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Interview with Uruguay’s Carlos Alejandro: Uruguay Elections

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teleSUR | November 28, 2014

UPDATE: Vazquez wins Uruguayan presidential election

teleSUR talks to the Broad Front’s Carlos Alejandro, to understand in more depth the elections and their consequences.

teleSur: Carlos, what have been the standout points of the Broad Front’s campaign?

Carlos Alejandro: There is no political debate in the second round of elections. Really, the right wing has been knocked back, they experienced a serious setback in the first round. They really thought that polls would be right, and that the Broad Front wouldn’t get more than 45 percent of the votes.

The main point of this campaign is to uphold the Broad Front government’s achievements in all areas, especially those related to freedom and equality.

Over the past 10 years, we’ve approved a series of laws, like establishing the 7-hour work day for rural workers; a domestic worker law limiting the number hours they are allowed to work.; the same sex marriage act, a sexual and reproductive health law, which includes legislation on abortion. We want to clarify that it is not an abortion law, because that is one of the themes being debated.

Also being debated is the widening of political engagement among the population; a freedom of information law; the barriers to education; the role of women in politics; all of these are central to the election debate, coming above even economic matters. It’s a rare thing when the economy gets overshadowed in an election … it’s the only political debate they are having in Brazil.

Here in Uruguay what we’re debating is how to better ourselves, how to create better conditions, which is a debate we don’t want to have with the right wing, because they’ve shown us for the past 150 years that they cannot take care of those problems, problems we are resolving, and laying the ground work to have that debate with the people who will truly benefit from these policies.

TS: You have said that if Vazquez is re-elected, he would carry on with the Broad Front’s policies. However, there are many controversial policies that Jose Mujica implemented, like abortion, and the marijuana law, which Vazquez is known to oppose. What will happen if he is elected with regard to these topics?

CA: Tabare was against these projects. He didn’t support them, and furthermore, during his last administration, he vetoed the same law that was later approved under Mujica. But as they are both from the Broad Front, which passed the law, it’s not up for discussion. Nothing will change from the way it was approved during Mujica’s government. There is no political sign that suggests that Tabare will erase what Mujica did.

Regarding the marijuana law in particular, it is very clear within the party, that it is a law still being studied and analyzed, that can and will be corrected if necessary; it is new not only for Uruguay, but in the whole world; we know there are other places who have had similar experiences, like in some of the states in the U.S., but in our case, we want to resolve the drug problem, take the market for marijuana away from organized crime, and create conditions to rehabilitate not only marijuana users, but hard drugs too.

In this sense, our aim is to deepen the changes we have already made, improve what has been done, and improve what has been done badly.

TS: How is Vazquez viewed in Uruguay?

CA: Tabare is a man of the people, what we call “de a pie,” down to earth. He comes from a similar humble background as many other Uruguayans.. The Right cannot forgive him for paving the way —via his education and intellect— for the Left to get into power.

Tabare is a man of the Left, even though the political pragmatism he uses makes him seem more centrist, and not as left-wing as many would like; but he has a great feel for politics, and what both he and Mujica can do effectively is scope out what the people want, but in different ways.

Tabare ended his term with approximately 68 percent of approval, which shows that, beyond the problems that existed during that administration, Tabare ultimately received approval for what he did during his term. And I believe that the result of the October 26 elections shows that the Uruguayan people support his candidacy again.

TS: And how is right wing perceived the Uruguayan people?

CA: I think that the clearest example is that the Right didn’t have a clue how to face the second round of the elections. I’ll reiterate what I said before, they relied too heavily on the polls; they thought they were doing well, so did not work to create the conditions in case the scenario changed.

TS: Do you think that the Brazilian election result might influence the results in Uruguay?

CA: Not for this runoff, but yes, I do believe that the political change in the last days in the Brazil elections, with Marina Silva leading in the polls for so many months, and the possibility that the PT could lose the elections, caused some to be nervous, and a little bit worried. Not only us left-wing activists, but among people who would not necessarily identify themselves as left-wing.

