Monday, March 24, 2008

17-Year-Old Killed by Taser Over Shoplifted Hot Pockets

17-Year-Old Killed by Taser Over Shoplifted Hot Pockets

By Pam Spaulding, Pandagon

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More Taser insanity. The mounting incidents of violence being perpetrated by the inappropriate use of Tasers is unnerving. The stories from readers keep flooding into my inbox.

Here’s one from my state that will turn your stomach (h/t n8nyc and Virginia F.). Darryl Wayne Turner was a cashier and bagged groceries at a local Food Lion. He lifted a couple of Hot Pocket lunches and his mother told him to do the right thing — go back to the store and fess up. Then something went horribly wrong.

A 17-year-old died at Carolinas Medical Center Thursday after a Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer shocked him with a Taser during a confrontation at a grocery store in northeast Charlotte.

…Around lunchtime, Turner had come home to eat and told his mom that he had stolen a couple of Hot Pockets from the store. A supervisor planned to get a district manager involved and he feared disciplinary action, she said.
She said she told him to go back to the store and face up to what happened.
It wasn’t long after lunch she got a call from one of her son’s co-workers, who told her about the incident, she said.
After Turner was hit, police called the Charlotte Fire Department and paramedics, department policy anytime an officer uses a Taser gun, the release said.
Homicide detectives are investigating Turner’s death and will present their findings to the district attorney, the news release said.

Turner had no criminal record and no health problems.

Not to be topped, read what happened in the case of a Matteson, IL man, who was on the wrong end of a Taser — he has been acquitted of assaulting an officer.

Read that, and see a video about the use of Tasers in Eugene, Oregon, after the jump.

(Southtown Star):

A Matteson man cleared by a jury Wednesday of assaulting a police officer plans to sue Posen police for what he alleges was a case of racially-motivated police brutality, his attorney said.

Julius Little, 44, was pepper-sprayed, bitten repeatedly by a police dog and shot with a Taser by police outside his mother’s home near the intersection of 145th Street and Richmond Ave. on June 22, 2006.
A Markham courthouse jury took little more than an hour to clear him of aggressively approaching Cpl. Bill Alexander, clenching his fists and threatening to punch him.
“The police were just trying to cover up for what they did to him,” juror Maud Powell told the SouthtownStar after the verdict was announced, “It was obvious from what the officers said in court that they were lying.”

During the two-day trial, Little testified that he was taking out the trash at his mother’s home when he saw police questioning his son.
When he asked the officers what was going on, he was told, “get your black ass out of here,” and then attacked by three white cops and a K-9 officer, he alleged.
…Several eyewitnesses corroborated Little’s account, contradicting the officers’ claims that Little was the aggressor, and the officers’ claims not to have used racially-charged language.

Take a look at this short doc, Tazing Eugene, about the adoption of Tasers by police officers in Eugene, Oregon. Nezua of The Unapologetic Mexican has the reaction on the street.


As I was writing this, n8nyc sent over another item about a fatality, this time in the Sunshine State:

A Deerfield Beach man, whom Broward sheriff’s deputies said was naked and belligerent, was Tasered when he resisted arrest, and died in BSO custody early Friday. When they arrived, they found Garland strolling naked past the Ocean Boulevard Condominium at 191 SE 20 Ave.
…Deputies tried to detain him, but he became angry, and refused to comply. Deputies hit him with a stun gun, and were able to take Garland, who became violent, into custody.

Now perhaps there may have been a good reason to tase this man, if he was that out of control (and given paramedics confirmed Garland’s behavior). With some of the prior incidents, witnesses have come forward and contradicted police reports about the violent behavior of the individual.

The problem is that the Taser when employed is effective in subduing people, but the number of incidents where 1) the situation isn’t violent, the person has no weapon, and tasing is used as the measure of first resort; and 2) someone dies are mounting in published reports from around the globe, and there are no mandatory training standards in place in response to the disturbing incidents.

The Blend Taser files.

Pam Spaulding blogs at Pam's House Blend.

The Iraqi Civil War Bush and the Media Don't Tell You About

Iraq's "Hidden" Conflict

By Raed Jarrar
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While the majority of Iraqis know that the current Sunni-Shiites tension did not exist before 2003, no one can deny that after five years of U.S. occupation, sectarian tension is now a reality. Sectarianism is another disaster that was brought to Iraq by the war and occupation of Iraq.

The U.S.-led invasion did not only destroy the Baath political regime, it also annihilated the entire public sector including education, health care, food rations, social security, and the armed forces. The Iraqi public sector was a great example of how millions of Iraqis: Arabs and Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites, Muslims and Christians, religious and secular, all worked together in running the country. The myth that the former Iraqi government was a "Sunni-led dictatorship" was created by the U.S. government. Even the Iraqi political regime was not "Sunni-led," let alone the rest of the public sector. A good way to debunk this fairy tale is through a close look at the famous deck of cards of the 55 most wanted Iraqi leaders. The cards had the pictures of Saddam, his two sons, and the rest of the political leadership which most Iraqis would recognize as the heads of the political regime. What is noteworthy is that 36 of the 55 were Shiites. In fact, the two vice presidents were a Christian and a Shiites Kurd.

Sometimes I feel like Iraqis and Americans are analyzing two different wars happening in two different countries. In one narrative, there is a civil war based on ancient sectarian hatred where a U.S. withdrawal will cause the sky to fall. In the other, there is a country struggling under occupation to get its independence back where the occupation is not welcomed and it is causing political, not sectarian, splits and violence.

According to the Iraqi mainstream narrative, the foreign occupation is the major reason and cause for violence and destruction. Foreign intervention is not only destroying Iraq’s infrastructure, but it is also splitting Iraq’s formerly integrated society. In addition, Iraqis are fighting among each other over fundamental questions about the future of their country, but the central conflict is not between Sunnis and Shiites, it is between Iraqi separatists and nationalists. Unlike other countries in the region such as Lebanon, the Iraqi sectarian tension is still reversible, because it just started five years ago. More importantly, it isn’t main driver fueling the Iraqi-Iraqi conflict. This "hidden" conflict is between separatists and nationalists.

The "Hidden" Conflict: Separatists vs. Nationalists

Loosely speaking, separatists favor a "soft partition" of Iraq into at least three zones with strong regional governments, similar to the semiautonomous Kurdish "state" in Northern Iraq; they are thriving on foreign intervention (Iranian, U.S. or other powers’ influence); they favor privatizing Iraq’s massive energy reserves and ceding substantial control of the country’s oil sector to regional authorities. Nationalists reject any foreign interference in Iraq’s affairs and they favor a strong technocratic central government in Baghdad that is not based on sectarian voting blocs. They favor centralized control over the development of Iraq’s oil and gas reserves while keeping them nationalized.

This Iraqi-Iraqi conflict is in many ways similar to the U.S. civil war: Iraqis who are for keeping a central government are fighting against other Iraqis who want to secede. But the major difference is that the United States was not under a foreign occupation that was destroying nationalists and funding and training separatists. Numerous polls that were conducted over the past few years in Iraq show that a majority of Iraqis from all different backgrounds tend to be more nationalist than separatist. A majority of the population are for a complete U.S. withdrawal, for keeping a strong central government in Baghdad, and against privatizing and decentralizing Iraq’s natural resources.

More surprisingly to U.S. audiences, this nationalist-separatist conflict is apparent inside the Iraqi government itself. The Iraqi executive branch (the cabinet and the presidency) are completely controlled by separatists (including Shiitess, Sunnis, Kurds, seculars and others). But the legislative branch (the parliament) is controlled by nationalists (including Sunnis, Shiitess, seculars, Christians, Yazidis, etc.) who enjoy a small but crucially important majority.

