Daily Archives: August 8, 2008

Putin Says `War Has Started,’ Georgia Claims Invasion

Map of Georgia showing the separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. A Russian army convoy entered South Ossetia and Russian planes attacked a Georgian military base, reports said, after Georgian forces pounded the capital of the breakaway province and warned of “war” if Russia intervened.  (AFP Graphic)
Bloomberg | Aug 8, 2008

By Henry Meyer and Ryan Chilcote

Aug. 8 (Bloomberg) — Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said “war has started” in the breakaway region of South Ossetia while Georgia accused Russia of “a well-planned invasion” and appealed to world leaders for help.

Russian “volunteers” are pouring over the border to help defend South Ossetia from Georgian forces, Putin told U.S. President George W. Bush in Beijing today, according to Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili accused Russia of “full-blown military aggression” after civilians died in aerial bombings and wide-spread fighting in and around the disputed region. The country of 4.6 million people is fighting “to secure its borders,” Saakashvili told Bloomberg Television.

The U.S., European Union and NATO all called on both sides to end hostilities. The ruble dropped the most against the dollar in 8 1/2 years and Russian stocks tumbled today on concern the conflict will worsen.

Georgian troops ride in armoured personnel carriers at an unnamed location not far from Tskhinvali. Georgia’s National Security Council has warned that Moscow and Tbilisi will be in “a state of war” if reports of Russian tanks, military trucks and troops entering South Ossetia prove true. (AFP/Vano Shlamov)

South Ossetia, which has a population of about 70,000 and is less than half the size of Kosovo, broke away from Georgia in the early 1990s and now is a de facto independent state with Russian peacekeepers and economic support. Georgia, a U.S. ally that wants to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, accuses Russia of stoking tensions in South Ossetia and another separatist region, Abkhazia.

“We will not allow the death of our compatriots to go unpunished,” Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, 42, told state television after reports that Georgian troops had shelled a Russian barracks and checkpoint and killed soldiers. “The guilty will get the punishment they deserve.”

`Very Hot’

Saakashvili, 40, said Russia amassed troops for months on its northern border before fighter jets entered Georgian airspace overnight and bombed the towns of Gori and Kareli near South Ossetia. The Russian government earlier denied bombing and accused Georgia of “unleashing a dirty, reckless scheme.”

“There are so many claims and counter-claims that it’s impossible to know who started it,” said James Nixey, manager of the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, a research institute based in London. “Both sides have been antagonistic and easy to antagonize. It’s a cold war that’s suddenly gotten very hot.”

Georgia last month increased the size of its military to 37,000 soldiers and today Saakashvili called up reservists and urged the nation to defend “every meter” of land. Russia has a standing army of about 1.1 million.

Tanks, Warplanes

Agence France-Press reported Russian tanks heading over the border to South Ossetia from the Russian region of North Ossetia at about 3:30 p.m. Moscow time. Interfax reported at about the same time that Russian warplanes were bombing Georgian targets.

“Fighting continues,” Russian Major General Marat Kulakhmetov, commander of Russia’s peacekeeping forces in South Ossetia, said by mobile phone. The peacekeepers have suffered casualties, although it’s too early to say how many, he said.

Georgia is a key link in a U.S.-backed “southern energy corridor” that links the Caspian Sea region with world markets, bypassing Russia, the world’s biggest energy producer. Two pipelines pass through the country linking Azerbaijan and Turkey.

The BP Plc-led Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline, which has been closed since Aug. 5 due to an explosion in Turkey, runs about 100 kilometers south of the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali.

The most recent violence in the region erupted on Aug. 1, when South Ossetia said Georgian shelling of the regional capital Tskhinvali claimed six lives. Georgia said South Ossetian forces sparked the fighting.

“The conflict might be short and hot, but my sense is that neither party wants a prolonged conflict,” said Michael Denison, associate fellow at London-based research group Chatham House and a professor of international security at the University of Leeds.

Georgian military shoots down Russian planes, tanks rolling into S. Ossetia

In this image, made from television screen, what Russian First Channel claims – are burning Georgian armored vehicles are seen in Tskhinvali in the South Ossetian breakaway region of Georgia on Friday, Aug. 8, 2008. Georgia launched a massive attack Friday to regain control over South Ossetia, using heavy artillery, aircraft and armor. South Ossetian officials said at least 15 people were killed Friday and an unspecified number were wounded.  (AP Photo/ First Channel)

Georgian army moves to retake South Ossetia

Associated Press | Aug 8, 2008


TSKHINVALI, Georgia – Georgian troops launched a major military offensive Friday to regain control over the breakaway province of South Ossetia, prompting a furious response from Russia — which vowed retaliation and sent a column of tanks into the region.

