Worried about the USA and Drones?

April 15th, 2014

The Congressional Budget Office in 2011 questioned the whole idea of “cheap drones.” Their study remarked that the original concept was that these would be very low- cost, essentially expendable aircraft. As of 2011, however, whether substantially lower costs will be realized is unclear. Although a pilot may not be on board, the advanced sensors carried by unmanned aircraft systems are very expensive and cannot be viewed as expendable.’ The electro- optical/ infrared cameras on small UAVs cost several times the drones themselves. And on the other end of the size spectrum, the sensors on the massive Global Hawk make up over half the vehicle’s price tag. In general, as the technology becomes more and more sophisticated, the price of high-tech drones is expected to go up.
The Congressional study noted another big problem with drones that greatly affects the ultimate price tag. They crash—a lot. “Excessively high losses of aircraft can negate cost advantages by requiring the services to purchase large numbers of replacement aircraft,” the report concluded.’
In 2009, the Air Force made an astonishing admission: more than a third of their unmanned Predator spy planes had crashed, mostly in Iraq and Afghanistan.” As of July 2010, 38 Predators and Reapers had been lost during combat operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, with another nine crashing during training operations in the US.2
Altogether, the US Air Force said there had been seventy-nine drone accidents.’
A Predator crashed in the Afghan mountains in September 2010 after an oil system malfunction caused engine failure.
A few months earlier, a crash was due to an electrical system failure. One disaster near Kandahar Air Base was attributed to a remote pilot pushing the wrong button. Another drone crashed just as it was landing in the Seychelles, the Indian Ocean nation where the US bases a fleet of drones. In the famous case of the Iranian government getting hold of the sophisticated US spy plane, the RQ-170, the Iranians claimed they brought down the plane by jamming its GPS, while the US claimed it was a “technical problem” with the aircraft.
In an alarming preview of what is to come with drones clogging the airspace, in August 2012 a drone in Afghan-istan collided with a C-130 cargo plane, forcing it to make an emergency landing. A spokesman for the US military in Afghanistan claimed that the C-130 received only light damage and that the aircrew was unharmed, but the incident raised grave concerns about the drone’s inability to sense and avoid other aircraft
In June 2012 the military’s largest drone, the Global Hawk, did not crash in some far-flung overseas outpost but right here at home, in southern Maryland. The aircraft, valued at $176 million, was on a Navy test mission when the ground pilot lost control. Luckily, it crashed into a marsh, not a residential neighborhood.

Excerpt from: Drone Warfare – Killing by remote control; Media Benjamin; Verso; USA. www.verso books.com. Available in Bookshops in Australia

Senate Report Finds CIA Exceeded Legal Authority, Misled Media on Torture (2)

April 15th, 2014

http://www.democracynow.org/; 11/4/14

A secret Senate Intelligence Committee report on the CIA’s torture program questions the program’s underlying legal framework and accuses the agency of impeding its overseers and manipulating the media. According to the report’s conclusions, which were obtained by McClatchy, the CIA issued incorrect claims about how many detainees it held and subjected to so-called enhanced interrogation techniques; inaccurately characterized the effectiveness of the techniques; actively avoided or impeded oversight by Congress, the Justice Department and its own inspector general; ignored internal critiques; and “manipulated the media by coordinating the release of classified information, which inaccurately portrayed the effectiveness of the agency’s enhanced interrogation techniques.” The Senate Intelligence Committee has voted to declassify the conclusions and other sections of the report, but not before they are reviewed by the CIA.

Leaked Report: CIA Lied, Lied – Lied to Conceal ‘Brutal’ Torture

April 15th, 2014

11/4/14; Sarah Lazare, staff writer

Key findings of a still-classified Senate Intelligence Committee investigative report reveal that the CIA lied to lawmakers, the media, and the U.S. public about widespread torture as it concealed the brutality of its interrogation methods and the number of people subjected to them.
This is according to a Thursday report from McClatchy News Service, which obtained 20 main conclusions (PDF) of the 6,300-page Senate Intelligence Committee report on the CIA’s detention and interrogation program. These conclusions are entirely new to the public record.
As stated in the document listing the Senate report’s key conclusions, obtained by McClatchy, these findings include:
- The CIA inaccurately characterized the effectiveness of the enhanced interrogation techniques to justify their use.
- The CIA’s use of enhanced interrogation techniques was brutal and far worse than the agency communicated to policymakers.
- The CIA did not conduct a comprehensive or accurate accounting of the number of individuals it detained and held individuals who did not meet the legal standard for detention.
- The CIA’s claims about the number of detainees held and subjected to its enhanced interrogation techniques were inaccurate.
Shane Kadidal, senior managing attorney of the Guantánamo Global Justice Initiative at the Center for Constitutional Rights, told Common Dreams, “There’s been a lot written about the CIA misreporting the number of detainees in the program. That also isn’t entirely new: several years ago Human Rights Watch did a report on ghost detainees that indicated two thirds of the CIA detainees were released from US custody. The question really is what became of them.”
According to the Senate report’s conclusions, the CIA wove a web of lies and deception to cover its tracks, impeding oversight and investigations from the Department of Justice, White House, Congress, and even the CIA’s own Office of Inspector General. The findings state the agency employed unsound legal arguments to justify the abuse and also “ignored” numerous internal critiques and concerns and “manipulated the media.”
According to the McClatchy story—reported by Ali Watkins, Jonathan S. Landay and Marisa Taylor—the senate panel’s investigation
The techniques included waterboarding, which produces a sensation of drowning, stress positions, sleep deprivation for up to 11 days at a time, confinement in a cramped box, slaps and slamming detainees into walls. The CIA held detainees in secret “black site” prisons overseas and abducted others who it turned over to foreign governments for interrogation.
McClatchy’s latest article follows a Washington Post exposé released last month, revealing that the classified report shows the CIA lied to the U.S. Congress, Justice Department, White House, and public for years about its brutal interrogation techniques by hiding the extent of abuse and falsely claiming the torture was necessary to save lives.
The Senate report remains classified more than a year after its completion, despite calls from around the world for the full investigation — which took four years and $40 million to complete — to be released.
Earlier this month, the Senate Intelligence Committee voted to submit the executive summary and conclusions of the report on the CIA Detention and Interrogation Program to the White House for declassification.
Yet, the CIA is expected to play a major role in the declassification process, including redaction of information, despite allegations that the CIA spied on the Senate staffers while they were creating the report. Human rights groups charge that CIA involvement in the release of the report would be a conflict of interest.


