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More Than 100 US Immigrant Detainees Are On Hunger Strike This Thanksgiving

VICE News - November 26, 2015 - 4:10pm

While most Americans sit down with friends and family to feast on Thanksgiving, more than 100 people held at immigration detention centers in Alabama and California are refusing their meals, demanding an end to their indefinite confinement and improved conditions on the inside.

The hunger strikes started on Wednesday are ongoing at three immigration detention facilities: Etowah County Detention Center in Alabama, Theo Lacey Facility in Orange County, California, and Otay Detention Facility in San Diego. Around 110 detainees, most of whom are Bangladeshi, are believed to be refusing meals. The hunger strikers also include detainees from India, Pakistan, Nigeria, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Togo, and elsewhere.

Fahd Ahmed, executive director of Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM), a New York-based organization that advocates on behalf of South Asian immigrants, explained on Thursday that the detainees are calling for an end to all detention and deportation, as well as the abolition of the so-called "bed quota," which requires immigration authorities to hold an average of 34,000 people in detention on any given day.

All of the hunger strikers are said to be asylum seekers that have passed the "credible fear" stage of the asylum review process, although some have since had their claims denied. According to a 2010 Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) policy, asylum seekers with credible fear findings are supposed to be automatically considered for parole from detention. Some of the hunger strikers have been held for two years.

The lengthy stays are partially explained by the fact that many of the hunger strikers support the Bangladesh National Party (BNP), the country's second largest political group. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recently decided that the BNP qualifies as an undesignated "Tier III" terrorist organization. Immigrant rights advocates have heavily contested the move on the grounds that it makes BNP supporters ineligible for asylum, and leads DHS to "regularly" deny bond to Bangladeshi BNP members.

Activists also say the DHS policy endangers a group of migrants especially at risk of government repression back at home. In recent years, Bangladesh's ruling Awami League has faced accusations of "extra-judicial killings, 'enforced disappearances,' mass arrests of opposition activists and Islamists, and restrictions and media and internet freedoms."

Human rights lawyer Chaumtoli Huq stressed on Thursday that Awami League opponents face persecution if they are deported to Bangladesh. "If returned, they'd face serious and severe harm to themselves," Huq said.

The latest hunger strike was preceded by a similar action in October, when dozens of immigrant detainees in El Paso and Louisiana's La Salle facility refused meals for about a week a half. Former El Paso hunger striker Kamran Ahmed said on Thursday that ICE has mischaracterized his political views in relation to the BNP. "We don't know why they call us terrorists," he said.

The October hunger strike in El Paso reportedly ended after participants were pressured into eating by the Bangladeshi Consular Minister, who was brought into the facility by ICE. In a press release issued the day after the Consular Minister's visit, DRUM accused ICE of violating federal law and said the tactic "further endangers lives by exposing asylum seekers to representatives of the very same government they are seeking asylum from."

In addition to ending indefinite detention and the ICE bed quota, the latest hunger strikers are also calling for better conditions, including access to better health care, clean clothes and unspoiled food, and a less repressive disciplinary regime. According to a 2013 report by Detention Watch Network, the conditions at Etowah County Detention Center, where about 48 people are on hunger strike, "are among the worst in country."

"Many of us even attempted to commit suicide for fearing of the government retribution if deported," an asylum-seeker named Mahbubur who is being held at Etowah was quoted as saying in press releaseabout the hunger strike. "We appeal to the Department of Homeland Security and the government of the United Stated of America to consider our case on humanitarian ground and free us from this miserable detention."

Follow VICE News on Twitter: @vicenews

After 27 Years In Jail For Crimes He Didn't Commit, This Man May Get Compensated

VICE News - November 26, 2015 - 3:05pm

Ivan Henry, a British Columbia man who spent 27 years in jail for sex assaults he did not commit, has won his bid for compensation from both the City of Vancouver and the federal government, with only the province yet to approve its end of the settlement.

Today, Henry's lawyer John Laxton announced in court that they had reached an agreement with the federal government and that Ottawa would be dropping their counter case.

"The federal government has not made any allegation that Mr. Henry was guilty as charged but they have heard these allegations repeated in open court and have not commented on them," Laxton said in court, according to the Vancouver Sun. "The federal government now states that no inference should be drawn that the federal government ever agreed with these allegations or that the federal government ever condoned that making of these allegations and the federal government absolutely disavows them now."

Henry, who has been fighting his case against the city, the province, and the federal government since August, is seeking compensation for the nearly three decades he spent behind bars for crimes he didn't commit.

In 1982, Henry was charged by Vancouver Police with multiple counts of sexual assault after a number of victims pinned him as the perpetrator during a lineup of suspects. Henry, who had a previous criminal record that consisted of an attempted sexual assault, was deemed a dangerous offender. He was released and acquitted in 2010 after an inquiry into his case found that the police had improperly handled multiple pieces of evidence and may have pressured the victims into accepting their side of the story.

On November 16, the City of Vancouver dropped its case against Henry. The city had previously made the argument that Henry would have ended up in jail even if he wasn't wrongfully imprisoned at the time, citing his previous criminal activities.

The only remaining contender in the way of Henry's goal of full compensation is the provincial government of British Columbia, which will give its closing arguments this Friday.

Laxton said Henry, who was not in court at the time of the announcement, was "very happy, delighted."

"I congratulate you on the settlement," Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson told the court.

Henry has faced severe scrutiny from all three levels of government on the basis that he has been an outspoken figure in court, oftentimes representing himself and speaking very emotionally at his trial.

No details about the nature or amount of the settlement have yet been released, as the trial is not fully over.

Follow Jake Kivanc on Twitter: @KivancJake

Tension Grows In Venezuela With The Assassination Of An Opposition Politician

VICE News - November 26, 2015 - 3:00pm

The Venezuelan opposition is accusing President Nicols Maduro of being behind the assassination of Luis Manuel Diaz, a politician from an opposition coalition who was shot dead on Wednesday night.

President Maduro, meanwhile, has said early investigations suggest Diaz was murdered because of links to criminal gangs and has denounced a right-wing conspiracy to blame the government for his death.

The assassination of Diaz and its aftermath have underlined the extreme tension in Venezuela ahead of key legislative elections on December 6. 

The opposition Table of Unity, or MUD, coalition believes it has a good chance of stripping the ruling Socialist Party of its majority for the first time since President Hugo Chvez took office in 1999. His "Bolivarian Revolution" is now in the hands of his hand-picked successor Maduro.

"You are the only one responsible," Lilian Tintori addressed Maduro during a press conference on Thursday.

The wife of imprisoned opposition leader Leopoldo Lpez, Tintori (pictured above) was on the same stage as Diaz — at a campaign event in the state of Gurico in Venezuela's central plains — when about 10 shots rang out and he fell to the floor.

"I checked myself because I thought I had been hit," Tintori said. "They want to kill me."

Tintori said she was a target of two direct threats to her security on the same day she watched Diaz shot a few feet from her. She said pro-government groups armed with sticks and stones had prevented her from leaving an airport in the state of Nueva Esparta, and that a plane she had planned to travel in caught alight after she arrived in Gurico.

