Drone Warfare – killing by remote control. (3

April 24th, 2014

Medea Bendjamin; 2013\

This book is available from bookshops in Australia and New Zealand. Published by Verso, 2013; the short extracts below, are meant to give you a taste of the book. They can be found on pp 32-45 of the book
No company has benefited more from the drone boom than San Diego-based General Atomics. While not as well known as mega-military contractors like Lockheed Martin or Boeing, the company, which began in 1955 building nuclear reactors, has experienced massive growth from the military’s increased reliance on UAVs. In fact, the company’s Predator became the global face of the new age of robotic warfare. Its successor, the Reaper (originally called Predator B)—which can fly higher and faster and hold significantly more weapons—has become the Air Force’s primary unmanned aerial vehicle.
General Atomics bought its way into the drone business in the 1990s, purchasing from Hughes Aircraft the original UAV company started by Israeli engineer Abraham Karem. While it’s a private company, General Atomics would go belly-up in no time if it weren’t for a constant stream of government contracts. Of the company’s $661.6 million in revenues in 2010—up from just $115 million in 1980-90 percent came directly from sales to the Pentagon.2 Between 2000 and 2010, it sold more than $2.4 billion worth of equipment to the US military. Most of that income is from drones…
From 1994 to 2012, the company sold more than 800 of its Predator, Reaper, and Grey Eagle drones to the US military. It also began sales to NATO allies.
In 2011, the US Air Force ordered a test version of General Atomics: latest, most souped-up drone, the Predator C Avenger, which can fly faster (740 km/h), higher (60,000 ft) and carry a bigger payload (over 2,000 pounds) than either the Predator or the Reaper.
How did such a small company come to beat out its larger competitors in the drone-making game, despite the fact that its early UAVs that were used in the Balkans were difficult to control and prone to crashing? “For our size, we possess more significant political capital than you might think,” company CEO James Blue boasted to a trade publication back in 2005.
That political capital did not come based solely on the merits of the products Blue’s company makes. And it did not come cheap.
For years, General Atomics carefully cultivated key members of Congress, spending lavishly on campaign contributions and junkets. As the Center for Public Integrity reported in 2006, the company spent more than any other corporation in America on financing trips abroad for lawmakers, their families and their staff.’ Between 2000 an mid-2005, it spent “roughly $660,000 on 86 trips” to everywhere from Turkey to Australia, where the company was trying to get US government approval to sell its latest UAVs overseas t6 non-NATO countries.…
In July 2010, the US government approved an export version of its flagship Predator drone model to the Middle East and South Asia. Prior to this, the sale of Predators was approved only to NATO countries, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand. In theory, these export versions are designed only for surveillance and reconnaissance missions, but it wouldn’t take much adjusting to slap a bomb on them…
General Atomics is not the only little military contractor that could. While it may sound like a gentle air freshener—and it did start out consulting on air quality—AeroVironment has been gobbling up a giant-size piece of the drone pie. Like General Atomics, the company is relatively small. In 2001, AeroVironment’s annual revenue was under $30 million. Within a decade, its revenue shot up to nearly $300 million, 85 percent of that coming from the sale of drones to the US government…
On September 1, 2011, the company announced it was awarded a $4.9 million contract from the US Army to build a 5 1/2 pound drone called the Switchblade. Like its namesake, the Switchblade is versatile. According to AeroVironment, it is designed to provide the warfighter with a “magic bullet” capable of being launched from the air or the ground and to lock in on a target within minutes…
Giant Bethesda, Maryland-based military contractor Lockheed Martin, with more than 130,000 employees and 2010 sales upwards of $45.8 billion, has also been greasing the wheels” with $142,000,000 in lobbying (1998-2011)28— and reaping the benefits with three-quarters of its revenues coming from military sales.2″
One gift that keeps on giving is its Hellfire missiles, the weapon of choice that UAVs have been raining down from the sky at a handsome $68,000 a shot. Lockheed has developed an even more deadly version that it lovingly calls the Romeo Hellfire. Dripping with sexual innuendos, Lockheed brags that the Romeo can “lock onto targets before or after launch,” “engage targets to the side and behind them without maneuvering into position,” and thanks to its more virile guidance and navigation capabilities, can “increase the missile’s impact angle and enhancing lethality.” Speaking about this man’s man of missiles, managing editor Gareth Jennings from Jane’s Missiles and Rockets gushed, “Before you would have to employ a specific missile-type to take out a particular kind of target—tank, truck, foot soldier. This allows the aircraft to engage ‘targets of opportunity’ as they appear on the battlefield.”
Proving that size is not everything, Lockheed Martin is also getting into the drone business in smaller ways. It is developing a concept drone called the Samarai Monocopter, which the magazine Popular Mechanics reports is inspired by “the winding flight of a falling maple seed.” This would almost be beautifully poetic were its purpose not to provide “a powerful … tool for soldiers” on the battlefield.
Lockheed’s contribution to the new world of warfare doesn’t stop there. Lockheed also makes its own surveillance UAVs at its so-called “Skunk Works” facility in Palmdale, California. Chief among Lockheed’s drones is the stealth RQ-170 Sentinel model primarily used by the US Air Force and better known because of its enormous size as the “Beast of lawmakers, their families and their staff.’ Between 2000 an mid-2005, it spent “roughly $660,000 on 86 trips” to everywhere from Turkey to Australia, where the company was trying to get US government approval to sell its latest UAVs overseas -05 non-NATO countries.

In July 2010, the US government approved an export version of its flagship Predator drone model to the Middle East and South Asia. Prior to this, the sale of Predators was approved only to NATO countries, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand. In theory, these export versions are designed only for surveillance and reconnaissance missions, but it wouldn’t take much adjusting to slap a bomb on them.

General Atomics is not the only little military contractor that could. While it may sound like a gentle air freshener—and it did start out consulting on air quality—AeroVironment has been gobbling up a giant-size piece of the drone pie. Like General Atomics, the company is relatively small. In 2001, AeroVironment’s annual revenue was under $30 million. Within a decade, its revenue shot up to nearly $300 million, 85 percent of that coming from the sale of drones to the US government.

On September 1, 2011, the company announced it was awarded a $4.9 million contract from the US Army to build a 5 1/2 pound drone called the Switchblade. Like its namesake, the Switchblade is versatile. According to AeroVironment, it is designed to provide the warfighter with a “magic bullet” capable of being launched from the air or the ground and to lock in on a target within minutes.

…according to the National Journal’s Marc Ambinder, it was that very Lockheed Martin drone that provided surveillance for the Navy SEAL operation that ended in the execution of Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. Less exciting for the company is the fact that it was this very model that showed up on TV screens around the world, in the hands of the Iranian government.
What the big companies like Lockheed, Boeing and Northrop Grumman are bringing to the drone market, which General Atomics and other small companies can’t do, is the ability to produce high-performance supersonic aircraft. This marks the transition from using drones against peasants in Afghanistan to turning them against military forces with heavy modern weapons, such as those of Iran, North Korea and China. According to robotics expert Mark Gubrud, “What lurks behind this is the specter of drone-vs.-drone warfare or possibly robotized military standoffs, where the potential exists for automated responses to initiate or rapidly escalate warfare between major powers and between nuclear-armed states.” Get ready for a drone-eat-drone world — fed by your tax dollars.

Silence on drone deaths (2)

April 24th, 2014

The New Zealand Herald 23/4/14

Prime Minister John Key has refused to comment on whether other New Zealanders have been killed in drone strikes while facing further questions about the death in Yemen reported last week. He said he was not waiting for further information regarding other New Zealanders, but might be prepared to comment about further deaths “at a later date”. He said he did not necessarily comment on every New Zealander killed in such circumstances.


