Update, 10:45pm PT: Guatemalan President Álvaro Colom has declared a state of martial law in the Péten region, in response to Sunday's massacre.
On a cattle ranch in the northern Petén region of Guatemala yesterday, at least 27 agricultural workers were murdered, 26 of whom were decapitated, after dozens of armed commandos (reported numbers vary between 30 and 200) stormed the ranch and demanded to know where owner Otto Salguero was. Guatemalan authorities say none of the victims were involved in drug trafficking, all were innocent laborers, none knew where the ranch owner was. Among the confirmed victims: two women and two children. One man is reported to have survived by pretending to be dead after the attackers stabbed him in the stomach. He told a reporter the killing began around 7 pm Saturday, and ended around 3 am Sunday. He escaped two hours later, badly wounded, encountering a pile of human heads along the way.
Another survivor, possibly the only other survivor, was a pregnant mother. According to various reports, the armed men let her go because her little girl was screaming so loudly. Read the rest
Erik Prince, the billionaire founder of Blackwater (now rebranded "Xe") is building a stealth, American-led mercenary army in the United Arab Emirates "with $529 million from the oil-soaked sheikdom." The business plan, at least in part, appears to be to help autocratic regimes crush popular democratic uprisings—a response to "Arab Spring." Oh, this will turn out well. Snip from the New York Times' exclusive:
Mr. Prince, who resettled here last year after his security business faced mounting legal problems in the United States, was hired by the crown prince of Abu Dhabi to put together an 800-member battalion of foreign troops for the U.A.E., according to former employees on the project, American officials and corporate documents obtained by The New York Times.
The force is intended to conduct special operations missions inside and outside the country, defend oil pipelines and skyscrapers from terrorist attacks and put down internal revolts, the documents show. Such troops could be deployed if the Emirates faced unrest or were challenged by pro-democracy demonstrations in its crowded labor camps or democracy protests like those sweeping the Arab world this year. The U.A.E.'s rulers, viewing their own military as inadequate, also hope that the troops could blunt the regional aggression of Iran, the country's biggest foe, the former employees said.
Sannikov claimed during the trial that he had been tortured, denied access to legal representation and that KGB officers threatened to kill his wife, journalist Irina Khalip, and three year-old son, Danil.
In a post-election clampdown on the country's opposition, seven of the nine presidential candidates who stood against President Alexander Lukashenko were arrested. Ales Mikhalevic, another candidate, fled the country after also accusing the KGB of torture. Index on Censorship is part of a coalition of NGOs supporting a private prosecution of President Lukashenko.
Sannikov claims that prisoners at "The Amerikanka", an infamous KGB jail in Minsk, were being psychologically conditioned to violence in an echo of the Soviet-era tactic. Prisoners were shown anti-Semitic films such as Russia With A Knife In Its Back, clips of Chechen rebels being decapitated and the dismembering of children's corpses.
Read (or listen to) the final speech Sannikov gave before the verdict.
Osama bin Laden's welcome death has ignited debate over whether the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques used on enemy prisoners were instrumental in locating bin Laden, and whether they are a justifiable means for gathering intelligence.Read the rest
Much of this debate is a definitional one: whether any or all of these methods constitute torture. I believe some of them do, especially waterboarding, which is a mock execution and thus an exquisite form of torture. As such, they are prohibited by American laws and values, and I oppose them.
His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, was in Long Beach, California this morning to accept the inaugural edition of a "Shine a Light on Human Rights" award from Amnesty International. My notes from the event follow.
He accepted the award with characteristic humility and good humor, saying, "I am just a single monk; no more, no less," later adding for the Amnesty volunteers and human rights advocates assembled, "Your work is good. Please continue."
Addressing the crowd before the spiritual leader spoke, Amnesty International's U.S. executive director Larry Cox said the award honored the fact that he has "tirelessly and peacefully defended the rights of people everywhere" for over 50 years. This month will also mark the 50th anniversary of the human rights organization's own founding.
The Dalai Lama took questions from Amnesty volunteers for more than an hour, and spoke of the imperative to protect those who are engaged in human rights work, as well as the need for freedom of information and expression in Tibet, China, and around the world.
Speaking through a translator, he described a Tibetan concept of generosity that encompasses not only material goods or comfort to those in need, "but also protection from fear."
"Individuals in some ways have more power than governments; the individuals, the artists, the activists who are compelled to change society—we must protect them."
