Friday, February 1, 2008

Teens and radicals on Big Pharma's sights

For a generation now, disruptive young Americans who rebel against authority figures have been increasingly diagnosed with mental illnesses and medicated with psychiatric (psychotropic) drugs. Disruptive young people who are medicated with Ritalin, Adderall and other amphetamines routinely report that these drugs make them "care less" about their boredom, resentments and other negative emotions, thus making them more compliant and manageable. And so-called atypical antipsychotics such as Risperdal and Zyprexa -- powerful tranquilizing drugs -- are increasingly prescribed to disruptive young Americans, even though in most cases they are not displaying any psychotic symptoms.

For a generation now, disruptive young Americans who rebel against authority figures have been increasingly diagnosed with mental illnesses and medicated with psychiatric (psychotropic) drugs.

Disruptive young people who are medicated with Ritalin, Adderall and other amphetamines routinely report that these drugs make them "care less" about their boredom, resentments and other negative emotions, thus making them more compliant and manageable. And so-called atypical antipsychotics such as Risperdal and Zyprexa -- powerful tranquilizing drugs -- are increasingly prescribed to disruptive young Americans, even though in most cases they are not displaying any psychotic symptoms.

Many talk show hosts think I'm kidding when I mention oppositional defiant disorder (ODD). After I assure them that ODD is in fact an official mental illness -- an increasingly popular diagnosis for children and teenagers -- they often guess that ODD is simply a new term for juvenile delinquency. But that is not the case.

Young people diagnosed with ODD, by definition, are doing nothing illegal (illegal behaviors are a symptom of another mental illness called conduct disorder). In 1980, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) created oppositional defiant disorder, defining it as "a pattern of negativistic, hostile and defiant behavior." The official symptoms of ODD include "often actively defies or refuses to comply with adult requests or rules" and "often argues with adults." While ODD-diagnosed young people are obnoxious with adults they don't respect, these kids can be a delight with adults they do respect; yet many of them are medicated with psychotropic drugs.

An even more common reaction to oppressive authorities than overt defiance is some type of passive defiance.

John Holt, the late school critic, described passive-aggressive strategies employed by prisoners in concentration camps and slaves on plantations, as well as some children in classrooms. Holt pointed out that subjects may attempt to appease their rulers while still satisfying some part of their own desire for dignity "by putting on a mask, by acting much more stupid and incompetent than they really are, by denying their rulers the full use of their intelligence and ability, by declaring their minds and spirits free of their enslaved bodies."

Holt observed that by "going stupid" in a classroom, children frustrate authorities through withdrawing the most intelligent and creative parts of their minds from the scene, thus achieving some sense of potency.

Going stupid -- or passive aggression -- is one of many nondisease explanations for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Studies show that virtually all ADHD-diagnosed children will pay attention to activities that they enjoy or that they have chosen. In other words, when ADHD-labeled kids are having a good time and in control, the "disease" goes away.

There are other passive rebellions against authority that have been medicalized by mental health authorities. I have talked to many people who earlier in their lives had been diagnosed with substance abuse, depression and even schizophrenia but believe that their "symptoms" had in fact been a kind of resistance to the demands of an oppressive environment. Some of these people now call themselves psychiatric survivors.

While there are several reasons for behavioral disruptiveness and emotional difficulties, rebellion against an oppressive environment is one common reason that is routinely not even considered by many mental health professionals. Why? It is my experience that many mental health professionals are unaware of how extremely obedient they are to authorities. Acceptance into medical school and graduate school and achieving a Ph.D. or M.D. means jumping through many meaningless hoops, all of which require much behavioral, attentional and emotional compliance to authorities -- even disrespected ones. When compliant M.D.s and Ph.D.s begin seeing noncompliant patients, many of these doctors become anxious, sometimes even ashamed of their own excessive compliance, and this anxiety and shame can be fuel for diseasing normal human reactions.

Two ways of subduing defiance are to criminalize it and to pathologize it, and U.S. history is replete with examples of both. In the same era that John Adams' Sedition Act criminalized criticism of U.S. governmental policy, Dr. Benjamin Rush, the father of American psychiatry (his image adorns the APA seal), pathologized anti-authoritarianism. Rush diagnosed those rebelling against a centralized federal authority as having an "excess of the passion for liberty" that "constituted a form of insanity." He labeled this illness "anarchia."

Throughout American history, both direct and indirect resistance to authority has been diseased. In an 1851 article in the New Orleans Medical and Surgical Journal, Louisiana physician Samuel Cartwright reported his discovery of "drapetomania," the disease that caused slaves to flee captivity. Cartwright also reported his discovery of "dysaesthesia aethiopis," the disease that caused slaves to pay insufficient attention to the master's needs. Early versions of ODD and ADHD?

In Rush's lifetime, few Americans took anarchia seriously, nor was drapetomania or dysaesthesia aethiopis taken seriously in Cartwright's lifetime. But these were eras before the diseasing of defiance had a powerful financial ally in Big Pharma.

In every generation there will be authoritarians. There will also be the "bohemian bourgeois" who may enjoy anti-authoritarian books, music, and movies but don't act on them. And there will be genuine anti-authoritarians, who are so pained by exploitive hierarchies that they take action. Only occasionally in American history do these genuine anti-authoritarians actually take effective direct action that inspires others to successfully revolt, but every once in a while a Tom Paine comes along. So authoritarians take no chances, and the state-corporate partnership criminalizes anti-authoritarianism, pathologizes it, markets drugs to "cure" it and financially intimidates those who might buck the system.

~ How Teenage Rebellion Has Become a Mental Illness ~

 

Sarkozy's alma mater beckons more Indian students

NEW DELHI: The alma mater of French Presidents Nicolas Sarkozy, Jacques Chirac and Francois Mitterand is inviting more Indian students for higher studies.

SciencesPo, a reputed institute in humanities, inked pacts for faculty and student exchanges with the University of Madras and St Stephen's college respectively.

"We want to have more Indian students to study in France and French students to study in India," Richard Descoings, Director of the Paris-based SciencesPo told reporters here.

Descoings was a member of the delegation that accompanied French President Nicolas Sarkozy on a two-day visit here during which he expressed readiness to increase by three-fold the number of Indian students studying in France.

"The future elite will have to be a global elite which will have to deal with a diverse staff," Descoings said pointing out that Sarkozy studied economics, law, sociology and political science at the institute. Among the other alumni are Chirac and Mitterand.

SciencesPo has nearly 7,000 students, of which 40 per cent come from foreign countries and Indians constitute only 30, "a very small number". France is virtually rolling out a red carpet to attract more Indian students to its universities. Currently, approximately 1,700 Indian students are pursuing higher studies in France as against 17,000 Chinese students.

"We have changed national rules to allow students to work part time while studying in France," French Minister for Higher Education and Research Valerie Pecresse said.
 
