Retired general’s testimony links private contractor to Abu Ghraib abuses

In this June 22, 2004, photo, a detainee in an outdoor solitary confinement cell talks with a military police officer at the Abu Ghraib prison on the outskirts of Baghdad, Iraq. (AP)
In this June 22, 2004, photo, a detainee in an outdoor solitary confinement cell talks with a military police officer at the Abu Ghraib prison on the outskirts of Baghdad, Iraq. (AP)
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Updated 17 April 2024
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Retired general’s testimony links private contractor to Abu Ghraib abuses

Retired general’s testimony links private contractor to Abu Ghraib abuses
  • Taguba’s testimony was the strongest evidence yet that civilian employees of the Virginia-based military contractor CACI played a role in the abuse of Abu Ghraib inmates

ALEXANDRIA, Virginia: An Army general who investigated the abuse of prisoners 20 years ago at Iraq’s infamous Abu Ghraib prison testified Tuesday that a civilian contractor instructed prison guards to “soften up” detainees for interrogations.
The retired general, Antonio Taguba, told jurors that the contractor, Steven Stefanowicz, even tried to intimidate the general as he investigated the Abu Ghraib abuses.
“He would lean on the table staring me down. He did not answer questions directly,” Taguba said. “He was trying to intimidate me.”
Taguba’s testimony was the strongest evidence yet that civilian employees of the Virginia-based military contractor CACI played a role in the abuse of Abu Ghraib inmates.
Three former inmates at the prison are suing CACI in federal court in Alexandria, alleging that the company contributed to the tortuous treatment they suffered. The trial, delayed by more than 15 years of legal wrangling, is the first time that Abu Ghraib inmates have been able to bring a civil case in front of a US jury.
The lawsuit alleges that CACI is liable for the three plaintiffs’ mistreatment because the company provided civilian interrogators to the Army who were assigned to Abu Ghraib and conspired with the military police who were serving as prison guards to torture the inmates.
In a report Taguba completed in 2004, he recommended that Stefanowicz be fired, reprimanded and lose his security clearance for “allowing and/or instructing” military police to engage in illegal and abusive tactics.
“He clearly knew his instructions equated to physical abuse,” Taguba’s report concluded.
In testimony Tuesday, Taguba said he personally questioned Stefanowicz for about an hour as part of his investigation.
“He was a very coy type of personality,” Taguba said of Stefanowicz, often referred to as “Big Steve” by Abu Ghraib personnel.
Taguba said his investigation was focused on military police, and his probe of civilian interrogators’ role was limited. But he felt obligated to delve into it, he said, because he received credible testimony from the military police that the civilians were playing an important role in what occurred.
The MPs told Taguba that they weren’t getting clear instructions from within their own military chain of command, and that Stefanowicz and other civilian personnel ended up filling the void. Taguba said the military chain of command was unclear, and that various commanders were not cooperating with each other, all of which contributed to a chaotic atmosphere at the prison.
Taguba said he was several weeks into his investigation before he even understood that civilians were carrying out interrogations at Abu Ghraib. He said he and his staff heard multiple references to CACI but initially misunderstood them, believing that people were saying “khaki” instead.
On cross-examination, Taguba acknowledged the limits of his investigation. A second report, completed by Maj. Gen. George Fay, looked more directly at the role of military intelligence and civilian contractors at Abu Ghraib.
Taguba also acknowledged that his report contained several errors, including misidentifying a CACI employee as an employee of another contractor, and another civilian contractor as a CACI employee.
CACI’s lawyers emphasized that Stefanowicz was never assigned to interrogate any of the three plaintiffs in the case.
As Taguba testified about Stefanowicz, a lawyer asked him if he was indeed intimidated by the CACI contractor.
“Not on your life,” Taguba responded.
The jury also heard Tuesday from one of the three plaintiffs in the case, Asa’ad Hamza Zuba’e, who testified remotely from Iraq through an Arabic interpreter. Zuba’e said he was kept naked, threatened with dogs, and forced to masturbate in front of prison guards.
CACI’s lawyers questioned his claims. Among other things, they questioned how he could have been threatened with dogs when government reports showed dogs had not yet been sent to Iraq at the time he said it happened.

 


Russia accuses US of seeking to place weapons in space

Russia accuses US of seeking to place weapons in space
Updated 5 sec ago
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Russia accuses US of seeking to place weapons in space

Russia accuses US of seeking to place weapons in space
MOSCOW: Russia on Tuesday said the United States was seeking to place weapons in space, the latest accusation in an ongoing row, that came a day after Washington vetoed a Russian non-proliferation motion at the United Nations.
“They have once again demonstrated that their true priorities in the area of outer space are aimed not at keeping space free from weapons of any kind, but at placing weapons in space and turning it into an arena for military confrontation,” Russia’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in a statement.

