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Rumsfeld's renegade unit blamed for Afghan deaths.

Special Forces group implicated in three incidents that claimed the lives of hundreds of innocent civilians. MarSOC was set up by former defence secretary despite opposition from within the Marine Corps.

Troops from the US Marines Corps' Special Operations Command, or MarSOC, were responsible for calling in air strikes in Bala Boluk, in Farah, last week – believed to have killed more than 140 men, women and children – as well as two other incidents in 2007 and 2008. News of MarSOC's involvement in the three incidents comes just days after a Special Forces expert, Lieutenant-General Stanley McChrystal, was named to take over as the top commander of US and Nato troops in Afghanistan. His surprise appointment has prompted speculation that commando counterinsurgency missions will increase in the battle to beat the Taliban.

Con’t on the flip---

MarSOC was created three years ago on the express orders of Donald Rumsfeld, US defence secretary at the time, despite opposition from within the Marine Corps and the wider Special Forces community. An article in the Marine Corps Times described the MarSOC troops as "cowboys" who brought shame on the corps.

The story behind ‘Task Force Violence’.

They were supposed to be the fewest of the Few and Proud, quiet professionals trained for sticky covert missions. So when Marine Special Operations Company-Fox, the first of the Corps’ new spec ops units to deploy for combat operations, left for Afghanistan in early 2007, the Corps expected nothing less than total success.

Then the unit bent every rule that wouldn’t break, ticked off every commander in the theater and local population, violated direct orders, caused an international incident, allegedly killed as many as 19 Afghan civilians and wounded dozens more. "They were just acting like a bunch of cowboys," said one source inside Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force-Afghanistan, which became Fox Company’s higher command when the unit arrived in Afghanistan in late February 2007. So the Army sent the whole unit packing.

Meteor Blade’s Green Diary Rescue celebrates Daily Kos eco diarists 6 days a week!

Environmental News

  • Melting ice could cause gravity shift.

    The melting of one of the world's largest ice sheets would alter the Earth's field of gravity and even its rotation in space so much that it would cause sea levels along some coasts to rise faster than the global average, scientists said yesterday.

    The rise in sea levels would be highest on the west and east coasts of North America where increases of 25 per cent more than the global average would cause catastrophic flooding in cities such as New York, Washington DC and San Francisco.

  • 'Super-terminal' raindrops may mean meteorologists overestimating total rainfall by 20%.

    Many raindrops travel at "super-terminal" velocities, faster than was thought possible. As a result, meteorologists may be miscalculating how much it rains.

    Previously, it was assumed that all raindrops fall at terminal velocity, a constant maximum speed that is determined by the interplay of gravity and drag. The velocity for individual drops is considered to be largely controlled by their size: larger drops fall faster than smaller drops, due to their greater mass.

    Fernando García-García of the National Autonomous University of Mexico and colleagues measured the shadows of natural raindrops passing through a ray of infrared light. They found that up to half exceed their terminal velocity. Some travel as much as 10 times faster, for their size.

    ...As a result, meteorologists may be overestimating total rainfall by up to 20 per cent, say the team. Weather forecasters use total rainfall figures to predict floods, and climatologists use the estimates to gauge how rain patterns are changing with climate change.

  • Caribbean migration clue to puzzle of basking sharks’ vanishing act.

    The mystery of where basking sharks, the world’s second-largest fish, disappear to for eight months of the year has intrigued scientists and fishermen for more than half a century.

    It was assumed that the sharks, which have never been seen outside temperate waters, hibernated on the seabed during the winter months. Scientists have been startled, however, by a project that has tracked them to the Caribbean, indicating that they may be making global migrations.

  • House OKs $6.4 billion to make schools greener.

    The House on Thursday passed a $6.4 billion school modernization bill that would commit funds for the construction and update of more energy-efficient school buildings.

    The measure passed 275-155 in a largely party-line vote, and will now move to the Senate for further review.

    Among other things, the bill allocates substantial funds for improvements along the Gulf Coast, where many school districts are still struggling to repair buildings damaged by hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

  • Clean coal? Obama making $2.4 billion bet -- More funding for controversial ‘carbon capture and storage’ research.

