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'Cruel and unusual' - Leaked prison letter from hunger striker Mohamed Soltan

Mohamed Soltan

Sunday, 16 November 2014

File photo of US national, Mohamed Soltan

US citizen Mohamed Soltan has been in an Egyptian jail for over a year, and on hunger strike for nearly all of that time. He has smuggled a letter out of prison to mark his 27th birthday today (November 16th). There is also another hearing in his trial today, and the judge in charge of the case is the same one who sentenced the Aljazeera journalists to lengthy jail terms, as well presiding over the trial of known activists Ahmed Douma and Alaa Abdelfatah. The text of Soltan's letter is as follows:

For the first time in the pre-season, I came late to JV basketball practice. I had made the team at 336 pounds, during my junior year in high school, even though all of my classmates were playing varsity I was just happy to make the team. That day, Coach Slappy looked at me as I entered the gym, and without giving me the chance to explain my tardiness he put his index finger up and circled it in the air, directing me to run laps. I was OK with the punishment for the tardiness, but what I wasn't OK with was his insistence on the "finger-circling" when I asked and continued asking as I ran, "How many laps coach?"

That day I felt that I had received the worst punishment. I could have ran 100 laps had the coach let me know how many laps I needed to run, but the psychological punishment was, for me, nothing short of torture. That day I ran 29 laps around the basketball court, but every lap felt like it would be the last one. By the time Coach Slappy remembered to tell me to stop I was mentally and physically drained.

I remember this story as my 27th birthday, my second in prison, approaches and as I finish 290 days on hunger strike. One hundred and fifty pounds lighter and exactly 10 years later, I am sitting in an underground Egyptian dungeon reflecting on that basketball season and its relevance to my current circumstances. I have lost the sense of hunger; I lose consciousness often; I wake up to bruises and a bloody mouth almost daily; and physical pain has become the norm, with my body numb as it eats away at itself. None of that is as painful as the psychological torture that the ambiguity of my detention (which is under an indefinite temporary holding law) is imposing. This is a dark and gloomy nightmare; I have no clue about how it descended on me so suddenly; I don't know how long it will last; nor do I know how and when it will end. Although it is a much more extreme feeling than that of Coach Slappy's punishment, it is nonetheless similar; mental and physical depletion. I do not know how long until this "punishment" ends, so every day passes like it is the last, slow and excruciating.

remainder: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/articles/africa/15299-cruel-and-unusual

Israeli harassment curtails access to education for Hebron girls

By Alex Shams and Salam Muharam

The first part in a series about the lives of Palestinian women affected by the Jewish settlements of Hebron's Old City.

Having grown up in Hebron's Old City, Aisha was used to dealing with Israeli soldiers and their questions on a daily basis.

When she was a little girl the checkpoints began multiplying as the Jewish settlements expanded throughout the city, and by the time she reached middle school she had to pass through a checkpoint to go anywhere more than a few meters up the road.

The staring, the yelling, and the pushing were a daily occurrence, and she says that more than a few times young Jewish settlers who had taken over homes in the area smacked her as she passed while soldiers watched impassively. For a girl growing up in Hebron's Old City, these little humiliations were -- and are -- the stuff of life.


Shuhada Street has been closed to Palestinian traffic since 1994, leading to the
closure of scores of local businesses and constant military presence.

War with Isis: Islamic militants have army of 200,000, claims senior Kurdish leader

Exclusive: CIA has hugely underestimated the number of jihadis, who now rule an area the size of Britain

The Islamic State (Isis) has recruited an army hundreds of thousands strong, far larger than previous estimates by the CIA, according to a senior Kurdish leader. He said the ability of Isis to attack on many widely separated fronts in Iraq and Syria at the same time shows that the number of militant fighters is at least 200,000, seven or eight times bigger than foreign in intelligence estimates of up to 31,500 men.

Fuad Hussein, the chief of staff of the Kurdish President Massoud Barzani said in an exclusive interview with The Independent on Sunday that "I am talking about hundreds of thousands of fighters because they are able to mobilise Arab young men in the territory they have taken."

