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Syria Ignores Arab League Deadline, Risks Sanctions November 26, 2011

Syria has ignored an Arab League deadline to accept international observers to oversee an initiative aimed at ending a violent crackdown on anti-government protests.

Arab League officials had said that if the government of President Bashar al-Assad failed to respond Friday, they would meet Saturday to discuss imposing additional sanctions.

Arab League Secretary-General Nabil el-Araby says he received a letter from Damascus asking questions about the proposed observer mission.

The league suspended Syria’s membership two weeks ago because of the government’s violent crackdown on dissent and President Bashar al-Assad’s failure to implement a league plan designed to end the unrest.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights tells VOA that security forces have killed at least eight people across the country.

The Syrian military, meanwhile, reported on Friday that “terrorists” killed six of its pilots and three other officers. The state-run SANA news agency says the incident took place in the Homs region on Thursday.

The violence occurred as protesters took to the streets in several cities on Friday, demanding Mr. Assad’s resignation. Separately, state-run media reports government loyalists waving Syrian flags and pictures of the president rallied to express their “rejection” of the Arab League measure.

The United Nations says more than 3,500 people have been killed since March in connection to Syria’s anti-government protests.

On Friday, the U.N. Committee against Torture said it had received reports of widespread abuses in Syria, including the torture of children detained by security forces.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and Reuters.

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Mother: FAMU officials had been informed of hazing issues November 24, 2011

(CNN) — The president of Florida AM University moved Wednesday to dismiss the school’s longtime band director in the wake of last weekend’s hazing-linked death of a drum major in the school’s famed marching band.

“The reason for this intended employment action is based upon your alleged misconduct and/or incompetence involving confirmed reports and allegations of hazing with the Department of Music and the ‘Marching 100,'” President James H. Ammons said in a letter to Julian E. White.

The letter, which was marked “confidential,” notified White that he was being dismissed effective December 22 and placed on administrative leave with pay effective immediately. The letter, which gave White 10 days to respond to Ammons, was provided to CNN by the university.

White, who had led the 420-member band since 1998, did not return a call from CNN.

“Wow,” said Felicia Fabre, the mother of another band member who, she said, had also been hazed. She said she had mixed emotions about the dismissal. “I believe that he did the best that he could,” she told CNN in a telephone interview, adding that White had appeared sincere about trying to stop the hazing. “I think that it goes further than just him. He had people working under him that need to be held just as responsible.”

But Berlinda Johnson, whose 18-year-old son is a band member whom she did not want to identify by name for fear of retribution, praised White. “Any time I alerted him to an issue, Dr. White was always responsive,” she told CNN. She blamed section directors for setting the tone that allowed hazing to occur, despite White’s efforts to halt it. “I do not think he had the support that he needed,” she said.

Johnson accused a section leader of having hit her son in the back when practices first began last summer, and said that was just the beginning. “I reported maybe four to five incidents,” she told CNN. “They need to interview each member of the band, no matter how long it takes. This is not a witch hunt, this is about getting things under control.”

Her son loves band, she said. “but this year, freshman year, was not a fun year for him,” she said.

Wednesday’s dismissal comes four days after band members returned to their Orlando hotel following Saturday’s game. There, Robert Champion, 26, “reportedly threw up in the parking lot and started complaining of not being able to breathe,” the sheriff’s office said in a release. Champion was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

“The investigation indicates that hazing was involved in the events that occurred prior to the 911 call for assistance,” Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings said Tuesday.

His death was not the first incident linked to hazing within the marching band, and school officials were well aware of the abuse, Fabre said.

“Oh my God, I warned them,” she said, adding that she had met with band officials at the Tallahassee school after her son told her he too had been hazed. “I went to them and told them, ‘God has blessed you with so much prestige and so much honor, and if you don’t do anything, it will take just one incident to bring your world down.’ “

Fabre’s 20-year-old son, Marcus, plays alto saxophone in the band and was among a number of musicians who were being maltreated, she said. “My son told me he was mentally and verbally hazed; he was not physically beat, but that’s because he doesn’t allow that kind of thing.

