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Monday, August 19, 2013

Egypt: Police, Protesters Dead; Mubarak Might Walk Free

Two conflicting stories emerged about why 38 recently-arrested Muslim Brotherhood supporters died while in prison. The government claimed they had tried to escape and suffocated from the tear gas, but a legal source told Reuters they had suffocated to death in the back of a police van on their way to jail. The deaths have since spawned renewed protests.

Today, suspected Islamic militants ambushed two mini-buses full of off-duty policemen and shot 25 of them in broad daylight. No one has yet taken responsibility for the killings and, as with much of the news, details in the immediate aftermath are contradictory, with at least one involving rocket-propelled grenades. The increasingly violent response to Egypt’s military crackdown reflects the rising influence of hard-line Islamist militants, al-Qaeda included, who are benefitting from the secular/Islamist battle lines.

In a move likely to make everything worse, judicial officials announced that ex-President Hosni Mubarak, who was overthrown in the 2011 popular uprising, could be released within the month. He was convicted last year of failing to stop the killing of around 900 protesters in 2011; that conviction was appealed and he is now facing retrial. Hypothetically, if Mubarak’s prosecutor succeeds in getting his corruption charge dropped, he could be free in two weeks. It seems unlikely, however, that Egypt’s officials would allow this to happen.

Britain Detains Man For 9 Hours Because of Snowden-Linked Partner

David Miranda, a 28-year-old university student, was detained for 9 hours in Heathrow airport under the 2000 Terrorism Act on his way back home to Brazil.  Miranda is the partner of journalist Glenn Greenwald, who has interviewed Edward Snowden and revealed previously unknown details about the NSA’s surveillance methods.

Section 7 of the British Terrorism Act allows authorities to detain someone for up to nine hours without a lawyer and to confiscate personal belongings. Miranda was released at just under 9 hours with no charges filed; his computer, camera, cell phone, USB drives and even his video games were confiscated and not returned. To put this in context: more than 97% of those stopped under this law are released in less than one hour.

The White House admitted that it was given a ‘heads up’ that Miranda would be on a flight to Heathrow and that British law enforcement officials planned to detain him, but insisted that the US did not ask for him to be detained.  White House spokesman Josh Earnest would not comment on whether the US had been given information about the contents of Miranda’s electronic equipment.

Pre-Trial Hearings Begin for Five Guantanamo Prisoners Charged with 9/11 Attacks

A defense lawyer for one of the five prisoners who have been charged in association with the 9/11 attacks was allowed into Camp 7, a section of Guantanamo for ‘high-value’ detainees that is so secret even its location within Guantanamo is classified. He was not allowed to witness how to enter the camp or to reveal exactly what he saw, but he said the conditions there amount to pre-trial punishment, which is prohibited under military regulations.

Today, two federal agents – one FBI, one DoD – defended their interrogation of one of the prisoners, Mustafa al Hawsawi. The agents were part of a group called the “clean team” who would question suspects after they had been held overseas by the CIA and subjected to torture for years. They described their interactions with Hawsawi as civil and said that while he had not been advised of his right to remain silent he knew he “could leave the room at any time.” When asked if he had been “free to get up and get on a plane and go home,” the investigator acknowledged that he could not.

Sequestration Will Kick Over 57,000 Children Out Of Head Start Programs

Due to cuts across the board, Head Start, a national nonprofit that provides service for poor children, will have to cut 57,265 spots from its program. Across the country, centers will have to open later, close earlier or cut programs like free buses for children whose parents don’t have access to reliable transportation. Some parents who rely on Head Start to take care of their children may have to leave their jobs.

Sequestration has also cut services to domestic violence victims, home-bound elderly, those in need of housing assistance, among others. Ending sequestration, on the other hand would likely boost the GDP by 1.2% and add 1.6 million jobs.

It has also hamstrung the government’s ability to function, both at home and abroad. Agency officials say this is causing the government is embarrassing itself abroad.

This Weekend In Disasters

Dozens of Hindu pilgrims were killed crossing railroad tracks at a remote train station when a high-speed train hit them. An enraged crowd dragged out the driver, beat him, and set fire to two of the train cars.

Japan’s volcano, Sakurajima, erupted, spewing ash 5 miles into the air and coating the neighboring cities.

Heavy rain since Wednesday has caused devastating floods in northeastern China, where over 100 are dead and at least 115 are missing. It is the worst flood in the north-east in decades and caused crop failures throughout the region, which is one of China’s major bread baskets.

The same storm caused the Amur river to burst its banks in Russia, flooding three regions. More than 20,000 people have been evacuated.

The Beaver Creek fire in Idaho spread to over 100,000 acres; as of Sunday night, it was 8% contained.

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