    This coal-fired power plant in North Dakota, owned by Basin Electric Power Cooperative, has been testing capturing carbon dioxide and shipping it via pipeline to an oil field in Canada, where it's injected underground to force more gas out.

    As earmarked in the federal stimulus package, $2.4 billion is being set aside to speed up development of technology to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from coal-burning power plants and factories, Energy Secretary Steven Chu said Friday.

  • In California, Desalination of Seawater as a Test Case.

    The vast $320 million desalination plant approved this week by San Diego’s regional water authorities is likely to serve as a test case for whether such a large project can meet its goals while safeguarding its Pacific environment.

    ...Other ambitious desalination projects are being considered along the California coast, from Marin County just north of San Francisco to Santa Cruz, Monterey, Long Beach and Huntington Beach... .

    Environmentalists have battled the project in lawsuits, raising concerns about the amount of fish that will be killed by the pumping process and about potential change to the aquatic ecosystem when leftover brine is returned to the sea. So far they have not won any victories.

  • South Florida suburbs, not farms, spared new water restrictions.

    At least four groundwater monitoring wells in South Miami-Dade County have hit the highest salt concentrations ever. The marshy water conservation areas at the western fringes of Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties have gone bone dry. Lake Okeechobee has dropped so low that water managers can't tap it to replenish coastal drinking water supplies.

    Water managers, grappling with deepening water shortages after the driest six months on record, on Thursday approved emergency restrictions on farmers who draw from the lake, cutting their rations by nearly half.

  • Rebound effects' of energy efficiency could halve carbon savings, says study.

    Using energy more efficiently might not be as effective at tackling climate change as people think, according to a new study. A team of economists has shown that so-called "rebound effects", where efficiency improvements are offset by behaviour changes, such as increasing demands for cheaper energy, could potentially slash future carbon and energy savings by half.

    The rebound effect was first proposed in the 19th century but, until now, there has been very little research on how significant it might be. In the latest study, Terry Barker, of the Cambridge Centre for Climate Change Mitigation Research, showed that if the International Energy Agency's (IEA) recommendations for efficiency measures are followed in full in the next few decades, the total rebound effect – the proportion of potential energy savings offset by changes in consumer and industry behaviour – could be 31% by 2020 and about 52% around the world by 2030.

  • In Ecuador, Resentment of an Oil Company Oozes.

    "We believe the American oilmen created the pollution that killed my son," said Ms. Ruíz, 58, who lives in a clearing where Texaco, the American oil company that Chevron acquired in 2001, once poured oil waste into pits used decades ago for drilling wells.

    Texaco’s roughnecks are long gone, but black gunk from the pits seeps to the topsoil here and in dozens of other spots in Ecuador’s northeastern jungle. These days the only Chevron employees who visit the former oil fields, in a region where resentment against the company runs high, do so escorted by bodyguards toting guns.

    They represent one side in a bitter fight that is developing into the world’s largest environmental lawsuit, with $27 billion in potential damages.

  • Enviros sue EPA over ocean acidification.

    An environmental group is suing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, seeking to have Washington coastal waters listed as impaired because carbon dioxide is making the ocean more acidic.

    The Center for Biological Diversity said the EPA has failed to consider how ocean acidification is adversely affecting water quality and marine animals.

    The complaint filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Seattle alleges the EPA violated the federal Clean Water Act by not listing Washington ocean waters as impaired, even though the group says research shows carbon dioxide in seawater is threatening marine ecosystems.

    "The EPA has a duty under the Clean Water Act to protect our nation's waters from pollution, and today, C02 is one of the biggest threats to our ocean waters," said Miyoko Sakashita, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity.

Torture and Prosecution News

  • Gitmo general Miller told Iraq WMD search team to torture.

    And a recent report from the Senate Armed Services Committee shows that months after then-President Bush had declared Mission Accomplished in Iraq, an Army general working hand in glove with top administration officials tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to convince a unit charged with finding weapons of mass destruction to get tough on its prisoners.

    ...But according to the Senate committee's report, before Miller met with the Abu Ghraib officials, he first made a little-known visit to the Iraq Survey Group, which was in charge of the hunt for WMDs in Iraq after the invasion.