~ Link ~
 

The case of the island-hopping Bulgarian presidential aircraft

" ... On Wednesday Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov made it all the way halfway to Mexico for an official visit together with a 50-member delegation of high-ranking Bulgarian public figures. The critically important Bulgarian-Mexican relations, however, were dealt a deadly blow for the President never reached his destination.

His plane had a problem with the front wheel carrier so it had to land on the Azores after flying around for 5 hours to burn its fuel before landing could be attempted. Some claim the problem was caused by a bird which got stuck in the wheel carrier, allegedly on purpose.

Luckily, Parvanov stayed out of trouble. He hanged out together with his high-ranking hang-outing delegation for a while on the Azores, then in Lisbon, and eventually showed up in Sofia well and alive.

Some insightful Bulgarian journalists, however, quickly figured that something is rotten in the state of Bulgaria. They remembered the main responsibilities of the Bulgarian Vice-President are to 1) pardon, i.e. let loose inveterate criminals; and 2) hope that the President dies so that he can become President. Could that kamikaze bird have had something to do with the VP?...

The current VP Angel Marin, now a major-general in the reserve, graduated with a gold medal from the Leningrad Artillery School back in the good old Warsaw Pact days, and used to be commander-in-chief of the Bulgarian Missile and Artillery Forces when we still had them.

Therefore, the conspiracy scenario does not seem very credible for two reasons. First, the VP Marin stated he felt deep disgust for the way his name was involved in the affair. Second, given his background he should know better how to shoot down a plane instead of engaging in a seditious conspiracy with a kamikaze bird.

Perhaps there really was a technical problem. The plane is a 30-year old Tu-154 from the days of the communist dictator Comrade Zhivkov, and has a large "Made in the USSR" stamp on it. Rumor has it the President uses this plane because of a secret clause in the South Stream gas transit pipeline agreement signed during Putin's recent visit to Bulgaria. It obliges Parvanov to use the same plane for 30 more years to advertise Russian aircraft industry around the world by attempting to carry out official state visits with it. In return, Bulgaria might some day get some good deal from Moscow. Or maybe it is just still the old trite Slavic solidarity motive. Who knows?

Whatever it is, it better be worth it as because of the Soviet machine, the president of the newest EU member had to adopt a strategy similar to that of the US armed forces against Japan in World War II known as "island hopping". His plane was scheduled to stop for refueling twice on its way to Mexico - first at the Azores, then at the Bermudas.

Fortunately the kamikaze bird chasing the plane all the way from VP Marin's office window, managed to catch up with it after the first refueling at the Azores. Had the bird had to complete its mission somewhere in the Bermuda triangle, the President might really have been lost. ... "
 
 

Green burials catching on

" ... There are green buildings, green cars, even green weddings. Now comes one of the latest, and ultimately last moves, environmentally conscious consumers can make -- green burials.

Forgoing embalming, metal caskets and concrete burial vaults, green burials instead cover the body with a shroud, place it inside a biodegradable wooden or cardboard box and bury it in a woodland, where a new tree or a stone marks the grave. This natural approach, proponents say, is far less damaging to the Earth because it eliminates formaldehyde, a chemical used in embalming, as well as barriers that simply delay the body's inevitable decay. It is an approach that has been used for centuries by Jews and Muslims.

The practice of establishing woodland burial grounds, which began in the United Kingdom and in recent years has spread to California and other parts of the country, recently received a boost from Pittsburgh's Roy A. Hunt Foundation. It awarded a $5,000 grant to the Green Burial Council of Santa Fe, N.M., seeking to establish a national network of funeral homes to provide green burials.

Paul Henney, who operates funeral homes in Bethel Park, Mt. Lebanon and other area locations, is among those supporting green burials. He's the local contact for the Green Burial Council and said he would handle such arrangements for anyone interested.

Mr. Henney said he has received a "handful" of inquiries about green burials, "but right now, we don't have any cemeteries here providing these."

If someone wanted to be buried at a cemetery outside the region that does provide green burials, his company could help facilitate the effort. He also could obtain biodegradable caskets, which range from about $100 for a basic cardboard box to more than $3,000 for a handcrafted model. ... "

From 'Eternally green: Woodland burials are a natural alternative to an embalmed afterlife' ~

 

China crackdown on Olympic graft

" ... A total of 38 people were arrested in Beijing last year in a crackdown on corruption related to the 2008 Olympics, state media reported yesterday.

Altogether 15 graft cases involving the Games were detected in 2007 and were under investigation by the authorities, the Beijing News said.

Eight cases and 14 people were already before the courts to answer graft charges, the newspaper quoted the city’s chief prosecutor Mu Pinghuan as saying.

Mu said the prosecution was determined to administer swift and effective justice on Olympic cases, reflecting the high priority China has put on hosting a clean Games.

Corruption is a major problem in China that affects most areas of life but Beijing’s communist party chief Liu Qi, who also heads the Beijing Olympic organising committee, has stressed the multi-billion dollar Games must be graft-free.

Last year he said the Aug 8-24 Games must be run in an “open and transparent” manner, ordering stepped up audits and inspections on Olympic-related activities.”

Despite Mu’s pledge of swift justice, the highest profile Olympic graft case so far has yet to come to court.

Liu Zhihua, a former vice mayor of Beijing, was fired in June 2006 amid allegations of massive graft concerning Olympic venues which cost more than one billion dollars to build. ... "

~ From 'China arrests 38 for graft related to the Olympics' ~

 

 

Mexico's Day of the Dead inspires Czech artist

" ... Šimlová has experienced Dia de los Muertos firsthand on several trips to Mexico over the past few years, and she is fascinated by the Mexicans’ synthesis of pre-Columbian deities, rites and customs with the saints, demons, rites and customs of Spanish Catholicism. This unusual marriage shouldn’t be surprising to any European, as both cultures are strangely rooted in death and violence. It’s almost as if Spanish Catholic culture, with its history of ruthless inquisitions and self-destructive obsession with the occult and pagan practices, was bound to merge at some point with the Aztec culture, which has its own self-destructive history, including bloody human sacrifices.
 
Šimlová’s exhibition is additionally inspired by a rather long quote from the American novelist Tom Robbins, which begins: “Technology shapes psyches as well as environments, and maybe we are too sophisticated, too permanently alienated from nature, to make extensive use of our pagan heritage.” Robbins maintains that links with our past must be re-established, although he points out that “to re-establish the broken continuity of your spiritual development is not the same as a romantic, sentimental retreat into simpler, rustic lifestyles.” In other words, he isn’t espousing Thoreau, and he insists that Anglo-Saxons should not all rush out to become Hindus. “However, we have lost too many valuable things along the road of so-called progress, and you need to go back and retrieve them. If nothing else, to discover where you’ve been may enable you to guess at where you are going.”
 
[ ... ]
 
Europe has no modern counterpart to Mexico’s Day of the Dead. However, artists and artisans of the Middle Ages honored death in their own way, recreating unforgettable scenes of the danse macabre, or Dance of Death, on canvases and frescoes and in woodcuts.
 