Questions That Should Be Asked About Recent Operations, Including Drone Strikes, in Yemen (1)

April 24th, 2014

23/4/14; Kevin Gosztola

- How much of the drone war being waged by the United States in Yemen is targeting actual al Qaeda fighters? And how much of it is targeting fighters, who are opposed to the current regime led by President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi?
In three days, three possible drone strikes launched apparently in cooperation with Yemeni forces has killed anywhere from 38 to 55 people. Anywhere from three to eight of those people were reportedly civilians yet, thus far, the identities of the other people killed have not been confirmed.
According to data from news reports compiled by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ), on April 19, two cars were hit by a US drone in the southeastern province of al Bayda. All reports “described an attack on a vehicle carrying alleged militants, in which a separate vehicle full of civilians was also hit.”
On April 20, alleged Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) training camps were targeted and hit by a “series of air strikes.” Officials would not disclose whether US drones were involved.
The Ministry of Interior claimed in a statement that “air strikes, which lasted for several hours, killed around terrorists from al Qaeda, including three movement leaders.” The “dead suspected militants” were Salem Abedrabbo al Mushaybi, Hussein al Mehrak and Saleh Saeed Mehrak.
During a third straight day of strikes, “an ambush by the Yemen Army’s Counter-Terrorism Unit with US Special Forces support or a drone strike followed by a Special Forces ground operation to retrieve bodies of suspected senior militants” was carried out. “Yemeni security officials and tribal chiefs reportedly said ‘a local militant commander’, Munnaser al Anbouri, was killed in the attack.”
Media organizations seemed to presume that “Nasser al-Wuhayshi, the head of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, based in Yemen, and Ibrahim al-Asiri, the group’s “master bomb maker” were probably targeted and possibly even killed. That would explain the escalation in operations in the country. However, “the bodies of some militants who were killed,” according to NBC News, were flown to the capital, Sanaa, for DNA testing and no top-ranking leader had been identified yet.
The NBC News report from Jim Miklaszewski, Richard Engel, Courtney Kube and James Novogrod is remarkable for how clearly it is stenography, a regurgitation of an official statement from an unnamed official in Yemen. The headline for the story is “Yemen Killed 40 Al-Qaeda Militants With US Drone Help.” None of the words are appropriately placed in quotes. The headline is not “Yemeni Official Says Yemen Killed 40 Al-Qaeda Militants With US Drone Help.” Statements which are impossible to confirm are accepted as true.
This is how the unnamed Yemeni official described the “counterterrorism operations” to NBC News:
—The first phase began Saturday morning, with an airstrike on a militant vehicle that the official said was part of a terrorist training camp. The source said 10 militants were killed along with three civilians. Five civilians were hurt.
— In the second phase, the camp itself was hit by airstrikes — three of them, from the predawn Sunday until after daybreak. The camp was not a “brick-and-mortar facility,” the official said, but had vehicles and weapons caches. At least 24 militants were killed.
— In the third phase, Yemeni commandos raided suspected high-value al Qaeda targets believed to be leaders of al Qaeda’s Yemen affiliate. Identification was still underway, but the Yemeni source said it did not appear any top militants were killed.
Ryan Goodman of Just Security noted how the ongoing actions may have been against people who posed no imminent threat to the United States but were considered by Yemeni officials to be threats to their government:
…First, according to Yemeni officials, recent actions were in response to a threat to civilian and military installations at least in Bayda province…The statement by the state news agency also added that the militants killed in the strike were responsible for the assassination of Bayda’s deputy governor on April 15. Those sound more like fighting an insurgency rather than fighting AQAP’s direct threat to the United States. Second, the strikes were described as a joint U.S.-Yemen operation by the Yemeni official who spoke to CNN. And he explained that Yemeni troops would have faced heavy losses if they had attempted a ground assault themselves…
Five “security/military” officers have apparently been assassinated since yesterday following the three strikes, according to Iona Craig, a journalist based in Yemen. To what extent are their deaths a part of the cycle of violence?
Then, there is the reality that these operations undertaken with support from US drones infuriate and upset Yemenis. When civilians are killed, “tribesmen” are driven to join up with AQAP or any of its associated groups, which the US keeps classified and does not want the public to know.
Yemeni political scientist Abdulghani al-Iryani recently told Reuters that the sharp escalation in the “number of al Qaeda elements” since drones first started to bomb Yemen in 2003—from a “few hundred” to “several thousand”—is partly fueled by the “fact that both the Yemeni and the US governments have relied too heavily on the use of drones.” Not adopting a “proper, comprehensive approach” to systemic problems in Yemen has “contributed to the expansion of al Qaeda.
That basic coverage of events would not mention or give a nod to these dynamics at all is at best negligent. Also, there should be some mention of the secrecy, which enables the government to wage drone war without accountability for what is happening before, during and after operations when people are killed.
No formal agreement on drones apparently exists between the US and Yemen—or at least that is what unnamed Yemeni officials have claimed.
According to Human Rights Watch, a Yemeni government official, as well as a senior Yemeni government official under Saleh, told the organization when it was investigating an attack that hit a wedding convoy last December that they were unaware of any signed agreement between Yemen and the United States on drone strikes. However, “there is a gentlemen’s agreement,” the current official said.
One might recall a now-infamous US diplomatic cable published by WikiLeaks and released by Chelsea Manning. It indicated in early January 2010 Saleh and then-CENTCOM commander General David Petraeus had a meeting. Saleh assured Petraeus the Yemen government would continue to say “the bombs are ours, not yours.” The Yemen government would cover up attacks to help the US keep them secret. And, though Saleh expressed concern about the inaccuracy of the missiles and the number of civilians killed, this would enable the US to avoid scrutiny and accountability for its counterterrorism operations.
What the arrangement also did was allow Saleh to take credit for operations in his country and make it seem like he had the capacity and strength to respond to arising conflicts and violence. This seems to continue, as the New York Times’ Eric Schmitt quoted “American officials” who “sought to play down the United States’ role and to allow” Hadi to “bolster his domestic credibility and claim credit for the operations.”
Claiming credit means being able to deceive the Yemeni population, which might be outraged to learn about more US drone strikes. But, as the operations have been undertaken, it is fairly clear that the US has encouraged Yemeni government officials to create this deception that they were leading these operations. US forces, including drones, only provided a little assistance.
- Is that the truth?
- Would any of this recent offensive been possible without US forces engaged in covert operations?
- Where is the lack of skepticism toward reports about who exactly was killed when it can be discerned that both Yemeni and US officials do not know?
These are the questions that should be at the forefront of coverage but are not.

http://www.commondreams.org/view/2014/04/23-5; © 2014 FireDogLake.com

Kevin Gosztola is a writer and documentary filmmaker whose blog, The Dissenter, is posted at FireDogLake.

Family Wins Fracking Suit in Legal Blow to Industry

April 24th, 2014


On Tuesday the family was vindicated when a jury found a fracking company guilty of causing damages to the family’s health and home. (Screenshot: Fox 4)In what is being called a legal blow to the fracking industry, on Tuesday a Texas family was awarded $3 million in the first ever verdict to be handed down over the negative health impacts of fracking.
Bob and Lisa Parr of Wise County sued Aruba Petroleum in 2011 for shale gas drilling operations which their lawyers said “fouled the family’s 40-acre ranch property, their home and quality of life,” by sickening both them and their daughter Emma, as well as their pets and livestock.
“They’re vindicated,” said Attorney David Matthews following the news of the verdict. “I’m really proud of the family that went through what they went through and said, ‘I’m not going to take it anymore. It takes guts to say, ‘I’m going to stand here and protect my family from an invasion of our right to enjoy our property.’”
Though not the first suit filed against an energy company for damages related to fracking, the vast majority of those ended in settlements with plaintiffs bound to restrictive gag orders.
The companies have had “an effective campaign of secrecy that protected them,” according to Earthjustice managing attorney Deborah Goldberg. As Goldberg explained to ThinkProgress, in addition to the gag orders, the industry has historically dodged blame by claiming proprietary rights on the details of their operations.
“A lot of the earlier tort cases [against fracking companies] were dismissed because the industry was so successful at withholding information that people couldn’t draw connections between the problems and what industry were doing,” Goldberg added. “Now studies are starting to be done, and people are beginning to realize that they can document what the impacts are going to be.”
Last week, three seperate studies were released documenting the toxic impact of fracking operations. Research conducted by the Physicians Scientists & Engineers for Healthy Energy, found that fracking likely produces public health risks and “elevated levels of toxic compounds in the environment” in nearly all stages of the process.
Months after fracking operations began in 2008, the Parrs began to experience negative health effects, including breathing difficulties, nausea, rashes and nosebleeds. Doctors confirmed the existence of hydrocarbon-related chemicals in Lisa’s bloodstream and their young daughter was diagnosed with asthma.
Further, as ThinkProgress reports, the Parrs experienced the death of house pets and livestock, and saw “physical dwarfing” of a newborn calf.
The $3 million verdict was only about 4.5 percent of the $66 million the Parrs had sought in their latest complaint, according to the details of the suit. The jury rejected the family’s claim that Aruba acted with malice. Reportedly, Aruba plans to appeal the verdict.