    Miller told the ISG they were "running a country club" by not getting tough on detainees, Chief Warrant Officer Brian Searcy, the ISG interrogation chief, told the Senate committee. Searcy said Miller suggested shackling detainees and forcing them to walk on gravel. Mike Kamin, another ISG official, told committee investigators that Miller recommended temperature manipulation and sleep deprivation.

    Miller also told the ISG’s Maj. Gen. Keith Dayton that Dayton’s unit was "not getting much out of these people," and complained that the ISG had not "broken" their detainees psychologically. Miller offered to send along suggested techniques, Dayton recalled, that would "actually break" the prisoners.

  • Cheney said Gitmo detainees revealed Iraq-al Qaida link.

    Then-Vice President Dick Cheney, defending the invasion of Iraq, asserted in 2004 that detainees interrogated at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp had revealed that Iraq had trained al Qaida operatives in chemical and biological warfare, an assertion that wasn't true.

    Cheney's 2004 comments to the now-defunct Rocky Mountain News were largely overlooked at the time. However, they appear to substantiate recent reports that interrogators at Guantanamo and other prison camps were ordered to find evidence of alleged cooperation between al Qaida and the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein — despite CIA reports that there were only sporadic, insignificant contacts between the militant Islamic group and the secular Iraqi dictatorship.

    The head of the Criminal Investigation Task Force at Guantanamo from 2002-2005 confirmed to McClatchy that in late 2002 and early 2003, intelligence officials were tasked to find, among other things, Iraq-al Qaida ties, which were a central pillar of the Bush administration's case for its March 2003 invasion of Iraq.

    "I'm aware of the fact that in late 2002, early 2003, that (the alleged al Qaida-Iraq link) was an interest on the intelligence side," said retired Army Lt. Col. Brittain Mallow, a former military criminal investigator. "That was something they were tasked to look at."

    He said he was unaware of the origins of the directive, but a former senior U.S. intelligence official has told McClatchy that Cheney's and former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's offices were demanding that information in 2002 and 2003. The official, who wasn't authorized to speak publicly on the matter, requested anonymity.

    During the same period, two alleged senior al Qaida operatives in CIA custody were waterboarded repeatedly — Abu Zubaydah at least 83 times and Khalid Sheik Mohammed at least 183 times.

  • Iraqis shrug off concerns over photos of U.S. abuse.

    While President Barack Obama argues that releasing photos of U.S. soldiers abusing detainees could incite violence against American troops abroad, a prominent Iraqi leader called for their publication and others cast doubt on the U.S. administration's warnings.

    Far from dominating the news as it did in Washington on Wednesday, the photo controversy has attracted almost no attention from the Iraqi news media. Even in Baghdad neighborhoods known as insurgent hotbeds, residents reacted to news of the photos with a collective shrug.

    ...Darraji didn't know there were more pictures of abuse by U.S. soldiers at the Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad and elsewhere until a reporter told him on Friday, and he said he doubted that their release would provoke more attacks.

    "Nothing would happen," he said. "This is a very old issue, and we Iraqis have seen much worse than just photos."

  • Panetta to CIA employees: We told Pelosi the truth.

    CIA Director Leon Panetta just sent a stern message to his employees defending the agency against Speaker Nancy Pelosi's criticisms.

    His message: We didn't mislead Congress; stay focused on your job.

    Panetta's note was sent to reporters via the CIA press office. Here's the key graph:

       "Let me be clear: It is not our policy or practice to mislead Congress. That is against our laws and our values. As the Agency indicated previously in response to Congressional inquiries, our contemporaneous records from September 2002 indicate that CIA officers briefed truthfully on the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, describing "the enhanced techniques that had been employed." Ultimately, it is up to Congress to evaluate all the evidence and reach its own conclusions about what happened."

  • KSM Questioned About al Qaeda-Iraq Ties During Waterboarding.

    Some of the first questions asked of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed upon his capture and during the time during which he was waterboarded were about possible connections between al Qaeda and Iraq, according to a review of several reports on U.S. intelligence operations.

