Monthly Archives: September 2010

US soldier who ‘murdered Afghan civilians for sport’ linked to Iraqi deaths


Staff Sergeant Calvin Gibbs walks through a poppy field on his way into the village of Aktraray in Kandahar province  Photo: EYEVINE

A US soldier facing murder charges for allegedly killing Afghan civilians for sport has been linked to the 2004 deaths of several unarmed Iraqis, it has emerged.

Telegraph | Sep 30, 2010

By Alex Spillius in Washington

Sgt Calvin Gibbs is accused, along with four other soldiers, of opening fire on Afghan civilians in unprovoked assaults between January and May in Kandahar province. Seven others are accused of dismembering bodies and removing bones.

The career of the alleged ringleader of a self-described “kill team” is now being scrutinised after he allegedly boasted to fellow soldiers of his exploits in Iraq, where he served two terms.

During interrogation, Sgt Gibbs revealed a tattoo on his left calf of a crossed pair of pistols framed by six skulls, which he told investigators was his way of keeping count of his victims, according to a report in the Washington Post, which cited army documents seen by the newspaper.

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Sgt Gibbs allegedly told investigators that three of the skulls, coloured red, represented kills in Iraq, while the other three in blue were from Afghanistan.

Special agents from the US army’s criminal investigations command are now re-examining an incident in 2004, when Sgt Gibbs and other soldiers allegedly fired on an Iraqi family in a car, killing two adults and a child.

The US army is understood to be searching for dozens of digital photos allegedly taken by soldiers showing their colleagues posing with Afghan civilian corpses. If released in public, they could create a worldwide furore similar to that sparked by the images of American guards mistreating Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib, and would undermine the US effort to win over the Afghan public.

The war crimes investigation is the most serious the US army has faced in Afghanistan during its nine-year presence.

Soldiers who served with Sgt Gibbs in Afghanistan allegedly told investigators he pressed his comrades to cut fingers off Afghan corpses, and kept at least two fingers wrapped in cloth hidden in an empty water bottle.

Some allegedly claimed he planned to intimidate other members of his unit to keep quiet, and one soldier said Sgt Gibbs claimed he planned to make a necklace with the fingers.

He and four other soldiers are currently charged with conspiracy to murder three unarmed Afghans between January and May, though new records show a fourth may have been killed. Seven other soldiers are accused of dismembering bodies and removing bones.

Sgt Gibbs’s lawyer has not commented this week, though he has previously said that the killings were combat-related.

The first hearing into the deaths opened on Monday in Washington state, where the brigade is based, but was delayed after several witnesses and three of the accused invoked their right to remain silent.

According to Cpl Emmit Quintal, drug use was rampant in Sgt Gibbs’s unit. He said that some members of his platoon “had been smoking hashish consistently… sometimes as often as every day or every other day”.

The drug was allegedly purchased from their Afghan interpreters or truck drivers passing through Forward Operating Base Ramrod in Kandahar province.

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‘Stasi spies’ on the motorways: Big Brother fears as motorists are urged to inform on each other

The Big brother approach by police has been criticised

Daily Mail | Sep 19, 2010

By James Slack and Jack Doyle

Big Brother state: Critics have likened the traffic plan to East German Stasi, which encouraged residents to inform on each other

Police are asking motorists to spy on each other for examples of poor driving in an alarming new extension of the ‘Big Brother’ state.

Drivers are told to be on the look out for inconsiderate driving or anybody making ‘excessive noise’ with their car.

Detailed reports – which critics warn could easily be malicious accusations against neighbours – are submitted to the police, who log extensive details on a huge computer database.

The details are also checked against DVLA databases and the Police National Computer.

Anybody who is reported twice in 12 months faces police action – despite never being caught breaking the law.

Officers say they can be considered ‘repeat offenders’.

The action could involve a warning letter or even a knock on the door from a police officer.

The force that is piloting the scheme, Sussex, has already received 20,488 reports.

They are made online – with the accused driver never knowing who is responsible.

Freedom of Information requests reveal 2,695 drivers have received ‘letters of advice following reports of their driving’.

A further 1,047 drivers have had ‘sanctions imposed on them’. This happens when the reports lead to police discovering offences such as an out-of-date tax disc.