The NSA’s Heartbleed Problem is the Problem with the NSA

April 15th, 2014

13/4/14; Julian Sanchez; The Guardian

The American intelligence community is forcefully denying reports that the National Security Agency has long known about the Heartbleed bug, a catastrophic vulnerability inside one of the most widely-used encryption protocols upon which we rely every day to secure our web communications. But the denial itself serves as a reminder that NSA’s two fundamental missions – one defensive, one offensive – are fundamentally incompatible, and that they can’t both be handled credibly by the same government agency.
In case you’ve spent the past week under a rock, Heartbleed is the name security researchers have given to a subtle but serious bug in OpenSSL, a popular version of the Transport Layer Security (TLS) protocol – successor to the earlier Secore Sockets Layer (SSL) – that safeguards Internet traffic from prying eyes. When you log in to your online banking account or webmail service, the little lock icon that appears in your browser means SSL/TLS is scrambling the data to keep aspiring eavesdroppers away from your personal information. But an update to OpenSSL rolled out over two years ago contained a bug that would allow a hacker to trick sites into leaking information – including not only user passwords, but the master encryption keys used to secure all the site’s traffic and verify that you’re actually connected to MyBank.com rather than an impostor.
It’s exactly the kind of bug you’d expect NSA to be on the lookout for, since documents leaked by Edward Snowden confirm that the agency has long been engaged in an “aggressive, multi-pronged effort to break widely used Internet encryption technologies”. In fact, that effort appears to have yielded a major breakthrough against SSL/TLS way back in 2010, two years before the Heartbleed bug was introduced – a revelation that sparked a flurry of speculation among encryption experts, who wondered what hidden flaw the agency had found in the protocol so essential to the Internet’s security.
On Friday, Bloomberg News reported that Heartbleed had indeed been added to NSA’s arsenal almost immediately after the bug appeared, citing two anonymous sources “familiar with the matter”. Within hours, the intelligence community’s issued an unusually straightforward denial, free from the weasely language intelligence officials sometimes employ to almost-but-not-quite deny allegations.
As the statement pointed out, the federal government itself “relies on OpenSSL to protect the privacy of users of government websites and other online services.” If NSA had found such a serious security hole, the agency would have disclosed it, officials asserted. Moreover, the White House has recently “reinvigorated” the “Vulnerabilities Equities Process” designed to ensure that newly-discovered exploits aren’t kept secret any longer than is absolutely necessary for vital intelligence purposes.
As Indiana University cybersecurity expert Fred Cate points out, however, the intelligence community’s track record of misleading statements about its capabilities means even such a seemingly unambiguous denial has been greeted with some skepticism. And even if we take that denial at face value when it comes to Heartbleed, reports of NSA’s 2010 “breakthrough” suggest they may be sitting on other, still-undisclosed vulnerabilities.
Here, however, is the really crucial point to recognize: NSA doesn’t need to have known about Heartbleed all along to take advantage of it.
The agency’s recently-disclosed minimization procedures permit “retention of all communications that are enciphered.” In other words, when NSA encounters encryption it can’t crack, it’s allowed to – and apparently does – vacuum up all that scrambled traffic and store it indefinitely, in hopes of finding a way to break into it months or years in the future. As security experts recently confirmed, Heartbleed can be used to steal a site’s master encryption keys – keys that would suddenly enable anyone with a huge database of encrypted traffic to unlock it, at least for the vast majority of sites that don’t generate new keys as a safeguard against retroactive exposure.
If NSA moved quickly enough – as dedicated spies are supposed to – the agency could have exploited the bug to steal those keys before most sites got around to fixing the bug, gaining access to a vast treasure trove of stored traffic.
That creates a huge dilemma for private sector security experts. Normally, when they discover a vulnerability of this magnitude, they want to give their colleagues a discrete heads-up before going public, ensuring that the techies at major sites have a few days to patch the hole before the whole world learns about it.
The geeks at NSA’s massive Information Assurance Directorate – the part of the agency tasked with protecting secrets and improving security – very much want to be in that loop. But they’re part of an organization that’s also dedicated to stealing secrets and breaking security. And security companies have been burned by cooperation with NSA before: the influential firm RSA trusted the agency to help them improve one of their popular security tools, only to discover via another set of Snowden documents that the spies had schemed to weaken the software instead.
Giving NSA advance warning of Heartbleed could help the agency protect all those government systems that were relying on OpenSSL to protect user data – but it also would aid them in exploiting the bug to compromise privacy and security on a massive scale in the window before the fix was widely deployed.
Little wonder, then, that the President’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies – informally known as the Surveillance Review Group – dedicated a large section of its recent report, Liberty and Security in a Changing World, to this basic tension. “NSA now has multiple missions and mandates, some of which are blurred, inherently conflicting, or both,” the Review Group wrote. “Fundamentally NSA is and should be a foreign intelligence organization” rather than “an information assurance organization.”
Because Internet security depends on trust and cooperation between researchers, the mission of a security-breaking agency is fundamentally incompatible with that of a security-protecting agency. It’s time to spin off NSA’s “defense” division from the “offense” team. It’s time to create an organization that’s fully devoted to safeguarding the security of Internet users – even if that might make life harder for government hackers.

http://www.commondreams.org/view/2014/04/13-3; Julian Sanchez is a research fellow at the Cato Institute. He is the former Washington editor for the technology news site Ars Technica and a founding editor of the blog Just Security. You can follow him on Twitter at @n; © 2014 The Guardian

Palestinians draw line at criminal court

April 15th, 2014

8/4/14; Thalif Deen

When Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas decided to defy the United States and Israel over stalled peace negotiations, he formally indicated to the United Nations last week that Palestine will join 15 international conventions relating mostly to the protection of human rights and treaties governing conflicts and prisoners of war.
But he held back one of his key bargaining chips that Israel and the United States fear most: becoming a party to the Rome Statute that created the International Criminal Court (ICC) to punish war crimes and genocide – and where Israelis could be docked.
Asked whether it was a wise move, Darryl Li, a post-doctoral research scholar at Columbia University, told IPS, “I would call it a clever move, not necessarily a wise one.”
There’s no question avoidance of ICC was deliberate; that’s clearly a US-Israeli “red line,” he said. So it makes sense as a way to prolong negotiations.
A flurry of treaty signing
The United Nations said last week it had received 13 of the 15 letters for accession to international conventions and treaties deposited with the world body.
They include the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations; Vienna Convention on Consular Relations; Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in armed conflict; Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women; Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Also included were the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties; International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination; Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; United Nations Convention against Corruption; Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide; International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid; International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
Meanwhile, accession letters for the following two conventions were submitted respectively to the Swiss and Dutch representatives respectively: the Four Geneva Conventions of August 12, 1949, and the First Additional Protocol, for the Swiss; and the Hague Convention (IV) respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land and its annex: Regulations Concerning the Laws and Customs of War on Land, for the Dutch.
“But since the current framework for negotiations won’t yield just outcomes due to the Palestinians’ lack of leverage, I wouldn’t call it ‘wise’,” Li said.
In a blog post for the Middle East Research and Information Project (MERIP) last week, Li underlined the political double standards: “Israel demands that Washington release the convicted spy Jonathan Pollard while the Palestinians are blamed for voluntarily shouldering obligations to respect human rights and the laws of war.”
Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch (HRW), said, “It is disturbing that the Obama administration, which already has a record of resisting international accountability for Israeli rights abuses, would also oppose steps to adopt treaties requiring Palestinian authorities to uphold human rights.”
He said the US administration should press both the Palestinians and the Israelis to better abide by international human rights standards.
In a statement released on Monday, HRW said Palestine’s adoption of human rights and laws-of-war treaties would not cause any change in Israel’s international legal obligations.
The US government should support rather than oppose Palestinian actions to join international treaties that promote respect for human rights.
HRW also said that US Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power last week testified before congress that in response to the new Palestinian actions, the solemn commitment by the US to stand with Israel “extends to our firm opposition to any and all unilateral [Palestinian] actions in the international arena”.
She said Washington is absolutely adamant that Palestine should not join the ICC because it poses a profound threat to Israel and would be devastating to the peace process.
The rights group pointed out the ratification of The Hague Regulations and Geneva Conventions would strengthen the obligations of Palestinian forces to abide by international rules on armed conflict.

