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If public transportation operates on Saturdays, Jews will not know it is Shabbat

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To quote directly (from this article):

“Imagine if there was public transportation on the streets like on weekdays. We would not know it is Shabbat in Israel,” said Rabbi Arie Stern, one of Jerusalem’s chief rabbis.

In the US, public transportation operates on Saturday, and yet US Jews somehow are still able to know it is Shabbat. How do they manage that? Calendars?

It’s a great mystery—at least to Rabbi Stern, who depends on the lack of public transportation as his only means of knowing when it is Shabbat.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 April 2015 at 11:15 am

Posted in Government, Religion

How a century-old genocide becomes newly prominent: The Internet

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The internet makes censorship and control of information more difficult, as many authoritarian organizations have discovered. If people can simply search out available information that “authorities” do not want them to see, lots of things that were not exactly secret but certainly well hidden from those the authorities controlled suddenly become readily available. Thus the story of Joseph Smith’s embarrassingly fraudulent “translation” of a manuscript of Egyptian hieroglyphics is easily read by anyone with an internet connection, which has forced the Mormon church to take a new approach. They can no longer simply tamp down the story. Thus the pedophiles and the bishops who protected them become highly visible to anyone who does a few searches, so the Catholic church must finally start to acknowledge the truth.

And thus the story of the Armenian genocide cannot be controlled by the Turkish government. For example, Brian Merchant writes at Motherboard:

My grandfather credits Dirhouie “Medsmir” Chorbajian with the fact that our family exists at all. She was the one who, after receiving word of the slaughter of tens of thousands of Armenians in Turkey between 1894 and 1896, in what would be named the Hamidian massacres after the sultan who ordered them, urged her husband to emigrate to the United States. According to family lore, Medsmir, my great-great-great grandmother, was blunt: “It is time for us to leave.”

She proved persuasive, and the Chorbajian family moved to Massachusetts, and then on to Fresno, California. Less than twenty years later, one and a half million Armenians, among them her friends, peers, and relatives, were systematically deported and killed by the agents of the Ottoman Empire. My ancestors escaped the first and least-remembered genocide of the twenty-first century, which, for a long time, escaped my understanding, too.

If my great grandfather Albert had not changed his last name, from Chorbajian to “Merchant,” which he said was a direct translation, on the day before he wed his Anglo-American bride, it would be stamped on my birth certificate. It would be my byline. I would be Brian Chorbajian. My name would announce my familial legacy, winding back to a Middle Eastern people once nearly wiped entirely from the earth. I would have grown up, in some sense, Armenian.

But it doesn’t, and I didn’t. I emerged a thoroughly white suburbanite with a thoroughly Anglicized moniker. As a kid, I knew nothing of the cultural history of Armenians or the atrocity that drove my forebears to seek refuge in the United States. Throughout high school, I probably couldn’t have pointed to Armenia on a map.

Only now, thanks to my grandfather and some powerful new technologies of remembrance helping to shed light on the Armenian plight, am I beginning to come to grips with the heritage that begat, then transformed my name.

This April marks the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the Armenian genocide. On April 24th, 1915, the Turkish government executed some 200 Armenian intellectual leaders in Constantinople, in what scholars now refer to as a “decapitation strike” meant to hobble the whole people. Thus began the genocide in earnest; the brutal, organized effort to empty Anatolia of its entire Armenian population, through a process the state referred to only as “deportation.”Two million Armenians were forced from their homes, and sent marching through the desert, their final destination grim camps clearly not intended for long-term occupation. One and a half million Armenians died in the process; many from starvation (they often went unfed), many from exhaustion (the old and the young alike marched for days on end), many from disease (cholera ravaged the camps), and many directly at the hands of Turkish officials (shootings, hangings, rape, even decapitation were not uncommon).

The ​US government still refuses to recognize the state-ordained mass exterminations that began in 1915 as a genocide, despite a mountain of supporting evidence and coalescing international agreement—because, to this day, Turkey, a NATO ally, denies that any systematic killing took place at all, and chalks the event up to the cloudy ambiguities of war. The generations-spanning erasure of ‘Chorbajian’ from my own identity, it can seem at times, dovetails with the decades-spanning erasure of ‘Armenian genocide’ from the American cultural fabric.

