Archive | August 10th, 2013

US Marine demoted for urinating on corpses


The video that surfaced in 2012 resulted in heightened tensions between Washington and Kabul [File Screengrab: Al Jazeera]
A US Marine sergeant who was videotaped urinating on dead Taliban fighters in Afghanistan has been demoted to the rank of corporal after pleading guilty, the Marine Corps has said.

Sergeant Robert Richards was the last of eight Marines to be punished in connection with the incident, which took place on July 27, 2011, during a counter-insurgency operation in Helmand province in Afghanistan.

The videotape showed four Marines wearing camouflage combat uniforms urinating on three corpses as one of the Marines joked, “Have a nice day buddy.”

The video became public in early 2012 and was one of a series of offensive incidents at the time that roused Afghan ire and led to heightened tensions between Washington and Kabul.

Richards was charged earlier this year with dereliction of duty, violation of a lawful general order, and conduct prejudicial to the good order and discipline of the armed forces.

He pleaded guilty to two counts at a court martial session at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, on Wednesday and was reduced to the rank of corporal, the Marine Corps said in a statement.

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Venezuela’s Supreme Court Rules Capriles’ Appeal Against 14 April Electoral Results “Inadmissible”




Mérida, 8th August 2013 ( – Venezuela’s Supreme Court of Justice (TSJ) has rejected an appeal against the 14 April presidential election results from opposition leader Henrique Capriles, citing a failure to provide “sufficient proof”.

Yesterday afternoon, Magistrate Gladys Gutierrez announced that the court had reached a unanimous decision following a “detailed study” of the case brought to the TSJ by Capriles, the MUD opposition coalition, and others. Running as the MUD candidate, Capriles narrowly lost the 14 April presidential election to socialist candidate Nicolas Maduro.

Describing the opposition’s case as a “shame”, that “trivialises democratic debate”, Gutierrez argued that not only did the opposition lack sufficient evidence to support their claims of electoral fraud, but also stated that the case targeted judicial authorities “for not submitting to their [the opposition’s]…will.”

“It’s evident, therefore, that you didn’t go to the court with the intention to resolve a dispute,” Gutierrez stated, arguing instead that the opposition presented a case that “disrespected” the court.

Gutierrez said that although the plaintiffs had argued that there were “many” cases of irregularities during voting on 14 April such as “delays in the voting process and alleged irregularities in some polling stations”, the court found that the opposition lacked proof that any such irregularities affected the outcome of the election, and described his proposal to annul votes as “unacceptable”.

“It’s not enough [to prove] that there were faults; it must be determined that the will of the electorate was compromised,” Gutierrez stated.

Along with Capriles’ claims of electoral fraud, the court also dismissed calls from the opposition leader to require President Maduro to publicly present his birth certificate.

In recent weeks Capriles has questioned Maduro’s nationality, arguing that he may have been born in neighbouring Colombia. Both Maduro and Colombian authorities have rejected the suggestion.

In a press release, the TSJ stated that the failure of the opposition to present any admissible evidence of electoral fraud “is proof that [the 14 April results] were completely legitimate”.

“The legitimacy of the president of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro, who won a majority of the votes cast in that process is complete and right under the law,” the statement read.

The court also fined Capriles Bs10,700 for presenting what Gutierrez described as “offensive content”. Capriles is required to pay the fine to the national treasury within five days. The TSJ also stated that Capriles could be subject to criminal proceedings, due to the “seriousness of the offences and disrespectful terms” used in his campaign to challenge the electoral results. The court has forwarded the case to the attorney general’s office.

The 14 April Presidential Election Dispute

Capriles first indicated that he would contest the electoral results early in April. Shortly after polls closed on 14 April, some opposition leaders announced that Capriles had won. Hours later, the National Electoral Council (CNE) declared Maduro the winner, with an initial victory margin of 1.59%. Capriles rejected the results, and the following day he stated that the government’s alleged fraud could be revealed through a count of all paper ballot receipts. On 18 April, the CNE announced it would conduct the audit, as requested by the opposition. However, on 25 April, Capriles backtracked, introducing a series of new demands including audits of all voter fingerprints and signatures. He then labelled the agreement he had previously reached with the CNE as a “joke”. On 27 April, CNE head Tibisay Lucena stated that the new demands would not be incorporated into the audit.

