Saturday, July 16, 2005

Department of Homeland Security Is Blind to Right Wing Terror Threat

Back in April, my friend Bill Berkowitz wrote a column at Working for Change which asked the question, “Ten years after Oklahoma City, why doesn't the Department of Homeland Security see America's homegrown right-wing terrorists as a major threat?”

Now US News World Report is asking the same question.

US News reports that Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project now says in the ten years since the Oklahoma City bombing nearly 60 right-wing terror plots have been uncovered in this country. These plots have included the intention to use various chemical bombs and other weapons.

The most recent plot mentioned in that report relates to the May, 2005 arrest of two South Jersey residents who are alleged to be members of neo-nazi skinhead groups on a federal charge of possession of stolen weapons by convicted felons.

Gabriel Carafa, 24, and Craig Orler, 28 are accused of illegally selling to police informants guns and 60 pounds of urea to use in a bomb. Their arrest came, according to the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office after an extensive state and federal undercover investigation.

The federal complaint alleges that Orler has at least three prior state convictions for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and burglary, while Carafa has been convicted of bias intimidation and distribution of a controlled dangerous substance. According to Vaughn L. McKoy, Director, Division of Criminal Justice, the Office of Bias Crime, the investigation determined that Carafa is a known member and leader of both the Church of the Creator and a neo-nazi skinhead group called The Hated. Orler is allegedly a member of “The Hated”.

The US News article also mentions:

• Oct. 25, 2004: FBI agents in Tennessee arrested Demetrius "Van" Crocker after he allegedly tried to purchase ingredients for deadly sarin nerve gas and C-4 plastic explosives from an undercover agent. Crocker, who was involved with white supremacist groups, was charged with trying to get explosives to destroy a building and faces more than 20 years in prison.

• April 10, 2003: The FBI raided the home of William Krar, of Noonday, Texas, and discovered an arsenal of more than 500,000 rounds of ammunition, 65 pipe bombs and remote control briefcase bombs, and almost 2 pounds of sodium cyanide, enough to make a bomb that could kill everyone in a large building. Krar, reportedly associated with white supremacist groups, was sentenced to 11 years in prison for possession of a chemical weapon.

In his much earlier column, Berkowitz reports on other incidents. He writes that, “Militia leaders in Michigan tried to organize what they were calling "Operation Resurrection," an attempt to spirit Terri Schiavo from her Pinellas County, Florida hospice death-bed to an undisclosed location; the head of Aryan Nations, a white supremacist group, took to praising the militants of al Qaeda, urging his followers to get that "jihadic feeling"; federal agents seized a weapons cache consisting of "more than 50 machine guns and seven hand grenades in what authorities described as the largest weapon seizure in Southern Illinois…”

Yet as Berkowitz pointed out Homeland Security refuses to see right wing terrorist as threats to national security.

Berkowitz back in April wrote that Mike German, a 16-year undercover agent for the FBI who spent most of his career infiltrating radical right-wing groups told the Congressional Quarterly in regards to right wing terrorists and groups, "They are still a threat, and they will continue to be a threat. If for some reason the government no longer considers them a threat, I think they will regret that," said German, who left the FBI last year. "Hopefully it's an oversight."

Meanwhile, for homegrown terrorists, Homeland Security continues to only point at groups such as the Earth Liberation Front and the Animal Liberation Front. Interesting.

Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS), Ranking Member of the House Committee on Homeland Security has taken note of this. He tells the Memphis Commercial Appeal that it's a mistake for the administration to list property-damaging environmental activists as "eco-terrorists" but omit the threat from right-wing militia "Patriots" like Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, anti-government tax protesters or white supremacists -- groups that have already proven they're dangerous.

"Supposedly, the department takes the position that the radical environmentalists and other people are the only people domestically which pose a threat to the homeland," Thompson said. "But when you look at past history, the Oklahoma bombing was not a left-wing terrorist's doing. These were so-called right-wing Patriots ... We ought to look at every vulnerability that's out there."

When he asked to testify before the Senate’s Environmental and Public Works Committee when it held a hearing on "eco-terrorism,” he was turned down by Committee Chair James Inhofe, R-Oklahoma. As part of his testimony, Rep. Thompson was prepared to deliver remarks based upon a House Committee on Homeland Security report released a month earlier entitled, "10 Years After the Oklahoma City Bombing: the Department of Homeland Security Must Do More to Fight Right-Wing Terrorists."

In a letter dated May 19, 2005 sent to Senate Committee Chairman James Inhofe, Rep. Thompson voiced his dismay at being refused the right to testify earlier that week before the Committee when it held its hearing examining activities of the Earth Liberation Front ("ELF") and the Animal Liberation Front ("ALF"). The Senator's refusal is believed to be the only time a Member of Congress has been denied permission to testify before a Committee when he has formally requested to do so.

"Only once in recent memory has a Congressional Committee Chairman refused to the request of a Member of Congress to testify," Rep. Thompson notes. "Even then, a subsequent hearing was held specifically so the Member would have the opportunity to provide relevant testimony, which would have been the case in this instance. It is extremely disappointing that your denial was not provided in writing, as was my original request."

Rep. Thompson in his letter also pointed out that, “…35 homes under construction in the Maryland subdivision of Hunters Brooke were partially or entirely destroyed by arson in December, 2004. The perpetrators torched the entire subdivision because they believed many of the families who would move in were African American. This arson attack was characterized as 'the worst arson in Maryland history,' and this one incident caused approximately $10 million in damage -- almost 1/10th the damage alleged to have been caused by ALF and ELF -- and all other environmental extremist groups -- in the last 14 years. Right-wing domestic terror groups are also responsible for the destruction of other infrastructure such as abortion clinics, minority houses of worship, and federal buildings.”

He added, “Domestic terrorism that destroys property is terrible -- whether committed by leftwing or right-wing "special interest" domestic terrorists.”

Other experts on domestic terrorism have expressed dimsay over the departments blindness to right wing terror. One of them, James O. Ellis III, a senior terror researcher for the National Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism (MIPT), said ... that whereas left-wing groups...have focused mainly on the destruction of property, right-wing groups have a much deadlier and more violent record and should be on the list. 'The nature of the history of terrorism is that you will see acts in the name of [right-wing] causes in the future.”

So three months after Bill asked, the question remains, “…why doesn't the Department of Homeland Security see America's homegrown right-wing terrorists as a major threat?” Sources: Source Watch, WorkingForChange, Office of the Attorney General-State of New Jersey, Find Law, Commercial Appeal (Memphis), US News and World Report

Friday, July 15, 2005


by Tom Big Warrior (Taken from the Leondard Peltier Defense Committee Web Site)

On June 7th, 2005, ranking officers of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ), at the Polunsky Unit in Livingston, Texas, attacked an elderly and legally blind inmate, Iron Thunderhorse, while he was attempting to go to the chowhall. They knocked the glasses and UV shields from his face and sprayed chemical pepper spray directly in his eyes. They proceeded to spray him all over with the chemical irritant, kicking him and wrenching his crippled arm behind his back.

For weeks, Iron had been denied entry into the chowhall, or any food at all, as the TDCJ was attempting to starve him into complying with an order to submit to a haircut, despite the fact that a federal court had recently upheald that his civil rights were being violated. This was the latest outrage in a struggle that has been going on for almost thirty years.

After being railroaded by the FBI's COINTELPRO program, along with many other dissidents and activists around the country, in the early 70s, Iron went to court to assert his rights as a Native American spiritual practicioner. He got off the bus from jail to prison armed with a court order requiring the TDCJ to respect these rights, including his right to wear long hair. He was met by the warden and a "goon squad" of inmate "building tenders" armed with baseball bats and axe handles. The warden tore up Iron's court order and had his "goons" beat Iron unconscious and then forcibly cut his hair.