In late March, 2015, I was on the phone with my 84-year-old grandfather, Alan Merchant, who has been recovering from a difficult surgery. We’d fallen into a long conversation about history, and got to talking about our ancestry, when he repeated the anecdote about Medsmir, which means “grandmother” in Armenian.

“If it weren’t for her, I guess we wouldn’t be here,” he said. There are plenty of occasions on any family tree where you can point to a branch and wonder, if they didn’t do x, would we even… But there are fewer where you can say that, if they didn’t do this, in all likelihood, our family would have been eradicated along with most of an entire race. My grandfather then mentioned the upcoming 100-year anniversary of the genocide, and that was that. The anecdote, paired with the sudden realization that I’d more or less been ignoring, or at the very least, sequestering away to the attic of unpleasant thoughts, 100 years of my own history, made me queasy. I felt like I’d betrayed something, but wasn’t sure what. I resolved to fill in the gaps.

I turned first, of course, to Google.

I spent the next several Sunday afternoon hours on YouTube, on ​Armenia’s online genocide museum, on Wikipedia. I passed the evening with indexed survivor testimonies, sprawling image archives, grainy digitized video; in the desert sweep of the killing fields, with the hanged bodies, the slain poets, and children half-buried in dust. I was reminded again of a history that I had learned of before, but long failed to internalize.

The web, for its part, was keeping pace with my kindled curiosity. So often, when the internet is heralded as a democratizer of knowledge, the words ring hollow when put under scrutiny. But in the case of the Armenian genocide, it’s true. Google the term in the US, and you’ll find that geopolitics have been swept away, and the truth is laid out in hyperlinks. Unlike the US’s craven official stance, or the media’s tendency in the latter half of the 20th century to reduce the genocide question to he said/she said, the search results paint an accurate representation of the current scholarship—that there is no doubt that what occurred was, under the UN definition of the term, a capital-G genocide.

The first hit is a Wikipedia entry that . . .

Continue reading. Photos at the link.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 April 2015 at 4:34 pm

Posted in Daily life, Government

How the FCC saw through the Comcast/Time-Warner deal

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Very interesting article in the New Yorker by Tim Wu. Key grafs:

Time Warner and Comcast are the nation’s No. 1 and 2 cable companies, and if two of the largest companies in any industry wanted to merge, the government would inevitably take a close look. You can be sure that if Walmart and Costco wanted to combine forces, or Ford and G.M., they’d face an uphill battle. But Comcast was confident that its merger with Time Warner would be easily approved, based on the argument that the two companies have a fundamentally different relationship than similarly large companies in other industries. Because the two serve different regions of the United States, Comcast insisted, they are not actually direct competitors. Sure, they might be near-monopolies in many parts of the country, but the deal was simply about linking up regional monopolies, not increasing them.

But that theory fell apart when the Justice Department began to look in a different way at what Comcast does, and to seriously consider the company’s role not just in selling cable and broadband, but in delivering content over the Internet more generally. Spurred on, perhaps, by white papers submitted by Netflix, Dish, Public Knowledge, and various antitrust professors, the Justice Department decided, conceptually, to turn things around, and in economic jargon, to look at the other side of the “two-sided market.” That meant noticing that Comcast sells both Internet access to customers and customer access to the Internet. Stated differently, anyone who wants to reach one of Comcast’s customers—like Netflix delivering a film or Spotify delivering a song—has to go through it, and it alone. Looking at the deal this way forced the Justice Department to think about Comcast as something much more than just a regional cable company.

In this case, the competition that really mattered was not between Comcast and Time Warner, but between Comcast and the various companies—like Amazon, Dish (as of late), and Netflix—that rely on broadband to provide cheaper versions of TV over the Internet. From this angle, it is clear that Comcast has already been doing what it can to slow the emergence of Internet TV as a serious competitor to its own television offerings. It began to charge new access fees to companies like Netflix. It even worked to cripple Hulu, of which it was a joint-owner. And, as Harold Feld points out, it has done what it can to limit the threat from services like HBO Go to its own Xfinity service.