http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2014/04/23-9; http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2014/04/23-1

Ninety-nine days with no boat arrivals – but at what price? (4)

April 24th, 2014

28/3/14; Oliver Laughland

With a facade of calm purpose, Scott Morrison announced that today is 99th consecutive day since “a successful people smuggling venture to Australia”.
These days the weekly Operation Sovereign Borders (OSB) briefings sent by email follow a predictable format. The tone swings between grandiose nationalism and a bizarre sense of humanitarian purpose. Last week, in one email, the government boasted that “the way to Australia is shut for illegal boat arrivals” while adding that the policy is “saving lives at sea and providing more resettlement places in Australia for refugees waiting in desperate circumstances around the world.”
The rhetoric is confused, then. And contradictory, given that between 2009 and 2010 91% of asylum seekers arriving by boat were found to be genuine refugees. Yet, in some quarters at least, the government’s argument is lapped up. Turning back boats saves lives. Closing borders results in more compassion. Deterrence is fairness.
“Tony Abbott and his policies on border protection have saved men, women and children from drowning an awful death at sea,” crooned former Victorian Liberal president Michael Kroger on the Bolt Report earlier in the month. “You just imagine these parents and their kids in the sea, life draining from their bodies, watching their children and wives and husbands die in the sea. That is what happened to 1,200 people under the Rudd/Gillard policies”.
Bolt interjected: “And as they drowned they thought ‘at least the Greens policies are more compassionate’. Ridiculous.”
The insensitivity of the exchange was jaw-dropping – and striking in its naked partiality.
Since 19 December 2013 – the date of Morrison’s fabled last “successful people smuggling venture” a raft of serious allegations arising from the Coalition’s turnback policy have been widely reported.
Three asylum seekers claim to have had their hands burned by naval personnel during a turnback operation in early January. On that same boat journey, it is claimed that four passengers fell overboard – their bodies yet to be found. Last month it was alleged that three asylum seekers died whilst crossing a jungle river following a lifeboat turnback.
The language in Morrison’s releases is careful. There is no mention of how many boats have have actually attempted to reach Australia in 99 days (nine according to some reports), nor how many made it as far as Australian territorial waters. No mention either this week, of a boat reportedly heading to Christmas Island two days ago, nor what befell the 50 people on board.
Away from “on-water matters” the past 99 days have revealed that behind the bullishness, Morrison’s knowledge of events inside Australia’s harsh offshore processing centres is often limited.
Announcing that unrest on Manus, which left 23 year old Iranian asylum seeker Reza Barati dead, occurred outside the detention centre had to be corrected six days after the event to concede the violence occurred within the perimeter. Morrison has denied any children were detained on Manus during the unrest, despite evidence to suggest that is near impossible.
A contractor on Manus told me today that the mental health caseload has at least doubled since the night of Barati’s death.
Just a few weeks ago Morrison began transferring unaccompanied minors to detention on Nauru. The minister, who as the children’s legal guardian is mandated to act in their best interests, offered assurances that facilities are adequate, despite damning revelations to the contrary.
And in late December, just a days after the start of this successful run, Morrison was silent on a letter sent from 15 doctors describing in chilling detail a raft of medical failings in detention centres on Christmas Island.
The denials, obfuscation and misinformation are a front. The truth often doesn’t fit the argument.
Should things go the Coalition’s way, Saturday will mark the 100th day without a boat arriving on Christmas Island. But there has been a terrible human cost to this achievement – and one day the full extent of that cost will be revealed.

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/mar/28/stop-the-boats-australia-immigration; http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/mar/27/scott-morrisons-office-asylum-protest;


Manus detention centre was ‘tinderbox ready to ignite’ before disturbance (4)

April 24th, 2014

18/4/14; Paul Farrell and Oliver Laughland

A Manus Island detention centre guard says he described the facility as a “tinderbox ready to ignite” and expressed serious concerns about crime scene preservation training months before the disturbances that led to the death of an Iranian asylum seeker.
A Senate inquiry is investigating events at the processing centre in January, which led to injuries for dozens of asylum seekers and the death of one, Reza Barati. The Papua New Guinea police are investigating the death but no charges have been laid at this stage.
In one of the first submissions made public for the inquiry, Paul Skillen, who was employed as a supervisor at the facility until March, has submitted what appear to be emails to other G4S staff, outlining major concerns about training and crisis response procedures at the facility in November last year.
In the submission, Skillen says staff with no supervisory experience, no knowledge of incident response training and limited leadership capabilities were placed in senior incident response roles. He is also critical of the training received by local contractors. “As you will see from the content of the emails I previously forwarded,” he says, “although the PNG nationals were keen, and willing to learn, the level of training was woeful, and I was gravely concerned that the tension was rising within the centre and they would not be up to the task of dealing with a serious disorder.”
After an attempted hanging, Skillen describes having to place evidence in black bin bags because proper evidence collection tools were not available, and says that: “It was very apparent from the incident this morning, that even basic scene preservation training is needed.”
“If we are unlucky enough to have a death in custody, we may all end up before a PNG coroner, and these simple steps would assist us and the PNG constabulary greatly,” he writes in the email. In another email he writes that the incident responses training and leadership could leave both G4S and the individuals concerned “liable should anything un-towards occur”.
Guardian Australia has previously revealed that G4S managers “lost control” of the local riot squad and members of the team “dispersed into the immediate area of Mike compound,” according to official incident logs from G4S. A spokesman for G4S said the company denied the allegations made in the submissions and would be addressing them in its own submission to the Senate inquiry, as well as a range of other matters.
In a separate submission, one of the architects of Australia’s offshore processing regime says the Manus Island processing centre is not meeting basic human rights standards.
The former Labor government reintroduced a regional processing centre on Manus Island after an expert panel recommended establishing a broader regional framework for asylum seekers in the Asia-Pacific. The panel recommended establishing a centre in Papua New Guinea with appropriate accommodation, physical and mental health services and asylum claim processing and assistance.
But one of the panel members, Paris Aristotle, has written to the Senate inquiry investigating disturbances at the Manus Island facility, in his role as CEO of Foundation House, indicating that he does not believe the processing centre is meeting the human rights standards set out in that report.
“The current government has not resiled from the recommendation that the treatment of people transferred to PNG should be in accordance with international human rights standards,” Aristotle wrote, but “reports from UNHCR and other sources indicate strong concerns that the recommendation has not been comprehensively and properly implemented.”