He estimates that Isis rules a third of Iraq and a third of Syria with a population of between 10 and 12 million living in an area of 250,000 square kilometres, the same size as Great Britain. This gives the jihadis a large pool of potential recruits.

Proof that Isis has created a large field army at great speed is that it has been launching attacks against the Kurds in northern Iraq and the Iraqi army close to Baghdad at the same time as it is fighting in Syria. "They are fighting in Kobani," said Mr Hussein. "In Kurdistan last month they were attacking in seven different places as well as in Ramadi and Jalawla . It is impossible to talk of 20,000 men or so."


How Deep is the Rot on Wall Street?

Joseph Fichera's op-ed in the New York Times shows the full depravity of Wall Street's resistance to regulation, says white collar criminologist Professor William Black.

November 14, 2014


snip* Bio

William K. Black, author of The Best Way to Rob a Bank is to Own One, teaches economics and law at the University of Missouri Kansas City (UMKC). He was the Executive Director of the Institute for Fraud Prevention from 2005-2007. He has taught previously at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin and at Santa Clara University, where he was also the distinguished scholar in residence for insurance law and a visiting scholar at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics.


PERIES: Bill, what are you blogging on this week?

BLACK: So Joseph Fichera is a head of a Wall Street advisory firm. And he's one of the sometimes good guys, that is, for example, warned about auction rate securities as a dangerous scam and criticized major investment banks for derivatives that they've sold to cities. So he's easily in the top 10 percent of the distribution of Wall Street CEOs. But even he--and that's sort of the point--has just come out on November 6 and said, we're treating Wall Street too harshly.

Now, Wall Street, as we've talked about, has zero convictions of any of the senior officers who actually led the fraud epidemics that caused the crisis. But that's not sufficiently weak for Fichera. He says that the Securities and Exchange Commission should not have the power to remove an investment bank's license to sell securities, for example, just because it's committed a massive fraud. Instead, frauds should have a schedule of points, like the Department of Motor Vehicles has in many states. And so for one active appraisal fraud that could actually be thousands of acts, maybe you'd get four points. And over the course of six years, if you've got--he doesn't give the number, but maybe 16 points, then and only then could your license be removed.

So this is the idea that fraud is really just like driving without your seatbelt. You know, there's no moral element at all to defrauding other people of tens of billions of dollars, and that you actually have a right if you're in finance (but only if you're in finance) to a certain number of felonies before anything can happen seriously. And he explicitly says that the Securities and Exchange Commission should have no power to remove your license if you've only committed one series of felonies. And remember, this series of felonies could be 10,000 people that you defrauded or indeed millions of people that you defrauded. But like every dog gets its bite, every corporation that issue securities would get its massive fraud. And if it didn't get caught again within the next six years, well, then, like DMV, your points would be eliminated and you could commit your new fraud with impunity.

On top of that, he says, well, you know, we really have to believe in this too-big-to-jail and too-big-to-sanction stuff for the Securities and Exchange Commission, 'cause he says that there's a real contradiction between the principles of financial regulation and the principles of justice. In other words, if we want to insist on justice, we're going to have bad regulation, because we're going big firms, and then those firms will fail, and therefore we'll have financial crises. And so the answer is to leave the frauds in power, and not only to not prosecute them, but to make it very, very hard to take any serious enforcement action against them as well.

remainder: http://therealnews.com/t2/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=31&Itemid=74&jumival=12646

Russia's Pivotal Role in the Iranian Nuclear Agreement

Russia will play a major role in a deal by ensuring that Iran complies with US demands - and it has a lot of money to gain from it, says Gareth Porter, the author of Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare.

- November 13, 14


Gareth Porter is a historian and investigative journalist specializing in US foreign and military policy. He writes regularly for Inter Press Service on US policy towards Iraq and Iran. He is the author of five books, of which the latest is Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare.
Russia's Pivotal Role in the Iranian Nuclear AgreementSHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore.