The last couple of years witnessed numerous examples of how the Bush administration systematically took the side of separatists in the Iraqi executive branch against nationalists in the elected legislative branch, repeatedly bypassing the Iraqi parliament. In each of these cases, there was the potential for reaching compromises that would have satisfied both nationalists and separatists. However, the aggressive support of the U.S. government for the separatist executive branch against the parliament has made it impossible for Iraqis to settle their differences.

Understanding these nuances of the Iraqi-Iraqi conflict reveals how the war is a political struggle that will end as soon as the U.S. withdraws, not a religious war that will intensify after Iraqis take their country back. The United States is not playing the role of a peace-keeping force, or a convener of reconciliation. It is seen by a majority of Iraqis as one side of the conflict and will never be a part of the solution.

How to Help

On this side of the ocean, the U.S. government has managed to convince large portions of the "right" that the war and occupation of Iraq is "good for our safety" because it’s better to "fight the terrorists overseas so we do not have to face them here at home." Simultaneously, the government managed to manipulate many people on the "left" into believing that a U.S. withdrawal would cause unprecedented bloodshed. "The invasion was not a good idea" some would say, "but now that we are there, let’s fix it before we leave."

From an Iraqi perspective, both groups promote interventionist foreign policies that have no respect for sovereignty, independence, or international law. On the one hand, the best way to guarantee that no al-Qaeda or other extremist organizations will exist in Iraq is to let Iraqis rule the country by themselves. They have been living in Iraq and ruling it for the last thousands of years, and unlike the occupation authorities, they have been successful in protecting Iraq from the intervention of foreign countries and organizations.

While many Iraqis appreciate the sense of responsibility to fix what the U.S. invasion has broken in Iraq, and it has broken a lot, prolonging the occupation is only making the situation worse. There are other appropriate venues to support Iraqis after the last U.S. soldier and the last mercenary leave Iraq. This might include paying compensation, the same way Iraq has been compensating Kuwait and its people for the last 17 years through the United Nations Compensation Committee.

The best way to help Iraqis is to end the occupation of their country and to believe in their right and capacity for self-rule and self-determination. Setting a timetable for a complete withdrawal is the first step to help Iraqis begin the long process of reconciliation and reconstruction.

The 21st Invader

Unfortunately, the two ruling parties in D.C. are not planning to leave Iraq any time soon. The Republicans are openly speaking about leaving troops indefinitely, while the Democrats want to start withdrawing "combat" troops soon but they have three exceptions that could maintain up to 75,000 troops indefinitely in Iraq. These three exceptions are: training the Iraqi military forces, counter-terrorism operations, and protecting the U.S. embassy in Baghdad.

Turning the current occupation into half or one-quarter of an occupation will not change anything on the ground in Iraq. Pulling out some of the troops and leaving some exceptions indefinitely is not a new strategy, it is a continuation of decades old military interventionism that will likely reduce some of the violence but it will keep the Iraqi people from starting the political, social, and economic reconciliation that is sorely needed.

Last November marked the 1245th anniversary of the construction of modern Baghdad by the Abbasid caliph Al-Mansur. During the last 13 centuries, Baghdad had been attacked and occupied 20 times before the U.S. army became its 21st foreign invader. Robert Fisk noted in one of his articles that in 1920 David Lloyd George, the prime minister of Britain, was facing similar calls for a military withdrawal. "Is it not for the benefit of the people of that country that it should be governed so as to enable them to develop this land which has been withered and shriveled up by oppression? What would happen if we withdrew?" Lloyd George would not abandon Iraq to "anarchy and confusion". The time is different now, but the politics of the invaders still sound the same.

Torture in Our Own Backyards: The Fight Against Supermax Prisons

Torture in Our Own Backyards: The Fight Against Supermax Prisons

By Jessica Pupovac
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Imagine living in an 8-by-12 prison cell, in solitary confinement, for eight years straight. Your entire world consists of a dank, cinder block room with a narrow window only three inches high, opening up to an outdoor cement cage, cynically dubbed, "the yard." If you're lucky, you spend one hour, five days a week in that outdoor cage, where you gaze up through a wire mesh roof and hope for a glimpse of the sun. If you talk back to the guards or act out in any way, you might only venture outside one precious hour per week.

You go eight years without shaking a hand or experiencing any physical human contact. The prison guards bark orders and touch you only while wearing leather gloves, and then it's only to put you in full cuffs and shackles before escorting you to the cold showers, where they watch your every move.

You cannot make phone calls to your friends or family and must "earn" two visits per month, which inevitably take place through a Plexiglass wall. You are kept in full shackles the entire time you visit with your wife and children, and have to strain to hear their voices through speakers that record your every word. With no religious or educational programs to break up the time or elevate your thoughts, it's a daily struggle to keep your mind from unraveling.

This is how Reginald Akeem Berry describes his time in Tamms Correctional Facility, a "Supermax" state prison in southern Illinois, where he was held from March 1998 until July 2006. He now works to draw attention to conditions inside Tamms, where 261 inmates continue to be held in extreme isolation.

Once exclusively employed as a short-term punishment for particularly violent jailhouse infractions, today, 44 states hold "supermax" facilities, or "control units," designed specifically to hold large numbers of inmates in long-term solitary confinement. A concept that spread like wildfire in the 1990s, today an estimated 20,000 prisoners live in these modern-day dungeons, judged to be "unmanageable" by prison officials and moved from other penitentiaries to the nearest supermax.

Life in supermax institutions is grueling. Inmates stay in their cells for at least 23 hours per day, and never so much as lay eyes on another prisoner. While many live under these conditions for five years, others continue, uncertain of how to earn their way out, for ten, 15, or even 20 years.

The effects of such extended periods of isolation on prisoners' physical and mental health, their chances of meaningful rehabilitation, and, ultimately, on the communities to which they will eventually return are coming under increasing fire, from lawyers, human rights advocates and the medical professionals who have treated them. Bolstered by growing concern over the U.S.' sanctioning of torture, and the effect that has on the country's international standing, their calls to action are gaining ground. In 2000, and again in 2006, the United Nations Committee Against Torture condemned the kind of isolation imposed by the U.S. government in federal, state and county-run supermax prisons, calling it "extremely harsh." "The Committee is concerned about the prolonged isolation periods detainees are subjected to," they stated, "the effect such treatment has on their mental health, and that its purpose may be retribution, in which case it would constitute cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment."

"Sending someone to a supermax is punishment"

Defense attorney Jean Maclean Snyder, who has represented several Tamms prisoners, says the U.N. declaration is dead-on. "It is suspected that many [Tamms] prisoners have been sent there in retaliation for filing lawsuits about prison policies; because serious mental illnesses cause them to be disruptive; or simply because wardens at other prisons do not like them," she wrote in 2000, shortly after the original declaration was issued. Allan Mills of the Uptown People's Law Office in Chicago, IL thinks that the ambiguity surrounding how and why inmates are sent to supermax facilities constitutes a violation of due process. "Sending someone to a supermax is punishment," Mills told AlterNet, "and before someone gets punished, they have a right to a fair hearing." "Just like if you were to get a traffic ticket, you have a right to say 'I didn't do it' and bring witnesses, and the police would have to come and testify against you," he said. "The same should go for prisoners who are being subjected to this horrendous long-term confinement." Mills claims he has "tracked a pattern of prisoners being sent to Tamms because of them filing grievances or lawsuits and being jailhouse lawyers."

Assistant Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) Director Sergio Molina told AlterNet that, "Their behavior is their input," and although he claims the decision to transfer an inmate to Tamms is made on a "case-by-case basis," he wasn't able to expand further on the process.

