News Briefs 5/2/2013

200 killed in military-extremist group battle in Nigerian village

A battle between Nigerian military forces and the Islamic extremist group killed more than 200 civilians in Baga, a city located at the northeast boundary of the country. (The New York Times, “Massacre in Nigeria Spurs Outcry Over Military Tactics,” 4.29.13) The spread of fire also burned more than 2000 homes, most of which were properties of low-income residents of the area. (The New York Times, “More Than 180 Dead After Nigerian Military and Insurgents Clash in Village,” 4.22.2013)

According to an official statement by a representative of the Nigerian military, the massacre was allegedly prompted by the killing of a soldier by Boko Haram, a Islamic insurgent force. The heavy use of weaponry in its retaliative action, however, was condemned by Nigerian Senator Maina Maaji. (Allafrica.com, “Nigeria: Baga Massacre – I Counted 228 Graves, 4,000 Destroyed Houses – Senator,” 4.28,13) Conflicts between military and regional accused terrorist Boko Haram are far from rare in Nigeria, and staunching casualties of women and children are routine in such confrontations. Until now, no group or individual has declared responsibility for the deaths and damages in Baga.

A closer look at the event yields graphic details. Soldiers reportedly doused thatched-roof homes with gasoline, setting them on fire and shooting residents when they attempted to flee. As one anonymous local told reporters, as the village went up in smoke a soldier threw a child back into the flames. Isa Kukulala, 26, a lanky bus driver who had left Baga that morning, gave a similar account. “They poured petrol on the properties. At the same time, they are shooting sporadically, inside the fire. They took a small child from his mother and threw him inside the fire. This is what I have witnessed.”(The New York Times)

National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has announced that it will establish an independent investigation of the event. Chair of NHRC Dr. Chidi Odinkalu said, “In order to understand what happened, it is necessary to undertake an independent and credible assessment of the situation in the affected locations.” (Allafrica.com, “Nigeria: NHRC to Investigate Baga Fatalities,” 4.30.2013)

Dr. Odinkalu continued, “As an independent and statutory national institution for the protection of human rights, the NHRC has a responsibility to undertake this assessment and is willing to do so.” (Allafrica.com)

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, following a recent trip to the country, said that the United States views Nigeria as one of the most vitally important strategic partnerships in sub-Saharan Africa. In order to build a fair and predictable environment for oil industry investment, Washington officials promised to offer Nigeria help with forensics supporting the fight with Boko Haram, which is considered to have undermined the security in northeast regions. (Reuters, “UPDATE 2-Clinton aide: Nigeria military alone can’t beat Islamists” 8.9.12)

 

—Liz Zhou, Guest Reporter

 

Ricin Letter suspect appeared in court

Suspected of sending poisonous ricin in a letter to President Barack Obama and other U.S. officials, Mississippi man James Everett Dutschke made first court appearance on Monday April 29th for a brief hearing. (Reuters, “Mississippi man makes court appearance in ricin letters case” 4.29.13) During the short hearing, Everett Dutschke responded to a judge’s questions but denied his involvement in mailing the ricin letters.

James Everett Dutscheke was arrested at his Tupelo home without incident. U.S. marshals also carried out a thorough search of his house but failed to find any evidence of his involvement in the ricin case. The new arrest came after the authority wrongly charged another Mississippi man, Kevin Curtis, who later proved innocent and was released from prison. Dutschke’s name surfaced at a court hearing when Curtis’ attorney suggested someone framed her client and mentioned a running feud between the two men. (Reuters, “Mississippi man makes court appearance in ricin letters case” 4.29.13)

On April 16th, FBI intercepted the first ricin letter intended to reach Senator Harry Reid of Nevada in Capitol Hills. (NY Times, “Letter Mailed to Senator Tests Positive for Ricin” 4.16.13) A similar letter containing ricin addressed to President Barack Obama was later confirmed. The letters shared identical typed notes “No one wanted to listen to me before. There are still ‘Missing Pieces’. Maybe I have your attention now. Even if that means someone must die. This must stop. To see a wrong and not expose it, is to become a silent partner to its continuance. I am KC and I approve this message”. (CNN.com “FBI confirms letters to Obama, others contained ricin.” 4.19.13) Capitol Hill evacuated staffs of related Senators, shouting to clear the hallway, and yellow tape had been stretched around White House to isolate pedestrians.

Ricin is a toxic substance that can be produced easily and cheaply from castor beans. As little as 500 micro-grams, an amount the size of the head of a pin, can kill an adult. A ricin scare hit the Capitol in 2004, it was identified in a letter in a mail room that served Senator Bill Frist. Sixteen staffs underwent decontamination but none were sickened.

James Everette Dutscheke will possibly face life sentence. He is also charged in a separate case related to sexual assault. (Reuters) A former martial art instructor, James Everett Dutscheke had run unsuccessfully as a Republican candidate against a Democratic representative Stephen Hollande, whose mother received a ricin-tainted letter from James Dutscheke this month. The motives behind the poisonous letter sending to Washington D.C. senators and officials still remains unclear.

 

—Liz Zhou, Guest Reporter

 

President Obama recommits to closing Guantánamo Bay following hunger strike

On Tuesday April 30, at a White House new conference President Barak Obama promised to restart his efforts on closing the military-run detention center in Guantánamo Bay after years of legislative opposition. (The New York Times, “Obama to Seek Closing Amid Hunger Strike Guantánamo,” 4.30.2013) The speech came in response to a widespread hunger strike among detainees that began on February 6. The strike is the longest one of its kind in the detention camp’s history.

According to the most recent report published by the medical personnel at the detention center, 100 of the 166 current prisoners have been classified as active participants in the hunger strike. (The New York Times) 21 of these detainees are currently being force-fed nutrients through tubes inserted into their noses. (The New York Times) A number of lawyers representing Guantánamo detainees believe even more are participating. (bbc.co.uk, “Inside Guantánamo Bay’s ‘Longest Hunger Strike,’” 4.30.2013) The Pentagon has sent 40 Navy medical workers to address the hunger strike. (The New York Times)

Although no information has been directly corroborated by detainees or military officials, lawyers speculate that detainees initiated the hunger strike in response to a February prison sweep. Guard in Camp Six discovered contraband in their standard personal items search. One of the searched items were prisoners’ Korans; according to some of the detainees’ lawyers, the mishandling of the Korans prompted the hunger strike. (bbc.co.uk) This most recent event prompted the president to resurrect his desire to close the detention camp.

One of the president’s platforms during his 2008 campaign was to close the detention camp, committing to closing the facility within his first term. Obama previously proposed moving the prisoners to an Illinois prison styled after Super-max prisons. (The New York Times) Congress rejected this proposal and subsequent discussions had ceased until today. The president’s pledge to close the detention camp will face strong opposition, as Republicans, many of whom have supported maintaining the camp, currently hold the majority in the House of Representatives.(The Washington Post, “Obama vows a new effort to close Guantanamo Bay prison,” 4.30.2013)

Despite his domestic struggles, the president believes closing the camp is possible. “Rumors of my demise may be a little exaggerated at this point,” Obama promised. (The Washington Post)

 

—-Bethan Johnson, Editor-in-Chief

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