The fighting was the worst outbreak of hostilities since the province won de-facto independence in a war that ended in 1992 — raising fears that war could once again erupt.

Georgian Interior Ministry spokesman Shota Utiashvili said a convoy of Russian tanks had crossed into South Ossetia from the neighboring Russian province of North Ossetia and was moving toward the regional capital of Tskhinvali.

Russia’s Channel 1 television earlier showed Russian tanks that it said had entered South Ossetia. The report said the convoy was expected to reach the provincial capital within a few hours.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has warned that the Georgian attack will draw retaliation and the Defense Ministry pledged to protect South Ossetians, most of whom have Russian citizenship.

Georgian forces also shot down two Russian combat planes, according to Georgia’s Interior Ministry spokesman, Shota Utiashvili. He said the planes were downed while they were raiding Georgian territory, but wouldn’t give their type or any further details.

Russia’s Defense Ministry denied an earlier Georgian report about one Russian plane downed. It had no immediate comment on the latest claim.

An Associated Press reporter saw tanks and other heavy weapons concentrating on the Russian side of the border with South Ossetia. Some villagers were fleeing into Russia.

“I saw them (the Georgians) shelling my village,” said Maria, who gave only her first name. She said she and other villagers spent the night in a field and then fled toward the Russian border as the fighting escalated.

Separatist officials in South Ossetia said 15 civilians had been killed in fighting overnight. Georgian officials said seven civilians were wounded in bombing raids by Russia.

Putin, in Beijing to attend the Olympic opening ceremony, also said an unspecified number of the peacekeepers have been wounded.

Georgia declared a three-hour cease-fire to allow civilians to leave Tskhinvali. Georgia’s Interior Ministry spokesman said troops were observing the cease-fire, which began at 3 p.m. local time (7 a.m. EDT).

A spokesman for President Bush said Russia and Georgia should cease hostilities and hold talks to end the conflict. NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said he is seriously concerned about the fighting and that the alliance is closely following the situation.

Georgia, which borders the Black Sea between Turkey and Russia, was ruled by Moscow for most of the two centuries preceding the breakup of the Soviet Union. The country has angered Russia by seeking NATO membership — a bid Moscow regards as part of a Western effort to weaken its influence in the region.

Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili long has pledged to restore Tbilisi’s rule over South Ossetia and another breakaway province, Abkhazia. Both regions have run their own affairs without international recognition since splitting from Georgia in the early 1990s and built up ties with Moscow.

Relations between Georgia and Russia worsened notably this year as Georgia pushed to join NATO and Russia dispatched additional peacekeeper forces to Abkhazia.

South Ossetia officials said Georgia attacked with aircraft, armor and heavy artillery. Georgian troops fired missiles at Tskhinvali, an official said, and many buildings were on fire. The city’s main hospital was among the buildings hit by Georgian shelling, the Russian news agency Interfax said.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said it is seeking to open a humanitarian corridor to guarantee safe access to Tskhinvali. Maia Kardova, ICRC spokeswoman in Tbilisi, said military vehicles are being given priority on the main road leading to the South Ossetia capital and this is making it difficult for rescue vehicles to get through.

Georgia’s President said Russian aircraft bombed several Georgian villages and other civilian facilities.

“A full-scale aggression has been launched against Georgia,” Saakashvili said in a televised statement.

He also announced a full military mobilization with reservists being called into action.

Seven civilians were wounded when three Russian Su-24 jet bombers flew into Georgia and bombed the town of Gori and the villages of Kareli and Variani, Deputy Interior Minister Eka Sguladze said at a briefing.

She said that four Russian jets later bombed Gori, the hometown of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, but that raid didn’t cause any casualties.

Saakashvili urged Russia to immediately stop bombing Georgian territory. “Georgia will not yield its territory or renounce its freedom,” he said.

A senior Russian diplomat in charge of the South Ossetian conflict, Yuri Popov, dismissed the Georgian claims of Russian bombings as misinformation, the RIA-Novosti news agency reported.

