of the Day
- December 14, 2009
some issues of interest to the community policing and neighborhood
activist across the country
EDITOR'S NOTE: The following group of articles from local
newspapers and other sources constitutes but a small percentage
of the information available to the community policing and neighborhood
activist public. It is by no means meant to cover every possible
issue of interest, nor is it meant to convey any particular
point of view ...
We present this simply as a convenience to our readership ...
From LA Times
Drone attacks may be expanded in Pakistan
U.S. officials seek to push CIA drone strikes into the major city of Quetta to try to pressure Pakistan into pursuing Taliban leaders based there.
by Greg Miller and Julian E. Barnes
December 14, 2009
Reporting from Washington
Senior U.S. officials are pushing to expand CIA drone strikes beyond Pakistan's tribal region and into a major city in an attempt to pressure the Pakistani government to pursue Taliban leaders based in Quetta.
The proposal has opened a contentious new front in the clandestine war. The prospect of Predator aircraft strikes in Quetta, a sprawling city, signals a new U.S. resolve to decapitate the Taliban. But it also risks rupturing Washington's relationship with Islamabad.
The concern has created tension among Obama administration officials over whether unmanned aircraft strikes in a city of 850,000 are a realistic option. Proponents, including some military leaders, argue that attacking the Taliban in Quetta -- or at least threatening to do so -- is crucial to the success of the revised war strategy President Obama unveiled last week.
"If we don't do this -- at least have a real discussion of it -- Pakistan might not think we are serious," said a senior U.S. official involved in war planning. "What the Pakistanis have to do is tell the Taliban that there is too much pressure from the U.S.; we can't allow you to have sanctuary inside Pakistan anymore."
But others, including high-ranking U.S. intelligence officials, have been more skeptical of employing drone attacks in a place that Pakistanis see as part of their country's core. Pakistani officials have warned that the fallout would be severe.
"We are not a banana republic," said a senior Pakistani official involved in discussions of security issues with the Obama administration. If the United States follows through, the official said, "this might be the end of the road."
The CIA in recent years has stepped up a campaign against Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Pakistan, much of it with drone strikes in the rural tribal areas along the border with Afghanistan. The operations have been conducted with the consent of the government of President Asif Ali Zardari, who has proved a reliable ally to America in his first 15 months in office.
Zardari, however, is facing mounting political woes, and the CIA airstrikes are highly unpopular among the Pakistani public, because of concerns over national sovereignty and civilian casualties. If drone attacks now confined to small villages were to be mounted in a sizable city, the death rate of innocent bystanders would probably increase.
Obama has endorsed an expansion of CIA operations in the country, approving the deployment of more spies and resources in a clandestine counterpart to the 30,000 additional U.S. troops being sent into Afghanistan.
But the push to expand drone strikes underscores the limits of the Obama offensive. The administration has given itself 18 months to show evidence of a turnaround in Afghanistan. But progress in Pakistan depends almost entirely on drone strikes and prodding a sometimes reluctant ally, which provides much of the intelligence to conduct the strikes, to do more.
U.S. and Pakistani officials stressed that the United States has stopped short of issuing an ultimatum to Pakistan. "It just doesn't make a whole lot of sense to use heavy-handed tactics when you've got this kind of relationship," said a U.S. counter-terrorism official. Like others, he discussed the issue on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.
Obama alluded to the effort to enlist more Pakistani help on the day his strategy was announced.
"The most important thing we can do in Pakistan is to change their strategic orientation," Obama said in a meeting with news columnists Dec. 1. The pursuit of Al Qaeda involves a range of activities, he said, "some of which I can't discuss."
As Obama deliberated over the strategy for Afghanistan through fall, administration officials consulted with Pakistan in high-level meetings in Islamabad, also using those sessions to pressure the government to do more.
Among those involved were Gen. James L. Jones, Obama's national security advisor; Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan; and Leon E. Panetta, director of the CIA.
"We have applied enormous pressure," the senior U.S. official said.
