Daily Archives: August 1, 2007

Video reopens debate over Beslan attack

FSB withholding secret video material

Dozens of survivors insist the explosions that sparked the maelstrom came from outside the building.
beslan-38

AP | Jul 31, 2007

by MIKE ECKEL

A video that remained secret for nearly three years after the horrific Beslan hostage crisis has cast new doubt on official conclusions about what led to the deaths of 334 people, more than half of them children, during one of Russia’s worst terrorist attacks.

View the video here

The footage is far from definitive, but appears to lend credence to the theory that security forces bear at least some of the blame for the high death toll.

A central question about the carnage is what caused the initial explosions that were followed by a chaotic gunbattle, fire and the collapse of the roof of School No. 1’s gymnasium, where more than 1,100 hostages had been held by militants demanding the withdrawal of Russian troops from Chechnya.

A final official report on the events of Sept. 1-3, 2004, has not been released. The lead parliamentary investigator has suggested homemade bombs rigged by the 32 heavily armed men and women in the gymnasium were detonated by the militants, and that was the primary reason for the high death toll.

However, victims and relatives of the dead, and at least one member of the parliamentary commission, maintain law enforcement agencies botched the rescue, using flame-throwers, grenade launchers and heavy guns that worsened the situation. Dozens of survivors insist the explosions that sparked the maelstrom came from outside the building.

Susanna Dudiyeva, who heads the Beslan Mothers’ Committee and whose 13-year-old son died in the attack, accused Russia’s primary security agency, the Federal Security Service or FSB, of withholding crucial evidence.

“The FSB is giving up none of its own secret video material, which should have been turned over to investigators as evidence,” she said. “Not one FSB agent has been interrogated. We have access to not one part of the documentary or video material or information.”

“The investigation is at a dead end,” she said.

It was not clear who made the video or why, but it appeared to have been made by prosecutors or government investigators. The fact that it reflects badly on security agencies may explain why it was kept secret for so long.

The footage, obtained by The Associated Press Monday, was shot with a hand-held camera and has a time-stamp from the moment on the afternoon of Sept. 3 when the first of two large explosions erupted. A cloud of smoke billows from near the building and gunfire can be heard.

Footage time-stamped several hours later shows several homemade explosive devices on a table. The devices, bottles filled with shrapnel and ball bearings, had been hung from basketball hoops and the roof of the gymnasium.

Men, who are not shown, can be heard talking. They appear to be bomb experts and the Kommersant newspaper said they were army engineers being questioned by prosecutors.

“The holes inside (on the walls) could not have been caused by these explosives,” one of the men says.

“If the explosions had been caused by these devices from inside the building…” he continues.

“Look at the ball bearings,” the second interrupts.

“As they keep saying, all of these (ball bearings) would have been scattered around but on the children we brought out (of the school) there was no evidence of these sorts of injuries. And all around too,” the first man says.

“So there was no explosion inside the building?” a third man asks.

“Inside the building, there was no explosion,” the first man answers.

The video was shown to some survivors and relatives of victims in Beslan last week by activists who have criticized the official investigations. Activists said law enforcement agencies confiscated many copies of the video from them in North Ossetia, the region where Beslan is located.

Brief segments of the video have been posted on Russian newspaper Web sites, including one by the liberal newspaper Novaya Gazeta from Sept. 4 — the day after the siege ended — that shows an investigator surveying the school’s courtyard. Bodies can be seen being put into black body bags.

Another video clip shows used grenade launchers lined up on the ground, though it was unclear to whom the weapons belonged.

Regional prosecutors did not answer telephones Tuesday and federal prosecutors refused comment. A spokesman for the FSB also declined comment, saying all requests should be submitted in writing.

Last December, Alexander Torshin, chairman of the parliamentary commission set up to investigate the attack, summarized what he said was a final version of his commission’s report before the lower house of parliament.

Torshin laid blame for the seizure on local law enforcement, who he said did not follow orders from Moscow to increase security ahead of the start of the school year. He said the explosion precipitating the bloodshed was a bomb set off by the terrorists.

He also said there was no firm evidence that tanks fired on the school while hostages were inside — contradicting accounts by eyewitnesses, including AP reporters, photographers and videographers.

Torshin was on vacation and could not be reached Tuesday, his spokeswoman said.

Yuri Savelyev, a lawmaker who was part of the Torshin commission, said he had not seen the video, but people had described it to him.

He said it appeared to confirm his conclusions, which differed from the Torshin report and found that grenade-launchers and gunfire from outside the school sparked the explosions and fire that brought down the gymnasium roof.

“The fighters did not blow up the hall,” he said.

He speculated that the video — which activists said was sent to them anonymously by mail — had been leaked, perhaps to force personnel changes among federal security agencies, prosecutors or law enforcement officials.

