Amorous Driving Plagues Kuwait

December 22, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, TMO

rearview-hangerWhen applying for a driver’s license, you have to take a test composed of a variety of road safety and traffic questions. Things like, “How many meters is it safe to follow another vehicle?” or “What is hydroplaning and how is it prevented?” Even handling road distractions such as weather conditions, debris and cell phone usage is covered. What’s not covered is coping with flirtatious drivers while driving on the road. Granted this is not much of a problem in the USA, hence the absence of recommendations in state-issued driving manuals. However, in many parts or the world, amorous drivers are a force to be reckoned with and are responsible for the degradation of road safety.

Nowhere is amorous driving more of a problem than it is in Kuwait. Male drivers are the primary pursuers of female drivers. However, it is not uncommon to find a female driver chasing a male driver. Since dating and open mixing between the sexes is frowned upon in Kuwaiti society, many paramours hit the road in the hopes of finding love on the open highway. Spotting an amorous driver is easy as he often reduces his speed in order to peep into the windows of drivers on either side of him. His next move is to crane his neck in order to peer into a window, all the while he continues driving when his mind is not on the road. Once he finds an object of his affection, he will pursue the female-driven car in a bid to either talk with her or give her his phone number. This often results in a high-speed chase that not only puts both drivers at risk but also everyone else on the roadway.

The vast majority of women driving on the roads of Kuwait consider amorous drivers to be pests and do their best to avoid them. However, many of the misguided males simply will not take no for an answer. That is what happened this past week, in Kuwait, as a male driver became enraged when a female driver refused his advances and would not accept his telephone number. In an act of retaliation, he crashed into her car several times and rendered it useless. And while he did get away, the female driver managed to write down his license plate number. Kuwait authorities have launched a manhunt to reveal his identity.

The roadways are not the only places in Kuwait where women have to endure unwanted advances from male admirers. Malls and shopping complexes are veritable playgrounds for paramours on the prowl. They openly track girls from store to store whispering words of affection in order to get the attention they are after. If rejected, an imprudent male may launch into a bitter diatribe of obscenities in order to publicly embarrass her.

In a bid to reel in the reckless “Romeos” Kuwaiti authorities have begun shaving the heads of any male accused of harassing a female, whether on the road or in a public place. This year alone, at least a dozen males have been hauled off to the police station and had their heads shaved.

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Backstreet Internet Call Shops Threaten UAE Telcos

November 10, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Matt Smith

DUBAI, Nov 9 (Reuters) – In the gritty streets of Deira, the old commercial heart of Dubai, lurks a threat to some of the region’s biggest telecommunications firms.

It is here on the northern bank of Dubai creek, among the grocery stores and barbers, the discount tailors and food stalls, where low-wage workers come after a day’s toil to phone their family and friends overseas.

Instead of using their pre-paid mobile phones, they cram into the sweaty booths of dilapidated backstreet Internet shops to call home at prices a fraction of those charged by telecom operators Etisalat , the United Arab Emirates’ most valuable listed company, and rival du.

These shops dodge government inspectors to offer unlicensed Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services — free Internet-to-Internet calls and cheap Internet-to-phone calls. The UAE’s regulator says only licensed companies can provide VoIP.

“It’s less than a tenth of the cost of Etisalat, that’s why I come here,” said Mansour, 21. The Afghan works in a Deira clothes shop and calls his family in Kabul three times a week from a 14-booth VoIP shop run by managers Mamun and Shajib, both 22.

The Bangladeshi pair have been offering VoIP services for more than a year and spoke on condition that their full names and company details were not disclosed.

“For internet we can only charge 3 dirhams (82 U.S. cents) an hour and that’s not enough to pay two salaries, shop rent, licences and broadband costs,” said Shajib. “We would have shut if it wasn’t for VoIP, but this is very popular and more and more people are telling their friends.

“Most people’s salaries are not even 1,400 dirhams per month and they can’t spend much on the telephone, so that’s why they come here. If Etisalat or du offered the same rates as us, we would close down tomorrow.”

Internet-to-phone calls via Skype, the global leader for consumer VoIP, are intermittently blocked in the UAE, but the Deira shops use other programmes such as Calls Telecom and Call World for Internet-to-phone calls, and these seem to work without hindrance.

Rates start at 0.1 dirham per minute to phone a landline in India, with Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka the other top destinations, Shajib said. Prices to these countries are about 0.25 dirham per minute on average.

To call India, Etisalat and du charge 1.89 dirhams per minute for off-peak calls between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m., and 2.40 dirhams at other times.

