International court says it’s ‘undeterred’ by US threats

Afghan rights workers warned Tuesday that a blistering US attack on the International Criminal Court investigating war crimes allegations will strengthen a climate of impunity in Afghanistan. (File Photo / AFP)
Updated 11 September 2018
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International court says it’s ‘undeterred’ by US threats

ISLAMABAD: Afghan rights workers warned Tuesday that a blistering US attack on the International Criminal Court investigating war crimes allegations will strengthen a climate of impunity in Afghanistan, prolong the war and embolden those committing acts of violence.
In a speech Monday, US National Security Adviser John Bolton said Washington would not cooperate with The Hague-based court and threatened it with sanctions, saying it put US sovereignty and national security at risk.
The CIA and US forces have been accused of committing war crimes in Afghanistan.
“It’s very unfortunate because delivering justice to victims will help to facilitate the peace process in Afghanistan,” said Sima Samar, head of Afghanistan’s Human Rights Commission. “Justice is not a luxury. It is a basic human right.”
In The Hague, the ICC said it will continue to do its work “undeterred,” despite Bolton’s condemnation.
The court said in a statement that it was established by a treaty supported by 123 countries. It says it prosecuted cases only when those countries failed to do so or did not do so “genuinely.” Afghanistan is a signatory.
During a three-month period that ended in January, the court received a staggering 1.7 million allegations of war crimes from Afghanistan, although some of those accusations involved entire villages.
Still, thousands of individual statements as well as those filed on behalf of multiple victims were received by the ICC in The Hague. The statements were collected by organizations based in Europe and Afghanistan.
Bolton’s speech came as an ICC judge was expected to announce a decision soon on a request from prosecutors to formally open an investigation into allegations of war crimes committed by Afghan national security forces, Taliban and Haqqani network militants as well as US forces and intelligence officials in Afghanistan since May 2003.
While the Bolton speech “was shocking in many parts,” Washington was not expected to embrace the investigation, said Amal Nasser, permanent representative of the International Federation of Human Rights to the ICC.
Still, “the ICC prosecutor has not hesitated before in demonstrating that it will prosecute major powers,” Nasser said.
“I think what the US is promoting is a sense of the ‘righteousness’ and being above the law,” she said in an email interview, noting the ICC has yet to decide whether there will be an investigation or its scope.
The 181-page prosecution request, dated November 2017, said “information available provides a reasonable basis to believe that members of United States of America armed forces and members of the Central Intelligence Agency committed acts of torture, cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity, rape and sexual violence against conflict-related detainees in Afghanistan and other locations, principally in the 2003-2004 period.”
Washington’s unequivocal rejection of the court seems likely to embolden Afghanistan’s US-backed government, which refused Tuesday to respond directly to Bolton’s outburst, but similarly dismissed war crimes allegations against Afghan National Security Forces as well as its intelligence agency.
President Ashraf Ghani’s deputy spokesman, Shahussain Murtazawi, said the Taliban, the Daesh affiliate and as many as 21 other anti-government groups have committed war crimes. He dismissed allegations against Afghan security forces, saying “government forces are always trying to save the people. It is the insurgents who are the killers of civilians.”
The prosecutor’s request says there is “a reasonable basis to believe that members of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), in particular members of the National Directorate for Security (NDS) and the Afghan National Police (ANP), have engaged in systemic patterns of torture and cruel treatment of conflict-related detainees in Afghan detention facilities, including acts of sexual violence.”
For human rights activists in Afghanistan, Bolton’s assault dealt a punishing blow to their efforts to end a culture of impunity that has hampered efforts to bring those who committed crimes to justice.
“The solution to put an end to war is by making everyone accountable, whether it is the Taliban or the Haqqani network or whether it is the Americans or the Afghan army or Afghan government,” said Ehsan Qaane, of the Kabul-based Transitional Justice Coordination Group, which represents 26 organizations working in Afghanistan.
The coordination group helped many who wanted to file a claim with the international court.
Victims need to see justice done if they are to begin to heal, Qaane said. He added that some insurgents turned to the Taliban after being detained, tortured and released. Their fight is more about revenge than ideology, he said.
“These people will perhaps stop fighting if they feel they have justice,” Qaane said.
Samar said rights groups cannot dispense justice.
“There is a difference between a human rights defender and a judge,” thus the need for the ICC, she said in a telephone interview. “My concern is that to deny justice is to deny a basic human right and human dignity.”