Armed groups in Gaza, which operate outside the authority or effective control of the Palestinian leadership that signed the treaties, have committed war crimes by launching indiscriminate rocket attacks against Israeli population centers, HRW said.
HRW also said Washington appears to oppose Palestine joining human rights treaties in part because it is afraid they will gain greater support for Palestinian statehood outside the framework of negotiations with Israel.
Li said the choice of agreements signed indicated a desire to ruffle feathers but go no further.
Notably, Abbas did not sign the Rome Convention of the ICC, which would have exposed Israeli officials to the possibility, however remote, of prosecution for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Moreover, Abbas also declined to set into motion membership applications to any of the United Nation’s various specialized agencies, such as the World Health Organization (WHO) or Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
Such a move would have triggered provisions under US law that automatically cut US funding to those bodies, as occurred when Palestine joined the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization in 2011, Li wrote in his blog post.
Meanwhile, the group known as The Elders, which includes former world political leaders, said in a statement on Monday that the Palestinian move is consistent with the UN non-member observer state status obtained by Palestine in November 2012.
Gro Harlem Brundtland, former Norwegian prime minister and deputy chair of The Elders, said, “As a UN non-member observer state, Palestine is entitled to join international bodies. We welcome President Abbas’ decision to sign the Geneva Conventions and other important international human rights treaties.”
This move opens the way to more inclusive and accountable government in the West Bank and Gaza, she added.
It has the potential to strengthen respect for human rights and provide ordinary Palestinians with essential legal protections against discrimination or abuses by their own government, Brundtland noted.
“In global terms, it will also increase their ability to enjoy, in practice, the protection of their basic rights granted to them by international law,” she said.
Former US President Jimmy Carter, also a member of The Elders, said the decision by the Palestinians to exercise their right to join international organizations should not be seen as a blow to peace talks.
“I hope that, on the contrary, it will help to redress the power imbalance between Israelis and Palestinians, as we approach the 29 April deadline set by [US Secretary of State John] Kerry.”
More than ever, he said, both parties urgently need to make the necessary compromises to reach a lasting peace with two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security.

http://atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/MID-01-080414.html (Inter Press Service)

America’s Homegrown Terror

April 15th, 2014

7/4/14; This article is a joint publication of Foreign Policy In Focus and TheNation.com.