TS: What challenges would a new Broad Front government face?

CA: I have said for many years that the most important thing is to not let down the electorate which voted for us and gave us the opportunity to govern. We have developed all of our policies that aim to improve the quality of people’s lives based on this basis; where we can keep generating societal change and evolution, and most importantly, within a region which is our neighborhood. Latin America is our neighborhood from which we relate to the rest of the world. In this sense, our internal policies have an external objective; to project the country within the region, prioritizing regional integration.

TS: So a Tabare Vazquez government would strengthen regional integration?

CA: Yes, definitely. We’re trying to create the conditions to solidify existing regional integration effortslike MERCOSUR, UNASUR, CELAC, ALBA … those projects are here to stay, and we want to make them robust.

We have shown we are a serious political party, dealing with, for example, the case of the Syrian refugees, and the problem of the Guantanamo prisoners. Doing so doesn’t mean we’re trying to cover-up for, or save Obama’s administration, but instead we are trying to resolve the situation for the prisoners, and help Guantanamo to go back to being part of Cuba.

TS: The case of the Syrian refugees is very interesting…

CA: Let me tell you an anecdote. The union for bank workers has a place for the children of its members to live in Montevideo if they go there to study. When President Mujica announced that Syrian families — who were refugees in Lebanese camps — would come to Uruguay, the young people living in the union’s accommodation talked to the leadership, and offered to share their bedrooms with the Lebanese translators who are there to help the Syrians with their Spanish, and adapting to life in Uruguay. For us, that gesture is not only seen as a humanitarian act, but it means that our youth is getting involved in a political issue that does not directly affect them, far away from our borders. That is very important to us, that they get involved, and understand what is it about.

This also shows the possibility and the capability that we have to resolve these issues. To welcome these Syrian families in Uruguay, so they can work here, have a life here. And it is the same with Guantanamo, a topic that Pepe [Mujica] said was not suspended, but on hold until November 30; and that after the elections, regardless who is the new president, he would continue to advocate for, and engage in, negotiations, so those six prisoners without a sentence can come to Uruguay and be free here. This is a very important political gesture by the Broad Front that needs to be highlighted, and it will reverberate with future governments.

Carlos Alejandro is the Broad Front’s director of international relations, as well as member of the Broad Front Commitment group. A member of the Broad Front since 1983, he has a background of union activism.

November 30, 2014 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Economics | , , | Leave a comment

Darren Wilson Investigation Swayed by Favoritism from Start

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By William N. Grigg | PINAC | November 25, 2014

“Any time I’m involved in an officer-involved shooting, be it a fatal one or non-fatal, it is always during my initial investigation listed as an assault on law enforcement,” explained the St. Louis County Police Detective who inaugurated the investigation of the Michael Brown shooting. “Officer Wilson … was the victim of the assault we were investigating.”

Once it had been established that the living, armed individual was the “victim” and the dead, bullet-ridden body had belonged to the “assailant,” continued the detective in his September 3 grand jury testimony, “One of the sergeants with Ferguson [gave] me a brief walk-through to start my investigation so I [could] have a logical starting point from where I would start my video, photographs, and looking for evidence.”

That unnamed sergeant, most likely, was the supervisor who had told Darren Wilson to leave the scene after the shooter told him that Brown had tried to take his gun.

From its inception, the shooting of Michael Brown was not investigated as a potential criminal homicide, and the inquiry was an exercise in validating the killer’s story, rather than testing it against the available evidence. The assumption was that killing was part of his job description – or, as Wilson has subsequently told George Stephanopoulos, “I did what I was paid to do.”

If Wilson had been a member of the productive class, rather than a state employee licensed to dispense aggressive violence, he would have been presumed legally innocent, but required to justify his actions. Because of his occupation, however, Wilson was considered both legally innocent and presumptively correct, and the investigation became an exercise in justifying the shooter’s actions, rather than an inquiry into their propriety.