California doctor accused of prescribing drugs in 5 deaths

This undated photo provided by the Orange County Sheriff's Office shows Stephen Scarpa, 25. Scarpa has been charged with murder in the death of an off-duty fire captain on a bicycle whom authorities say Scarpa struck and killed with his car. Authorities say Scarpa told investigators he was on drugs prescribed by Dr. Dzung Ahn Pham, a Southern California doctor who was arrested Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2018 on charges of doling out drugs to patients he didn't examine and is alleged to have prescribed drugs to five people who died of overdoses, federal prosecutors said. (AP)
Updated 19 December 2018
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California doctor accused of prescribing drugs in 5 deaths

  • State officials were aware of improper prescribing practices years before that, according to records at the Osteopathic Medical Board

LOS ANGELES: A Southern California doctor was arrested Tuesday on charges of doling out drugs to patients he didn’t examine and is alleged to have prescribed drugs to five people who died of overdoses as well as an impaired driver who struck and killed a bicyclist, federal prosecutors said.
Dr. Dzung Ahn Pham, 57, faces charges of illegally distributing opioids and other narcotics to what authorities called “patients,” but who were addicts using the drugs or people selling them on the street. He prescribed some drugs after receiving text messages requesting specific quantities and doses, prosecutors said.
“This case clearly and tragically illustrates the dangers of drug dealers armed with prescription pads,” said US Attorney Nick Hanna.
A phone call and email seeking comment from Pham’s lawyer, John Barton, were not immediately returned. Phone calls to Pham’s urgent care clinic in Irvine and a number listed for his home were not answered.
Pham’s record of prescribing large amounts of pills led a CVS pharmacy to stop accepting prescriptions from him more than five years ago when he couldn’t justify the number of pills patients were picking up, prosecutors said.
State officials were aware of improper prescribing practices years before that, according to records at the Osteopathic Medical Board.
Pham was reprimanded by the board in 2007 for excessive prescribing, prescribing without good faith examination, repeated negligent acts and prescribing to an addict, among other charges. Details of the record were not immediately available.
Between 2014 and 2017, Pham wrote prescriptions for five people who died from overdoses, prosecutors said. He’s not charged in those deaths, but those investigations are ongoing, said Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the US attorney.
One of the overdose deaths was a 21-year-old man, identified in the affidavit only by initials S.L.S. who fatally overdosed on a combination of heroin and two of the types of drugs Pham prescribed. The man’s mother referred to Pham as “Dr. Feelgood.”
In November, a driver who fatally struck an off-duty firefighter training on his bike for a triathlon told investigators he was on drugs prescribed by Pham, prosecutors said. Several prescription bottles with Pham’s name were found in the driver’s car.
Orange County prosecutors have charged Stephen Scarpa, 25, with murder in the death of Costa Mesa fire Capt. Mike Kreza.
The death came a few months after an undercover Drug Enforcement Administration agent was able to quickly score from Pham what is referred to as a “triple threat” or “holy trinity,” a combination of three types of narcotics, the affidavit said. Pham directed the agent to an Irvine pharmacy that filled many of his prescriptions.
The affidavit filed with the charges described many of Pham’s text messages, indicating in one case that he was having a sexual relationship with a patient. He was prescribing drugs to that woman and also to her 9-year-old daughter, according to the document by DEA Special Agent Lindsey Bellomy.
In another text exchange, Pham told someone he was concerned after learning that the gunman who killed 11 and wounded a responding officer who died from a fellow officer’s bullet during a shootout at the Borderline Bar and Grill in Thousand Oaks last month had prescriptions Pham wrote for someone else.
The document does not provide any information on whether Ian Long, the shooter who took his own life after the Nov. 7 mass shooting, possessed any prescriptions written by Pham.
“I never saw Mr. Long before so I don’t know the implication of this information,” Pham wrote in the text message exchange, according to the affidavit.
The person Pham was texting responded by trying to reassure Pham he was in the clear if the prescriptions were not written to Long.
“If I give my meds to some crazy person its (sic) on me, not you, you have no control over what happened after a patient leaves your office,” the person replied.
The criminal complaint said Pham charged $100 to $150 a visit at his clinic and deposited $6.7 million into bank accounts between 2013 and September.
If convicted of the charges, Pham could face up to 40 years in prison, prosecutors said.