"I have no doubt that the regime tampered with that plane," she said. "I have no doubt and I am not frightened of saying it."

Diaz was a regional leader in Gurico of Democratic Action, or AD — one of the political parties within the MUD coalition. Democratic Action's national leader, Henry Ramos said Diaz had supported Chvez until about five years ago. "He came to the AD repentant and his career advanced until he became secretary in Gurico."

Ramos Allup had earlier used his Twitter feed to directly accuse Socialist Party members of Diaz's murder.

President Maduro, meanwhile, sent his condolences to Diaz's family during a campaign event in Portuguesa state on Thursday, at the same time as he suggested the politician was killed because of links to criminal gangs. "The investigation has already started and the interior ministry already has evidence pointing to hitmen and a settling of scores within rival criminal groups," Maduro said.

The president went on to warn against "manipulation" of the events by the opposition, called on Venezuelans to be "on alert" for a wave for criticism from the world's right wing, and accused the secretary general of the Organization of American States of leading the onslaught.

"Not even 12 hours have passed and the piece of rubbish that is Luis Almagro of the OAS is making declarations against Venezuela and the Bolivarian Revolution," Maduro said.

Almagro had earlier issued a strongly worded statement in which he said the assassination should be understood within the context of other attacks on the opposition and called on the government to "stop all violence and transform the elections into a fiesta and not an exercise in force, violence and fear."

Also on Wednesday an opposition activist Luis Urbina was hit on the head with an iron bar prior to a campaign event in the southeastern state of Guayana on the border with Brazil that was headlined by former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles.

Last Sunday, opposition deputy candidate Miguel Pizarro claimed he was forced to change his campaigning plans after being threatened by a group of people in red shirts carrying assault rifles in the municipality of Sucre.

Follow Alicia Hernandez on Twitter @por_puesto

Questions Surround Lack Of Audio On New Footage Of Laquan McDonald Shooting

VICE News - November 26, 2015 - 2:58pm

Newly released dash-cam footage from four additional police cars present at the fatal shooting of African-American teenager Laquan McDonald by a white Chicago police officer has sparked fresh controversy over whether the video had been inadequately recorded or tampered with in the aftermath of the incident.

Like the first video that was released on Tuesday, more than a year after Officer Jason Van Dyke shot McDonald 16 times, all four additional tapes obtained by the Chicago Tribune inexplicably lack discernible audio.

The lack of audio means it remains unclear whether officers made any comments before or after the shooting, or if they gave any commands to McDonald before Van Dyke opened fire. The new footage also doesn't provide any additional visual details, and doesn't show the actual shooting.

Chicago releases more footage showing shooting death of

Canadian Cops Are Finally Looking To Buy Body-Worn Cameras

VICE News - November 26, 2015 - 2:28pm

After years of study, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police seem set to outfit their officers with body-worn cameras.

While it is still looking for companies to buy the cameras from, it appears as though the RCMP might already have one in mind — American law enforcement giant Taser International.

The cameras are usually lauded as effective ways to prevent police brutality, discourage use of force, and facilitate prosecution if the officer is accused of wrongdoing. They've also been popular in parts of the law enforcement community because they help weed out unfounded accusation against officers.

When the RCMP was piloting the program last year, they purchased the test cameras from Canadian-based supplier CruiserCam.

It seems as though the RCMP wasn't happy with the company, because they just posted a new Request for Information (RFI), looking for a new company to do business with.

"To date, no camera has been identified that meets all of the RCMP's needs," the RFI reads. "The cameras that have been researched and tested have issues with battery life and durability. Additionally, the cameras do not always adequately capture the incident due to mounting difficulties."

While the RFI is not a solicitation — meaning that no contract will come from it, although an actual invitation for bids may come down the line — documents filed by the RCMP suggest that they may be looking at Taser, maker of the Taser stun gun.

Documents filed this month show that Pierre Perron, the Assistant Commissioner for the RCMP and the force's Chief Information Officer, had a meeting with six executives from Evidence.com, a division of Taser.

The RCMP shelled out $120 for the meeting, which took place in Ottawa in June.

Taser, through Evidence.com, is looking to capitalize on the North American market after the events in Ferguson and elsewhere put police brutality and use of force at the forefront of a national debate on race relations in America.

The body-cam model, dubbed the Axon, meets seemingly every condition set out in the RFI — everything from being able to withstand "extreme weather conditions" to its 64gb storage.

One question the government has for prospective suppliers is how the video footage makes it from the officer's gear to the RCMP's computers.

"What is the capacity for the officer to start/stop recording? ... Does recorded footage automatically upload to management software?" the RFI asks prospective clients.

Obviously, if footage is beamed directly to the RCMP's system, it removes the ability of a rogue officer, or a criminal, to destroy or delete the footage.

The Axon uploads all the footage from the Axon to its web-hosting partner, Amazon Web Services.

VICE News asked the RCMP for comment about the RFI, and about Evidence.com, but has yet to receive a response.

Taser has gone directly to police to make their pitch for the Axon before.

"If we don't have events from our perspective — and our perspective is the most important perspective — we're not doing our personnel any favors. Now we can control the message and the news through body camera," former Albuquerque Chief of Police Raymond Schultz said at a Taser marketing event held in Ottawa in December, 2014.

Schultz's comments were reported by Reveal, a website operated by the Center for Investigative Reporting. They report that Schultz was investigated by the state of New Mexico for working as a consultant with Taser while still serving as police chief. Taser won a sole-sourced contract for the Axon body-cams in Albuquerque.

In Ottawa, clear conflict-of-interest rules would prevent any such influence on the procurement process, but it does underline Taser's interest in getting deals inked with Evidence.com.

Reports from Canada's lobbyist registry show that Taser employed Ottawa lobbying firm Hill & Knowlton from 2007 to 2010, but lists no meetings with any government officials. The meeting between Assistant Commissioner Perron and the company's executives is not listed.

Follow Justin Ling on Twitter: @justin_ling 

Image via Flickr user Utility, Inc.

Moldova Arrests 13 Accused Of Plotting To Establish Russian Separatist Republic

VICE News - November 26, 2015 - 2:08pm

A plot to attack Moldova's capital and establish a Russian separatist republic similar to the ones in Eastern Ukraine was reportedly foiled on Thursday when Moldovan police detained 13 suspected members of a paramilitary group.

Moldova's General Police Inspectorate said the group wanted to attack state buildings in the capital Chisinau and seize control of Balti, a city approximately 120 kilometers due north that has a majority Russian population. The group allegedly planned to storm the prison in Balti and release sympathetic prisoners that they felt could be recruited for further attacks on Balti state officials and private companies.

Police said the suspected ringleader of the group is from Eastern Ukraine, the Associated Press reported.

When the conflict in Ukraine began in 2014, some political analysts feared the unrest would spill over the border into Moldova, one of the poorest countries in Europe. A sliver of land alongside its Ukrainian border known as Transnistria or Trans-Dniester remains a pro-Russian separatist region, which has tentatively maintained a ceasefire with Moldova's capital since 1992.