The regulator sets their tariffs, so the two operators cannot directly compete on price and instead tout various call packages. Etisalat offers subscribers a 60 percent discount on late-night calls to the subcontinent, but its fees are still much higher than the rates offered by Shajib and rival shops.

Etisalat operates across 18 countries but three-quarters of its revenue comes from the UAE, while du is a single-country carrier, and international calls are among their biggest income streams. So VoIP is potentially disastrous for them.

“It’s a losing battle – when you try to ban or restrict something on the Internet, the harder you squeeze, the more it gets between your fingers,” said Oliver Johnson, chief executive of British-based telecoms research firm Point Topic.

“As speeds increase, people will value VoIP more and more and they won’t see why they should make a normal international call instead. Margins on international calls are yesterday’s revenues.”
Four-fifths of UAE residents are expatriates, which spurs demand for international calls. Wealthier Western and Arab residents have better access to the Internet, at home and at work, and were the first to use VoIP services in the UAE; its spread to the lower-income majority could be a game changer for Etisalat and du.

“If VoIP was legal and widely available, it would be a disaster for Gulf operators,” said Pedro Oliveira, partner at consultants Oliver Wyman.

Many smart phones come ready-installed with Skype, which can be used for Internet-to-Internet calls. Operators are pushing these high-end handsets as they try to offset falling profit margins on voice calls by selling data packages, so they are aiding the rise of a technology that could hurt their own businesses. Etisalat’s profits have fallen in six of the past seven quarters.
“There are really three big competitors (in the UAE) and one of those is VoIP…you can see it on the street corner,” said Matthew Willsher, Etisalat’s chief marketing officer.

REGULATION

So far, the UAE telecommunications regulator seems determined to resist the rise of Internet-based phone calls as it tries to protect revenues in the government-controlled sector. Only Etisalat and du are licenced to provide VoIP services, and they have yet to do so. The two companies are majority-owned by government-linked institutions and the sector is an important source of state revenue.
“So long as regulators remain part of the government and the government continues to own controlling stakes, then protectionism will remain high,” said Oliver Wyman’s Oliveira.
In October, Etisalat unveiled plans for ePlus, an online platform it says will include social and instant messaging, plus VoIP calling. But it has not revealed likely prices for VoIP calls and the UAE regulator, which must approve these tariffs, has dampened expectations for any major savings for consumers.

“Do not expect prices to fall drastically just because voice over IP services are launched,” Majed Almesmar, deputy director-general of the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority, told reporters at an exhibition in Dubai. “We are waiting for them (the operators) to come with certain packages or proposals. We need to look at those proposals.”

As Mansour in Deira explained, low-cost calls are the main motivation for people using VoIP, so rolling out VoIP services that do not offer steep discounts to conventional services would be unlikely to satisfy consumers.

Du has also said it will launch VoIP services, but it is unclear when this will happen; other UAE innovations such as number portability were delayed for over three years and a deal to allow open competition on fixed line services is running late.

Ultimately, fighting VoIP could harm the UAE’s economic competitiveness, some analysts argue.

“Protectionism could harm economic development if it places other industries at a disadvantage to those based elsewhere — eventually, governments could decide these negatives outweigh the positives and loosen VoIP restrictions,” said Oliveira.

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The CIA and Iran

October 24, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

The CIA and the Iran Caper: How Petraeus Fueled the Plot

By Ray Mcgovern

2011-10-11T221215Z_548393142_GM1E7AC0HEY01_RTRMADP_3_USA-SECURITY-IRANWashington Post columnist David Ignatius, in his accustomed role as unofficial surrogate CIA spokesman, has thrown light on how the CIA under its new director, David Petraeus, helped craft the screenplay for this week’s White House spy feature: the Iranian-American-used-car-salesman-Mexican-drug-cartel plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the U.S.

In Thursday’s column, Ignatius notes that, initially, White House and Justice Department officials found the story “implausible.” It was. But the Petraeus team soon leapt to the rescue, reflecting the four-star-general-turned-intelligence-chief’s deep-seated animus toward Iran.

Before Ignatius’s article, I had seen no one allude to the fact that much about this crime-stopper tale had come from the CIA. In public, the FBI had taken the lead role, presumably because the key informant inside a Mexican drug cartel worked for U.S. law enforcement via the Drug Enforcement Administration.

However, according to Ignatius, “One big reason [top U.S. officials became convinced the plot was real] is that CIA and other intelligence agencies gathered information corroborating the informant’s juicy allegations and showing that the plot had support from the top leadership of the elite Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, the covert action arm of the Iranian government.”