“My son always stood up for himself — he would say, last year when he was a freshman, they were picking on another freshman’s sister and he had to stick up for her. These students are very disrespectful towards one another.”

For some, the abuse went beyond verbal and psychological to include paddling, she said.

Fabre said she met with and e-mailed band staffers about her concerns over what she saw as pervasive hazing. “I addressed them to the leadership and they act like they don’t know — they say if students don’t address it, then there’s nothing they can do. If students aren’t willing to stand up and say there’s something going on, there’s no one they can prosecute.”

Marcus Fabre declined to speak to CNN, his mother said. “He’s just not ready to talk,” she said. “He’s just not ready to go to that next level yet.”

She forwarded to CNN a copy of an e-mail she sent in August to Ralph Turner, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, and band director White, in which she described an incident one of her son’s classmates said he had seen. “He … witnessed the same section leader … choke the same student and held his neck up in this choking manner. This was done in a remote corner where he thought that he could not be seen by others. I could go on with horror stories, but I won’t. Students do not report these acts because they are in fear of being ostracized.”

“I have spoken to Dr. White on many occasions — he listened and said it would be addressed,” Fabre wrote. Though band members must sign an anti-hazing agreement, the practice continues, Fabre said. “It’s not the band staff that does it, it’s the section leaders, upperclassmen, the students that they’ve chosen to be in leadership,” she said.

Calls to the school’s spokeswoman, Sharon Saunders and to Turner were not immediately returned.

On Wednesday, Gov. Rick Scott sent a letter to Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey asking the department to join the investigation “to assure that the circumstances leading to Mr. Champion’s death become fully known, and that if there are individuals directly or indirectly responsible for this death, they are appropriately brought to justice and held accountable.”

Authorities have not said what happened to Champion. A spokeswoman for the Orange County Medical Examiner’s Office said Wednesday that the autopsy had not been completed and that no cause of death was available.

Under Florida law, any death that occurs as the result of hazing is a third-degree felony.

After the incident, President Ammons suspended band performances and said he will convoke a task force “to determine if there are any unauthorized and questionable activities associated with the culture of the Marching 100.”

“The purpose of this review is not to establish culpability of individual band members in this particular case, but rather to determine whether there are patterns of behavior by the band — or members of it — that should be addressed at the institutional level,” he said.

Ammons acknowledged that at least 30 band members were let go this semester because of possible involvement in hazing.

But that wasn’t enough, according to Fabre. “My prayer is there will be no cover-up,” she said. “They need to get the mess out of their band and start new.”

She likened the hazing incidents to gang initiations and said they were carried out in secret. “Not like street thugs, but here, if you want to be accepted, then you got to go through it.”

Fabre said the incidents were “like a generational curse that needs to be broken” and held out hope that Champion’s death would result in the end of hazing. “Someone has got to break the cycle,” she said.

The Marching 100’s motto lays out “qualities to live by,” including “highest quality of character” and “dedication to service.”

In 2009, the band represented Florida in the parade for President Barack Obama’s inauguration.

CNN’s Vivian Kuo contributed to this report.

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Guantanamo authorities reading attorney-client mail, lawyers say November 23, 2011

November 23, 2011

by legitgov


Guantanamo authorities reading attorney-client mail, lawyers say 01 Nov 2011 Lawyers representing detainees prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, say authorities at the military base have begun reading privileged attorney-client communication – in a sharp break with past practice. Legal mail is the principal means of communication between detainees charged in military tribunals and their military defense attorneys,who are based in the Washington area. In a letter Tuesday, nine of the attorneys wrote to William K. Lietzau, deputy assistant secretary of defense for rule of law and detainee policy, to object to authorities reading their mail to clients at the detention center. They asked that the commander at Guantanamo Bay be ordered to “cease and desist the seizure, opening, translating, reading and reviewing of attorney-client privileged communications.”