Reginald Berry says he believes he was sent there for being "influential," among the general prison population. A former five-star leader of Chicago's infamous Vice Lords gang, he says he had the opportunity to turn in the "pistol" in a murder case, in return for a five-year sentence. However, he says, cooperating with the police against a fellow Vice Lord would have been "against the code," -- so instead he fought a first-degree murder charge in court and wound up with a 33-year jail sentence.

At first, life in Illinois state penitentiaries -- he was transferred to several over the years -- was manageable, since, in his words, "the animals were running the zoo." Through what he describes as a vast web of corruption and incompetence, "the guys who was the beast of the place were being rewarded by the warden," and were granted preferential job placements and access to coveted programs. "Might made right."

Following a series of prison riots and attacks on staff in the early 1990s (neither of which Berry had ever witnessed or been involved in) the Illinois General Assembly decided to construct the Tamms Closed Maximum Security Facility, or "CMAX." With a price tag of $72 million, Tamms CMAX opened its doors on March 10, 1998. The prison is capable of housing up to 500 of the department's "most disruptive, violent and problematic inmates," according to an IDOC brochure. IDOC also claims it costs approximately $60,000 per inmate per year to keep the facility running, a figure over three times higher than the per-inmate annual cost at other IDOC facilities.

Berry says that although he heard supermax rumors swirling throughout the jailhouse, he never imagined that he would end up in one. As he tells it, he hadn't been involved in a violent altercation for years. Nonetheless, "they came back and punished all the guys they had given fringe benefits to, and I had been one of those brothers." Days after the Tamms facility opened, ten police officers in full riot gear came to his cell and escorted him out. One of those guards offered him what would be his last cigarette for the next eight years, before putting him on an IDOC van and sending him off to Tamms.

"Many of these inmates have become psychotic"

The moment he arrived at Tamms, Berry says, he knew "it was a different world." All his belongings were immediately confiscated, right down to his underwear. He was then cavity searched before being escorted, in full shackles and leg irons, to his cell. "Imagine if you've been smoking 20 years," he says. "Overnight you can't smoke no more, overnight you can't talk to your kids no more." The coffee was gone. Work and educational programs were gone. Human interaction was out of reach. Guards barked orders and harassed him.

After about a month of sitting in his cell, he began to hear other inmates' mental health slipping. "You get these guys and they don't know how to acclimate so they start cutting themselves up," he recalled, adding that some would go so far as "taking a pen and sticking it all the way up into their penis," or even worse, attempting suicide.

One expert on the effects of solitary confinement, Dr. Terry Kupers, who consults prison agencies on mental health services, says it is not uncommon for "psychiatric symptoms [to] emerge in previously healthy prisoners … in this context of near-total isolation and idleness." Psychiatrist and Harvard Medical School professor Dr. Stuart Grassian concurs. In 2005 he told the Commission on Safety and Abuse in America's Prisons that he had evaluated of "scores of inmates" who "psychiatrically deteriorated during the course of their confinement in solitary." "Many of these inmates," he said. "have become psychotic, and many have engaged in self-injurious and self-mutilatory behavior."

Annibal Santiago, who has been incarcerated at Tamms since 1998, describes how it feels from the inside: "The mentally ill prisoners drive the normal prisoners crazy by screaming, crying, yelling into the pod at all hours of the day and night for days non-stop, by banging on toilets, doors, walls, and/or by shaking or kicking the doors so hard that it sounds like rumbling thunder, flooding the wing with toilet water, and by throwing feces at other prisoners or inserting feces into the air vents so that the whole wing receives a dose of the smell for months." "The constant bombardment of unrelenting stress takes its toll like a flurry of well-placed punches on a tired boxer's head," he wrote in a survey compiled by Tamms Year Ten Campaign, and activist group working to shut down the facility.

The Innocent Victims

Berry says that when he was first sentenced, he told his wife, Denise, that he would understand if he had to let her go. "I told her, you didn't commit this crime, you had no part of it and I love you enough not to punish you with the hardships that's to come," he recounted. But she didn't. When he was transferred to Tamms, six hours south of Chicago, she moved the family to nearby Springfield so that they could visit as often as possible. Since the Illinois General Assembly approved funding for Tamms with IDOC's claim that it would serve as nothing more than a temporary, one-year-long "shock treatment" for problem inmates, Mrs. Berry thought it would be temporary move. However, two years later, when it became clear that IDOC had no intention of transferring Berry in the foreseeable future, the family moved back to Chicago. Denise says she wasn't prepared for how difficult it would be to see her husband deteriorate so rapidly at Tamms, after having spent ten years in the general prison population. It was particularly hard for his teenage son, who watched as his father grew emaciated from a meager diet and lack of exercise and saw dark circles form under his eyes from lack of sunlight. "What I had a problem with, being an inmate's wife," Denise says, "was how they degraded the inmates." She described her husband being shackled and forced to sit on a small cement stool for the duration of their visits. When officers would deny him a trip to the restroom, encouraging him to instead prematurely end their visit, she says it made her feel like an accomplice to his suffering.

Berry says one thing that kept him going was keeping his family at the forefront of his mind. It bothered him that Tamms prisoners were only allowed to keep 15 pictures in their cells. "Every time my wife sent me pictures, she'd send me sets of 24, and I'd say, 'ok, I got to decide right here which ones I want,' because if you get caught with more than that they can give you a ticket and send you back down to seg [disciplinary segregation, a unit in which inmates have only one shower and one yard visit per week]." Inmates remain in 'seg' for a minimum of 90 days and are not allowed visits for the duration. Once, says Berry, in what would be a devastating error, he tried to mail a picture to his son rather than throw it away. Because in the photo his son's hat was tilted to one side, the officers gave Berry a disciplinary ticket, allegedly for participating in gang-related activity. "My heart dropped to my knees," he says, "I told them, 'ya'll let this picture in here!'"

The violation earned him a ticket to "seg" for six months -- months that were tacked onto his sentence, which had been reduced for "good time." The decision meant that Berry's sentence would effectively be extended, forcing him to miss his youngest son's college graduation. "I was thinking, 'You missed the eighth grade graduation, you missed the high school graduation, you've got to make this college graduation," Berry recalls. According to Denise, prison officials told her that if she could get proof that the people in the picture -- Berry's brother, Michael, his oldest son, Reggie Jr, and Willie Ware Jr., his nephew -- were not affiliated with gangs, they would reconsider his punishment. "I had to obtain their birth certificates," she says. Denise went to 28th Ward Representative Anazette Collins's office, as did the three men, with their IDs. Their efforts proved futile. In the end, she says, "all this was compiled and sent to Tamms and they did nothing."

Berry's son, Joe, graduated in May of 2006. Berry got home four months later. "I missed my son's graduation," he said, "and it crushed me."

Long-Term Effects

A 2007 Federal Bureau of Prisons (BoP) report lists family ties as integral to rehabilitation and successful re-entry into the general community. However, for many Tamms inmates, the lack of phone access, a prohibitive visitation process, and the distance from Chicago, where two-thirds of Tamms inmates are from, makes it nearly impossible to maintain those ties. The scheduling and approval process at Tamms requires weeks of planning and multiple rounds of paperwork. If a visitor arrives late for their appointment, they are forced to begin the process all over again. With no public transportation near the site, the process become more than some people can handle -- or realistically afford.

The BoP also cites access to educational and vocational programs -- especially for minority populations -- as another key element in prisoner rehabilitation. Yet no such opportunities exist in supermax prisons, other than upper-level, self-guided study for the few inmates who have "earned" it.