Russian President Vladimir Putin wants Moldova to join the Moscow-dominated Eurasian economic union he is planning, which he sees as having the potential to rival the strength of the European Union. When Moldova teetered toward reaching an association agreement with the European Union two years ago, Russia retaliated by banning the import of Moldovan wine, one of the country's major exports.

Moldova has also seen widespread protests in recent months over $1 billion that disappeared from the country's banking system. The fraud exposed endemic corruption in the country, and caused a rapid depreciation in the national currency. Tens of thousands of protesters rallied in Chisinau in September, calling for the resignation of President Nicolae Timofti.

According to William Hill, who formerly headed the OSCE Mission in Moldova, Moldovan authorities have become increasingly wary of allowing Russian forces to travel to Transnistria through their airports "ever since the demonstrations in Odessa last year," referring to the south Ukrainian port city not too far from the border.

Hill also said that there were "widespread reports" that "the Russians and the eastern Ukrainian rebels were trying to slip special forces through Trans-Dniester into Odessa to seek to boost protest activities."

There is also a Russian-backed separatist movement underway in Gaguazia, in southern Moldova. The Gagauz are a predominantly Russian-speaking minority group that rejects Moldovan affiliation with the EU.

Follow VICE News on Twitter: @vicenews

Watch the VICE News documentary The Russians Are Coming: Georgia's Creeping Occupation:

Occupy Academia: Protests At Princeton

VICE News - November 26, 2015 - 1:20pm

A black student group at Princeton occupied the university president's office this month and demanded the Ivy League college change the name of its renowned Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs because of the former US president's stance on segregation.

Princeton is just the latest in a series of American colleges facing a backlash from minority protest groups alleging widespread institutional racism. Demonstrations have hit campuses at Yale, Harvard, and Smith College, as well as many others. The president of the University of Missouri — where a number of overtly racist incidents have taken place — resigned under pressure from students on November 9 and admitted to not doing enough to fight racism on campus.

VICE News covered the protest at Princeton as students facing potential expulsion for their actions entered into tense negotiations with administrators over the college's controversial legacy.

Watch "Inside the VICE News Investigation Into the Most Militarized Universities in America"

Read "Princeton May Drop Woodrow Wilson's Name Because He Was a Racist"

Israeli Troops Kill Two Palestinians As Government Mulls Response To Violence

VICE News - November 26, 2015 - 1:09pm

Israeli military commanders and the administration of President Benjamin Netanyahu sparred over the right strategy to end two months of stabbings, shootings, and car-based attacks on Thursday as Israeli troops killed two Palestinians involved in violence in the occupied West Bank.

The violence, much of it carried out spontaneously by young Palestinians, has killed 19 Israelis and an American since October 1. Israeli forces have killed 90 Palestinians, some while carrying out assaults and others in clashes with police and troops. Many of those killed have been teenagers.

While the bloodshed has been stoked in part by Muslim anger over Jewish visits to the al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem — a site holy to both Muslims and Jews, who refer to it as Temple Mount — Israeli security services have echoed Palestinian officials in identifying failed peace talks as another cause.

That conflicts with the Israeli government's view that the main driver is incitement by the Palestinian leadership and weak security enforcement by President Mahmoud Abbas.

On Thursday, Israeli soldiers raided the village of Katane, near the Palestinian city of Ramallah, in what the army said was a search for suspected militants and weapons. It said locals threw petrol bombs and rocks at the soldiers, who opened fire at one of them after riot-dispersal measures failed.

Palestinian officials said a 21-year-old man was killed.

Separately, paramilitary Israeli police shot dead a Palestinian who they said charged at them with a knife at a checkpoint on a junction near the West Bank city of Nablus. The Palestinian health ministry said the dead man was 51.

Also in Nablus, Israeli forces impounded eight buses, the owner of the vehicles said. The army said the bus company was linked to militants from the Islamist group Hamas and had mobilized Palestinians for violent demonstrations.

Watch the VICE News dispatch The Heart of the Conflict: Intifada 3.0:

US Secretary of State John Kerry, whose bid to broker a deal on Palestinian statehood alongside Israel stalled in early 2014, visited on Tuesday for talks with Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on how to stem the violence.

Kerry left empty-handed. On Wednesday, Israeli media quoted an unnamed senior military officer as recommending that the Netanyahu government head off what he described as a "limited uprising" by admitting more Palestinian laborers, freeing low-risk Palestinian prisoners and further arming Abbas's forces.

On Thursday, the commander of Israel's premier paratrooper brigade, Colonel Nimrod Aloni, said tackling Palestinian violence was a matter of "a great degree of confusion."

"Is there a chance of winning? I think this is really, really not a military question, that it is very, very much linked to government decisions," he told Israel's Army Radio. "At this stage we are playing defense, almost at our goal-line, and trying to prevent the next terrorist attack from happening."

Palestinian leaders have accused Israel of excessive force and blamed the violence on Israel's 48-year-old occupation.

A Palestinian official, who asked not to be identified, said Kerry had asked Abbas to try to achieve at least a week of calm to persuade Netanyahu to pursue confidence-building measures.

'We are playing defense, almost at our goal-line, and trying to prevent the next terrorist attack from happening.'

Israeli military officers, as well as foreign observers, have credited Palestinian security forces with containing some of the violence with preemptive arrests of potential militants.

A senior Israeli official on Thursday was dismissive about the misgivings being sounded by the military, saying there was no internal division over how to tackle Palestinian violence.

Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said that in addition to killing or capturing Palestinian attackers, Israeli forces were taking deterrent steps such as demolishing the homes of militants and closing a West Bank radio station for incitement. He said Abbas's official television station should be shuttered.

"We are already taking vigorous action which I have no doubt will deliver results," Steinitz, a member of Netanyahu's security cabinet, told Israel Radio. "This may require weeks more. It could also be that it will require months more. But the terror will not defeat us, we will defeat the terror."

Follow VICE News on Twitter: @vicenews

Pentagon Must Be Thankful for the Turkey Washington Post Gave Its Readers

FAIR - November 26, 2015 - 1:03pm

The Washington Post illustrates a story contrasting Russian and US bombing of Syria with a slideshow of photos of the results of Russian bombing (or, as in this case, Syrian government bombing)–but no images of the consequences of US bombing. (photo: Alaa Al-Faqir/Reuters)

Here’s something for the US government to be thankful for this Thanksgiving: propagandistic war coverage from the Washington Post.

The Post‘s Karen DeYoung offered the Pentagon this Thanksgiving turkey:

The United States has also claimed that Russia has caused numerous civilian casualties with unguided munitions: gravity bombs dropped from the sky. Warren said that tallies by unnamed human rights groups of “upwards of 1,000 civilian casualties . . . including over 100 kids” are “probably fairly accurate.”

“This is sloppy military work,” Warren said. “This is the reckless and irresponsible, imprecise and frankly uncaring approach to operations in Syria that the Russians have taken on.”

In a report issued late last week, the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said it had documented 403 civilians, including 166 women and children, killed in Russian airstrikes, more than the 381 fighters from both rebel and terrorist forces it said had been killed.