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Michael Jackson’s family call on MSNBC to cancel Conrad Murray documentary November 11, 2011

Michael Jackson‘s family and executors have called on US news channel MSNBC to cancel its documentary involving Dr Conrad Murray that is scheduled for broadcast on Friday. It is “morally reprehensible to cloak a murderer and convicted felon with celebrity status”, the singer’s sister LaToya Jackson wrote in a letter to network president Phil Griffin. “[And it's] disgusting to permit this criminal to profit from homicidal acts that left my family without a brother, my niece and nephews without a father, my parents without a son.”

Jackson’s letter is the not the first complaint Griffin has received this week: Jackson’s executors, John Branca and John McClain, called on MSNBC to “exercise proper judgment and refrain from airing this programme”. Michael Jackson and the Doctor: A Fatal Friendship was produced by British company October Films and shot prior to Murray’s conviction. It is due to air on Friday and Monday, accompanied by an interview by NBC News correspondent Savannah Guthrie. “Like so many of Michael’s fans, the estate is … disgusted by MSNBC’s irresponsible and inexplicable decision to air a Conrad Murray ‘documentary’,” the executors wrote.

For Jackson’s family and estate, the issue is not just a matter of justice – but money too. October Films claims it paid just $1 for two years of access to Murray and his defence. MSNBC says it did not “pay for access” to Jackson’s former doctor or contribute to his legal fund. But both the producers and network said they did not know what arrangements might have been reached with the documentary’s distributor, Zodiak Rights, the LA Times reports.

Murray’s defence attorneys have also denied knowledge of the arrangements. “They just didn’t tell me because they know I’d freak out,” said lead defence attorney Ed Chernoff. Asked about the source of the money that paid his own legal bills, Chernoff replied: “I can’t say that because I don’t know for sure.”

Even if MSNBC refuses the Jacksons’ plea to cancel Friday night’s broadcast, the family is asking to at least be given early access. “Take a moment to put yourself in our shoes and appreciate our suffering for the past two years,” LaToya wrote. “Michael is sadly and obviously unable to defend himself against whatever allegations may be made.”

On Monday, Murray was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the 2009 death of Michael Jackson. The 58-year-old cardiologist administered the propofol anaesthetic that caused the singer’s death.

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Pentagon to probe lost body parts November 10, 2011

Mr Panetta has “the prerogative” to order further disciplinary action, a spokesman said

US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has ordered a 60-day review of mortuary operations at an Air Force base that lost portions of soldiers’ remains.

A spokesman for Mr Panetta suggested that additional disciplinary action was possible.

Three supervisors at the mortuary were cited for what the Air Force called “gross mismanagement”, but not fired.

All were demoted or moved to other departments, including a colonel who received a letter of reprimand.

“Let me make very clear to the families of our fallen heroes that every step will be taken to protect the honour and dignity that their loved ones richly deserve,” Mr Panetta said in a written statement announcing the review.

George Little, a Pentagon spokesman told reporters the Air Force “did the right thing” by launching an investigation quickly.

A similar inquiry by the Office of the Special Counsel, an independent federal body based at the Department of Justice, said the Air Force failed to “acknowledge culpability for wrongdoing”.

Credibility problems

The whistle-blowing mortuary workers revealed 14 specific incidents at Dover.

They including the discovery of an empty bag that was supposed to contain an ankle from a soldier killed in Afghanistan, the Washington Post reported.

In the search, officials found that the remains of two other soldiers were found to have gone missing three months earlier.

In one grisly incident in April 2009, mortuary workers were ordered to saw off the arm bone of a deceased soldier in order to fit his body into a military uniform for burial, in accordance with the wishes of his family.

The workers initially objected but eventually went ahead with the procedure on the order of their superiors – without gaining the consent of the family.

The Office of the Special Counsel’s report said the US Air Force’s conclusions “do not appear reasonable”, considering the base’s responsibility to handle the remains of war casualties with the highest regard.

“More concerning, however, are the findings that these managers ignored evidence given to them, presented baseless explanations that were ‘simply not credible’, and took affirmative steps to conceal the problem,” Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner wrote in a letter to US President Barack Obama.

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