If Officer Wilson had been “merely” Darren Wilson, the deceased Michael Brown would have been identified as the presumptive “victim.” The shooter would not have been allowed to leave the scene without making a statement to the police, and his associates would not have been allowed to frame the crime scene for the benefit of the investigating detective.

Most importantly, if Wilson had been treated as a homicide suspect, rather than the “victim” of an “assault on law enforcement,” he would not have had the luxury of composing his story at leisure, in consultation with his attorney, to fit the facts as they emerged from the investigation.

“When you got back to the police department, after you washed off and everything, did you ever think at what time that I needed to write a report while it is fresh in my mind?” asked assistant St. Louis County prosecutor Kathi Alizadeh.

“No,” Wilson replied. “The protocol is whenever you are involved in a significant use of force, that you contact your FOP [Fraternal Order of Police] representative and then he will advise you of what to do step by step because they are the clear head in that situation. They have not been through a traumatic experience.” (See the transcript of Darren Wilson’s grand jury testimony, pages 77-78.)

When the shooter is a Mundane – that is, a common citizen, rather than a police officer – he may be similarly traumatized, but he can’t count on the “step-by-step” guidance of clear-headed police officers who have identified him as the victim. One of the first priorities for investigators in non-“officer involved” shootings is to get the original story from the shooter, and compare it against the evidence. As a police officer, however, Wilson wasn’t required to make an initial statement of any kind – either in an incident report, or to any of the investigating officers.

Asked by Alizadeh if he had committed his recollections to paper in a diary or journal, Wilson replied: “My statement has been written for my attorney.”

“And that’s between you and your attorney, then?” asked the unusually helpful prosecutor, who received an affirmative reply.

“So no one has asked you to write out a statement?” the assistant DA persisted.

“No, they haven’t,” Wilson acknowledged. He made one brief reference to speaking with a detective while in the hospital, but that communication was protected by Wilson’s “Garrity” privileges, which means that it could be used only for the purposes of an internal investigation, not in a criminal or civil proceeding.

In his November 24 press conference, St. Louis County DA Robert McCulloch made conspicuous mention of the fact that some witnesses had changed their testimony once their original story was found to be in conflict with subsequently discovered evidence. This is something that happens frequently to homicide suspects, as well. Wilson was never in danger of being caught in that contradiction because he was not treated as a suspect, nor was he required to make a statement to criminal investigators.

During Wilson’s examination before the grand jury, McCulloch’s deputy prosecutors were gentle and deferential, rather than being adversarial. This is to be expected, given that this was a conversation among colleagues.

At several points in his testimony, Wilson made statements that a motivated prosecutor would have aggressively pursued. For example: Wilson – who at 6’4” and roughly 225 pounds is no small man – said that when he grappled with Brown, he felt like a “five-year-old” who was trying to restrain “Hulk Hogan.” He likewise claimed that he had been struck twice by Brown with such force that he was concerned a third blow would be “fatal” – yet the medical examination displayed no evidence of corresponding trauma to his face.

Wilson didn’t explain how the right-handed Michael Brown could have punched the right side of his face while the officer was sitting in the driver’s side of his vehicle. Although Wilson claimed that the initial blows were inflicted while Brown was holding stolen cigarillos in his right hand, no broken cigars were ever recovered, either in the SUV or the surrounding area. The stolen cigars were not found by the medical examiner who arrived on the scene after the shooting. (Interestingly, that examiner never took photos of the deceased, because “My battery in my camera died,” nor did he take any measurements at the crime scene.)

A well-known and highly respected forensic analyst and expert witness on biomechanics and accident reconstruction takes note of several points the prosecution either ignored or minimized to the point of invisibility.

“The big issue as I see it, is how do the cops justify provoking a lethal confrontation with a kid over some damned cigarillos?” the analyst pointed out in an email to me. “Why not wait for ample backup and use non-lethal methods to subdue and arrest for shoplifting? This of course assumes grounds for an arrest. Why were the alleged cigarillos not found? And what did the DA mean when he stated on TV that Brown’s body was on the road 150 feet from the police car? How does an unarmed kid that far away with no weapons constitute an immediate threat to life?”