According to a March 2008 study published in Prisons Journal, "the rapid expansion of the supermax has occurred despite no empirical evidence substantiating its effectiveness or value." Yet Tamms is just one portion of the billions of dollars that have been invested in supermax prisons. IDOC officials confirmed that they do not collect separate recidivism [or return] statistics for Tamms prisoners -- an alarming admission for prisoners, their families, and the broader community that many critics say points to a massive cover-up surrounding the human cost of supermax facilities.

As Paul Beachamp, a Tamms prisoner since 2002, puts it, "What happens when you lock up a dog in a cage for years at a time and constantly harass the dog and treat it bad while it's in the cage? Do you actually think that dog will act right once you let it out?" Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Corrections and Rehabilitation, issued a similar warning before a Senate hearing in 2006. "The experiences inmates have in prison -- whether violent or redemptive -- do not stay within prison walls, but spill over into the rest of society," he said. "Federal, state, and local governments must address the problems faced by their respective institutions and develop tangible and attainable solutions."

Meanwhile, a range of alternative responses have yet to be explored. A 2006 national survey of 601 prison wardens, funded by the U.S. Department of Justice and administered by the Urban League, showed 62.5% of wardens agreeing or strongly agreeing that "staff training" would be an "effective alternative to supermax prisons." It was the number one choice selected in the survey. Other popular alternatives, in order of preference, were to "use segregation cells in each prison facility," "provide targeted rehabilitative services," and "provide opportunities for spiritual development."

Prison activists across the country are working to shed light on this. Enlisting the support of lawmakers and lawyers who share their concern over the treatment of supermax prisoners -- and the rationale behind it -- they are fighting for legal precedents that would bring more services to supermax prisons, grant prisoners more mobility and opportunity and, ultimately, shut the facilities down. The Tamms Year Ten Campaign is one such coalition; it recently persuaded the Illinois House of Representatives to hold a hearing, scheduled for April 28th, to consider arguments for and against the effectiveness and legality of Tamms.

Reginald Berry is part of that movement in Chicago, organized under the banner of the Tamms Ten Year campaign, which works to draw attention to the 88 prisoners who have been at Tamms since the day it opened its doors. Today, in addition to raising awareness of conditions inside supermax prisons, he's also working to cut off the "school-to-prisons pipeline" in his community by sharing his experiences in Tamms with Chicago teenagers, through an organization he founded, "Saving Our Sons."

Berry's work is one of the reasons he counts himself among the lucky ones. After spending eight years in a facility where he was told he would have to "relinquish everything, even your personality," Berry has done more than survive; he has thrived, and he is fighting back. Within the current debate over state-sanctioned torture abroad, his voice is an important reminder of the cruel, unusual, and too-often ignored contradictions of our own criminal justice system.

US steps in to prevent collapse of gas pipeline project

US steps in to prevent collapse of gas pipeline project

Nabucco pipeline bypasses Russia

By Keith Lee
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The United States has stepped in to prevent the collapse of the first project to construct a natural gas pipeline that will bypass Russia. It is pressuring the European Union (EU) and Central Asian countries to complete plans for the construction of the Nabucco pipeline, which is intended to link up with the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum and planned TransCaspian networks. It will bring gas 3,300 kilometres from Central Asia under the Caspian Sea to Turkey, through Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary to Austria.

Since the beginning of the year, several European countries have abandoned the Nabucco project and defected to the rival South Stream project run by the Russian oil giant, Gazprom. The $10 billion South Stream pipeline is designed to run from Russia under the Black Sea to Bulgaria, where it divides into a southern branch via Greece to Italy and a northern branch via Serbia and Hungary to Austria.

The collapse of the project started on January 18, when Bulgaria announced it was joining Gazprom during Russian President Vladimir Putin´s visit to Sofia. This prompted a complaint from EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana about the lack of a “credible” European external energy policy, whereas “Big deals are being made every day in the Middle East, the Caucasus, the Balkans and Asia, from decisions on pipelines, to exploration deals to strategic partnerships among producers.”

“Our future options seem to be narrowing while others move in a determined manner,” Solana added.

The Bush administration has reacting with growing impatience to these developments, warning the EU that it must go ahead with building the $6 billion pipeline and reduce its growing dependence on Gazprom. US diplomats and officials have been touring European and Central Asian countries putting pressure on a number of states to complete plans on a project that was first proposed a decade ago, in 1998.

Nabucco has been dogged by long-running disputes between the states bordering the Caspian Sea—Russia, Iran, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan—over ownership of the seabed, the route of the pipeline, and how much will be paid to allow transit of the gas through their territory.

Russia has sought to delay the project, since it owns the only major gas pipeline out of Central Asia and is the main customer of gas and oil from Turkmenistan, the main intended source of supply of gas to the Nabucco pipeline. The two other potential suppliers are Azerbaijan, which has large gas reserves but not sufficient to meet demand and Iran, whose involvement the US vehemently opposes.

US Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Steven Mann flew into the Turkmen capital, Ashgabat, for the second time at the end of February to put pressure on President Gurbanguly Berdymuhammedov, a few days after he stopped off in the Azerbaijani capital, Baku. According to regional expert Mars Sariev, Mann was taking advantage of the “power paralysis” during the Russian presidential elections to “exert pressure on Ashgabat to resolve its disputes with Azerbaijan.”

“Berdymuhammedov and [Azerbaijani President Ilham] Aliyev may be able to reach a consensus under the aegis of the Americans and with [the promise of] massive western investment,” Sariev added. Inter-governmental talks between the two countries began in Baku on March 5 and observers say the settlement of an old gas debt dispute paves the way for better relations between the two countries and possible cooperation over the Nabucco pipeline.

There have also been calls for Romania and Ukraine, which have rights over the Black Sea seabed through which the South Stream pipeline will cross, to take out legal action to block or at least delay its construction in the way Baltic countries used their rights last year to delay and modify Gazprom’s North Stream project. There have also been criticisms of Italy’s ENI corporation for providing technology that Russia does not possess to work in deep water environments.

Virtually overnight, in the first week of March, Austria’s OMV, Hungary’s MOL, Turkey’s Botas, Bulgaria’s Bulgargaz and Germany’s RWE pulled out, leaving Rumania’s Transgaz to pick up the pieces. Lack of investment and gas resources and absence of a unified European energy policy were given as the reasons. In a complete about turn, OMV said it will now transfer the terminus and storage centre in Vienna designated for Nabucco to a Gazprom-OMV joint venture. OMV shares rose sharply at the news followed by rumours that Gazprom was backing a takeover by OMV of MOL, the privately-owned Hungarian partner in the consortium. The speed with which these countries changed their allegiances is a graphic reminder of the British statesman Lord Palmerston’s axiom: nations have no permanent allies, only permanent interests.

On February 28, Putin took part in a signing ceremony at the Kremlin with Hungarian Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany, securing the final stage of the pipeline route. Putin mocked the Nabucco project saying, “You can build a pipeline or even two, three, or five. The question is what fuel you put through it and where do you get that fuel. If someone wants to dig into the ground and bury metal there in the form of a pipeline, please do so, we don’t object.”

To rub salt in US and EU’s wounds the Hungarian president declared, “It is with satisfaction and gratitude that I see Russia doing everything it has promised to us. Hungary has realized that it had no alternative to cooperation with Russia.”

In the days before the signing ceremony the US government warned Hungary about the South Stream project. Matthew Bryza, US deputy assistant secretary of state, gave several interviews that were broadcast in Hungary and Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried published an article in the country’s leading newspaper. In a visit to Hungary, Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Dan Browne said, “The US view is that we don’t want a gas pipeline war (in Europe). Only Nabucco will promote conditions needed for competition, protect Hungary and other EU states against supply disruptions and increase transparency in the energy sector.”

