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.

 


CIA chief Burns to visit Paris to revive talks on Gaza: Western source

CIA chief Burns to visit Paris to revive talks on Gaza: Western source
Updated 5 sec ago
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CIA chief Burns to visit Paris to revive talks on Gaza: Western source

CIA chief Burns to visit Paris to revive talks on Gaza: Western source
WASHINGTON: US intelligence chief Bill Burns is expected to hold talks in Paris with representatives of Israel in a bid to relaunch talks aimed at finding a truce in Gaza, a Western source close to the issue said Friday.
The visit of the CIA chief to the French capital, expected on Friday or Saturday, comes after Israel gave the green light to the resumption of negotiations for the release of Israeli hostages held by Hamas in Gaza in exchange for a ceasefire.
Previous talks in Cairo and Doha attended by Qatar and Egypt as mediators for Hamas broke up earlier this month with both Israel and the Palestinian militant group unhappy with the conditions of the other side.
It was not immediately clear if representatives of Qatar or Egypt would be present at the Paris talks.
The New York Times said Burns would meet his Israeli counterpart David Barnea, the head of Israel’s Mossad spy agency.
The US-based Axios news website quoted a source as saying Burns would also meet Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed Bin Abdul Rahman Al-Thani as well as Barnea.
The Gaza war broke out after Hamas’s unprecedented attack on October 7 resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.
Militants also took 252 hostages, 121 of whom remain in Gaza, including 37 the army says are dead.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 35,800 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.
Axios said Israeli negotiators developed in recent days a “new proposal” to renew the hostage talks which includes “some compromises” in Israel’s position compared to the last round of negotiations in Cairo.

US, European powers divided over confronting Iran at IAEA, diplomats say

US, European powers divided over confronting Iran at IAEA, diplomats say
Updated 2 min 22 sec ago
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US, European powers divided over confronting Iran at IAEA, diplomats say

US, European powers divided over confronting Iran at IAEA, diplomats say

VIENNA: The US and its three top European allies are divided over whether to confront Iran at the UN nuclear watchdog by seeking a resolution against it and thereby risk further escalation, with the Europeans in favor, diplomats say.
It is 18 months since the International Atomic Energy Agency’s 35-nation Board of Governors last passed a resolution against Iran, ordering it to cooperate urgently with a years-long IAEA investigation into uranium particles found at three undeclared sites.
While the number of sites in question has been narrowed to two, Iran still has not explained the traces, and the number of other problems in Iran has risen including Tehran barring many of the IAEA’s top uranium-enrichment experts on the inspection team.
A quarterly Board of Governors meeting begins in 10 days.
“It’s extremely difficult with Iran and the level of violations is unprecedented ... There is no slowing down of its program and there is no real goodwill by Iran to cooperate with the IAEA,” a senior European diplomat said.
“All our indicators are flashing red.”
Concern about Iran’s atomic activities has been high for some time. It has been enriching uranium to 60 percent purity, close to the roughly 90 percent that is weapons-grade, for three years. It has enough material enriched to that level, if refined further, for three nuclear bombs, according to an IAEA yardstick.
Western powers say there is no credible civilian energy purpose in enriching to that level, and the IAEA says no other country has done so without making a nuclear weapon. Iran says its objectives are entirely peaceful.
The United States, however, has not wanted to seek another resolution against Iran at recent IAEA board meetings. Before the last one, in March, the European powers — France, Britain and Germany, known as the “E3” — disagreed with Washington on whether to seek a resolution but then backed down.
Officials often cite the US presidential election as a reason for the Biden administration’s reluctance.
But the main argument US officials make is to avoid giving Iran a pretext to respond by escalating its nuclear activities, as it has done in the past.
Tensions in the Middle East are running particularly high with Israel continuing its military campaign in Gaza in response to Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack. Israel and Iran carried out direct strikes on each other for the first time last month, and Israel has repeatedly threatened to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities.
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi’s death in a helicopter crash on Sunday has complicated the situation. In talks aimed at improving Iran’s cooperation with the IAEA, Tehran told the Vienna-based agency this week it would not engage with it until Raisi’s successor is elected on June 28, two diplomats said.
“A resolution has been prepared,” another senior European diplomat said. Others confirmed the E3 had prepared a draft but not circulated it to Board members.
“Our analysis is the death of Raisi changes nothing. We have to move forward with this resolution ... The Americans are the difficulty, and in our conversations we continue to do everything to convince them.”
It was unclear when a decision on whether to seek a resolution would be reached. The next quarterly IAEA reports on Iran are due early next week. Draft resolutions tend to refer to those reports’ findings.


British neonatal nurse convicted of killing 7 babies loses her bid to appeal

British neonatal nurse convicted of killing 7 babies loses her bid to appeal
Updated 4 min 45 sec ago
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British neonatal nurse convicted of killing 7 babies loses her bid to appeal

British neonatal nurse convicted of killing 7 babies loses her bid to appeal
  • Lucy Letby, 34, had asked for permission to challenge the verdict after she was convicted and sentenced to life in prison

LONDON: A British neonatal nurse who was convicted of murdering seven babies and the attempted murder of six others has lost her bid to appeal.
Lucy Letby, 34, had asked for permission to challenge the verdict after she was convicted and sentenced to life in prison last year. A three-judge panel of Britain’s Court of Appeal heard the case in April and released its decision on Friday.
“Having heard her application, we have decided to refuse leave to appeal on all grounds and refuse all associated applications,″ Judge Victoria Sharp said. “A full judgment will be handed down in due course.”
A jury at Manchester Crown Court had found her guilty of the crimes, which took place between June 2015 and June 2016 at the neonatal unit at the Countess of Chester Hospital in northwestern England.
Most defendants in British court cases don’t have an automatic right to appeal. They must seek permission to appeal on a set of narrowly defined legal issues.


