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Resolution of the European Parliament: About presidential candidate Ilqar Mammadov

22 Jun


10 Jun

Guantanamo’s asymmetric war as hunger strike continues

6 Jun

imagesJonathan Beale visits “Camp Five” where the Guantanamo hunger strike started

A hunger strike at at the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay, which started with a handful of prisoners, has now become a mass protest with 103 out of the 166 detainees still held here taking part.

On Wednesday night, the number of those detainees being “force-fed” rose to 41 – up from 38 just 24 hours ago.

The protest began in February and has been growing for almost four months. Lawyers representing detainees say it was sparked by tougher prison searches.

Don’t believe what they’re saying… We’re all on hunger strike here in the name of freedom and justice.”

Guantanamo Bay prisoner

The US military, which runs the camp, says those searches uncovered various contraband items, including homemade weapons that have been used to attack prison guards. The detainees’ lawyers claim that during those searches the Koran was mishandled – something the US military strongly deny.

“Zac”, the US military’s “cultural adviser” who liaises with the prisoners, says it is a familiar tactic to attract the attention of the outside world. Prisoners, many of whom have been held here for more than a decade, most without charge, do not want to be forgotten.

We were shown around empty cells and the communal areas of Camps Five and Six. On previous visits, we have been allowed to watch the detainees mingle together from a distance. Over the years, the harsh regime appeared to have been relaxed.

Journalists who visit Guantanamo are still not allowed to identify or talk to the detainees. This time, though, we were kept well away from those being held. The nearest we came was during early-morning prayers when we were able to hear, but not see, them behind their heavy cell doors.

Most prisoners are now locked up, on their own, for 22 hours a day. The old privileges of communal living are being denied to all but a few – around 20 of the so-called “compliant detainees”.

Guantanamo prisoner
Shackles are called “humane restraints” and force-feeding is a banned word, too

It was US President George W Bush’s administration that invented a new language and new rules to justify Guantanamo’s existence as a camp for “unlawful enemy combatants” – without the long-established rights of “prisoners of war” .

‘Enteral feeding’

Though they now apply the Geneva Conventions at Guantanamo, old habits appear to die hard. So shackles used to restrain detainees are never called that. They are simply referred to as “humane restraints”. Force-feeding is also a term that is avoided. Here it’s called “enteral feeding”.

We were shown around the medical centre where some of those prisoners are fed nutritional supplements to ensure they survive and maintain a safe body weight. As with the camp guards, the medical staff did not want to be identified.

“Start Quote

There are plenty of detainees who are still in the fight, they are looking for any means to resist to, to assault or to harm a guard, anything that keeps them in the fight for their cause.”

Col John BogdenCamp commander

Faces cannot be filmed and their name tags have been removed. Instead, the medical staff have adopted fictional names from the plays of William Shakespeare. The medics say it allows them to maintain a relationship with the patients they are treating. An extra 37 medical staff have recently been flown out to Guantanamo to help deal with the growing hunger strike.

The Senior Medical Officer (SMO), explains the procedure for what he calls “enteral feeding”. A tube is inserted up the nose of the detainee and then fed down the throat into the stomach to deliver the nutritional supplement. This takes place twice a day – the tube is inserted and extracted each time.

A former detainee, Omar Deghayes, who took part in earlier hunger strikes before he was released from Guantanamo five years ago, says it is painful. He likens it to the sharp pain caused by a knife. But the medical staff here insist it is humane. Olive oil is often used to ease the passage of the tube.

Recently, the military medical staff have been willing to show the restraining chair used to strap down prisoners as they are force-fed. It is no longer a secret.

The staff, who clearly have a challenging job, insist the chair is not just for their own safety, but to help the prisoner with the process.

Guantanamo BayCamp Delta: Camps 1-3

Camp 6

Camp 5

Camp X-Ray

Camp Justice

Camp 4

Camp 7 – Secret

A surgical mask is sometimes placed over the detainee to prevent them from spitting out the nutritional supplement. Still the SMO insists that it is really not force-feeding because the prisoner always has a choice to swallow the formula orally without the need for the tube.

The SMO says that some detainees are only taking part in the hunger strike because of peer pressure. He also claims that some have been advised to go on hunger strike by their lawyers to raise their plight in the media. He adds the tactic seems to be working because of the recent increase in requests for media visits.