The US military has acknowledged two instances where airstrikes against the Islamic State resulted in civilian deaths.

So here we have US claims that Russian airstrikes are killing civilians backed up by statistics from a presumably independent human rights group. Meanwhile, when the US government claims to killed almost no civilians in its air attacks, the Post just takes the Pentagon’s word for it.

It would not have been at all difficult for the Post to find independent tallies on how many civilians have been killed by bombs dropped by the US and its allies. For example, the British Guardian (8/3/15) was able to do it:

Airwars, a project by a team of independent journalists, is publishing details of 52 strikes with what it believes are credible reports of at least 459 non-combatant deaths, including those of more than 100 children.

That was in August; more recent tallies by Airwars have the US-led coalition killing at least 680 civilians, and possibly as many as 975.

People who subscribe to the Post are indirectly paying DeYoung to inform them about the world. By reporting the civilians killed by the official enemy while concealing those killed by US airstrikes, she’s instead doing unpaid volunteer work as a Pentagon PR agent. I hope they save her an extra slice of pumpkin pie.

Jim Naureckas is the editor of FAIR.org. Follow him on Twitter: @JNaureckas.

Messages can be sent to the Washington Post at letters@washpost.com, or via Twitter @washingtonpost. Please remember that respectful communication is the most effective.


Some Kenyans Want The Pope To Help Fight The 'Devil' Of Corruption

VICE News - November 26, 2015 - 12:35pm

Kenya declared a national holiday and "day of prayer and reflection" on Thursday as hundreds of thousands of people braced the rain and trekked through mud to see Pope Francis deliver mass on the second day of his first official African visit.

A total of 300,000 people attended the service at the University of Nairobi, according to Kenyan police chief Japheth Koome. This was notably fewer than the 1 million that were originally expected to turn out.

The leader of the Catholic Church used the opportunity to test his few words of Swahili, pronouncing: "God bless you, God bless Kenya." He also told the crowd to resist practices which "hurt or demean women," and spoke out against abortion, telling his followers not to "threaten the life of the innocent unborn"

Margaret and I with Pope Francis during the Papal Mass at Nairobi University Grounds

Obama Compares Syrian Refugees To America’s Pilgrims In Thanksgiving Speech

VICE News - November 26, 2015 - 12:10pm

Addressing the nation in his annual Thanksgiving Day speech, US President Barack Obama invoked the plight of the Pilgrims when urging Americans to be compassionate toward Syrian refugees.

"Nearly four centuries after the Mayflower set sail, the world is still full of pilgrims," Obama said. "Men and women who want nothing but a safer, better future for themselves and their families."

The president said he has been "touched by the generosity of Americans" who have written him emails and letters in recent weeks offering to open their homes to "refugees fleeing the brutality of ISIL," an acronym for the Islamic State. Obama gave the example of a woman in Florida who said her family came to the United States on the Mayflower, and that "welcoming others is part of what it means to be an American."

Obama said another woman from Pennsylvania also wrote to him saying, "Money is tight for us in my household. But I have a guest room. I have a pantry full of food. We can do this."

His appeal comes amid a wave of backlash against Syrian refugees following the terror attacks in Paris that left 130 people dead. All of the attackers identified thus far have been French or Belgian nationals. A Syrian passport was found near the body of one suicide bomber, but evidence now suggests the document was forged. Several of the attackers traveled to Syria to fight with the Islamic State prior to the attacks.

Last Thursday, the US House of Representatives defied a veto threat by Obama and passed Republican-backed legislation that aims to halt the program that would admit 10,000 Syrian refugees to the US over the next year, and intensify pre-admission screening processes.

Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan said it was important to act quickly "when our national security is at stake."

Condemning what many perceive as a threat posed by the possibility that jihadists could enter the United States disguised as refugees, Obama again underscored the already stringent vetting process that asylum seekers must undertake.

"No refugee can enter our borders until they undergo the highest checks of anyone traveling to the United States," Obama said on Thursday. "That was the case before Paris and it's the case now."

At a joint press conference following a meeting with French President Francois Hollande on Tuesday, Obama praised France's resilience in the wake of terrorism, noting Hollande's determination to go ahead with the plan to admit an additional 30,000 refugees from Syria and Iraq. Obama turned to the words of the poet Emma Lazarus, whose 1883 sonnet The New Colossus is inscribed on the Statue of Liberty.

"On the Statue of Liberty, a gift from the people of France, there are words we know so well: "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free.' That's the spirit that makes America," Obama said. "That's the spirit we need today." 

Follow VICE News on Twitter: @vicenews

More People In Mexico Are Celebrating Thanksgiving

VICE News - November 26, 2015 - 11:40am

Every year Mexico's traditions police take to social media to berate those who celebrate foreign holidays, especially if that tradition comes from the United States. It happens at Halloween, and it happens at Thanksgiving. How dare anybody south of the Ro Bravo — they cry — dine on roast turkey with cranberry sauce and mashed potatoes on the last Thursday of November.

Even so, ever more people in Mexico are embracing the celebration, and adding their particular flavor to it.

The most obvious reason for the meal's increasing popularity is the high number of Americans living here, but there are also growing numbers of Mexicans who have spent years in the US but are now returning home. Then there are those who simply got seduced by the recipes they found online.

As the United States absorbs Mexican culinary traditions — from tacos to guacamole — and avocados even have a float in Macy's parade, I wanted to explore how Thanksgiving is being celebrated in Mexico. Here's what I found.

Munchies file photo

Sometimes we forget that Mexico is a country of immigrants. The granddaughter of an Armenian who migrated Mexico via Beverly Hills tells me that her Thanksgiving menu includes Lebanese and Armenian dishes, as well as turkey and cranberries.

My college friend Jessica Dietzel tells me that, since her dad is from Buffalo, the family has always celebrated the holiday, but it is easier today than it used to be. "When I was growing up we drove to Texas to get the ingredients for the dinner. From the turkey to the cans of cranberry and the pumpkin mash, everything!" she says. "Now it's much easier to find it all here."

There are some, like chef Justin Ermini of Anatol Kitchen, who get a bit more fancy. He prepares precooked New England turducken — deboned chicken and duck inside deboned turkey — for those who want to celebrate Thanksgiving with something special, but don't want to do the work. "The idea is that when it is cut, you are able to see multiple layers, like a lasagna," he tells me.

Alexander Sustegui — a chef from Lucas Local — says she's always celebrated Thanksgiving because she grew up in the border cities of Ciudad Juarez and Tijuana.

"As people living on the border we are more flexible with the cultural issue. Going to San Diego to celebrate Thanksgiving at the home of friends or uncles is very common, because aside from eating you spend time with your loved ones," she says. "The date is important to me because it reflects union and gratitude. It's one of the celebrations that makes most sense to me, although it does not have Mexican roots and I do."

Then there are those who prepare Thanksgiving meals just because they can, and just because they want to.

Helmuth Rueckert may one day become the first Mexican arrested by the traditions police. He celebrates Thanksgiving, he admits, because of the bombardment of US culture — as well as a particular interest in cranberry sauce.