Gyurcsany’s junior coalition partners, the Alliance of Free Democrats, and the main opposition party Fidesz have also demanded the government push ahead with the Nabucco project.

Within days of the ceremony, Gazprom agreed with Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan to buy their gas at European prices starting in 2009, more than doubling current prices. It was another stab in the back for the Nabucco project and another step in Russia’s aim to form an association of former Soviet gas producers modeled on the OPEC oil cartel.

To this end Russia has exerted enormous pressure on countries from the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe over the last few years. On March 5, at the last minute, Gazprom resumed gas exports to Ukraine after it cut supplies the previous week by 50 percent in a dispute over an alleged $600 million debt and a price hike. The Ukraine constitutes a vital energy transit route for the EU. For countries like Hungary, which receives around 80 percent of its gas from the Ukrainian pipeline, its only source of foreign gas, the latest dispute was a nightmare.

It also had a knock-on effect on the already tenuous coalition between Ukraine’s Prime Minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, and President Viktor Yushchenko, who both rose to power in the Western-backed 2005 Orange Revolution. The former allies have fallen out over the gas crisis, with claims that Tymoshenko sabotaged a deal on Ukraine’s debts that Yushchenko had reached with Putin. According to Federico Bordonaro, a Rome-based analyst, “Gazprom’s moves are not entirely due to business problems. I think Gazprom is striking back at Europe, firstly because Europe recognized Kosovo’s independence without listening to Russia’s concerns, and secondly because Ukraine is heading toward NATO integration.”

Bordonaro also believes the recent Russia-Ukraine stand-off, following the similar incident two years ago, will make Europe “try to push for new key agreements with Libya, Algeria, and it may also try to revive the Nabucco pipeline.” The Ukraine is also promoting its own pipeline, White Stream, as an alternative to South Stream and Nabucco.

Gazprom’s successes have wiped out Russia’s debt and accounts for 25 percent of its foreign earnings. The company has a market value of $245 billion and is growing rapidly through an aggressive campaign of buying up state energy companies across Europe. It currently provides all the gas needs of neighbouring countries like Latvia and almost half the needs of the rest of Europe, which will rise from 200 billion cubic metres today to around 600 billion cubic metres by 2020.

The economic basis for Russia’s new geopolitical ambitions rests on its huge external trade surplus, which has risen in the past few years to about $100 billion annually. Accumulation of the “oil money” has permitted the state to build up its gold reserves to about $300 billion and top up the so-called Stabilization Fund, which now holds over $100 billion.

There is also an important political reason for the relative strengthening of Russia’s economic and political role, which is related to the growth of inter-imperialist tensions. The occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan by US imperialism have led to a growing anxiety among the European ruling elites that a US stranglehold over the extraction and transport of the oil and natural gas resources of the Middle East and Central Asia will conflict with their own interests.

These fears and the growing role of China and India have been utilised by the Kremlin to further its interests in Europe. The European powers and Russia find themselves in the contradictory position of growing interdependence and rivalry. Lacking sufficient energy resources of its own and home to some of the world’s largest energy companies, Europe sees Russian oil and gas as a vital geopolitical asset and source of profits. For the Russian elite, expansion in Europe is necessary to secure and advance its political and economic interests in a situation where it is being encircled by a militaristic US.

While Secretary Browne has said that the US and Europe do not want a “pipeline war”, this is exactly what threatens. It could be sooner rather than later before the great powers send in their armies to protect their strategic interests in the region. Sections of the European ruling elite also recognise this. In a recent speech European Commissioner for Energy Andris Piebalgs made it clear that “The overall aim is to break down the divisions on the external borders of the European Union. Just because the external border of the Union has been reached, an electron just does not turn around and go back to its generator. Nor does a gas molecule have a passport. What I am saying is that the borders of the European Union are not the borders of the energy market. In an enlarged European Union of 25 [states], this is more obviously the case, as several Member States were integrated into other systems before they joined the EU. We cannot ignore this historical fact. So the Commission and the Council of the European Union have made it clear that we need to extend the borders of the internal energy market and extend the reach of the single regulatory framework of the European Union.”

Young Guantánamo detainee details abuse

Young Guantánamo detainee details abuse

By Naomi Spencer
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In an affidavit released last week, a Canadian-borne detainee held in the US military-run prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, has detailed coercion, torture and other crimes committed by his American captors over the past six years.

The detainee, Omar Khadr, now 21 years old, has been held by the US for more than a quarter of his life, on inconsistent allegations and forced confessions, and in the most heinous conditions. He was only charged in 2007—with murder, attempted murder, conspiracy, spying, and providing material support for terrorism—after being held for five years.

In his statement, Khadr said US interrogators threatened him with rape, tortured him, and forced him to swear to false statements. The affidavit was drawn up in February and released March 18—albeit in heavily redacted form—after Canada’s Supreme Court ruled that Khadr’s lawyers could present evidence before the court that his detention violated international law.

Beginning with his nearly fatal wounding and capture after a July 27, 2002 firefight, when he was only 15 years old, Khadr has been subjected to extreme physical and psychological abuse. The boy was flown to a tent hospital at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, along with US Sergeant Chris Speer, whom Khadr is charged with killing with a grenade.

Interrogations began there almost immediately: “I was unconscious for about one week after being captured.... During the day I was guarded by a young blond soldier who ... had paper and took notes.” Two interrogations took place within three days’ time after he regained consciousness.

This section of the affidavit is heavily blacked out; nevertheless, the substance of the statement is clear. “Due to my injuries, this caused me great pain.... I was unable to even stand at this time, so I was not a threat,” he stated. “I could tell that this treatment was for punishment and to make me answer questions and give them the answers they wanted.”

Another soldier involved in the interrogations “would often [redacted]. He would tell nurses not to [redacted] since he said that I had killed an American soldier. He would also [redacted] me quite often. There were no doctors or nurses present when I was interrogated. During the interrogations, the pain was taking my thoughts away.”

Affidavits issued by other detainees have stated that Khadr had been denied types of surgery and pain medication.

After two weeks at the hospital, Khadr was transferred to the horrid Bagram prison, where he was “immediately taken to an interrogation room.” One of his interrogators “would often [redacted] if I did not give him the answers he wanted.” “Interrogators threatened to have me raped, or sent to other countries like Egypt, Syria, Jordan or Israel to be raped,” he said.

During one particularly abusive interrogation, Khadr stated, “the more I answered his questions and the more I gave him the answers he wanted, the less [redacted] on me. I figured out right away that I would simply tell them whatever I thought they wanted to hear in order to keep them from causing me [redacted].”

Absurdly, US officials have justified the censorship by citing security and strategic secrets. A March 18 report by Canwest News Service said censors were concerned that “terrorists could discover—and presumably prepare to resist—specific interrogation techniques.”

There is little doubt that Khadr, like other inmates, was tortured at length in the makeshift prison camp at Bagram and at Guantánamo. The redactions are merely crude attempts to obscure further evidence of torture and war crimes that are committed routinely by soldiers, with the encouragement and approval of military brass and the Bush administration.

During his three-month imprisonment at Bagram, Khadr estimated he was interrogated 42 times. For weeks he was brought in on a stretcher. He said soldiers routinely videotaped dressing changes for his wounds. Some statements refer to his being hooded, sexually humiliated, being threatened with attack dogs, and the painful handling of his still open bullet and shrapnel wounds. All of these abuses were well established at Bagram, Abu Ghraib, and elsewhere.