‘Go home’

Nevertheless, the process of force-feeding has been condemned by the United Nations and the American Medical Association. They say it is a betrayal of medical ethics. The military staff, though, who carry out the procedure, says it would be unethical to allow a patient to starve. The US military insists that it is legal and complies with the same practice carried out in federal prisons.

The goal is clearly to ensure that none of the prisoners dies. One detainee has been on hunger strike for more than five years. The camp’s psychologist says many of those refusing meals are suffering from depression. But few are willing to seek help.

That sense of defiance was born out as we were escorted quickly around Guantanamo. In Camp Six, we heard one detainee shouting out in protest. Later, a few prisoners appear to catch a glimpse of our presence from behind the screens that are used to block their line of sight.

Guantanamo in numbers

We hear one shout out : “Don’t believe what they’re saying… We’re all on hunger strike here in the name of freedom and justice.”

Another voice adds in more faltering English: “We are safekeeping the hunger strike, we don’t see any change” – clearly an attempt to contradict any message from their captives that the situation is all under control.

I ask the camp commander, Col John Bogden, why he thinks so many are taking part in this protest. He says their “initial issues were to do with some changes in the camp rules”. But he adds the main reason for the protest is that “they want to go home”.

President Barack Obama’s recently renewed pledge to close down Guantanamo, one that he originally made five years ago, may have given them hope that an end may be in sight. Yet no-one yet knows how he will be able to fulfil his promise or how this hunger strike will end.

In the meantime, Col Bogden says he will continue following his orders. I ask if he considers whether this hunger strike is part of what has been described as an “asymmetric war”.

“I think that’s probably an accurate description of what they do. I mean, there are plenty of detainees who are still in the fight, they are looking [for] any means to resist to, to assault or to harm a guard, anything that keeps them in the fight for their cause.”

Although around 80 of the detainees who are still being held have been “cleared for transfer”, he still describes them as “dangerous men”.

Russia’s Putin will back ban on adoptions by same-sex couples

4 Jun

Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with businessmen in Vorovezh

President Vladimir Putin voiced support on Tuesday for a planned ban on adoptions by foreign same-sex couples and dismissed Western criticism of Russia’s treatment of gay people.

Putin also called for tolerance, but his remarks after a summit with European Union leaders underscored a rift between Russia and many Western governments over gay rights.

“As for a law restricting adoptions of children from Russia by same-sex families … if such a law is passed by parliament I will sign it,” Putin said at a joint news conference after the Russia-EU summit in the city of Yekaterinburg.

A government official said on Saturday that legislation allowing only “traditional” foreign families to adopt Russian children would be submitted to parliament this year.

Putin has frequently championed socially conservative values during a new term he started in May 2012. He said in April that a French law allowing same-sex marriage went against traditional Russian values.

Western governments have expressed concern over a Russian bill that would ban homosexual “propaganda” among minors and activists say it is fuelling violence against gays.

But Putin said Russia’s legislation was “quite liberal. There is no discrimination”.

Sexual situation in Iran

1 Jun


Iran is in the throes of an unprecedented sexual revolution. Could it eventually shake the regime?

When someone mentions Iran, what images leap into your mind? Ayatollahs, religious fanaticism, veiled women? How about sexual revolution? That’s right. Over the last 30 years, as the mainstream Western media has been preoccupied with the radical policies of the Islamic Republic, the country has undergone a fundamental social and cultural transformation.

While not necessarily positive or negative, Iran’s sexual revolution is certainly unprecedented. Social attitudes have changed so much in the last few decades that many members of the Iranian diaspora are shellshocked when they visit the country: “These days Tehran makes London look like a conservative city,” a British-Iranian acquaintance recently told me upon returning from Tehran. When it comes to sexual mores, Iran is indeed moving in the direction of Britain and the United States — and fast.

Good data on Iranian sexual habits are, not surprisingly, tough to come by. But a considerable amount can be gleaned from the official statistics compiled by the Islamic Republic. Declining birth rates, for example, signal a wider acceptance of contraceptives and other forms of family planning — as well as a deterioration of the traditional role of the family. Over the last two decades, the country has experienced the fastest drop in fertility ever recorded in human history. Iran’s annual population growth rate, meanwhile, has plunged to 1.2 percent in 2012 from 3.9 percent in 1986 — this despite the fact that more than half of Iranians are under age 35.