“Air from the Thames” recalls this past by creating a collection of shadows, ghost figures or even dead souls in boxes, contained and struggling to get out. They are like lonely solo dancers in pristine lighted boxes, all moving in various rhythms to a modern danse macabre. ... "
 

Without rigorous country progress reports, UN Corruption Convention will be a "dead letter"

As nearly 140 UN Member States head to Bali to kick off a conference on 28 January about the future of the UN Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) -the global road-map for eradicating corruption- Transparency International (TI) is advocating to ensure that governments keep their commitments and implement the convention.

TI Chair Huguette Labelle cautions that “without the development of a concrete plan to assess country progress in implementing the treaty, the convention will be nothing more than a dead letter, robbing the most vulnerable of their best chance at a better life”.

Transparency International will be represented by its top leadership as well as over 30 of the organisation’s national chapters and will be operating within a coalition of civil society groups including Oxfam and the Institute for Security Studies. TI and the coalition will be on hand to put pressure on governments to make concrete, action-oriented decisions, not just on a review mechanism, but on the return of assets stolen by corrupt leaders and stored abroad. Additional issues the group will focus on include technical assistance for lower-income countries to implement the convention and stronger measures to protect and engage with civil society activists and whistleblowers.

Ahead of the meeting of convention signatories, the so-called Conference of States Parties (CoSP), Transparency International released a position paper with specific technical recommendations for a long-range, phased review of country progress. The paper notes, that in a globalised world, the UNCAC offers the only global framework for cooperation on anti-corruption measures, setting out universally agreed standards for government performance.

Efforts at assessing country progress to date, through self-reporting, have been lacklustre, with barely half of signatory countries participating. "Our work has shown us that only through a transparent programme of mutual evaluation will countries take such an instrument seriously, and get serious about implementing it," said Gillian Dell of Transparency International. “That’s why we're pushing for dates and concrete plans about how the states parties to the convention want to assess the success of their implementation. This meeting here in Indonesia is the moment".

Commenting on the concerns of some countries, Dell continued, "The fact is, that this is an opportunity for governments to demonstrate their accountability and their commitment to fighting corruption".

Lack of government commitment still plagues the UNCAC, for example the failure of G8 member states Germany, Italy and Japan to ratify the convention four years after signing it and despite numerous G8 summit pledges to do so. The absence of ratifications from global financial centres Singapore, Switzerland and Liechtenstein also casts doubt on their commitment to integrity in the financial market. A number of signatory countries have not even made the effort to send a representative to the Bali conference.

Beyond ratification, TI also urges the private sector, whose activities are subject to the provisions of the convention and whose interests are ultimately served by it, to actively support the UNCAC and a strong review mechanism. Civil society involvement remains crucial to the success of the convention, in its adoption, implementation and in its review. Their participation is enshrined in the convention, but the willingness of the states parties to guarantee this is uneven, with some governments exhibiting direct hostility to citizens exercising their right to voice critical opinions.

From 28 January to 1 February, the Conference of States Parties will also feature special sessions with well-known film and music artists, civil society, private sector representatives and journalists, in addition to thematic components on issues of prevention and criminalisation of corruption offences and the enforcement of new regulation under the convention.

The risk remains high, though, that countries will remain locked in a defensive, suspicious mode, which could undermine the best chance for a global sea-change in the fight against what is, after all, a cross-border phenomenon. TI’s position paper concludes that without monitoring, there is a high risk the convention will become another example of unfulfilled high expectations.

###

Transparency International is the civil society organisation leading the fight against corruption.

Note to editors:

The UN Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) provides a comprehensive global framework for combating corruption. Adopted in 2003, it represents an international consensus on the need for collective action. The convention establishes government obligations and standards for preventing and punishing corruption, international cooperation, technical assistance and asset recovery. UNCAC has been signed by 140 countries and ratified by more than 107 governments.

Media contact(s):
(Bali) Jesse Garcia
+49 162 419 6454
jgarcia@transparency.org

(Berlin) Gypsy Guillén Kaiser
+49 30 3438 20662
ggkaiser@transparency.org
 
 
 

Tobacco giant suffers legal setback

The cost to Philip Morris of trying to slant jury instructions too far in its favor -- $79.5 million in punitive damages: As I first noted in this post from this morning, today the Supreme Court of Oregon issued its ruling, on remand from the Supreme Court of the United States, in Williams v. Philip Morris Inc. Although Philip Morris had won before the U.S. Supreme Court, today's ruling by Oregon's highest court reinstates a jury's award of $79.5 million in punitive damages, on top of a compensatory damages award of $821,000, against Philip Morris and in favor of a cigarette smoker's widow. How could this be?

When Philip Morris most recently brought this case to the U.S. Supreme Court, the company asked the U.S. Supreme Court to consider two objections to the punitive damages award. First, Philip Morris advanced a procedural due process challenge, asserting that that a defendant's due process rights are violated if a jury assesses punitive damages to punish a defendant for having caused harm to persons other than the plaintiff. And second, Philip Morris advanced a substantive due process challenge, asserting that the punitive damages award was unconstitutionally excessive because, among other reasons, it was nearly one hundred times larger than the award of compensatory damages.

When the U.S. Supreme Court issued its 5-4 ruling in February 2007, the Court agreed with Philip Morris's procedural due process argument. The Court held that a defendant's due process rights are violated if a jury assesses punitive damages to punish a defendant for having caused harm to persons other than the plaintiff. As a result, the U.S. Supreme Court found it unnecessary to address the company's substantive due process challenge to the punitive damages award as unconstitutionally excessive.

Philip Morris had sought to preserve its procedural due process objection, which the U.S. Supreme Court recognized as meritorious, by means of a proposed jury instruction. Today, the Supreme Court of Oregon, acting on remand from the U.S. Supreme Court, held that the trial court properly refused to deliver to the jury Philip Morris's proposed jury instruction because it misstated Oregon's law of punitive damages in various other respects. Under Oregon law, a party has no right to have a trial court deliver its proposed jury instruction unless the instruction is entirely unobjectionable. Philip Morris's proposed jury instruction was far from entirely unobjectionable, according to Oregon's highest court, and therefore Philip Morris has no one to blame other than itself (and its trial lawyers) for failing to have its procedural due process rights vindicated in accordance with the U.S. Supreme Court's February 2007 ruling.

Let's assume, as is most likely the case, that today's Supreme Court of Oregon decision constitutes an adequate and independent state law ground that will prevent Philip Morris from benefiting from the U.S. Supreme Court's February 2007 procedural due process ruling in Philip Morris's favor. This still leaves the company with the ability to pursue its substantive due process challenge to the punitive damages award as unconstitutionally excessive. Remember that the U.S. Supreme Court had originally granted certiorari to review that question but then found it unnecessary to resolve.