Year after year, Iron has suffered repeated beatings and torture, including years in solitary confinement in the sweltering Texas heat. His blindness stems from repeated gassings and being sprayed in the eyes with pepper spray. His body is covered with scars, only a few of which he received as a soldier in Vietnam.

Iron is the hereditary chief of the Quinnipiac Renapi, a branch of the greater Lenape Nation, whose homeland runs along the Quinnipiac River in Connecticut. His people have the dubious distinction of being the first North American tribe to be placed on a reservation by the English settlers at New Haven, in the early 1600s.

Iron's long ordeal began when he stopped at a diner for a cup of coffee on his way home from work, more than thirty years ago. Some of the local Connecticut white boys, who saw him pull up on his classic Indian motorcycle, thought it might be fun to give this long-haired Indian a hair cut.

After years in the rough and tumble Indian boarding schools, his muscles now hardened by long hours of construction work, Iron defended himself well. It was a clear case of self-defense, but the white boys were sons of the local establisment, and so the cops arrested Iron. But this was the least of his problems, as the white boys, enraged by their deserved ass-whipping, began to stalk Iron waiting for a chance to get revenge. It happened one winter night when two of them spotted his car and gave chase. They ran the car off the road, but Iron wasn't in it.

After the highway patrol informed him that his young wife and child had been killed in the resulting "accident," Iron begain drinking heavily. Then he donned his war-paint, got on his motorcycle, and went looking for revenge. He found the boys before the police did, and when they arrived, they arrested Iron for aggravated assault. It was then that the Army stepped in, and Iron was released into the custody of a coloniel recruiting for special service in Vietnam.

Having frequently run away from boarding school, Iron fine-tuned the woodlands skills he had been taught as a child by living off the land in wilderness areas. These skills, coupled with the rage he was going through, made him an ideal candidate for the covert operations he was groomed for at Fort Bragg and other army training schools. Placed under the direction of the CIA, Iron was sent to Vietnam, where he took part in secret operations, as well as elsewhere in S.E. Asia. But eventually, he and his team refused to obey an illegal order, and they were sent back to California and discharged.

Iron gravitated to the American Indian Movement (AIM) and to others standing up to the system, and he became a target of COINTELPRO, the FBIs illegal campaign to infiltrate, entrap, frame-up, assassinate and otherwize suppress activists in the anti-war and other movements for social justice that had emerged in the 60s. Their intent was to lock him up and throw away the key.

Iron went into prison in top physical condition and highly trained in martial arts. Over the years, he fended off several attempts to assassinate him, but now his health is precarious and he is virtually blind. "I suffer from corneal dystrophy and have cataracts and open angle glaucoma, my corneas no longer produce tears," Iron wrote in a complaint over the June 7th attack, explaining the excruciating pain he was in when he was at last taken to the medical unit. "Lt. Lawrence and Sgt. Sheffield refused to allow the duty nurse to conduct a proper PHD exam....Officers refused her admonishment to un-handcuff me due to excruciating pain in [my] shoulder." Iron had a pass, repeatedly renewed by doctors since 1992, prohibiting his being cuffed behind his back due to his crippled arm. This was confiscated after the attack.

"Officers refused to allow the nurse to flush my eyes with water or otherwise decontaminate my person from the pepper spray. The OC pepper spray saturated both eyes, face, head, ear canals, neck, torso, arms, palms, buttocks and thighs. Officers kept saying, 'LET HIM BURN!'"

Iron also suffers from rhinitis and sebhorric dermatitis, both of which are specifically mentioned on the precautions list for use of OC pepper spray. This was known by the officers prior to this premeditated attack, and Iron had reported that he had been repeatedly threatened with this type of assault. It was obvious that an allergic reaction was taking place to the pepper spray, yet Iron was prevented from showering until more than 12 hours later.

This torture is compounded by medical neglect. Iron suffers from high blood preasure, heart arrhythmia, sleep apnea, recurrent shingles and only has one functioning lung. All of these conditions were aggravated by the assault, yet his requests to see a doctor were not only denied, so were his regular prescribed medications for these conditions.

According to his wife, Ruth Thunderhorse: "The warden tells me that Iron's glasses were lost in the property confiscation after the 'assault,' but if they cannot find them, they will get new ones. Anything to keep Iron from his legal work, I assume. Since the warden hemmed and hawed when I asked if Iron had his fan, that probably is not in his possession, either. He also ignored my question as to whether Iron has his magnifier." Meanwhile, Iron's glasses, UV shields and his navigational cane, which were confiscated, have not been replaced, and his typewritter has been confiscated. Basically, the TDCJ is doing all it can to frustrate Iron's efforts to defend his civil rights, including deliberately endangering his health.

President Bush, who was formerly the Governor of Texas, can claim all he wants that, "We do not condone torture," but the facts show otherwise. The torture of Iron Thunderhorse continued throughout his term as governor and it continues today. The federal court had more than enough justification to put Iron in federal protective custody while he is litigating against the TDCJ. The very essence of this case is the suppression of religious freedom for Native Americans here in the USA, the history of which spans the whole history of the US.

Ruth asks for letters of support addressed to Iron.
His adddress is:

Iron Thunderhorse, #624391

Polunsky Unit, 3872 FM 350 South,

Livingston, TX 77351.

Do You Eat Chickens – Think Again

Study: Chickens Think About Future
By Jennifer Viegas, Discovery News

July 14, 2005 — Chickens do not just live in the present, but can anticipate the future and demonstrate self-control, something previously attributed only to humans and other primates, according to a recent study.

The finding suggests that domestic fowl, Gallus gallus domesticus, are intelligent creatures that might worry.

"An animal with no awareness of 'later' may not be able to predict the end of an unpleasant experience, such as pain, rendering it (the pain) all-encompassing," said Siobhan Abeyesinghe, lead author of the study.

"On the other hand, an animal that can anticipate an event might benefit from cues to aid prediction, but may also be capable of expectations rendering it vulnerable to thwarting, frustration and pre-emptive anxiety."

She added, "The types of mental ability the animal possesses therefore dictate how they should best be managed and what we might be able to do to minimize psychological stress."

Abeyesinghe, a member of the Biophysics Group at Silsoe Research Institute in England, and her colleagues tested hens with colored buttons. When the birds pecked on one of the buttons, they received a food reward.

If the chicken waited two to three seconds, it received a small amount of food. If the bird held out for 22 seconds, it received a "jackpot" that paid out with much more to eat.

The study is published in the current Animal Behavior.

"In their natural environment it may pay to get food while you can, before someone else does," Abeyesinghe told Discovery News. "But counter to this, we found that when a much larger food reward was delivered for the jackpot condition, hens chose it over 90 percent of the time, ruling out that they have absolutely no awareness of the near future."

Prior studies have found that neuron organization in chicken brains is highly structured and suggests that, like humans, chickens evolved an impressive level of intelligence to help improve their survival.

Unlike humans, the chicken brain has a remarkable capacity to repair itself fully after trauma, which has puzzled neuroscientists for years.

It remains unclear what exactly goes on in the minds of chickens, which are raised at a rate of 40 billion birds per year to satisfy human consumption demands. Abeyesinghe, however, did say, "They probably show more cognitive ability than people would generally credit them with."

Raf Freire, a lecturer in the Centre for Neuroscience and Animal Behavior at the School of Biological, Biomedical and Molecular Sciences in the University of New England, Australia, agrees, but already suspected that animals and birds, particularly chickens, had higher levels of intelligence than currently thought.

"An ability to show self-control improves an animal's survival in their natural environment and would be expected to have been selected by evolutionary processes," Freire told Discovery News. "Hence, it did not surprise me that chickens show self-control."

He added, "What is astonishing, however, is that the researchers were able to so elegantly and convincingly demonstrate this in chickens."

Both Freire and Abeyesinghe hope the findings will lead to more humane treatment of birds and animals raised for slaughter. Aside from animal rights issues, other research has indicated that if a bird or animal feels stress before killing, that anxiety may adversely affect the quality, taste and texture of meats.