Russia’s Defense Ministry denounced the Georgian attack as a “dirty adventure.” “Blood shed in South Ossetia will weigh on their conscience,” the ministry said in a statement posted on its Web site.

“We will protect our peacekeepers and Russian citizens,” it said without elaboration.

Russia’s President Dmitry Medvedev later chaired a session of his Security Council in the Kremlin, vowing that Moscow will protect Russian citizens.

“In accordance with the constitution and federal law, I, as president of Russia, am obliged to protect lives and dignity of Russian citizens wherever they are located,” Medvedev said, according to Russian news reports. “We won’t allow the death of our compatriots go unpunished.”

Remote-control pilots suffer war stress from viewing video carnage

Predator operators prone to psychological trauma as battlefield comrades

Aircraft’s cameras enable them to see people getting killed in high-resolution detail

MSNBC | Aug 7, 2008

MARCH AIR RESERVE BASE, Calif. – The Air National Guardsmen who operate Predator drones over Iraq via remote control, launching deadly missile attacks from the safety of Southern California 7,000 miles away, are suffering some of the same psychological stresses as their comrades on the battlefield.

Working in air-conditioned trailers, Predator pilots observe the field of battle through a bank of video screens and kill enemy fighters with a few computer keystrokes. Then, after their shifts are over, they get to drive home and sleep in their own beds.

But that whiplash transition is taking a toll on some of them mentally, and so is the way the unmanned aircraft’s cameras enable them to see people getting killed in high-resolution detail, some officers say.

In a fighter jet, “when you come in at 500-600 mph, drop a 500-pound bomb and then fly away, you don’t see what happens,” said Col. Albert K. Aimar, who is commander of the 163rd Reconnaissance Wing here and has a bachelor’s degree in psychology. But when a Predator fires a missile, “you watch it all the way to impact, and I mean it’s very vivid, it’s right there and personal. So it does stay in people’s minds for a long time.”

He said the stresses are “causing some family issues, some relationship issues.” He and other Predator officers would not elaborate.

Personalizing the fight

But the 163rd has called in a full-time chaplain and enlisted the services of psychologists and psychiatrists to help ease the mental strain on these remote-control warriors, Aimar said. Similarly, chaplains have been brought in at Predator bases in Texas, Arizona and Nevada.

In interviews with five of the dozens of pilots and sensor operators at the various bases, none said they had been particularly troubled by their mission, but they acknowledged it comes with unique challenges, and sometimes makes for a strange existence.

“It’s bizarre, I guess,” said Lt. Col. Michael Lenahan, a Predator pilot and operations director for the 196th Reconnaissance Squadron here. “It is quite different, going from potentially shooting a missile, then going to your kid’s soccer game.”

Among the stresses cited by the operators and their commanders: the exhaustion that comes with the shift work of this 24-7 assignment; the classified nature of the job that demands silence at the breakfast table; and the images transmitted via video.

A Predator’s cameras are powerful enough to allow an operator to distinguish between a man and a woman, and between different weapons on the ground. While the resolution is generally not high enough to make out faces, it is sharp, commanders say.

Often, the military also directs Predators to linger over a target after an attack so that the damage can be assessed.

“You do stick around and see the aftermath of what you did, and that does personalize the fight,” said Col. Chris Chambliss, commander of the active-duty 432nd Wing at Creech Air Force Base, Nev. “You have a pretty good optical picture of the individuals on the ground. The images can be pretty graphic, pretty vivid, and those are the things we try to offset. We know that some folks have, in some cases, problems.”

Chambliss said his experience flying F-16 fighter jets on bombing runs in Iraq during the 1990s prepared him for his current job as a Predator pilot. But Chambliss and several other wing leaders said they were concerned about the sensor operators, who sit next to pilots in the ground control station. Often, the sensor operators are on their first assignment and just 18 or 19 years old, officers said.

While the pilot actually fires the missile, the sensor operator uses laser instruments to guide it all the way to its target.

‘No one’s walking into it blind’

On four or five occasions, sensor operators have sought out a chaplain or supervisor after an attack, Chambliss said. He emphasized that the number of such cases is very small compared to the number of people involved in Predator operations.

Col. Rodney Horn, vice commander of the 147th Reconnaissance Wing at Ellington Field Joint Reserve Base near Houston, said his unit went out of it way to impress upon sensor operators the sometimes lethal nature of the job. “No one’s walking into it blind,” he said.