The U.S. security complex is up in arms about cyberhackers and foreign terrorists targeting America’s vulnerable infrastructure. Think tank reports have highlighted the chinks in homeland security represented by unsecured ports, dams, and power plants. We’ve been bombarded by stories about outdated software that is subject to hacking and the vulnerability of our communities to bioterrorism. Reports such as the Heritage Foundation’s “Microbes and Mass Casualties: Defending America Against Bioterrorism” describe a United States that could be brought to its knees by its adversaries unless significant investments are made in “hardening” these targets.
But the greatest dangers for the United States do not lurk in terrorist cells in the mountains surrounding Kandahar that are planning on assaults on American targets. Rather, our vulnerabilities are homegrown. The United States plays host to thousands of nuclear weapons, toxic chemical dumps, radioactive waste storage facilities, complex pipelines and refineries, offshore oil rigs, and many other potentially dangerous facilities that require constant maintenance and highly trained and motivated experts to keep them running safely.
The United States currently lacks safety protocols and effective inspection regimes for the dangerous materials it has amassed over the last 60 years. We don’t have enough inspectors and regulators to engage in the work of assessing the safety and security of ports, bridges, pipelines, power plants, and railways. The rapid decline in the financial, educational, and institutional infrastructure of the United States represents the greatest threat to the safety of Americans today.
And it’s getting worse. The current round of cutbacks in federal spending for low-visibility budgets for maintainence and inspection, combined with draconian cuts in public education, makes it even more difficult to find properly trained people and pay them the necessary wages to maintain infrastructure. As Bruce Katz of the Brookings Institution points out, the 2015 budget fresh off the press includes a chart indicating that non-defense discretionary spending—including critical investments in infrastructure, education, and innovation—will continue to drop severely, from 3.1 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2013 to just 2.2 percent in 2024. This decision has been made even though the average rate for the last 40 years has been 3.8 percent and the United States will require massive infrastructure upgrades over the next 50 years.
The recent cheating scandal involving employees of the U.S. nuclear weapons complex is emblematic of the problem. Nuclear officers charged with protecting and maintaining the thousands of U.S. nuclear weapons simply copied the answers for tests about how to employ the complex machinery related to nuclear missiles. The scandal is only the latest in a long series of accidents, mishaps, and miscommunications that have nearly caused nuclear explosions and tremendous loss of life. As Eric Schlosser has detailed in his new book Command and Control, we have avoided inflicting a Hiroshima-sized attack on ourselves only through sheer dumb luck.
Last year, the American Society of Civil Engineers issued its Report Card for America’s Infrastructure, which painted a grim picture of America’s infrastructure. The average grade for infrastructure—covering transportation, drinking water, energy, bridges, dams, and other critical infrastructure—was a D+. The failure to invest in infrastructure over the last 15 years, the report argues, bodes ill for the future and will guarantee further disasters. As political campaigns against “bureaucrats” render the federal government incapable of recruiting and motivating qualified people, these disasters appear almost unavoidable. The weakest link from the point of view of national security are the military and energy sectors.
Bad Chemistry
The problems begin with our weapons. Despite promises from 20 years ago that the U.S. Army Chemical Materials Agency would destroy chemical weapons stockpiles, we have finished only 50 percent of the job (whereas Russia has completed some 70 percent) according to Larry Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell.
The process of maintaining and removing dangerous weapons is tedious, labor-intensive, and inevitably involves community approval and the rawest forms of politics. The task suffers from an unhealthy combination of secrecy and apathy: the military wants to keep their weapons secret while the general population treats the matter with a striking lack of interest. Although many chemical weapons are stored relatively safely—binary substances are stored separately and are dangerous only when combined—many other chemicals related to fueling and other activities are hazardous. Because they are out of sight and out of mind, they are poorly managed.
Military waste is but a small part of the problem. The United States is peppered with all-but-forgotten chemical waste dumps, aging nuclear power plants, nuclear materials, oil rigs, oil pipelines, and mines (active and abandoned) that require an enormous investment in personnel and facilities to maintain safely.
Nuclear Headaches
The United States boasts the largest complex of storage facilities in the world related to civilian nuclear power and nuclear weapons programs. This network contains a dozen Fukushimas in the making. The U.S. nuclear energy system has generated more than 65,000 tons of spent fuel, much of which is stored in highly insecure locations. ”Even though they contain some of the largest concentrations of radioactivity on the planet, U.S. spent nuclear fuel pools are mostly contained in ordinary industrial structures designed to merely protect them against the elements,” writes IPS nuclear expert Robert Alvarez. “Some [of the structures] are made from materials commonly used to house big-box stores and car dealerships.” An accident involving any one of these storage facilities could produce damage 60 times greater than the Chernobyl disaster.
The Energy Department, without much regard for public safety, plans to unceremoniously dump in a landfill a ton of radioactive material produced in its nuclear weapons program. Such an approach has precedents. The West Lake municipal landfill in Bridgeton, Missouri harbors highly radioactive material from the weapons program of the 1940s and 1950s. That unsecured material could transform into a major public health risk due to fire or flooding. More recently, investigation of the Hanford nuclear waste complex in Washington State revealed that “significant construction flaws” exist in six of the 28 radioactive waste storage tanks. One of them has been leaking since 2012. The site dates back to the plutonium experiments of the 1950s, and those flawed storage tanks contain around 5 million gallons of radioactive material.
The Obama administration has pledged to reduce its nuclear weapons arsenal and envisions a nuclear-weapons-free future. But at the same it is pouring money into “nuclear modernization” through the development of a new generation of weapons and consequentially even more radioactive waste. Moreover, the administration continues to include nuclear energy as part of its carbon reduction plans, directing federal subsidies to the construction of two new nuclear plants in Georgia.
Despite the enthusiasm for nuclear weapons and power, the administration has turned a blind eye to the disposal of all the nuclear waste that both the military and the civilian side have generated.
Situation Normal: All Fracked Up
The coal industry continues to slice the peaks off mountains and replace them with vast expanses of barren land that cannot support life. That process fills rivers and lakes with toxic sludge, and regulation is all but nonexistent. From the 1990s on, coal companies have torn up West Virginia, Kentucky, Virginia, and Tennessee using new technologies that have already destroyed a patch of land larger than the state of Delaware. The run-off from these mining operations has buried 1,000 miles of streams.
The recent contamination of the Elk River in West Virginia with the dangerous chemical 4-methylcyclohexane methanol used in coal mining left over 300,000 people without safe drinking water. Although the storage of the chemicals was the responsibility of the now bankrupt Freedom Industries, the responsibility for the accident does not stop there. In fact, federal officials never inspected the site, and neither Freedom Industries nor local government officials drew up an emergency response plan.
A few weeks later a pipe failure in Eden, North Carolina dumped 39,000 tons of arsenic-laced coal ash into the nearby Dan River, causing a similar crisis. The situation is growing more serious as state budgets for inspection and regulation are being slashed. Training and preparation for hazardous material disasters is underfunded, and the personnel are unprepared to do their job.
Coal and oil workers are dying in greater numbers as a result of a chronic inattention to safety concerns. So bad is the situation that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has only 95 inspectors to oversee safety rules for all Texas work sites, and few of them have training or experience in the energy sector.
If you like coal mining, you’re going to love fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, which is latest weapon in the war on the environment. Fracking is a process for extracting natural gas and petroleum from subterranean rock formations by pushing water, sand, and a variety of toxic chemicals deep into the ground to fracture the rock and release the trapped oil or gas. The process leaves beneath the surface large amounts of toxic chemicals that have already been shown to contaminate drinking water. The chemicals are so toxic that the water cannot be cleaned in a treatment plant.
Fracking is gobbling up large swathes of the United States because sites are quickly exhausted and the driller must constantly move on, leaving behind toxic chemicals to seep into the water supply. The long-term consequences of leaving extremely toxic substances like benzoyl or formic acid underground for decades are unknown. Without extensive regulation, maintenance, and planning for future disasters, the fracking boom is a ticking bomb for U.S. security.
The peril is not just on land. The increasingly desperate search for energy is making extreme measures—like deep-water drilling for oil—profitable for energy companies. The Deep Water Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 resulted in 11 deaths, affected 16,000 miles of coastline, and will cost upwards of $40 billion. That accident didn’t stop the U.S. government from granting Shell a permit to drill in the deep waters of the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas off the Alaskan coast, an effort that has already racked up its share of accidents.
Coming Up: Le Deluge
The unending demand for budget cuts is taking a toll on the environment. The Environmental Protection Agency, responsible for a large number of important regulatory activities, experienced cuts of more than 6 percent in both its budget and workforce: from a nearly $8.5-million budget in 2012 down to $7.9 million in 2013, and from 17,106 employees in 2012 down to 15,913 employees in 2013. This is happening at a time when environmental issues are growing more critical.
Cuts in budgets for maintenance, inspection, and regulation will all but guarantee further disasters and tens of billions of dollars in damages. The poor state of American infrastructure would be a problem in any case, but the challenge of climate change has thrown a monkey wrench in all predictions. The New York Panel on Climate Change concluded that rising sea levels will turn what was previously a once-in-100-years flood into something that happens once every 35 to 55 years by 2050 and once every 15 to 30 years by 2080. Hurricane Katrina in 2005 caused more than $108 billion in damages while Hurricane Sandy in 2012 cost more than $50 billion, according to the National Hurricane Center. Climate change combined with poor maintenance is a recipe for massive disaster. Although the costs of the next disaster will certainly exceed the 9/11 attacks in terms of damage, tragically we are cutting back on infrastructure investment at a time we should be increasing it dramatically.
Unfortunately, the constituencies concerned with such safety inspections do not hire the most expensive lobbyists and rarely show up in the press. Inspectors and experts cannot, and should not, be expected to defend themselves in Washington, D.C. The media-obsessed political culture that rules Washington today makes commitment to low-key support for maintenance and long-term safety the kiss of death for congressmen engaged in an unending struggle to raise funds for reelection.
The strategic foolhardiness of cutting back on low-profile programs has become politically smart. But a few more major industrial or infrastructural disasters in the United States will be enough to bring the country to its knees. The American superpower will topple from self-inflicted wounds without a political rival like China or Russia even having to say “boo!”
http://fpif.org/americas-homegrown-terror/; Emanuel Pastreich directs the Asia Institute in Seoul, South Korea. John Feffer is the co-director of Foreign Policy In Focus. This article is a joint publication of Foreign Policy In Focus and TheNation.com.