One of Khadr’s interrogators, Sergeant Joshua Claus, was one of 15 US military personnel charged in connection with the murder of two men at Bagram five months after Khadr’s arrival. Claus, brought before military court on the most minor charges—assault and “maltreatment of a detainee”—pleaded guilty and was sentenced to a mere five months in jail.

Before being transferred to Guantánamo, Khadr said detainees were denied any food or water for two nights and a day “so that we would not have to use the bathroom on the plane.” Upon their arrival, a military official announced, “Welcome to Israel.” Then, “They half-dragged, half-carried us so quickly off the plane that everyone had cuts on their ankles from the shackles,” Khadr stated. “They would smack you with a stick if you made any wrong moves.”

At Guantánamo, Khadr said, “I was not provided with any educational opportunities, no psychological or psychiatric attention, and was routinely interrogated.” He was also subjected to prolonged periods of isolation, sensory deprivation, stress positions, temperature exposure, and humiliation.

The affidavit also highlights the cowardice and complicity of the Canadian ruling establishment in the “war on terror.” In 2003, Khadr stated that a Canadian delegation paid a visit to Guantánamo, and that he tried to explain to them that he had been threatened and abused into false statements. “I showed them my injuries and told them that what I had told the Americans was not right and not true,” he said. “I said that I told the Americans whatever they wanted me to say because they would torture me. The Canadians called me a liar and I began to sob. They screamed at me and told me that they could not do anything for me.”

Out of the hundreds of detainees that have been held at the military prison, Khadr is one of only four Guantánamo detainees that have been prosecuted under the 2006 Military Commission Act. Details in a separate affidavit of his military lawyer, also released last week, suggest that the decision to charge Khadr at that time was motivated by political requirements of the Bush administration.

Khadr’s lawyer, Lieutenant Commander Bill Kuebler, described a January 2007 discussion between former Guantánamo chief prosecutor Colonel Morris Davis and James Haynes, the general counsel at the Defense Department, in which Haynes told Davis that it was “necessary” to charge Australian detainee David Hicks.

According to the Canadian Globe and Mail, Davis objected because the military tribunal system was not yet functioning. The paper quoted a portion of Kuebler’s statement: “Mr. Haynes also said that it would look strange if just Hicks were charged and therefore asked Colonel Davis if there were any other cases that could be brought at the same time.... Colonel Davis indicated that Mr. Khadr’s case was one of two cases for which charges were sworn so that Hicks would not be the only detainee facing charges.”

Omar Khadr’s affidavit is available in redacted form here.

NY Times article questions official explanation of sex probe that forced New York governor to resign

NY Times article questions official explanation of sex probe that forced New York governor to resign

By Barry Grey
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An article published by the New York Times on March 21 raises serious questions about the official explanation given by federal prosecutors for the high-powered investigation into the sexual activities of former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer that led to Spitzer’s public humiliation and forced resignation on March 12.

The article, written by David Johnston and Philip Shenon, cites Justice Department lawyers and former federal prosecutors who make it clear that federal criminal investigations into public officials, like Spitzer, who are identified as clients of prostitution rings are extraordinarily rare.

The article also points to anomalies in the 47-page affidavit filed March 5 along with the federal complaint against four employees of the Emperor’s Club prostitution ring which Spitzer allegedly patronized. The affidavit lists ten clients of the call-girl ring, but does not name them, referring to them only by number. Spitzer, client number 9, is the only one whose identity was leaked by federal officials to the press.

And, as the Times article points out, the affidavit “provided far more detail, some of it unusually explicit, about Client 9’s encounter with the prostitute than about any of the nine other clients identified by number in the document.”

The implication is that the affidavit was drawn up in such as way as to provide quasi-pornographic grist for a media-promoted sex scandal that would compel the recently elected governor to resign—which is precisely what occurred. Within two days of the first reports of Spitzer’s links to the call-girl ring—published by the self same New York Times—the governor announced his resignation.

The article underscores the point as follows: “Several current and former federal prosecutors and prominent defense lawyers who reviewed the document said the inclusion of such salacious details about Mr. Spitzer’s encounter with the prostitute went far beyond what was necessary to provide probable cause for the arrests and for searches, the purpose of the affidavit.”

While questioning the official explanation, the article draws no conclusions as to the motives behind the Spitzer investigation. However, the only plausible interpretation is that the Justice Department/FBI probe was a political operation directed by the Bush administration for the purpose of reversing an election and removing from office the Democratic governor of the third largest state in the country.

This conclusion is reinforced by a March 22 McClatchy Newspapers report that Roger Stone, a resident of Miami Beach and notorious Republican “dirty trickster” since the Nixon era, had a role in the probe of Spitzer. The Kansas City Star reported that Stone’s lawyer sent a letter last November to the FBI alleging that Spitzer had hired prostitutes while in Florida.

The letter, released by Stone’s lawyer, states: “The governor has paid literally thousands of dollars for these services. It is Mr. Stone’s understanding that the governor paid not with credit cards or cash but through some pre-arranged transfer.”

Stone, recruited by the 2000 Bush campaign to block a recount of votes in the disputed Florida election, is credited with organizing the near-riot of Republican congressional staff members and other operatives that succeeded in shutting down the vote recount in Miami-Dade County. According to the Star, the letter from Stone’s lawyer was in response to requests from FBI agents investigating Spitzer to speak with his client.

As the World Socialist Web Site has said since the eruption of the Spitzer affair, we have no political sympathy for the former New York governor, a typical American bourgeois politician and multi-millionaire who, in his short term in office, proposed or carried out hundreds of millions of dollars in budget cuts to social programs. Nor are we indifferent to the social issues raised by the purchase of the services of a human being for personal gratification.

However, the essential issue raised in this case is the role of the state apparatus, utilizing the immense financial and technological resources and police powers of the federal government, enhanced by the new domestic spying powers granted under laws enacted in the name of the bogus “war on terror,” in manipulating political life and intimidating, silencing or removing those deemed to be political obstacles.

The March 21 New York Times article sheds additional light on the scope and intrusiveness of the Justice Department investigation into the former New York governor, and makes clear that it was anything but routine. It begins: “The Justice Department used some of its most intrusive tactics against Eliot Spitzer, examining his financial records, eavesdropping on his phone class and tailing him during its criminal investigation of the Emperor’s Club prostitution ring.

“The scale and intensity of the investigation of Mr. Spitzer, then the governor of New York, seemed on its face to be a departure for the Justice Department, which aggressively investigates allegations of wrongdoing by public officials, but almost never investigates people who pay prostitutes for sex.

“A review of recent federal cases shows that federal prosecutors go sparingly after owners and operators of prostitution enterprises, and usually only when millions of dollars are involved or there are aggravating circumstances, like human trafficking or child exploitation.”

On the massive scale of the dragnet, the article states: “The focus on Mr. Spitzer was so intense that the FBI used surveillance teams to follow both him and the prostitute in Washington in February. The surveillance teams had followed him at least once before—when he visited the city in January but did not engage a prostitute, officials said, confirming a report in the Washington Post. Stakeouts and surveillance are labor-intensive and often involve teams of a dozen or more agents and non-agent specialists.”

On the extraordinary nature of the Justice Department decision to pursue a criminal investigation into Spitzer’s use of call-girl services, the Times cites Bradley D. Simon, described as “a veteran Justice Department trial lawyer who was federal prosecutor in Brooklyn throughout the 1990s.” The newspaper writes:

“Mr. Simon said it was unusual for the department to bring criminal charges in a prostitution case in which there was no allegation of the exploitation of children, human trafficking or some more serious crime.