    ...Revelations that KSM was questioned about possible al Qaeda ties to Iraq at roughly the same time that he was undergoing waterboarding provides some key insight into the purpose of the CIA interrogations. A recently de-classified Senate Armed Services Committee report quoted army psychologist Maj. Paul Burney as saying that a large part of his time on a Behavioral Science Consultation Team was "focused on trying to establish a link between Al Qaeda and Iraq." McClatchy newspapers, meanwhile, published an article last month citing a former intelligence official acknowledging that the Bush administration had pressured interrogators to use harsh techniques to produce evidence connecting the terrorist organization and Iraq's regime.

  • Judge Condemns 'Mosaic' of Guantánamo Intelligence and Unreliable Witnesses.

    David Remes, an attorney for 16 Yemeni prisoners in Guantánamo, claimed today that the government’s detention policy was "in tatters," after District Court Judge Gladys Kessler (photo, below) comprehensively demolished the Justice Department’s case against a Yemeni prisoner held in Guantánamo without charge or trial for seven years (PDF).

    Judge Kessler ruled last Monday that the government had failed to establish, "by a preponderance of the evidence," that Alla Ali Bin Ali Ahmed was "part of, or substantially supported, Taliban or al-Qaeda forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners," and stated that the government "should take all necessary diplomatic steps to facilitate" his release.

    This was not the first time that a judge had ordered a prisoner freed from Guantánamo because of the weakness of the government’s evidence. Since the Supreme Court reinstated the prisoners’ habeas corpus rights last June, judges have ordered the release of 25 prisoners in the 29 cases that have so far been heard.

  • Obama Considers Detaining Terror Suspects Indefinitely With New National Security Court.

    The Obama administration is weighing plans to detain some terror suspects on U.S. soil -- indefinitely and without trial -- as part of a plan to retool military commission trials that were conducted for prisoners held in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

    Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.), who met this week with White House Counsel Greg Craig to discuss the administration's plans, said among the proposals being studied is seeking authority for indefinite detentions, with the imprimatur of some type of national-security court.

    Sen. Graham said he wants to work with the administration to pass legislation to increase judicial oversight of military commissions, but noted the legal difficulties that would arise.

    "This is a difficult question. How do you hold someone in prison without a trial indefinitely?" Sen. Graham said.

  • Obama to renew military tribunals.

    The Obama administration will announce plans today to revive the Bush-era military commission system for prosecuting terrorism suspects, current and former officials said, reversing a campaign pledge to rely instead on federal courts and the traditional military justice system.

    ...The administration still intends to prosecute in federal court some detainees being held at the military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as Obama has pledged. But officials concluded that a small number can be tried only in military commissions, said one U.S. official familiar with the decision, speaking on condition of anonymity in advance of today's announcement.

  • CIA Contractors Played Big Role In Interrogations.

    Congressional testimony this week showed that private CIA contractors were a driving force behind harsh interrogations. Although there are lawsuits against military contractors involved in detainee abuse, there has been far less legal action against contractors who worked for the CIA.

    ...In 2006, Congress passed a bill called the Military Commissions Act that includes a provision immunizing contractors from lawsuits. Some lawyers believe that provision is unconstitutional, but no court has weighed in on the law.

  • US sets free test case detainee.

    Algerian detainee Lakhdar Boumediene has left the US-run Guantanamo Bay camp for France, officials say.

    Mr Boumediene was arrested in Bosnia in 2001 and was held for seven years. He was cleared for release in November.

    He won a landmark Supreme Court case granting Guantanamo inmates the right to challenge their confinement.

    ...Earlier this month, France offered to accept Mr Boumediene, 42, after he was cleared of any wrongdoing in November by a US judge who ruled he had been illegally detained.

  • Powell’s former COS says no torture during Bush’s second term. (video at link)

    Third--and here comes the blistering fact--when Cheney claims that if President Obama stops "the Cheney method of interrogation and torture", the nation will be in danger, he is perverting the facts once again. But in a very ironic way.

    My investigations have revealed to me--vividly and clearly--that once the Abu Ghraib photographs were made public in the Spring of 2004, the CIA, its contractors, and everyone else involved in administering "the Cheney methods of interrogation", simply shut down. Nada. Nothing. No torture or harsh techniques were employed by any U.S. interrogator. Period. People were too frightened by what might happen to them if they continued.