Pakistan is not expected to hand over Mullah Mohammed Omar, the Taliban leader and longtime ally of Osama bin Laden who fled Afghanistan when U.S. forces invaded after the Sept. 11 attacks. Omar is believed to have used Quetta as a base from which to orchestrate insurgent attacks in Afghanistan.
But U.S. officials said they have presented Pakistan with a list of Taliban lieutenants and argued that, with a U.S. pullout scheduled to begin in 18 months, the urgency of dismantling the so-called Quetta shura is greater than at any time in the 8-year-old war.
The senior Pakistani official bristled at the suggestion that Pakistan has been reluctant to target militants in Quetta, saying U.S. assertions about the city's role as a sanctuary have been exaggerated.
"We keep hearing that there is a shadow government in Quetta, but we have never been given actionable intelligence," the Pakistani official said.
Pakistan is prepared to pursue Taliban leaders, including Omar, even when the intelligence is imprecise, the official said. "Even if a compound 1 kilometer by 1 kilometer is identified, we will go find him." But, he added, "for the past two years we haven't heard anything more."
Pakistan has launched a series of military operations against Islamic militants over the last year. But those operations have been aimed primarily at Taliban factions accused of carrying out attacks in Pakistan, not the groups directing strikes on U.S. forces across the border.
The CIA has carried out dozens of Predator strikes in Pakistan's tribal belt over the last two years, relying extensively on information provided by informant networks run by Pakistan's spy service, Inter-Services Intelligence.
The campaign is credited with killing at least 10 senior Al Qaeda operatives since the pace of the strikes was accelerated in August 2008, but has enraged many Pakistanis because of civilian casualties.
The number of attacks has slowed in recent months. Possible causes include weather disruptions and difficulty finding targets as insurgents get better at eluding the Predator, and larger Reaper, drone patrols.
Of 48 attacks carried out this year, only six have taken place since the end of September, according to data compiled by the website The Long War Journal. The latest attack occurred Friday, in which a senior Al Qaeda operations planner named Saleh Somali is believed to have been killed.
The drone attacks have been confined to territories along Pakistan's northwestern border, regions essentially self-governed by Pashtun tribes. The province of Baluchistan, however, has a distinct ethnic identity and its own separatist movement. It is one of Pakistan's main provinces, and strikes against its main city, Quetta, would probably be seen as a violation of the nation's sovereignty.
A former senior CIA official said he and others were repeatedly rebuffed when proposing operations in Baluchistan or pushing Pakistan to target the Taliban in Quetta. "It wasn't easy to talk about," the official said. "The conversations didn't last a long time."
Pakistan is working with the CIA to coax certain Taliban lieutenants in Omar's fold to defect. U.S. officials said contacts have been handled primarily by the Saudi and Pakistani intelligence services. The results of the effort are unclear.
The CIA's main objective in Pakistan remains the hunt for Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates recently said that it had been "years" since any meaningful information had surfaced in that search.
Fewer Texas inmates sentenced to death
The relatively new option of life in prison without parole may be the biggest factor influencing juries, but some observers think jurors are simply less willing to send prisoners to death row.
December 14, 2009
While the debate over capital punishment rages in Texas, the number of inmates sentenced to death row in 2009 is at a 35-year low.
Prosecutors have been pushing for fewer death sentences and, many observers believe, juries have become less willing to give them.
The biggest game-changer, several prosecutors and defense lawyers said, appears to be the introduction in 2005 of life without parole as an option. Jurors in capital cases previously were responsible for choosing either the death penalty or a life sentence in which a convicted killer could be eligible for parole in 40 years.
"With life without parole being a viable option now, [juries] feel a lot more comfortable that that person is not going to be let out back into society," Tarrant County Dist. Atty. Joe Shannon said. "We are probably waiving the death penalty more times than we used to because we're trying to forecast the outcome of the case."
But because of the state's growing list of exonerations via DNA evidence and other questionable convictions, some argue that juries are simply less willing to send someone to death row.
Democratic state Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., author of the life-without-parole law, said prosecutors were trying to blame it for their troubles getting Texans to trust a scandal-ridden system.