"It's a very sad story," he says, "but, since I live in Monterrey and you can find fresh cranberries here, I prepare a Thanksgiving-style meal."

Munchies file photo

But Thanksgiving in Mexico is far from just imitation.

Jessica — my friend who used to travel to Texas to get ingredients — tells me that her family turkey recipe comes from her American grandmother. But the traditional bird now also shares the table with marinated roast pork and other Mexican dishes. And, she adds, "We never forget the tortillas and the hot sauce."

Chef Ermini also turns to Mexican ingredients to add a little extra something to his turducken. "Why use frozen ingredients if there are amazing and fresh products here?" he says.

He likes to use green sausage from Toluca in his stuffing. And, since he couldn't find fresh cranberries, he uses kumquats as a side dish. "Our sous chef has a tree in his garden, so we modified the recipe to use them instead of the cranberries. We get an amazing flavor".

In her restaurant kitchen Sustegui too has taken to adapting her Thanksgiving recipes for the Mexican palate. "I add a stuffed chili pepper and a good salad of green beans, and prepare roasted white corn instead of using the boiled yellow one," she says.

Josefina Santacruz says that when she was a chef at Dumas Gourmet she went further. "I made turkey but with mole Xico-style," she tells me. "I added piloncillo to the mashed sweet potatoes instead of brown sugar and a twist of chile de rbol. Sometimes we also offered jamaica sauce, instead of cranberry sauce."

Munchies file photo

Across the country in the resort city of Cancn, Mexican-American artist Ana Victoria Caldern says her Thanksgiving now involves 40 people from four families from both sides of the border. Over the years, she says, tradition has come to dictate an appetizer of scallops. Meawhile her aunt, she adds, cooks turkey in a traditional way — except she makes the stuffing with tamale dough.

Whether it stems from national identity, inherited habit, or from a simple desire to eat something delicious, the Thanksgiving celebration is gaining ground in Mexico. And why not? Instead of raising a disdainful eyebrow, perhaps these difficult times create all the more need for a night devoted to family, friends, food, and a chance to give thanks for it all. 

This story was originally published at Munchies En Espaol.

Ontario Tells Medical Marijuana Users They Can Light Up Anywhere

VICE News - November 26, 2015 - 11:32am

People with medical marijuana prescriptions are now allowed to light up anywhere they want in Ontario, including places where smoking is usually banned.

The province's new rules that prohibit e-cigarette use in certain public places exempts medical marijuana users, meaning they have free reign to smoke or vaporize their medicine at work, and near schools.

Ontario's associate health minister Dipika Damerla, told reporters on Wednesday that the decision came after consultations with the medical community and health advocates. "This is about the fact that somebody who's very ill, maybe in a lot of pain, wants to use. There are many ways to take marijuana. This is one way," she said.

However, Damerla clarified that business owners still have the final say over what's allowed on their premises, and can ask for proof of a prescription. "As an employer and a restaurant owner, you can say that there is no vaping, no smoking of medical marijuana."

"If it's bothering somebody, find another place to go and smoke," she said, adding that if someone continues to smoke after being asked not to, they would be breaking the law.

Marijuana advocates praised the exemption as another step forward in removing the stigma associated with marijuana use, and recognizing it as a valid form of medicine.

Jonathan Zaid, from the Canadians of Fair Access to Medical Marijuana, told the Canadian Press he doubts there will be a noticeable increase in the number of people smoking in public.

"Everyone that I know, including myself, who uses medical cannabis is discreet about it," he said. "They just want to use it as their medicine to feel better, to live a better quality of life and they don't want to be harassed about it, so that also means they're not typically likely to do it in a very public space."

Patrick Brown, leader of the Progressive Conservatives in Ontario, echoed Zaid. "I'm not going to go so far as to say it's a recipe for chaos," said Brown.

Using marijuana in any form without a prescription is illegal in Canada. According to the Canadian Cancer Society website, "marijuana users and people exposed to second-hand marijuana smoke may have many of the same health problems as people exposed to cigarette smoke, including an increased risk of cancer."

Rob Cunningham, a senior policy analyst at the Canadian Cancer Society told VICE News that not much changes under the new regulations, as there was never a province-wide ban on smoking medical marijuana. But, he says he does not support the new exemption.

"There is clearly a beneficial role for medical marijuana, but that doesn't need to be consumed beside an office worker or at a McDonald's restaurant," he said. "There are other ways to consume medical marijuana other than smoking or vaping."

"We want to minimize exposure to second-hand smoke and we've made great progress with respect of that over the years … And that's an approach that makes sense and should be continued."

New Democratic Party leader Andrea Horwath told reporters she is also concerned about the impacts of second-hand marijuana smoke, and plans to review the regulations.

When asked how she would react to someone smoking medical weed next to her in a restaurant, she quipped she would "probably eat more."

Follow Rachel Browne on Twitter: @rp_browne 

Image via Flickr user Dank Depot

Ontario Tells Medical Marijuana Users They Can Light Up Anywhere — And Then Changes Its Mind

VICE News - November 26, 2015 - 11:30am

One day after the Ontario government announced people with medical marijuana prescriptions would allowed to light up anywhere they want in the province, the government says it wants to reconsider the decision. 

"We've heard about the concerns around this regulation and we're going to take this feedback and see if this regulation is the best way to move forward," Associate Health Minister Dipika Damerla said Thursday.

She added that the province will "take a hard look and see and make sure that this is in the best interest of Ontario."

The decision to exempt medical weed users from a law that prohibits e-cigarette use in certain public places apparently raised concerns about them having free reign to smoke or vaporize their medicine at work, and near schools. 

It's not clear if the exemption is still in place while the government reconsiders. 

On Wednesday, Damerla, told reporters that the decision came after consultations with the medical community and health advocates. "This is about the fact that somebody who's very ill, maybe in a lot of pain, wants to use. There are many ways to take marijuana. This is one way," she said.

However, Damerla also said Wednesday that business owners would still have the final say over what's allowed on their premises, and could ask for proof of a prescription. "As an employer and a restaurant owner, you can say that there is no vaping, no smoking of medical marijuana."

Marijuana advocates praised the exemption as another step forward in removing the stigma associated with marijuana use, and recognizing it as a valid form of medicine.

Jonathan Zaid, from the Canadians of Fair Access to Medical Marijuana, told the Canadian Press he doubts there will be a noticeable increase in the number of people smoking in public.

"Everyone that I know, including myself, who uses medical cannabis is discreet about it," he said. "They just want to use it as their medicine to feel better, to live a better quality of life and they don't want to be harassed about it, so that also means they're not typically likely to do it in a very public space."

Patrick Brown, leader of the Progressive Conservatives in Ontario, echoed Zaid. "I'm not going to go so far as to say it's a recipe for chaos," said Brown.

Using marijuana in any form without a prescription is illegal in Canada. According to the Canadian Cancer Society website, "marijuana users and people exposed to second-hand marijuana smoke may have many of the same health problems as people exposed to cigarette smoke, including an increased risk of cancer."

Rob Cunningham, a senior policy analyst at the Canadian Cancer Society told VICE News that not much changes under the new regulations, as there was never a province-wide ban on smoking medical marijuana. But, he says he does not support the new exemption.