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/apr/18/manus-detention-centre-was-tinderbox-ready-to-ignite-before-disturbance; http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/apr/18/australia-should-share-asylum-seeker-burden-indonesia

Manus video showing guards’ violence undercuts Morrison statements (3)

April 24th, 2014

Paul Farrell; 22/4/14

A video from the Manus Island processing centre shows guards throwing a range of objects on the night before a major disturbance, raising further concerns about the accuracy of early reports by the immigration minister, Scott Morrison. Protests on Manus Island in February escalated into violence involving guards, local contractors and asylum seekers. One asylum seeker, Reza Barati, was killed and several were seriously injured.
Morrison has already been criticised after being forced to revise his account of where the events took place, conceding that most happened inside the perimeter of the centre.
And new footage published by Fairfax Media showing guards throwing a range of objects raises further concerns about the early statements from the minister. “G4S utilised personal protection gear but no batons or other weapons were in situ and were in control of the centre for the entire period,” Morrison said in his first press conference on 17 February.
The new footage shows guards throwing chairs and other smaller projectiles being used as weapons as they attempted to enter a building. Comment has been sought from the minister’s office regarding the use of the objects as weapons.
The minister had earlier denied a communication breakdown with the service provider G4S, after he was forced to issue a correction stating that events during the disturbances occurred largely within the perimeter of the compound.
In a submission to the upcoming Senate inquiry into events at the facility, a former G4S guard, Paul Skillen, has published emails where he describes the centre as a “tinderbox ready to ignite” and expressed serious concerns about crime scene preservation training months before the disturbances.
The new footage is the third set of videos from the disturbances that have emerged from the centre. The ABC published the first footage from 16 February that shows some of the lead-up to the unrest, and Guardian Australia published footage from the floating Bibby hotel that was being used as a makeshift hospital on 17 February.


Court reserves decision on full hearing for asylum seekers’ data breach case (2)

April 24th, 2014

23/4/14; Paul Farrell

A federal circuit court judge has reserved his decision on whether a case involving a group of asylum seekers who were named in a massive data breach will continue to a full hearing.
The asylum seekers counsel, Shane Prince, argued the secretary of the immigration department had made representation to the asylum seekers in March that there would be processes in place to deal with their applications. “The secretary needs to honour the representations made,” Prince said. “He made a promise to each individual to consider their individual circumstances.There is a real utility in an injunction because we don’t want to be coming here before the horse has bolted,”
The immigration department’s counsel said the review processes in place to determine the implications of the breach was “still a process that is being developed”, but argued it was premature for the asylum seekers to be seeking injunctions and declarations. “No viable claim for an injunction lies until there is something purportedly done under the act,” he said. He added that “the fact the processes aren’t set out in chapter and rules” did not mean that the secretary had not made a genuine representation.
Guardian Australia revealed in February that the names, dates of birth, countries of origin, arrival date and location of every asylum seeker in a mainland detention facility was accidentally published on the Immigration Department’s website. Asylum seekers across Australia began lodging court appeals in March following the disclosures. Justice Rolf Driver has reserved his decision on whether the case will go to a hearing.

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/apr/23/court-reserves-decision-on-full-hearing-for-asylum-seekers-data-breach-case; http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/apr/23/australias-asylum-policies-repeatedly-criticised-by-un-officials-at-conference;

Nauru guards accused of assaulting children (1)

April 24th, 2014

23/4/14; Oliver Laughland

Security guards at the family camp on Nauru have been accused of verbally and physically abusing child asylum seekers in a letter of concern from staff at the centre. The letter by a Save the Children Australia worker to the charity’s Nauru contractors expresses “extremely alarming” allegations of “mistreatment and inappropriate behaviour” directed at asylum seekers by guards employed by Wilson Security, also now contracted at the Manus Island facility.
The letter, obtained by Guardian Australia, alleges that on 27 March a Wilson guard was seen by a Save the Children staff member chasing an asylum-seeker girl in the recreation area inside the centre and “hit her on the back of the head”.
It continues: “His [the guard] force and size was so big that the blow caused the child to fall to the ground.” It says the guard proceeded to verbally abuse staff from Save the Children, which provides support to child asylum seekers on Nauru.
Guardian Australia understands this guard was a local employee and is being investigated by the Nauruan police, having been stood down from duties in the family camp following the allegations. It is unclear if he continues to work for Wilson.
On the same day a Wilson security guard was also observed by a Save the Children employee using “excessive force” to remove a child from the playground in the centre. The letter continues: “The father [of the child] also witnessed the incident and yelled out to the guard, believing that it was not the first time this guard has mistreated his child.”
The serious allegations raise doubts about remarks made by the immigration minister, Scott Morrison, on Tuesday. He described the detention centres on Nauru as “running well”. Morrison has consistently maintained that Nauru is an appropriate location to send families and has recently begun transferring unaccompanied minors to detention centres on the island.
Further questions about the safety of the Nauru detention centre were raised on Tuesday after Guardian Australia revealed that an unexploded second world war bomb was found inside the family camp.
The allegations in the letter of concern include that on 30 March, an asylum-seeker child reported to a Save the Children staff member he had been pushed by a guard at the recreational tent, which also serves as a classroom. The letter states this was not witnessed by Save the Children staff, but the guard was later seen “standing over the child in an intimidating/ threatening manner”.`The letter continues: “The guard reported to staff that the child had sworn at him and when the Save the Children staff member raised the issue of his intimidating behaviour, he waved his arms and walked away agitated.”
On 25 March, a child asylum seeker was reported as being “very unwell” and needing “pressing medical attention” because he was “close to passing out and was extremely weak”, but Save the Children staff reported the approach of Wilson guards to assisting the child was “very casual and resistant”. The family of the child were told they would have to wait for half an hour before being moved to medical facilities.
One contractor on Nauru told Guardian Australia there was “a lot of conflict” between Save the Children staff and Wilson Security personnel. The letter continues: “The nature and extent of these incidents is extremely alarming given the mistreatment and inappropriate behaviour directed from Wilsons staff.” It adds that all the allegations – which also include another on 26 March of a guard swearing at and mocking an adult male asylum seeker – would be formally reported as incident reports, which are submitted to the Department of Immigration.
A spokesman for Save the Children said the organisation had a “zero-tolerance approach to issues of physical or mental abuse of children”, describing the safety and wellbeing of children on Nauru as their “No 1 priority”. “Save the Children immediately documents and escalates any incidents of concern involving children. While we remain concerned about the harmful impacts of prolonged detention on children in Nauru, we are satisfied that for any such incidents raised, appropriate steps are taken to prevent any additional harm,” the spokesman said.
A spokeswoman for Wilson Security said the company had started a “thorough and detailed internal investigation” as a result of the allegations. She said it would be “highly inappropriate to speculate” until due process had been followed.
“Wilson Security staff all receive training in working with children and other vulnerable groups. All staff undergo mandatory police and character checks. Operations are closely supervised, and include oversight from independent parties,” she said. The company did not comment on whether the guard accused of assaulting a child was still employed by Wilson.
A spokeswoman for Morrison said the allegations were being “taken seriously” and that any instances of assault were referred to the Nauru police for investigation. Asked if the allegations had any effect on the policy of offshore processing for asylum-seeker children, she said “the government will continue to operate the full suite of border policies”.
The minister had been advised Wilson Security had a “positive working relationship” with all other service providers on Nauru, the spokeswoman said. “Transferees also have access to a robust service provider complaints mechanism at the offshore processing centres,” Morrison’s spokeswoman said.