Master Sgt. Keith LeQuire, a 48-year-old sensor operator here, said the 163rd asks prospective sensor operators whether they are prepared for the deadly serious mission. “No one’s been naive enough to come in to interview but not know about that aspect of the job,” he said.

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China Unveils Frightening Futuristic Police State at Olympics

The Olympics have opened up a backdoor for the regime to massively upgrade its systems of population control and repression.

Huffington Post | Aug 8, 2008

By  Naomi Klein

So far, the Olympics have been an open invitation to China-bash, a bottomless excuse for Western journalists to go after the Commies on everything from internet censorship to Darfur. Through all the nasty news stories, however, the Chinese government has seemed amazingly unperturbed. That’s because it is betting on this: when the opening ceremonies begin friday, you will instantly forget all that unpleasantness as your brain is zapped by the cultural/athletic/political extravaganza that is the Beijing Olympics.

Like it or not, you are about to be awed by China’s sheer awesomeness.

The games have been billed as China’s “coming out party” to the world. They are far more significant than that. These Olympics are the coming out party for a disturbingly efficient way of organizing society, one that China has perfected over the past three decades, and is finally ready to show off. It is a potent hybrid of the most powerful political tools of authoritarianism communism — central planning, merciless repression, constant surveillance — harnessed to advance the goals of global capitalism. Some call it “authoritarian capitalism,” others “market Stalinism,” personally I prefer “McCommunism.”

The Beijing Olympics are themselves the perfect expression of this hybrid system. Through extraordinary feats of authoritarian governing, the Chinese state has built stunning new stadiums, highways and railways — all in record time. It has razed whole neighborhoods, lined the streets with trees and flowers and, thanks to an “anti-spitting” campaign, cleaned the sidewalks of saliva. The Communist Party of China even tried to turn the muddy skies blue by ordering heavy industry to cease production for a month — a sort of government-mandated general strike.

As for those Chinese citizens who might go off-message during the games — Tibetan activists, human right campaigners, malcontent bloggers — hundreds have been thrown in jail in recent months. Anyone still harboring protest plans will no doubt be caught on one of Beijing’s 300,000 surveillance cameras and promptly nabbed by a security officer; there are reportedly 100,000 of them on Olympics duty.

The goal of all this central planning and spying is not to celebrate the glories of Communism, regardless of what China’s governing party calls itself. It is to create the ultimate consumer cocoon for Visa cards, Adidas sneakers, China Mobile cell phones, McDonald’s happy meals, Tsingtao beer, and UPS delivery — to name just a few of the official Olympic sponsors. But the hottest new market of all is the surveillance itself. Unlike the police states of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, China has built a Police State 2.0, an entirely for-profit affair that is the latest frontier for the global Disaster Capitalism Complex.

Chinese corporations financed by U.S. hedge funds, as well as some of American’s most powerful corporations — Cisco, General Electric, Honeywell, Google — have been working hand in glove with the Chinese government to make this moment possible: networking the closed circuit cameras that peer from every other lamp pole, building the “Great Firewall” that allows for remote internet monitoring, and designing those self-censoring search engines.

By next year, the Chinese internal security market is set to be worth $33-billion. Several of the larger Chinese players in the field have recently taken their stocks public on U.S. exchanges, hoping to cash in the fact that, in volatile times, security and defense stocks are seen as the safe bets. China Information Security Technology, for instance, is now listed on the NASDAQ and China Security and Surveillance is on the NYSE. A small clique of U.S. hedge funds has been floating these ventures, investing more than $150-million in the past two years. The returns have been striking. Between October 2006 and October 2007, China Security and Surveillance’s stock went up 306 percent.

Much of the Chinese government’s lavish spending on cameras and other surveillance gear has taken place under the banner of “Olympic Security.” But how much is really needed to secure a sporting event? The price tag has been put at a staggering $12-billion — to put that in perspective, Salt Lake City, which hosted the Winter Olympics just five months after September 11, spent $315 million to secure the games. Athens spent around $1.5-billion in 2004. Many human rights groups have pointed out that China’s security upgrade is reaching far beyond Beijing: there are now 660 designated “safe cities” across the country, municipalities that have been singled out to receive new surveillance cameras and other spy gear. And of course all the equipment purchased in the name of Olympics safety — iris scanners, “anti-riot robots” and facial recognition software — will stay in China after the games are long gone, free to be directed at striking workers and rural protestors.