Police say it protects the public against dangerous drivers.

Critics have likened the scheme to the East German Stasi – which encouraged residents to inform upon one another.

If successful, the so-called Operation Crackdown it is likely to be rolled out nationwide.

Dylan Sharpe, campaign director of Big Brother Watch, who uncovered the scheme, said the ‘whole process is based on unfounded accusations by untrained and possibly prejudiced members of the public.

He added: ‘This scheme is wide-open to abuse; ranging from people with minor grudges against neighbours to busybody drivers who think they know what constitutes bad driving.

‘It is the worst example of citizen snooping and clearly doesn’t work. Sussex Police would be advised to stop spending taxpayers money promoting this intrusive scheme’

The scheme is being promoted using a taxpayer-funded newsletter, called Vibe.

It says: ‘Are you fed up with anti-social drivers? People who still use their mobile phones while driving, not wearing seat belts or those who insist on getting right up your bumper and are really annoying and dangerous to others.’

Under the section headed, If you See Someone Driving Antisocially, it says; ‘Pull over safely at the side of the road, or ask a passenger to write down details.

‘Record the make, model, colour and number plate of the vehicle.

‘To help pin-point where you saw the incident..use house numbers, road names or shop names. Write down what you saw as soon as you can, so it’s fresh in your mind.

It goes on: ‘All reports remain live for a period of two months and a vehicle is automatically ‘flagged up’ if it is reported more than once.

‘This allows some form of intervention on repeat offenders.’

Police defend the scheme on the grounds it stops anti-social behaviour on the roads.

The Operation Crackdown website can also be used to report motorists who are actually breaking the law, by not wearing a seatbelt, or driving under the influence of drink or drugs.

It is not clear how fellow drivers or pedestrians are supposed to know whether a person behind the wheel has been drinking.

The scheme is run jointly by the police and council, through a so-called safer Communities Partnership.

There have been numerous other examples of Town halls using Stasi-like tactics. These include asking friendly residents to place CCTV cameras in their windows, to film public land.

The intention is to catch people putting out their rubbish on the wrong day so they can be punished for fly-tipping.

Images from the cameras can be viewed on a computer and accessed remotely by CCTV control rooms open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The evidence can be used to take people to court.

In the FOI response, Sussex Police said that, as a result of Operation Crackdown,  ‘1,047 drivers have had sanctions imposed on them including 28 for driving whilst under the influence, 175 vehicles have been seized for being driven without insurance, 376 have been reported to the DVLA for document offences and local councils have seized 64 vehicles for not having current road fund licence.’

Farmer’s Almanac predicts colder than normal winter

Farmer’s Almanac predicts cold, dry winter

Lincoln Journal Star | Sep 24, 2010

By KATHRYN CATES MOORE

The Farmer’s Almanac is counting on the influence of La Nina this winter.

In Eastern Nebraska, the Heartland forecast includes a slightly colder than usual winter with below normal precipitation and near to below normal snowfall.

Coldest periods, they say, will be in mid-January and mid-February. Snowy periods will be the last two weeks of January, early and late February and mid-March.

Hmm. Sounds like a pretty typical Nebraska winter.

The Almanac uses what it calls a combination of modern technology, solar science and a secret formula for its predictions. Last year, the almanac contends, they were right 81 percent of the time about the regional forecasts.

The original Farmer’s Almanac, which sold in 1792 for six cents, was to be “useful with a pleasant degree of humor.”

Gardeners will enjoy this year’s section on colorful vegetables, among them Cheddar cauliflower, New Red Fire lettuce and Chiogga beets.

And, as always, for those who plant with direction from the moon phases, this is an excellent resource.

Ahmadinejad tells U.N. most blame U.S. government for 9/11


Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad addresses the 65th United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York, September 23, 2010. Credit: Reuters/Mike Segar

Reuters | Sep 23, 2010

By Louis Charbonneau

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told the United Nations Thursday most people believe the U.S. government was behind the attacks of September 11, 2001, prompting the U.S. delegation to leave the hall in protest.

Addressing the General Assembly, he said it was mostly U.S. government officials and statesmen who believed al Qaeda Islamist militants carried out the suicide hijacking attacks that brought down New York’s World Trade Center and hit the Pentagon.