For better or worse, today's Supreme Court of Oregon ruling has likely transformed this case into an unattractive vehicle for U.S. Supreme Court review on the substantive due process question of the unconstitutional excessiveness of punitive damages. My reasoning proceeds as follows. To determine whether a punitive damages award is unconstitutionally excessive, one must consider the evidence that was before the fact-finder. Here, due to Philip Morris's failure to tender a valid punitive damages instruction, Philip Morris has forfeited any ability to object to the jury's consideration, in assessing punitive damages, of the harm that Philip Morris caused to Oregon smokers other than the plaintiff. Determining whether this particular punitive damages award is unconstitutionally excessive will require the U.S. Supreme Court to weigh a type of evidence that, as a result of its earlier ruling in this very case, other juries deciding whether to award punitive damages won't ever be considering. Thus, a substantive due process ruling in this case would amount to little more than error correction and would be unlikely to result in a ruling of widespread application to other cases.

Even though this case may no longer present an attractive vehicle for examining the substantive due process limits of excessive punitive damages, Philip Morris can still hope that the U.S. Supreme Court, before it gets around to denying the company's forthcoming cert. petition, will decide or agree to decide another case presenting a substantive due process challenge to excessive punitive damages. Unfortunately for Philip Morris, the U.S. Supreme Court turned down this issue in the Exxon Valdez case.

In closing, to return to the title of this post, it is worth emphasizing that the reason Philip Morris failed to benefit from the U.S. Supreme Court's punitive damages ruling in its favor in this very case is that the trial lawyers for Philip Morris tried to slant their proposed punitive damages instruction too far in defendant's favor. Had the company's proposed punitive damages instruction faithfully tracked the applicable Oregon statute, today's Supreme Court of Oregon ruling would have likely set aside the jury's punitive damages award and granted a new trial. So, to you young litigation associates pondering how far you should twist the law in your client's favor in proposed jury instructions, remember: attempting to gain your client some subtle, modest advantage could backfire and someday cause your client to lost its ability to overturn a nearly $80 million punitive damages award.

Elsewhere, Ashbel S. Green of The Oregonian (with whom I had the pleasure of speaking about this case a bit earlier today) has a news update headlined "Oregon Supreme Court backs $79.5 million award; The judgment against Philip Morris had been overturned twice."

The Associated Press reports that "Oregon high court reaffirms decision in Philip Morris case."

At "The BLT: The Blog of Legal Times," Tony Mauro has a post titled "Oregon Supreme Court to U.S. Supreme Court: Thanks, But No Thanks."

And Eric Turkewitz, at the "New York Personal Injury Law Blog," has a post titled "Philip Morris $79.5M Punitive Award Reinstated By Oregon High Court."

~ Link ~

 

Pakistani Justice Breaks Silence

" ... Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, the former chief justice of Pakistan who was removed last year when President Pervez Musharraf imposed a state of emergency, has finally broken his silence.
 
A letter from Mr. Chaudhry to Western officials was circulated Wednesday. It lambasted Mr. Musharraf for quashing Pakistan’s independent judiciary and illegally detaining him and his family, and noted that the Supreme Court had not had a chance to rule on whether it was legal for Mr. Musharraf to run for re-election in December.

It was Mr. Chaudhry’s second public statement since the start of emergency rule on Nov. 3, when he was confined to his official residence. On Nov. 6, he made a telephone address to opposition lawyers in Islamabad, urging the nation to rise up for the restoration of the Constitution. Emergency rule was lifted Dec. 15.

The Pakistani government insists that Mr. Chaudhry is not under house arrest, although public access to his residence is prohibited and visitors are not allowed. An aide, Athar Minullah, said the letter was smuggled out by Mr. Chaudhry’s 16-year-old daughter.

The letter, prompted by Mr. Musharraf’s recent visit to European capitals, was addressed to the president of the European Parliament, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, Prime Minister Gordon Brown of Britain and the head of the World Economic Forum. During his trip, Mr. Musharraf gave Western leaders a damning profile of Mr. Chaudhry, according to Mr. Minullah.

Mr. Chaudhry said in the letter, “I have found it necessary to write to you, and others, because during his recent visits to Brussels, Paris, Davos and London General Musharraf has slandered me, and my colleagues, with impunity in press conferences and other addresses and meetings.”

There was no immediate comment from the government. ... "

~ Read on... ~

 

US District Attorney General Seizes $1.1Bn In 2007

" ... The Law Jobs and Legal NewsWire The Asset Forfeiture Unit of the United States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York has forfeited or reached agreements to forfeit more than $1.1 billion in calendar year 2007. The forfeitures stem from a variety of cases prosecuted by the Office, from corporate fraud cases to cases concerning public corruption, fraud in the United Nations Oil-for-Food program, international narcotics trafficking, art and antiquities thefts, and internet gambling.
 
The Department of Justice uses the fiscal year to track forfeitures, and the Office's forfeitures also exceeded $1.1 billion for the 2007 fiscal year ("FY07"), which runs from October 1, 2006, to October 1, 2007. The Office collected approximately $717.8 million and reached agreements to forfeit an additional $450 million, bringing the Office's forfeiture total in FY 2007 to over $1.1 billion.

For the third consecutive fiscal year, the United States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York has led the nation in deposits to the Government's various Asset Forfeiture Funds. In FY07, the nationwide total of deposits into the Asset Forfeiture Funds was approximately $1.3 billion, with the forfeited assets collected by the United States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York -- $717.8 million -- comprising 55% of the national total. The top districts and totals are as follows:

Top Districts for Asset Forfeiture in FY07
District Amount Deposited into the AFFs
Southern District of New York $717.8M
Western District of Virginia $183.6M
Eastern District of New York $49.2M
Southern District of Florida $37.5M
Southern District of Texas $29.2M
District of Connecticut $19.7M
District of New Jersey $17.5M
District of Maryland $15.8M
Southern District of California $15.6M
Central District of California $15.3M

Recent highlights of the Office's asset forfeiture program appear below.

Corporate Fraud Cases

Together, the Office's Securities and Commodities Fraud Unit and the Asset Forfeiture Unit have advanced the innovative use of forfeiture laws to locate, seize, and forfeit crime proceeds in order to restore them to victims.

This was done in several high-profile corporate fraud cases, including the Adelphia, Refco, and Bayou prosecutions. In those cases, this Office obtained three of the largest forfeitures in Department of Justice history, totaling in excess of $1.3 billion to date, with the goal of using the forfeited funds to provide restitution to victims. ... "

~ Read on... ~

 

Al-Qaeda's Open Call to Jihad to Take Islamabad

As the situation in Pakistan continues to deteriorate while al-Qaeda’s insurgency grows stronger and more pervasive, Uzbek Taliiban commander Qadri Tahir Yuldashev released a video message in which he has called for jihad directly against Pakistani military forces.

Two al-Qaeda leaders in the north of Pakistan have called on their supporters to wage a new Jihad against security forces and seize control of Islamabad.

In a graphic video sent to Adnkronos International (AKI), Takfiri militants Qadri Tahir Yaldeshiv (Photo) and Abdul Khaliq Haqqani called for urgent action against the armed forces to avenge the Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) operation in 2007.