“He said that in his eight years in the Brooklyn office in the 1990s, he could not recall a single major criminal case that centered on prostitution charges. ‘There were a lot of serious crimes—organized crime, narcotics cases, major financial crime investigations,’ he said in an interview. ‘Prostitution was not a high priority.’”

The article concludes: “Justice Department officials insist that it has a strong record of breaking up large prostitution rings around the country, but many of the cases they cite involve cases brought several years ago, especially before the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks; after that, the department vowed to focus its attention on national security threats.

“And for years, they acknowledge, the department has rarely, if ever, prosecuted or even identified the clients of a prosecution ring.”

The Times cites unnamed government officials who defend the Spitzer investigation and repeat the official story that it began when one of the then-governor’s banks filed reports with the US Treasury Department of suspicious transactions in his account. “The reports suggested to investigators,” the newspaper writes, “that Mr. Spitzer might have been trying to keep anyone from noticing transfers of his own funds. That is the kind of activity that can bring an investigation of the possibility of corruption.”

However, even if this account of the origins of the investigation is true, it does not explain why a decision was made by the Department of Justice’s Public Integrity Section and the US attorney of the Southern District of New York to continue the probe after no evidence was found of bribery, influence-peddling, illegal use of campaign funds or any other form of political corruption.

The Times article cites the unidentified government officials as saying that “once they learned that such a prominent figure was involved in soliciting prostitutes, and had seemed to be arranging sex in violation of the statute that prohibits travel across state lines to engage in sex, they wanted to follow the evidence.”

Why? At the point where no evidence was found of corruption, there was no legitimate reason for the Justice Department to press ahead with a criminal investigation of the governor of New York.

The statute referred to is a 1910 law known as the Mann Act, banning the interstate transport of females for “immoral purposes.” This federal law has been used numerous times for reactionary purposes, including the cases of black boxer Jack Johnson, Charlie Chaplin and singer Chuck Berry. The Justice Department and FBI had to invoke this law to justify a federal probe of Spitzer’s sexual activities.

But none of the Public Integrity Section reports for 2004, 2005 or 2006, which cite dozens of cases of bribe-taking and influence-peddling by public officials, have a single reference to prostitution or the Mann Act.

The Times cites “senior political appointees” at the Justice Department in Washington as saying they had “little involvement in the case,” and asserts that Attorney General Michael Mukasey, a former federal judge in New York, was not even told about the case until shortly before March 5, when the complaint was filed against four of the prostitution ring’s employees.

This flatly contradicts previous reports that Mukasey signed off on the Spitzer probe. Moreover, it is wholly unbelievable that top officials in the Justice Department would not have been consulted about a criminal investigation of a powerful and nationally prominent elected official.

The information contained in the New York Times article confirms the analysis made by the World Socialist Web Site and a number of legal experts that the investigation of Spitzer was a politically motivated dragnet organized by the Bush administration for reactionary and anti-democratic ends.

It was well known that Spitzer had presidential aspirations. He had also made many enemies on Wall Street, because of his well-publicized investigations, during his time as New York State attorney general, of prominent bankers and stock market officials.

A political “hit” against Spitzer would be entirely in line with the modus operandi of the Bush administration, which came to power on the basis of electoral fraud and the suppression of votes, and continued its anti-democratic and conspiratorial practices by dragging the country into war on the basis of lies and using the Justice Department to carry out trumped-up voter fraud prosecutions of Democratic candidates and their supporters, as revealed in last year’s scandal over the firing of nine US attorneys.

In a country wracked by political and economic crisis and dominated by an ever-widening chasm between a financial oligarchy and the working class, the methods of conspiracy and provocation, including the use of sex scandals as an instrument of political manipulation, become increasingly pervasive.

The ultimate target is not the Eliot Spitzers of the world, but the democratic rights of the American working class.

Eight US soldiers and dozens of Iraqis killed in weekend violence

Eight US soldiers and dozens of Iraqis killed in weekend violence

By Joe Kay
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At least eight US soldiers were killed in Iraq over the weekend, amid a resurgence of violence underscoring the instability of the US-led military occupation. The number of US soldiers who have died in Iraq now stands at 4,000.

Seven soldiers were killed in two separate roadside bombs in Baghdad, one on Saturday and one on Sunday. The eighth was killed by “indirect fire”—mortar shells or rockets—on Friday south of Baghdad, according to the US military. So far, 27 US soldiers have been killed in the month of March.

Dozens of Iraqis were killed over the weekend in suicide bombings, and in raids carried out by the US.

The US military stated that it killed 17 and captured another 30 in operations centered in Baquba, about 30 miles northeast of Baghdad. According to the Associated Press, “Iraqi police reported a dozen civilians killed in an airstrike” in Baquba, but the military said that all those killed were “insurgents.”

Again according to the military, five Iraqis with alleged ties to Al Qaeda were killed near the border with Iran. None of the claims of affiliation can be taken at face value, however. The US government has renewed efforts in recent weeks to fabricate ties between Iran and Al Qaeda, which could be used as a pretext for some form of military operation against Iran.

In another incident near Samarra on Saturday, the US killed six Iraqis who were apparently members of the “Sons of Iraq,” also known as the Awakening Councils. These are Sunni groups that have made an alliance with the US occupation. US military forces said that they fired on the Iraqis after they were found “conducting suspicious terrorist activity in an area historically known for improvised explosive device emplacement.”

The New York Times quoted Abu Farouk, a leader of the Awakening Council in Samarra, as saying, “American forces said that the people they killed were gunmen, but they were my men, and they were even wearing Awakening uniforms.”

Details of the incident are still unclear, but the shooting underscores both the ease with which US forces fire on Iraqis and kill indiscriminately, and the tenuous character of the alliance with the Sunni groups. Many of those in the councils until recently were fighting against the US occupation. The members of these organizations are now paid about $300 a month by the US.

In another incident, rocket attacks on the Green Zone government compound in Baghdad killed 10 Iraqis when missiles landed in nearby neighborhoods. The Associated Press commented that the attacks were “the most sustained assault in months against the nerve center of the US mission.”

A suicide truck bombing killed 13 Iraqi soldiers and injured 42 others in Mosul. A separate gun attack in Baghdad’s Zaafariniya district killed seven and wounded 16, and another suicide bombing in northwestern Baghdad killed seven.

Attacks on the Green Zone have become less frequent in recent months, due in part to the ceasefire negotiated between the US occupying forces and the Mehdi Army militia of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. Sadr renewed the ceasefire last month, but there are sharp divisions within the largely impoverished Shiite population that forms his base and is intensely hostile to the occupation.

Reuters commented, “The ceasefire may be unraveling after Mehdi Army fighters clashed with Iraqi and US forces in the southern city of Kut and southern Baghdad last week.”

The US and coalition forces are planning for major operations in the Shiite-dominated south, including the city of Basra. The British SundayMirror reported that the US has asked British forces to prepare a “surge” into Basra. The newspaper quoted an unnamed senior US military source as saying that after US operations in Mosul, “The plan is to turn the coalition’s attention to Basra and we will be urging the British to surge into the city. If they do not have enough troops, then they will be offered US Marines to help out.”

The renewed violence comes only a few days after a speech by US President George W. Bush marking the fifth anniversary of the US invasion. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have issued repeated statements defending the extremely unpopular war, and pledging the continued presence of elevated numbers of US soldiers indefinitely.

Senior military commanders are set to present Bush with a proposal to maintain 140,000 soldiers in Iraq at least through the summer and likely far longer. This figure is slightly higher than the number in Iraq prior to the beginning of the “surge” last year. The recommendations will be formally presented to Bush this week.

