Daily Archives: February 20, 2009

Geronimo’s descendants sue Yale secret society for stolen skull

geronimo

Geronimo died of pneumonia in 1909 as a prisoner of war at Fort Sill after decades spent fighting against US and Mexican expansion into Apache lands. Photo: National Archive

American Indian leader Geronimo’s descendants have launched a legal fight to have his ‘stolen’ remains returned to his birthplace in the Gila Mountains of New Mexico.

Telegraph | Feb 18, 2009

By Tom Leonard in New York

They claim his body was taken by members of Skull and Bones, a secret student society, and are hidden at Yale University.

George W Bush’s grandfather and two other members of the group are said to have taken the remains of the Apache warrior Geronimo during the First World War.

However, the society’s repeated refusal to comment on the story, or on rumours that new members have to kiss the chief’s skull, have prompted the extraordinary lawsuit.

In a court action that names not only Yale and the society, but also Barack Obama and Robert Gates, his defence secretary, 20 descendants of the famous American Indian leader are seeking to recover his remains so his spirit can be laid to rest in his tribal homeland.

Their legal action, filed this week in a federal-district court in Washington DC on the 100th anniversary of his death, will seek to determine the truth of rumours that Geronimo’s burial at Fort Sill in Oklahoma was not his final resting place.

Three Bonesmen, including Prescott Bush, served at Fort Sill during the First World War.

The trio were rumoured to have dug up Geronimo’s remains in 1918 and took some of them back to Yale where they are supposedly still kept in the society’s hall – known as the “Tomb” – on the university campus.

The Skull and Bones, whose illustrious membership has numbered three US presidents including both Bushes, supposedly makes new members kiss the Chiricahua Apache’s skull.

The lawsuit – which also names Pete Geren, the Army Secretary, as a defendant – seeks to “to free Geronimo, his remains, funerary objects and spirit from 100 years of imprisonment at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, the Yale University campus at New Haven, Connecticut and wherever else they may be found”.

Mr Obama and his colleagues were included in the action because Geronimo was initially buried on US government land.

The remains would be returned to Geronimo’s birthplace in the Gila Mountains of New Mexico for a traditional Apache burial, said his great-grandson, Harlyn.

He stressed that such a burial was one of the most important sacred rites in his tribe’s culture.

“It’s been 100 years since the death of my great-grandfather in 1909. It’s been 100 years of imprisonment,” Mr Geronimo said outside court.

“The spirit is wandering until a proper burial has been performed. The only way to put this into closure is to release the remains, his spirit, so that he can be taken back to his homeland in the Gila Mountains, at the head of the Gila River.” The suit contends that Geronimo’s descendants are entitled to his remains and funerary possessions under the 1990 American Indian Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.

The Geronimo family are being represented by Ramsey Clark, who was attorney general under President Lyndon Johnson.

“In this lawsuit, we’re going to find out if the bones are there or not,” he said.

Mr Geronimo said he hoped the people named in the suit would take it seriously.

A spokesman for Yale said the university had “no relics or bones belonging to Geronimo” but stressed it could not answer for Skull and Bones because it was independent. The society has so far refused to comment.

Aged 79, Geronimo died of pneumonia in 1909 as a prisoner of war at Fort Sill after decades spent fighting against US and Mexican expansion into Apache lands.

Skull and Bones, about which George W Bush once wrote that it was “so secret, I can’t say anything more”, has never said whether any of Geronimo’s remains are in its possession.

However, in 2006, the Yale Alumni magazine published a letter written at the time of the alleged grave robbery in which a Skull and Bones member confirmed that Geronimo’s skull, femurs and some of his riding gear had been taken to the society’s hall.

The letter prompted Harlyn Geronimo to write to President Bush, but he said he never got a reply.

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Gordon Brown urges global ‘grand bargain’

BRITAIN BROWN

Britain’s Prime Minister Gordon Brown gestures during his monthly news conference at 10 Downing Street in London, Wednesday Feb. 18, 2009. After meeting with World Bank head Robert Zoellick and IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Khan to plan the G-20 summit, Brown said that the world needed to work together to improve global financial regulation to prevent a repeat of the current financial crisis. The meeting of the Group of 20 advanced and developing nations on April 9 is seen as critical in developing an international response to the current crisis. AP Photo by Kieran Doherty

BBC | Feb 18, 2009

Prime Minister Gordon Brown has said world leaders are working towards a “global deal and grand bargain” to deal with the economic downturn.

He told his monthly press conference that the whole world had to preserve “an open economy”, rather than move towards protectionism.

Leaders were working together to help “working families”, he added.