At the same time, the average marriage age for men has gone up from 20 to 28 years old in the last three decades, and Iranian women are now marrying at between 24 and 30 — five years later than a decade ago. Some 40 percent of adults who are of marriageable age are currently single, according to official statistics. The rate of divorce, meanwhile, has also skyrocketed, tripling from 50,000 registered divorces in the year 2000 to 150,000 in 2010. Currently, there is one divorce for every seven marriages nationwide, but in larger cities the rate gets significantly higher. In Tehran, for example, the ratio is one divorce to every 3.76 marriages — almost comparable to Britain, where 42 percent of marriages end in divorce. And there is no indication that the trend is slowing down. Over the last six months the divorce rate has increased, while the marriage rate has significantly dropped.

Changing attitudes toward marriage and divorce have coincided with a dramatic shift in the way Iranians approach relationships and sex. According to one study cited by a high-ranking Ministry of Youth official in December 2008, a majority of male respondents admitted having had at least one relationship with someone of the opposite sex before marriage. About 13 percent of those “illicit” relationships, moreover, resulted in unwanted pregnancy and abortion — numbers that, while modest, would have been unthinkable a generation ago. It is little wonder, then, that the Ministry of Youth’s research center has warned that “unhealthy relationships and moral degeneration are the leading causes of divorces among the young Iranian couples.”

Meanwhile, the underground sex industry has taken off in the last two decades. In the early 1990s, prostitution existed in most cities and towns — particularly in Tehran — but sex workers were virtually invisible, forced to operate deep underground. Now prostitution is only a wink and a nod away in many towns and cities across the country. Often, sex workers loiter on certain streets, waiting for random clients to pick them up. Ten years ago, Entekhab newspaper claimed that there were close to 85,000 sex workers in Tehran alone.

Again, there are no good countrywide statics on the number of prostitutes — the head of Iran’s state-run Social Welfare Organization recently told the BBC: “Certain statistics have no positive function in society; instead, they have a negative psychological impact. It is better not to talk about them” — but available figures suggest that 10 to 12 percent of Iranian prostitutes are married. This is especially surprising given the severe Islamic punishments meted out for sex outside marriage, particularly for women. More surprisingly still, not all sex workers in Iran are female. A new reportconfirms that middle-aged wealthy women, as well as young and educated women in search of short-term sexual relationships, are seeking the personal services of male sex workers.


European data watchdogs target Google over privacy

2 Apr
Photo by Google

Photo by Google

Six European data protection agencies are contemplating legal action over Google’s privacy policy.The threat comes as a four-month deadline to change the policy expires with Google making “no change” to the policy.

Google’s perceived failure to act is being looked in to by data watchdogs in France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, and the UK. In a statement, Google said its privacy policy “respects European law”. ‘Full engagement’

In late October 2012, a European Commission working party reported that Google’s privacy policy did not meet Commission standards on data protection.The report said Google should do more to let users see what information was held about them, provide tools to manage this data and take more care to ensure it did not store too much data about users.

The investigation was kicked off by Google’s decision to update its privacy policy so it had one set of guidelines for every service it ran. Google was given four months to comply with the working party’s recommendations to bring the policy into line with European law. “After this period has expired, Google has not implemented any significant compliance measures,” said French data watchdog CNIL in a statement. CNIL headed the probe into the privacy policy.

In addition, said CNIL, Google was warned about the potential for action on 19 March in a meeting with officials from six data watchdogs. “No change,” was seen following this meeting, said CNIL. As a consequence, all six data protection bodies were now opening new investigations into Google and how it handled privacy. The UK’s Information Commissioner confirmed it was looking at whether the policy complied but said it could not add further comment because the investigation was ongoing.

A Google spokesman said: “Our privacy policy respects European law and allows us to create simpler, more effective services.” “We have engaged fully with the DPAs involved throughout this process, and we’ll continue to do so going forward,” added the spokesman. News of the action comes as Google’s privacy director, Alma Whitten, steps down from her job. Ms Whitten was appointed as the search giant’s first privacy director in 2010, following a series of mistakes by Google that had led to user data being exposed.


North Korean-Children of the Secret State

13 Mar