Independent military analyst Alexander Golts said the video highlighted the “total and absolute failure of the security services” during the school seizure.

“It’s absolutely clear that authorities don’t want to hear any alternative version of the assault in Beslan,” he said.

Officials have said 31 of the 32 militants who seized the school were killed. The sole known survivor, Nur-Pashi Kulayev, was convicted last year and sentenced to life in prison.

Joint chiefs nominee sees U.S. in Iraq ‘years, not months

 admmullen

Adm. Michael Mullen testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday.

PilotOnline.com | Aug 1, 2007

By DALE EISMAN

American forces are likely to remain in Iraq for “years, not months,” but the United States must reduce its involvement in that country beginning next spring to rest troops and repair and replace their equipment, according to President Bush’s nominee to head the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

“I do not take for granted the service of our people or their families…. The U.S. military remains the strongest in all the world, but it is not unbreakable,” Adm. Mike Mullen, currently the chief of naval operations, said Tuesday. “Force reset, in all its forms, cannot wait until the war in Iraq is over.”

At a confirmation hearing with members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Mullen said the troop surge ordered by Bush in January has improved security in Baghdad and helped American and Iraqi forces score significant victories against al-Qaida-affiliated forces in western Iraq.

But Mullen also agreed with senators, both Democratic and Republican, who asserted that long-term U.S. success in Iraq depends on the Iraqi government’s ability to reconcile religious factions and stabilize the country’s economy.

“Barring that, no amount of troops and no amount of time will make much difference,” he said.

Bush tapped Mullen, 60, to be the nation’s top military officer after Democratic senators passed word that the current chiefs’ chairman, Marine Gen. Peter Pace, would face a contentious confirmation process if nominated for a second two-year term. Pace is set to retire at the end of September.

As vice chairman of the chiefs beginning in 2001 and chairman since 2005, Pace has been closely identified with administration policies in Iraq. Mullen, the Navy’s boss for two years, does not carry that baggage and the friendly tone of Tuesday’s hearing suggested his confirmation by the full Senate is all but certain.

While most senators focused on Iraq, Maine Republican Susan Collins pressed Mullen to seek a review of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on homosexuality.

With the military struggling to meet recruiting goals, the policy has forced the discharge of more than 11,000 openly homosexual members since it was adopted in the mid-1990s, Collins said. Mullen said he supports the policy and suggested any changes should be initiated by Congress and the general public.

The hearing produced an exchange of special interest to Hampton Roads as Florida Sens. Mel Martinez, a Republican, and Bill Nelson, a Democrat, sought and got assurances that Mullen supports basing a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier at Naval Station Mayport, near Jacksonville.

Mayport has been without a carrier since the conventionally powered John F. Kennedy was decommissioned last spring. Only one other conventional carrier, the Kitty Hawk, remains in service and it is slated for retirement next year.

Shifting a carrier to May-port would probably mean moving one out of Norfolk, currently home to five flattops. Each carrier is worth about $225 million annually to Hampton Roads’ economy, according to estimates developed by the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission.

While Mullen said he thinks carriers should be dispersed among multiple ports for security reasons, Virginia Sen. John Warner argued that such “strategic dispersal” was more important during the Cold War.

Back then, military planners worried that a Soviet nuclear strike could decimate the U.S. fleet if too many ships were based in one place.

“There are enormous costs involved to equip a port with facilities to handle a nuclear carrier,” Warner added. “You know that, I know that. They’re far above the costs associated with the conventional carriers.”

Forget sports drinks, milk is the best way to recover from exercise

milkMilk is rich in sodium, potassium and other salts that are vital for health but lost in large quantities through sweat

Daily Mail | Jul 31, 2007

By FIONA MACRAE

Some swear by water. Others are lured by the promise of expensive special-formula sports drinks.

But what athletes should really be imbibing after their exertions is a glass of milk.

Researchers found it is more effective than anything else at replacing the fluid and salts lost through sweat.

Tests at Loughborough University’s school of sport showed that milk keeps the body rehydrated four times longer than either water or Powerade, a sports drink made by Coca-Cola. Physiologist Susan Shirreffs said milk is rich in sodium, potassium and other vital salts lost in large quantities through sweat.

In addition, the combination of sugar, fat and protein found in milk means it is removed from the body less slowly than other drinks. Dr Shirreffs looked at how well different drinks rehydrated a group of young men and women in their early 20s after they had trained on exercise bikes in a hot room.

With milk, they remained rehydrated for four hours. Water and Powerade succeeded in restoring the body’s fluid balance for only around an hour, the British Journal of Nutrition reports.

Dr Shirreffs said milk offers athletes a cheap alternative to energy drinks, with low-fat versions available to help keep down calorie intake.