Ignatius adds that, “It was this intelligence collected in Iran” that swung the balance, but he offers no example of what that intelligence was. He only mentions a recorded telephone call on Oct. 4 between Iranian-American cars salesman Mansour Arbabsiar and his supposed contact in Iran, Gholam Shakuri, allegedly an official in Iran’s Quds spy agency.

The call is recounted in the FBI affidavit submitted in support of the criminal charges against Arbabsiar, who is now in U.S. custody, and Shakuri, who is not. But the snippets of that conversation are unclear, discussing what on the surface appears to be a “Chevrolet” car purchase, but which the FBI asserts is code for killing the Saudi ambassador.

Without explaining what other evidence the CIA might have, Ignatius tries to further strengthen the case by knocking down some of the obvious problems with the allegations, such as “why the Iranians would undertake such a risky operation, and with such embarrassingly poor tradecraft.”

“But why the use of Mexican drug cartels?” asks Ignatius rhetorically, before adding dutifully: “U.S. officials say that isn’t as implausible as it sounds.”

But it IS as implausible as it sounds, says every professional intelligence officer I have talked with since the “plot” was somberly announced on Tuesday.

The Old CIA Pros

There used to be real pros in the CIA’s operations directorate. One — Ray Close, a longtime CIA Arab specialist and former Chief of Station in Saudi Arabia — told me on Wednesday that we ought to ask ourselves a very simple question:

“If you were an Iranian undercover operative who was under instructions to hire a killer to assassinate the Saudi Arabian ambassador in Washington, D.C., why in HELL would you consider it necessary to explain to a presumed Mexican [expletive deleted] that this murder was planned and would be paid for by a secret organization in Iran?

“Whoever concocted this tale wanted the ‘plot’ exposed … to precipitate a major crisis in relations between Iran and the United States. Which other government in the Middle East would like nothing better than to see those relations take a big step toward military confrontation?”

If you hesitate in answering, you have not been paying attention. Many have addressed this issue. My last stab at throwing light on the Israel/Iran/U.S. nexus appeared ten days ago in “Israel’s Window to Bomb Iran.”

Another point on the implausibility meter is: What are the odds that Iran’s Quds force would plan an unprecedented attack in the United States, that this crack intelligence agency would trust the operation to a used-car salesman with little or no training in spycraft, that he would turn to his one contact in a Mexican drug cartel who happens to be a DEA informant, and that upon capture the car salesman would immediately confess and implicate senior Iranian officials?

Wouldn’t it make more sense to suspect that Arbabsiar might be a double-agent, recruited by some third-party intelligence agency to arrange some shady business deal regarding black-market automobiles, get some ambiguous comments over the phone from an Iranian operative, and then hand the plot to the U.S. government on a silver platter – as a way to heighten tensions between Washington and Teheran?

That said, there are times when even professional spy agencies behave like amateurs. And there’s no doubt that the Iranians – like the Israelis, the Saudis and the Americans – can and do carry out assassinations and kidnappings in this brave new world of ours.

Remember, for instance, the case of Islamic cleric Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, who was abducted off the streets of Milan, Italy, on Feb. 17, 2003, and then flown from a U.S. air base to Egypt where he was imprisoned and tortured for a year.

In 2009, Italian prosecutors convicted 23 Americans, mostly CIA operatives, in absentia for the kidnapping after reconstructing the disappearance through their unencrypted cell phone records and their credit card bills at luxury hotels in Milan.

Then, there was the suspected Mossad assassination of Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Mabhouh at a hotel in Dubai on Jan. 19, 2010, with the hit men seen on hotel video cameras strolling around in tennis outfits and creating an international furor over their use of forged Irish, British, German and French passports.

So one cannot completely rule out that there may conceivably be some substance to the alleged Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador.

And beyond the regional animosities between Saudi Arabia and Iran, there could be a motive – although it has been absent from American press accounts – i.e. retaliation for the assassinations of senior Iranian nuclear scientists and generals over the last couple of years within Iran itself.

But there has been close to zero real evidence coming from the main source of information — officials of the Justice Department, which like the rest of the U.S. government has long since forfeited much claim to credibility.

Petraeus’s ‘Intelligence’ on Iran

The public record also shows that former Gen. Petraeus has long been eager to please the neoconservatives in Washington and their friends in Israel by creating “intelligence” to portray Iran and other target countries in the worst light.

One strange but instructive example comes to mind, a studied, if disingenuous, effort to blame all the troubles in southern Iraq on the “malignant” influence of Iran.

On April 25, 2008, Joint Chiefs Chairman, Adm. Mike Mullen, told reporters that Gen. Petraeus in Baghdad would give a briefing “in the next couple of weeks” providing detailed evidence of “just how far Iran is reaching into Iraq to foment instability.” Petraeus’s staff alerted U.S. media to a major news event in which captured Iranian arms in Karbala would be displayed and then destroyed.

