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April 25, 2009

Pentagon to Release New Prisoner Abuse Photos

The Pentagon Defense Department will release dozens of photographs depicting the abuse of prisoners at U.S. facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan, reported the New York Times on Friday.

The pictures were first ordered by a federal judge in June 2006 to be released no later than May 28, said the Defense Department and the American Civil Liberties Union.

The controversial photographs show incidents in "at least seven different locations in Afghanistan and Iraq,” according to court records. (Wall Street Journal)

According to the New York Times, there were early reports that some of the new pictures showed detainees being intimidated by American soldiers, sometimes at gunpoint, although these reports could not be clarified.

The photographs follow in the wake of the 2004 Abu Ghraib debacle, which included the release of pictures depicting the mental, physical and sexual abuse of prisoners by American soldiers. The incident caused an immediate uproar and criticism of the U.S. military.

Although those soldiers who were involved in the Abu Ghraib case have since been punished, whether by demotion or termination of contract, members of the A.C.L.U. say that the new pictures need to be released.

“These photographs provide visual proof that prisoner abuse by U.S. personnel was not aberrational but widespread, reaching far beyond the walls of Abu Ghraib,” said Amrit Singh, an A.C.L.U. staff attorney. (New York Times)

Although the Wall Street Journal says that there are a total of 21 pictures, the New York Times reports that the exact number of new pictures is not known. Lev. L Dassin, the acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York said that the Pentagon agreed to release 44 photographs involved in the case.

Amrit Singh said that the release of the pictures would make the need for independent investigations into the abuse of prisoners clearer, so that the “public can see for itself the offenses committed in its name.” (New York Times)

April 16, 2009

Law Allowing for “Marital Rape” Causes Hundreds to Protest

A new law that was passed by Parliament saying that husbands have the right to demand sex from their wives without the risk of refusal sparked a protest Wednesday that included around 300 women. Sound crazy? For the Shiite women and wives living in Afghanistan, this is the new reality they must face.

According to the New York Times, the law was approved by both houses of Parliament and was signed by President Hamid Karzai. It only applies to the Shiite minority and prevents a woman from resisting her husband’s sexual advances.

Two other provisions of the law state that a woman requires permission from her husband if she wants to work outside the home or go to school and that it is illegal for a woman to “dress up” if it is against her husband’s wishes.

Women’s rights activists scheduled a demonstration that found more than 300 female supporters walking the streets of Kabul in protest of the new “Taliban-like restrictions.” (New York Times)

“Whenever a man wants sex, we cannot refuse,” said Fatima Husseini, 26, a protester. “It means a woman is a kind of property, to be used by the man in any way that he wants.” (New York Times)

Some critics are saying that the law basically allows for the legalization of “marital rape.”

The protesters were met with resistance from counter protesters, many of who shouted support for Islamic law. Some counter protesters threw gravel and stones, while groups of men refused to let some women join the demonstration. (Wall Street Journal)

President Karzai responded to the situation by looking at removing some parts of the law and asked his justice minister to look it over.

Homayun Hamidzada, President Karzai’s spokesman, said in an interview on Wednesday that “we have no doubt that whatever comes out of this process will be consistent with the rights provided for in the Constitution – equality and the protection of women.” (New York Times)

Some Shiite women who support the new law believe that it is only controversial to those who are Westerners and others who are anti-Islam, and that the law is being “misinterpreted.”

“We don’t want foreigners interfering in our lives,” said Mariam Sajadi, 24. “They are the enemy of Afghanistan.” (Wall Street Journal)

April 12, 2009

Thousands Protest in Bangkok, State of Emergency Called

Thousands of anti-government protestors took to the street of Bangkok Sunday, forcing the cancellation of a 16-nation Asian summit meeting and creating a state of emergency.

According to the Wall Street Journal, several hundred protestors had crowded into the seaside town of Pattaya where an Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit was being held to discuss the global financial crisis.

The attack forced Thai authorities to cancel the meeting and call in helicopters to evacuate some of the Asian world leaders.