She added: ‘It will give them a little bit of protein and a little bit of carbohydrate and is cheaper as well.’

Dr Carole Lowis, of the Dairy Council for Northern Ireland, said: ‘As a means of getting fluid back into your system, milk offers a wide range of essential vitamins and minerals. It is an excellent drink for anyone who is serious about their health and wellbeing.’

Cheney Says He Is A ‘Unique Creature,’ Refuses To Say He Is Part Of Executive Branch

Think Progress | Jul 31, 2007

dick_cheney

Former director of the Council on Foreign Relations and Rockefeller minion, Dick Cheney

In June, House investigators revealed that Vice President Dick Cheney had exempted his office from an executive order order designed to safeguard classified national security information by claiming that the Office of the Vice President is not an “entity within the executive branch.”

After Congressional Democrats called his bluff by threatening to withhold funding from his office, the White House was forced to roll back their rhetoric, claiming “that the rationale had been the view of the vice president’s lawyers, not Cheney himself.”

But in an interview with CBS News’ Mark Knoller today, Cheney refused to say he was a member of the executive branch:

Mark Knoller: Are you part of the executive branch, sir?

Vice President Cheney: Well, the job of Vice President is an interesting one, because you have a foot in both the executive and the legislative branch. Obviously, I have an office in the West Wing of the White House, I am an adviser to the president, I sit as a member of the National Security Council. At the same time, under the constitution, I have legislative responsibilities. I’m actually paid by the Senate, not by the executive. […]

KNOLLER: But you are principally a part of the executive branch, are you not?

CHENEY: Well, I suppose you could argue it either way. The fact is I do work in both branches.

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN

Cheney conceded that he was part of the executive branch during the two hours and five minutes he served as acting President two weeks ago while Bush was in surgery. Throughout the entire interview, however, he refused to say whether or not the Office of the Vice President itself was classified as part of the executive branch.

Cheney has been happy to treat the Office of the Vice President as part of the executive branch when it suits his political purposes:

– In 2001, the White House argued that a probe into Cheney’s energy task force “would unconstitutionally interfere with the functioning of the executive branch.”

– Cheney himself said that the probe concerned “meetings in the Executive Branch between the Vice President and other individuals.”

– On April 9, 2003, Cheney lauded a recent court ruling, stating, “I think it restored some of the legitimate authority of the executive branch, the president and the vice president, to be able to conduct their business.”

Now that the political tempest over Cheney’s exemption of his office has subsided a bit, the Vice President is back to claiming he is a branch of government all to himself — or as he says it, “a unique creature” in constitutional government.

Fingerprint plan could be forced on children

South Wales Echo | Jul 26, 2007

by Moira Sharkey

PUPILS as young as four could be fingerprinted in school, under new guidelines being proposed.

Schools throughout Wales could opt to collect a child’s biometric data, including their fingerprints, retina scans, hand measurements and typing patterns.

And because the Data Protection Act fails to specify that parental consent must be sought, schools could gather the information without parents’ permission.

Figures suggest up to 3,500 schools across the UK, including Bryntirion Comprehensive School in Bridgend, have already installed fingerprint scanners and use the information to monitor children’s attendance, access to libraries and to run cashless catering schemes.

Now those scanners could be rolled out to schools in Wales.

But the Welsh Assembly Government has said the decision to introduce fingerprinting will be taken by individual schools, rather than the Assembly Government implementing a blanket policy on the use of biometrics.

Any school wishing to collect biometric data will have to encode pupils’ fingerprint information and destroy the information once the pupil has left school.

But the guidelines introduced by British Education Communications & Technology Agency (Becta) have triggered concern among campaign groups.

They say gathering and retaining pupils’ biometric data could leave the children open to identity theft and, if implemented, the scheme must be closely monitored to avoid security breaches.

David Clouter, spokesman for Leave Them Kids Alone (LTKA), said: “This seems to imply children as young as four may ‘give consent’ to be fingerprinted, so schools are not required to seek permission from parents.

“If a school wants to fingerprint a child for any purpose, parents should be informed and asked for written consent – as is required for a whole range of far less intrusive school activities.”

Commenting on the proposals, Alex Bailey from Lansdowne Road in Canton, Cardiff, who is mum to three-year-old Molly, said: “I know some schools already use this kind of system.

“I think it is probably a reality we will all have to face in schools and in the workplace in the future. But I think we need some more information on why it works best before many parents will sign up to it.”