A few brigades are scheduled to be withdrawn from the peak force of about 170,000. Citing military and government officials, the New York Times reported on Saturday that General David Petraeus, the head of US forces in Iraq, and other officials “have made it clear that they want more time to assess what happens after the withdrawals are completed, leaving 15 combat brigades.”

Petraeus and figures in the Bush administration are concerned that even a partial withdrawal of American firepower could lead to a resurgence of resistance to the occupation along with sectarian conflict.

Deep divisions are developing within the military and political establishment, however. In particular, there is substantial concern within the military brass, including the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that the integrity of the military has become severely compromised due to the strain of the Iraq war. In a partial concession to these views, the Pentagon will likely announce that troop rotations will be reduced to 12 months from their currently elevated level of 15 months.

Last month, Admiral William J. Fallon, the leader of US Central Command, which overseas military operations in the Middle East and Central Asia, resigned. Fallon reportedly wanted more withdrawals from Iraq and had also publicly opposed US action against Iran.

A Pentagon spokesman said on Saturday that the military would not allow Fallon to testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee next month. The testimony had been requested by Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, who is on the committee.

Several members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, including its chairman, Admiral Michael Mullen, reportedly have similar views as those more openly expressed by Fallon.

Reporting on these divisions March 20, the Los Angeles Times commented, “In the short run, supporters of Petraeus would like to see about 140,000 troops, including 15 combat brigades, remain in Iraq through the end of the Bush administration. Members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and their advisors favor a faster drawdown. Some are pushing for a reduction to 12 brigades or fewer by January 2009, which would amount to approximately 120,000 troops, depending on the configuration of forces.”

The newspaper went on to note, “In part, the differences between Petraeus and the Joint Chiefs—and in particular their chairman, Navy Adm. Michael G. Mullen—are a function of their different responsibilities. Petraeus’s main task is to win the war in Iraq. Mullen and the Joint Chiefs have the primary responsibility of ensuring the long-term strength of the military and preparing for contingencies,” i.e., for future wars.

These are about the extent of the differences within the political establishment over Iraq policy. The Iraq war has been a disaster for American imperialism and is creating sharp conflicts within the ruling elite. The leading Democratic candidates have called for a limited withdrawal of US forces, positions they have sought to present as opposition to the war.

All of the factions, however, take as their starting point the necessity of securing the interests of the American ruling class in the Middle East and internationally.

Gap in Life Expectancy Widens for the Nation

Gap in Life Expectancy Widens for the Nation

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WASHINGTON — New government research has found “large and growing” disparities in life expectancy for richer and poorer Americans, paralleling the growth of income inequality in the last two decades.

Life expectancy for the nation as a whole has increased, the researchers said, but affluent people have experienced greater gains, and this, in turn, has caused a widening gap.

One of the researchers, Gopal K. Singh, a demographer at the Department of Health and Human Services, said “the growing inequalities in life expectancy” mirrored trends in infant mortality and in death from heart disease and certain cancers.

The gaps have been increasing despite efforts by the federal government to reduce them. One of the top goals of “Healthy People 2010,” an official statement of national health objectives issued in 2000, is to “eliminate health disparities among different segments of the population,” including higher- and lower-income groups and people of different racial and ethnic background.

Dr. Singh said last week that federal officials had found “widening socioeconomic inequalities in life expectancy” at birth and at every age level.

He and another researcher, Mohammad Siahpush, a professor at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, developed an index to measure social and economic conditions in every county, using census data on education, income, poverty, housing and other factors. Counties were then classified into 10 groups of equal population size.

In 1980-82, Dr. Singh said, people in the most affluent group could expect to live 2.8 years longer than people in the most deprived group (75.8 versus 73 years). By 1998-2000, the difference in life expectancy had increased to 4.5 years (79.2 versus 74.7 years), and it continues to grow, he said.

After 20 years, the lowest socioeconomic group lagged further behind the most affluent, Dr. Singh said, noting that “life expectancy was higher for the most affluent in 1980 than for the most deprived group in 2000.”

“If you look at the extremes in 2000,” Dr. Singh said, “men in the most deprived counties had 10 years’ shorter life expectancy than women in the most affluent counties (71.5 years versus 81.3 years).” The difference between poor black men and affluent white women was more than 14 years (66.9 years vs. 81.1 years).

The Democratic candidates for president, Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois, have championed legislation to reduce such disparities, as have some Republicans, like Senator Thad Cochran of Mississippi.

Peter R. Orszag, director of the Congressional Budget Office, said: “We have heard a lot about growing income inequality. There has been much less attention paid to growing inequality in life expectancy, which is really quite dramatic.”

Life expectancy is the average number of years of life remaining for people who have attained a given age.

While researchers do not agree on an explanation for the widening gap, they have suggested many reasons, including these:

¶Doctors can detect and treat many forms of cancer and heart disease because of advances in medical science and technology. People who are affluent and better educated are more likely to take advantage of these discoveries.

Smoking has declined more rapidly among people with greater education and income.

¶Lower-income people are more likely to live in unsafe neighborhoods, to engage in risky or unhealthy behavior and to eat unhealthy food.

¶Lower-income people are less likely to have health insurance, so they are less likely to receive checkups, screenings, diagnostic tests, prescription drugs and other types of care.

Even among people who have insurance, many studies have documented racial disparities.

In a recent report, the Department of Veterans Affairs found that black patients “tend to receive less aggressive medical care than whites” at its hospitals and clinics, in part because doctors provide them with less information and see them as “less appropriate candidates” for some types of surgery.

Some health economists contend that the disparities between rich and poor inevitably widen as doctors make gains in treating the major causes of death.

Nancy Krieger, a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, rejected that idea. Professor Krieger investigated changes in the rate of premature mortality (dying before the age of 65) and infant death from 1960 to 2002. She found that inequities shrank from 1966 to 1980, but then widened.

“The recent trend of growing disparities in health status is not inevitable,” she said. “From 1966 to 1980, socioeconomic disparities declined in tandem with a decline in mortality rates.”

The creation of Medicaid and Medicare, community health centers, the “war on poverty” and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 all probably contributed to the earlier narrowing of health disparities, Professor Krieger said.

Robert E. Moffit, director of the Center for Health Policy Studies at the conservative Heritage Foundation, said one reason for the growing disparities might be “a very significant gap in health literacy” — what people know about diet, exercise and healthy lifestyles. Middle-class and upper-income people have greater access to the huge amounts of health information on the Internet, Mr. Moffit said.

Thomas P. Miller, a health economist at the American Enterprise Institute, agreed.

“People with more education tend to have a longer time horizon,” Mr. Miller said. “They are more likely to look at the long-term consequences of their health behavior. They are more assertive in seeking out treatments and more likely to adhere to treatment advice from physicians.”

A recent study by Ellen R. Meara, a health economist at Harvard Medical School, found that in the 1980s and 1990s, “virtually all gains in life expectancy occurred among highly educated groups.”

Trends in smoking explain a large part of the widening gap, she said in an article this month in the journal Health Affairs.

Under federal law, officials must publish an annual report tracking health disparities. In the fifth annual report, issued this month, the Bush administration said, “Over all, disparities in quality and access for minority groups and poor populations have not been reduced” since the first report, in 2003.

The rate of new AIDS cases is still 10 times as high among blacks as among whites, it said, and the proportion of black children hospitalized for asthma is almost four times the rate for white children.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported last month that heart attack survivors with higher levels of education and income were much more likely to receive cardiac rehabilitation care, which lowers the risk of future heart problems. Likewise, it said, the odds of receiving tests for colon cancer increase with a person’s education and income.