Oops. Small problem. When American munitions experts went to Karbala to inspect the alleged cache of Iranian weapons, they found nothing that could be credibly linked to Iran.

At that point, adding insult to injury, the Iraqis announced that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had formed his own Cabinet committee to investigate the U.S. claims and attempt to “find tangible information and not information based on speculation.” Ouch!

The Teflon-clad Petraeus escaped embarrassment, as the David Ignatiuses of the Fawning Corporate Media (FCM) conveniently forgot all about the promised-then-canceled briefing. U.S. media suppression of this telling episode is just one example of how difficult it is to get unbiased, accurate information on touchy subjects like Iran into the FCM.

As for Attorney General Eric Holder and President Barack Obama, some adult adviser should tell them to quit giving hypocrisy a bad name with their righteous indignation over the thought that no civilized nation would conduct cross-border assassinations.

The Obama administration, like its predecessor, has been dispatching armed drones to distant corners of the globe to kill Islamic militants, including recently U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki for the alleged crime of encouraging violence against Americans.

Holder and Obama have refused to release the Justice Department’s legal justification for the targeted murder of al-Awlaki whose “due process” amounted to the President putting al-Awlaki’s name on a secret “kill-or-capture” list.

Holder and Obama have also refused to take meaningful action to hold officials of the Bush administration accountable for war crimes even though President George W. Bush has publicly acknowledged authorizing waterboarding and other brutal techniques long regarded as acts of torture.

Who can take at face value the sanctimonious words of an attorney general like Holder who has acquiesced in condoning egregious violations of the Bill of Rights, the U.S. criminal code, and international law — like the International Convention Against Torture?

Were shame not in such short supply in Official Washington these days, one would be amazed that Holder could keep a straight face, accusing these alleged Iranian perpetrators of “violating an international convention.”

America’s Founders would hold in contempt the Holders and the faux-legal types doing his bidding. The behavior of the past two administrations has been more reminiscent of George III and his sycophants than of James Madison, George Mason, John Jay and George Washington, who gave us the rich legacy of a Constitution, which created a system based on laws not men.

That Constitution and its Bill of Rights have become endangered species at the hands of the craven poachers at “Justice.” No less craven are the functionaries leading today’s CIA.

What to Watch For

If Petraeus finds it useful politically to conjure up more “evidence” of nefarious Iranian behavior in Iraq and/or Afghanistan, Lebanon or Syria, he will.  And if he claims to see signs of ominous Iranian intentions regarding nuclear weapons, watch out.

Honest CIA analysts, like the ones who concluded that Iran had stopped working on a nuclear weapon in late 2003 and had not resumed that work, are in short supply, and most have families to support and mortgages to pay.

Petraeus is quite capable of marginalizing them, or even forcing them to quit. I have watched this happen to a number of intelligence officials under a few of Petraeus’s predecessors.

More malleable careerists can be found in any organization, and promoted, so long as they are willing to tell more ominous — if disingenuous — stories that may make more sense to the average American than the latest tale of the Iraninan-American-used-car-salesman-Mexican-drug-cartel-plot.

This can get very dangerous in a hurry. Israel’s leaders would require but the flimsiest of nihil obstat to encourage them to provoke hostilities with Iran. Netanyahu and his colleagues would expect the Obamas, Holders, and Petraeuses of this world to be willing to “fix the intelligence and facts” (a la Iraq) to “justify” such an attack.

The Israeli leaders would risk sucking the United States into the kind of war with Iran that, short of a massive commitment of resources or a few tactical nuclear weapons, the U.S. and Israel could almost surely not win. It would be the kind of war that would make Iraq and Afghanistan look like minor skirmishes.

Ray McGovern was an Army officer and CIA analyst for almost 30 year. He now serves on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity. He is a contributor to Imperial Crusades: Iraq, Afghanistan and Yugoslavia, edited by Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair (Verso). He can be reached at: rrmcgovern@gmail.com.

A version of this article first appeared on Consortiumnews.com.

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Timeline of Events in Strauss-Kahn Case

May 19, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

NEW YORK (Reuters) – International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn is being held in a prison in New York on charges that he attempted to rape a maid at a New York hotel on Saturday.
Strauss-Kahn’s lawyers have denied the charges.

The scandal has appeared to wreck his hopes of running for president of France and has prompted calls for new leadership of the IMF which oversees the world economy.