As we have long been writing about here at ThreatsWatch, al-Qaeda’s ultimate target in their insurgency is Islamabad and the complete control of Pakistan, its institutions - including the military and nuclear weaponry - and the institution of Shari’a law, carving out Pakistan as the anchor for the envisioned reestablishment of a caliphate.

Yuldashev now states their Islamabad target and national Sharia aims without nuance. In his video message, Yuldashev dips into the Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) well once again, summoning more emotional reaction to the July 2007 government siege of the pro-Taliban, pro-al-Qaeda establishment. Included for effect in the propaganda message and call to jihad was graphic footage of the Islamists’ revenge, including the throat slitting of a Pakistani soldier.

Speaking of Pakistani soldiers: It is important here to continue to distinguish between Pakistan’s Frontier Corps paramilitary forces and the professional soldiers of the regular Pakistani Army. The two forts overrun by Yuldashev and Baitullah Mehsud’s combined Taliban forces this week in Mehsud’s South Waziristan were manned by Frontier Corps paramilitaries and not the Pakistani Army. The two do not share common levels of proficiency.

As we explained in a September PrincipalAnalysis, Understanding Al-Qaeda’s Pakistan PSYOP and Insurgency, al-Qaeda seeks to avoid direct bloody confrontation with the Pakistani regular army’s forces. Not because they are feared, but because for al-Qaeda, it would be ideal if the Pakistani armed forces can be kept in tact and eventually aligned with the insurgents following the victory the Islamists envision within Pakistan. The Interior Ministry, however, is the one Pakistani institution that remains almost uniformly pro-Musharraf. And the Frontier Corps paramilitary forces, the constabularies, and the Pakistani police are all part of the Interior Ministry and therefor preferred targets.

So when you read about Taliban attacks on Pakistani “troops” or “soldiers,” be sure to look to distinguish between the Pakistani Army and other forces. Offensive attacks against Pakistani Army forces would mark a significant shift from a PSYOP seeking to win their support to a ground op seeking to remove them as an obstacle blocking control of Islamabad - and all that comes with it.

~ Link ~

 

Technology, magic and modern-day cargo cultism

" ... there's a worrisome aspect to all this magic in a box. The very complexity of the technology makes it less necessary that users understand it. For example, today's cars are much more reliable and easier to drive than earlier cars (Choke? What choke?), but they are also much more difficult to fix, unless you are trained and have specialized equipment and documentation. The good news, in theory, is that you no longer need to understand how the car works to keep it running; the bad news is that you couldn't do much even if you wanted to.

This reminds me of a "cargo cult," a term originating with a story of Pacific Ocean islanders in WWII who built dummy replicas of radios, antennas and microphones, then called for the planes to land with their cargo, just as they saw military forces do. Physicist Richard Feynman referred to this in his insightful 1974 Caltech commencement address (www.cs.umbc.edu/www/graduate/ feynman-cargo.shtml).

When I think about the trajectory of all this technology, I wonder: Will we increasingly become a society of largely ignorant consumers who happily use what is given to us but leave the design, development, debug and manufacturing to an ever-smaller group? Looking a decade or two out, will there be only a dozen experts who know how to design a decent power supply? Will these groups become like the alchemists of old, and be called upon because they are the only ones with the understanding of how things actually work? ... "

~ From Are we becoming a 'cargo cult'? ~

 

The Godse Cult: Gandhi's killers' ideology lives on

Pune: Sixty years ago, Nathuram Godse shot dead Mahatma Gandhi. The killer's legacy, however, continues to live on.

Today, the Godse cult is limited to a few family members who believe that Nathuram has never been properly understood.

Nathuram Godse was a zealot, a deeply religious ‘chitpavan brahmin’ from Maharashtra.

Godse was a close associate of V D Savarkar of the Hindu Mahasabha and author of Hindutva, and always claimed that in shooting Gandhi, he had acted out of love for ‘akhand Bharat’ or undivided India. Godse hated the Congress and hated the Partition of India. Above all, he detested Gandhi - the so-called saint who had let his country be divided.

On January 30, at 5.17 pm in Birla House in Delhi, Nathuram Godse pulled the trigger on Gandhi. He was arrested almost immediately and subsequently hanged.

Nathuram's ideology lives today only among a small group of family and friends who gather every year, to sit around an urn of his ashes and pay homage to modern India's most reviled assassin.

Nana Godse is Nathuram's nephew and Himani Savarkar his niece. One is a small-time builder in Pune, the other tried her hand at a political career without success, although she plans to contest elections in 2009.

They say they are conscious that they are outsiders, always treated with suspicion, afraid to speak their minds and living in the constant shadow of being related to modern India's greatest villain.

Nana Godse read out from his uncle’s will:

"Till the day the Indus does not flow in Hindustan, my ashes shall remain like this and the day the Indus flows in Hindustan again, that day my ashes will be submerged in its waters".

In 1998, the Marathi play Mee Nathuram Godse Boltoy apparently ran to packed houses when it was staged in Mumbai but was closed down after protests.

The Maharashtra and Kerala governments have even banned the book. The Congress said the play was a terrible attempt to paint Godse as a hero.

After January 30, 1948, the killer became so repugnant that mainstream Indians today think of Godse as evil incarnate.

Yet in some familiar chants, particularly those of the Shiv Sena, and in certain political slogans (as in those of the VHP), one can still hear the voice of Nathuram Godse.

~ Source ~

 

Real-life ghosthunters

" ... At The New England Society of Paranormal Investigators (NESPI.net) we have utilized an opening and closing prayer on every single investigation we have ever done. And will continue to employ this practice. I don't pretend to understand how this actually protects us from anything other than Catholic Demons but I always feel a little better after we do it anyway.  The point I'm trying to make is that I believe many of these so-called attacks are really your standard, garden variety spirits, and not necessarily angry Demonic entities, working very hard to get someone's attention.  Having logged thousands upon thousands of hours communicating with the unseen through Electronic Voice Phenomena I feel well qualified to render these opinions.  I have had EVPs come through onto my computer's hard drive of all types from the guttural, growling voice that threatens all kinds of horrible retribution to the "nice-as-pie" 35 year old mother of two who was a teacher and loves it where she is.  By the way, if you have an aversion to foul language, EVP work may not be for you!