He also underscores the fact that the unarmed pedestrian Brown, rather than Wilson, may have had the stronger case for self-defense:

“As for what supposedly went on in the passenger compartment with the alleged grabbing of the cop’s arm – this is “consistent with” a kid whose life was threatened by an overly aggressive cop with a gun aimed at him and where the kid was so terrified of an immediate shooting that he felt compelled to take preemptive action to protect himself by disarming the cop.”

If Darren Wilson had been part of the wealth-producing class, as opposed to an armed emissary of the tax-consuming elite, those questions most likely would have been examined in a criminal trial. But, once again, owing to his occupation, this was never going to happen.

Robert McCulloch has a well-earned reputation for deference to the police, and a well-established habit of justifying every use of lethal force, no matter how questionable. Rather than simply seeking an indictment, McCulloch presented the case for the “defense” as well – a characterization that is an odd fit here, given that Wilson – it bears repeating – had been treated as the “victim” in this incident from the beginning.

“Had the prosecution desired an indictment against Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson, the presentment would have taken an hour, maybe two, and there would have been a true bill by close of business the next day, well before Michael Brown had been laid to rest,” points outattorney and civil rights advocate Scott Greenfield. “The grand jury isn’t the venue to present `all the evidence.’ That’s what trials are for. The grand jury serves a very limited function, to determine whether sufficient evidence exists so that there is probable cause to proceed to trial.”

A great deal of the media coverage has referred to the Grand Jury’s decision as a “verdict,” which is both technically incorrect and substantively true: Rather than seeking probable cause to indict Wilson, McCulloch and St. Louis County law enforcement built a case to convict Michael Brown of “an assault on law enforcement.”

Given the ambiguity of the evidence, Darren Wilson as a private citizen likely would not have been convicted of murder if the case had gone to trial, but a conviction on a lesser count would be a possibility. Under Missouri’s constitutionally perverse statute dealing with police homicide – which has been criticized by former federal judge Paul Cassell, who is broadly indulgent of killer cops – Officer Wilson was never in danger of being convicted of a crime.

It is not necessary to believe that Michael Brown was the embodiment of winsome innocence (it’s pretty clear that he was not) to take issue with the architecture of official privilege that protects Darren Wilson – and the other armed representatives of the political class – from accountability. The problem, in a single phrase, isn’t “white privilege,” but rather “blue privilege.”

Edmund Burke could have had this case in mind when he wrote these lines from his neglected essay “A Vindication of Natural Society”:  “In a State of Nature, it is true, that a Man of superior Force may beat or rob me; but then it is true, that I am at full Liberty to defend myself, or make Reprisal by Surprise or by Cunning, or by any other way in which I may be superior to him. But in Political Society … if I attempt to avenge myself, the whole Force of that Society is ready to complete my Ruin.”

November 30, 2014 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Subjugation - Torture | , | Leave a comment

Egypt mass trial tomorrow could see death sentences for 500, including Irish teen

Reprieve | November 30, 2014

A mass trial for almost 500 people will resume tomorrow in Egypt, and could see death sentences handed down to the defendants – including an Irish teenager arrested last year while on holiday.

Ibrahim Halawa, from Dublin, was 17 at the time of his arrest during a military crackdown on protests in the city last August. He is one of 494 defendants who could face a death sentence in a makeshift courtroom expected to convene in the Tora prison complex in Cairo. It’s emerged that several other minors are also among the hundreds due in court.

Tomorrow’s hearing follows a mass trial several days ago at which authorities handed down sentences totalling 340 years to 78 children. At that hearing, lawyers were reportedly barred from entering the court.

At the last hearing for Mr Halawa’s mass trial in August this year, a three-judge panel resigned from the case mid-hearing, citing ‘unease’ with the proceedings amid protests from lawyers and defendants alike.