Despite the white stubble he pointed to on his shaved head, the 76-year-old monk said he was optimistic that he would witness Tibetan "reunion" and peace with China in his lifetime. Read the rest
The boy was never charged with any crime. US forces captured him in Afghanistan just days after he'd reportedly been sexually assaulted and kidnapped by a group of 11 Afghan men, in a village near his family's home. The US military brought the boy to Guantánamo Bay as a prisoner "because of his possible knowledge of Taliban resistance efforts and local leaders." They held him as a prisoner there for more than a year, despite knowing he was innocent.
The Telegraph seems to take the same position as Wikileaks: the public has a right to know the fullest array of facts exposing the horror and human rights abuses at Gitmo. Other publications, like the Guardian (which was not a direct recipient from Wikileaks, after finding itself more or less at odds with Julian Assange) published the boy's Guantánamo file, but blacked out details of his sexual assault. More at journalism.co.uk.
Click for large. In this file photo from 2007, Tibetan monks debate Buddhist philosophy at the Kirti Monastary. (REUTERS/Reinhard Krause)
Today, the government of China for the first time confirmed a crackdown by authorities at Kirti monastery (Kirti Gompa) in Sichuan province, but would not comment on reports by human rights groups that two monks at the monastery were murdered by armed government agents. Some 2,500 monks live at the monastery. Founded in 1472, it is considered a very important site in Tibetan Buddhism.
"In recent days, a small number of monks in Kirti Monastery in Aba county, Sichuan have disrupted social order and disobeyed Tibetan Buddhist rules," foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters. They have "disrupted local normal order, defamed the image of Tibetan Buddhism and harmed the feelings of Buddhist followers."Read the rest
According to the US-based International Campaign for Tibet, unrest in the Chinese region erupted in March when a young monk set himself on fire and died in an apparent anti-government protest. On Thursday last week, paramilitary police raided the monastery and took away more than 300 monks. Authorities also started a re-education programme at Kirti, the group said.
Police also beat a group of laypeople who had been standing vigil outside the monastery, leading to the deaths of two Tibetans aged in their sixties, ICT said. "People had their arms and legs broken, one old woman had her leg broken in three places, and cloth was stuffed in their mouths to stifle their screams," an exiled Kirti monk was quoted as saying by the rights group.
Above: One of the items identified as notes produced by the infamous Dr. Bruce Jessen, a psychologist whose work was used to design the so-called "Enhanced interrogation techniques Program," which amounted to torture of "war on terror" detainees in custody of the CIA and Department of Defense. Truth-out.org published these a few weeks ago, but the Wikileaks dump of secret US documents on Guantánamo provide good reason to revisit. Dr. Jessen created this work as part of a US Air Force Survival Training study. You can download his handwritten and typed notes here in PDF, and a portion here in .zip. Read the rest
This item in the Guardian's coverage of the latest Wikileaks dump is not the first time I've heard that the Casio F-91W digital watch is thought to be "the sign of al-Qaida," and "a contributing factor to continued detention of prisoners by the analysts stationed at Guantánamo Bay."
But like so much revealed by Wikileaks, when stuff like this is proven out in the State Department's own pen, the absurdity levels really spike:
Briefing documents used to train staff in assessing the threat level of new detainees advise that possession of the F-91W - available online for as little as £4 - suggests the wearer has been trained in bomb making by al-Qaida in Afghanistan.
The report states: "The Casio was known to be given to the students at al-Qaida bomb-making training courses in Afghanistan at which the students received instruction in the preparation of timing devices using the watch.
Next: a global movement to show solidarity with detainees by wearing the F-91W?
Guantánamo Bay files: Casio wristwatch 'the sign of al-Qaida' (guardian.co.uk)
"A Libyan woman burst into the hotel housing the foreign press in Tripoli Saturday morning and fought off security forces as she told journalists that she had been raped and beaten by members of the Qaddafi militia. After nearly an hour, she was dragged away from the hotel screaming." (New York Times)
Her name is Eman al-Obeidy. CNN's Nic Robertson was present, and his tweeted account is screengrabbed here. "CNN camera was violently snatched, systematically smashed to pieces and video footage stolen," he wrote. "Some journalists were beaten in blatant display of regime thuggery."
"Journalists are demanding to see her. David Kirkpatrick of the New York Times and I went to officials in charge who claimed they don't know who took her, or where she was taken."