Let me try to explain with an example. Annually, The New England Society of Paranormal Investigators receives numerous RFI's (Request for Investigations) and CFA's (Call for Assistance) from all over New England.  Recently, we responded to a CFA from upstate Maine. Usually, CFA's are lot more urgent in nature and require immediate analysis as how to proceed.  A preliminary interview must be done to gather certain facts which help determine in analysis as to how we should proceed. This is what separates NESPI as a professional and scientific research organization from those weekend ghost hunt clubs who go right in, set up their equipment and begin asking all the wrong questions.  First of all, many times an improper investigation in itself is perceived as an attack by the already angered and frustrated entity. This results in escalated activity putting the client in a much worsened position. The ghost hunt club goes home and the property owner is left holding the bag. These groups should only do outside investigations as they are not experienced and don't have the training to work on this level. Remember, before allowing anyone to enter your property for a paranormal investigation make certain to:

  1. Check their references.
  2. Ask what type of equipment they use.
  3. Review their evidence from past investigations.
  4. Think of them as an employee you are about to hire.... "
 
 
 

'Gonzo' documentary debut

" ... So larger-than-life that he eventually felt overshadowed by his own mythos, legendary journo Hunter S. Thompson gets definitive docu treatment in "Gonzo." Alex Gibney's film draws on a rich array of archival interviews, homemovies, signs-of-the-times clips and celebrity reminiscences to chart the dizzying arc of a man who both chronicled and personified edgier aspects of the American 1960s and '70s. Subject's lingering appeal to both old fans and new should make this a viable specialty release in all formats, starting with Magnolia's theatrical release.

Fast-paced, colorful assembly starts with commentators remarking on Thompson's legacy (even foe Sonny Barger of Hell's Angels grudgingly calls him "a jerk, but a very good writer") and lamenting the long creative decline after his peak years. Pic then backtracks to touch on his Kentucky upbringing before an appearance in full biker drag on gameshow "To Tell the Truth" heralded his first professional triumph: "Hell's Angels," an exercise in participatory journalism that resulted from his hanging out with the famed outlaws for a year -- though ultimately, they were not pleased with his portrait.

The book's success made him a minor celebrity, but the ambitious author hungered for greater fame. Aligning himself with Rolling Stone magazine, he chronicled his own Freak Power Party run for sheriff in Aspen, Colo. (he lost, to residents' enormous relief), then did a piece about the "decadent and depraved" Kentucky Derby that's pinpointed here as the birth of "gonzo" journalism -- the chemically fueled, sometimes fictionalized, highly first-person style that made Thompson a counterculture hero. His classic "Fear and Loathing" tomes confounded all traditional rules of reporting, yet remain admired for grasping the gist of American politics and life better than many sober, evenhanded treatments. ... "
 
 

" ... Thompson was a split personality. A man capable of enormous kindness and affection, he also was given to rage and chemical- and alcohol-fueled depravity. He was acutely aware of these two sides but apparently not in complete control of either. It says something about the man's good side, though, that so many important people have come forward to pay heartfelt tribute to him in this film.

Gibney must be a great interviewer, because the comments here not only from Thompson's two wives and close friends but such figures as President Carter, George McGovern, Pat Buchanan, Jimmy Buffett, Gary Hart and Thompson's longtime illustrator, Ralph Steadman, paint a picture that feels accurate and catches the moods of the country during Thompson's heyday as an author-cum-rock star.

How fascinating to learn that Thompson taught himself how to write the literature of the outsider by typing over and over again F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby." How odd to see him in vintage black-and-white on the quiz show "To Tell the Truth" after penning his first best-seller on the Hell's Angels. What a nervous guy he was then and how he changed.

Indeed, Thompson fit right into the freak show of the '60s in the Bay Area -- the acid-dropping, hippie-dippy, antiwar, clothes-optional guerrilla theater that caused him to turn on but not to drop out. Rather, he engaged the power structure in America in a way no one else ever has. Without the usual journalistic concerns over burning sources and currying favor, he reported everything, whether on or off the record, but also made stuff up. And the phony facts somehow got as close to the truth as the real ones. One interviewer remarks that his coverage of the McGovern campaign was the most accurate and least factual of any journalist's. ... "

 
 

Breaking the rules in journalism

" ... Widespread as negative criticism toward journalism is, I have neither read nor heard many positive comments on the work of exemplary journalists. This experience leads to a conclusion that can hopefully be shared by you: More insight into qualified journalism is called for.

Like any human perspective on the subject, the following commentary on journalists and what makes them great is subjective. The main criterion for quality journalism here is getting to the truth. And as you read about the accomplishments of these journalists, you will find that truth may materialize despite some subjectivity.

Ed Murrow
The success of George Clooney's "Good Night, and Good Luck." may render this choice clichéd for some. In fact, it is only fitting for a common-sense journalist to be seen as a common-sense example of the craft.

Ironically, one of Murrow's greatest journalistic deeds - condemning the anti-communist message and actions of Senator Joe McCarthy - involved a subjective lens. Murrow once said of McCarthy in a seminal report: "His primary achievement has been in confusing the public mind." Murrow also explained McCarthy didn't "create this situation of fear; he merely exploited it."

These words indicating the folly and motive of a public official weren't documented facts. These words were human judgments - not those of science or objectivity - but valid as if measured.

Hunter S. Thompson
As a journalist you are taught to report objectively and generally refrain from using "I" and not to write long sentences or utilize too many conjunctions. Thompson's style, termed gonzo journalism, invites breaking rules without leaving behind the truth.

"Professional" doesn't describe this man's writing, appearance, philosophy, his general condition. But most journalists couldn't spend a year with the Hell's Angels gang to detail their culture and clear up misconceptions generated by other publications ("Hell's Angels: The Strange and Terrible of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs"). And most couldn't contrast the American drug culture's collective hope of the 1960s with its collective paranoia of the 1970s as vividly as Thompson ("Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream").

Thompson, very often in first person, sometimes cursing and attributing values, ignoring traditional style and conduct, delivering the truth. ... "
 
 

The times may be changing on marijuana issue

A few years ago, politicians who dared to suggest anything other than jail time for marijuana users were considered pro-drug fringe candidates.

Not anymore. Now all the major Democratic presidential candidates are offering more lenient stands on medical marijuana, and White House hopeful Ron Paul, a Texas Republican, has made ending the federal drug war a centerpiece of his campaign.

"There has definitely been a change in the political climate for liberalization," said Tim Lynch, a criminal justice expert at the Cato Institute, a Washington-based think tank. "I think the people are ahead of the politicians, especially of the Washington, D.C., politicians, on this issue."

Polls have consistently shown that Americans support marijuana for medicinal purposes: a whopping 80 percent said so in a 2002 Time/CNN survey. In the same poll, about a third approved total legalization, but 72 percent said recreational users should be fined, not incarcerated....

~ Read on... ~

 

Astrology and the Mumbai bourse bull

Bull's bottom bugs Bombay brokers
By Karishma Vaswani
BBC News, Mumbai

Indian brokers at the Bombay Stock Exchange are calling on the authorities to bring in religious experts to change the direction of a bronze bull statue.
They say the posterior of the bull, placed at the footsteps of the exchange building, points towards the traders which makes it inauspicious.
It has been a tough time for financial markets around the world with bourses being volatile recently.
Brokers in Mumbai have been hard hit with the sharp falls in share prices.
This has left them extremely concerned and worried.
Symbol of optimism
Some of the Bombay brokers are convinced that the root of all their troubles lies with the five-foot-tall bronze bull.
They want the religious experts to consult astrological charts to see if its rear end should point in a more auspicious direction.
The bronze bull - a symbol of this market's optimism and previously soaring fortunes - was put in place on 12 January by the Bombay Stock Exchange's management team.
Unfortunately for them, it coincided with some of the worst falls in Indian shares in recent years.
When contacted by the BBC, the exchange said it had no plans for now to seek astrological advice on the bull.