"It isn't life without parole that has weakened the death penalty," Lucio said. "It is a growing lack of belief that our system is fair."
A poll from Rasmussen Reports released this month found that 73% of Americans are at least somewhat concerned that some people may be executed for crimes they did not commit. Numerous reports of death row inmates being exonerated have surfaced in the U.S. in recent years.
In the four years since the introduction of life without parole, Texas death sentences have dropped 40% compared with the four years earlier, state records show. The number of slayings each year in Texas stayed largely unchanged during that period, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety.
Texas juries sentenced 13 people to death in 2008. Nine have received death sentences this year. That's a far cry from 15 years earlier, when juries sent 49 people to death row.
With the new punishment option, prosecutors feel comfortable waiving the death penalty in more cases, and defense lawyers are often more willing to plea-bargain, according to lawyers on each side of the courtroom.
"You need a D.A. that's willing to offer life and a client willing to take life," said Phil Wischkaemper, a capital assistance attorney for the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Assn. "We're encouraging people to get these cases worked out and pled."
Some, however, still believe that a capital murderer who avoids death row gets off too easy.
"I think anyone that's convicted of capital murder should be executed, period," said William "Rusty" Hubbarth, an Austin attorney and vice president of Justice for All, a victims' advocacy group.
"I feel it's a deterrent. I feel it's justice. And I feel that it's necessary. It's the ultimate sanction reserved for the ultimate violation."
But in Texas murder trials in which prosecutors sought the death penalty, the chances of the jury delivering that sentence dropped below 50% this year, according to the Texas Defender Service, a nonprofit group that aids defense teams in death penalty cases. Lawyers say the chance of a death penalty conviction was much higher several years ago.
Scott Phillips, an associate professor of sociology and criminology at the University of Denver, said death sentences have declined nationwide -- suggesting that the option of life without parole is just part of the reason in Texas.
"People are obviously concerned about innocence," Phillips said. "People are concerned about cost. . . . People are concerned about racial disparity."
In the recession, the higher costs of pursuing the death penalty have become harder to ignore, and life without parole is a far cheaper alternative.
Death penalty trials are longer, with a punishment phase that takes more time and appeals that typically go on for years.
Pursuing life without parole from the outset can save millions of dollars in legal costs and settle cases quickly.
"You save a lot of money, a lot of time," said Bill Harris, a Fort Worth defense lawyer who is president-elect of the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Assn. "And you have a guarantee that this person will be incarcerated for the rest of their life."
YEMEN: Divorced child bride Nujood makes a fresh stand: 'We are not toys. We are children.'
December 13, 2009
Nujood Ali was just 10 years old when she borrowed bus fare to a Yemeni courthouse and demanded a divorce from her husband, more than 20 years her senior.
A year and a half later, Ali is using her fame and the money she received for her story to help 12-year-old Sally Sabahi file for divorce from her 21-year-old husband.
The Yemen Observer reported Friday that Ali has announced her intention to donate nearly $500 to Sabahi's cause, half the sum of the dowry needed to buy her freedom. Ali's lawyer, Shadha Nasser, also has said she will take on the case.
“Please free Sally from this unfair marriage and let her go back to play with her friends, brothers and sisters,” Ali said. "We are not toys. We are children."
Ali's divorce became a landmark case, sparking an international media firestorm that, for better or worse, made her a representative of child brides in Yemen.
Sabahi, who was married two years ago, said she was raped repeatedly by her husband. Her family told her it was normal and even drugged her with painkillers so her husband could force himself on her.
“I would hit my head with glass bottles so as to not sleep and lie awake all night long,” Sabahi recounted.
After being allowed to return to her family for a period, Sabahi's husband came to collect her a few weeks ago, and she reportedly suffered a mental breakdown.
Still, Sabahi's own father does not seem to recognize his son-in-law's actions as rape, according to media reports.
“It seems he scared her the first night and that's why she got horrified and now is suffering from a sex complex,” he told the Observer.