Crowds of protestors had gathered around Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s office, after demonstrating for days and calling for the dissolution of the government. As Abhisit tried to leave the Interior Ministry after calling a state of emergency that bans gatherings of five or more people, protestors attacked his car. (New York Times)

Police and army officials took to the streets in military vehicles and tanks, although doing little to disband large groups of protestors.

The Wall Street Journal reported that police estimated an approximated 30,000 demonstrators had participated in the riots around the city. 70,000 more protestors are believed to have joined the rally by Wednesday.

The protestors, who wore red shirts, demonstrated in support of former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was deposed in a coup in 2006 and has been moving from country to country in the hope of escaping extradition and imprisonment on a corruption conviction.

Thaksin threatened to return to Bangkok and lead an uprising. He called for a revolution and urged soldiers to turn against the government.

“Now that they have tanks on the streets, it is time for the people to come out in revolution,” he said in a telephone message. “I will closely monitor the situation. If there is any violence I will return to Thailand immediately.” (New York Times)

Political turmoil has plagued Bangkok ever since the country’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej, 82, fell ill in health in recent months. Although holding no direct political power, King Bhumibol’s illness leads a sort of uncertainty over who would be the country’s royal successor should he pass on.

Thitinan Pongsudhirak, director of the Institute of Security and International Studies at Chulalongkorn University, says that “we need reconciliation and I don’t see any sign that it is coming.” (New York Times)

Instead, Thitinan predicts that “we’re witnessing the birth of a new phenomenon here and there’s no telling where it will end.” (Wall Street Journal)

April 5, 2009

North Korea Launches Missile, Violates Security Resolution

North Korea has prompted the United Nations Security Council to organize an emergency meeting Sunday after launching a long-range missile that may or may not have been successful.

According to USA Today, the North Koreans say that the Taepodong-2 missile that was launched from the Musudan-ri base on their northeastern coast, “successfully put into orbit a civilian satellite that transmitted scientific data.”

The United States Northern Command issued a statement that the missile’s three stages had all fallen into the Pacific Ocean and that none had entered orbit.

Yoo Ho-yeol, a North Korea expert at the University of Seoul, said “after having built nuclear weapons, North Korea has now demonstrated that it is a means to deliver them for a long distance with a fair amount of accuracy, as well as its ability to proliferate such technology.” (New York Times)

The Taepodong-2 has a range of more than 4,000 miles, the distance from North Korea to Alaska. Analysts doubt the missile’s accuracy and military threat to the U.S., especially given the failed attempt and the fact that the missile needs several days of open pad preparation before it can be launched.

Still, the launching was quickly condemned around the world and occurred in the same week as Obama’s first speech on how to counter proliferation threats in Prague. The U.S., Japan and South Korea say that the launch is a violation of a 2006 U.N. Security Council resolution barring North Korea from firing ballistic missiles. (USA Today)

U.S. President Obama said Sunday that with the launch, “North Korea has ignored its international obligations, rejected unequivocal calls for restraint and further isolated itself from the community of nations,” reported the New York Times.

The launch is popularly believed to be a quest for attention from the Obama administration in order to gain leverage for bargaining more aid and improved diplomatic relations for the isolated, insolvent nation.

Andrei Lankov, a North Korea watcher at Seoul’s Kookmin University, believes that there are few other alternatives to international aid in stopping the progress of the North’s nuclear weapons system.

“My advice: pay,” he says.

March 29, 2009

Cyber Spy System Discovered

Canadian researchers have concluded the discovery of an immense electronic spying operation that has software capable of stealing information has been installed on computers in 103 countries, according to the New York Times.

Security Researchers based at the Munk Center for International Studies at the University of Toronto said that the system was being controlled from computers based almost exclusively in China and had already “stolen hundreds of private government and office documents from around the world, including those of the Dalai Lama.” (Wall Street Journal)

Although the system was traced back to computers in China, there is not enough evidence to connect the Chinese government to the infiltration. However, a separate report that was conducted by researchers at Cambridge University and published on Sunday alleges that the Chinese government or a group closely affiliated with the government is responsible for the stolen documents of the Dalai Lama. (Wall Street Journal)

The software was an apparent “cyberattack” that had targeted the office of the Dalai Lama and was revealed when the office asked researchers to examine its computers for signs of malicious software, called malware.