For Our Readers In Ireland:Stand Up! Against Racism

Stand Up! Against Racism
29-Jul-2005 to: 29-Jul-2005

Stand Up! Against Racism featuring the best of Irish comedy takes place at Vicar Street on Friday, the 29th of July.

The Le Chèile Project return with a veritable comedy extravaganza of Ireland's most talented comics to highlight the challenge of racism in modern day Ireland.

The Le Chèile Artists in Ireland Against Racism draws on the commitment of artists, musicians and all those involved in the arts and entertainment in Ireland to creatively challenge racism in Irish society.

This time it is the turn of Irish comedians to bring their talents to highlight the different aspects of Ireland's broadening multi-cultural society with a night of comedy that promises to have the audience in stitches.

The line-up for the night features the hectic, hilarious and ingenuous ramblings of Tommy Tiernan, the wonderful songs and rib-tickling charm of David O'Doherty, the wry and infectious comedy of Barry Murphy, the popular physical humour of Reuben, the stand-up of Naked Camera star, Maeve Higgins and so much more.

Le Chèile have provided invaluable training, education, and information: raising awareness of racism in schools, community groups and amongst the general public. Comhlàmh also advocate and campaign on public policy and anti-racism and onsistently work to promote positive interculturalism in all aspects of Irish culture.

A great night of comedy for a good cause, Stand Up! Against Racism takes place at Vicar Street on Friday, the 29th.

Vicar Street
Buy Tickets

Time: 8pm
Tickets: €25

Tickets are available from Comhlàmh offices at 10 Upper Camden Street, Dublin 2 Tel: + 353 (0) 1 4783490 and Ticketmaster outlets,
Vicar Street
58-59 Thomas Street,
Dublin 8.
Tel: +353 (0) 1 4546656

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Child Marriage

This article started out from one place and then goes all over the map, so bear with me.

The United Nations, Afghan government officials and human rights groups in Kabul all expressed grave concerns about the widespread practice of child marriage in Afghanistan as that country marked World Population Day on Tuesday.

The Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN)reports, “Nearly 60 percent of marriages in Afghanistan involve girls below the legal age of 16, according to reports from the Ministry of Women's Affairs and NGOs. Some girls are married as young as nine.” Afghanistan's new constitution sets the minimum age of marriage for females at 16 and for males 18 but in rural and even some urban areas, the tradition of marrying off daughters while even younger in order to receive money, repay a debt or to resolve a feud remains common

Besides the obvious awfulness of child marriage (especially forced child marriage) rights and health activists say child marriages increase maternal mortality and end up disallowing girls the right to an education and an independent life. “Child marriage and early childbearing mean an incomplete education, limited opportunities and serious health risks,” said Afghan Minister of Women’s Affairs Masouda Jalal.

“Badakhshan [northeastern province] has the highest maternal mortality rate in the country and one of the main reasons is under-age marriages - even as young as seven in some cases. This needs to be addressed,” Paul Greening a project officer of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) said on Wednesday in Kabul.

But the problems of child marriage appear in the supposedly more cosmopolitan capital of Kabul as well. “It is a shame to say that even in the capital Kabul we treat pregnant mothers as young as 12 years of age,” said a midwife at Malalai Hospital, the leading maternity and gynecology unit in the capital.

A recent study by Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) has found 500 girls who had been given away or traded as part of local conflict resolution practices. Of these, 90 percent were under 14 years old. Most become the 'property' of the family or individual who receives them.

An Amnesty International report released earlier this year highlights the failure (despite pleas by the government to the contrary) of the Afghan authorities, to respect, protect and fulfill the rights of women and girls. It stresses that state must accept responsibility and ensure that the right to live free from violence is fully realized for women and men in Afghanistan. The report states there are reported increases in forced marriages and some women have killed themselves to escape, including by self immolation.

In fact, although stringent researched data is hard to come by, hospitals and aid agencies have reported increasing number of female burn cases. "In the burn ward, you can tell the self-immolation cases from the regular burn cases," said Sinclair, who was on assignment in western Afghanistan for Marie Claire magazine.

"There is an absolute level of despair, that you will never be able to make a choice about your life and that really there is no way out, and knowing that you will have to live with a man you have not chosen, who is probably older than you are, who is not going to allow you to work, to go out of the house," Rachel Wareham of L'Association Médicale Mondiale, or World Medical Association, an international physicians group told ABC News.

Many like to blame Islam for this practice, but such blame is ill placed.

Ruqaiyyah Waris Maqsood, in Islam Today, writing about forced marriage of teenage girls by some South Asian Muslims in Britain cites the Quran in opposition to the practice.

'Truly Allah has totally forbidden disobedience (and the subsequent hurt) to mothers, burying alive daughters, with-holding the rights of others, and demanding that which is not your right.' (Hadith Muslim 4257. Recorded by Mughirah b. Shuba).

“With these simple words our Beloved Prophet expressed so much that should convince any Muslim person seeking to force a marriage upon a daughter (or son) that what they are intending is not only terribly wrong, but also in direct opposition to the true spirit of Islam.

He argues that, “At first glance, it looks as if it is ammunition to be used against the daughter who does not want to accept the proposed husband and is going against her mother's wishes, but further insight reveals there is far more to it than that. There are three further totally forbidden things that the parents should 'take on board'. It is quite clearly NOT the right of the parent to enforce a marriage; and Muslim parents are NOT allowed in Islam to withhold the rights of their daughters.

One could even make out a case for extending the interpretation of the phrase 'burying daughters alive' to refer not only to the desert practice of being rid of infant girls by putting them face down in the sand shortly after birth (rather like drowning baby puppies before they have drawn breath), which hardly applies to our situation today - but the practice of 'burying them alive' in a forced marriage. What could be more like being buried alive than being forced to share a bed and distasteful intimacy with a completely unwanted spouse?”

Maqsood says that child and forced marriage is rather a part of a culture not of the Islamic faith.

Maqsood is joined in his belief by Amany Aboul Fadl Farag, a consultant to the International Islamic Committee For Woman and Child, affiliated with the International Islamic Council for Da'wah and Relief.

She writes on Islam on Line:

“As for girl child marriage, as far as I know the Islamic law has not directed us towards it; I have never come across a rule which dictates the age of marriage. It is left to considerations of time, place, and social norms. In India, for example, both Muslim and Hindu girls marry at the age of ten and below; in some Egyptian rural areas it is the custom of both Muslim and Orthodox Christian parents to marry their girls below fifteen, and the same applies to girls in desert areas such as the Arab Peninsula. But in most urban places all over the Muslim world and among Muslim minorities in Western societies, the established norm for girls is to get married after higher education above the age of twenty.”

“Thus, it becomes clear that the girl child marriage has never been an Islamic proposition, and if there are a few cases of girl child marriage, it is not an Islamic regulation as much as a tradition of certain societies shared by both their Muslim and non-Muslim members.”

“As for forced marriage, there is an article in Islamic marriage law that the girl's consent is a condition for the legality of the marriage contract, without which the contract is null and void. In a story from the life of our Prophet—whose instructions are the second main source of law after the Noble Book of the Qur’an—it is reported that a young woman came to the Prophet (peace be upon him) and complained that her father had given her in marriage to a man without her consent. Here, the Prophet (peace be upon him) annulled her marriage. Till this day, the girl's opinion should be heard by the one who registers the marriage contracts. Otherwise, he doesn't register the contract.”