Mr Brown was speaking after talks with International Monetary Fund head Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

The government has launched a document outlining its policies and aims in the run-up to the G20 economic summit in London in April.

‘Taken the lead’

Mr Brown will be meeting leaders including German chancellor Angela Merkel and Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi during the next few days.

He said: “I think we are fashioning for the future a global deal and grand bargain where each continent fulfils its responsibilities and its obligations and act to deal with what is a global problem.”

He added: “Most people looking at Britain say we have taken the lead in the measures to prevent a global collapse.”

On Tuesday, US President Barack Obama signed a $787bn economic stimulus package.

Several other countries have programmes in place.

Mr Brown said: “America has just announced the biggest fiscal and monetary stimulus in the history of its country.

“Every part of the world must be part of the stimulus to the economy, giving support into the economy with investment, getting interest rates down as much as possible, and I believe one of the features of our discussions at the G20 summit on 2 April is how all countries can come together to do that.

“Some may have to do more on interest rates; some may have to do more fiscal stimulus. The whole point of the G20 is that the world must take action to deal with a global problem.”

He added: “The old orthodoxies will not serve us well in the future. We’ve got to think the previously unthinkable. We’ve got to do what was previously undoable.

“The co-operation that’s needed around the world is not something that has been achieved before – but I believe it can be achieved to meet the needs of our times.”

Following recent criticisms of the role of the Financial Services Authority in regulating UK banks, Mr Brown said: “I’m right, I think, to emphasise the international nature of the problem.”

He also said the “biggest failure” was on a global level, but added: “Of course I accept there need to be changes in the UK system.”

Brown ‘regret’

The prime minister brushed aside the suggestion that he was tempted to step down to become the “world’s financial regulator”.

He said: “There is no possibility anyway of a job called Global Financial Regulator. I want get on with the job I’m doing.

“My priority is to help people in this country who are facing problems with their mortgages, problems with their jobs and problems with small business finance.”

But Mr Brown also spoke of his “regret” that he failed over the years to win support for changes to the international system of regulation in banking.

He said there had been a need for such reform for some time — especially as banks had become more global – sometimes working in dozens of different countries, where there’s different supervision.

“My regret is that I failed over these years to persuade people – with sufficient force – that our proposals should have been implemented after the Asian crisis. And I tried to persuade the other countries that this was an important issue.

“But, once the Asian crisis had gone, people’s attention was on other things. And, then of course we had all the other issues at the beginning of the century related to terrorism. So, it’s hardly surprising that people’s attention was on other things.”

Israel assassinating Iranian nuclear scientists

JTA | Feb 18, 2009

LONDON (JTA) — Israel is assassinating Iranian nuclear scientists as part of a covert war against the Islamic Republic’s weapons program, according to a British newspaper.

The Daily Telegraph cited U.S. intelligence claims that Israel is using hit men, sabotage, front companies and double agents to disrupt the regime’s illicit weapons project.

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“The aim is to slow down or interrupt Iran’s research program without the gamble of a direct confrontation that could lead to a wider war,” an intelligence analyst told the the newspaper.

The newspaper quoted a former CIA officer on Iran who said, “Disruption is designed to slow progress on the program, done in such a way that they don’t realize what’s happening. You are never going to stop it.”

“The goal is delay, delay, delay until you can come up with some other solution or approach. We certainly don’t want the current Iranian government to have those weapons. It’s a good policy, short of taking them out militarily, which probably carries unacceptable risks.”

The Telegraph also quotes Reva Bhalla, a senior analyst with Stratfor, the private U.S. intelligence company with strong government security connections, who claims that the strategy was to take out key people.

“With cooperation from the United States, Israeli covert operations have focused both on eliminating key human assets involved in the nuclear program and in sabotaging the Iranian nuclear supply chain,” she said.

Bhalla added, however, that “As U.S.-Israeli relations are bound to come under strain over the Obama administration’s outreach to Iran, and as the political atmosphere grows in complexity, an intensification of Israeli covert activity against Iran is likely to result.”

Israel has been rumored to be involved in the mysterious death of key Iranian nuclear scientists, including Ardeshire Hassanpour, who died in 2007 of “gas poisoning.”

The Telegraph also quoted another European intelligence official who said that “Israel has shown no hesitation in assassinating weapons scientists for hostile regimes in the past.”

Gordon Brown meets the Pope to discuss global financial crisis

VATICAN BRITAIN

In this photo provided by the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, Pope Benedict XVI greets British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, right, during a private audience in his private studio, at the Vatican, Thursday, Feb. 19, 2009. AP Photo

Times Online | Feb 19, 2009

Richard Owen in Rome

Gordon Brown will meet Pope Benedict XVI to discuss the global economic crisis this morning.