A visit to a paradise under threat

April 15th, 2014

Lucy Mangan; 11/4/14
Plastic bottles, nappies, sodden shoes, household waste, wrappers, dead fish, bloated goat corpses and live maggots – welcome to the Citarum river in Java, Indonesia, upon whose filthy, poisoned, poisonous waters more than 35 million people’s livelihoods and lives depend. The average village population of 6,000 generates 10 tonnes of rubbish a day.
In total, 10 million people live on its banks, with nowhere to put their waste but into the water. Investigator and presenter Seyi Rhodes did not so much sail down the Citarum as carve his way through it during Thursday’s Unreported World (Channel 4).
Rhodes examines how, over the last few decades, more than 60% of its fish species have been wiped out and replaced, not only with the detritus yielded by a population explosion, but also with uncountable amounts of lead, mercury and chemicals from the textile factories on which vast swathes of the region and much of the Indonesian economy has come to depend.
The documentary followed the traditional Unreported World route as closely as it did the waterways, focusing on one small disaster (if there is such a thing), and gradually pulling out to show its dire immediate effects and remorseless ramifications. The river contaminates the entire water table. People irrigate their paddy fields with it, wash in it, cook in it and drink it each time they pull a bucket from their wells. And, with no infrastructure to speak of, they add their own measure of pollution via untreated human waste, which runs in open sewers through their streets before heading back out into the Citarum.
Rhodes confronts the deputy minister for the environment about his findings and about the impetigo-ridden children who fill the villages. There is legislation – for example, requiring the factories in which clothes are made for “some of the world’s biggest fashion names”, a phrase almost becoming inevitable in this kind of investigation, to treat their wastewater before discharging it. But the government is unwilling or maybe just unable, given the stranglehold manufacturers have on the economy, to enforce it. And so the river, and the world, roll on.


Japan Intends to continue whaling

April 15th, 2014


Anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd says Japan has filed court briefs in the United States indicating it intends to return to hunting whales in Antarctic waters next year. The International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled last month that Japan’s whaling program was not conducted for scientific research purposes, in a case brought by Australia. In documents filed with the US District Court in Seattle on Friday, Japan’s Institute of Cetacean Research says it will return to the Southern Ocean in 2015-16 with a newly designed research program.
Sea Shepherd says Japan will also seek a permanent injunction against Sea Shepherd USA and other Sea Shepherd entities, adding that it is a blatant attempt to defy the international court ruling. Japan’s whalers won an injunction against Sea Shepherd USA in 2012.
However, Sea Shepherd USA administrative director Susan Hartland says this latest legal bid is designed to stop the organisation’s Dutch and Australian arms, which were free to continue protesting.
Ms Hartland says the move is primarily designed to maintain pressure on the conservation organisation “to keep this temporary injunction on us and [Sea Shepherd founder] Captain Paul Watson”.
She says it is a disappointing development given Japan had promised to abide by the ICJ decision. “We were really hoping that this [ICJ] ruling would give them an easy way out, so they could say ‘you know what, we’re not going to go back’,” she said. “It’s really unfortunate that they’re really, really pushing this in defiance of the International Court of Justice.” Further court hearings are expected next week.
Greens whaling spokesman Peter Whish-Wilson says the news is devastating, and he is urging the Federal Government to ensure Japan honours the ICJ ruling.
Senator Whish-Wilson says Prime Minister Tony Abbott must publicly declare that he will not accept a return to Southern Ocean whaling and will pursue all legal avenues to prevent it happening.
He says Mr Abbott visited Japan last week without raising the whaling decision. “While we’re celebrating deals with Japan on trade and other things, it’s a very good opportunity to be proactive and positive with the Japanese government and let them know that Australians do want better relationships with Japan, right across the board,” he said. “But that will require them making a strong statement that they will not continue whaling in the Southern Ocean.”
In a statement, Environment Minister Greg Hunt has told the ABC the Government remains opposed to whaling. He says based on the ICJ ruling, he does not expect the International Whaling Commission would approve further whaling.


Asylum-seekers: thousands rally in protest against government’s policies (3)

April 15th, 2014


The Greens’ Sarah Hanson-Young says Australians want a more humane policy on asylum seekers. Thousands of people rallied around the country on Palm Sunday to protest against the federal government’s asylum-seeker policies. Marches were planned for Adelaide, Armidale, Brisbane, Canberra, Darwin, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney.
Protesters voiced several concerns about the government’s policies, including the offshore processing regimes at Manus Island and Nauru, children being placed in detention and several attempts to reintroduce temporary protection visas by the immigration minister, Scott Morrison.
Between 1500 and 2000 people attended the Canberra rally; about 6000 in Melbourne and Sydney, and about 600 in Perth.
A Refugee Council of Australia representative, Phil Glendenning, told the crowd in Hyde Park, Sydney, that an Australian prime minister would one day be forced to offer a national apology to those kept in detention. “Thirty, 20 years from now, a prime minister of this country will rise in our national parliament and offer an apology for the damage done to them in our name,” he said. “It’s not preventing deaths at sea; it’s about saying ‘die somewhere else’,” he said of the government’s asylum-seeker policy.
A protester at the Melbourne rally, Mark Kavanagh, said: “I’m here because I believe policies that lock up children breach our commitment to the UN convention on the rights of the child.” In Sydney, Jim Richardson said: “Mandatory detention here isn’t justified beyond a short initial period; offshore is even worse. Refugees should be welcome.”
Religious groups, refugee rights’ groups and people from various political parties attended the various rallies. In Perth, a Uniting Church spokesman said: “It is ethically unjustifiable for the Australian government to imprison one group of asylum seekers in dangerous circumstances to deter others [from trying to reach Australia]. “They [asylum seeker] are not a tool of deterrence for government policies. The Australian government has to ensure adequate safeguards are in place for asylum seekers at all times, including the rule of law.”
At the Perth rally, the Labor senator for Western Australia, Sue Lines, said the government’s asylum-seeker policies were “inhumane”. “There is a number of Labor politicians who are now speaking out. What we want to do within Labor is create a movement for change.”
An asylum seeker who was granted a protection visa and who now lives in Perth said the rallies gave hope to asylum seekers on Manus Island and Nauru. “The situation in detention centre right now, if it’s not worse, is pretty much the same as it was 12 or 13 years ago when I was in detention,” Reza Sadiki said.
“Lots of people at PalmSunday in Sydney concerned about Kidsindetention So are we!” tweeted UNICEF Australia.

“Church and community groups across the country have been organising rallies and prayer vigils to mark this important day,” the Greens senator, Sarah Hanson-Young, said, addressing the rally in Melbourne.
“Many Australians want our parliament to find a kinder, more compassionate refugee policy. It’s time to stop playing politics with the lives of vulnerable people and to end the war against refugees, who are simply asking our nation for a helping hand,” she said.”From Perth to Melbourne, and Adelaide to Brisbane, Australians are saying that the government’s cruelty towards refugees must end.”
It has been disclosed that early discussions are occurring to potentially allow Australia to resettle refugees in Cambodia. Cambodia has a poor human rights’ record and is one of the poorest countries in the Asia-Pacific. Hanson-Young said the talks were aimed at “shipping human suffering around our region”.