“They began demanding things that had already been audited by their own representatives, such as the electoral rolls, as the signed documents from those audits clearly show,” Lucena stated. She also pointed to a lack of any compelling evidence of fraud. This document reportedly constituted the majority of evidence submitted by Capriles to the CNE. According to Capriles, the document contains evidence of widespread voter fraud, the distribution of pro-Maduro propaganda and violence at polling stations. Capriles has also stated that opposition electoral monitors were thrown out of hundreds of voting centres at gunpoint, though there were no reports of any irregularities on voting day, and all electoral monitors signed off on vote tallies.

Opposition Response to the Verdict

Following the ruling, Capriles tweeted that he had been “fined for defending the truth”.

“The lack of justice in our country is unacceptable,” he tweeted.

This wasn’t the first time Capriles publicly hit out at the court.

“We think Venezuela’s Supreme Court has been converted into a court of the government, but we must exhaust all the institutions before taking it before international institutions,” Capriles stated in April, when he first announced the appeal.

On Tuesday, Capriles again criticised the TSJ via Twitter for taking too long to issue a verdict, and reiterated that he already intended to pursue the case internationally. On Wednesday, one of Capriles’ attorneys Ramón José Medina stated that they may take the case to the Organisation of American States (OAS) and associated judicial institutions, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR) and possibly other international bodies. Maduro’s victory has already been recognised by OAS secretary general José Miguel Insulza and most member states.

On Wednesday, Capriles again took to Twitter to criticise Maduro, calling him “a huge coward” after authorities detained one of his top aides. Speaking in Caracas on Wednesday, Maduro hit back at Capriles for defending the aide, Oscar Lopez. The president stated that Lopez is being investigated for money laundering, and was allegedly caught “red handed”.

“Today a chief of corruption and Venezuela’s right-wing mafioso was captured,” Maduro said.

Upon arresting Lopez on Wednesday, authorities reportedly searched his apartment and confiscated documents and one or more computers and mobile phones. According to Maduro, authorities also intend to investigate Lopez’s bank accounts, but provided no further details of the allegations against the aide.

However, Foreign Minister Elias Jaua indicated in a tweet that the investigation may be related to campaign finances used by Capriles during his 2012 and 2013 presidential bids.

The MUD has released a statement labelling the arrest as “a new attack against those who don’t stop fighting for the restitution of legality, justice and rights in Venezuela”.

Maduro denied the case is politically motivated, and said that all cases against members of the opposition are “serious investigations”, including the investigation into opposition legislator Richard Mardo.

Along with tax fraud, Mardo is also being investigated for money laundering. Last month, the legislator was stripped of his parliamentary immunity. The decision was made by a simple majority in the National Assembly. Capriles has labelled the decision “unconstitutional”, arguing that the decision should have been passed by a two-thirds majority.

The Time is Ripe For Maduro

This week, Maduro renewed accusations that Capriles is trying to undermine the constitution.

“Get ready because the fascist right is proposing to end the Constitution,” the president stated from Caracas on Wednesday, according to AVN.

“If they come and want to mess with the constitution, it’s like messing with a son or daughter and we have to go out and defend it as one would defend their children; with life, with truth, with ideas, with reason,” Maduro said.

Capriles has rejected the accusation. “Millions and millions will run you out of Miraflores. Nothing will save you from when we apply the constitution!” he tweeted yesterday.

However, recent polls indicate that support for Maduro may have increased since he won the April election by 1.49 percentage points, though results are mixed. Polls conducted last month by private firms Hinterlaces, the Venezuelan Institute for Data Analysis (IVAD) and International Consulting Services (ICS) all give Maduro majority support. The lowest estimate came from IVAD, which found that 52.4% of participants viewed Maduro’s performance positively. The highest figure was from the ICS. Over the weekend, ICS head Lorenzo Martinez stated that Maduro’s support is at 65%. Maduro won the election with 50.6% of the vote.

“People perceive Maduro as an honest man, because he has implemented strategies through Indepabis, and through the fight against corruption,” Martinez stated, according to AVN.

The IVAD poll also found that 52.3% of survey participants want Venezuela to continue the “direction it was taking” under former president Hugo Chavez. However, in an interview with Globovision, Oscar Schemel from Hinterlaces stated that the firm’s latest poll indicates that 56% of Venezuelans believe the country is “on the wrong path”.

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Indictment of Iran for ’94 Terror Bombing Relied on MEK




By Gareth Porter

Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman based his 2006 warrant for the arrest of top Iranian officials in the bombing of a Jewish community centre in Buenos Aires in 1994 on the claims of representatives of the armed Iranian opposition Mujahedin E Khalq (MEK), the full text of the document reveals.