India shuts schools as temperatures soar

India shuts schools as temperatures soar
Updated 47 min 51 sec ago
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India shuts schools as temperatures soar

India shuts schools as temperatures soar
  • India’s weather bureau has warned of “severe heat wave conditions” this week
  • Sweltering heat has dipped voter turnout in India, where world’s largest election is underway

New Delhi: Indian authorities in the capital have ordered schools shut early for the summer holiday, after temperatures hit 47.4 degrees Celsius (117 degrees Fahrenheit) with Delhi gripped by a “severe heatwave.”

Delhi city officials asked schools to shut with “immediate effect” due to the blistering heat, according to a government order quoted by the Hindustan Times Tuesday, cutting short the term by a few days.

India’s weather bureau has warned of “severe heatwave conditions” this week, with the mercury reaching the sizzling peak of 47.4 degrees Celsius in Delhi’s Najafgarh suburb on Monday, the hottest temperature countrywide.

Authorities in other states — including Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab and Rajasthan — have also ordered schools close, Indian Today reported.

India is no stranger to searing summer temperatures.

But years of scientific research have found climate change is causing heatwaves to become longer, more frequent and more intense.

The Indian Meteorological Department warned of the impact of the heat on the health especially for infants, the elderly and those with chronic diseases.

In May 2022, parts of Delhi hit 49.2 degrees Celsius (120.5 Fahrenheit), Indian media reported at the time.

The next round of voting in India’s six-week-long election takes place on Saturday, including in Delhi.

Turnout in voting has dipped, with analysts suggesting the hotter-than-average weather is a factor — as well as the widespread expectation that Prime Minister Narendra Modi will easily win a third term.

India’s election commission has formed a task force to review the impact of heatwaves and humidity before each round of voting.

At the same time, India’s southern states including Tamil Nadu and Kerala have been lashed by heavy rains over the past few days.

Severe storms also hit parts of the country last week, including in the financial capital Mumbai, where strong winds flattened a giant billboard that killed 16 people and left dozens more trapped.


How cockroaches spread around the globe to become the pest we know today

How cockroaches spread around the globe to become the pest we know today
Updated 21 May 2024
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How cockroaches spread around the globe to become the pest we know today

How cockroaches spread around the globe to become the pest we know today
  • Study confirms German cockroach species found worldwide actually originated in southeast Asia
  • Cockroaches may have stowed away with people to travel to Middle East, Europe, says study

DALLAS: They’re six-legged, hairy home invaders that just won’t die, no matter how hard you try.

Cockroaches are experts at surviving indoors, hiding in kitchen pipes or musty drawers. But they didn’t start out that way.

A new study uses genetics to chart cockroaches’ spread across the globe, from humble beginnings in southeast Asia to Europe and beyond. The findings span thousands of years of cockroach history and suggest the pests may have scuttled across the globe by hitching a ride with another species: people.

“It’s not just an insect story,” said Stephen Richards, an assistant professor at Baylor College of Medicine who studies insect genes and was not involved with the study. “It’s an insect and humanity story.”

Researchers analyzed the genes of over 280 cockroaches from 17 countries and six continents. They confirmed that the German cockroach — a species found worldwide — actually originated in southeast Asia, likely evolving from the Asian cockroach around 2,100 years ago. Scientists have long suspected the German cockroach’s Asian origins since similar species still live there.

The research was published Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The cockroaches then globe-trotted via two major routes. They traveled west to the Middle East about 1,200 years ago, perhaps hitchhiking in soldiers’ breadbaskets. And they may have stowed away on Dutch and British East India Company trade routes to get to Europe about 270 years ago, according to scientists’ reconstruction and historical records.

Once they arrived, inventions like the steam engine and indoor plumbing likely helped the insects travel further and get cozy living indoors, where they are most commonly found today.

Researchers said exploring how cockroaches conquered past environments may lead to better pest control.

Modern-day cockroaches are tough to keep at bay because they evolve quickly to resist pesticides, according to study author Qian Tang, a postdoctoral researcher studying insects at Harvard University.
 


