press release last month, stating that Egyptian authorities are putting Soltan’s life in danger “after more than 230 days on hunger strike, by denying him sustained medical care and placing him in solitary confinement.” He is reportedly only given medical care when he passes out, and then he is returned to his cell.

“Denying medical care to someone who is critically ill is not just callous and cruel, but blatantly unlawful,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa program.

Fatma Bayad, a physician with the U.S. Embassy, visited Soltan this spring. She said that he had lost about 70 pounds since beginning his hunger strike, according to a solidarity committee report in support of Soltan. She added that he was unable to walk.

Further, prior to going to Egypt, Soltan experienced two strokes due to a birth defect, explained the report, and so doctors have advised him to take anti-stroke medicine. “Bayad’s report stated that Soltan’s condition could be life-threatening due to his ongoing hunger strike,” it said.

Dunne told MintPress that “there’s about 41,000 people in prison, many of them supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, who were swept up in the protests and demonstrations after the events of the overthrow of Mohammed Morsi, and these people deserve full attention, too.”

He continued, “The difference here that I think should matter to the United States is that he is an American citizen. … The U.S. government has not been very vocal in demands for release of Mohamed Soltan.”

“If he dies, that’s going to be a major blot on the U.S.-Egyptian relationship,” said Dunne.

Soltan appeared in court on Wednesday, but the hearing was adjourned until Nov. 22.

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