The future was clear to see in Comcast’s prior conduct—it was already using what power it had to weaken its competitors. It was therefore not hard to predict that adding all of Time Warner’s customers and wires to its reach would give Comcast that much more power over its online rivals. With that, Comcast’s repeated claims that its proposed merger had no bearing on competition fell apart.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 April 2015 at 3:35 pm

Posted in Business, Government

Another Startling Verdict for Forensic Science and a Roundup of Reports

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Ryan Gabrielson reports in ProPublica:

With the introduction of DNA analysis three decades ago, criminal investigations and prosecutions gained a powerful tool to link suspects to crimes through biological evidence. This field has also exposed scores of wrongful convictions, and raised serious questions about the forensic science used in building cases.

This week, The Washington Post reported the first results from a sweeping study of the FBI forensic hair comparison unit, finding that 26 of 28 examiners in the unit gave flawed testimony in more than 200 cases during the 1980s and 1990s. Examiners overstated the accuracy of their analysis in ways that aided prosecutors. The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the Innocence Project are conducting the study with the cooperation of the U.S. Justice Department.

The development is only the latest to shake public faith in what police and prosecutors have often cited as scientific proof. In 2009, the National Academy of Sciences published an exhaustive review of the forensic sciences, concluding that only nuclear DNA analysis has a foundation in research. “Although research has been done in some disciplines,” the report states, “there is a notable dearth of peer-reviewed, published studies establishing the scientific bases and validity of many forensic methods.”

Fields based on matching patterns in fingerprints and hair have unknown error rates. Other methods are believed to be even more dubious, most notably the analysis of bite-mark injuries on victims’ bodies. Still, while the forensic sciences are under scrutiny, unproven practices, both old and new, continue to be used in courtrooms.

We’ve gathered some of the best reporting on questionable forensic science and evidence. Have we missed any? Please let us know in the comments below.

Convicted defendants left uninformed of forensic flaws found by Justice Dept
The Washington Post, April 2012
The Post story that spurred study of the FBI hair matching unit, which details how justice department officials failed to respond to widespread concerns about its fiber analysis. The FBI withheld the information from convicts whose cases included testimony from the troubled lab. “As a result, hundreds of defendants nationwide remain in prison or on parole for crimes that might merit exoneration, a retrial or a retesting of evidence using DNA because FBI hair and fiber experts may have misidentified them as suspects,” Spencer S. Hsu wrote.

Trial By Fire
The New Yorker, September 2009
The story of Cameron Todd Willingham, convicted of setting the fire that destroyed his Texas home and killed his one-year-old twin daughters. Willingham’s conviction rested on investigators’ belief that burn patterns proved the young father had poured a liquid accelerant to propel the blaze. Researchers would prove that theory baseless. The discovery did not benefit Willingham, who had been executed in 2004.

The Bite-Marks Men
Slate, February 2008
Two men in Mississippi were wrongly convicted for the rapes and murders of young girls based on bite-mark analysis by Dr. Michael West, a longtime expert witness in the state’s criminal courts. The entire method of analyzing bite marks is in question.

Weird Science
Texas Monthly, May 2010
Deputy Keith Pikett with the Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Office, outside Houston, connected people to crime scenes through “scent” lineups for his police dogs across Texas. Pikett would expose his dogs to a smell from the scene, and then have them sniff scent samples from the suspect and a series of uninvolved people. Pikett would testify dogs’ “body language” alerted him of alleged matches, helping to indict more than 1,000 suspects using the dubious technique.

Playing With Fire
The Intercept, February 2015
Another case in which fire investigators followed burn patterns to an incorrect conclusion, and a conviction. In 1992, Lorie Lee Lance died of smoke inhalation, crouched on the floor of a utility room as her home in Tennessee burned. Police suspected Lance’s boyfriend, Claude Garrett, had locked her in the room and set the blaze. However, the investigation had found the door was unlocked.

The Hardest Cases: When Children Die, Justice Can Be Elusive
ProPublica, June 2011 . . .