Palestinian Prisoners Denied the Right to Education (2)

April 24th, 2014

19/4/14 – UFree
The right of children and youth to education, including those who are imprisoned, is enshrined in inter- national human rights law, specifically Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 94 of the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention.
However, since the beginning of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1967, prisoners and detainees’ right to education has been severely constricted, if not prohibited altogether. That includes children and youth, of whom the Israeli military arrests 700 annually.
Although its regulations not only recognise the right of prisoners to pursue their education but also require it to provide the necessary books and the opportunity to study or take exams, this basic human right has been undermined at every opportunity. The goal, concludes Addameer (a prisoner and human rights support association), is to “un-educate” Palestinians — especially those aged 16-18 who “constitute the pillar of community development.”
International Law and the Importance of Education:
“We cannot imprison a person for many years without providing an avenue for change… Indeed change will have occurred but certainly not how it was envisioned. For we will have created an envious, frustrated, delusional, pent-up, angry and dehumanized individual who will certainly seek revenge.” – A prisoner interviewed for the UN’s Special Rapporteur Report on the Right to Education
According to the April 2009 report of the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education, Vernor Muñoz: “Learning in prison through educational programmes is generally considered to have an impact on recidivism, reintegration and, more specifically, employment outcomes upon release.
Education is, however, much more than a tool for change; it is an imperative in its own right. Yet, prisoners face significant educational challenges owin
g to a range of environmental, social, organisational and individual factors.”
Prisoners’ right to education is guaranteed in international law. In addition to Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 94 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, the Basic Principles for the Treatment of Prisoners – a resolution adopted by the UN in 1990 – states that people in prisons retain the human rights and fundamental freedoms set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, including the “right to take part in cultural activities and education aimed at the full development of the human personality.”
For children in particular, the right to education is widely considered a fundamental right. Thus, in territories under foreign military occupation, the occupying power is obliged to protect and respect the right to education, as noted in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). A “child” is defined as anyone less than 18 years of age.
Israel’s Track Record:
Israeli juvenile offenders are allowed to complete formal education from grade 8 to 12. For example, in the Ofek facility for Israeli juvenile offenders, there is a school with 19 classrooms in which no more than 10 students study at a time. The children there have the opportunity to follow a curriculum specially designed for them by the Israeli Ministry of Education, which includes four hours of class a day combined with educational workshops and work. Similarly, they have access to 33 teachers employed by the Israel Association of Community Centres on a permanent basis. At the end of a 12-week trimester, prisoners take exams and their grades are then certified by the Israeli Ministry of Education.
In contrast, since the beginning of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1967, the Israeli government has deprived Palestinian prisoners and detainees of their right to education. Children are penalised as well as adults, in part due to the fact that the military orders state that any Palestinian aged 16 and above is considered an adult. All Palestinian children between the ages of 16 to 18 are detained together with adult Palestinian detainees, and thus are often deprived of the opportunity to continue their education.
In 1997, a coalition of prisoner advocates submitted a petition to the Tel Aviv Central Court demand- ing that Palestinians’ right to education be upheld just as for Israeli juvenile offenders. Although the court ruled that Palestinian prisoners are entitled to the same rights to education as Israelis, it also stated that the right to education was contingent on “security requirements.” Thus, the impact in practice has been minimal.
For example, although Palestinian prisoners can receive books via the ICRC and their families during visits, such visits are frequently banned. In addition, restrictions are imposed on the kinds and number of books they are allowed to receive. They can get newspapers in Arabic, such as Alquds, free of charge, but other newspapers, in Hebrew or English, are distributed only to those with a subscription. Plus, the newspapers are always distributed after a delay and are not up to date.
Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons are allowed to study only at the Open University of Israel. They may not continue their studies at any institution they studied at prior to their arrest, even if the university approves. A years-long struggle to change this practice has been unsuccessful. The IPS claims that prisoners are barred from participating in study programs of Arab universities for security reasons.
Many prisoners are unable to register at Israeli universities because of financial and language restrictions. In addition, detainees being held at military detention centres, as opposed to prisons, are prohibited from registering at any university. Prisoners who are held in isolation are also not al- lowed to study even at the Open University of Israel.
The list of forbidden specialisations includes natural science, medicine, computer science, physics, chemistry and any program that requires the use of other supplies besides text books.
Even at times of exams, teachers are prohibited from entering prisons to formally instruct inmates. Similarly, prisoners are prohibited from communicating with Palestinian teachers and schools through other means such as phones, letters or visits.
Recently, exams themselves have been prohibited. For example, in 2011, more than 300 Palestinian prisoners were excluded for the third consecutive year from taking their secondary school exams – required to graduate and go to college. According to the Palestinian Prisoners Centre, Israeli personnel at the jails also seized books and academic papers delivered to prisoners through the Inter- national Red Cross, and announced that prisoners would be prohibited from applying to Arab and Palestinian universities. In protest, the prisoners declared a hunger strike.
In 2009, when secondary exams were first prohibited, the Palestinian Authority’s Minister of Prisoners and Ex-Detainees, Issa Qaraqi, appealed to the Israeli Supreme Court of Justice to reverse the decision. However, the court postponed the hearing on the suit, and it has not been discussed since.
The most recent decision to ban the exams came in the wake of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s declaration that Israel had the right to reduce the “advantages” granted to Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. It was reportedly an attempt to pressure the Hamas government in the Gaza Strip to free Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who was captured by Palestinian militants in a raid on an Israeli army border position in 2006.
There have some exceptions to this gloomy picture.
In March 2010, imprisoned Fatah official Marwan Barghouti managed to complete his doctorate in political science. The University of Cairo and the Arab Academy for Research had accepted Barghouti in 1999 – three years before he was arrested by Israel. Barghouti’s success in earning his degree even when in prison was due primarily to “personal efforts and study in secret,” according to Qaraqi. In 2009, another former prisoner, Khaled Al-Azraq, explained how he and his comrades were able to pursue their education in secret:
“Members of the prisoners’ movement came up with ingenious ways of smuggling books into Israeli prisons, methods that Israeli prison guards were never able to discover.
The movement systematically organised workshops, seminars, and courses held inside the prison to educate prisoners’ on every relevant topic one can imagine. Every day, the prisoner holding the position of ‘librarian’ would pass through the different cells and sections, and prisoners would exchange the book they had just finished for the one they were about to begin. The librarian carried the ‘library book, a record of the books available in the library, and a list of the books each prisoner had requested.
“Talking about this reminds me of one of the most memorable prison library moments. We had found out that the movement had managed to smuggle Ghassan Kanafani’s Men in the Sun into the old Nablus prison. We all raced to get our names on the list of people wanting to read the book, and the wait lasted weeks! Several times, we resorted to making copies of sought-after books like this. Of course, copies were done with pen and paper, and I remember copying Naji Aloush’s The Palestinian National Movement of which we made five hand- written copies.”
Addameer states: “Arguably some form of education, however informal or unstructured it might be, is more beneficial to the mental health of a detainee than no education at all. At the same time, such an arrangement does not absolve Israel from its obligations under international law, whereby educa- tion should be made available for all juvenile detainees.”
Case Studies:
Telmond Prison (near Netanya, Israel): There are three types of Palestinian juvenile political detainees at Telmond: youth who are illegally imprisoned with juvenile Israelis confined for criminal reasons, those who were detained before the 1997 court decision that upheld their right to education (at least on paper), and a new section for detainees imprisoned after that court decision. The first group is treated in the same way as Israeli criminal detainees; they receive education in Hebrew (a language they typically do not understand), using the Israeli curricula.
The second group is taught using a curriculum that includes only three out of the eight subjects required by the Palestinian Ministry of Education.
The third group receives no education whatsoever.
Thus, it is evident that the 1997 court decision that was supposed to ensure education for detained Palestinian children has been completely ignored.
Palestinian children who are 16 or older at the time of their sentencing are detained in Megiddo Prison. Because Israeli Military Order No. 132 defines any Palestinian 16 and over as an adult, the Military Authority that runs Megiddo Prison refuses to recognise the educational needs of children detained there. The only form of education available is ad-hoc study groups where adult prisoners teach juvenile detainees. The attorney for Defence of Children International also reports that the prison administration severely restricts the movement of books into the prison.
After Effects:
It is difficult for child prisoners to return to school following release from prison. This is due to a variety of factors, including the trauma of detention, the differences in age between ex-prisoners and other school children, and the inadequate or non-existent educational services provided by the prison administrations, which results in ex-prisoners falling behind in the educational process. Thus, youth are denied both childhood because of life in prison, and a decent future, because of the difficulties in acclimating once released.
- The Right to Education of Palestinian Prisoners. Addameer Prisioner Support and Human Rights As- sociation. December 2008.
- The systematic and institutionalized ill-treatment and torture of Palestinian children by Israeli au- thorities. Defense for Chidren International-Palestine Section. June 2009. http://www.dci-pal.org/ english/pub/research/CPReport.pdf.
- Promotion and Protection of Human Rights and Civil, Political, Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Including the Right to Development: The right to education of persons in detention. Report of the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education Vernor Muñoz. April 2009.
http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/WO1404/S00191/palestinian-prisoners-denied-the-right-to-education.htm Palestinian Prisoners: Special Topic. Occupied Palestine: Blogging 4 Human Rights and Liberation of Palestine. Oct. 10, 2010. http://occupiedpalestine.wordpress.com/special-topics/prisoners/ – In Prison and Denied Education, by Mohammed Omer. Palestine Chronicle. Aug. 11, 2011; http://palestinechronicle.com/view_article_details.php?id=17036 ; The Prison as University: The Palestinian Prisoners’ Movement and National Education, by Khaled Al-Azraq. www.badil.org. Autumn 2009. http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/WO1404/S00191/palestinian-prisoners-denied-the-right-to-education.htm-Israel deprives Palestinian prisoners of education. Bernama, July 25, 2011. http://my.news.yahoo. com/israel-deprives-palestinian-prisoners-education-115151047.html – Israeli Prison Education: Learning the Lessons of Institutionalized Racism (fact sheet). Defense for Children International-Palestine Section.
Published by: UFree Network | Media Centre; UFree Network | An independent European-wide human rights network, set up to defend the rights of Palestinian political prisoners and detainees:

Attacks Against Palestinian Civilians and Property (1)

April 24th, 2014

22/4/14; Palestinian Centre For Human Rights

- A Palestinian woman from ‘Ayda refugee camp, north of Bethlehem, died of tear gas inhalation at home.
- Israeli forces continued to open fire in the border area of the Gaza Strip.
- 8 civilians, including 2 children and 5 stone collectors, were wounded.
- 7 paramedics suffered tear gas inhalation.
- Israeli forces continued to use excessive force against peaceful protesters in the West Bank.
- A number of demonstrators suffered tear gas inhalation and others sustained bruises as they were beaten up by Israeli soldiers.
- 5 civilians, including 2 international activists, were arrested.
- Israeli forces conducted 66 incursions into Palestinian communities in the West Bank.
- 19 Palestinian civilians, including a child, were arrested in the West Bank.
- Israel continued to impose a total closure on the oPt and has isolated the Gaza Strip from the outside world.
- Israeli forces established dozens of checkpoints in the West Bank.
- At least 7 Palestinian civilians were arrested at checkpoints in the West Bank.
- 5 civilians, including 4 children, were arrested at the border fence between the Gaza Strip and Israel.
- Israeli navy forces continued targeting Palestinian fishermen in the sea.
- Israeli navy forces opened fire at fishermen off al-Sudaniya shore, in the northern Gaza Strip, but no casualties were reported.
- Israeli forces continued to support settlement activities in the West Bank and Israeli settlers continued to attack Palestinian civilians and property.
- 984 dunums along the road from Bethlehem to Beit Ommar village, north of Hebron, were confiscated.
Israeli violations of international law and international humanitarian law in the oPt continued during the reporting period (10 – 16 April 2014).
During the reporting period, a woman in Ayda refugee camp, north of Bethlehem, died of tear gas inhalation used by Israeli forces. Another civilian was also wounded in the West Bank. Moreover, Israeli forced wounded 8 Palestinian civilians, including 2 children, and 7 paramedics suffered tear gas inhalation in the Gaza Strip
On 10 April 2014, 3 stone collectors were wounded when Israeli forces stationed along the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel, northwest of Beit Hanoun town in the northern Gaza Strip, opened fire at them. One of them sustained a serious wound.
On the same day, a Palestinian boy was wounded when Israeli forces stationed along the border, east of Jabalia in the northern Gaza Strip, opened fire at a group of young men who were present a few meters away from the border fence
On 11 April 2014, a Palestinian boy was wounded when Israeli forces stationed along the border, east of Jabalia in the northern Gaza Strip, opened fire at a group of young men who were present a few meters away from the border. Moreover, 7 paramedics suffered tear gas inhalation.
On the same day, a Palestinian boy was wounded when Israeli forces stationed along the border, east of Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip, opened fire at a group of civilians, east of al-Faraheen neighbourhood. His wound was described serious.
On 13 and 15 April 2014, 2 stone collectors were wounded when Israeli forces stationed along the border, northwest of Beit Hanoun town in the northern Gaza Strip, opened fire at a group of stone collectors in the area near the said fence.
On 11 April 2014, Israeli forces stationed along the border, northwest of Beit Hanoun town in the northern Gaza Strip, fired live ammunition and flash bombs in open areas, but no casualties were reported.
On 12 April 2014, Israeli forces stationed along the border, east of Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip, opened fire at agricultural areas, east of al-Qarara village, but no casualties were reported.
In the context of targeting Palestinian fishermen in the sea, Israeli navy forces opened fire at Palestinian fishing boats on 15 April 2014, but no casualties were reported.
In the West Bank, a 46-year-old woman from ‘Ayda refugee camp, north of Bethlehem, died of tear gas inhalation on 14 April 2014.
On 12 April 2014, a Palestinian civilian from al-Nabi Saleh village, northeast of Ramallah, was wounded by Israeli forces.
Furthermore, Israeli forces used excessive force against peaceful demonstrations organised by Palestinian civilians, international and Israeli human rights defenders in protest at the construction of the annexation wall and settlement activities in the West Bank. As a result, dozens of civilians suffered tear gas inhalation and others sustained bruises as they were beaten up by Israeli soldiers. Moreover, Israeli forces arrested 5 civilians, including 2 women, during demonstrations.


Judge Orders Disclosure of CIA Black Site Torture

April 23rd, 2014

22/4/14; Lauren McCauley, staff writer

The defense team for Abd al Rahim al-Nashiri argued during pretrial motions at the Cuban prison that the Guantanamo detainee’s time spent in secret CIA prisons—during which he was waterboarded and threatened with a gun and a power drill—has “tainted” his testimony, and thus the case against him.
The Saudi Arabian has been held at the U.S. military prison since 2006 after being held in a series of secret CIA prisons. He is being accused of orchestrating the Oct. 12, 2000, bombing of the USS Cole in the port of Aden in Yemen. The order by Army Col. James Pohl was released on Tuesday though Carol Rosenberg at the Miami Herald reported on the order last week, ahead of its official release.
Rosenberg reported: The judge’s order instructs prosecutors to provide nine categories of closely guarded classified CIA information to the lawyers — including the names of agents, interrogators and medical personnel who worked at the so-called black sites. The order covers “locations, personnel and communications,” interrogation notes and cables between the black sites and headquarters that sought and approved so-called enhanced interrogation techniques, the two sources said.
It does not, however, order the government to turn over Office of Legal Counsel memos that both blessed and defined the so-called Torture Program that sent CIA captives to secret interrogations across the world after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks — out of reach of International Committee of the Red Cross delegates.
The Saudi Arabian has been held at the U.S. military prison since 2006 after being held in a series of secret CIA prisons. He is being accused of orchestrating the Oct. 12, 2000, bombing of the USS Cole in the port of Aden in Yemen. Little information about what happened in the CIA black sites has ever been confirmed by the government, the Associated Press notes, and the order by Pohl still “does not make any details available to the public,” as all parties have been explicitly required to follow a protective order barring release of classified information.
The rules for military commissions bars prosecutors from using any evidence or testimony obtained by coercion or torture. Al-Nashiri’s defense makes the case that “all information from al-Nashiri is tainted by the harsh treatment he endured at the hands of the CIA,” and that by disclosing the details of his detention, he may be spared from the death penalty.
`The Pohl ruling “represents a chink in the armor of secrecy that the U.S. government erected around its torture program,” said Andrea Prasow of Human Rights Watch, following last week’s leak.Along with the partial declassification of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on CIA torture methods, Prasow adds that “it is only a matter of time before the public will learn the horrific details of officially sanctioned torture, and the pattern of lies designed not only to allow torture to continue, but to immunize torturers from prosecution.” Al-Nashiri’s trial is scheduled for December.