    What I am saying is that no torture or harsh interrogation techniques were employed by any U.S. interrogator for the entire second term of Cheney-Bush, 2005-2009. So, if we are to believe the protestations of Dick Cheney, that Obama's having shut down the "Cheney interrogation methods" will endanger the nation, what are we to say to Dick Cheney for having endangered the nation for the last four years of his vice presidency?

  • Schumer on torture 2004: 'Do what you have to do'.

    Take the hypothetical: If we knew that there was a nuclear bomb hidden in an American city and we believed that some kind of torture, fairly severe maybe, would give us a chance of finding that bomb before it went off, my guess is most Americans and most senators, maybe all, would say, Do what you have to do.

    So it's easy to sit back in the armchair and say that torture can never be used. But when you're in the foxhole, it's a very different deal.

  • Gibbs: Bush tied CIA's hands on Cheney request.

    "The CIA is the agency that has jurisdiction over this," Gibbs told reporters aboard Air Force One as President Barack Obama returned from a trip to Arizona and New Mexico. "They made the decision, in all honesty, based on an executive order from the Bush administration, which under the type of request that Vice President Cheney made, precludes these being declassified because they're part of ongoing litigation. The executive order updated in the Bush administration precludes their release."

    The CIA's denial cited two pending court cases seeking the Central Intelligence Agency memos in question. A spokesman for Cheney has said that the former vice president plans to appeal the refusal.

  • To probe detainee abuse, Congress leans toward outsourcing.

    Congress is on track to punt its toughest investigations – including the hot-button one over harsh and possibly illegal treatment of terrorism suspects – to freshly minted, independent commissions, seen as freer of partisan rancor than the House and Senate.

    The battle over how to investigate Bush-era treatment of detainees, however, most illustrates a growing incapacity on Capitol Hill to deal with tough issues amid a highly partisan climate.

    The first congressional hearing on the release of four Bush-era memos enabling "enhanced interrogation" methods turned sharply partisan this week – fueling calls for an independent panel to sort out the issues.

    While Democrats wanted to restrict the inquiry to how Bush administration lawyers paved the way for harsh treatment of detainees, Republicans are demanding to know what top Democrats – who were among the few to receive classified briefings on these policies – knew and what they did about it.

  • New 'prisoner abuse' photographs emerge despite US bid to block publication.

    Graphic photographs of alleged prisoner abuse, thought to be among up to 2,000 images Barack Obama is trying to prevent from being released, emerged yesterday.

    ...One picture showed a prisoner hung up upside down while another showed a naked man smeared in excrement standing in a corridor with a guard standing menacingly in front of him. Another prisoner is handcuffed to the window frame of his cell with underpants pulled over his head.

    Others yet to be released reportedly show military guards threatening to sexually assault a detainee with a broomstick and hooded prisoners on transport planes with Playboy magazines opened to pictures of nude women on their laps.

    The images emerged from Australia yesterday where they were originally obtained by the channel SBS in 2006 in the wake of the Abu Ghraib scandal. They were not distributed around the world at the time but are now believed to be among those the president is trying to block.

The photos America doesn't want seen.

Political News

  • Obama to replace U.S. Attorneys.

    President Barack Obama plans to replace a "batch" of U.S. Attorneys in the next few weeks and more prosecutors thereafter, according to Attorney General Eric Holder.

    "I expect that we’ll have an announcement in the next couple of weeks with regard to our first batch of U.S attorneys," Holder said Thursday during a House Judiciary Committee hearing which stretched out over most of the day due to breaks for members' votes. "One of the things that we didn’t want to do was to disrupt the continuity of the offices and pull people out of positions where we thought there might be a danger that that might have on the continuity--the effectiveness of the offices.But...elections matter--it is our intention to have the U.S. Attorneys that are selected by President Obama in place as quickly as they can."

    Holder's comments begin to resolve questions in the legal community about whether the new administration would hesitate to replace the chief prosecutors en masse because of the intense controversy that surrounded President George W. Bush's unusual mid-term replacement of nine U.S. attorneys in late 2006. In addition, legal sources said some Bush appointees were looking to burrow in, in part to avoid a grim economic climate for private-sector legal jobs.

  • Prosecutor To Interview Rove Today As Part of US Attorney Criminal Investigation.