And on the web site of Islamic Voice A. Faizur Rahman argues,

“It is a well known fact that marriage in Islam is a civil contract described as meesaaq by the Quran (4:21), and as such it can be finalized only between persons who are both intellectually and physically mature enough to understand and fulfill the responsibilities of such a contract. This can be clearly understood from the Quranic verse concerning the orphans which commands, “And test the orphans until they reach the age of nikah (marriage), and if you find in them rushdh (maturity of intellect) release their property to them.”(4:6).This verse clearly proves that the age of marriage is the age of majority. Furthermore, if the guardian performs the marriage of a child while he or she is still a minor, Islamic Law gives the minor the option to dissolve the marriage on attaining majority basically to protect the minor from an unscrupulous or undesirable exercise of authority by the guardian. This is known as Khiyar-al-Buloogh or the Option of Puberty and is based on a hadith in Mishkath-al-Masabih wherein Ibn Abbas reports that the Prophet gave a minor girl the option to repudiate her marriage when she informed him that her father had given her in a marriage which was not to her liking. It therefore becomes clear that there is no sanction for child marriage in Islam.”

And we haven’t even gotten to the Fundamentalist Church of the Later Day Saints. Sources: Islam On Line, Islam For Today, RAWA, Amnesty International, IRIN, ABC, Wikipedia, Karamah-Muslim Women Lawyers for Human Rights

South African Police Fire On AIDS Activists

A Press Release from the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), a South African AIDS advocacy group, says 40 people were injured and ten were treated for gunshot wounds when police opened fire Tuesday on a peaceful demonstration by health activists and people with AIDS. The Press Release states, “The majority of the protesters were women. At no stage was there violence, threat of violence or any form of provocation. No warning to disperse was issued as is required by law. After the assault, as people ran away, the police opened fire with firearms and then used teargas.” TAC says the demonstration, organized by the Chris Hani District and the Eastern Cape TAC office after six months of negotiations with provincial and local health authorities concerning the following issues:

* Access to information on the number of people, tested, counseled and treated was denied by provincial and local authorities along with information on successes and challenges of the treatment program;

* On 29 December 2004, N.P. Klaas of the Eastern Cape Health Department sent a circular to all clinics that read: "No new clients should be admitted on Anti-retroviral (ARV's) until further notice. Continue sending those that are already on treatment to Frontier Hospital."

* Frontier Hospital in Queenstown serves a population of 200 000 people with five feeder clinics in the Lukhanji sub-district: Nomzamo, Philani, Ilinge, Sada and Hewu clinics. It is estimated that 2000 people need treatment but fewer than 200 people are on treatment. Fewer than 10 people have been put on treatment this year.

* More people have died waiting for treatment than people on treatment. TAC had received information that at Nomzamo Clinic 52 people are on treatment but that three people have died because of starting too late. Further 51 people living with HIV/AIDS died waiting while on the waiting list for treatment. There are currently 142 people on the waiting list.

* Since April 2005, the TAC District office has tried to negotiate and get access to information and treatment the local management has referred us to the provincial management.

* No urgency or accountability is shown in dealing with people who are dying.

* For the lack of urgency and accountability the MEC for Health Dr. Bevan Goqwana and the national Health Minister Manto Tshabalala Msimang must take responsibility. This includes responsibility for mismanagement and unnecessary deaths. We urge the Premier of the Eastern Cape, Ms Nosimo Balindlela to intervene and meet urgently with TAC to ensure that lives are saved through the following:

* Making sure that the implementation of the treatment plan and the roll-out of ARV therapy proceeds with urgency across the province because her MEC for Health has failed the people of the Eastern Cape;

* Human resources for the health care system are prioritized;

* Treatment literacy and community mobilization; and

* The CEO of the Frontier Hospital and the SAPS face justice for invoking violence against peaceful demonstrators including people living with HIV/AIDS.

Police fired what they say were rubber bullets into the crowd of more than 1500 who were marching on Frontier Hospital, in Queenstown. Witnesses said the police fired without warning and none of the protestors was arrested or charged with any crime.

"The police started beating people...then shooting at them," TAC deputy chairperson Sipho Mthati told the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC). "It really was excessive force - it's not like they were burning tires or throwing stones, it was a peaceful protest in a hospital."

Mziwethu Faku, one of the organizers of the demonstration, quoted in AIDSmap News “We were expressing our anger in a peaceful, dignified and assertive manner. We will continue to use peaceful mass mobilization but we urge the government to act with speed and compassion.”

TAC spokesperson Sikhumbule Hambani told the Dispatch police were called after protesters had entered the outpatients section to look for the hospital's anti-retroviral treatment team (ARV) coordinator who had declined to speak to them.

Provincial Health Department spokesperson Sizwe Kupelo said hospital authorities reported the protesters had "blocked a passage and patients did not have lunch".

Superintendent of Police Gcinikhaya Taleni claimed police had been called to disperse the "crowd blocking services after handing over a memorandum". "They used minimum force, rubber bullets and smoke grenades, to disperse the crowd. There were no injuries."

Human Rights Watch called on the government of South Africa to investigate the incident. “It’s a shocking irony that people demonstrating for essential medicines should be met with rubber bullets and teargas,” said Jonathan Cohen, researcher with Human Rights Watch’s HIV/AIDS Program. “South Africa should be easing the suffering of people with AIDS, not violently dispersing peaceful demonstrations.” Cohen said that there is no indication that the actions by the South African police met international standards for the appropriate use of force.

The UN’s Joint UN Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) declared the police action totally unacceptable. “UNAIDS has long supported and will continue to support the freedom of assembly and association of people living with AIDS,” it said in a statement issued in Geneva. “It is imperative for people living with HIV to be able to openly share information about the disease, to learn about options for treatment and to advocate for better care – including access to life-saving treatment,” it added. “UNAIDS calls on leaders across the globe to ensure that people living with HIV are not deprived of these rights.”

According to 365 Gay in November 2003 the government committed to providing 53,000 patients with free antiretroviral treatment for HIV/AIDS by March 2004. Even by March 2005, only about half that number was receiving treatment, according to the TAC.

A government report released on Monday says more than 6.5 million of South Africa's 47 million people could be infected with HIV, a sharp increase from previous estimates. Prevalence increased among all age groups between the two years, but was highest in women aged between 25 and 29 - nearly 40 per cent of who tested HIV-positive.

TAC says that only ten people have begun treatment this year at the Frontier Hospital in Queenstown, the site of Tuesday’s demonstration and the only clinic allowed to prescribe antiretrovirals in the entire province since the beginning of this year. TAC alleges that at least 51 people on the waiting list for treatment have died already, and that three patients who have begun treatment subsequently died because they had started ARVs too late. TAC estimates that more than 2000 people in the catchment area of Frontiers Hospital need treatment already, but only 200 are getting medication.

TAC in now organizing for a mass demonstration in Queenstown, South Africa on July 26. TAC is asking all civil society organizations and individuals to join us in the protest against unnecessary HIV deaths, for treatment and against police brutality. Sources: 365 Gay (UK), Canadian Press, AIDSmap, Dispatch (South Africa), UN News Center, Treatment Action Campaign

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Cuban Health Minister Presides at Graduation of Nurses

Cuban Health Minister Presides at Graduation of Nurses
(Taken from Ahora)

Cuban Health Minister Jose Ramon Balaguer said on Tuesday in Havana that to improve the population's quality of life is the main objective of the public health system and that depends on the knowledge and training of the sector's personnel.

During the second graduation of the Salvador Allende Nursing School in Havana, the official congratulated the 1,458 students graduating, of whom 819 are women, and urged them to strive to become ever bettering in their vocation.

Human solidarity is one of the fundamentals of the Cuban Revolution and the men and women that are part of the health system are admired and respected in the world, said the Minister during an activity in the institution.

"You have selected an extraordinary career and the Cuban people should feel satisfied with this graduation," said the island's Health Minister who pointed out that over 87 percent of those graduating received the grades of excellent or very good, meaning a better quality of service for the population.

Luisa Fernandez Garcia, Director of the School, pointed out that this is the fourth group of nurses trained in Havana since September 2001. This is part of a special program of the Revolution involving the rapid training of nurses as a response to the deficit of the personnel and in 2003 there were over 1,500.