UK Labour leader Starmer says wants to recognize Palestinian state as part of peace process

UK Labour leader Starmer says wants to recognize Palestinian state as part of peace process
Updated 6 min 33 sec ago
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UK Labour leader Starmer says wants to recognize Palestinian state as part of peace process

UK Labour leader Starmer says wants to recognize Palestinian state as part of peace process
  • Ireland, Spain and Norway announced this week that they would recognize a Palestinian state on May 28
  • The Labour Party has been engulfed by an internal battle over its policy to the war in Gaza since the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas

LONDON: Britain’s opposition leader Keir Starmer said on Friday he wanted to recognize a Palestinian state if he won power in an upcoming general election, but said that such a move would need to come at the right time in a peace process.
Ireland, Spain and Norway announced this week that they would recognize a Palestinian state on May 28, prompting an angry response from Israel which said this amounted to a “reward for terrorism” and recalled its ambassadors from the three capitals.
The Labour Party has been engulfed by an internal battle over its policy to the war in Gaza since the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas that led to Israel’s invasion.
Starmer has faced criticism for some traditional Labour voters for only gradually shifting the party’s position toward supporting a ceasefire in Gaza.
The party’s stance led to 10 senior party lawmakers quitting their policy roles and was blamed for a handful of disappointing results in this month’s local elections in some areas with large Muslim populations.
Asked if he thought Palestine should be a state, Starmer told the BBC: “Yes, I do, and I think recognition of Palestine is extremely important. We need a viable Palestinian state alongside a safe and secure Israel, and recognition has to be part of that.”
Starmer said recognition of a Palestinian state would need to come at the right time in a peace process, but “I absolutely believe in it,” arguing a two-state solution was essential for lasting peace in the region.
The two-state solution has long been the framework of British foreign policy and international efforts to resolve the conflict but the peace process has been moribund for years.
The current Conservative government, and other big European states such as France and Germany, have also voiced support in principle for a Palestinian state, but with the timing of recognition forming part of a broader peace process.
This week, Labour backed the independence of the International Criminal Court after it sought arrest warrants for both Hamas and Israeli officials for war crimes, opening up a divide with the governing Conservative Party.
The Conservative government said the ICC did not have the jurisdiction to request the arrest warrants and it would not help get Israeli hostages out of Gaza, get humanitarian aid in, or deliver a sustainable ceasefire.


India’s new government will be spoilt for choice with $25 billion extra in kitty

India’s new government will be spoilt for choice with $25 billion extra in kitty
Updated 24 May 2024
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India’s new government will be spoilt for choice with $25 billion extra in kitty

India’s new government will be spoilt for choice with $25 billion extra in kitty
  • Indian central bank has announced record 2.11 trillion rupees dividend transfer to government, more than double New Delhi’s and street estimates
  • Surplus fund can help the new government bring down fiscal deficit by 0.3 percent of GDP or increase spending on infrastructure or “populist” stimulus

MUMBAI/NEW DELHI: India’s incoming government will be greeted with a $25 billion cheque from the central bank, giving it the option to either boost spending or narrow the fiscal deficit quicker, both of which will be cheered by investors.
On Wednesday, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) announced a record 2.11 trillion rupees dividend transfer to the government, more than double New Delhi’s and street estimates, leading to a decline in bond yields and a rise in equity markets.
The surplus fund can help the new government, which will take charge after the current elections, bring down its fiscal deficit by 0.3 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) or increase spending on infrastructure or “populist” stimulus, Citi Research’s Samiran Chakraborty said.
“The bond markets would likely hope that the government follows the deficit reduction route, while the equity markets would likely prefer the government taking the expenditure increase one,” said Chakraborty.
During the election campaigns, the opposition Congress promised annual cash handouts of 100,000 rupees ($1,202.07) to poor women and unemployed youth. The party’s star campaigner Rahul Gandhi also promised debt waiver for farmers.
But Prime Minister Narendra Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has avoided promising any new major welfare measures.
“Despite higher revenue from the RBI dividend, we doubt the government would opt for more populist expenditure in its budget, if the government is BJP-led,” said Shreya Sodhani, an economist at Barclays.
“The current government has not shown a disposition toward populist spending even in an election year.”
The BJP-led government resisted the temptation of spending trillions of rupees on schemes for the poor in its last budget before the election while raising spending on infrastructure to 11.11 trillion rupees, more than three time the sum spent in 2019.
QUICKER FISCAL CONSOLIDATION
The new government will likely present the final budget in July, leaving the administration with only eight months to spend funds allocated to them.
Government spending has been slow so far in the year, with the start of elections from April. Tax collections, meanwhile, have been strong due to buoyancy in the economy.
India collected a record 2.10 trillion rupees in goods and services taxes in April, the first month of the financial year, ensuring the government is on track to meet its planned fiscal goal of 5.1 percent of GDP this year.
This could mean the government will lean toward using the bumper dividend for fiscal consolidation.
There is scope for a slight reduction in the targeted fiscal deficit for the current year, said Ashima Goyal, a professor and an external member of the country’s monetary policy committee, who expects the government to comfortably achieve the targeted fiscal deficit of 4.5 percent by 2025/26.
India’s fiscal deficit ballooned to 9.2 percent during the pandemic but the government has steadily brought this down.
But bringing down the deficit by 130 basis points from 5.8 percent in 2023/24 was seen as challenging and dependent on one-off revenue from either privatization or auction of telecom spectrum.
($1 = 83.1900 Indian rupees)