The central piece of evidence cited in Nisman’s original 900-page arrest warrant against seven senior Iranian leaders is an alleged Aug. 14, 1993 meeting of top Iranian leaders, including both Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and then president Hashemi Rafsanjani, at which Nisman claims the official decision was made to go ahead with the planning of the bombing of the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA).

But the document, recently available in English for the first time, shows that his only sources for the claim were representatives of the MEK or People’s Mujahideen of Iran. The MEK has an unsavoury history of terrorist bombings against civilian targets in Iran, as well as of serving as an Iraq-based mercenary army for Saddam Hussein’s forces during the Iran-Iraq War.

The organisation was removed from the U.S. State Department’s list of terrorist groups last year after a campaign by prominent former U.S. officials who had gotten large payments from pro-MEK groups and individuals to call for its “delisting”.

Nisman’s rambling and repetitious report cites statements by four members of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), which is the political arm of the MEK, as the sources for the charge that Iran decided on the AMIA bombing in August 1993.

The primary source is Reza Zakeri Kouchaksaraee, president of the Security and Intelligence Committee of the NCRI. The report quotes Kouchaksaraee as testifying to an Argentine Oral Court in 2003, “The decision was made by the Supreme National Security Council at a meeting that was held on 14 August, 1993. This meeting lasted only two hours from 4:30 to 6:30 pm.”

Nisman also quotes Hadi Roshanravani, a member of the International Affairs Committee of the NCRI, who claimed to know the same exact starting time of the meeting – 4:30 pm – but gave the date as Aug. 12, 1993 rather than Aug. 14.

Roshanravani also claimed to know the precise agenda of the meeting. The NCRI official said that three subjects were discussed: “The progress and assessment of the Palestinian Council; the strategy of exporting fundamentalism throughout the world; and the future of Iraq.” Roshanravani said “the idea for an attack in Argentina” had been discussed “during the dialogue on the second point”.

The NCRI/MEK was claiming that the Rafsanjani government had decided on a terrorist bombing of a Jewish community centre in Argentina as part of a policy of “exporting fundamentalism throughout the world”.

But that MEK propaganda line about the Iranian regime was contradicted by the U.S. intelligence assessment at the time. In its National Intelligence Estimate 34-91 on Iranian foreign policy, completed on Oct. 17, 1991, U.S. intelligence concluded that Rafsanjani had been “gradually turning away from the revolutionary excesses of the past decade…toward more conventional behavior” since taking over as president in 1989.

Ali Reza Ahmadi and Hamid Reza Eshagi, identified as “defectors” who were affiliated with NCRI, offered further corroboration of the testimony by the leading NCRI officials. Ahmadi was said by Nisman to have worked as an Iranian foreign service officer from 1981 to 1985. Eshagi is not otherwise identified.

Nisman quotes Ahmadi and Eshagi, who made only joint statements, as saying, “It was during a meeting held at 4:30 pm in August 1993 that the Supreme National Security Council decided to carry out activities in Argentina.”

Nisman does not cite any non-MEK source as claiming such a meeting took place. He cites court testimony by Abolghassem Mesbahi, a “defector” who had not worked for the Iranian intelligence agency since 1985, according to his own account, but only to the effect that the Iranian government made the decision on AMIA sometime in 1993. Mesbahi offered no evidence to support the claim.

Nisman repeatedly cites the same four NCRI members to document the alleged participation of each of the seven senior Iranians for whom he requested arrest warrants. A review of the entire document shows that Kouchaksaraee is cited by Nisman 29 times, Roshanravani 16 times and Ahmadi and Eshagi 16 times, always together making the same statement for a total of 61 references to their testimony.

Nisman cited no evidence or reason to believe that any of the MEK members were in a position to have known about such a high-level Iranian meeting. Although MEK propaganda has long claimed access to secrets, their information has been at best from low-level functionaries in the regime.

In using the testimony of the most violent opponents of the Iranian regime to accuse the most senior Iranian officials of having decided on the AMIA terrorist bombing, Nisman sought to deny the obvious political aim of all MEK information output of building support in the United States and Europe for the overthrow of the Iranian regime.

“The fact that the individuals are opponents of the Iranian regime does not detract in the least from the significance of their statements,” Nisman declared.

In an effort to lend the group’s testimony credibility, Nisman described their statements as being made “with honesty and rigor in a manner that respects nuances and details while still maintaining a sense of the larger picture”.

The MEK witnesses, Nisman wrote, could be trusted as “completely truthful”.

