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Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Musharraf Charged with Assassination of Benazir Bhutto

In an unprecedented move, a Pakistani court charged former president and army chief Pervez Musharraf with the 2007 assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto. This marks the first time any former army chief in Pakistan has been charged with a crime as Pakistan tries to shake off decades of military rule.  Musharraf, obviously, is a recent part of that history, having toppled a democratically-elected government in a 1999 coup. In what seems very much like poetic justice, the man whose government he toppled, Nawaz Sharif, is now Pakistan’s prime minister again. He was also Bhutto’s husband.

Bhutto was killed in a gun and bomb attack while attending a campaign rally. At the time, her Pakistan People’s Party looked set to win a majority in parliament, possibly making her prime minister. Musharraf has been accused of failing to make a serious effort to protect Bhutto or investigate her death. He has been charged with murder, conspiracy to commit murder, facilitation of murder, destroying evidence and clearing a crime scene, among others.

Under Threats from Government, Guardian Destroyed Leaked Files

Two weeks after The Guardian published the first story based on Edward Snowden’s leaks, two senior British officials showed up at the paper’s office, demanding the immediate surrender of all the leaked files in The Guardian’s possession. They argued that the material had been stolen and a newspaper had no business keeping it; they mentioned the Official Secrets Act and emphasized that they would rather not go to court.  Over the next weeks, the government tried different tactics. Despite the fact that the files were kept in isolation, British government officials said the material was still vulnerable. The threats of legal action, or even a police raid, became ever more explicit.

The editors explained that they did not hold the only copies of the material, so handing it over would achieve nothing. They worried more that by turning over the files, they would aid America’s prosecution of Snowden. So instead, they agreed to the UK government’s “bizarre” compromise: watched over by two government officials, the editors physically (and pointlessly) destroyed every hard drive and memory chip, then threw away the debris.

Meanwhile, the US insisted that it would never, ever order a news outlet to surrender leaked secrets.

North Korean Defectors Detail Abuse at Prison Camps to UN

Over the years, defectors from North Korea have told their horror stories in a variety of media, but this marks the first UN investigation into alleged human rights violations by the North Korean government. The three-member panel will hold five days of public hearings in Seoul; another round of hearings is scheduled in Japan later this month to hear the testimony of Japanese citizens who had been abducted and taken to North Korea.

Shin Dong-hyuk talked about his earliest memory – a public execution when he was 5 (he later saw his mother and brother executed as well); inmates were so hungry, he said, that they ate raw goat hooves and even live rats.  He considered himself lucky that he only got part of his finger chopped off as punishment for breaking a piece of sewing machinery. The other defector to testify today, Jee Heon-a, said that during a famine in the late 1990s, North Korean women were sold to traffickers in China. Those who were caught by Chinese police and returned were beaten and tortured to force miscarriages. One woman who gave birth was immediately forced to drown the baby.

The Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul published a white paper in 2013 saying that North Korea holds between 80,000 and 120,000 political prisoners in five prison camps. North Korea denies any such camps exist.

New York’s Largest Gun Bust Ever

Yesterday, the NYPD seized a cache of 254 guns, including military-grade weapons that had been modified to improve aim and avoid detection.  The investigation started 10 months ago, when police learned via Instagram that gun sales were happening in a Brooklyn recording studio. An aspiring rapper had actually “posted images of guns and cash.”

Many of the guns were acquired in the South, either bought or stolen, where regulation is lax and guns are cheap, and taken to New York City, where they commanded a higher price.  The men often packed the guns into patterned bags and used the Chinatown bus to commute back and forth because it doesn’t require passengers to show ID.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg used the press conference to defend his “stop-and-frisk” policy because one of the suspects had been caught on tape worrying about getting stopped on the street with the guns. It should be noted, however, that fear of “stop-and-frisk” didn’t help solve the case; it simply caused the suspects to move their deals from Brooklyn to the Lower East Side, where residents are wealthier and whiter so the probability of being stopped is lower.

New Contaminated Water Leak in Fukushima

About 300 metric tons of radioactive water has leaked from a storage tank into the ground at the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant. The storage tank breach is the most serious setback to the cleanup efforts yet. Tokyo Electric said that workers had failed to notice the leak “at an early stage” and noted that it needed to review both the tanks and their monitoring system. It does not believe the radioactive water had reached the Pacific Ocean, 550 yards away.

Officials described the leak as a Level 1 ‘incident’ – the lowest possible level that has any “safety significance.”  This is the first time Japan has announced an INES rating for Fukushima since the meltdown. Even a Level 1 leak is so contaminated that a person standing 1.5 feet away from it would receive a dose of radiation five times the annual limit for nuclear workers. After ten hours, the person would develop radiation sickness.

 

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