Egypt’s mass trials have been condemned by the UN as illegal and “rife with procedural irregularities”, and by Egyptian rights groups as “a grave violation of… the right to a fair trial”. A report published days ago from the UK Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, meanwhile, criticised the UK Government for failing to list Egypt as a ‘country of concern’ in light of the mass trials and the handing down of death sentences.

Maya Foa, head of the death penalty team at legal charity Reprieve, which is assisting Mr Halawa, said: “It is extremely worrying that the mass trial appears to be going ahead as planned. This is a clear violation of internationally-accepted fair trial standards, and the international community must do all it can to halt them and prevent hundreds of people from potentially being sentenced to death.”

November 30, 2014 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Subjugation - Torture | , | Leave a comment

Letter from scientists prompts Suez Canal conspiracy theories

Mada Masr | October 8, 2014

A letter published in an international scientific journal about the ecological risks of expanding the Suez Canal has raised cries of conspiracy theories in local media.

The letter to the editor was signed by 18 scientists from around the world, including lead author Bella Galil of Israel’s National Institute of Oceanography. It was published in Biological Invasions, a peer-reviewed scientific journal which is ranked among the top 25 percent of scholarly publications in the fields of plant and animal sciences.

In keeping with the theme of the journal, the letter raises concerns that Egypt’s plans to widen the Suez Canal will speed the invasion of non-native species into the Mediterranean Sea.

It points out that half of the 700 multicellular non-native species found in the Mediterranean Sea were introduced via the Suez Canal, which it describes as “one of the most potent mechanisms and corridors for invasions by marine species known in the world.” Thus, the authors say, plans to expand the canal come as “ominous news.”

The migration of non-native sea creatures, many of whom have few natural predators in the Mediterranean, has led to “profound environmental, economic and human-health issues,” the authors say.

Among the examples cited are the annual swarms of jellyfish that harm tourism, fisheries and coastal installations such as desalination and power plants, the spread of poisonous pufferfish throughout the Levant and to Italy and Tunisia, and the invasion of several species of fish and prawns and oysters that have displaced local species that have traditionally been harvested by local fisherman.

The letter concludes with a reminder about international conventions that require signatories, including Egypt, to “prevent the introduction of, control or eradicate those alien species which threaten ecosystems, habitats or species,” and a call for a regionally-supervised environmental impact assessment to mitigate a new wave of invasive species that could migrate through a wider and deeper canal.

Ordinarily, a fairly technical letter-to-the-editor of a scientific journal would draw little notice outside of academia. In this case, however, it hit headlines because the lead signatory is a scientist from Israel’s National Institute of Oceanography, and because it involves the Suez Canal expansion, which is widely regarded as a patriotic national project that will underpin Egypt’s future economic success.

The story was picked up by Haaretz newspaper on October 6, and in turn by Egyptian publications. Although the letter was published September 28 in a journal based in the Netherlands, privately owned Youm7 ran a story on it under the headline: “A Zionist attempt to divert attention from October 6 commemoration. Israel starts war of rumors on new Suez Canal project. Tel Aviv publishes fabricated research claiming that widening the canal will pose environmental threat.”

November 30, 2014 Posted by | Environmentalism, Science and Pseudo-Science | , , | 2 Comments

Demonizing Russia as US goes to war

By Finian Cunningham | Press TV | November 30, 2014

Every Russian maneuver is now being recklessly construed as a sinister war threat by the Western media – no matter that the Russian maneuvers are entirely in keeping with international law and are a normal part of any nation’s right to movement of its military forces.

The latest “incident” was reported by Britain’s Daily Mail in which a squadron of Russian warships was “escorted” by the British Royal Navy as it sailed through the English Channel.

The Daily Mail headline was spiced with sinister innuendo of Russia doing something untoward, illegal and threatening. ‘Royal Navy catches up with Russian warships to ‘keep an eye’ on Putin’s fleet sailing along the Channel.’