"There is clearly a beneficial role for medical marijuana, but that doesn't need to be consumed beside an office worker or at a McDonald's restaurant," he said. "There are other ways to consume medical marijuana other than smoking or vaping."

"We want to minimize exposure to second-hand smoke and we've made great progress with respect of that over the years … And that's an approach that makes sense and should be continued."

New Democratic Party leader Andrea Horwath told reporters she is also concerned about the impacts of second-hand marijuana smoke, and plans to review the regulations.

When asked how she would react to someone smoking medical weed next to her in a restaurant, she quipped she would "probably eat more."

Follow Rachel Browne on Twitter: @rp_browne 

Image via Flickr user Dank Depot

Turkey Releases Audio Of Warnings That Pilots Of Downed Russian Bomber Allegedly Ignored

VICE News - November 26, 2015 - 11:00am

Tensions between Turkey and Russia are still running high two days after Turkish forces shot down a Russian bomber near the Syrian border. Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said he is planning economic sanctions against Turkey in response to the incident, while the surviving navigator of the plane maintains it never entered Turkish airspace — a claim Turkey has vehemently denied and attempted to contradict by releasing audio recordings of warnings that the plane's pilots allegedly ignored.

The Russian SU-24 bomber crashed into a Syrian mountainside on Tuesday after it was hit by a Turkish missile. Both pilots ejected from the aircraft. One was shot dead by Syrian rebels, and the other, Captain Konstantin Murakhtin, was rescued in a mission during which another Russian soldier was killed. It was the first time in half a century that a NATO member has shot down a Russian plane.

Turkey claims the plane ventured into its airspace for 17 seconds. Murakhtin contends that the plane received "no warning" via radio from Turkish forces, that he was very familiar with the region, and that the plane did not violate Turkish airspace "even for a single second."

On Thursday, the Turkish government released what they say are audio recordings containing Turkish military's repeated and increasingly agitated warnings to the pilots in the Russian jet.

"This is Turkish Air Force speaking on guard," a voice on the recording says in broken English. "You are approaching Turkish airspace. Change your heading south immediately." There's no response from the Russians on the tape, and it's unclear whether they ever received the message, or if Turkey chose not include their response when releasing the tapes to the public.

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has insisted that the decision to shoot down the plane was an "automatic response" that fell within the rules of engagement regarding the country's airspace. "Faced with the same violation today, Turkey would give the same response" Erdogan said. "It's the country that carried out the violation which should question itself."

Erdogan has engaged in a verbal standoff with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who described the incident as "a stab in the back," and said he expects an apology or an offer "to make up for the damages." Erdogan panned Putin's response as "emotional" and "unfitting," and accused Russia of opportunistically using its fight against the Islamic State (IS) in Syria to further its own political interests.

On Wednesday, airstrikes hit an aid convoy traveling from Turkey over the Syrian border, killing seven people. Turkish media reported that the strikes were carried out by Russia. Russian officials have not yet released a statement about the accusations. Video footage shared by a media group based in Aleppo showed trucks burning at the western edge of Azaz, a Syrian city about 10 miles south of Kilis in southern Turkey.

At a televised cabinet meeting on Thursday, Medvedev said he is planning economic sanctions against Turkey and hopes to have a draft of the proposal ready in the next couple of days. "The government has been ordered to work out a system of response measures to this act of aggression," the Russian prime minister said, adding that the focus of the sanctions would be on "limits or bans" on Turkish economic interests in Russia, and a "limitation of the supply" of products.

Medvedev also said that his proposal could also halt joint investment ventures, which he says were initially established on the "high level of trust" between the two nations. He says that tourism, trade, labor, and transport may also be affected.

Medvedev also alleged that Turkish officials were benefitting from the Islamic State's illicit oil sales. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said it was no secret that "terrorists" were using Turkish territory. "Shame on you," Erdogan said in response. "It's clear where Turkey buys its oil and gas."

"Those who claim we are buying oil from Daesh like this must prove their claims. Nobody can slander this country," Erdogan added, using the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State. "If you are seeking the source of weaponry and financial power of Daesh, the first place to look is the Assad regime and countries that act with it."

Follow VICE News on Twitter: @vicenews

Watch the VICE News quick hit Turkey Shoots Down Russian Plane On Syrian Border:

The UK Prime Minister Says It's Britain's Moral Duty To Start Bombing Syria

VICE News - November 26, 2015 - 10:55am

The time is now, UK Prime Minister David Cameron told British MPs on Thursday — the country could not stand by and do nothing while its allies carried out airstrikes in Syria against terrorists who threatened the entire world.

In a much anticipated speech, Cameron laid out his case for Britain joining international airstrikes targeting Islamic State (IS) militants — telling parliament it was Britain's moral duty. 

"It is wrong for the United Kingdom to subcontract its security to other countries," said the prime minister, arguing the longer IS was allowed to grow in Syria the greater a threat it would post. "If not now, when?"

Unlike in the United States, Cameron does not have the luxury of using presidential powers to go ahead with military action without the approval of his lawmakers — he has to get them to vote in favor, and it will be a tough sell.

The issue of Britain signing up to international air strikes in the Middle East is a very big deal in the UK, stirring up strong emotions and intense debate across the population.

The legacy of Iraq looms large — more than a million people marched against the proposed 2003 invasion in Britain's biggest ever publicdemonstration, the government (then Labour Party) suffered one of its biggest ever backbench rebellions in the parliamentary vote to decide whether or not to go to war, and then-Prime Minister Tony Blair went ahead anyway.

Saddam Hussein may have been taken down as Iraq president but the country then spiralled into horrifying sectarian chaos, killing millions of civilians and thoroughly destabilizing the Middle East. To top it off, it was later revealed that key facts used to persuade MPs of the legality and necessity to act ("Saddam has weapons of mass destruction ready to launch in 45 minutes") were basically made up.

People in Britain have never forgotten this. And since then, they've witnessed the ongoing failure of UK military intervention in Afghanistan, more chaos ensue from a supposedly successful war in Libya, and Iraq go from bad to worse — and worse and worse — in the meantime.

It was in this context that Cameron suffered an embarrassing defeat in parliament the last time he tried to make the case for British military action in Syria, in 2013. From Afghanistan to Iraq, Libya and Syria, his Conservative Party has always been in favor of Britain going to war.

But when he told MPs in August 2013 that this time it was "not like Iraq" and the UK must respond militarily to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's "war crime" — a suspected chemical weapons attack on the outskirts of capital Damascus reported to have killed hundreds of people — many said no thanks, voting 285-272 against military action.

The result was a serious blow to the British prime minister and this time he will not call a vote until he is sure he can win.

And this time, of course, the enemy he is telling them Britain must use its weapons against is very different — since 2013 the Islamic State (IS) has gone from a small al Qaeda breakaway faction to become the world's most feared terrorist organization.

The group has massacred thousands of people in the Middle East and now it has committed mass murder on Western soil. Events in Paris have had a major impact on UK public opinion about military action and Cameron believes it is now the right time to strike.