In an unusual gesture L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, today carries a front-page article on the financial crisis by Mr Brown. It is believed to be the first time a serving Prime Minister has been given this honour.

Mr Brown will be received in private audience by Pope Benedict, who is keen to impress on the Prime Minister that the flow of aid to poor countries in the developing world must be kept up.

It will be Mr Brown’s first meeting with Benedict XVI since he became Prime Minister in 2007, although they met on two occasions when Mr Brown was Chancellor of the Exchequer.

In his article for the Vatican paper Mr Brown writes: “From Rio to Rome, and from London to Lagos we are confronted by one of the greatest economic challenges of our generation.”

He says that the global crisis is having an impact on the poorest people in the Third World, adding: “It means hunger for millions more people, less education, and fewer health services.”

“I know that the Catholic Church and His Holiness share these worries,” Mr Brown says. “It is our common duty to ensure that the needs of the poorest countries are not seen as an afterthought, added as a moral obligation or out of a sense of guilt.”

Mr Brown praised the Pope and the Vatican for backing International Finance Facility Bonds, the fund he helped to set up three years ago to provide immunisation for children in the developing world.

“This is tangible proof of the common commitment of the Holy See and the United Kingdom in favour of international development,” he said. “Thanks to this bond more than $1.6 billion (£1.1billion) has been subscribed, and 500 million children will have been vaccinated between 2006 and 2011.”

Mr Brown, a “son of the manse”, gave the Pope a collection of sermons by his father, a minister in the Church of Scotland, on a previous visit to Rome.

The two may also discuss the forthcoming appointment of a new Archbishop of Westminster to replace Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor, head of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, who is over the mandatory retirement age of 75.

Mr Brown will later meet Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian Prime Minister, who said that although world leaders agreed on key principles they were still “very far” from a solution to the global economic crisis.

“Everybody says that they must act in a co-ordinated way and change the rules of international finance and not fall into the trap of protectionism,” Mr Berlusconi said. “But then, when it comes to deciding what to do really, we’re far from finding out what to do really, and very far from a satisfactory solution.”

Italy currently holds the chairmanship of the G8, while Mr Brown is chairman of G20 summit in April, which includes the large emerging market economies.

Finance ministers from the G7 nations – the United States, Japan, Germany, Britain, France, Italy and Canada – held talks in Rome last weekend, pledging to step up efforts to beat the recession without destroying free trade. The G8 summit, which will also include Russia, is to take place on the Italian island of Sardinia in July.

Caritas International, the Vatican-backed aid charity, said that it hoped Mr Brown’s talks with the Pope would “inspire him and other G8 leaders to become newly dedicated to solidarity for the poor amidst the global economic crisis.”

The secretary general of Caritas International, Lesley-Anne Knight, said: “Caritas hopes that the inspiration of Pope Benedict XVI will act as a reminder to the leaders of the world about the fact that the poor do not have to be excluded from the plans to rescue the world economy. Leaders should resist national pressure and show genuine leadership in order to convince voters that to help the poor is not only a positive choice but a moral responsibility.”

Ms Knight added: “2009 will determine what kind of world we live in when the economic crisis has passed. The leaders of the world do not have to use the financial problems as an excuse to cut off aid, but rather as an opportunity to reform globalisation in a greater effort for development and justice. When 70 per cent of your financing for healthcare services comes from foreign donations, as is the case with many African countries, cutting off aid could cost lives.”

US general foresees years of war in Afghanistan

WA Today | Feb 19, 2009

Julian Barnes, Washington

A DAY after US President Barack Obama ordered new soldiers and marines to Afghanistan, the top US commander there said he might need more troops in coming months to bolster a war effort that could last an additional five years.

General David McKiernan plans to use the 17,000 soldiers and marines being sent by Mr Obama to try to break an impasse in fighting with the Taliban in the southern part of the country.

“What this allows us to do is change the dynamics of the security situation, predominantly in southern Afghanistan, where we are at best stalemated,” General McKiernan said.

The new deployments, raising the overall US troop level to about 55,000, would fulfil needs until Afghanistan’s August 20 presidential election, he said. But he held open the possibility of additional troop requests. The next requests are likely to include a training brigade, needed to help double the size of Afghan security forces to 135,000, and another combat detachment from the army or marines.

Defence Secretary Robert Gates said the Administration would not consider further troop requests until a strategy review was completed in April. Mr Gates, who is travelling to a NATO meeting in Poland, also said he planned to press allies this week to follow the US example.