Clive Palmer threatens to block carbon and mining tax repeals (2)

April 23rd, 2014

22/4/14; Lenore Taylor

Clive Palmer is threatening to block both the carbon and mining tax repeals if the Abbott government “plays games” by including its Direct Action climate change fund in budget appropriation bills to avoid its defeat in the Senate. And the mining magnate-politician challenged Tony Abbott to hold a double dissolution election if he didn’t like the stance the Palmer United party was taking on key issues, claiming such a poll would only enhance his party’s position.
On Monday Palmer hardened his already unenthusiastic position on the government’s $1.5bn “emissions reduction fund” – the centrepiece of Direct Action – saying it was “dead”, “finished” and “over” because Palmer United party senators believed the money would be better spent on pensions.
The environment minister, Greg Hunt, responded by repeating a tactic the government foreshadowed last year – that the money for the emissions reduction fund could be included in the budget appropriations bills which cannot be amended in the Senate. “The funds will be part of the budget papers and I doubt the budget will be blocked, unless we’re going to be forced into a constitutional issue,” Hunt told the ABC.
Palmer responded by saying that “if the government wants to try to play smart … then two can play at that game”. “You tell them that if they do that [include the emissions reduction fund in the budget] we will immediately reconsider our position on the carbon and mining tax repeals,” Palmer told Guardian Australia. “If they play games like that they need to be politically punished … and reconsidering our support for the carbon and mining tax repeal would be one thing we would definitely consider.”
Palmer said if Abbott “didn’t like that answer he could always have a double dissolution election … but of course then he would be going to the people on the basis of what he really wants to do to them, which will be revealed in the budget, and in a double dissolution election we would only need a quota of 7% rather than 14% so I think we would double our number of senators.
“But if Tony Abbott wants a double dissolution election he can have one, we’re fine with that.”
Speaking to reporters in Brisbane later in the day, Palmer claimed Direct Action was “a slush fund designed to give money to Liberal party consultants and lobbyists who want to do their bidding”. “Direct Action has been made up so the Liberal party can confuse people in the green sector and make out they are doing something when they are doing nothing,” he said.
He repeated his threat to “reconsider” support for the mining and carbon taxes unless Direct Action was presented as a separate bill that could be voted down by the Senate, rather than as part of budget appropriation bills.
He said he was seeking to “protect” older Australians who Tony Abbott had promised would suffer no change to their pension rights. “If he wants to do that to elderly citizens I will do whatever I can to protect our elderly citizens … he knows he is lying to the Australian people,” Palmer said. When it became clear last year that the Senate crossbench could vote against Direct Action, Hunt insisted there were “other options” open to the government, including linking the emissions reduction fund to a budget appropriations bill.
But climate policy advocates say implementing only the emissions reduction fund and not the broader compliance proposal under Direct Action, which would impose “baselines” on greenhouse emissions, would leave the policy even less effective than they now assess it to be.
“There is a real threat to any target if there is no compliance mechanism controlling the significant blowout in emissions … it would leave this as a policy destined for ruin,” said John Connor, the chief executive of the Climate Institute.
The emissions reduction fund has also been rejected by the Family First senator-elect, Bob Day, as “a waste of money”.
And the spending has been questioned by the Liberal Democratic party senator-elect, David Leyonhjelm, who says “even if [the science of global warming] is eventually confirmed government spending in Australia will not make the slightest bit of difference” and the DLP senator, John Madigan, who has said he wonders “whether [the government] is just trying to look like they are trying to do something about global warming which they don’t really believe in”.
But the independent senator Nick Xenophon wants changes to toughen Direct Action to ensure it is effective, with measures such as stringent emissions baselines for big emitters, which some industry groups are resisting. Tony Abbott has threatened a double dissolution election if the new Senate blocks key elements of his election agenda.
“If Labor doesn’t see the light in the next few months there is a new Senate coming in July and I am confident they will accept the government’s mandate and if not there are constitutional options open to us,” the prime minister said in an interview with the ABC last year to mark the government’s first 100 days in office.
Earlier on Tuesday Palmer said he would also be willing to vote against appropriation bills containing funding for the emissions reduction fund.
“We’ll be voting against Direct Action, whatever form it’s in,’’ he told the ABC.
Labor confirmed it was disinclined to support Direct Action, even if the carbon pricing scheme is repealed. “Australia can’t afford to do nothing on pollution – but that’s exactly what Tony Abbott is doing,” said the party’s environment spokesman, Mark Butler. “Tony Abbott is a prime minister who doesn’t believe climate change is real. Labor remains opposed to Direct Action, which doesn’t have a cap on pollution, and pays taxpayer dollars to the big polluters with no likelihood of any substantial reductions in carbon pollution.”


Barrier Reef: miners’ advertising campaign to defend dredging of ports

April 23rd, 2014

Oliver Milman; 23/4/14

A “galvanised” mining industry has promised a prolonged campaign of advertising and lobbying to counter what it sees as scaremongering by environmental activists. The Queensland Resources Council will on Wednesday launch its first ever TV advertisements aimed at challenging claims by environmentalists that ports, shipping and seabed dredging for coal exports are threatening the health of the Great Barrier Reef.
The ads state there is no scientific evidence linking degradation of the reef to development, pointing viewers towards an industry and Queensland government-funded website called Reef Facts, whose accuracy has been questioned by some scientists.
Michael Roche, chief executive of the QRC, which includes BHP and Glencore Xstrata among its members, told Guardian Australia the ads would run for “a couple of weeks”. “This is a measure of how seriously we regard the free kick a range of media outlets have given activists to run their lines about ports and dredging,” he said.
Roche said no extra funding from any particular mining company was behind the campaign, but said that further activity would follow the TV ads. The ads come a week after the launch of Australians for Coal, a website which urges people to lobby their MPs on behalf of the coal industry. The site has been ridiculed on social media. “There is no doubt that the industry is galvanised by the need to be more proactive,” Roche said. “You’ll see a range of initiatives over the course of this year and beyond.
“This is a long-term challenge for our industry because we know our opponents are well funded, from wealthy Australian and international donors. We’ve come to the realisation that our industry will need to have a broad-based push to inform people.”
Roche said the QRC drive would use science to counter the “slogans” of environmental campaigns, such as Fight for the Reef, which claims that development beside the reef is threatening the World Heritage-listed ecosystem. Fight for the Reef is funded by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the Australian Marine Conservation Society (ACMS).
In January, the government gave the go-ahead for the dredging and dumping of 5m tonnes of seabed within the Great Barrier Reef marine park to enlarge the coal export facility at the Abbot Point port, near the Queensland town of Bowen.
Environmentalists, and some scientists, say the dredging, along with associated shipping, will damage the reef. Opponents also point out that coal exported from mines in Australia will cause carbon emissions which will make the ocean become warmer and more acidic, further endangering the reef.
But Roche said neither an increase in shipping nor dredging had been scientifically proven to have damaged the reef.
QRC has cited an Australian Institute of Marine Science report which shows that a marked decline in the reef’s coral cover is down to cyclones, coral bleaching and a plague of coral-eating starfish. However, some bodies, including the ARC Centre for Excellence in Coral Reef Studies, have called for dredging near the reef to be banned.
Greens senator Larissa Waters said QRC’s public relations campaign was an attempt to distract people from the threat the coal and gas industries pose to the reef. “The reef is under pressure like never before – and right at this sensitive period, the Newman and Abbott governments are letting big mining companies treat this World Heritage Area as a dumping ground for dredge spoil and a shipping highway to export more climate-destroying coal,” she said.
The ACMS said the mining industry ads ignored the impacts of industrialisation, which it called “the fastest growing threat to the reef”.