Another theory, he said, was “that some segments within the U.S. government orchestrated the attack to reverse the declining American economy, and its grips on the Middle East, in order to save the Zionist regime.” Ahmadinejad usually refers to Israel as the “Zionist regime.”

“The majority of the American people as well as most nations and politicians around the world agree with this view,” Ahmadinejad told the 192-nation assembly, calling on the United Nations to establish “an independent fact-finding group” to look into the events of September 11.

As in past years, the U.S. delegation walked out during Ahmadinejad’s speech. It was joined by all 27 European Union delegations and several others, one Western diplomat said.

Mark Kornblau, spokesman for the U.S. mission to the United Nations, reacted before Ahmadinejad finished speaking.

“Rather than representing the aspirations and goodwill of the Iranian people, Mr. Ahmadinejad has yet again chosen to spout vile conspiracy theories and anti-Semitic slurs that are as abhorrent and delusional as they are predictable,” he said.

“COVERED UP”

Ahmadinejad raised a third theory about the attacks, saying: “It was carried out by a terrorist group, but that the American government supported and took advantage of the situation. Apparently this viewpoint has fewer proponents.”

He said the main evidence for that theory was “a few passports found in the huge volume of rubble and a video of an individual whose place of domicile was unknown but it was announced that he had been involved in oil deals with some American officials.”

“It was also covered up and said that due to the explosion and fire no trace of suicide attackers was found,” he added.

Similar to past years, the Iranian president used the General Assembly podium to attack Iran’s other arch foe, Israel, and to defend the right of his country to a nuclear program that Western powers fear is aimed at developing arms.

“This regime (Israel), which enjoys the absolute support of some western countries, regularly threatens the countries in the region and continues publicly announced assassination of Palestinian figures and others, while Palestinian defenders … are labeled as terrorists and anti-Semites,” he said.

“All values, even the freedom of expression, in Europe and the United States are being sacrificed at the altar of Zionism,” Ahmadinejad said.

The Iranian president has previously raised doubts about the Holocaust of the Jews in World War Two and said Israel had no right to exist.

China to stick with one-child policy


The population control law that limits many in China to one child in a bid to improve people’s lives marks its own 30th birthday on Saturday, having been formally implemented in 1980. (AFP/File)

Associated Press | Sep 27, 2010

By ALEXA OLESEN

BEIJING – China will continue to limit most families to just one child in the coming decades, state media said Monday, despite concerns about the policy’s problematic side effects, such as too few girls and a rapidly aging population.

China has the world’s largest population and credits its 30-year-old family planning limits with preventing 400 million additional births and helping break a traditional preference for large families that had left many trapped in cycles of poverty.

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There has been growing speculation among Chinese media, experts and ordinary people about whether the government would relax the policy soon, allowing more people to have two children. A family planning official in the southern province of Guangdong on Saturday predicted his province would loosen the restrictions by 2015, and possibly scrap the one-child limit by 2030.

But the China Daily newspaper on Monday quoted Li Bin, head of the National Population and Family Planning Commission, as saying there were no plans to change the policy anytime soon.

“Historical change doesn’t come easily, and I, on behalf of the National Population and Family Planning Commission, extend profound gratitude to all, the people in particular, for their support of the national course,” Li was quoted as saying at an event Saturday marking three decades since the policy was introduced.

“So, we will stick to the family planning policy in the coming decades,” she said.

The strict family planning rules, which limit urban couples to one child and rural couples to two, have curbed China’s population growth but brought new problems, such as an expanding elderly population that demographers say will be increasingly hard to support as the young labor force begins shrinking over the next few years.

The policy is also blamed for the country’s skewed sex ratio. Chinese families with a strong preference for boys sometimes resort to aborting their baby girls, a practice which has upset the ratio of male to female babies. Demographers worry the imbalance will make it hard for men to find wives and could fuel the trafficking of women and children as brides.

The male-female ratio at birth in China is about 119 males to 100 females, with the gap as high as 130 males for every 100 females in some provinces. In industrialized countries, the ratio is 107 to 100.