Here is a timeline of events:

FRIDAY AFTERNOON – Strauss-Kahn checked into a $3,000 a night suite at the luxury Sofitel hotel in midtown Manhattan, which a law enforcement source said he was paying a discounted rate of $800.
The suite has a foyer, a conference room, a living room and a bedroom. The 30-storey hotel has an Art Deco restaurant and bar called Gaby, which the website (www.sofitel.com) says serves “French flair in a glamorous setting.’’

The hotel is near Times Square, Broadway theaters, Fifth Avenue shopping and Central Park.

SATURDAY ABOUT 12:00 P.M. EDT (1600 GMT) – A 32-year-old maid entered Strauss-Kahn’s suite, room 2806, which she apparently thought was unoccupied.

Following routine procedure, the maid announced herself when she entered the suite, and left the front door to the suite unlocked and ajar, a law enforcement said. She entered the living room and saw nobody. Then she opened the door to the bedroom, where she saw Strauss Kahn, naked. She apologized and said she would come back later, and started to leave the room.

Strauss-Kahn allegedly ran after the maid and, according to the criminal complaint filed by prosecutors, shut the door of his hotel room, preventing her from leaving. He grabbed the victim’s chest without consent, attempted to remove her pantyhose, and forcibly grabbed the victim’s vaginal area. His penis made contact with the victim’s mouth twice through the use of force, prosecutors said.
The woman fled and reported the incident to her supervisor who called police. Strauss-Kahn left the hotel, leaving behind his mobile phone.

An ambulance was called to the hotel and the woman was taken to a hospital where she was treated and released.

SATURDAY, 12.28 P.M. – Strauss-Kahn checked out of the Sofitel hotel, according to court papers filed by his lawyers with the New York State Supreme Court on Wednesday.

SATURDAY, 12.45 P.M. – Strauss-Kahn “proceeded to a previously scheduled lunch a few blocks away’’ from the Sofitel hotel, according to the court papers.

SATURDAY, about 1:30 P.M. – Security staff at the Sofitel called police to report the alleged sexual assault, a law enforcement source told Reuters. The first police units arrived at the hotel at 1:45 pm, the source said.

SATURDAY, TIME UNKNOWN – “Strauss-Kahn was driven to John F. Kennedy International Airport to catch an Air France flight to Paris, which was scheduled to depart at 4:40 p.m. A seat for Mr. Strauss-Kahn had been reserved on that particular flight approximately one week in advance,’’ court papers filed by defense lawyers said.

SATURDAY, about 3.30 P.M. – Strauss-Kahn called the hotel to ask about his missing mobile phone.

Police were still at the hotel and asked the staff member speaking to Strauss-Kahn to tell him an urgent effort would be made to return the phone. Strauss-Kahn told the hotel staff member to bring the phone to him at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport.

SATURDAY, TIME UNKNOWN – Strauss-Kahn boarded Air France flight 23 for Paris at New York’s JFK airport and was seated in the first class section. He had been due to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Europe on Sunday and attend meetings on the region’s debt crisis on Monday.

SATURDAY about 4:40 P.M. – Police from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which manages the bridges, tunnels and airports in the area, boarded the flight minutes before it was due to depart and detained Strauss-Kahn. He was not handcuffed.

The Port Authority police turned him over to New York Police Department detectives from the Midtown South Precinct, which covers the area of Manhattan where the Sofitel hotel is located. They handcuffed him.

Strauss-Kahn made no statements and requested a lawyer. He was taken to the NYPD’s Special Victims Unit in the Harlem neighborhood, where he was kept in a room reserved for questioning. He made no statements and declined any food. The Special Victims Unit investigates sex crimes.

SATURDAY NIGHT/SUNDAY MORNING, TIME UNKNOWN – The consul general of France met with Strauss-Kahn under the regular rules of consular protection for all French citizens detained abroad, said Marie-Laure Charrier, a spokeswoman for the French consulate in New York.

SUNDAY 1:15 A.M. – Brafman told Reuters in an email that the IMF chief would plead not guilty.

Brafman is a high-profile criminal lawyer who was part of Michael Jackson’s legal team that successfully defended the pop singer against child molestation charges in 2005. Brafman also won an acquittal on weapons and bribery charges for rap mogul Sean “P. Diddy’’ Combs.

SUNDAY 2:15 A.M. – Strauss-Kahn was arrested and charged with a criminal sexual act, attempted rape and unlawful imprisonment. Strauss-Kahn spent the night at the Special Victims Unit, which is on the second floor of a red brick and concrete building, sleeping in a chair with his feet propped up in another chair.