The horror of the French attacks, so close to British shores, has sparked a natural human desire to retaliate as well as stoked a sense of duty — there's a feeling that Britain can't leave other countries, "friends" such as the United States and France, on their own in the skies above Syria.

British MPs did vote last year to join international coalition air strikes against IS targets in Iraq — but in that instance, the UK was asked to do so by the Iraqi government, providing a legal basis that is not nearly as clear-cut in the case of Syria.

However Cameron believes a recent UN resolution calling for action against IS has provided more than adequate legal grounds for bombing, and moreover given that military action against IS in Syria is now critical for Britain's self-defense (in his view), there is an moral imperative to join in international military efforts.

"We shouldn't be content with out-sourcing our security to our allies," Cameron told MPs on Thursday. "If we believe that action can help protect us, then with our allies we should be part of that action, not standing aside from it. And from this moral point comes a fundamental question: If we won't act now, when our friend and ally France has been struck in this way, then our allies in the world can be forgiven for asking 'If not now, when?'"

But, as the leader of the opposition Jeremy Corbyn and many other critics have pointed out, the issue is not whether Britain wants to defeat IS terrorists and prevent its own Paris-style attacks — opinion is pretty united on that one — the issue is will air strikes actually do that?

They have an abysmal record in the Middle East so far and if anything just make the UK an even bigger target for terrorist attacks, the critics argue.

"In the light of the record of Western military intervention in recent years, including Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya, does the prime minister accept that the UK bombing of Syria could risk more of what President Obama called 'unintended consequences' and that a lasting defeat of ISIL can only be secured by Syrians and their forces within the region?" Corbyn asked Cameron following his parliamentary statement.

Corbyn's views are very well-known — the veteran leftwing politician was a founder of Britain's Stop the War coalition, the country's biggest pressure group on the issue which has organized some of the country's biggest demonstrations.

In 2013 Labour MPs voted unanimously against military intervention in Syria. But this time around many are undecided, and Corbyn is under pressure to allow them a "free vote": one in which MPs are not asked to vote a certain way by their party's whips, but instead can vote according to their consciences.

The debate in coming days will be crucial. It's thought at least 50 of Labour's 231 MPs are planning to back military action — but the Scottish National Party, which holds 54 out of 650 total seats in the House of Commons (the lower house), is very likely to vote against it.

The Foreign Affairs Committee, an all-party group of British MPs tasked with examining the work of the Foreign Office and making policy recommendations, spent months gathering evidence and listening to expert witnesses to come to an opinion on the proposal for Britain to join in Syrian air strikes.

It was certainly not convinced, listing a whole array of reasons ranging from political to legal, military and diplomatic why Britain should not take military action.

The committee understood that something had to be done in Syria and IS needed to be defeated, it said in its final report. But it believed the focus on airstrikes was a "distraction from the much bigger and more important task of finding a resolution to the conflict in Syria," which was the real factor driving the rise of IS, and it was not persuaded by the government's attempts to treat IS and the broader Syrian civil war as separate issues.

While witnesses had acknowledged that the UK joining airstrikes would be welcomed by coalition allies, "they did not consider that it would have anything other than a marginal effect," said the committee's report, especially without allied troops on the ground who would "not be easy to find."

It was also impossible to know what would happen next even if the air strikes were successful — and anything could happen, just look at Iraq. "Our witnesses described a chaotic and complicated political and military scene," said the MPs. "After over four years of civil war, there are thousands of fighting forces in various coalitions and umbrella organizations, with unclear aspirations and shifting alliances. The complex nature of the situation makes it hard to guess the consequences of tackling just ISIL, or to predict what group would take their territory if they were defeated."

The committee concluded that until the government could satisfactorily answer seven questions — including whether air strikes would be legal, who would hold the ground captured from IS, how Britain joining in would improve the chances of the coalition, and how airstrikes would contribute to a Syrian transition plan — it could not support Syrian military intervention.

Cameron set out to answer those questions on Thursday, in a lengthy document published just before his speech in parliament.

There was a "clear legal basis" provided by UN Security Council Resolution 2249 calling on member states to take "all necessary measures" to prevent and suppress terrorist acts committed specifically by IS, he said; the coalition would work with moderate Sunni Arab and Syrian Kurd groups to "take back, hold, and administer" territory taken back from US, and the UK had advanced military capabilities it could contribute, such as Brimstone missiles able to "strike accurately with low collateral damage."

In his speech, Cameron acknowledged "terrible mistakes" had been made in the aftermath of the Iraq war but said this time the government had a proper strategy for post-conflict reconstruction on which it was prepared to spend 1 billion pounds ($1.5 billion).

Summing up his case, the prime minister said the world could not wait for a political transition in Syria. "We have to hit these terrorists in their heartlands right now," he said. "And we must not shirk our responsibility for security or hand it to others. Throughout our history the United Kingdom has stood up to defend our values and our way of life. We can and we must do so again."

Whether he can convince a majority of MPs — and the British public — remains to be seen, but it's looking far more likely than it was a few months ago.

Lindsey German, a founder of the Stop the War coalition, told VICE News the result of a parliamentary vote was still completely unpredictable. Some Labour MPs may even vote in favor of military action just to help discredit Corbyn, whose election as party leader was highly controversial and who remains a divisive figure, German said, which would be "utterly unprincipled and utterly wrong."

It was devastatingly frustrating to see the case for bombing the Middle East being made yet again after more than a decade of Stop the War campaigning against multiple disastrous British military campaigns, she said.

"Many, many people back in 2001 said the 'War on Terror' will not end terror and decrease instability but in fact do the exact opposite," she said. "The government and military ignored it, and now they talk as if none of these terrible things that have happened were predicted."

Millions and millions of deaths could have been avoided, said German — and air strikes in Syria now would kill yet more civilians and feed into yet more radicalization and violence. "People in the Middle East have been done such a disservice from western military intervention, and they are still not escaping this nightmare."

Happy Thanksgiving!

Mother Jones - November 26, 2015 - 10:53am

Aren't they cute when they're asleep? In reality, of course, they're just storing up energy for later. They will strike when all the humans are sated with turkey and don't have the energy to fight back.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! And remember: no shopping today. Tomorrow is soon enough. Fight the power.

Torture Victims Win Legal Battle In Fight Against Canadian Government

VICE News - November 26, 2015 - 10:35am

The fight to find out just why three men were detained and tortured in a Syrian prison cleared one roadblock on Wednesday, after a court rejected an appeal from the Canadian Government.

The men, Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad El Maati and Muayyed Nureddin, have been deadlocked in a legal battle with Ottawa for years, as they seek compensation for the time they spent in Syrian jail cells — where they were tortured and interrogated, with some involvement of Canadian agents — and answers for why they ended up there.

Ottawa, meanwhile, is struggling to defend the identity of its intelligence agents and confidential informants who may have provided the information that led Syrian authorities to arrest the men, despite shaky evidence that they were ever involved in terrorism.

Their lawsuit, however, had gone virtually nowhere over the past decade. That is, until they finally got a break — on Monday, a Canadian judge ruled that the federal government would not have the power to shield the confidential sources it used to gather evidence on the three men.