In an interview with local media on Saturday, the director of Guangdong’s family planning commission, Zhang Feng, said he expected the policy there would loosen after the current national five-year plan is complete, or around 2015.

“I predict if population control remains on course and meets its targets, Guangdong is likely to let couples in which one of the two parents is an only child to have a second child,” he said in an interview with the Yangcheng Evening News. “And after 2030, any Guangdong couple could have a second child. That’s just my personal view.”

A transcript of Zhang’s interview was posted to the Guangdong provincial government website.

The family planning commission could not immediately be reached by telephone and did not respond to an e-mailed request for comment.

United Nations to appoint space ambassador to act as first contact for aliens visiting Earth


Take us to your leader: Mazlan Othman is expected to be tasked with coordinating humanity’s response to an extraterrestrial visit

Daily Mail | Sep 26, 2010

If aliens ever land on Earth there will no longer be any confusion over who will greet them with the news the United Nations is set to appoint an astrophysicist to be their first human contact.

Mazlan Othman is expected to be tasked with coordinating humanity’s response to an extraterrestrial visit, if ever required.

The 58-year-old Malaysian will tell a conference next week that with the recent discovery of hundreds of planets orbiting around other stars, the detection of alien life is becoming more and more likely.

Ms Othman, currently the head of the UN’s Office for Outer Space Affairs (Unoosa), recently told fellow scientists that mankind needed to be ready to deal with alien contact.

‘The continued search for extraterrestrial communication, by several entities, sustains the hope that some day human kind will received signals from extraterrestrials,’ she said.

‘When we do, we should have in place a coordinated response that takes into account all the sensitivities related to the subject.

‘The UN is a ready-made mechanism for such coordination.’

Plans to make Unoose the coordinating body for dealing with alien encounters are set to be debated by UN scientific advisory committees.

If the idea is backed it will then head to General Assembly.

Professor Richard Crowther, head of the UK delegation to the UN committee, admitted recently: ‘[Ms] Othman is absolutely the nearest thing we have to a “take me to your leader” person.’

In April though Professor Stephen Hawking warned that the alien contact, if it ever comes, may not be as friendly as has been hoped.

In a documentary, the 68-year-old scientist said he imagined aliens arriving in ‘massive ships’ and could try to colonise Earth and plunder the planet’s resources.

‘We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn’t want to meet,’ he said.

‘I imagine they might exist in massive ships, having used up all the resources from their home planet. Such advanced aliens would perhaps become nomads, looking to conquer and colonise whatever planets they can reach.’

He added: ‘It would be ‘too risky’ to attempt to make contact with alien races. If aliens ever visit us, I think the outcome would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn’t turn out very well for the Native Americans.’

Britain shivers as September snowmen signal early winter


Winter wonderland: Hill walkers enjoyed the crisp clear weather, with snow crunching underfoot

First snowmen of the season spotted as surprise cold snap sweeps across Britain

Daily Mail |Sep 27, 2010

Britain has received its first autumn snowfalls for the year as a surprise cold snap sent millions reaching for the central heating controls this weekend.

Summer made a particularly swift exit from the Highlands as the first sprinklings of snow paid an early visit to the north of Scotland.

The last time Britain saw a September cold snap as severe as this current one was in 2003, when much of northern England was below freezing.

Two Scottish weather stations recorded record lows: Tulloch Bridge recorded a temperature of -4.2°C, and Tyndrum -4.4°C – the coldest temperatures recorded since the two stations opened in 1982 and 1990 respectively.

For the people of the Cairngorms particularly,  it was a wintry end to September.

Snow fell on the Scottish mountain range overnight, and hill-walkers had to wear their winter woolies and specialist equipment as they enjoyed blue, sun-filled skies with slippery conditions underfoot.

As usual it was the children who took best advantage with some of the earliest snowmen ever built on the Cairngorms.

However, there was insufficient snow for skiers to make an appearance, but staff at the resort were hoping for another bumper year on the slopes with advance winter sports bookings booming.

But there was a warning for hill-users, not against frostbite, but that there was a high risk of sunburn due to the cloudless atmosphere.

Although the nights are getting colder, Britain still has a long way to go to beat the record low September temperature of minus 6.7c (20f) in Dalwhinnie in the Highlands in September 1942.