Note the sly demonization of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, by attributing the Russian leader as the personal owner of the warships – as if he were some kind of arch-villain in a cheesy James Bond movie.

The report informs readers: “The Royal Navy has escorted [sic] a squadron of Russian warships sailing through the English Channel [sic]. Four ships passed through the through the Strait of Dover after carrying out military exercises [sic] in the North Sea. HMS Tyne, a Type 45 Destroyer and one of the Royal Navy’s most technically advanced warships, was able to pinpoint and monitor [sic] the movement of the group led by Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov as it approached [sic] the UK.”

The words and tone used by Daily Mail are loaded with malign implication suggesting that the Russian vessels were performing a secretive mission that transgressed international law. The facts are that the Russian ships were at all times in internationally navigable waters, had complied with maritime reporting regulations, and were conducting legitimate military training maneuvers, which is the prerogative of all countries’ navies and is a routine occurrence.

Even a British Ministry of Defense spokesman quoted by the newspaper acknowledged that the Russian warships were not doing anything illegal.

“We are aware that four Russian naval ships have passed through the Dover Strait from the North Sea into the English Channel, which all ships have the right to do under international law,” said the British MoD spokesman.

A British navy source is quoted as saying: “It’s not provocative but we are keeping an eye on them.”

So, the Russian “provocation” is not supported by any facts; it is merely being contrived by the Western media, who are evidently following a political line.

Ever since Washington and its European allies backed the illegal coup in Kiev last February by helping to overthrow the elected government and installing a hostile anti-Russian neo-Nazi regime, the Western powers have been accusing Russia of subversion, annexation and aggression. Thus, Western governments and the Western media have completely turned reality on its head.

The media spin of Russian forces conducting stealthy maneuvers and posing an international threat is part of this Western anti-Russian narrative aimed at distracting from the real cause of insecurity and conflict in Europe.

Earlier this week, General Philip Breedlove, the American commander of the NATO military alliance, was in Kiev reiterating claims that Russia is escalating tensions by acting aggressively, not just in Ukraine, but in the Baltic region and Black Sea. Breedlove went as far as claiming that Russia was militarizing the Crimea with nuclear weapons.

Russia has had a naval base and military forces in Crimea for decades under an internationally recognized agreement with Ukrainian governments – before the West helped overthrow President Yanukovych.

The people of Crimea invoked the Western-backed secession by Kosovo from Serbia in 2008, by voting in March to secede from the Kiev regime and join the Russian Federation.

Russia is therefore not doing anything illegal in Crimea or in international airspace and seas in the Baltic region, the Black Sea, or anywhere else, including that narrow strait between the North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean that Britain presumptuously calls the “English Channel.”

NATO commander Breedlove has had ample Western media coverage for his assertion that US-supplied fighter jets “have been scrambled” threefold times more this year compared with last year in order “to intercept” Russian military aircraft across Europe.

But, quietly between the lines, NATO spokesmen acknowledge that Russian aircraft have not actually breached any national airspace in all this time. Again, as with the “incident” of the Russian naval vessels passing through waters off Britain, there is no factual basis for the alarmist response. The alarmist response is simply being manufactured in order to give credence to the hoary narrative of “Russian threat.”

The absurd and pernicious logic of this narrative is that any Russian vessel or aircraft, whether civilian or military, anywhere in the world is being tagged as a potential threat. This is the corollary of Western sanctions and NATO military encirclement of Russia.

Russia is little by little being turned into a pariah by Western governments and their media to the extent that Russia is being excluded from its legitimate and normal access to international territorial space.

It is the Western powers that are acting illegally in pursuing this unlawful interdiction of Russia.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, the US and its allies continue to build up aggressive military forces around Russia. NATO warplanes have increased their number in the Baltic region by 400 per cent compared with last year. That is a fact, according to NATO’s own information.

The US-led military alliance has spent at least $200 million over the past year in upgrading air bases in Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, according to a report last month in the Financial Times.

