In Other News

Honduras: protest slaying of campesino leaders

Rights activists and indigenous protesters clashed with riot police in Tegucigalpa Oct. 20 following the murder of two prominent campesino leaders—the latest in a wave of repressive terror.  The protest at the Public Ministry was called to demand justice in the case of José Ángel Flores and Silmer Dionosio George of Unified Campesino Movement of the Aguán (MUCA). The two were slain by unknown gunmen Oct. 18 as they left a community meeting in Tocoa, Colón department. Tocoa is in the Lower Aguán Valley, the center of a longstanding conflict between campesinos and large landowners accused of acquiring their lands in contravention of Honduras' agrarian reform laws. The two activists were supposedly under protective measures ordered by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). The orders were issued in May 2014 for several campesino leaders in the Aguán following a wave of killings and death threats. (Human Rights Watch, HispanTV, Oct. 21; Honduras Solidarity Network, Oct. 18)

US appeals court revives Abu Ghraib torture suit

The US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled (PDF) Oct. 21 that former detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison may continue their torture lawsuit against civilian military contractors. Four former prisoners allege that they were subjected to various forms of torture at the hands of CACI Premier Technology  contractors. The case had previously been dismissed under the "political question doctrine," but the court held the doctrine does not prevent the judiciary from deciding the case.

Iraq bans alcoholic beverages

The Iraq Parliament approved a law "Forbidding the import, manufacture and sale of all kinds of alcohol drinks." Until this time, alcohol has been made readily available in shops, bars, restaurant and hotels in Baghdad and some of the provinces; it was not unusual for young people in Baghdad to be observed drinking. Lawmaker and head of the parliament's legal panel, Mahmoud al-Hassan, stated that the law was necessary to preserve Iraq's identity as a Muslim country. Al-Hassan belongs to the Shi'ite majority, a conservative section of Iraq's population, which has dominated the parliament since the US invasion of the country in 2003.

Ex-Gitmo detainee in Uruguay ends hunger strike

Abu Wa'el Dhiab [AKA Jihad Diyab], a Syrian former Guantánamo Bay detainee, on Oct. 22 ended his 68-day hunger strike. Dhiab was among a number of former detainees who were resettled in Uruguay in an effort to close down the detention center. He began a hunger strike in an effort to be unified with friends and family. As he was a suspected terrorist he was denied the right to return to his homeland due to fear of a security risk. His support group Vigilia por Diyab announced the end of his hunger strike due to an agreement that will allow him to resettle in an undisclosed third country in order to allow him to reunite with family.

Argentine judge demands Iraq arrest Iran diplomat

Argentine federal judge Rodolfo Canicoba Corral on Oct. 20 called upon authorities in Iraq to arrest Iranian diplomat Ali Akbar Velayati, accused of being an intellectual author of the 1994 bombing of the Buenos Aires Jewish community center. Velayati was Iran's foregn minister at the time of the attack on the Argentine Jewish Mutual Association (AMIA). The bombing, which left 85 dead and some 300 injured, is considered the deadliest anti-Semitic attack carried out anywhere since World War II. The team of special prosecutors on the AMIA case formally petitioned Canicoba Corral to seek the arrest warrant when it became aware of Velayati's arrival in Baghdad. Because Velayati is not currently the subject of an Interpol "red notice," any arrest and extradition process will need to be processed through bilateral agreements between Argentina and Iraq. The prosecutors maintain that Velayati oversaw an August 1993 meeting of Iran's Supreme National Security Council where the decision to undertake the bombing was arrived at. (Buenos Aires Herald, Oct. 21; InfoBae, Oct. 20)

Frog die-off ominous sign for Lake Titicaca

Peru's National Forestry and Wildlife Service (SERFOR) is investigating the death of some 10,000 frogs whose bodies have been found in the Río Coata, which flows into Lake Titicaca. The alert was sounded by the local Committee Against the Pollution of the Río Coata, which accused the authorities of ignoring the river's severe pollution. Activists brought 100 of the dead frogs to the central square in the regional capital, Puno. Said protest leader Maruja Inquilla: "I've had to bring them the dead frogs. The authorities don't realize how we're living. They have no idea how major the pollution is. The situation is maddening." The committee has long been petitioning for construction of a sewage treatment plant for the river, and also for bringing informal minig camps up the river under control. Last year, arsenic, presumably from unregulated gold-mining in the area, was found to have contaminated several wells in the Coata watershed. The Puno regional health department conducted the study following a campaign by local campesino communities. 

Mexico: one dead as Yaqui protest pipeline

Yaqui indigenous communities on opposite sides over a proposed gas pipeline through Mexico's Sonora state clashed Oct. 21, leaving at least one dead by gunfire. The confrontation involved close to 300 people from the neighboring communities of Loma de Bácum (Bácum municipality) and Loma de Guámuchil (Cajeme). The former community is opposed to the pipeline project, while the latter is in favor. Bácum community leaders won an amparo (injunction) against the pipeline, which resulted in temporary suspension of construction in the area, and Bácum residents set up a protest camp at the idled construction site. The clash erupted when company workers arrived to resume construction—allegedly in violation of the amparo, and with the support of Guámuchil leaders and local politicians. Accounts are unlcear as to which side the fatality was on, but 13 vehicles belonging to Bácum residents were torched. There were also several injuries, and reports of a second death still not acknowledged by state authorities. The battle lasted three hours before a mixed force of state and federal police backed up by army troops intervened.