Pelosi Says “No” to a New 9/11 Investigation, Claims Close Collaboration with Victim’s Families on 9/11 Bill Passage

9/11 Investigation Also Off the Table For Speaker Who Refuses to Impeach Bush

pelosi_psychotic_witch

JonesReport.com | Jul 31, 2007

by Aaron Dykes

Newport, Rhode Island – Reporters affiliated with WeAreChange.org and Infowars.com confronted Speaker Nancy Pelosi about a new 9/11 investigation just after the passage of the 9/11 Bill, which only increases already strict security measures, particularly in airports.

Pelosi rattled off a quick, “No, no, no” to the idea of a new 9/11 investigation before changing the subject to claim that she “worked closely with the victims’ families” and that they supposedly wanted the recent legislation.

Not only were many families of 9/11 victims disappointed with the 9/11 Commission’s findings, many 9/11 survivors were outraged that their testimony had been omitted or distorted in the final report. Recommendations by the 9/11 Commission, which were the basis of this legislation, only obscured the lingering questions that families wanted answered in the first place.

Furthermore, nearly all of the victims’ families want a new investigation and a large number of families believe 9/11 was an inside job, including Bill Doyle, the head of the largest 9/11 victim’s families group.

Just before returning to idle chatter with lapdog supporters, Pelosi dodged a question about Building 7’s collapse being left out of the 9/11 Commission Report by cryptically stating, “We’ll make sure that nothing else happens.”

That supposed assurance of safety through acquiescence was a selling point of the 9/11 Bill, and was all Pelosi would say before drifting back to more superficial conversation with other people at the event.

Big Brother Hits The Beach

AP | Jul 31, 2007

by Wayne Parry

OCEAN CITY, N.J.— At the beach of the future, high tide will meet high-tech.

Visitors will wear wristbands that automatically debit their bank accounts or credit cards to pay for beach access, food and parking. Garbage cans will send e-mail to cleanup crews when they’re ready to be emptied.

And people won’t even think about trying to sneak in: Beach checkers could scan the sands with handheld devices and instantly know who didn’t pay.

This southern New Jersey city plans to deliver a variety of public services and Internet access using radio-frequency identification chips and Wi-Fi wireless technology. The $3 million project is expected to be finished by next summer.
Beach badges, those plastic or cloth scourges of the Jersey shore, could become a thing of the past. The beach-access fees — $5 per day, $10 for a week, or $20 for the entire summer — will remain.

“This is the future,” said Karen Kinloch, a summer resident. “It’s where we’re at right now. It’s probably overdue. It’s kind of antiquated to take a piece of plastic and pin it to your swimsuit.”

Will McKinley, a badge checker stationed on boardwalk at the 19th Street beach, said the new system would make his job easier.

“It will take the hassle out of going up to people and asking to see their badges,” he said. “They’re more OK with it up here. On the beach, they don’t like to be hassled.”

But the new system also could eliminate McKinley’s job. Last year, Ocean City spent more than $282,000 to pay 170 badge checkers. Jonathan Baltuch, whose Atlanta-based Marketing Resources Inc. is helping the city plan the system, estimated the new gear could cut that cost in half.

Nationwide, nearly 20 coastal municipalities have wireless Internet systems, mostly in California and Florida, according to the Web site MuniWireless.com. But few, if any, boast the kind of features Ocean City is planning.

The system Ocean City is envisioning should be relatively easy to build and operate, said Esme Vos, MuniWireless’ founder. The wide, unobstructed beach, combined with relatively few trees and almost no tall buildings to interfere with wireless signals, all work in Ocean City’s favor, Baltuch said.

Ocean City would use a combination of Wi-Fi to provide Internet access, and RFID, which is the type of tracking technology that libraries and department stores use to make sure no one sneaks books or merchandise out the door.

One feature of the planned technology should prove itself popular with parents — the ability to link one wristband to others. A mother going to the beach with three small children, for instance, could have her bracelet linked to those of her children.

If one of them passes an electronic sensor at the entrance or exit to the boardwalk without the right adult, a text message would instantly be sent to her cell phone.

“I’ve helped lost children try to find their parents on the beach, and that would be a great thing,” Kinloch said. “It’s easy for them to stray off. You only turn your head for a second, and they can be gone. It does happen.”

Even the trash cans on this beach would be high-tech. Special solar-powered units would have sensors that, when the container is three-quarters full, would automatically send an e-mail to the public works department asking a worker to come empty them.

And parking lots near the beach would have signs that would tell drivers the location and number of open spots.

The network would be owned by the city but paid for by a vendor. The city has requested proposals from interested companies, and hopes to award a contract by early September.

The network would enable city officials to know exactly how many people are on the beach at a particular time.

“They can see that at 1:30, there are 60,000 people on the beach, and say ‘Hey, we need to get some more police into that area,’ ” said Baltuch, the consultant.

He estimated the network could generate $14 million in revenue for the city over the first five years, and $12 million for the company that operates it, through user fees and advertisements to be sold on the network.