And the US navy has deployed an increasing number of Aegis missile-capable warships in the Black Sea. All these US and NATO maneuvers on Russia’s doorstep are in contravention of binding agreements – the Founding Act of 1997 and the Montreux Convention, respectively.

Ironically, as NATO’s General Breedlove was being hosted by the neo-Nazi regime in Kiev this week, there were low-key US media reports noting that American troops from Fort Carson in Colorado “will deploy for supporting Ukraine.”

The Colorado-based Gazette reports: “US European Command said that a 100-soldier team from the 16,000-soldier division will head to Europe in early 2015 to lead ground forces in ‘Operation Atlantic Resolve.’”

The report added: “Leaders from the division will run a series of training exercises to ensure American forces are ready to fight alongside partners.”

Two significant things about Fort Carson are that it is a base not only for infantry but also for Special Forces trained in unconventional warfare. Its troops are dedicated to European Command of the US army.

European Command is headed up by none other than General Philip Breedlove who wears a second military hat in addition to his NATO one.

It is significant that Breedlove, as NATO leader, is touring Europe rallying a “response” to alleged Russian aggression; then, in the very same week that he is in the anti-Russian regime capital of Kiev, the Pentagon announces that US troops under Breedlove’s European Command are now being dispatched to “support Ukraine.”

Washington is playing European governments like a fiddle. But shamefully while the US is mobilizing war efforts in Europe, Western media are chasing after Russian phantoms in the air and at sea.

November 30, 2014 Posted by | Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Militarism | , , , | 3 Comments

Postcards from Pripyat, Chernobyl

Postcards from Pripyat, Chernobyl from Danny Cooke on Vimeo.

November 30, 2014 Posted by | Nuclear Power, Timeless or most popular, Video | | Leave a comment

The Mubarak trial verdict – What just happened?

By Hossam Bahgat | Mada Masr | November 29, 2014

There appears to be the usual share of confusion about what the Mubarak trial judge just said and did. As seen on television, the judge promised his “sons in the media” flash drives containing talking points (in the neighborhood of 200 pages) to help them, he said, with their news coverage until they have had a chance to read the entire ruling. Until that summary is available, I will address here a couple of the most persistent questions so far, pending further updates.

Q: Does Mubarak walk out now?

A: Yes. He is free to go for the time being. There have been some conflicting statements in the media on this point by named and unnamed legal sources after the verdict was announced. The confusion stems from the fact that Mubarak was sentenced last May to three years in prison on corruption charges related to embezzling millions of Egyptian pounds from state funds to spend on mansions owned privately by himself and his family.

Because Mubarak was convicted in the “mansions” case in May 2014, many have made the logical assumption that he would serve that sentence until 2017, notwithstanding today’s combination of acquittals and non-convictions of other charges of killing protesters and corruption, which isn’t the case. I have spoken to two senior criminal defense and human rights lawyers, who have independently confirmed that Mubarak’s three-year sentence in the mansions case does not start at the date of his conviction in May 2014, but rather at the date of his arrest and pre-trial detention in May 2011. With today’s acquittal, there is no legal basis for keeping him in prison.

Both sources have directed me to Article 483 of the Code of Criminal Procedures. This is my informal, non-lawyerly English translation:

“If a defendant is found not guilty of a crime for which he was held in pretrial detention then the period of pretrial detention shall be deducted from the period [of imprisonment] to which the defendant is sentenced for any [other] crime he might have committed or for which he has been investigated while in pretrial detention.”

The above is legalese for saying that a defendant’s prison term starts not at the time of sentencing but at the time of detention, even if that detention was for another charge. So even though Mubarak was held between May 2011 and May 2014 for the protester-killing charge, that period will count as time served for the mansions case.

The three-year sentence Mubarak was handed in May 2014 ended, therefore, in May 2014. A coincidence, of course – To suggest otherwise would be ground for prosecution for “insulting the judiciary.”