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/apr/13/asylum-seekers-thousands-rally-in-protest-against-governments-policies; https://twitter.com/MarkKavenagh/status/455193079893331968








Apology to refugees will come: protesters (2)

April 15th, 2014


A future Australian prime minister will be forced to offer a national apology to asylum seekers kept in mandatory detention, refugee activists warn. Thousands of protesters gathered in Sydney’s Hyde Park on Sunday to rally against the treatment of asylum seekers in offshore detention. They joined a 2500-strong crowd rallying in Canberra and about 8000 demonstrators in Melbourne as part of the national event, organisers say.
Brandishing signs reading “What Would Jesus Do Scott” and “Inhu-Manus Island”, religious, immigrant and activist groups listened to speeches before marching through the CBD. When Refugee Council of Australia representative Phil Glendenning said an Australian prime minister would one day be forced to offer a national apology to those kept in detention, they responded with a chorus of: “Shame!”
“Thirty, twenty years from now a prime minister of his country will rise in our national parliament and offer an apology to the damage done to them in our name,” he said.”It’s not preventing deaths at sea – it’s about saying die somewhere else.”
A Hazara refugee herself, Sabira Nazeri, said the current policy was barbaric and used some of the world’s poorest countries as little more than a “dumping ground”. She said during recent visits to Villawood she had found detainees more hopeless than ever. With her four-year-old son sitting on her shoulders, marcher Lisa Fleming, 45, said she wanted to set him a moral example. “I want my son to know that refugees are welcome here,” she said, voice wavering.
Fellow demonstrator Maureen Kingshott, 66, said mandatory detention was scandalous and jeopardising Australia’s international reputation. “There are times in your life when you have to stand up and say, look, I’ve had enough,” she told AAP.
Organisers estimated about 3500 people marched down Market Street to Town Hall, before circling back to Hyde Park chanting “Free, free refugees”.
Immigration Minister Scott Morrison’s office has been contacted for comment.


Asylum seeker rally: Thousands march around Australia to protest immigration policies (1)

April 15th, 2014


Protesters braved wet weather to attend a protest in support of refugee rights in Sydney. Thousands of people around the country have marched in rallies calling for an end to the Federal Government’s policies on asylum seekers.
In Melbourne, as many as 3,000 protesters marched against mandatory detention and offshore processing.
In Sydney, thousands braved the pouring rain, bringing traffic in the city centre to a standstill.
Speakers said referring to asylum seekers as “illegals” and locking them away in remote detention centres has helped the Government’s policies become popular.
Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young told crowds in Melbourne the Government’s policies are dehumanising. “The war on refugees is an attack on Australia’s generous heart,” she said. “We must reject it wholly. We must stand up for the spirit and the fabric of our nation which is about fairness and basic human dignity.”


Window opens on secret camp within Guantanamo

April 15th, 2014

Attorney James Connell has visited his client inside the secret Guantanamo prison complex known as Camp 7 only once, taken in a van with covered windows on a circuitous trek to disguise the route on the scrub brush-and-cactus covered military base.
Connell is allowed to say virtually nothing about what he saw in the secret camp where the most notorious terror suspects in U.S. custody are held except that it is unlike any detention facility he’s encountered. The Camp 7 prison unit is so shrouded in secrecy that its location on the U.S. base in Cuba is classified and officials refuse to discuss it. Now, two separate but related events are forcing it into the limelight. “It’s much more isolating than any other facility that I have known,” the lawyer says. “I’ve done cases from the Virginia death row and Texas death row and these pretrial conditions are much more isolating.” The Camp 7 prison unit is so shrouded in secrecy that its location on the U.S. base in Cuba is classified and officials refuse to discuss it. Now, two separate but related events are forcing it into the limelight.
In Washington, the Senate Intelligence Committee voted on April 3 to declassify a portion of a review of the U.S. detention and interrogation program in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, al-Qaida attack. The report, the release of which is opposed by the CIA, is expected to be sharply critical of the treatment of prisoners, including some now held in Camp 7.
And on Monday, a judge in Guantanamo will open a hearing into the sanity of one of those prisoners, Ramzi Binalshibh, whose courtroom outbursts about alleged mistreatment in Camp 7 have halted the already bogged-down effort to try five men in the Sept. 11 attacks, all of whom are held there.
Both issues are deeply intertwined. Binalshibh has accused the government of making noises and vibrations inside Camp 7 to deliberately keep him awake, reminiscent of the intentional sleep deprivation, along with other forms of abuse, that his lawyers say he endured at the hands of the CIA from the time he was captured in Pakistan in September 2002 to when he was brought to Guantanamo four years later.
Military officials deny doing anything intentional to disrupt his sleep. Prosecutors say his accusations are delusions, though they still believe he is mentally competent to stand trial. His lawyers say he is competent, but are not convinced officials have adequately investigated his complaints.
His mental state is somewhat murky. Court records show Binalshibh has been treated while in Guantanamo with medications that are used for bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, but he did not participate in a court-ordered mental evaluation in January.
The judge, Army Col. James Pohl, could decide to sever Binalshibh from the case against his co-defendants, all of whom are being tried by military commission on charges that include terrorism and murder and face the death penalty if convicted.
Another possibility is that his inability to sleep and his fevered outbursts in court, which prompted the judge to order him removed from the courtroom in December, are a result of post-traumatic stress from his treatment at secret CIA interrogation centers known as black sites, said Anne Fitzgerald, director of the research and crisis response program for Amnesty International.
“The problem is that because everything is done in secret and there is so little opportunity for even the lawyers to have access to their clients it’s difficult for anybody to figure out what is actually happening,” said Fitzgerald, who is at the base to observe the sanity board proceedings.
Camp 7 has never been part of the scripted tours of Guantanamo offered to journalists and there are no published photos. It’s not even mentioned on a military media handout about the detention center, which otherwise notes that the military “conducts safe, humane, legal and transparent care and custody of detainees.”
Military officials, while insisting that they adhere to international human rights standards, refuse to describe Camp 7. “I’m not even functionally allowed to discuss the place,” said Army Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale, a Pentagon spokesman.
A few facts have come out through government reports and court testimony. It apparently holds 15 of the 152 prisoners at Guantanamo. Those held in Camp 7 include Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who has portrayed himself as the mastermind of the Sept. 11 attack and is on trial with Binalshibh. Also held there is a Saudi prisoner charged with orchestrating the deadly bombing of the USS Cole in 2000.
The men are apparently held in solid-walled cells as opposed to the cage-like structures used soon after the U.S. began using Guantanamo as a prison in 2002 that are intended to limit their ability to communicate with each other, and are allowed up to four hours per day of exercise, according to a Government Accountability Office report.
The secret camp also is apparently falling apart.
Marine Gen. John F. Kelly, commander of Miami-based Southern Command, told Congress that Camp 7 has become “increasingly unsustainable due to drainage and foundation issues” and needs to be replaced. But officials balked at the proposed $49 million price tag and the military scrapped the idea for a replacement and is making repairs out of existing funds, said Army Col. Greg Julian, a spokesman for Southern Command, which oversees Guantanamo.
James Harrington, a lawyer for Binalshibh, said he does not believe problems with the foundation which Julian described as “heaving and shifting” are responsible for the vibrations and sounds that his client says keep him awake.
The judge granted all five defense teams a request to visit Camp 7 one time for up to 12 hours to inspect conditions. Because of an ongoing dispute over the rules for handling classified evidence however, only Connell, who represents defendant Ammar al-Baluchi, has been inside. He went in August, riding in the van with windows covered in heavy-duty paper and a makeshift interior barrier so he could not see the driver.
It is not clear whether one visit closely monitored by prison authorities would reveal the cause of Binalshibh’s distress. His previous military lawyers, Navy Cmdr. Suzanne Lachelier and Lt. Richard Federico, were allowed inside Camp 7 in November 2008 for about two hours. With Connell, they are the only other defense lawyers known to have ever been inside the facility. They could not determine a cause for his complaints.
The secrecy and security, Lachelier recalls, seemed excessive then and she remains skeptical. “There’s no way to explain the security measures that they use from the perspective of the safety of the guards or the safety of the detainees, beyond that they must be hiding something.”