Early marriages are not uncommon in Yemen, especially in rural areas where tribal customs prevail and extreme poverty can drive families to sell their daughters to older men for cash dowries. Although the legal age of consent in Yemen is 15, a 2006 study conducted by Sana University reported that 52% of girls were married by 18.
In September, the death of 12-year-old Fawziyeh Abdullah Youssef during childbirth renewed pressure on the Yemeni president to ratify a law that would raise the minimum age for marriage to 17.
Mexico City authorities free a dozen more slave workers
December 12, 2009
A rehabilitation center in Azcapotzalco borough where a dozen people were freed from forced work may be connected to a drug clinic where authorities freed more than 100 so-called slave workers last week, Mexico City prosecutors said.
Authorities conducted a raid Friday of a factory inside the rehabilitation center in the northern borough. Police were tipped off by a man who said he was kidnapped and forced to make boxes to package bottles of tequila, officials said.
The raid followed a case last week in which authorities said 105 people were being forced to make items such as shopping bags inside a drug clinic in Iztapalapa, an eastern borough. Some workers told authorities that they had been snatched from the streets, beaten, robbed and forced to labor in slave-like conditions.
The cases remain under investigation.
From the Washington Times
Pakistan probes U.S. men in terror case
KARACHI, Pakistan (AP) -- Pakistani police Monday seized luggage and a cell phone from a hotel where three of five Americans arrested on suspicion of militant links stayed, while a court ruled the men cannot be deported until judges review the case.
Police allege the young Americans intended to join militants in the northwest tribal areas and then travel to Afghanistan before their arrest last week. The case has fanned fears that Americans and other Westerners are heading to Pakistan to link up with al-Qaida and other militant groups.
Police searched the mid-range Saddam Hotel in the southern city of Karachi, the country's commercial hub, where some of the men stayed on Nov. 30 after their arrival in the country. They found five travel bags containing clothes, a cell phone and a book, police official Abdullah Sheikh said.
Hotel manager Mohammed Farooq Khan said the three left the hotel without informing management after staying one night.
The book was "The Pact," the best-selling true story of three young men from broken homes who pledged to support each other as they pursue academic dreams.
The detainees are accused of using Facebook and YouTube Web sites to try and connect with extremist groups in Pakistan and are said to have established contact with a Taliban recruiter. They have not been formally charged with any crime or produced in court.
The court order Monday was aimed at preventing any deportation of the Americans before the judiciary gets a chance to review the case, Lahore High Court registrar Tahir Pervez said. No deportation order is known to have been issued so far, but officials in both countries have said such a move is likely.
The court issued the order in response to a petition from Khalid Khawaja, a civil rights activist who has often filed court cases on behalf of alleged militants and people believed to have disappeared at the hands of Pakistan's security apparatus.
Pervez said the court ordered the government of Punjab province to file a report on the case in a hearing Thursday.
The men, who are from the Washington, D.C. area, were picked up by Pakistani authorities last week in the Punjab town of Sargodha after their worried families in the U.S. turned to the FBI to track them down. They were shifted over the weekend to Lahore, the provincial capital, for further questioning.
FBI agents, who have been granted some access to the men, are trying to see if there is enough evidence to charge any of them with conspiracy to provide material support to a terrorist group, an American official and another person familiar with the case said Friday.
Iran to try 3 Americans who crossed border
by Nasser Karimi -- ASSOCIATED PRESS
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- Iran said Monday it would try three Americans jailed since crossing the border from Iraq in July, a step certain to aggravate the U.S. at a time when Tehran is locked in a standoff with the West over its nuclear program.
Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki did not say when proceedings would begin or specify the charge other than to say the Americans had "suspicious aims." In November, however, authorities accused the Americans of spying.
There are concerns in the U.S. that Iran could use them as bargaining chips in talks over its nuclear program or in seeking the return of Iranians they say are missing.
Relatives and the U.S government say the three were innocent tourists on an adventure hike in northern Iraq and accidentally crossed into Iran, where they were arrested on July 31.
"They will be tried by Iran's judiciary system and verdicts will be issued," Mottaki said at a news conference, without elaborating in detail. He said the three were still being interrogated.