Q: Was Mubarak acquitted of the charge of killing protesters?

A: No, he wasn’t. He was not convicted either. The judge threw out the entire charge on procedural grounds.

First, the necessary background: Following Mubarak’s abdication of power in February 2011, Public Prosecutor Abdel Meguid Mahmoud decided to investigate the killing of protesters during the 18 days of revolt that ended Mubarak’s tenure. On March 23, 2011, Mahmoud, who had served under Mubarak and remained in office until late 2012, indicted Mubarak’s Interior Minister Habib al-Adly and his senior assistants, but not Mubarak himself, for having ordered or otherwise abetted the killing of protesters throughout the country. Two months later, the Supreme Council of Armed Forces, which had succeeded Mubarak in power, faced pressure from street demonstrations demanding accountability for Mubarak too. On May 24, 2011, the public prosecutor added Mubarak as a co-defendant in the case.

The fact that Mubarak was only added as a defendant two months after the case had been referred to trial is the technicality the judge used today to dismiss the charge against him. By not indicting Mubarak from the beginning, the judge reasoned, the prosecution had made “an implied decision that there were no grounds for criminal proceedings” against him. This “no-grounds” decision can be formally reversed by the public prosecutor within a window of three months. Mubarak’s defense lawyers argued, and today the court agreed, that the prosecution reversed the implied no-grounds designation of Mubarak without following proper procedures. For that technical error, the judge ruled the charge against Mubarak for the killing of protesters as inadmissible and dismissed that charge without considering it or ruling on its merits.

Mubarak’s lawyers had raised that same defense in the first trial (Mubarak was sentenced to life in 2012, before the Court of Cassation threw out that sentence and ordered the retrial that ended today). The first trial court had dismissed that defense, according to Hoda Nasralla, a criminal justice lawyer with the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, who observed and wrote a detailed report on the first trial. Nasralla told me she had argued against that same defense in the first trial, where she represented some of the victims’ families as civil claimants in the case. Here is the gist of her argument:

  • There was never a preliminary decision by the prosecution that there were no grounds to try Mubarak, explicit or implicit. It is inconceivable to argue that the March 2011 indictment (in which Mubarak was not named) is a declaration that there was no evidence against Mubarak, because until then Mubarak had never been questioned or even declared a suspect in the trial. A no-grounds designation could not be this subtle.
  • Assuming that the decision to not name Mubarak as a defendant in March could be considered an “implied declaration” that there were no grounds to prosecute, then why can’t the decision to add Mubarak as a co-defendant in May be considered an implied reversal of the implied declaration?
  • Assuming there was even an explicit no-grounds declaration, Article 213 of the Code of Criminal Procedures allows prosecutors to reopen investigations against any suspect or defendant if new evidence is identified or presented.

Nasralla, like many other observers, is convinced that this procedural argument was bought by today’s court not necessarily for its strength on merits, but because it was an attractive way for the court to dismiss the charge without a not-guilty finding.

Q: Is this the end?

A: Of course not. Egyptian court sagas of this size and nature don’t usually end. But the next stage could be filled with even more drama. The public prosecutor can, and most likely will, appeal today’s verdict before the Court of Cassation (Egypt’s highest court on criminal matters).

This court is not a substantive appeals court – it merely reviews whether or not the lower court decision complied with laws and procedure without reexamining the evidence. The Court of Cassation could simply ratify today’s verdict and that would be the end of it. But if the court decides to overturn and throw away the conviction for the second time, then it doesn’t get to send the case back to a lower criminal court for retrial. The law establishing the court stipulates that a third and final retrial of this nature will be conducted by the justices of the Court of Cassation themselves, who then act as a normal criminal court with full investigative powers.

Cassation justices are considered the nation’s most senior and best qualified bench. And because they’re elected by their peers, they are by far the country’s most independent court. Not that anyone is doubting the independence of other parts of the judiciary, of course.

November 30, 2014 Posted by | Aletho News | | 1 Comment