    Rove, a former senior aide to Bush, will be questioned by Connecticut prosecutor Nora R. Dannehy, who was named in September to examine whether former Justice Department and White House officials lied or obstructed justice in connection with the dismissal of federal prosecutors in 2006.

    ...Legal experts say that a particular source of interest for Dannehy will be statements that officials made to the inspector general and to Congress about the episode, which could lead to charges of perjury or obstruction of justice. Outcry over the firings contributed to the departure of Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, his chief of staff, D. Kyle Sampson, and Deputy Attorney General Paul J. McNulty.  

War News

  • The House Backs Obama's Afghan Surge, Amid Calls for Exit Strategy by H.R. 2404.

    On Thursday, McGovern introduced H.R. 2404, a house resolution requesting that President Obama provide an exit strategy for U.S. military forces in Afghanistan by the end of the year.

    The measure has 73 cosponsors, most of them Democrats associated with the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Several powerful committee chairs have signed on, including Michigan Democrat John Conyers (Judiciary) and Minnesota Democrat Jim Oberstar (Transportation and Infrastructure). Additionally, there are a number of Republican backers, including longtime Iraq War critics such as Walter Jones of North Carolina, John Duncan of Tennessee and Ron Paul of Texas. Some unexpected Republicans have signed on as well, led by California conservative Dana Rohrabacher.

  • Horror and stresses of Iraq duty led US sergeant to kill comrades:  Spate of violence is one of at least 120 murders committed by American veterans, while domestic violence, alcoholism and suicides are rife.

    Everyone – the father, the son, the army – agrees that three tours of Iraq drove ­Sergeant John Russell to the edge.

    But what pushed him over, into shooting dead five of his comrades in an army that was his life for 16 years, is a matter of bitter dispute.

    ...That version of events has some of the familiar ring of accounts of traumatised soldiers driven to violence by violence. Ever since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan began, soldiers have been returning to the US and killing.

    Veterans from the two wars have committed at least 120 murders beginning with a spate of killings of wives at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, in 2002 and continuing with five murders at a military base in Colorado last year.

    Alongside the killings has come a surge in domestic violence, drug and alcohol addiction. Meanwhile suicides run at twice the rate of people outside the military.

  • U.S. says Afghan insurgents use white phosphorus. (picture of IDF White Phosphorus attack U.N. compound January 2009)

    The U.S. military said on Monday it had documented 44 incidents of Afghan insurgents using or possessing white phosphorus ammunition, in response to a Reuters report last week of the first known casualty from the chemical.

    U.S. and NATO forces acknowledge they use the chemical -- which erupts into flame on contact with the air -- to create smokescreens, illuminate the battlefield or destroy empty buildings -- but they deny knowingly using it on people.

  • US soldier takes on Afghan militants – in pink underpants.

    The world's best-equipped army has revealed one of the more closely guarded and, one must hope, private items in its armoury – pink underpants.

    Scrambling to raise himself from sleep during a Taliban attack high in the Afghan hills, Zachary Boyd, a soldier with the First Brigade, grabbed his automatic gun, helmet and bulletproof jacket.

    But in his haste he left behind his combat trousers – showing to the world that below the belt he was fighting in nothing more protective than "I love NY" boxer shorts.

World News

  • Thousands flee Pakistan fighting. (video at link)

    Thousands of people are streaming into camps seeking refuge from the conflict between Pakistan's army and Taleban rebels in the country's north-west.

    ...Pakistan's Prime Minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani, has described the situation as the country's worst refugee crisis since the bloody partition of India and Pakistan in 1947 at the end of colonial rule.

  • Obama warns Netanyahu: Don't surprise me with Iran strike.

    U.S. President Barack Obama has sent a message to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu demanding that Israel not surprise the U.S. with an Israeli military operation against Iran. The message was conveyed by a senior American official who met in Israel with Netanyahu, ministers and other senior officials. Earlier, Netanyahu's envoy visited Washington and met with National Security Adviser James Jones and with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and discussed the dialogue Obama has initiated with Tehran.

  • Could Taliban get keys to Pakistan's A-bomb?