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Administrators propose using tasers on school children

TRIBUNE-REVIEW | August 7, 2008

By Mark Hofmann

The Uniontown Area School Board, as well as concerned citizens and parents, had an opportunity Wednesday to learn about Tasers that will be proposed in the school district and share their opinions on the subject.

Even before Don Homer, the director of security for the school district, could show the proposed Tasers to be used and explain how they operate, those attending a special meeting voiced opposition.

One resident, Mary Hackney, a teacher at Laurel Highlands School District for 35 years, said she had to break up many fights in her years but no incident required a Taser.

“This is not a safe idea,” Hackney said.

Another resident, Thelma Lahue, was opposed to having Tasers in school, but offered questions: how would the Tasers make a difference in safety, would someone innocent get hurt in an incident, who would be using the Taser, would those carrying the Tasers be drug-tested and was there an incident in the school to cause the need for Tasers.

Other concerns included the cost of the Tasers, the cost of training and if they’re opening a door for possible lawsuits.

Homer said the school has tried to be pro-active over the years in terms of security, and his job is to look within and outside of the school to stay ahead of trends in society, citing there was no school security 20 years ago but the ways of the world have made it commonplace.

“We have to think of the future,” Homer said, adding that there had been recent incidents outside of the school where police would need Tasers, and it’s possible that similar incidents could make it into the schools.

Homer said he has been a trained Taser instructor since 2000, and he has two school police officers who are certified and trained to have and operate a Taser, which means he would not issue a Taser to school security, only school police.

For someone to be certified to hold a Taser in a school, they must have been Tased to know what they could put someone else through.

The projectile Taser that Homer has is equipped with a CO2 cartridge with two darts connected to 21 feet of copper wire. When the user aims the Taser, a laser sight is activated for accuracy as well as an audio and video recording device. The Taser is equipped with safety-like guns and a switch to limit the duration of the charge between one and five seconds.

When the darts penetrate a maximum of a half-inch of skin, they send a shock that contracts muscles in the body and causes the person to go into a fetal position, Homer said. He added that people with heart conditions or differences in weight are not in danger from the shock.

However, injuries from falls can result when a person is hit by a Taser. For that reason, officers must use the device as a last measure of force in a situation, he said.

Homer said the body is back to normal after five seconds, and anyone who touches a person being shocked by a Taser would not be shocked.

The cost for the three Tasers proposed for the school district is $2,500.

“I think this is what we need,” Homer said. “I’d rather have it and not need it than need it and not have it.”

After Homer’s presentation, most of the audience appeared unsatisfied and still anti-Taser.

Director Paul Bortz Sr. said Homer and the district solicitor will develop a Taser policy that will be read at the board’s regular meeting Aug. 18 and voted on in September.

SWAT team raided mayor’s home, traumatized the family and killed their dogs

Berwyn Heights, Maryland, Mayor Cheye Calvo comforts wife Trinity Tomsic at a news conference Thursday.

They entered his home without knocking and refused to show him a warrant when he requested one. Calvo said he and his mother-in-law were handcuffed and forced onto the floor near the carcass of one of his dead dogs.

The Sheriff’s Department doesn’t apologize

CNN | Aug 7, 2008

(CNN) — A Maryland mayor is asking the federal government to investigate why SWAT team members burst into his home without knocking and shot his two dogs to death in an investigation into a drug smuggling scheme.

“This has been a difficult week and a half for us,” Cheye Calvo, mayor of Berwyn Heights, Maryland, said Thursday. “We lost our family dogs. We did it at the hands of sheriff’s deputies who burst through our front door, rifles blazing.”

The raid last week was led by the Prince George’s County Police Department, with the sheriff’s special operations team assisting, after a package of marijuana was sent to Calvo’s home.

Authorities say the package was part of a scheme in which drugs are mailed to unknowing recipients and then intercepted.

Calvo said he had just returned home from walking his two Labrador retrievers, Chase and Payton, when his mother-in-law told him a package had arrived for his wife, Trinity Tomsic.

Moments later, Calvo was in his room changing for a meeting when he heard commotion downstairs.

“The door flew open,” he said. “I heard gunfire shoot off. There was a brief pause and more gunfire.”

Calvo said he was brought downstairs at gunpoint in his boxer shorts, handcuffed and forced onto the floor with his mother-in-law near the carcass of one of dead dogs.