“It is a new administration, and the Administration is prepared to make additional commitments to Afghanistan,” Mr Gates said. “But there will clearly be expectations the allies must do more as well.”

Leading ally Britain has already said it has no plans to send extra troops to Afghanistan.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said on a visit to Kabul that Britain was already paying a high financial and human cost for its role in the conflict. He said high casualty rates had “traumatised” Britain and that the US decision to send reinforcements needed to be matched with economic and political change.

His comments were seen as an attempt to put pressure on Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

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Deadly bacteria defy drugs, alarming doctors

A new category of bugs becomes more resistant to treatment, and their toll — which already includes a Brazilian beauty queen — is expected to rise.

LA Times | Feb 17, 2009

By Mary Engel

When Ruth Burns had surgery to relieve a pinched nerve in her back, the operation was supposed to be an “in-and-out thing,” recalled her daughter, Kacia Warren.

But Burns developed pneumonia and was put on a ventilator. Five days later, she was discharged — only to be rushed by her daughter to the hospital hours later, disoriented and in alarming pain.

Seventeen days after the surgery, the 67-year-old nurse was dead.

Burns had developed meningitis — an infection of the fluid that surrounds the spinal cord and brain. The culprit wasAcinetobacter baumannii, a bug that preys on the weak in hospitals. Worse, it was a multi-drug-resistant strain.

Acinetobacter doesn’t garner as many headlines as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, the dangerous superbug better known as MRSA. But a January report by the Infectious Diseases Society of America warned that drug-resistant strains of Acinetobacter baumannii and two other microbes — Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Klebsiella pneumoniae — could soon produce a toll to rival MRSA’s.

The three bugs belong to a large category of bacteria called “gram-negative” that are especially hard to fight because they are wrapped in a double membrane and harbor enzymes that chew up many antibiotics. As dangerous as MRSA is, some antibiotics can still treat it, and more are in development, experts say.

But the drugs once used to treat gram-negative bacteria are becoming ineffective, and finding effective new ones is especially challenging.

“We’re literally running out of drugs to treat gram-negatives,” said Dr. Brad Spellberg, an infectious disease specialist at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center. “And there is nothing in the pipeline right now.”

Exact numbers are hard to come by, because infections by these three bacteria are not reportable by law. But using 2002 data voluntarily reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from about 300 large, mostly urban hospitals, the Infectious Diseases Society of America identified about 104,000 gram-negative infections that were resistant to at least some antibiotics, roughly the same as the 102,000 MRSA infections found that year.

A class of broad-spectrum antibiotics known as carbapenems have been the drug of last resort for gram-negative bugs.

“The carbapenems are . . . the best gram-negative drugs we have,” said Dr. Helen Boucher of Tufts University, an infectious disease specialist. “These bugs have found a way to make an enzyme that dissolves these drugs. That means our best gun is ineffective.”

As the drugs fail, doctors find themselves as a last resort turning to older, more toxic ones such as colistin, largely abandoned because of the severe side effects: kidney damage and deafness. At one East Coast hospital, the number of orders doctors made for colistin went from one in 2001 to 68 in 2007, Boucher said.

“This is a drug that’s like poison,” she said.

For the most part, gram-negative bacteria are hospital scourges — harmless to healthy people but ready to infect already-damaged tissue. The bacteria steal into the body via ventilator tubes, catheters, open wounds and burns, causing pneumonia, urinary tract infections, and bone, joint and bloodstream infections.

Pseudomonas is widely found in soil and water, and rarely causes problems except in hospitals.

Klebsiella causes a sudden, severe pneumonia, mostly in people already suffering from ailments such as diabetes or chronic lung disease. Its telltale sign is a blood-tinged sputum dubbed “currant jelly.” It can also cause urinary tract and abdominal infections.

Acinetobacter generally causes wound and bloodstream infections. It has become notorious among veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. They are believed to have contracted it in field hospitals and carried it to veterans hospitals in the U.S.

The first U.S. outbreak of Klebsiella resistant to all known antibiotics occurred at a Brooklyn hospital in 2000. The so-called pan-resistant strain has since been found along the Eastern Seaboard and throughout the Midwest.

A December report of Israeli hospitals found mortality rates from pan-resistant Klebsiella to be 44%.

Doctors have no doubt that pan-resistant Klebsiella will show up in California and other states. California hospitals are already encountering strains that, although not resistant to all known antibiotics, are resistant to many. Harbor-UCLA had two cases of highly-drug-resistant Klebsiella last year, Spellberg said.

Similarly resistant strains of Pseudomonas and Acinetobacter also are on the rise, as are resistant strains of Escherichia coli, another gram-negative bacterium.