As we approach the November 24 deadline for the Iran nuclear energy agreement with P5+1, the Russian cooperation of the agreement has been nailed down on the sidelines of the APEC meeting taking place in Beijing, as reported by Press TV. The U.S. lifting of sanctions and Iran's willingness to comply with the specifics hinges on the Russia.

Now joining us from Arlington, Virginia, to discuss all of this is Gareth Porter. Gareth Porter is an investigative journalist specializing in U.S. national security policy. He is the author of a new book, Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare.

Thanks for joining us, Gareth.

GARETH PORTER, INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST: Hi, Sharmini. Thanks for having me.

PERIES: So, Gareth, explain the role of Russia in these discussions. And why is it so important, Russia's engagement and in?

PORTER: Well, Russia's role in the negotiations is really pivotal because of the importance of drawing down the stockpile of low-enriched uranium, that is, uranium enriched up to only 3.5 to 5 percent. And that turns out to be a key to getting a compromise between the United States and Iran, because the United States started out the negotiations demanding publicly and in a very sort of aggressive way that Iran had to reduce the number of centrifuges that it has in operation from the present level of about 10,000 to just as low as 1,000 or 1,500. And, in fact, in the first draft of the agreement, we know that the United States actually put a number (it's either 1,000 or 1,500 or both) into the actual draft text.


Bitunya shooting leading to arrest of Border Police officers confirms B’Tselem’s findings

Investigation of Bitunya shooting leading to arrest of Border Police officers confirms B’Tselem’s finding that the youths were killed by live fire

12 Nov 2014

Following yesterday’s arrest of several Border Police officers over the killing two Palestinian youths at Bitunya in May 2014, B’Tselem said that the official investigation’s findings corroborated what the organization found immediately after the incident – that Nadim Nawarah and Muhammad Salameh (Abu Daher) were killed, and two other Palestinians injured, by live ammunition and not rubber-coated metal bullets. The officer who remained in custody is only a suspect at this point, and no charges have been filed against him. However, the findings that led to the arrest appear to confirm B’Tselem’s report and refute the military’s version. The latter relied on accounts given by soldiers in an operational inquiry and was broadly quoted by the media.

The investigation must be speedily completed and the persons responsible for the killing of the two youths stand trial. This incident is exceptional in the rare body of evidence available: full footage of the incident captured by security cameras, a bullet recovered from Nawara's backpack, and metallic fragments extracted from Nawarah’s body during an autopsy. B’Tselem does not know whether the officers arrested are also suspected of having killed Salameh (Abu Daher) and injuring two other youths, and whether anyone will be held accountable for those cases.

In the days after the Bitunya shooting, Israeli politicians, army officers, pundits, military spokespersons and others self-appointed government apologists claimed that the footage was fabricated, some even suggesting that the deaths themselves had been staged. This false rhetoric served a well-orchestrated spin intended to divert attention from the gravity of the incident and the need for investigation to the credibility of the video footage. In future, the authorities would do well to concentrate on uncovering the truth rather than creating media spins and attempts to evade responsibility for wrongdoing.

Background on the incident:

On Thursday, 15 May 2014, four Palestinians were shot with live ammunition in the West Bank town of Bitunya, close to Ofer Prison, during a demonstration marking Nakba Day. Two of them, both minors, died of their wounds: Nadim Siyam Nawarah, 17, from Ramallah, and Muhammad Mahmoud Salameh (Abu Daher), 17, from the village of al-Mazra'ah al-Qibliyah. Muhammad 'Azzah, 15, also a minor, was hospitalized in the Intensive Care Unit in Ramallah, where he is recovering from his wounds. The fourth victim, a 23-year-old who wished to remain unnamed, was lightly injured. All four were injured in the upper torso: Nawarah and 'Azzah were struck in the chest, Salameh was struck in the back, and the fourth man was struck below his left elbow.