Researchers say that the infected software, which is referred to as GhostNet, is a kind of illicit information-gathering network. A victim is tricked into opening an infected file that is attached to an email or by downloading a file from a Web site. According to researchers, criminals may have managed to gain control over computers by sending files concealed as racy pictures or winning lottery tickets.

According to a report that was published Sunday by the Toronto-based organization Information Warfare Monitor, more than 1,200 computers in all have been infected with GhostNet. Some of the infected computers were those that also belonged to embassies in Germany, India, Romania, and Thailand, as well as in the ministries of foreign affairs for Barbados, Iran and Latvia.

Wenqi Gao, a spokesman for the Chinese Consulate in New York has dismissed the idea that China was involved, saying that “these are old stories and they are nonsense. The Chinese government is opposed to and strictly forbids any cybercrime.” (New York Times)

Cyber infiltrations such as these are the latest in a series of incidents that suggest such attacks are on the rise. Researchers at MessageLabs, which is a division of Symantec Corp., detected about one or two attacks per week in 2005. In 2008, the researchers detected 53 attacks per day.

February 5, 2009

Most-Wanted Nazi War Criminal Found Dead – in 1992

Documents containing information on the world’s most-wanted Nazi war criminal have surfaced in Egypt, reported USA Today.

A report released by the New York Times on Wednesday show that Aribert Ferdinand Heim, who was a member of Adolf Hitler’s elite Waffen-SS, had died in Cairo, in 1992.

Heim, who was living under the pseudonym Tarek Hussein Farid, had been on the run from authorities since shortly after World War II. He had been accused of war crimes stemming from his position as medical doctor at the Buchenwald, Sachsenhausen and Mauthausen concentration camps during the Holocaust.

Some of these allegations included Heim performing operations on prisoners without anesthesia; removing organs from healthy inmates, then leaving them to die on the operating table; and injecting poison, including gasoline, into the hearts of his victims. (New York Times)

A war crimes investigating team from the United States took testimony from Josef Kohl, a farmer inmate at Mauthausen, regarding Heim’s crimes, on Jan. 18, 1946.

A briefcase was discovered in a hotel room where Heim had lived containing bank slips, a passport and medical papers, as well as an application for Egyptian residency under the Islamic name of Tarek Hussein Farid.

Authorities had come close to capturing Heim in Germany in 1962, but Heim narrowly escaped. He had been living in the town of Baden-Baden with his family while working as a gynecologist.

Heim’s son, Rüdiger Heim, who kept his father’s location a secret from police, said that his father had died from rectal cancer on Aug. 10, 1992.

February 1, 2009

Slow Emergency Response Kills 100 Kenyans, Wounding More

An explosion caused by an overturned gasoline tanker on a Kenyan highway has killed more than 100 people and left another 200 wounded, the New York Times reported on Sunday.

The tanker overturned in Molo on Saturday around 7 p.m. Looters quickly took advantage of the situation, filling cups and cans with spilled gasoline. Kenyan police quickly arrived at the scene to break up the looters but were met with resistance.

The cause of the explosion is presently unknown. Witnesses report that the intervention of Kenyan police caused one looter to light a match and throw it into the gasoline. The Wall Street Journal reported that Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga said in a news conference on Sunday that a cigarette had been the cause of the explosion.

Hundreds in the surrounding crowd caught on fire and were forced to run into the nearby brush.

Emergency forces were slow to respond, taking over an hour to arrive at the scene even though the city of Molo is just over 100 miles away from the capital of Nairobi.

The Kenyan Red Cross said that the death toll had reached 113 by Sunday, while another 178 had been severely injured.

The explosion is the second incident to occur in Kenya in one week. On Wednesday, a supermarket fire in downtown Nairobi left 25 dead due to slow emergency dispatch units.