SUNDAY MORNING, TIME UNKNOWN – Strauss-Kahn ate a breakfast of home fries, scrambled eggs and toast brought in from an outside diner, a law enforcement said.

SUNDAY 11 A.M. – Strauss-Kahn’s wife, French television personality Anne Sinclair, said in a statement: “I do not believe for a single second the accusations leveled against my husband … I do not doubt his innocence will be established.’’

SUNDAY 1 P.M. – Strauss-Kahn’s lawyers, Brafman and William Taylor, arrived and spent half an hour with their client. Brafman again said Strauss-Kahn would plead not guilty.

SUNDAY 2 P.M. – Sofitel New York manager Jorge Tito said in a statement sent by property owner Accor in Paris that the maid who made the allegations had worked for the hotel for three years and was “completely satisfactory in terms of her work and behavior.’’

SUNDAY 3.30 P.M. – Brafman and Taylor arrived and spent 45 minutes with Strauss-Kahn.

SUNDAY 3.50 P.M. – The maid arrived at the Special Victims Unit in a van and shielded by police with a white sheet from photographers. She spent 40 minutes there. She identified Strauss-Kahn in a lineup, a NYPD spokesman said. “It was a standard lineup — six people,’’ he said.

SUNDAY, TIME UNKNOWN – Strauss-Kahn ate a ham and cheese sandwich with mustard and drinks a bottle of water, a law enforcement source said.

SUNDAY 10.30 P.M. – Strauss-Kahn’s lawyers told reporters on the steps of Manhattan Criminal Court that his court appearance had been postponed so he could undergo a “scientific and forensic’’ examination that had been requested by investigators. Taylor said Strauss-Kahn was “tired but fine.’’

SUNDAY 11 P.M. – A handcuffed Strauss-Kahn, wearing black pants, a blue dress shirt and a black overcoat, was escorted from the Special Victims Unit by detectives. He was taken to Kings County Hospital in the New York City borough of Brooklyn where he was examined by forensic technicians who specialize in investigating sexual assault cases.

MONDAY about 3.30 A.M – Strauss-Kahn’s mug shot was taken at the Manhattan Criminal Court building detention center, best known as “The Tombs,’’ where he spent the night. The photo showed him looking haggard, his eyes downcast and his shirt collar open.

MONDAY 10.50 A.M. – Strauss-Kahn entered Manhattan Criminal Court for his hearing. Before his appearance, other defendants appeared before the judge in the media-packed courtroom on charges including drug possession, criminal trespassing and delinquency.

Strauss-Kahn appeared to be dressed in the same clothes he was wearing on Sunday and looked tired and grim.

MONDAY 12 P.M – Strauss-Kahn was denied bail. He is due to reappear in court on May 20.

MONDAY, TIME UNKNOWN – Strauss-Kahn was transferred to Rikers Island jail and held in protective custody in an 11 foot by 13 foot cell, a spokesman for the New York City Department of Correction said.

TUESDAY, TIME UNKNOWN – At Strauss-Kahn’s request, the French consul general visited him at Rikers Island jail, a consul spokesman said.

WEDNESDAY, TIME UNKNOWN – The French consul general again visited Strauss-Kahn, a consul spokesman said.

WEDNESDAY, TIME UNKNOWN – Strauss-Kahn’s lawyers lodged an appeal seeking bail with the New York State Supreme Court. They want him released on bail of $1 million in cash and placed under 24-hour home detention with electronic monitoring, according to the court papers. A bail hearing is due to be held on Thursday. It is unclear whether Strauss-Kahn will attend.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols, Edith Honan and Basil Katz in New York and Mark Hosenball in Washington; Editing by Paul Simao)

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Michigan: Police Search Cell Phones During Traffic Stops

May 5, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

TheNewspaper.com

The ACLU seeks information on Michigan program that allows cops to download information from smart phones belonging to stopped motorists.

The Michigan State Police have a high-tech mobile forensics device that can be used to extract information from cell phones belonging to motorists stopped for minor traffic violations. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Michigan last Wednesday demanded that state officials stop stonewalling freedom of information requests for information on the program.

ACLU learned that the police had acquired the cell phone scanning devices and in August 2008 filed an official request for records on the program, including logs of how the devices were used. The state police responded by saying they would provide the information only in return for a payment of $544,680. The ACLU found the charge outrageous.

“Law enforcement officers are known, on occasion, to encourage citizens to cooperate if they have nothing to hide,” ACLU staff attorney Mark P. Fancher wrote. “No less should be expected of law enforcement, and the Michigan State Police should be willing to assuage concerns that these powerful extraction devices are being used illegally by honoring our requests for cooperation and disclosure.”