“I noticed my two dead dogs lying in pools of their own blood,” Calvo said.

Calvo said his mother-in-law is still recovering from the incident.

“She got the worst of it,” Calvo said. “She was literally in the kitchen, cooking a lovely pasta dish, and they brought down the door and shot our dogs.”

While he was being held, Calvo said, he told police he is the town’s mayor, but they didn’t believe him.

Berwyn Heights has its own police force, he said, but Prince George’s County police did not notify the municipal authorities of their interest in his home or the package.

“They didn’t know my name. All they knew was my wife’s name. They matched that to the registration of the car,” Calvo said. “It was that lack of communication that really led to what has really been the most traumatic experience of our lives.”

After the raid, arrests were made in the package interception scheme.

The incident has prompted the couple to call for a federal investigation because, they say, they don’t believe police are capable of conducting an internal investigation.

“They’ve said they’ve done nothing wrong,” Calvo said. “I didn’t sign up for this fight, but I think what we have to do now is make changes to how Prince George’s County police and Prince George’s County sheriff’s department operate.”

Calvo said authorities entered his home without knocking and refused to show him a warrant when he requested one.

But Prince George’s County Police Department spokeswoman Sharon Taylor said legal counsel had informed her that “no-knock” warrants do not exist in Maryland.

Taylor said authorities were acting on a warrant issued based on information available to them at the time.

“This warrant was for permission to search the premises,” she said. “The special operations team that supported us made a decision about the necessity of entry at the point of being on the scene.”

“No-knock” warrants have drawn criticism before. In Atlanta, Georgia, Kathryn Johnston, 92, was shot to death by police in a botched drug raid involving such a warrant in November.

Taylor, a self-described dog lover, expressed sympathy for the loss of Calvo’s dogs, but stopped short of apologizing for the incident.

“We’ve done these similar kinds of operations over and over again, to the tune of removing billions of dollars of drugs from the community and without people or animals being harmed,” she said. “We don’t want any of our operations to result in the injury or loss of anybody, and certainly not animals.”

The deputies have said they killed the two animals because they felt threatened.

“I would say that the dogs presented a threat, I would imagine, to the special operations situation,” Taylor said.

Meanwhile, Calvo and his wife said members of the community have expressed sympathy and concern about the incident.

At a news conference Thursday, Tomsic tearfully recalled a recent encounter with a neighbor who used to wave at the couple as they walked Payton and Chase.

“She gave me a big hug,” Tomsic said. “She said, ‘If the police shot your dogs dead and did this to you, how can I trust them?’ “

Beijing Olympics visitors tracked by massive Big Brother surveillance network

Workmen update repairs on a surveillance camera in Beijing last month. Frederic J. Brown | AFP/Getty Images

The government has installed about 300,000 cameras in Beijing and set up a network to spy on its citizens and foreigners.

Los Angeles Times | Aug 7, 2008

By Mark Magnier

BEIJING — The blocking of human rights websites in China leading up to the Olympics is part of an information control and surveillance network awaiting visitors that will include monitoring devices in hotels and taxis and snoops almost everywhere.

Government agents or their proxies are suspected of stepping up cyber-attacks on overseas Tibetan, human rights and press freedom groups and the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement in recent weeks. And China is spending huge sums on sophisticated surveillance systems that incorporate face recognition technology, biometrics and massive databases to help control the population.

China has installed about 300,000 cameras in Beijing under an estimated $6.5-billion, seven-year program dubbed the Grand Beijing Safeguard Sphere. Although face recognition software still can’t process rapidly moving images, China hopes that it can soon electronically identify faces out of a vast crowd.

“China is trying to project a picture and a narrative about the Olympics,” said Nicholas Bequelin, Hong Kong-based researcher with Human Rights Watch. “By limiting journalists, shutting down the Internet, arresting activists, it’s hoping to control the message.”

The world’s most populous nation has legitimate concerns, as seen this week in an attack in the far western province of Xinjiang that killed 16 police officers. Few expect the security infrastructure to be even partially dismantled, a step Greece took after hosting the 2004 games.

Critics said these systems give China more advanced tools in its bid to control domestic critics, activists and media. In recent months China has recruited thousands of Beijing taxi drivers and hundreds of thousands of neighborhood busybodies to keep an eye on foreigners and its own citizens.