The newly graduated nurses will join the 65 health institutions in Havana where they did their residency in primary, secondary and tertiary practices, elevating the quality of services.

The nurses graduating have the chance to continue in higher education in the specialty, while the 12 top students can opt for careers in medicine, dentistry, biology or microbiology, among others.

"We Need To Protect Our Lands So That We Have A Homeland"

Marianas Variety reports that as the Guam government and business sector are lobbying for an increased US military presence on Guam, others are taking an opposite track. Variety says, “…Chamorro activists for their part stepped up their anti-bases campaign, assailing government leaders for making a "unilateral decision" without consulting the people.

”It’s a shameful act on the part of our government officials to give away our lands when we have a growing number of homeless on Guam," Debbie Quinata, tribunal council member of I Nasion Chamorro, told the newspaper on the eve of the Guam delegates’ departure for Los Angeles to attend the Base Realignment and Closure Committee (BRACC) hearing on July 14. "We were disappointed that the governor and the speaker would unilaterally make a decision on behalf of the people, who were cut off from the process. They did not ask anybody if we want this. They are using our lands as a bargaining chip, and for whom?" Quinata asked. Quinata says various groups on Guam have expressed their concerns about the military presence on Guam and the lack of concern about land issues.

Sen. Tony Unpingco, chairman of the legislative committee on military and veterans affairs, agreed saying that "It is important for people to be informed because it affects the entire island" and it involves ancestral lands that "...the military will or will not be using."

Guam’s Governor Felix P. Camacho no longer plans on requesting the return of excess military lands to original landowners when the Guam contingent meets with the BRACC later this month. The Guam governor has stated that now it not the right time to address the issue of ancestral land.

Others take issue with that. Patty Garrido, president of the Ancestral Landowners Coalition,for one says, "We are well aware that the United States will do what they will, irrespective of what we think and do here, such is our political status, or rather, non-status. And to add salt to our wounds, the governor is ‘not going to mention excess lands’... these lands that belong to families long awaiting their return... after 50 to 60 years, when will be the right time?" Garrido stated in a letter mass emailed to executive officials and senators.

Quinata told KUAM, "It seems to me that [Governor Camacho] is going to go to Washington misrepresent his people by maybe conveniently just not mentioning the very pressing issue of land returns.”

The business groups claim that the military presence is the key to growth. But here, too, there is opposition.

For example, The Colonized Chamorro Coalition is on record as saying that the island should not rely on the military for a development boost, but should instead focus on a mix of industries.

Quinata feels that the Guam Chamber of Commerce is not the best representatives of the island's people, calling them "an exclusive club, whose main objective is to enrich themselves."

Guam and its Chamorro people have been subjected to colonial domination by various countries for almost 500 years. Colonial conquest of the Chamorro people began with Spain in the early 16th century, followed by the U.S. takeover in 1898, the World War II invasion by Japan, and continues today as a U.S. "possession." Guam's fortunes and misfortunes are a consequence of its geographic location which various countries have exploited to advance their self-interest militarily, politically and economically.

"My concern always is for the enabling of our children," says Debbie Quinata, "We need to protect our lands so that we have a homeland that is a priority.” Sources: KUAM (Guam), Marianas Variety, Pacific Daily News,, Cultural Survival

What A Surprise

Not the least bit surprising is the news from Northern Ireland of violence associated with the 12th of July Orange Parade activities. Attempts by leading Sinn Fein members, including Gerry Adams, to maintain calm failed and Adams was himself soaked by high-powered water from a police cannon. Debris was hurled from rooftops at the parade provocateurs. Stewards assigned to the task of maintaining control of nationalist Ardoyne residents were unable to contain the anger of protestors and were forced to give up.

According to the Irish Echo the violence erupted when supporters ahead of the returning Orange Order parade made gestures and shouted slogans at local nationalists who were penned behind police lines. Father Aidan Troy of Holy Cross School said the Loyalists had provoked and nationalists had reacted. He described the outcome as "so sad."

"Late last week", Sinn Féin assembly member for North Belfast, Gerry Kelly told the Irish Echo, "the Ardoyne Dialogue Group proposed a compromise for the 12th parade which would see the morning parade being facilitated and the evening leg re-routed". "This would have relieved tensions and provided the space for meaningful dialogue to commence over future parades. Given the events of the weekend when loyalists attempted to murder a Catholic family on the Crumlin Road this was the only sensible option. History teaches us that feuds between loyalist gangs tend to end with attacks on Catholics. It was untenable for the Parades Commission to force this parade and its supporters through."

Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams said an extremely volatile situation had been created as a result of rulings on marches through nationalist areas. Adams said the Orange Order was insisting on marching through nationalist areas where it was unwelcome. "I understand, support and appreciate the right of the Orange Order to march. However, they need to engage in real and meaningful dialogue with local residents."

Adams told UTV that despite the violence, it could have been much worse. "The fact is that the vast majority of people have demonstrated against the parade provocations peacefully and in a calm manner," he said. The West Belfast MP blamed police strategy for the trouble. "When the police moved in, in what I think was quite a reckless manner, they took management completely away from the stewards. They brought the water cannon in too quickly, we should have been allowed to keep order," he insisted.

Adams also said that, following the return to prison of Sean Kelly, he would not be putting pressure on any former prisoners to act as parade stewards. "Some former prisoners may well still step forward and I appreciate that, but I can understand why no-one released on license would want to risk incarceration," he said.

North Belfast Sinn Féin Assembly member Cathy Stanton today told Sinn Fein News that the Orange Order needed to recognize that its activities result in serious violence and cause massive disruption to many people. She said 'The Orange Order have this summer embarked upon a strategy to cause massive disruption, particularly in Belfast. The Orange Order cannot be allowed to hold the rest of the population to ransom summer after summer. It is time that they accepted that they have to treat nationalists with respect and equality. Dialogue is the way forward. They cannot be allowed to run away from this reality any longer. The Parades Commission has to stop rewarding intransigence."

Sinn Fein News reports over the past number of days there has been a litany of violent incidents directly linked to the Orange Order's Twelfth activities. Over the past three days these incidents have included:

• A UVF firing party at a Belfast City Council sponsored bonfire on the
Newtownards Road where the armed and masked gang also read out a statement threatening to 'destroy' the rival LVF gang

• A UDA firing party in the Ballysillan area

• Business premises burned in Cregagh area as result of an 11th night bonfire

• 30 Homes evacuated after gas pipe ruptured by bonfire in East Belfast

• Taxi and passengers attacked by loyalists in Blacks Road

Police Services of Northern Ireland weapon and radio stolen following attack on PSNI by crowd at bonfire in
East Belfast

• A woman seriously sexually assaulted after bonfire in Bangor

• Parade supporters threw missiles at Ormeau Road residents from Stranmillis

• Catholic church attacked and dubbed with sectarian graffiti in Ballymena

• Catholic family put out of Ahoghill

• Catholic home fire bombed on Crumlin Road

Senior Orangeman, Deputy Grand Master McMurdie when interviewed on BBC on Monday 11th regarding links between the Orange Order and the various loyalist paramilitary gangs said: 'They are on our side. We might not agree with everything they do but they have been helpful to brethren in north and west Belfast.” Sources: Sinn Fein News, Irish Echo, UTV, Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Breaking News...

I received the following from my former brother in law just moments ago...


Free So Anne

Annette Auguste, known as So Anne, is a 63 year old grandmother, popular Haitian singer, community organizer and pro-democracy activist. She has been held without charges in a Port-au-Prince jail for over a year. The San Francisco Bay View reports that she was recently visited by several attorneys and observers affiliated with AUMOHD ((Association des Universitaires Motivés Pour Une Haïti Des Droits, Association of University Students Committed To A Haiti With Rights, pronounced "ohmode"). AUMOHD is, a human rights organization based in Haiti’s capital. The AUMOHD delegation reported that with her in the Pétionville Penitentiary are 108 other female prisoners, including 11 minors and 97 adults. The delegation also reported that more than 30 percent of these detainees have the flu, lice and a fever. Among the sick are two persons with AIDS, one a minor of 17 years and another woman 20 years old. It should be noted that there are no medications available for these sick people. There are also three pregnant women and two babies in this prison. Haitian attorney Evel Fanfan reports that Sò Anne is confined to a prison cell, built for two prisoners, but holding instead six-10 people.