A US Department of Justice test of the CelleBrite UFED used by Michigan police found the device could grab all of the photos and video off of an iPhone within one-and-a-half minutes. The device works with 3000 different phone models and can even defeat password protections.

“Complete extraction of existing, hidden, and deleted phone data, including call history, text messages, contacts, images, and geotags,” a CelleBrite brochure explains regarding the device’s capabilities. “The Physical Analyzer allows visualization of both existing and deleted locations on Google Earth. In addition, location information from GPS devices and image geotags can be mapped on Google Maps.”

The ACLU is concerned that these powerful capabilities are being quietly used to bypass Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches.

“With certain exceptions that do not apply here, a search cannot occur without a warrant in which a judicial officer determines that there is probable cause to believe that the search will yield evidence of criminal activity,” Fancher wrote. “A device that allows immediate, surreptitious intrusion into private data creates enormous risks that troopers will ignore these requirements to the detriment of the constitutional rights of persons whose cell phones are searched.”

The national ACLU is currently suing the Department of Homeland Security for its policy of warrantless electronic searches of laptops and cell phones belonging to people entering the country who are not suspected of committing any crime.

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Heavy Fighting in Misrata and Libyan Mountains

April 28, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Lin Noueihed

TRIPOLI (Reuters) – Libya’s rebel-held city of Misrata won no respite from two months of bitter siege as Muammar Gaddafi’s forces bombarded the city and battled rebel fighters, despite pulling out of the city center.

Gaddafi’s forces were also pounding Berber towns in Libya’s Western Mountains with artillery, rebels and refugees said, in a remote region far from the view of international media.

Italy said its warplanes would join the British and French bombing of Libyan targets for the first time and NATO flattened a building inside Gaddafi’s Tripoli compound, in what his officials said was a failed attempt on the Libyan leader’s life.

Late on Monday, the “crusader aggressors” bombed civilian and military sites in Bir al Ghanam, 100 km (60 miles) south of Tripoli, and the Ayn Zara area of the capital, causing casualties, Libyan television said, without giving details. A Reuters correspondent heard explosions in Tripoli.

The report said foreign ships had also attacked and severed the al-Alyaf cable off Libya’s coast, cutting communications to the towns of Sirte, Ras Lanuf and Brega.

But more than a month of air strikes did not appear to be tipping the balance decisively in a conflict increasingly described as a stalemate.

People in Misrata emerged from homes after daybreak on Monday to scenes of devastation after Gaddafi’s forces pulled back from the city under cover of blistering rocket and tank fire, said witnesses contacted by phone.

Nearly 60 people had been killed in clashes in the city in the last three days, residents told Reuters by phone.

Although rebels’ celebrations of “victory” on Saturday turned out to be very premature, it was clear they had inflicted significant losses on government forces in Misrata.

“Bodies of Gaddafi’s troops are everywhere in the streets and in the buildings. We can’t tell how many. Some have been there for days,” said rebel Ibrahim.

Rebel spokesman Abdelsalam, speaking late on Monday, said Gaddafi’s forces were trying to re-enter the Nakl Thaqeel Road, which leads to Misrata’s port, its lifeline to the outside.

“Battles continue there. We can hear explosions,” he said by phone. He said Gaddafi’s forces positioned on the western outskirts of the city had also shelled the road from there.

Another rebel spokesman, Sami, said the humanitarian situation was worsening rapidly.

“It is indescribable. The hospital is very small. It is full of wounded people, most of them are in critical condition,” he told Reuters by phone.

U.S. officials said relief groups were rotating doctors into Misrata and evacuating migrant workers.

Mark Bartolini, director of foreign disaster assistance at the U.S. Agency for International Development, said aid organizations were aiming to create stocks of food in the region in case Libyan supply chains began breaking down.

Among the places in particular need of food aid were isolated towns in the Western Mountains, from where tens of thousands of people have fled to Tunisia from the fighting.

REFUGEES FLEE MOUNTAINS

“Our town is under constant bombardment by Gaddafi’s troops. They are using all means. Everyone is fleeing,” said one refugee, Imad, bringing his family out of the mountains.

NATO said its attack on the building in the Gaddafi compound was on a communications headquarters used to coordinate attacks on civilians. A Libyan spokesman said Gaddafi was unharmed and state television showed pictures of him meeting people in a tent, which it said had been taken on Monday.

Gaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam said the Libyan government would not be cowed.

“The bombing which targeted Muammar Gaddafi’s office today … will only scare children. It’s impossible that it will make us afraid or give up or raise the white flag,” he was quoted as saying by the state news agency, Jana.