Footage of the killing of Nadim Nawarah (cameras 1+2):

Footage of the killing of Muhammad Salameh (cameras 1+2):

War against Isis: PKK commander tasked with the defence of Syrian Kurds claims 'we will save Kobani'

November 11, 2014

Patrick Cockburn ventures deep into the Kandil mountains for a rare audience with the Kurdish guerrilla leader - and hears his defiant message to the Islamists...

Kobani cannot now be captured by the fighters of Isis but a million people in another Kurdish enclave in Syria are facing a mounting threat of being massacred or forced to flee by advancing jihadis, according to the Kurdish guerrilla leader overseeing the defence of Syrian Kurds.

In an exclusive interview with The Independent in his headquarters in the Kandil mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan, Cemil Bayik, the top field commander of the PKK, the Kurdish guerrilla organisation in Turkey, and also of its Syrian affiliate, says: “Kobani will not fall. We are advancing on the eastern and southern fronts.”

He said that the Syrian Kurdish fighters had succeeded in “taking back the municipal building and Isis was forced to blow up a mosque it held”.

in full: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/war-against-isis-pkk-commander-tasked-with-the-defence-of-syrian-kurds-claims-we-will-save-kobani-9854818.html

Netanyahu is exposing his nationalist face to the public ( Haaretz Editorial )

After the prime minister's string of statements over the past week, it seems he has decided to take off the statesmanlike mask he has donned for the past few years.

Haaretz Editorial | Nov. 12, 2014 |

Benjamin Netanyahu is against the State of Israel.

That’s the only way to describe the string of statements the prime minister has made over the past week. It seems he has decided to take off the statesmanlike mask he has donned for the past few years, and now he’s exposing his nationalist face to the public.

Netanyahu’s modus operandi is always the same: He does everything in his power to torpedo any possible agreement with the Palestinians, and then exploits the frustration created by his rejectionism to inflame the atmosphere. He sets absurd preconditions for beginning negotiations (like recognizing Israel as the Jews’ nation state), and then, after the Palestinian frustration has become tangible in the streets, “invites everyone who demonstrates against Israel and in favor of the Palestinian state to move there; we won’t put any obstacles in your path.”

Netanyahu systematically reverses cause and effect. His goal is to portray the aggressor as the victim and the victim as the aggressor. He refuses to discuss substantive issues like borders, dividing Jerusalem and the right of return, then, after anger erupts on the Palestinian side and spills over into Israel’s Arab citizens as well, he instructs his interior minister to look into revoking the citizenship of Arab Israelis who demonstrated against the state or attacked policemen.

Instead of being the prime minister of all the state’s citizens, 20 percent of whom are Arabs, Netanyahu has a completely different goal: realizing the dream of the entire Land of Israel. That’s why he invests enormously in what he considers the most important resource of all: time. He knows that the more time he buys – from the Palestinians, the Americans and the world – the more crushing the blow will be to the chances for an agreement.


Police shooting of Arab Israeli youth could ignite Israel

November 10, 2014

Here is a short but fascinating lesson in Israeli-style democracy, equality and co-existence. Footage from a CCTV security camera documents the incident in the Arab Galilee village of Kafr Kana on Nov. 7, in which Israeli policemen killed a young Arab man. Now, imagine that the incident had taken place in the settlement of Yitzhar. Imagine that the 22-year-old man who banged on the windows of the police cruiser and then started backing away was not named Khair Hamdan, but rather Nir Hemed; that he was one of those known as “hilltop youth” who do not recognize government authority and who regularly harass the security forces. How would Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have reacted to Nir being shot to death in the back by the police? Would Netanyahu have pledged to examine the option of revoking the citizenship of members of the fanatic Jewish sect, as he did with the Palestinians who were involved in rioting? Would Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett have praised the policemen who killed Nir and rushed to their defense, before the Justice Ministry's police investigations unit had even decided whether shooting the young man in the back was justified or not?