Francis encountering curial opposition, cardinal says

April 23rd, 2014

21/4/14; Joshua J. McElwee \

Pope Francis is seeking to build a “new way of being church” for Roman Catholics in a similar way to how St. Francis of Assisi reported being told by God to repair the church during the 13th century, a cardinal who is one of the pontiff’s closest advisers said.
“There is a new concept of church here” in how the pope is governing the Vatican, said Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodríguez Maradiaga, speaking April 8 in St. Petersburg, Fla. “There is a new way of thinking, including the way of governing in the church, here.”
However, Rodríguez said, while Francis is popular among people around the world, he is facing opposition in the Roman Curia.
“We have to be prepared, since this beautiful but strange popularity is beginning to strengthen adherences, but equally to awaken deaf opposition not only in the old Curia, but in some who are sorry to lose privileges in treatment and in comforts,” Rodríguez said.
“Expressions like ‘What can it be that this little Argentine pretends?’, or the expression of a well-known cardinal who let slip the phrase, ‘We made a mistake,’ can be heard,” Rodríguez said, making an apparent reference to a cardinal who regrets the selection of Argentine Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio as pope.
Rodríguez, archbishop of the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa, is also coordinator of the Council of Cardinals, which Francis appointed last year to “study a project of revision” of the Vatican’s bureaucracy.
The cardinal was speaking at a meeting of provincials of the Order of Friars Minor, one of several religious orders that trace their roots directly to St. Francis. The meeting was hosted by the order’s English Speaking Conference, which represents friars in the United States, Canada, England, Ireland, Lithuania and Malta.
Franciscan Fr. Thomas Washburn, executive secretary of the conference, provided NCR a text of Rodríguez’s talk. Washburn said in an email that the Franciscans invited Rodríguez to speak at their semiannual meeting because the cardinal is an affiliate of one of the order’s New York-based provinces.
Although the cardinal is a member of another religious order, the Salesians of Don Bosco, he referred to himself during the talk as a Franciscan and even wore the traditional brown Franciscan habit while speaking.
Rodríguez began his address by mentioning how St. Francis is said to have heard an apparition of Christ tell him to “repair my church.” Rodríguez said the 13th-century saint “caused great scandal” from church leaders who wanted “to maintain their privileges.”
Saying the pope is creating “a new way of being church,” Rodríguez said Francis “feels called to construct” a church that is, among other things:
-“At the service of this world by being faithful to Christ and his Gospel”;
- “Free from all mundane spirituality”;
- “Free from the risk of being concerned about itself, of becoming middle-class, of closing in on self, of being a clerical church”;
- Able to “offer itself as an open space in which all of us can meet and recognize each other because there is space for dialogue, diversity and welcome in it”;
- A church that pays “just attention and gives importance to women in both society and its own institutions.”
Rodríguez ended his talk by directly relating God’s reported message to St. Francis to Pope Francis. “Today, as in the past, the Lord has again called Francis and has asked of him the very same thing he asked of him of Assisi,” Rodríguez said.
Asked how exactly Rodríguez meant Pope Francis is repairing the church, Washburn said it was through gestures like washing the feet of prisoners and embracing people with disabilities after his audiences in St. Peter’s Square.
“These moments are not just for show or merely external – these are real gestures with the strength and power and authority of an encyclical, perhaps with even more power than those,” Washburn said. In his talk, Rodríguez also directed the Franciscans to undertake certain priorities in their ministries, including:
- Being missionaries to those who are unfamiliar with the church or Christian teachings;
- Working for the poor;
- Speaking out against violence and destruction of the environment;
- Dialogue with other religions, especially Islam.
http://ncronline.org/news/vatican/francis-encountering-curial-opposition-cardinal-say; Joshua J.McElwee is NCR national correspondent.

Teacher ‘preyed on boys his entire life’

April 23rd, 2014


A serial child predator and teacher preyed on boys at international schools for more than four decades, doping them with sleeping pills before molesting them, the FBI says. The FBI is asking the public’s help to identify at least 90 potential victims of William James Vahey, who committed suicide last month in Minnesota. They worry there may be hundreds more. Vahey, 64, killed himself in Luverne on March 21, two days agents in Houston filed for a warrant to search a his computer thumb drive.
An employee of the American Nicaraguan School in Managua, where Vahey had recently taught ninth-grade world history and geography, gave the drive to the US Embassy there. The storage device contained pornographic images of at least 90 boys, ages 12 to 14, who appeared to be drugged and unconscious, the FBI said.
The agency’s spokeswoman in Houston, Special Agent Shauna Dunlap, told The Associated Press that investigators suspect all of the boys in the images were students of Vahey’s, going back to 2008, and that he had molested all of them. ”When confronted about the images by a school administrator, Vahey confessed that he was molested as a child and had preyed on boys his entire life, giving them sleeping pills prior to the molestation,” according to a statement posted prominently on the FBI’s website, with links for potential victims. The photos were catalogued with dates and locations that corresponded with overnight field trips that Vahey had taken with students since 2008, but he had led students on such trips for his entire career, the FBI said.
”I’m concerned that he may have preyed on many other students prior to 2008,” Special Agent Patrick Fransen of Houston said in the statement. ”I’ve never seen another case where an individual may have molested this many children over such a long period of time.”
In addition to teacher, Vahey coached boys’ basketball teams at several of the schools where he taught, and regularly organized overnight field trips and coordinated itineraries that included boys’ room assignments. “He had access to children because of his position of trust,” Fransen said. “He created a system that gave him the opportunity and the means to molest children.” The director general of the American Nicaraguan School, Gloria Doll, said by phone from Managua that Vahey was ”famous for wanting to lead student experience trips.” She said that’s why several of his previous schools hired him.
Doll said that, as far as she knew, none of her students had been molested. Vahey started teaching at her school last August but had not led any trips for her school before the allegations surfaced. She said he had been due to take a group to a model United Nations event in the Dominican Republic the very next day. ”We realised we had probably been spared what was happening,” Doll said.
Doll said Vahey’s flash drive had been taken by his domestic employee, who returned it to the school and urged officials to take a look.
The FBI said Vahey was jailed for child molestation in California in 1969, but Doll said his arrest didn’t turn up when the Nicaraguan school checked his criminal background. She said he came highly recommended and had been ”probably one of the finest teachers” at her school.
Vahey’s career included posts at the Tehran American School in Iran from 1972-73; the American Community School of Beirut in Lebanon, 1973-75; the American School of Madrid in Spain, 1975-76; the Passargad School in Ahwaz, Iran, 1976-78; the American Community School in Athens, Greece, 1978-80; the Saudi Aramco Schools in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, 1980-92; the Jakarta International School in Indonesia, 1992-2002; the Escuela Campo Alegre in Caracas, Venezuela, 2002-09; and the Southbank International School in London, 2009-2013. He coached boys basketball at several schools, the FBI said.
Such schools typically serve a mix of students from those countries, as well as the children of US diplomats, military personnel and other American citizens working abroad, and the FBI said it believes his victims are multinational. The FBI is concerned that some victims might not even know they were abused.
”The manner in which he committed these acts – while the boys were unconscious – may have inhibited them from knowing what happened, making it impossible for them to come forward at the time of the molestation,” Fransen said.
The FBI’s Houston office is leading the investigation because its squad for crimes against children often goes to Latin America to assist with investigations, Dunlap said. Vahey’s death didn’t stop the investigation because the FBI is obligated to reach out to the potential victims, she said.
FBI officials declined to say why they believe Vahey, a US citizen with residences in London and Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, went to Luverne, a town of about 4700 people about 260km southwest of Minneapolis, where he killed himself at a motel. The FBI spokesman in Minneapolis, Special Agent Kyle Loven, said it was ”plausible” that he had relatives there. Vahey is not known to have taught anywhere in Minnesota, he said.
http://www.stuff.co.nz/world/americas/9970158/Teacher-preyed-on-boys-his-entire-life AP