    International concerns are mounting again about the security of Pakistan's nuclear weapons as fighting rages with the Taliban. But thanks to safeguards, experts worry much less about the Islamic fighters in the hills making off with a warhead. It's the radicals among the educated – potential insiders – who are in a more realistic position to abscond with nuclear material and know how to use it.

    "Nuclear weapons are just about as safe as the people who are their custodians," says Hoodbhoy. The threat comes not from the "mountain barbarians," he says, but from "Al Qaeda, together with their Islamist allies within the Pakistani state and society. These are urban people, engineers, technicians, people in fairly high offices."

  • Islamists linked to al-Qaeda on verge of toppling Somali government.

    Insurgents linked to al-Qaeda are on the verge of toppling Somalia's Western-backed government amid the worst fighting in the country's capital in more than a year.

    A week of fierce mortar and gun battles in Mogadishu has left the president, Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, in control of little more than the presidential palace, airport and docks.

    More than 135 people have died and 34,000 have fled their homes in the city, leading to warnings from Western security agencies that al-Qaeda could regain a key strategic toehold on the Horn of Africa.

  • Thanks to Facebook, Young Women Take to Political Activism.

    In recent years, Egypt has witnessed increasing participation by women in grassroots political activism. Local civil rights advocates attribute the phenomenon to novel means of communication and organisation, especially the social networking website Facebook.

  • Chinese sex park is 'for the public good'.

    China is building its first sexually explicit theme park, and the giant genitalia sculptures and suggestive exhibits are getting many people hot and bothered in a country where talking about sex is still taboo.

    Love Land is set to open in October in the south-western metropolis of Chongqing and will feature exhibitions about sexual history and how to use condoms properly. It will also host sex technique workshops, the China Daily newspaper said.

    A picture of the main entrance shows a signboard bearing the park's name being straddled by a giant pair of women's legs topped by a red thong.

    The park's manager, Lu Xiaoqing, said Love Land would help people "enjoy a harmonious sex life".

  • Eggs and shoes fly as investors vent their anger at directors.

    In more normal times, shareholder meetings were relatively genteel affairs. A smattering of people, many retired, would show up, ask a few questions and approve the various resolutions before demolishing the wine and sandwiches. A chief executive was more likely to be challenged over the quality of the biscuits than the finer details of the balance sheet. But now revolution is in the air as investors vent their fury over the huge destruction in shareholder value over the past couple of years.

    Yesterday Gary Keogh became the public face of shareholder anger when he pitched rotten eggs at the board of Allied Irish Banks (AIB) at its meeting in Dublin. His protest echoed the violent scenes in Belgium last month when Fortis was forced to suspend its extraordinary meeting after the bank's investors threw shoes at the board and sang the Marseillaise before storming the stage.

National News

  • Scouts Train to Fight Terrorists, and More.

    The Explorers program, a coeducational affiliate of the Boy Scouts of America that began 60 years ago, is training thousands of young people in skills used to confront terrorism, illegal immigration and escalating border violence — an intense ratcheting up of one of the group’s longtime missions to prepare youths for more traditional jobs as police officers and firefighters.

    ...The training, which leaders say is not intended to be applied outside the simulated Explorer setting, can involve chasing down illegal border crossers as well as more dangerous situations that include facing down terrorists and taking out "active shooters," like those who bring gunfire and death to college campuses. In a simulation here of a raid on a marijuana field, several Explorers were instructed on how to quiet an obstreperous lookout.

  • Consumer price drop is biggest since '55: Government says 0.7% annual decline is the largest in nearly 54 years. Monthly prices unchanged.

    A key index of prices paid by consumers fell at the sharpest rate since August 1955 due to historically low energy prices, the government said Friday.

    The Labor Department said the Consumer Price Index declined 0.7% on an annual basis in April, only the second year-over-year decline in nearly 54 years following March's 0.4% drop.

  • Protesting L.A. teachers arrested outside district offices.

    About 45 Los Angeles teachers and union leaders were arrested and booked for unlawful assembly outside school district headquarters today after they sat in the middle of the street and refused to move in an act of civil disobedience meant to protest possible layoffs.

    ...The teachers' action was part of a protest against budget cuts that could include thousands of layoffs.