The reactions of Arab members of the Knesset were, of course, completely different. Knesset member Ahmad Tibi claimed that Hamdan’s killing was typical of police attitudes toward the Arab public as “enemies which must be destroyed.” Tibi was not being original. An inquiry commission appointed by the government exactly 14 years before the fatal incident in Kafr Kana determined that “the police must imbue its policemen with the understanding that the Arab public at large is not their enemy, and it must not be treated as an enemy.”

The commission, headed by retired Supreme Court Justice Theodore Or, investigated the events of October 2000, in which 13 Arab Israelis were killed by live police fire. In 2003, its members recommended “imbuing all police echelons with the importance of balanced and moderate conduct in relations with the Arab sector.”

The footage of the incident in Kafr Kana, and its severe result, do not point to “balanced and moderate conduct” by police in their relations with Arabs. According to a publication issued last month by the Mossawa Center for the rights of Israel’s Arab citizens, Hamdan is the 49th Arab-Israeli shot since the October 2000 riots by police, soldiers or Jewish citizens. Only two incidents ended with policemen being convicted and sentenced to very short jail terms — one receiving six months, the other 30 months. This was preceded by the decision of then-Attorney General Menachem Mazuz to dismiss complaints against all the policemen suspected in the killing of the 13 Arabs in the protests of 2000. The Israel Democracy Institute, which examined the evidence in three central cases, determined that the decision not to pursue them further “for lack of proof” was not justified and the Justice Ministry's police investigation unit and the state prosecutor’s office failed to see the investigation through to its end.

Read more: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2014/11/israel-police-shot-kafr-kana-israeli-arab-or-commission.html#ixzz3Iim3aVpX

Modernizing and Energy Efficiency Could Drastically Reduce CO2 Emissions

It is absolutely possible to reduce CO2 emissions by making energy plants more effiient in places like China, US and Europe says Professor Giovanni Baiocchi of University of Maryland


Dr. Giovanni Baiocchi is an applied environmental economist. Giovanni's main research looks at the global and local impact of economic activity, including trade, urbanization, and lifestyles. He has published a wide range of interdisciplinary research in international multidisciplinary journals such as Environmental Science & Technology, Ecological Economics, Journal of Industrial Ecology, Nature Climate Change, and Computational Economics. Giovanni is a lead author for the IPCC 5th Assessment for Working Group III, focusing on the drivers, trends, and mitigation of climate change. He was also selected as a qualified independent expert for environmental themes by the European Commission.

Transcript: snip* PERIES: So, before we left the first segment, we were having a conversation about the largest emitters around the world, China and the United States and some of the European countries, all of whom have--from what I understand, China has made a commitment to reduce its emissions by 45 percent by 2030; we have the United States talking about reducing its emissions by 35 percent; and we have the European Union, who's also said that they would reduce its CO2 emissions by 35 percent by 2030.

Now, the question on my mind is: is this actually possible, given the current economic organization and structure?

BAIOCCHI: Yes, that's definitely an important question. And I would say that for some countries, like China, because they start from having power plants that are very inefficient--basically, coal-based, some old technology--for them, this kind of commitment, it's possible, it's more possible than for other countries. So by adopting new technology, cleaner technology, they can make major efficiency savings. Also, emphasis on renewables and wind and solar energy--I know that they are investing a lot into these technology. So I would say that it is possible for some countries. Other countries that already have efficient technologies, some European countries, for example, for them it will be much harder to meet this kind of commitments.

PERIES: So in terms of corporations cooperating with this initiative, those who are in the renewable innovative sector of the economy looking at energy sources would actually jump on this opportunity, because that means that they're able to sell more efficient energy infrastructure in order to reduce emissions. Why would they be against it, as there is a huge lobby in the United States trying to curtail policy towards a better environment?

BAIOCCHI: The story is the usual one. There are pre-existing interests, and it's very hard to move things in the right direction. There's a lot of investment, what we call lock-ins into fossil fuel, technology-based. And this makes us dependent on that industry. The industry depends on us continuing our behavior, and changes are difficult.

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