The Americans -- Shane Bauer, 27, Sarah Shourd, 31, and Josh Fattal, 27 -- were detained by Iranian authorities after crossing an unmarked border from northern Iraq.
They have been held in Iran's Evin prison, where Swiss diplomats have visited them twice and said they are healthy. Because the U.S. and Iran do not have direct diplomatic relations, the Swiss Embassy maintains an American interests section.
The three graduates of the University of California at Berkeley had been trekking in Iraq's northern Kurdistan region, their relatives say.
Bauer and Shourd had been living in Damascus, Syria -- he studying Arabic, she teaching English -- and both had done freelance journalism or writing online. Friends have described them as passionate adventurers interested in the Middle East and human rights.
Fattal, who spent three years with a group dedicated to sustainable farming near Cottage Grove, Oregon, had been overseas since January as a teaching assistant with the International Honors Program.
Fattal's mother, Laura, declined to comment on Monday's announcement.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has called for their release, saying Washington strongly believes there is no evidence to support any charge against them.
In November, Tehran chief prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dowlatabadi said the three "have been accused of espionage." But it was not clear from his brief comments whether formal charges had been filed against the Americans.
Raising concerns that Iran might be seeking to use them in a deal, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said during remarks about their case last month that the United States was holding several Iranian citizens.
In particular, he drew a link between the case of the three Americans and the trial in the U.S. of Amir Hossein Ardebili, an Iranian who faces up to 140 years in prison after pleading guilty to plotting to ship sensitive U.S. military technology to Iran.
According to court papers, Ardebili worked as a procurement agent for the Iranian government and acquired thousands of components, including military aircraft parts, night vision devices, communications equipment and Kevlar. U.S. federal authorities targeted him in 2004 after he contacted an undercover storefront set up in Philadelphia to investigate illegal arms trafficking.
From the Wall Street Journal
Pakistan Court Rules Detained Americans Can't Be Deported
LAHORE, Pakistan -- A top Pakistani court on Monday ruled that five Americans being held on suspicion of terror links can't be deported back to the U.S. or any other country before judges review the case, an official said.
Pakistani police have alleged that the five young Muslim men wanted to join militants in Pakistan's northwest tribal areas before going to Afghanistan. The men are accused of using Facebook and YouTube sites to try to connect with extremist groups in Pakistan.
They have not been formally charged with any crime in Pakistan or produced in court. No deportation order is known to have been issued, though officials from the U.S. and Pakistan have said deportation back to America is likely.
Lahore High Court registrar Tahir Pervez said the court wants more information before such a move is allowed.
The court made the move in response to a petition from Khalid Khawaja, a civil rights activist who has often filed court cases on behalf of alleged militants and people believed to have disappeared at the hands of Pakistan's vast security apparatus.
Mr. Pervez said the court ordered the government of Punjab province to file a report on the case in a hearing Thursday.
The men were picked up by Pakistani authorities last week in the Punjab town of Sargodha after their worried families in the U.S. turned to the FBI to track them down. They were shifted over the weekend to Lahore, the provincial capital, for further questioning.
The five men are from the Washington, D.C. area, and the case has fanned fears that Americans and other Westerners, especially those of Pakistani descent, are traveling to Pakistan to join up with al Qaeda and other militant groups.
FBI agents, who have been granted some access to the men, are trying to see if there is enough evidence to charge any of them with conspiracy to provide material support to a terrorist group, an American official and another person familiar with the case said Friday.
They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the investigation.
Officials Probe North Korea Arms Cache
Plane Loaded With Weapons, Detained in Bangkok Under New U.N. Rules, Is Expected to Reveal Details on Pyongyang Dealing
by PATRICK BARTA in Bangkok, EVAN RAMSTAD in Seoul and JAY SOLOMON in Washington
Thai authorities will spend the next several days sifting through a massive cache of explosives, missiles and other weapons seized from a plane from North Korea in a case that could offer new details about the secretive country's involvement in the international illicit-weapons trade.