~ Link ~
 

The Navy's Marine Mammal Program

The Navy's Marine Mammal Program began in 1960 with two goals. First, the Navy wanted to study the underwater sonar capabilities of dolphins and beluga whales to learn how to design more efficient methods of detecting objects underwater, and to improve the speed of their boats and submarines by researching how dolphins are able to swim so fast and dive so deep. In addition to this research component, the Navy also trained dolphins, beluga whales, sea lions and other marine mammals to perform various underwater tasks, including delivering equipment to divers underwater, locating and retrieving lost objects, guarding boats and submarines, and doing underwater surveillance using a camera held in their mouths. Dolphins were used for some of these tasks in the Vietnam War and in the Persian Gulf. The Marine Mammal Program was originally classified, and was at its peak during the Cold War. The Soviet Union's military was conducting similar research and training programs in the race to dominate the underwater front. At one point during the 1980's, the U.S. program had over 100 dolphins, as well as numerous sea lions and beluga whales, and an operating budget of $8 million dollars. By the 1990's, however, the Cold War was over, and the Navy's Marine Mammal project was downsized. In 1992, the program bec ame declassified. Many of the dolphins were retired, and controversy arose over whether or not it would be feasible to return unnecessary dolphins to the wild. ðSpecific Tasks Navy marine mammals are trained to perform many underwater duties, including
  • Bottlenose dolphins detect and mark of underwater mines. The animal locates a mine and then deposits a weighted buoy line near the mine in order to mark it.
  • California sea lions attach grabber devices to underwater objects for retrieval. This system is used extensively in training exercises with divers for Explosive Ordnance Disposal units. Practice mines are placed on the sea floor; those not found by the divers during the exercise are retrieved by the sea lions.
  • Bottlenose dolphins are used to detect and defend against enemy swimmers. This procedure was used in both the Vietnam war and the Persian Gulf to protect Navy anchored vessels from enemy swimmers seeking to plant explosives. The dolphins would swim slowly, patroling the area with their sonar, and alert armed trainer guards if they located a swimmer. They are also trained to "tag" the enemy swimmer with a marker so that Navy personnel can apprehend him. During the Vietnam war, rumors circulated about a "swimmer nullification program" in which dolphins were also being trained to shoot at enemy swimmers with a device similar to the tagging device. The Navy denies that any such program existed or that any dolphin has ever been trained to attack a human....
 

Topfreedom

Wikipedia: Toplessness

While it is fashionable and culturally acceptable for Western women to display cleavage, particularly when wearing swimsuits or dressing for social occasions, concealment of the lower portion of the breasts, including the nipples and areolae, is a sociocultural and/or religious norm of postpubescent female modesty in much of the rest of the world. Although prohibitions on breast exposure are often relaxed in appropriate gender segregated areas such as women's locker rooms, changing rooms, or communal showers, or in specific zones such as a topless beach or sauna (see below), most women will conceal their breasts at other times. As such, public toplessness in the Western world is mostly confined to sunbathing and occasional acts of exhibitionism.

In the interest of public morality, many Western juristictions have legal statutes that define the act of publicly displaying the female breast as indecent exposure. The topfree equality movement opposes such legislation, arguing that since men may expose their anatomically analogous chests and nipples with impunity, prohibiting female toplessness constitutes a form of sexual discrimination. Heated debates have taken place on this issue, particularly when nursing mothers have been arrested and prosecuted for breastfeeding their babies in public. In response to campaigns promoting the health benefits of breast milk, many jurisdictions now permit public breastfeeding while retaining indecent exposure laws, essentially differentiating the lactational from the sexual functions of the female breast....

Wikipedia: Topfreedom

Topfreedom is a social movement to accord women and girls the right to be topfree in public where men and boys have that right. Examples of public spaces at which topfreedom might be exercised include beaches, swimming pools and parks. The reasons include keeping nursing mothers from having to hide for breastfeeding, sun tanning, comfort, and sex equality.

In North America, where resistance to toplessness of women is greater than in mainland Europe or Australia, a small topfree equality movement has grown. In February 2005 in California, attorney Liana Johnsson contended that under Megan's Law, women convicted of indecent exposure (for breastfeeding or sunbathing) could find themselves listed as sex offenders alongside rapists and child molesters. The term "topfree" is used as an alternative to "topless", which may carry negative connotations. Some women prefer the term "shirtfree rights". In 1991 in Canada, the arrest and trial of activist Gwen Jacobs for walking down a street in Guelph, Ontario, while topless eventually led to a change in Ontario laws so that they agree (at least in principle) with topfree equality.

Cultural arguments

Western culture generally tends to oppose public female toplessness because of the idea that females breasts are sexual organs, and thus indecent. In contrast, the male chest is not commonly considered to be sexual.

Biologically there is no particular connection between mammary glands and copulation, but some cultures have regarded the exhibition of breasts as sexually arousing (others have also so regarded the exhibition of the chests of men). Some zoologists (notably Desmond Morris) believe that through human evolution, female breasts have acquired secondary sexual characteristics as a counterpart of the buttocks in other primates.[1] For more information, see breast.

Some courts in North America have ruled that mammary glands are nurturing organs, not sexual organs, a relevant distinction in light of laws in certain jurisdictions that specifically restrict the public display of sexual organs....

Support Topless Women
You Have the Right to Remain Topless! I believe women must have equal rights as men. How come men can go around topless without a cop stopping them while women can't? Unless, you live in New York. It's a little known fact that NY state is one of the very few places in the US where women can legally be top free (anywhere that a man can). We can change the law, but the cultural half of the equation is much more challenging to change.

Photographer Jordan Matter defends womens’ rights to take the streets half-naked. For the past two years, he has been shooting 100 portraits of topless women in New York City's streets, restaurants and parks. Matter is also part of a project called "Topfree Equal Rights Association." TERA works to encourage women to walk around topless. In his own words:

"Challenging this inequity between the sexes is the purpose of my work. There has been a recent shift in America towards a socially conservative philosophy, so right after Janet Jackson's breast was exposed at the Super Bowl, I started asking women to appear topless in New York City. [Uncovered: Busting Out in the Big Apple] is a collection of photographs featuring bare-breasted women in public around NYC, often presented with interviews exploring the issues of body image and sexuality in America today. The informal and humorous nature of these images celebrates women without sexualizing or objectifying them, while creating the illusion of a tolerant world in which shirtless women go casually about their lives. Uncovered represents just one aspect of what America could look like if we were free of shame and liberated from moral judgment." ...