Pope asks forgiveness for ‘evil’ of child abuse by priests (2)

April 15th, 2014

Naomi O’Leary; 12/4/14; Reuters; -

Pope Francis made his first public plea for forgiveness on Friday for the “evil” committed by priests who molested children, using some of his strongest words yet on the Roman Catholic Church’s sexual abuse crisis.
The Argentine-born pontiff said the Church, which last month named a high-level group on the scandal including an abuse victim, had to take a stronger stand on a scandal that has haunted it for more than two decades, and indicated there would be repercussions for perpetrators.
“I feel compelled to personally take on all the evil that some priests – quite a few in number, (although) obviously not compared to the number of all priests – to personally ask for forgiveness for the damage they have done for having sexually abused children,” he told members of the International Catholic Child Bureau.
“The church is aware of this … personal, moral damage carried out by men of the church, and we will not take one step backward with regards to how we will deal with this problem, and to the sanctions that must be imposed. “On the contrary, we have to be even stronger. Because you cannot interfere with children,” Francis said in unscripted comments as he addressed the children’s rights body.
The comments, originally in Spanish, were translated by the Vatican Radio news service.
Francis did not specify whether “sanctions” would be church-enforced or involve civil justice authorities. In February the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child accused the Vatican of systematically turning a blind eye to decades of abuse and attempting to cover up sex crimes.
The scathing report urged the church to immediately hand over its records on the abuse of tens of thousands of children, immediately remove anyone suspected of abuse from their post and refer the matter to civil legal authorities. The Vatican called the report unfair and ideologically slanted.
Francis’ words strike a different tone to comments he made in March to an Italian newspaper in which he defended the church’s record.
“The Catholic Church is perhaps the only public institution that has moved with transparency and responsibility. No one has done more, and yet the church is the only one that is being attacked,” he was quoted as saying by Corriere della Sera in comments decried by victims’ rights groups.
Criticism that Francis has not taken a bold enough stand on the issue, and did not meet sexual abuse victims in Italy and in a July trip to Brazil, has been a rare black spot in the overwhelmingly positive response to the pontiff in the 13 months he has been in office.
In particular, abuse groups have called on the church to discipline bishops accused of moving known child molesters from parish to parish, allowing abuse to continue.
“It’s nice to have expressions of concern. But actions need to happen, and people have been waiting an awfully long time for that to occur,” said Terry McKiernan, founder of BishopAccountability.org, which documents abuse cases.
“The best thing he could have done today would have been to step up to the microphone and announce that he is beginning to remove bishops who have behaved criminally in keeping priests in ministries where they don’t belong, moving them around so that they continue to be a danger to children.”
The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), which advocates for child protection and urges greater transparency in the church, said Francis’ words should be received with caution. “We beg the world’s Catholics: be impressed by deeds, not words. Until the pope takes decisive action that protects kids, be sceptical and vigilant,” SNAP Outreach Director Barbara Dorris said.”This may be the first time a pope has talked of sanctions against complicit bishops. But that is all it is: talk.”
Under Francis’ direction, the Vatican announced in December the creation of a new dedicated group to help the church deal with the abuse crisis. Its members were named in late March.
The body of clerics and lay people includes Marie Collins, a survivor of abuse in Ireland in the 1960s who has campaigned for the protection of children and for justice for victims. Collins, a founding trustee of the Irish abuse victims’ organisation One in Four, has in the past pushed for punishment for bishops who failed to implement church rules on the protection of children.
Child abuse litigation has cost the Catholic Church some $3 billion (1.7 billion pounds) in settlements in the United States’.


Past members of sex abuse commissions tell of struggles with bishops (1)

April 15th, 2014

Jason Berry 11/4/14

Commissions set up by church officials to advise church officials on clergy sexual abuse have a checkered history. No one knows this better than Catholics who answered their bishops’ call to serve but found themselves and their advice rejected or ignored.
The U.S. bishops named a 12-member blue-ribbon panel of lay advisers amid the firestorm of media coverage in 2002.
“A lot of American bishops would not want to see any of us of the original review board named to this [pontifical] commission,” said Nicholas Cafardi, who served on the National Review Board from 2002 to 2004.
“The report we wrote in 2004 was pretty rough on the bishops,” said Cafardi, a Duquesne University law professor, dean emeritus and canon lawyer. “If [the pope and the Vatican] want a credible board, they should have at least one American who has dealt with the realities. This is hardly something to claim credit for, but we had the largest crisis in terms of victims and perpetrators — more than Ireland, Belgium and Australia — because our country has the biggest church.”
Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke, who also served on the original U.S. National Review Board, said the bishops resisted the board on many points, such as whether there would be audits of priest personnel files and who would do the audits. “I don’t think they realized that this was a time bomb and the magnitude of what was left to come.”
She also noted, “The bishops didn’t honestly deal with each other.”
Cafardi, Burke and several others were present in 2004 when Chicago Cardinal Francis George celebrated Mass for the review board, and then afterward told them, according to several review board members there, “You will be the downfall of the church.” The archdiocese’s spokesman later denied the cardinal said this. In 2005, George would ignore the U.S. bishops’ Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People by failing to remove an accused priest, Daniel McCormack, who was subsequently prosecuted and sent to prison. The archdiocese has settled lawsuits with at least five of about a dozen plaintiffs for more than $7 million.
In 2012, when Cafardi learned that the Vatican was planning a conference on clergy sex abuse, he tried to get invited. He wrote to the organizer, German Jesuit Fr. Hans Zollner. Vice rector of the Pontifical Gregorian University, Zollner has been named to the new Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors. Cafardi sent Zollner a copy of his 2008 book, Before Dallas: The U.S. Bishops’ Response to Clergy Sexual Abuse of Children, on the bishops’ failure to abide by voluntary guidelines prior to the 2002 conference in Dallas, where they adopted the youth protection charter.
“I wrote to Fr. Zollner … offering to cover my own expenses. I pointed out I was a graduate of Gregorian and had this experience. Zollner sent a nice letter but it was a typical Roman kiss-off, saying the schedule has been set,” Cafardi said. Bishops spurning the advice of their own oversight groups are sources of disillusionment for people like Cafardi and Burke.
Sharing their frustration is Lieve Halsberghe of Louvain, Belgium, a researcher for BishopAccountability.org, an advocacy organization for victims of clergy sex abuse. 2010 saw the churches in Belgium, Ireland, Austria, Germany and Italy engulfed in scandals as revelations about the extent of sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests became public. In Belgium, this led to a civil investigation and even a police raid on national church offices.
Lieve Halsberghe’s aunt, Godelieve Halsberghe, was a magistrate who served on a church commission of inquiry into abuse cases. In 2010, the commission issued a report that contained testimony given by hundreds of people who had been sexually abused by priests.
On the commission from 2000 to 2008, Godelieve Halsberghe clashed with the hierarchy over their concealing information about offenders.
Most notoriously, Roger Vangheluwe resigned as bishop of Bruges in 2010 after admitting to abusing a nephew over a 15-year period, beginning when the boy was 5.
Lieve Halsberghe, a member of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) in Belgium, said that Cardinal Godfried Danneels, retired archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels, and his successor, Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard, allowed Vangheluwe to retire quietly and did not seek justice. They are still respected public figures, often in the media, “as if nothing ever happened,” Halsberghe said. All these men have caused so much harm to so many people — and they are unpunis