The Haiti Action Committee says, "Sò Anne's only crime is fighting for democracy.” In fact, they are absolutely right. Annette Auguste played an important role in supporting the constitutional government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and helped to build the base of support among the majority of the poor in Haiti for that cause. Auguste, a naturalized U.S. citizen, has always been a frequent target for persecution due to her close ties with President Aristide. She is a leader of PROP (Pouvwa Rasembleman Organizacion Popile), a popular Lavalas organization (Fanmi Lavalas formed in 1996 as the Lavalas Political Organization, is a political party in Haiti, of which former president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide is a member). She is also a singer of Haitian folk songs and is open about her practice of voodoo, officially recognized as a national religion for the first time in Haitian history under the Aristide administration. Auguste’s religious beliefs and practices have led to many unfounded, disparaging rumors and a campaign of demonization against her.

So how big a surprise was it when after midnight on May 9, 2004 US Marines smashed their way into her home and snatched her? Auguste’s residence is part of a compound that includes four other apartments that were also invaded by the U.S. military forces. The troops covered the heads of 11 Haitians with black hoods and then forced them to lay face down on the ground while binding their wrists with plastic manacles behind their backs. The victims of this terrifying U.S. military invasion included five-year-old Chamyr Samedi, 10-year-old Kerlande Philippe, 12-year-old Loubahida Augustine, 14-year-old Luckman Augustine, and seven adults. The Marines blew up a vehicle and a substantial part of Auguste’s three-story house, leaving behind c4 and c5 explosives paraphernalia including blasting caps and igniters.

Auguste was interrogated throughout the night of her kidnapping without counsel and in the absence of any except herself and Marine forces, and was then transferred to the Haitian National Police.

Global Action on Aging says, “The Marine's initially claimed that they had received information that she was stockpiling weapons in her home and collaborating with a local mosque in a plan to attack US interests in Haiti. Since that time the authorities managed to produce a back dated warrant based on bigoted allegations of witchcraft, and unsubstantiated accusations that she participated in violence at a demonstration on December 5, though many witnesses can attest that she was in the recording studio at the time.”

Although no weapons were found on the premises and despite the fact that a judge has ordered So Anne released on several occasions for lack of evidence against her, she continues to be held at the Petionville Penitentiary. Last November Kofi Anan specifically called for justice in the case of So Anne insisting that she either be charged and tried or released. To date his words have not been heeded by the US installed government, nor has Anan backed up his demands with concrete action.

So Anne is not alone. Hundreds of others are imprisoned because of their continued calls for a return to constitutional authority and their outspoken criticism of the US-backed interim government. As Global Action on Aging says, “Haiti's justice system has been hijacked by an interim government intent on silencing dissent and there is no semblance of due process for those identified as Aristide supporters.”

So Anne continues her work behind prison walls even today. So Anne holds regular literacy classes in the prison, continuing her efforts to improve the lives of those around her.

On the outside, her friends and supporters continue to mobilize weekly for her release.

You may still sign a petition calling for the release of Sò Anne at:

Sign petition at Sources: SF Bay View, Haiti Action Committee, Chickenbones, Global Action on Aging, TransAfrica Forum, AfroCuba Web

I Am Annette Auguste

This isn't exactly new news, but it goes with the above article...

June 15, 2005

Port au Prince, Haiti (HIP) - I am Annette Auguste, who has been unjustly imprisoned and held without charges since May 10, 2004. U.S. Marines arrested me in a violent invasion of my home causing harm to my family. To this date there is no reason for my imprisonment other than my support for the duly elected president of Haiti, Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Although Amnesty International has been cowardly in using the term, I am among the thousands of political prisoners rotting away in Haitian jails today. There is no other explanation for my imprisonment as I have never been convicted of a crime or allowed my day in court to challenge any allegations brought against me.

From my prison cell I have learned many things. I have heard that police have been free to kill Lavalas supporters with impunity on several occasions. I have heard that the U.N. is working with these same deadly forces, on behalf of the backward wealthy elite of our country, to justify murder of the poor in the popular neighborhoods that continue to demand the return of President Aristide. I am told that homes are burned and people killed as the U.N. shows its true colors in places like Bel Air and Cite Soleil. These are our hearts in the struggle to return our president and it is not our friends who established this climate of insecurity.

What did the U.N. expect when they allowed the police to kill with impunity? It is now certain that police are involved in the recent insecurity and kidnappings; two of them were arrested yesterday for that. When the U.N. allowed them to get away with murder they thought they could away any crime imaginable. The U.N. and the same people in the Bush administration who arrested me are responsible for this current climate of kidnappings and insecurity by allowing the current regime to exact its revenge against Lavalas. If the police are committing these crimes today it is because the international community allowed them to do so out of a blind vengeance against Lavalas. They established a climate where a policeman who got away with murder of Lavalas thought afterwards why couldn't he kidnap to put money in his pocket? Nobody held him responsible so why not?

I now hear that the defacto Justice Minister Bernard Gousse is resigning. He is the one who represents the Group 184 and the traditional reactionary elites of Haiti who have denied justice in Haiti. This is a false and cosmetic move meant to distract us away from the truth. This is a move meant to clear the way for the false elections the international community plans for Haiti. If I am not freed there are political prisoners in Haiti. If former Prime Minister Yvon Neptune and former interior minister J. Privert are not freed there are political prisoners in Haiti. If ALL the prisoners in Haiti who have been arrested merely for their affiliation with Lavalas are not freed there are political prisoners in Haiti. I challenge Amnesty International and other respectable human rights organizations to begin to use the words, "political prisoners" or otherwise explain to the world why we are still behind bars. Why am I still behind bars? Explain this to us! Let us understand your reasoning that keeps us behind bars without ever having a fair day in court.

The elections they are planning to cover all of the human rights abuses they have committed against Lavalas will not pass. They want to show to the world that the coup of Feb. 29 was justified; I call upon all democracy loving Haitians to not register for this vote. If you must accept their bribe of a new national identity card to register then take it. But when the day comes to vote stay home. Show them that we are a proud nation that believes in democracy. We already voted and spent our energy on a government that represented the majority of the poor in Haiti. We will never give into to extortion and kidnapping. We will remain strong and resolved to return the constitutional government. When it is darkest we will shine the light.

The international community has given us no choice by their acceptance of human rights violations by the police and their killings in the popular neighborhoods. We have no choice but to die or not vote in the next elections. This is all they have left us.

I wish to thank all of those who love freedom for their support of democracy in Haiti. We shall never forget your commitment and struggle for our people. I say to you remain strong because lies cannot erase the truth over time. I send you my love.

Annette Auguste
Penitentiary Petion-Ville
June 15, 2005

Stop Arnold

Protests against California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and his policies continue almost daily across that state.

Yesterday the governor stopped by the headquarters of Yahoo. While he spoke inside, outside protesters marched in the sun. The protesters included teachers, firefighters, nurses, and other union members.

``Some public health care would be good,'' said Brad Joyce, of the Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 393 in San Jose, explaining his presense at the demonstration. ``Also, unemployment should be straightened out.''

Amy Kassenbrock, an employee of Yahoo from San Jose said of Arnold, “He doesn't support the people who make communities run -- teachers in particular.”

“Until he comes around to supporting democracy and doing the right thing, yeah we're after him,” Randy Sekany told CBS 5 News.