The record of MEK officials over the years, however, has been one of putting out one communiqué after another that contained information about alleged covert Iranian work on nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, nearly all of which turned out to be false when they were investigated by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

The only significant exception to the MEK’s overall record of false information on the Iranian nuclear programme was its discovery of Iran’s Natanz enrichment facility and its Arak heavy water facility in August 2002.

But even in that case, the MEK official who announced the Natanz discovery, U.S. representative Alireza Jafarzadeh, incorrectly identified it as a “fuel fabrication facility” rather than as an enrichment facility. He also said it was near completion, although it was actually several months from having the equipment necessary to begin enrichment.

Contrary to the MEK claims that it got the information on Natanz from sources in the Iranian government, moreover, the New Yorker’s Seymour Hersh reported, a “senior IAEA official” told him in 2004 that Israeli intelligence had passed their satellite intelligence on Natanz to the MEK.

An adviser to Reza Pahlavi, the heir to the Shah, later told journalist Connie Bruck that the information about Natanz had come from “a friendly government”, which had provided it to both the Pahlavi organisation and the MEK.

Nisman has long been treated in pro-Israel, anti-Iran political circles as the authoritative source on the AMIA bombing case and the broader subject of Iran and terrorism. Last May, Nisman issued a new 500-page report accusing Iran of creating terrorist networks in the Western hemisphere that builds on his indictment of Iran for the 1994 bombing.

But Nisman’s readiness to base the crucial accusation against Iran in the AMIA case solely on MEK sources and his denial of their obvious unreliability highlights the fact that he has been playing a political role on behalf of certain powerful interests rather than uncovering the facts.

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Nazi forces smash Palestinian child’s head in the Al-Aqsa Mosque


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US Air Force chief completes secretive week-long visit to IsraHell


US Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh

Gen. Mark A. Welsh, chief of staff of the US Air Force, completed a secretive week-long visit to Israel in recent days.

This ahead of the expected arrival of Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, due here on Monday.

Welsh visited as a guest of Israel Air Force chief Maj.- Gen. Amir Eshel.

According to Walla, the visit was kept secret due to an American request for confidentiality, in light of regional tensions and against the background of Israeli threats to strike Iran if it continues developing its nuclear program.

The report added that the visit, Welsh’s first to Israel, was highly productive and produced “new channels of communications.”

Dempsey, who is to arrive as a guest of IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz, is expected to discuss developments in Iran, Syria and Egypt with Israeli leaders.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has signaled that Israel’s patience is running out over Tehran’s nuclear progress.

Dempsey might use the visit to gauge Israeli intentions, and to try to convince Israel to refrain from dramatic decisions in the near future, to give diplomacy with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani a chance.

Ongoing instability in Syria, its chemical-weapons arsenal, and the growing radical jihadi presence in the country will likely form another top-priority point for discussions during the visit.

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BREAKING: Radioactive Water Overruns Fukushima Barrier


Contaminated groundwater accumulating under the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant has risen 60cm above the protective barrier, and is now freely leaking into the Pacific Ocean, the plant’s operator TEPCO has admitted.

Fukushima City


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The Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), which is responsible for decommissioning the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, on Saturday said the protective barriers that were installed to prevent the flow of toxic water into the ocean are no longer coping with the groundwater levels, Itar-Tass reports.

The contaminated groundwater, which mixes with radioactive leaks seeping out of the plant, has already risen to 60cm above the barriers – the fact which TEPCO calls a major cause of the massive daily leak of toxic substances.

Earlier on Friday, the company announced it started pumping out contaminated groundwater from under Fukushima, and managed to pump out 13 tons of water in six hours on Friday. TEPCO also said it plans to boost the pumped-out amount to some 100 tons a day with the help of a special system, which will be completed by mid-August. This will be enough to seal off most of the ongoing ocean contamination, according to TEPCO’s estimates.

However, Japan’s Ministry of Industry has recently estimated that some 300 tons of contaminated groundwater have been flowing into the ocean daily ever since the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami that triggered the disaster.

TEPCO also promised it will urgently reinforce the protective shields to keep radioactive leaks at bay. The company has repeatedly complained it is running out of space and has had to resort to pumping water into hastily-built tanks of questionable reliability, as more than 20,000 tons of water with high levels of radioactive substances has accumulated in the plant’s drainage system.

Water samples recently taken at an underground passage below the Fukushima nuclear plant showed extreme levels of radiation comparable to those taken immediately after the March 2011 catastrophe. The tested water, which had been mixing with ground water and flowing into the ocean, contained 2.35 billion Becquerels of cesium per liter – some 16 million times above the limit.

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