Thai officials detained the plane and its five crew members late Friday after they landed at Bangkok's Don Muang Airport for refueling. Although the final destination of the plane remained unclear, a Thai government spokesman said it was scheduled to land next in Sri Lanka for further refueling and was possibly headed to another location after that.
The detention of the plane and cargo is among the first executions of new rules created by the United Nations Security Council in June to try to halt Pyongyang's ability to sell and transport arms. The rules were developed after North Korea tested a nuclear explosive in late May in defiance of previous U.N. sanctions.
Since then, international authorities have tracked at least two vessels, including a ship detained in the United Arab Emirates carrying North Korean arms and explosive powder that was headed to nearby Iran. But the size of the latest haul -- more than 30 tons -- could provide a broader range of information about the variety and quality of weapons North Korea is capable of producing.
Thai government spokesman Panithan Wattanayakorn said Thai authorities had been tracking the plane for several days in conjunction with investigative agencies from "several countries," though he didn't name them.
In Washington, Obama administration officials confirmed Sunday that the U.S. worked closely with Thailand on the North Korea operation. Bangkok is among a growing number of U.S. allies that are assisting Washington in tightening the economic screws on Pyongyang, these officials said.
U.S. officials said that senior State Department officials have been traveling throughout North and Southeast Asia in recent months to gain regional governments' assistance in blocking North Korean arms deliveries. These officials said North Korea has regularly sought to move arms through Myanmar and other Southeast Asian countries to Pyongyang's traditional buyers, such as Pakistan, Syria and Iran.
"We've spent a lot of time in the region, and we've made it clear that this is important to us," said a senior U.S. official. "A variety of countries have responded."
Attempts to reach North Korean officials in Bangkok were unsuccessful. An employee of the Sri Lanka Embassy in Bangkok said she had no knowledge of the flight or reports that it might be headed to her country next.
The Ilyushin 76 transport plane was registered in Georgia but flew to Bangkok from Pyongyang, Thai officials said. Its cargo -- later transferred to a Thai military base -- included rocket-propelled grenades, components for surface-to-air missiles, and explosives, according to the Associated Press, which cited Thai officials. There were no immediate indications it included materials or equipment related to the manufacture of nuclear weapons. Thai authorities said it could take several days to examine the plane's contents.
The crew, including four citizens of Kazakhstan and one from Belarus, were charged with illegal possession of arms in Thailand. A police spokesman said the men had denied any knowledge of weapons on board. They were expected to appear before a Thai judge on Monday.
Local Thai media reported early Monday in Bangkok that crew members said they thought they were transporting oil-rig equipment. The pilot reportedly said the plane picked up its cargo in North Korea and was planning to offload it in Ukraine, the Nation newspaper said on its Web site.
North Korea, one of the world's poorest countries, relies on arms shipments for a sizable portion of its foreign income. Some analysts estimate arms trading brings in several hundred million dollars annually.
The country, run by an authoritarian regime, has been trying to build nuclear weapons since the 1970s. Other nations, led by the U.S., have tried since the early 1990s to persuade it to give up its pursuit of nuclear weapons by offering food and money.
Even before the latest U.N. resolution, Washington had intensified U.S. efforts to cut off Pyongyang's arms exports under the Bush administration's Proliferation Security Initiative.
In 2007, for instance, the U.S. worked with Asian allies to block a Syrian cargo plane from landing in North Korea under the assumption the plane was seeking to pick up weapons cargo.
In July 2009, the U.S. worked with the United Arab Emirates to block a North Korean arms shipment from moving to Iran via the Emirati port of Dubai. The U.A.E. impounded the arms cache and is waiting for a U.N. team to visit the Persian Gulf country to watch the destruction of the consignment, said a senior Emirati official.
Washington's special representative to North Korea, Stephen Bosworth, held "constructive" talks with North Korean officials in Pyongyang last week. But U.S. officials said the visit wouldn't slow Washington's efforts to maintain economic pressure on Pyongyang.
"We think the North Koreans understand the message we presented," State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Sunday. "But will they respond? We don't know yet."