Donna Vinita of the California School Employees Association which represents bus drivers, custodians, school secretaries, paraeducators, food service workers and other classified employees told the San Jose Mercury News that those opposed to the governor's policies and proposals ``…are trying to meet Arnold at every place we can. He calls us a special interest? He's taken more money from special interests than anyone -- including from Yahoo right here.'' (Yahoo executives have given several donations to Schwarzenegger's fund-raising committees. On June 30, Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang gave $100,000 to the governor's ``California Recovery Team.") A new poll conducted by San Jose State shows that the state’s governor is less popular with his constituents than the labor unions he tars as special interests. The San Jose State survey shows only 41 percent approve of Schwarzenegger, but 57 percent approve of unions.

The “Terminator” used a rear entrance to avoid the protesters.

While all this was going on demonstrators launched a statewide campaign which targets Target for its political contributions to the state's governor and his support of a voluntary prescription drug discounts program proposed by the pharmaceutical industry with a rally outside a Target store in Palm Desert. The Desert Sun reports that the demonstration, which was organized by California Consumers United, also was used to urge a boycott of the store's new pharmacy. The demonstrators argue that it is not beneficial to buy drugs from a corporation that supports Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the prescription drug policy he supports.

"Many of our seniors in the valley can ill afford the prices (of prescription drugs), and Target had the opportunity to be fair. But they chose to contribute to someone who obviously doesn't care about senior citizens,” said Rancho Mirage resident Elle Kurpiewski, who participated in the demonstration

Pharmaceutical companies proposed the state adopt California RX, or Proposition 78, a law that would allow drug companies to provide discounted drugs to anyone earning less than three times the federal poverty level - $27,936 for an individual, or $56,568 for a family of four. However, the bill allows manufacturers to participate on a voluntary basis with no incentive to do so.

There is another measure on the ballot, Propositiion 79 , which has the backing of consumer groups and labor unions. That measure would allow the nation's most populous state, to punish companies that did not offer sufficiently discounted drugs to people with low and moderate incomes by discouraging the use of those companies' drugs in the state's Medicaid program. Proposition 79 would offer discounts to people without health insurance who make less than four times the federal poverty level, or an annual income of $38,280 for an individual or $77,400 for a family of four. Some people with health insurance but heavy medical expenses would also qualify.

A huge difference between the two plans is, therefore, in the leverage the state might bring to procure discounts. Under the union-backed proposal, if a company did not offer what state negotiators considered sufficient discounts the state could discourage use of that company's drugs in the state's Medicaid program, which spends about $4 billion per year on drugs.

Tim Allison, national chairman of the Gray Panthers says Target's $240,000 campaign contribution to the governor shows that both are "more concerned with profits and campaign contributions."

More demonstrations are planned for Target stores in Sacramento, San Jose, Fresno and San Diego in the next two weeks, and several more are over the next few months, the organizers said. Sources: Desert Sun (Palm Springs, CA), San Jose Mercury News, California School Employees Association, CBS 5, (SF Bay Area), Contra Costa Times

Monday, July 11, 2005

Locked Up and Suffocated: Its Just Police Procedure in a Democracy

Nine bricklayers who were picked up by Iraqi security police as being suspected insurgents were left in a locked metal container in scorching heat for fourteen hours have died. Three others somehow survived the ordeal. A doctor told the BBC that one of the survivors had said he had been given repeated electric shocks by the commandos.

The twelve men were arrested yesterday after they had taken another worker to a hospital in Ameriya with gunshot wounds. Iraqi commandos, reports Aljazeera, arrived, beat the men and placed them under arrest. Around noon the men were put into the metal container where they remained well into the night.

The survivors were kept under police guard as they were treated and were taken away without being allowed to speak to journalists.

There have been numerous allegations of brutality in the new democracy, particularly by police and commandos, against detained suspects. The Christian Science Monitor has reported accusations against the police and commandos ranging from reports of prisoner torture and death of detainees to the arbitrary arrest and abuse at the hands of inexperienced and untrained police officers.

Human Rights Watch agrees and in a report last January said torture and abuse by Iraqi authorities had become "routine and commonplace." That report detailed methods of interrogation in which prisoners were beaten with cables and pipes, shocked, or suspended from their wrists for prolonged periods of time.

But wait! According to Bush, Cheney, Rumsfield and Attorney General Gonzales that ain’t brutality. After all, they were probably allowed copies of the Koran. Sources: BBC, Aljazeera, AKI (Italy), Christian Science Monitor

Another Massacre in the Congo

Militias under the control of Rwandan Hutus driven from that country following their genocidal campaign have killed upwards of 30 civilians in recent days in a village in the eastern Congo. The victims, mostly women and children were burned alive in their huts. The so-called rebels said they carried out the atrocity to punish villagers for supporting United Nations forces in the region.

Freddy Mantchombe, the head of Congo section of the International Medical Corps charity, said local people told his staff that houses had been torched during the raid by rebels from neighboring Rwanda based in eastern Congo. Quoted on Aljazeera Mantchombe said, "Our teams were in the area yesterday and they were told by the district health authorities that 39 houses were burned down, 26 people were killed and another four are seriously injured”.

According to AFP the armed gang herded dozens of civilians into their huts and then set them ablaze.

A Congolese government official quoted rebels as putting the death toll at 76 from the attack.

It is reported that during the attack the militia men told their victims, “…to call on their U.N. saviors.”

The Rwandan Hutu militias have been active in the area for years now and their record of massacres is well known. These hard-line Hutu leaders fled to eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo after the genocide Rwanda,fearing reprisals, and started to regroup and re-arm in the refugee camps, forcibly recruiting children from their camps into the movement.

The attack took place in Sud-Kivu province which borders on Rwanda and Burundiwhich is one of the most volatile parts of the Congo. Sources: Baku Today, AFP, Aljazeera, AlertNet

Officer Down

Following an Anti-G8 march in San Francisco over the weekend three people are facing a variety of felony charges in connection with a serious head injury suffered by a police officer during a confrontations with some protesters. Following the incident, according to KESQ, police arrested 21-year-old Cody Tarlow of Felton, 31-year-old Doritt Ernst of Berkeley and 28-year-old Gabriel Meyers. The three were charged with attempted lynching, aggravated assault on a police officer with a deadly weapon and other offenses.

Deputy Police Chief Greg Suhr said Saturday that the officer was in serious but stable condition with brain swelling at San Francisco General Hospital. He is expected to recover.

Police spokeswoman, Maria Oropeza, told the San Francisco Chronicle that the officer and his partner were driving along answering a call about protest “vandalism” when someone allegedly threw a mattress underneath their car. "They got out to apprehend the suspects, at which point they were surrounded by a crowd," Oropeza said. "One of the officers was struck on the head by an unidentified object."

According to protesters, the mattress was actually a styrofoam sign, there was no fire (as was alleged by some), but a smoke bomb was thrown toward the cop’s car. According to one post on San Francisco Independent Media, “…the police officer who jumped out of the car began swinging his nightstick at people…”

Another post on San Francisco Independent Media stated after the officer was struck, “A legal observer then informed other officers nearby who were beating protesters that there was an officer down. This then became their top priority and a bunch more cops showed up on the scene. These cops began swinging and attacking anyone they could see (even the legal observer who told them about the injured officer). They cleared the scene and called for an ambulance.”

If any Oread Daily readers happened to have been on the scene, feel free to comment. Sources: San Francisco Independent Media Center, KESQ (San Francisco), San Francisco Chronicle

Marburg outbreak, Angola: When saving lives seems cruel

I know you may not be interested in this stuff, but since I it is. This article was taken from the web site of MEDECINS SANS FRONTIERES.

Marburg outbreak, Angola: When saving lives seems cruel - By Gazelle Gaignaire

In late March, when MSF teams first arrived at the Marburg outbreak site in Angola, they were forced to take drastic - seemingly uncaring - measures to contain one of the most deadly and contagious viruses known to man. Four months later, the Marburg epidemic that has so far killed 350 persons out of 391 cases seems to be grinding to a halt. As only a few, new cases have been confirmed over the past weeks, MSF has ended its emergency intervention and handed over its activities. But teams are now busy taking stock of the lessons they learned.