Continue reading. There are more at the link.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 April 2015 at 1:18 pm

It takes a village to make a village good

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Or: good downtowns don’t just happen by accident, and generally quite a bit of the town is involved. James Fallows passes along a reader’s story of how Asheville NC came to have a great downtown:

Here’s how we got to today’s post: through the past few weeks, I’ve done a variety of items on the attempts of long-challenged Fresno to rebuild its historic downtown.

  • Then a reader from Seattle explained how his town had pulled off a comparable feat. He  pointed out that visitors assumed Seattle just “naturally” looked the way it does now, but in fact the downtown revival was the fruit of at least 30 years of deliberate planning and effort.
  • Then another reader said that planning and effort had only a loose connection to the finished result. Tampa, he said, had tried as hard and as long as Seattle but had little to show for it. Meanwhile elegant little Asheville, North Carolina had apparently drifted its way into a celebrated downtown.
  • Then a reader in Tampa said, Wait a minute! It’s actually nice here too! We’ve even got a Riverwalk. You can read his case in this post.

Now the expected further shoe has dropped, with readers from Asheville writing in to say: We drifted our way into success? Hah! Some “drift!”

Here is a sample, from J. Patrick Whalen, who has lived in Asheville since the mid-1970s. I’m quoting him at length because the issues he mentions connect the stories we’ve heard in every corner of the country. I’m also including some of the photos Mr. Whalen sent, of Asheville before-and-after its recent renaissance.

I saw, with some consternation, the description of Asheville’s revitalization process in the “More on Nice Downtowns” column Tuesday, 4/21.

I’m afraid the reader who wrote in is not very well acquainted with the long hard battle Asheville went through to bring downtown back from the mostly boarded-up deserted place it was in the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s to the vital downtown we have now. I will take a shot at summarizing the key elements of that battle, but please rest assured the story is more complicated and there were more participants than I can do justice to in this short note

1) Asheville had a large number of beautiful old buildings built in Art Deco style and otherwise during the 1920’s boom period.

2) When the depression hit, Asheville was devastated. The City itself nearly went bankrupt; an economic pall settled over the area for over 50 years; and there was no reason to do anything other than let buildings stand vacant or underutilized because nothing much was happening.

3) When the interstate came through downtown and the Asheville Mall was built in the 60’s and early 70’s, downtown was effectively dead.4) What followed was basically a 30 year period during which businesses closed and downtown was left boarded up with empty sidewalks. Combined with the long-term economic challenges the mountain area had faced, a profound pessimism settled over the community so that every new idea floated to bring the city back was met with an oft-repeated refrain: “That will never work here – don’t even try.”

5) Some of that pessimism was reinforced when large-scale solutions attempted by city leaders failed. A proposal was floated demolish a large part of the historic downtown and replace it with an enclosed mall. That idea was voted down but in the process local citizens became much more invested in saving and bringing back downtown. Citizen resistance was led by John Lantzius, who was already busy, with his sister, Dawn, renovating buildings, in one of the blocks slated for demolition, and providing low-cost spaces for local businesses. Other large-scale projects were actually completed by out-of-town developers during this period but the projects failed financially.  The large-scale failures were part of the story of the 80’s.

6) However, another part of the 80’s story was that the local citizen reaction to the downtown mall proposal combined with the fact that those failed large-scale projects which were completed also served as sort of  “first buds of spring” to give people a little hope, encouraged some of the remaining local entrepreneurs to hold on and some new ones to take a chance on downtown. . .

Continue reading. Before and after photos at the link.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 April 2015 at 1:05 pm

More on the Armenian genocide and Obama’s refusal to recognize it

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Interesting article by Jon Schwartz in The Intercept:


Today, April 24, 2015, is the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the Armenian Genocide. During the next several years, about one and a half million Armenians were murdered by the Ottoman Empire: shot, worked to death, or marched into the Syrian desert to starve or die of thirst. An American official who was an eyewitness wrote home, “The whole country [is] one vast charnel house, or, more correctly speaking, slaughterhouse.”