ISIS 'sleeper cell' unleashes terror in Kirkuk

As a US-led mixed Kurdish and Arab force advances on ISIS-held Mosul, an apparent ISIS "sleeper cell" of at least some 30 fully armed militants came to life in Kurdish-held Kirkuk, attacking government, police and security buildings. At a power station in Dubis, on the outskirts of the city, several engineers and workers were killed as militants detonated car-bombs and suicide vests. US-led coalition warplanes bombed a building in central Kirkuk that had been taken by the militants, and street-fighting rages across the city. The death toll so far is put at nearly 60, with twice as many wounded. (Rudaw, BasNews, KUNA)

Conviction of bin Laden assistant upheld

A federal appeals court on Oct. 20 upheld (PDF) a conspiracy conviction of the former personal assistant to Osama bin Laden. The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that a military tribunal had jurisdiction to convict Ali Hamza Ahmad Suliman al-Bahlul. Bahlul was tried and convicted by a military commission created after September 11, 2001. A three-judge panel had thrown out the conspiracy conviction last year, and the Obama administration requested that the full appeals court reconsider the case. The issue in the case was whether the constitution grants Congress the ability to determine that conspiracy to commit war crimes is an offense triable by military commissions even though conspiracy crimes are not recognized as international war crimes. The majority determined that foreign nations could not have "a de facto veto power" over Congress' determination of which war crimes may be considered by a military tribunal:

Syria: fall of Dabiq fails to spark apocalypse

Well, here's some good news. Free Syrian Army forces, backed by Turkey, this week took the town of Dabiq from ISIS. The small town in northern Aleppo governorate is of little strategic significance but great symbolic import. ISIS had promised a final apocalyptic battle between the Muslims and unbelievers would take place there. Instead, faced with Turkish warplanes, the jihadists ignominiously withdrew. Conveniently reinterpreting a prophetic hadith, ISIS promptly changed the name of its magazine from Dabiq to Roumiya. That means Rome—taken to signify Europe and the West. According to the hadith of Abu Hurayrah, a companion of the Prophet, Muhammad said: "The Last Hour would not come until the Romans land at al-A'maq or in Dabiq. An army consisting of the best of the people of the Earth at that time will come from Medina [to defeat them]." (ARA News, Oct. 17; RFE/RL, Oct. 9)

Syria: 'pause' before international storm?

Even as Russia and the Assad regime instate a "humanitarian pause" in the bombing of Aleppo, air-strikes continue in the surrounding countryside. Some 2,700 have been killed or injured in the bombardment since pro-regime forces began their offensive on the city last month. Over 250,000 remain under siege in what was once Syria's commercial hub. The eight-hour "pause" was extended by three hours after the UN protested that this was not enough time to allow aid deliveries. (AFP, Oct. 18) In one of the last air-strikes before the "pause," at least 13 civilians were killed—including 11 from the same family, according to the Aleppo Media Center. A six-weeks-old baby girl was among the dead. (The Guardian, Oct. 17)

Iraq: disaster feared as Mosul campaign launched

UN humanitarian agencies operating in Iraq are bracing for what could be a displacement catastrophe of massive proportions as the US-led offensive to retake Mosul from ISIS is launched. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) warns that up to one million people may be forced from their homes in the operation, which is expected to last months. (UN News Centre) The UN High Commissioner for Refugees Fillippo Grandi arrived in Erbil Oct. 17 to discuss preparations for the anticipated deluge. (Rudaw) With fighting now underway on the outskirts of the city, at least 2,000 residents have massed on the border with Syrian Kurdistan, hoping to cross over to safety. Another estimated 3,000 Mosul residents have arrived at an IDP camp near Hasakah in northern Syria. (BasNews)

France: court allows closure of migrant camp

An administrative court in Lille, France, on Oct. 18 rejected requests from almost a dozen aid groups and permitted the closure process of the "Jungle" migrant camp near Calais to continue. President François Hollande  has promised closure of the camp as pressure for such a result grows while the April election approaches, and Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve stated that the demolition project is only days away. The groups were seeking postponement of the closure in order to better organize relocation of the migrants, but the court determined that the closure seeks to prevent inhuman treatment that migrants are currently subjected to at the camp. While another concern was the transport of unaccompanied minors, the transfers are to be done pursuant to the Dublin Regulations, which in part governs family reunification.

Narco-fascism in the Philippines?

The Philippines' new ultra-hardline President Rodrigo Duterte just took things to a new level. He had previously compared himself to genocidal Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in pledging to unleash a reign of terror on drug users and dealers. But on Sept. 30, he actually invoked Adolf Hitler and the Holocaust as a favorable model for what he intends to do in his own country. "Hitler massacred three million Jews," Duterte told reporters. "Now, there are three million drug addicts. I'd be happy to slaughter them." He said thusly purging the Philippines would "save the next generation from perdition." (Reuters, Oct. 1; PhilStar, Sept. 30)

Australia using Nauru as 'open-air prison'

Australia is using the island of Nauru as an "open-air prison," putting refugees and asylum seekers through an abusive processing system as a means to prevent immigration, according to a report (PDF) released by Amnesty International Oct. 17. The report charges that Australia has ignored the 1951 Refugee Convention (PDF) by subjecting asylum seekers and refugees to "egregious abuses," essentially trapping them on the remote island. The report includes dozens of interviews with refugees, documenting claims of mental health issues, suicide attempts and attacks at the hands of Nauru citizens. It describes inadequate and often "deeply humiliating and traumatizing" medical treatment, and abuses carried out against children, including physical abuse from staff contracted by Australia, and the denial of their right to education. The report calls upon the Australian government to ensure the safety and well-being of refugees, and increase access to existing migration programs.