“Everyone feels they’re entering a police state, which by the way it is, duh,” said Sharon Hom, executive director of New York-based Human Rights in China. “So they’ve got people reporting down to the lowest neighborhood level, which is not new, overlaid by state-of-the-art technology. It’s the best of the old and the new.”

Another technology that raises concern involves the new identity cards China is phasing in for its 1.3 billion citizens. The cards, developed with help from Plano, Texas-based China Information Security Technology, carry radio signal devices and a chip that records not only a person’s height, weight and identification number, but also health records, work history, education, travel, religion, ethnicity, reproductive history, police record, medical insurance status and even his or her landlord’s phone number.

Near the Second Ring Road in downtown Beijing, Wu Naimei, 74, sat on a folding chair fanning herself. “If we see any suspicious people, we call the police and report on them,” the retired subway worker said, adding that she can’t define a suspicious person but knows one when she sees one. “We are happy to help protect our motherland, assist the nation and help our leaders relax.”

The West might have a stronger argument in questioning China’s potential for intrusive surveillance if it weren’t moving rapidly in the same direction. London is believed to have the largest number of closed-circuit TV cameras of any city in the world. Many countries have seen vast troves of personal data lost or stolen. Financial records and phone calls are now routinely monitored.

The difference is that Western countries have better checks on police power, some human rights activists said, even as they expressed concern that the U.S. could soon be using technologies developed in China.

“Every country wants to avoid abuse of police power,” said Xu Zhiyong, a lecturer at the Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications. “It’s getting better in China, but we still have a ways to go.”

In addition to blocking online information about corruption and human rights violations, the government is suspected of collecting information on visitors’ Internet search activity.

Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) said late last month that foreign-owned hotels in China were under pressure to sign contracts authorizing police to install hardware and software to monitor their guests’ Internet activity. Hotel managers contacted in Beijing declined to comment.

This followed a State Department warning in March that “all hotel rooms and offices are considered to be subject to on-site or remote technical monitoring at all times.” Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang quickly called the U.S. report irresponsible and denied that China employed more surveillance than normal.

In Beijing, two taxi drivers who asked not to be identified while discussing confidential matters displayed a pair of black button-sized devices just to the left of their steering wheel linked to the vehicle’s navigation system. They said the devices allow a central monitoring station to listen to anything inside the taxi.

One driver said that besides listening in on passengers, officials can hear any griping he might do about the Communist Party, which could result in punishment.

The Danish women’s soccer team caught two men spying on its members in September during a FIFA World Cup meet in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, Lars Berendt, the group’s communication director, said in a telephone interview from their headquarters in Brondby.

Berendt said team members were in a hotel room having a tactical meeting when they noticed some movement behind what turned out to be a one-way mirror. In an adjoining room, they found two men, at least one of whom wore a hotel badge, and they held them until police arrived.

Berendt said the hotel denied any knowledge of the incident, and the International Olympic Committee and FIFA, the international governing body of soccer, said it was a matter for local authorities. Chinese police haven’t commented on any investigation.

“We’re not holding our breath,” Berendt said.

The state-run New China News Agency quoted fans as saying the Danes were just sore losers.

Security experts say company executives attending the Olympics are being advised to bring computers that have been wiped clean and to safeguard their smart phones. In extreme cases, they are also weighing the laptop to the gram to test whether ultra-light hardware devices have been added.

But a Western security consultant for one Olympic sponsor who asked not to be identified given the sensitive nature of his work said many of these fears were overblown, and that Chinese police had better things to do than spy on every “self-important corporate executive.”

Li Wei, a counter-terrorism expert with the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations, a semiofficial research organization, said most Chinese surveillance was in line with that of other Olympic host nations and didn’t dangerously compromise privacy.

Still, experts such as Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Washington-based Electronic Privacy Information Center and author of a recent report on Chinese surveillance, believe that China is pushing the envelope.

“With Internet controls, there are ways around,” Rotenberg said. “But with surveillance technologies, you’re getting into the fabric of the state.”

Afghan children raped with impunity

In what is known as “bacha-bazi,” or “child’s play,” boys are forced to dress in female attire, dance and perform sexual acts.

Just last week, a 3-year-old girl was kidnapped and raped by unidentified men

CNN | Aug 7, 2008

By Atia Abawi

(CNN) — The young Afghan girl sits in the center of the room, weeping. Using her hand and her blue scarf to hide her face, she recounts how she was brutally raped by five gunmen.