For most Americans, this seems like it happened a million years ago on another planet. But as with everything important about history, if you pay attention you’ll realize it was yesterday, two blocks away from where you live. In my case, I was named after my mother’s oldest brother, Jonathan; soon after he was born in 1928 my grandparents moved with him to Beirut, and because a new baby kept them busy, they hired a young woman as a maid. She was desperate: she was Armenian, and had walked over mountains and hundreds of miles to get to Lebanon, and was the only member of her family still alive.

• • •

So what happened is a historical fact, and it shouldn’t be difficult to get presidents and prime ministers to say, “Today we remember the Armenian Genocide.” But it’s almost impossible, especially in the U.S. — because Turkey has made Armenian Genocide denial part of its national identity, and we’re dependent on Turkey’s support for our broader mideast policies.

During Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign, he explicitly promised that “as President I will recognize the Armenian Genocide.” Samantha Power, author of A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide and now Obama’s ambassador to the U.N., recorded a video urging Armenian Americans to support him because he would acknowledge the genocide: “I know [Obama] very well and he’s a person of incredible integrity. … He’s a true friend of the Armenian people, an acknowledger of the history … he’s a person who can actually be trusted.”

Obama’s commitment was quietly removed from his website sometime afterDecember 2010, and this Armenian Remembrance Day, he broke his promise for the seventh year in a row.

And Obama’s gone far beyond acts of omission. When the House Foreign Affairs Committee passed a resolution recognizing the genocide, Hillary Clinton, then secretary of state, said, “The Obama administration strongly opposes [this] and will work very hard to make sure it does not go to the House floor.” She and Obama were — with Nancy Pelosi’s assistance — successful.

Likewise, Israel has long relied on an alliance with Turkey, and has always refused to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide. In 2001, the director of the Institute on the Holocaust and Genocide in Jerusalem stated that Shimon Peres had “entered into the range of actual denial of the Armenian Genocide, comparable to denials of the Holocaust.”

This is not hyperbole. In fact, American and Israeli denial of the Armenian Genocide often uses exactly the same language as Iranian denial of the Holocaust.

In 2006, then-Iranian president Ahmadinejad said what was needed was a “fact-finding commission” to straighten out what had actually happened to all the Jews and Roma during World War II. In 2007, Condoleezza Riceadvocated “historical commissions” to determine where those Armenians had disappeared to in World War I.

When confronted directly about what he personally believed happened, Ahmadinejad declared, “I’m not a historian.” What did Abe Foxman, head of the Anti-Defamation League, say when asked what he believed happened to Armenians? “I’m not a historian.”

So yes, Iranian Holocaust denial is deeply vile. But on Armenian Remembrance Day most of all, we should see that our own genocide denial is as well. Recognizing this would help prevent some of our more embarrassing outbursts of hypocrisy. One of the reasons Hillary Clinton worked so hard to prevent Congress from recognizing the Armenian Genocide is because we needed Turkey’s help to impose sanctions on Iran … a country sheknows is awful because they engage in Holocaust denial: “When heads of state and religious leaders deny the Holocaust from their bully pulpits, we cannot let their lies go unanswered.”But there’s something more subtle that we should also understand today: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 April 2015 at 12:42 pm

When will Obama apologize for all the other innocent victims of drone strikes?

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Ryan Devereaux reports in The Intercept:

In the fall of 2013 Rafiq ur Rehman, a school teacher from the remote tribal region of North Waziristan, in Pakistan, stood with his 12-year-old son, Zubair, and 9-year-old daughter Nabila, in Washington, D.C., preparing to challenge the U.S. government’s most secretive means of killing.

The Rehmans say a missile fired from a U.S. drone killed killed 68-year-old Momina Bibi – Rehman’s mother and grandmother to the two young children – in an October 2012 airstrike. Both Zubair and Nabila were present when the attack happened, and suffered injuries. The missile had struck their grandmother straight on, obliterating her completely. There were no others killed in the attack and no substantiated reports of terrorists at the scene.

According to the family’s account, Bibi was killed tending okra while her grandkids played nearby.

The family came to the U.S. to meet to demand answers. They were treated as honored guests among the human rights community in New York City, But when the family met with lawmakers on October 20, 2013 a total of five members of Congress showed up.