It is a human reaction: every one of us would be overcome with fear and anger if members of our family were suddenly taken away from their homes by strangers dressed like astronauts; if they were brought to a hospital; and if they came out a few days later in body bags, only to be swiftly deposited two meters under the ground without so much as a burial ceremony.

But aid workers fighting against Marburg - a highly infectious, rare, untreatable and deadly hemorrhagic fever resembling Ebola - had one, clear priority in mind: to contain the epidemic and save lives by isolating contagious persons and bodies as fast as possible.

The toughest challenge faced by MSF teams in Angola was how to adopt a sensitive, humane approach to one of the most cruel viruses on earth. Now that the number of new cases has dwindled to a near halt, MSF is taking the time to reflect on the lessons it has learned - sometimes the hard way - over the past four months.

“At first we were overwhelmed. The situation we encountered when we arrived was horrible," said Peter Maes, an MSF water and sanitation expert who works for MSF's infection control unit. “We had to chase after corpses decomposing in houses and morgues. There was no time to talk to the families. No time for mourning. The risk of contagion from dead bodies is very high, so it was urgent to bury them."

Backlash from fear

The backlash was that fear-inspired rumors quickly spread among the inhabitants of Uige - the town in northern Angola that was the focal point of the epidemic. Some of the inhabitants said the new foreigners were “stealing the dead" - a serious charge given the local belief that people who are not properly buried will turn into bad spirits and take revenge on the living.

Others claimed the “astronauts" (aid workers in full-body safety suits) were “demons" who were “confiscating the sick" or even worse, “killers" who had “come to exterminate us" by spreading the Marburg virus.

“It was obvious that we had to change our approach," said Maes. “And we did this as soon as we could."

He explained how, in early April, a couple of weeks after the epidemic was officially confirmed, MSF began “humanizing" the burials, notably by allowing family members to attend and participate: “Family members standing at a safe distance could see the face of the deceased when the body bag was briefly unzipped open, and those given protective gear could help carry and lower the coffin,"he said.

To support MSF's medical teams, new reinforcements arrived, including staff members like Patrick Depienne, a sociologist who was given the task of informing and sensitizing the local population, explaining; how the virus is transmitted; what MSF is doing; why certain traditions such as washing the bodies of the deceased are extremely risky; and why isolating cases is crucial.

“Sensitizing the population is a priority," said Depienne, who worked six weeks in the province of Uige. “But of course it takes time and resources, and usually the first people to get to the scene of a disaster focus on the medical action."

Patrick's number one wish? “To arrive earlier. I wish I had gotten a seat in that first plane of aid workers that flew to Angola."

“Many aspects need to come together to control an epidemic like Marburg," said Dr. Armand Sprecher, a public health specialist who worked as a medical coordinator for MSF at the beginning of the Marburg epidemic. “If you want to have an impact, you need good epidemiological surveillance, good contact tracing, good case management, good logistics, good communication, etc., and the failure of one thing brings the whole house of cards down.

When communication is neglected

"But I think that one of the most crucial, yet most neglected, elements is communication and sensitization. If you don't do that right, everything else falls apart, because Marburg is transmitted and amplified by certain human behaviours."

The problem is that the list of risky behaviours is long, as the virus is transmitted by contact with infected and symptomatic humans - specifically, by contact with their body fluids, ranging from blood and breast milk to spit and sweat. Another problem is that, no matter how much effort is put into communicating about Marburg, for many reasons it is difficult to get persons suspected of having the virus to come to health structures where they can be diagnosed and, if needed, isolated.

The primary reason is that there is no cure for Marburg. MSF doctors and nurses can only treat the symptoms of the disease - such as high fever and dehydration - and reduce the suffering of dying patients.

One of the first questions people would ask us was: 'You're MSF, you're doctors, why don't you treat us? Why don't you have a cure?'" said Maes. “We had to deliver the message that, not only is the disease deadly, but on top of that, infected persons have to be isolated. That's a very bitter pill to swallow, and there's no sugar coating for it."

Some Angolan authorities opted for a hard approach.

"The government issued a decree saying that persons who refused to go to the hospital would be taken there by force," said Dr. Martin De Smet, MSF Emergency Pool Coordinator. “The problem with this strategy is that you'll get one person in the hospital, but all the others will run away. It might work in a small region, where there may be no way to escape, but Uige is a very vast province."

Another reason the beds in isolation wards can stay empty is that Marburg is hard to detect. Its symptoms, which include high fever, diarrhea and vomiting, are non-specific and similar to those of common, tropical diseases such as malaria. Marburg is not as dramatic and “gory" as media reports portray it to be.

“Patients don't bleed profusely from every orifice," said Dr. Sprecher who worked in Gulu, Uganda in 2000 and can compare Marburg to Ebola. But still Dr. Sprecher admits: “I think Marburg is even scarier. Because a person can feel a bit weak and look slightly ill but drop dead the next day. It makes you think the man sitting next to you in the bus might be infected."

While most infected persons unknowingly pass on the virus, some of them - for example one of the nurses who was working in the paediatric ward of a provincial hospital an hour's drive from Uige town - endanger the lives of others because denial and the fear of death prevent them from telling what they know or suspect.

As Marburg takes a heavy toll on health care personnel (16 died in Uige hospital, due to the absence or inefficiency of infection control measures), the disease can potentially lead to the collapse of a country's health care system. In addition, the stigma attached to medical personnel and structures, and the confusion surrounding symptoms means that many people with treatable diseases will avoid getting proper care and may end up dying at home.

Allowing visitors to come inside the isolation ward is one way to help de-stigmatize it. In Uige hospital, MSF was able to enforce the use of safety suits by the family members of isolated patients and, according to Dr. De Smet, “we realized that we could have higher transparency without compromising bio-security and infection control."

The role of survivors

The most effective “Marburg messengers" are patients who have been inside the isolation ward and come out alive. A 27-year old taxi driver named Horacio was the first survivor known to MSF and in early May, a few weeks after he was discharged and had regained his strength, Horacio was hired by MSF to raise awareness about Marburg and encourage other Angolans to come to the hospital.

A last resort when Marburg-infected persons refuse to come is “home-based risk reduction". “

It's a last resort option we can't afford to exclude and one that we began exploring in Angola," explained Dr. Martin Smet. “We make home visits, spend time with the family members, tell them not to touch the Marburg victim, and introduce hygienic measures. But of course we cannot observe if and how these measures are applied."

“There isn't much you can do against Marburg," said Dr. Sprecher, “so you have to keep an open mind and be creative with a limited arsenal of tools."

But what also matters is using these limited tools with sensitivity - as Maes' description of how MSF disinfected houses illustrates:

“We gave the head of the household a safety suit," he said, “and the neighbours, especially all the children, watched with curiosity as he dressed up outside and turned into an 'astronaut'.

"Then the head of the household went into the house with the MSF disinfection team, and together we made all the small judgement calls: we looked at all the objects - the TV, the embroidered tablecloth, etc. - and decided what to keep and disinfect by spraying chlorine and what to burn or throw away in a special waste pit."

Maes added with a smile: “Sometimes people would get a bit over-enthusiastic about the disinfection process, so we would do extra spraying, to please them and to reassure them that their homes were safe again."

Ironically, a simple solution of chlorine and water is enough to destroy a virus that is such a potent killer once it finds an opportunity to spread. In Uige, this opportunity was fortunately contained and it seems that Marburg will soon return to its dormant state.

But MSF will continue to closely monitor outbreaks of hemorrhagic fevers. And if it needs to intervene again, the organisation knows it can count on volunteers like Peter Maes, Patrick Depienne, Dr. Armand Sprecher and many others who have gained rare, first-hand experience and are willing to go “back to the field" as soon as they are called.