9 Egyptians go on trial in Greece over deadly shipwreck, as rights groups question process

9 Egyptians go on trial in Greece over deadly shipwreck, as rights groups question process
Updated 21 May 2024
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9 Egyptians go on trial in Greece over deadly shipwreck, as rights groups question process

9 Egyptians go on trial in Greece over deadly shipwreck, as rights groups question process
  • International human rights groups argue the defendants’ right to a fair trial is being compromised as they face judgment before an investigation is concluded

KALAMATA: Nine Egyptian men go on trial in southern Greece on Tuesday, accused of causing a shipwreck that killed hundreds of migrants and sent shockwaves through the European Union’s border protection and asylum operations.
The defendants, most in their 20s, face up to life in prison if convicted on multiple criminal charges over the sinking of the “Adriana” fishing trawler on June 14 last year.
International human rights groups argue that their right to a fair trial is being compromised as they face judgment before an investigation is concluded into claims the Greek coast guard may have botched the rescue attempt.
More than 500 people are believed to have gone down with the fishing trawler, which had been traveling from Libya to Italy. Following the sinking, 104 people were rescued — mostly migrants from Syria, Pakistan and Egypt — and 82 bodies were recovered.
Early Tuesday, police in riot gear clashed with members of a small group of protesters gathered in front of the courthouse and detained two people.
United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres has described the shipwreck off the southern coast of Greece as “horrific.”
The sinking renewed pressure on European governments to protect the lives of migrants and asylum seekers trying to reach the continent, as the annual number of people traveling illegally across the Mediterranean continues to rise.
Lawyers from Greek human rights groups are representing the nine Egyptians, who deny the smuggling charges.
“There’s a real risk that these nine survivors could be found ‘guilty’ on the basis of incomplete and questionable evidence given that the official investigation into the role of the coast guard has not yet been completed,” said Judith Sunderland, an associate director for Europe and Central Asia at Human Rights Watch.
Authorities say the defendants were identified by other survivors and the indictments are based on their testimonies.
The European border protection agency Frontex says illegal border detections at EU frontiers increased for three consecutive years through 2023, reaching the highest level since the 2015-2016 migration crisis — driven largely by arrivals at the sea borders.


France begins its first war crime trial of Syrian officials

France begins its first war crime trial of Syrian officials
Updated 21 May 2024
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France begins its first war crime trial of Syrian officials

France begins its first war crime trial of Syrian officials
  • The Paris Criminal Court will try the three officials for their role in the deaths of two French Syrian men

PARIS: The first trial in France of officials of the Syrian regime of Bashar Assad is to begin on Tuesday, with three top security officers to be tried in absentia for complicity in crimes against humanity and war crimes.
The Paris Criminal Court will try the three officials for their role in the deaths of two French Syrian men, Mazzen Dabbagh and his son Patrick, arrested in Damascus in 2013.
“For the first time, French courts will address the crimes of the Syrian authorities, and will try the most senior members of the authorities to ever be prosecuted since the outbreak of the Syrian revolution in March 2011,” said the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH).
The war between Assad’s regime and armed opposition groups, including Daesh, erupted after the government repressed peaceful pro-democracy protests in 2011.
The conflict has killed more than half a million people, displaced millions, and ravaged Syria’s economy and infrastructure.
Trials into the abuses of the Syrian regime have taken place elsewhere in Europe, notably in Germany.
But in those cases, the people prosecuted held lower ranks and were present at the hearings.
Ali Mamlouk, former head of the National Security Bureau, Jamil Hassan, former director of the Air Force intelligence service, and Abdel Salam Mahmoud, former head of investigations for the service in Damascus, are subject to international arrest warrants and will be tried in absentia.
Scheduled to last four days, the hearings will be filmed.
War crimes
At the time of the arrest, Patrick Dabbagh was a 20-year-old student in his second year of arts and humanities at the University of Damascus. His father Mazzen worked as a senior education adviser at the French high school in Damascus.
The two were arrested in November 2013 by officers who claimed to belong to the Syrian Air Force intelligence service.
“Witness testimony confirms that Mazzen and Patrick Abdelkader were both taken to a detention center at Mezzeh Military Airport, which is run by Syrian Air Force Intelligence and notorious for the use of brutal torture,” the International Federation for Human Rights said, stressing that the pair were not involved in protests against the Assad regime.
They were declared dead in 2018. The family was formally notified that Patrick died on 21 January 2014. His father Mazzen died nearly four years later, on 25 November 2017.
In the committal order, the investigating judges said that it was “sufficiently established” that the two men “like thousands of detainees of the Air Force intelligence suffered torture of such intensity that they died.”
During the probe, French investigators and the Commission for International Justice and Accountability (CIJA), a non-governmental organization, collected accounts of torture and mistreatment at the Mezzeh prison, including the use of electric shocks and sexual violence, from dozens of witnesses including former detainees.
Lawyer Clemence Bectarte, who represents the Dabbagh family and the International Federation for Human Rights, said the trial was a new reminder that “under no circumstances” should relations with the Assad regime be normalized.
“We tend to forget that the regime’s crimes are still being committed today,” she said.