For Pakistani attorney Shahzad Akbar, who represents 150 victims of the strikes, including the Rehman family, President Barack Obama’s recent apology for the killing of two Americans merely underscores the double standard that exists for civilian death.

“Today if Nabila or Zubair, or many of the civilian victims, if they are watching on TV the president being so remorseful over the killing of a westerner, what message is that taking?” Akbar said in an interview withThe Intercept Thursday.

The answer, he argued, “that you do not matter, you are children of a lesser God, and I’m only going to mourn if a westerner is killed.”

The absence of transparency despite tremendous efforts that the Rehman family experienced has been a defining feature of the Obama administration’s drone program. Typically, no amount of evidence gathered by journalists, human rights investigators or researchers indicating the death of a civilian from a drone strike will elicit an on the record response from the U.S. government – let alone an admission of responsibility – or prompt an independent investigation.

That was not the case on Thursday morning when President Barack Obama delivered a press conference describing a strike gone wrong. In the unprecedented address, Obama detailed how a failure in intelligence gathering had left two civilians dead. Numerous anonymous U.S. officials said the attack occurred in Pakistan and that the CIA was responsible, though Obama and his press secretary Josh Earnest refused to explicitly confirm either. Unlike past cases, the unintended victims killed in the attacks were westerners, one an Italian, the other a U.S. citizen.

The American, 74-year-old Warren Weinstein, had spent 40 years working around the world. For the last decade he had lived in Pakistan, where heserved as country director for a consulting firm working with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The second victim, Giovanni Lo Porto, was an Italian national. The 39-year-old had come to Pakistan four years ago, when severe floods ravaged the country. Both of the men ultimately found themselves hostages of al Qaeda – Weinstein was taken in 2011, Lo Porto in 2012. They had been held in a compound in Pakistan’s Shawal Valley, The New York Times reported Thursday night.

“We believed that this was an Al Qaeda compound, that no civilians were present and that capturing these terrorists was not possible,” Obama said of the January 15 strike. “And we do believe that the operation did take out dangerous members of Al Qaeda. What we did not know, tragically, is that Al Qaeda was hiding the presence of Warren and Giovanni in this same compound.”

The compound had been placed under “hundreds of hours of surveillance,” Obama said. U.S. intelligence officials chose to take the shot only after achieving “near certainty” that the building was a legitimate terrorist target and civilian lives would not be risked, Earnest added. When the dust settled, American spies watched as more bodies were pulled from the rubble than expected. It would take weeks, however, for the intelligence community to confirm that the dead included Weinstein and Lo Porto. Ahmed Farouq, an American and alleged al Qaeda leader also died in the attack. A separate a U.S. airstrike in the region on January 19 was also described in detail on Thursday. U.S. intelligence officials said they believed that attack killed Adam Gadahn, a U.S. citizen and al Qaeda propagandist. Again, the Americans said they did not know he was inside when they fired.

Neither of the two strikes targeted specific individuals, U.S. officials said. The attacks were signature strikes, a much-criticized tactic in which the CIA kills people without knowing their identities, instead relying on behavioral observations. In both of the January strikes, the U.S. only learned whom it had killed after the fact.

Earnest told reporters that neither Farouq nor Gadahn were considered high-value targets, meaning they were not eligible for the type of assassination of U.S. citizens the Obama administration has deemed legal in recent years, which requires additional layers of approval. “The president did not specifically sign off on these two operations,” Earnest said.

Earnest said an inspector general was conducting an independent review of the operation.

President Obama said the operation that killed the two Westerners would be declassified and disclosed publicly, “Because the Weinstein and Lo Porto families deserve to know the truth.”

“One of the things that sets America apart from many other nations, one of the things that makes us exceptional is our willingness to confront squarely our imperfections and to learn from our mistakes,” Obama explained. “Already, I have directed a full review of what happened. We will identify the lessons that can be learned from this tragedy, and any changes that should be made.”

When asked by The Intercept if the president’s words meant there would be a policy change in how the U.S. deals with claims of civilian casualties resulting from counterterrorism operations, an administration official declined to comment.

Whether anyone from the CIA has been or will be held accountable for the strikes remains unclear. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 April 2015 at 11:39 am


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