    Schools throughout Los Angeles were disrupted today as thousands of teachers called in sick and hundreds of high school students walked out of classrooms to protest the budget cutbacks at the nation's second-largest school district.

  • More Americans "Pro-Life" Than "Pro-Choice" for First Time.

    A new Gallup Poll, conducted May 7-10, finds 51% of Americans calling themselves "pro-life" on the issue of abortion and 42% "pro-choice." This is the first time a majority of U.S. adults have identified themselves as pro-life since Gallup began asking this question in 1995.

    The new results, obtained from Gallup's annual Values and Beliefs survey, represent a significant shift from a year ago, when 50% were pro-choice and 44% pro-life. Prior to now, the highest percentage identifying as pro-life was 46%, in both August 2001 and May 2002.

Human Rights News

  • Outrage at 'slavery' in Bolivia.

    A senior UN official recently described as "unacceptable" the alleged forced labour of indigenous people by landowners in Bolivia.

    ...Over the past two years, Bolivia's government and several indigenous groups, have been giving a controversial name to Teresa's type of existence - slavery.

    They and some international organisations say conditions are still akin to bonded labour, making these peasants the de facto property of rich landowners in one of South America's poorest countries.

  • Video: Life inside a refugee camp. (video at link)

    A woman trapped in an overcrowded Congolese refugee camp shows Telegraph TV the squalid living conditions she is forced to endure with her five children.

    ...The camp's residents, who have been forced to flee from the country's violence, are joined by more refugees daily and most are suffering from lack of food and poor sanitation according the charity Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).

    ...More than 1.4 million Congolese have been internally displaced, as well as fleeing to neighbouring Rwanda, according to Congolese authorities. Rwandans are still seeking refuge in eastern areas of the DRC since the genocide in 1994 that killed a million people.

  • Teen 'overworked to death' in jeans factory.

    A Bangladeshi teenager who died in a garment factory that supplies cheap jeans for export to Europe was "overworked to death", a rights group said.

    Fatema Akter, 18, a garment worker in the port city of Chittagong, died during her shift in December last year, the US-based National Labor Committee said.

    "Forced to work 13 to 15 hours a day, seven days a week, Fatema was sick and exhausted, with pains in her chest and arms," the report said.

    Her job was to clean 90 to 100 pairs of finished jeans an hour, it said.

    "Rather than grant her a sick day [her supervisor] slapped her face very hard and ordered her to continue working."

    The committee said an investigation showed that 14-hour shifts with few breaks were common at the factory, overtime was compulsory and workers were regularly beaten by their superiors.

  • 43 stun-gunned at prisons' Take Your Kids to Work Day.

    A total of 43 children were directly and indirectly shocked by electric stun guns during simultaneous ''Take Your Sons and Daughters to Work Day'' events gone wrong at three state prisons, according to new information provided Friday by the Florida Department of Corrections.

    Also, a group of kids was exposed to tear gas during a demonstration at another lockup.

    Three prison guards have been fired, two have resigned and 16 more employees -- from corrections officers to a warden -- will be disciplined due to the incidents that unfolded April 23, said DOC Secretary Walt McNeil. An investigation is ongoing.  

  • Redskins win new legal fight with Indian group.

    The Washington Redskins won another legal victory Friday in a 17-year fight with a group of American Indians who contend the football team’s trademark is racially offensive.

    The decision issued Friday by the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington doesn’t address the main question of racism at the center of the case. Instead, it upholds the lower court’s decision in favor of the football team on a legal technicality.

  • Board advocates dumping UND nickname, logo -- Move is intended to resolve dispute over racial origins of 'Fighting Sioux'.

    North Dakota's Board of Higher Education has agreed to drop the University of North Dakota's Fighting Sioux nickname and Indian head logo, a move intended to resolve a decades-long campus dispute about whether the name demeans American Indians.

    The name and logo, which is a profile of an American Indian man with feathers and streaks of paint on his face, could still be saved if North Dakota's Standing Rock and Spirit Lake Sioux tribes agree by Oct. 1 to give the university permission to use them for at least 30 years.

    However, tribal officials say that possibility is remote.

Originally posted to Patriot Daily News Clearinghouse on Fri May 15, 2009 at 08:51 PM PDT.

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