Swedish feminists win partial approval for topless swimming

Stockholm - Swedish feminists have secured the right to drop their tops at an indoor swimming pool in northern Sweden, a newspaper report said Wednesday. "We are used to naked people. The only condition is that other guests are not offended, in that case we will have to ask the women to leave," Per-Erik Ulander, head of the municipal swimming pool in Sundsvall, north of Stockholm told the Dagbladet newspaper.

Activists have since September challenged the ban against swimming topless and formed a network that has staged several protests.

The actions started after two young women were ordered to leave the public swimming hall in the city of Uppsala when swimming topless.

The Equal Opportunities Ombudsman, the watchdog in charge of ensuring equal opportunity between men and women, has said it would not review a complaint filed over alleged discrimination.

On their website the network - called Bara Brost, which translates as "bare breasts" or "just breasts" - said their aim was to liberate women from being treated as "sexual objects" and that women should be able to decide when it is suitable to drop their tops - or not....

European Parliament calls on US to renounce military threats against Iran

" ... The European Parliament (EP) adopted a resolution Thursday expressing regret that Iran "has still not complied with its international obligations to suspend all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities." The EP welcome the agreement reached in Berlin last week on a new UNSC draft resolution on Iran, which foresees further measures.
The Euro deputies called on the US Administration and all other represantatives involved "to renounce all rhetoric on military options and regime change policies against Iran," and called on the US to "participate directly in negotiations with Iran along with the EU." The EP also expressed "deep concern over the deterioration of the human rights situation in Iran." ... "
 
~ Link ~
 

Woodstock: the historic moment

when Artie Kornfeld and Michael Lang officially decided Woodstock had to be free
 
 
( Many thanks to George for this!)
 

Afghan Journalist's Death Sentence Political

Sayed Parwez Kaambakhsh’s real offence may have been to have a brother whose frank reporting has exposed abuses in northern Afghanistan.

By Hafizullah Gardesh in Kabul

The roar of international protest has increased over the past week since a court in northern Afghanistan handed down the death sentence to Sayed Parwez Kaambakhsh, a young journalism student convicted of blasphemy.
In Afghanistan, meanwhile, analysts and media rights advocates say the harsh sentence was delivered at the behest of powerful local figures, as an indirect form of retribution against Kaambakhsh’s brother, Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi, a reporter who has written extensively on human rights abuses in the north.
Sentence was passed at a summary hearing held by the lower court for Balkh region on January 22, at which Kaambakhsh was offered no chance to speak, and had no legal representation. (See Afghan Reporter Sentenced to Death for Blasphemy, ARR No. 280, 22-Jan-08.)
Kaambakhsh denies committing the offence of blasphemy and totally rejects the allegations that led to his detention in October. He is accused of downloading an article from the internet which reportedly contained a critical commentary on the Koran. The piece was circulated at Balkh University, and attributed to Kaambakhsh.
The authorities claim they have a signed confession which forms the basis for the death sentence.
The young reporter told IWPR that he was coerced by the National Directorate of Security, NDS, into admitting his guilt.
“I was held in a small room which was very dirty,” he told IWPR. “I was held in that room for eight days, and the security guys were constantly coming to see me. They interrogated me several times a day, and told me they were going to hang me. They told me to prepare myself for death.
“I had no contact with my family, and I was under a lot of psychological pressure. On the eighth day, the NDS officer came with a piece of paper in his hand. He told me to write that I had downloaded the document from the internet and that I had added several sentences to it. They told me that if I wrote this, they would release me.”
Khalilurahman Adli, the judge who heads the public security branch of the Balkh court that sentenced Kaambakhsh, insisted the defendant had been treated fairly.
“We had other evidence as well,” he told IWPR. “In addition to circulating that document, he had anti-Islamic texts on his mobile phone.”
At Balkh University, 16 students and lecturers signed a document condemning Kaambakhsh’s behavior and describing his allegedly “anti-Islamic” behaviour.
“All of the testimony is in his dossier; you can study it,” said Adli.
Kaambakhsh’s brother Ibrahimi, who is a staff reporter for IWPR, bristles at such allegations.
“He may have had some jokes on his phone, something harmless about girls,” he said angrily. “As for the testimony of his classmates – well, you can get anybody to say anything you want.”
Despite the alacrity with which the trial was concluded, no one seems eager for the death penalty to be carried out.
“This is the primary court, he has a long way to go,” said Adli. “There are other steps, and [Kaambakhsh] can defend himself. That is his legal right.”
Afghanistan’s Ministry of Information and Culture also issued a statement emphasising that the verdict was not final.
About the only ones calling for Kaambakhsh’s death are the Taleban, who carried a virulent attack on the young man on their website, alemarah.org.
Condemning Kaambakhsh’s “dirty statement,” the Taleban called on “jihadi and brave Afghans to administer severe chastisement to the perpetrator of this action.”
Kaambakhsh’s brother has been outspoken about his arrest and imprisonment. From the outset, Ibrahimi has been convinced that the real target of the action was his own reporting.
“I have recently written several reports from the northern provinces about powerful men who were abusing people’s rights,” he told IWPR. “These men can create any kind of plot they wish - they have influence over all classes of people. They want to punish me in this way.”
Ibrahimi’s reporting has touched on the interests of “warlords” – local political figures from the former armed factions whose rising power has made life increasingly difficult in the north. He has been frequently threatened, his home and office have been searched, and he has been forced into hiding.
Adli denied that the court was bowing to political pressure.
“The court made its decision on the basis of sharia [Islamic law] and the law of the country. We did not act on anyone’s orders,” he told IWPR.
Rahimullah Samander, head of the Afghan Independent Journalists’ Association, corroborates Ibrahimi’s assessment.
“When [Kaambakhsh] was arrested, IWPR’s offices in Mazar were searched by the NDS, and [Ibrahimi’s] notebooks were taken, which contained contact numbers for the sources in his stories,” he said. “This clearly indicates that the government’s problem was with Yaqub Ibrahimi, not with Parwez Kaambakhsh. But they could not arrest Yaqub. This was a good way of pressuring Yaqub and his family.”
If additional proof were needed, added Samander, one need only consider the position taken by religious scholars around the country. The Ulema or clerical councils of Balkh and Kunduz provinces have issued condemnations of Kaambakhsh. Others have remained silent.
“Why have only the Ulema in Balkh and Kunduz been provoked?” he asked. “It is all due to jihadi [faction] connections. The judges and the prosecutors of Balkh all belong to a specific party, and the administration up there is a dictatorship that abuses its religious and governmental power.”
Fazel Rahman Oria, editor of the Erada daily newspaper and a Kabul-based political analyst, also sees political manoeuvring behind the scenes.
“The central government is weak, and governors have their own administrations,” he said. “[Local political figures] want to get revenge on Parwez Kaambakhsh and his family by exercising their power. It also serves as a lesson to other journalists.”
Hafizullah Gardesh is IWPR’s local editor in Kabul.
 
IWPR'S AFGHAN RECOVERY REPORT, No. 281, January 31 2008

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