Palestinian political prisoners pay the price of freedom (5)

April 15th, 2014

Jamal Hussein’ 12/4/14

The issue of Palestinian political prisoners and detainees held in Israeli jails continues to inflame the Palestinian public. Numerous events and activities take place throughout the occupied Palestinian territories, mainly in Gaza, to show solidarity with the prisoners in their call for freedom and in their demands to improve conditions inside.
The Palestinian ministry of detainee affairs says that more than 5,000 Palestinians are being held in Israeli jails across 23 prisons and detention centres, many of them without trial or charge, under administrative detention, a military procedure which allows suspects to be held without charge indefinitely. Some of the prisoners have spent nearly 30 years locked up because of their struggle against the Israelis and their support for their cause for national liberation.
Former freed prisoners have said that it is not possible to reach a peace settlement between Palestinians and Israelis without ending the issue of prisoners forever.
Atef Abu Saif, a former prisoner and editor of Seyasat magazine, said that the issue of Palestinian prisoners is one of the most important felt by every citizen. Statistics show that more than one fifth of Palestinians living in the occupied territories have spent some time in prison and many have paid the price of freedom.
“Any liberation of this country Palestine has to lead to the prisoners’ freedom. Palestinian prisoners are political prisoners, so anyone who supports freedom and human rights, and the rights of nations, ought to contribute to the release of these prisoners.” Abu Saif added.
For the first time in the history of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict since 1948, the year 2013 witnessed Palestinian political detainees winning their freedom through face-to-face struggles with their jailors in Israeli prisons and detention centres.
The prisoners, especially those detained under Israel’s administrative detention, initiated campaigns to free themselves through hunger strikes. The success of Khader Andan and Hana Shalabi, who won their freedom through hunger strikes, has encouraged more detainees to adopt the same approach.
Adie Mormech, International Human Rights activist, said that Palestinian prisoners are political prisoners and should not be behind bars. Palestinians have an international, legal right to resist occupation.
It is worth noting that in late 2013 the United Nations overwhelmingly voted to declare 2014 the International Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian people. On 17 April each year events take place inside the occupied territories and worldwide to show solidarity with the prisoners, call on Israel to improve their imprisonment conditions and call for their release.
A prisoner swap in late 2011 saw the release of over 1,000 Palestinian political prisoners in exchange for one Israeli soldier who had been held in captivity in Gaza for 5 years. However, Israel broke the deal when they re-arrested 8 prisoners on the same charges after the release of Gilad Shalit.
164 out of 1,027 Palestinians from the West Bank who were released in the swap were sent into exile in Gaza. 41 were forced to go and live in other countries.
Hani Al-Bassos, a political expert, said that it’s not easy for Palestinians to free political detainees from Israeli jails without using the power and pressure of the Israeli military forces, similar to the case of Israeli soldier Gilad Shali in which more than 1,000 Palestinian detainees were released from Israeli jails.
“I think one of the responsibilities will be laid on the international community to take action against the Israeli authorities to release them, as a large number of the detainees are held in detention without trial,” Mr Al-Bassos added.
In Gaza, the families of Palestinian political prisoners and detainees in Israeli jails have gathered every Monday since 1995 in front of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) office to show solidarity with Palestinian prisoners and hunger strikers.
Solidarity across the occupied Palestinian territories persists as the issue of Palestinian prisoners has united the Palestinian public everywhere, regardless of their political differences and affiliations.
The ministry of detainees affairs and x prisoners ministry said that one of the goals this year is to internationalise the issue of the prisoners, some of whom have spent over 25 years languishing behind bars from before the signing of Oslo Accords in 1993 between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization.
According to the ministry of detainees, over 200 Palestinian political prisoners have died inside prison since 1967 due to medical negligence.
According to the Palestinian NGO Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, Addameer, there were more than 5,000 Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli jails as of January 2014. The prisoners include 155 administrative detainees, 17 women and 154 children in addition to approximately 1,000 sick prisoners. Statistics by prisoners’ advocacy groups show that since 1967, Israel has imprisoned nearly 800,000 Palestinians.
Meanwhile, for more than five years between June 2007 and August 2012, Israeli forces have prevented family members in the Gaza Strip from visiting detainees.
Israel ended this comprehensive ban as part of an agreement to settle the mass hunger strike in April 2012, but continues to bar relatives, including children who have reached the age of ten, from travelling through the Erez checkpoint to its prisons.
Israeli occupation forces carry out almost daily arrest campaigns throughout the West Bank; this comes as Palestinian inmates are planning to hold protests in Israeli jails, an official from the Palestinian Authority (PA) has said.
The plan came as a response to Tel Aviv’s decision to scrap a fourth release of prisoners, Ziad Abu Ein, the PA deputy minister for prisoner affairs said on Friday. “The protests would include hunger strikes by the prisoners,” Abu Ein added.
The prisoners were supposed to be freed as part of US-brokered talks between the PA and the Israeli regime. Tel Aviv had promised to free the inmates and in exchange the PA pledged to freeze all moves to seek membership in UN organisations until April 2014.
As peace talks failed to release long-serving Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails, the families of the prisoners call on resistance groups to capture Israeli soldiers and settlers in order to exchange them for prisoners.
Securing the release of prisoners is a highly emotive issue in Palestinian society where they are considered freedom fighters.


Former American officials accuse Israel of breaching international law (4)

April 15th, 2014


For the first time, six former senior American officials issued a statement candidly accusing Israel of breaching international law and undermining peace talks.
The statement came after a speech by the US secretary of state in Congress, in which he blamed Israel for delaying and meddling with negotiations because of its retreat from the release of the fourth batch of veteran Palestinian prisoners.
Former US national security advisor Zbigniew Brezinski, former US defence minister Frank Carlucci, chairman and ranking member of the house committee on foreign affairs Lee Hamilton, former secretary of housing and urban development Carla Hills, retired US ambassador Thomas Pickering and former national director of the American Jewish Congress Henry Siegman signed the statement.
These former officials called on US Secretary of State John Kerry to stop brokering Palestinian-Israeli peace talks in order to compel Israel to comply with international law.
They also objected to recognising Israel as a Jewish state and stressed the right of the Palestinians to stick to their vision of historical Palestine, as well as calling on the American administration to keep away from this issue.
According to Alarab Alyawm, which reported the news, the high-ranking American figures called for an end to stealing Palestinian land to build Israeli settlements. They also rejected the Israeli security justifications to continue its occupation of the Jordan Valley.