The girl’s tragic case is one of many in war-torn Afghanistan, activists say.

The 12-year-old girl’s family members say they’ll take their own lives unless justice is served.

“We will all commit suicide; this is not living,” cries the mother of the girl, whose gang-rape occurred in Northern Afghanistan.

The girl’s adolescent voice pleads for help from Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan.

The girl’s elderly and immobilized father trembles and can only raise a quivering hand as he sobs. He is rendered helpless in a country where a man’s dignity and honor is protecting his family.

Her little brother sits in the back, far too young to understand the situation but still traumatized by the devastated cries around him. He wipes away his tears.

The children’s mother sobs. “We’ve been violated. We can’t live our lives. We can’t sit. We can’t sleep at night,” she says.

Video of the crushed family aired on the privately owned Ariana TV two weeks ago before it was posted on the Internet by an activist group, the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan.

In a country riddled with corruption, despair and lawlessness, the family has risked their lives by coming forward.

They have since met with Karzai, according to an aide who said the president wept with the family and vowed to bring the perpetrators to justice. Karzai has fired the police chief from the city where the attack occurred, the aide said.

The family lives in a government-provided safe house in Kabul, Afghanistan.

“This is just an example among thousands of other cases,” says Shaima, a member of RAWA. “The rest go unnoticed by the media.”

Shaima is not her real name; she uses it to protect her identity. RAWA members themselves have often been targeted for raising taboo issues in a culture in which women and children are often treated as second-class citizens.

“Women and girls, especially young girls, are the most unprotected people of Afghanistan. They are raped, kidnapped and murdered,” Shaima says.

Just last week, a 3-year-old girl was kidnapped and raped by unidentified men, a government official confirms. The toddler was later released and, the official says, is recovering.

“Rapists are roaming around with impunity,” Shaima says, turning her attention to a man — said to be the son of a powerful official — who is accused of raping 22 girls in the northern province of Sar-I-Pul.

Sayed Nurallah says his 14-year-old daughter was one of the aforementioned victims. Nurallah says that coming forward with his daughter’s story makes him a target, which he firmly accepts. He says that seeking justice for his daughter is a matter of integrity.

“She wakes up in the middle of the night screaming,” Nurallah says of his daughter. “Her arms, legs, her body — she is always tense and frightened.”

Nurallah also pleads for justice. “I have one question for Mr. Karzai: If this was your little girl, what would you do?”

His firm tone changes to one of grief. He breaks into quiet sobs.

“I just want justice for my child,” he says.

Shaima says justice is hard to find.

“These criminals are never brought to justice, because police and government authorities are either involved or they can’t handle the crimes,” she explains. “With criminals and warlords in the political scene, we cannot expect justice to be served.”

Another factor that impedes victims from coming forward is some interpretations of Sharia, or Islamic law. Some authorities rule for a rape to be validated, victims must have four witnesses to the crime. If not, the victims can be charged with fornication or adultery.

Statistics quantifying crimes against children are hard to come by in Afghanistan, an impoverished nation ravaged by three decades of war.

In March, the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission said that deteriorating security in large parts of the country, a growing culture of criminal impunity, weak law enforcement institutions, poverty and other factors had contributed to increasing violence against women, such as rape and torture.

The commission also said that Afghan girls are often forced into marriages against their will.

Radhika Coomaraswamy, the U.N. special representative for children in armed conflict, plans to release a report in October on the state of Afghan children.

Coomaraswamy went to Afghanistan this summer to establish a monitoring and reporting system on what is deemed as grave violations committed against children.

“In many cases of violence against children, there is a sense of impunity. People continue to violate children’s rights without any sense of feeling that they will be held accountable,” Coomaraswamy said.

She found that sexual violence against young boys is also a problem. In what is known as “bacha-bazi,” or “child’s play,” boys are forced to dress in female attire, dance and perform sexual acts.

“I can’t think of any country in the world in which children suffer more than in Afghanistan,” Coomaraswamy says. “In all our meetings with children, it takes a lot of time to make them smile. That to me shows that there is not happiness in their hearts.”

She hopes that the monitoring program will deter people from taking advantage of the vulnerability of children in the combat zone. Coomaraswamy does concede that the Afghan government alone cannot do much right now.

“War has completely destroyed that administrative infrastructure,” Coomaraswamy says, “even if they had the laws, it is impossible to implement.”