These four microbes are among the six leading causes of infections in hospitals, nursing homes and other healthcare settings, the Infectious Diseases Society of America reported.

The bacteria have remained largely off the public’s radar, Boucher said, because they affect mostly the elderly or ill. But they do not always limit themselves that way. Drug-resistant Pseudomonas was behind the widely publicized Jan. 24 death of Brazilian beauty queen Mariana Bridi, 20, of sepsis — a bloodstream infection.

The health department in Espirito Santo, Brazil, said what began as a urinary tract infection spread rapidly.

Bridi died after doctors had tried to contain the rampaging infection by amputating her feet and hands and removing her kidneys.

Chechen brothers cleared of murdering Kremlin critic

politkovskaya_defendents

Dzhabrail, left, and Ibragim Makhmudov, right, with their lawyer Murad Musayev, centre, leave the court yesterday

Shock decision is denounced by human rights campaigners demanding justice for dead Russian journalist

Independent | Feb 20, 2009

By Shaun Walker in Moscow

A court in Moscow has acquitted four men accused of involvement in the murder of the investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya in 2006, in a verdict that was greeted with dismay by human rights activists.

Two Chechen brothers, Dzhabrail and Ibragim Makhmudov, and a former policeman, Sergei Khadzhikurbanov, were found not guilty of murder and freed. A former FSB lieutenant-colonel, Pavel Ryaguzov, was cleared of separate but related charges.

The verdicts bring to a close a confused and chaotic trial that has raised far more questions than it answered. The men standing trial were accused of being accomplices to the crime, but the man who allegedly pulled the trigger – a third Makhmudov brother – is on the run abroad, and the mastermind has also not been revealed.

“We demand and need the real murderer, and we will achieve this,” said Karina Moskalenko, a lawyer for Politkovskaya’s family, outside the courtroom. The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said it respected the jury’s decision to acquit the defendants based on the evidence state prosecutors presented, “but we are disheartened by the continued impunity in this momentous case. No prosecution will be complete until the triggerman and mastermind are in the dock.”

The Novaya Gazeta journalist was noted for her criticism of the Kremlin and her illumination of human rights abuses in Russia’s restive region of Chechnya. Rights groups suspect that the murder may have been ordered by figures within Russia’s security services, or by Chechnya’s pro-Moscow president Ramzan Kadyrov. But the Kremlin has suggested that the murder was part of a plot to discredit Russia, financed from abroad.

The trial has been plagued by suspicious incidents since it opened in the autumn. The judge initially ruled that the proceedings would be closed to the public after one of the jury members had said they were frightened of being exposed to media glare. A jury member then rang a Moscow radio station to reveal that no such demand had been made, and the judge was forced to backtrack.

What the journalists who were able to squeeze into the small, packed courtroom heard during the trial was an investigation littered with confusing red herrings and loose ends. The court was shown chilling footage of a man in a baseball cap entering Politkovskaya’s apartment on 7 October 2006, a few minutes before the journalist returned home, then re-emerging, having emptied five bullets into Politkovskaya’s head and body.

But why did the killer on the video footage seemingly have much thinner shoulders than the alleged killer, Rustam Makhmudov? Who were the man and woman caught on CCTV following Politkovskaya around a supermarket just hours before her murder? How was Rustam Makhmudov, who worked on operations with Russia’s FSB spy agency, allowed to flee abroad? What were the roles of the large cast of shadowy figures related to the sprawling and shadowy FSB who cropped up during the trial?

In the end, the jury decided that the evidence was not enough for a guilty verdict. The brothers’ lawyer has claimed that they were set up by people who wanted to disguise the identity of the real murderer.

Politkovskaya’s son said yesterday that he believed all four men to be connected to his mother’s murder in at least some way. Novaya Gazeta said it would continue its own investigation into the killing.

A European watchdog called Russia’s failure to bring to justice the killers of journalists a “human rights crisis”. Miklos Haraszti, media freedom representative for the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, said: “There can be no word about freedom of the media in a country where editors have to fear the loss of their best and brightest colleagues for doing their work.”

Last month another Novaya Gazeta reporter, Anastasia Baburova, was shot dead in central Moscow together with a leading human rights lawyer. No arrests have yet been made.

“The whole world was waiting to see how this investigation would end and how the government would act, and in the end we have absolutely nothing,” said the chairman of the Russian Union of Journalists, Vsevolod Bogdanov. “I am desperate for justice and worry that my state looks this way in the eyes of the international community and that there exists this kind of attitude towards my profession.”

*Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the former head of the Yukos oil empire, who was jailed in 2005 for tax evasion, will be brought to Moscow to stand trial on further charges.