Italy said its warplanes would join British and French aircraft in carrying out bombing of Libya. Geographically the closest major NATO member state to Libya, Italy had until Monday provided bases and reconnaissance and monitoring aircraft only.

The surprise decision immediately opened a fissure in Italy’s coalition government.

The African Union held separate talks on Monday with Libyan Foreign Minister Abdelati Obeidi and rebel representatives in Addis Ababa to discuss a ceasefire plan.

The rebels had earlier rebuffed an AU plan because it did not entail Gaddafi’s departure, while the United States, Britain and France say there can be no political solution until the Libyan leader leaves power.

(Additional reporting by Guy Desmond and Maher Nazeh in Tripoli, Alexander Dziadosz in Benghazi and Sami Aboudi in Cairo; writing by Andrew Roche; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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Imam Yassin Aref Transferred from CMU

April 21, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Karin Friedemann, TMO

In a surprise move by the Bureau of Prisons (BOP), Albany, New York’s Imam Yassin Aref, who was serving a ten year sentence inside the Communications Management Unit (CMU) in Marion, Illionois, has been moved to the general prison population. Aref stated in an email to his friends dated April 13, 2011:

“Finally and thankfully they accepted my request and agreed for me to come out of CMU. Now I am just a regular human – I mean regular prisoner! I am no longer in CMU, so if any of you come and visit me I promise I am going to hug him! Hopefully after six months they will transfer me to somewhere close to my family so I can see my children but as for why and how? Believe me I don’t know anything more than you! They just told me to pack up. 25 days before that I had a team review. I asked for transfer as usual and they told me they would do the recommendation for me but the decision its not theirs. When I called my son Salah, he told me, “Daddy how is it they let you out?

What has changed?” I told him I am still Yassin and they did not tell me anything. However, I am very thankful they allowed me to be in the regular general population.”

Aref was inside the CMU in Terre Haute, Indiana from May 2007 until March 2009, when he was transferred to the Marion CMU. As of April 10, 2011, Aref is in the same prison building but in a different unit. Now he has more space to walk and more recreational activities. He has more lenient social, visitor and phone call rights. There are some African American Muslim brothers in his new unit and they pray the Friday prayer together. Whenever he leaves his unit to dine, go to the yard or library, and to visit the chaplain, he walks by the door of the CMU. Imam Yassin describes his past experience:

“After spending about 20 Months in total solitary confinement at a county jail, I arrived at CMU Terra Haute, Indiana to find a small Middle Eastern community where inmates from Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan, Egypt and Yemen among others were already there. In CMU, most inmates are Arab or Arabic speakers.

“We are separated because of our nationality and religion. Of course they deny that, but the reality in the CMU proves this segregation is the whole point of a CMU. Otherwise what did I do? Why am I classified as a high risk inmate? How can it be dangerous if they allow me to hug my children? Why do they need to limit my communication? Who I am going to call besides my family?

“All my life in Iraq I was treated as a second degree citizen and half human because I was Kurdish. I left my country to regain my humanity and live free, not to be targeted, imprisoned and placed in a CMU.

When I learned CMU prisoners don’t have the same rights like other prisoners in the BOP, and I found that 65 to 75 percent of the inmates in CMU are Muslim and another 8 to 15 percent are Spanish speakers, I became sad and it seemed like this country is going backward to the dark days of its history when Black people were slaves or treated like slaves. Many inmates in CMU are not criminals. They are political prisoners and victims who were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Some like me never committed any crime. Yet they treat us as the highest risk inmates!

“My youngest daughter is still a child and she was born while I was in jail. I never carried her or kissed her and I could never buy a candy for her. She doesn’t have any memory with me. Until she was four years old she used to think ‘daddy’ means the phone! That’s because whenever I used to call home, her brothers and sister would run to the phone saying “Daddy, daddy!” So, she thought daddy means phone! Whenever anyone asks her, ‘Where is your daddy?’ she would point or run to the phone and say, ‘That is my daddy!’ It’s heart breaking but I am laughing. In Arabic they say the worst trial is the one which makes you laugh!

“Thank God with all of these unjustices still my heart is full of peace and Love. My faith saved me from hate. I believe God allowed this to happen and that is why it happened. I look for His reward for all my pain and all of what my family going through.”

Aref is involved with a civil rights lawsuit which questions why Muslim prisoners who are considered a low security risk are being put under high security communication restrictions without any legal recourse.

Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) Attorney Alexis Agathocleous told NPR, “Our clients were designated to the CMUs without due process or oversight, even though they have no significant history of disciplinary infractions.”

However, Aref does not believe that his transfer has anything to do with the lawsuit.

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