For the three men, it could mean exposing the direct role play by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) in their interrogation and torture, and proving that their detention was the result of little more than post-9/11 hysteria.

But it could also spell trouble for new spy powers that allow CSIS' extraordinary new ability to operate abroad, break foreign laws, and shield intelligence and sources from Canadian courts.

The three men were arrested in the years following the September 11 attacks. Intelligence from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), likely in conjunction with American intelligence agents, linked the three men together, as well as to Maher Arar — the Canadian who faced similar mistreatment at the hands of Syrian authorities.

The Canadian government apologized to Arar, and paid him $11.5 million in compensation as a recognition of CSIS' complicity in his torture.

The government held an inquiry into the detainment of the three men and the role of the Canadian government but, despite some initial willingness, Canada never issued an apology or paid compensation.

The inquiry, led by retired Judge Frank Iacobucci, found clear similarities in the three cases.

El Maati was an ex-mujahedeen fighter who was flagged at the American border after officers found a map of Government of Canada buildings in his car. Almalki was a businessman and engineer who, for reasons that appear unclear, was billed by the FBI an "Ottawa-based procurement officer" for Osama Bin Laden. Nureddin was a dual Canadian-Iraqi citizen, who had been travelling from Iraq, back home to Toronto.

All three were arrested inside Syria, by authorities in that country who had been tipped off about the three men by American and international intelligence agencies, with information supplied by CSIS and the RCMP. El Maati was held for 26 months, between jails in Syria and Egypt; Almalki was detained in Syria for nearly two years; for Nureddin, it was just 33 days.

The evidence of their connections to al-Qaeda never led to prosecution or conviction in Canada or anywhere else. Any confessions they made in their Syrian jails were later retracted.

All three, however, were tortured, according to the Iacobucci inquiry.

The inquiry found that the actions of CSIS and the RCMP, specifically their decision to share intelligence and travel plans, led to the detention and subsequent torture of Nureddin and El Maati. The inquiry couldn't determine whether those actions directly or indirectly led to Almalki's mistreatment.

In El Maati's case, CSIS even sent questions to Syrian authorities.

"In sending the questions to Syria, the Service not only failed to make inquiries about how Mr. Elmaati would be treated during subsequent interrogations but, as discussed above, also legitimized the manner of interrogation that had already taken place," wrote Justice Iacobucci

The three men fought to obtain the information that was provided to Judge Iacobucci to help craft his report, but were refused on national security grounds. A protracted legal challenge was ultimately quashed by the Supreme Court, who defended CSIS' ability to keep secret that information.

So the three men tried again, this time fighting to obtain the identities of the CSIS agents involved in passing-on their files to international agencies, and the confidential informants who identified the three men as al-Qaeda operatives.

CSIS did not, like other police services, have legal protections for its services — at least, not prior to last year. The previous Harper government introduced and passed bill C-44, which gave CSIS powers it had never enjoyed in the past, including the ability to operate overseas and ignore the laws of foreign countries and legal protections for its informants.

The Canadian government tried to apply those powers retroactively in this case. A federal court threw out that logic on Monday.

In doing so, the court even cracked the door open to the idea that such a power for CSIS may — as some lawyers have already contested — be unconstitutional to begin with.

Kent Roach, a law professor at the University of Toronto and a specialist in privacy and surveillance, raised the idea that the powers brought in through C-44 could face a challenge in the near future.

"I see C-44 as important, in some respects, as C-51," Roach said at a panel discussion in early November. C-51 was the controversial anti-terror bill introduced by Harper that is supposed to be amended by the new Trudeau administration.

Concerns have been raised that, by giving all of CSIS' informants absolute anonymity and secrecy, the spy agency will be able to operate even further outside the jurisdiction of the courts and the public eye.

The court may yet decide to withhold the identities of those agents or CSIS' sources, if it determines the threat to national security in doing so outweighs the benefit it would have to the three men suing the government.

While the legal war is far from over, the political fight may be just beginning.

In 2009, an all-party Parliamentary committee studied the case of the three men, and called on the government of the time to apologize and compensate the three men.

It also recommended that the government "issue a clear ministerial directive against torture and the use of information obtained from torture for all departments and agencies responsible for national security."

The government refused to implement either recommendation, as well as a host of others from the report.

Two of the Liberals who helped write that report, Rob Oliphant and Mark Hollande, were re-elected in the most recent election.

The Trudeau government, however, has not said anything on the record about the matter, or about whether it intends on reforming the law around CSIS' source protections, or information-sharing with foreign agencies.

Follow Justin Ling on Twitter: @justin_ling 

Fined For Being Homeless (Extra Scene From 'Hiding The Homeless')

VICE News - November 26, 2015 - 10:00am

Watch the Full Length

A growing number of American cities are ticketing or arresting homeless people for essentially being homeless. The new laws ban behavior commonly associated with homelessness like reclining in public, sharing food or sitting on a sidewalk. Supporters argue these measures are necessary to push homeless people into the shelter system and maintain public safety. Critics say the laws violate the rights of homeless people and ignore the more complicated drivers of homelessness like mental illness.

We found homeless people camping in the woods to escape police harassment, a homelessness consultant opposed to feeding homeless people and a city that uses solitary confinement to force homeless people into shelters.

In this extra scene, VICE News spoke to a resident of Nevada City, California, who recounts what it was like to be stigmatized by her community for being homeless.

Read "New York Cops Are Now Shaming Homeless People On Social Media"

Read "San Francisco Mayor Vows to Remove City's Homeless By Super Bowl Weekend"

Drastic Reductions In Meat Consumption Worldwide Could Help Fight Climate Change

VICE News - November 26, 2015 - 9:55am

VICE News is closely tracking global environmental change. Check out the Tipping Point blog here.

Dramatic changes in diets around the world could help to ensure that global temperatures keep from rising above 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels.

If the world piled on the veggies and cut back on steaks and hamburgers, the UK-based think tank Chatham House said in a report this week, the world could generate a quarter of the remaining emission reductions needed to keep warming from rising above 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) compared to pre-Industrial Age levels, a threshold at which most scientists fear the worst impacts of climate change would take hold.

"Reducing meat consumption is a real win-win for health and for the climate," Laura Wellesley, one of the report's authors, said in a statement. "As governments look for strategies to close the Paris emissions gap quickly and cheaply, dietary change should be high on the list."

The report is the latest to highlight the contributions the agriculture industry is making to global emissions of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide, at a time when meat consumption among a growing middle class in Asia is projected to rise dramatically — 116 percent in China between 2006 and 2050 and 138 percent in India, according to the World Resources Institute.

Once overlooked in favor of fossil fuels like coal and oil, the sector — especially the production of livestock — has come to be recognized as a growing part of the problem and one that has some of the greatest potential for emission cuts.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, emissions from livestock production is estimated at 7.1 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide per year, or about 15 percent of global human-induced emissions. Beef and milk production are the leading culprits by a long shot, contributing 41 and 20 percent of the sector's emissions. Pig meat and poultry meat and eggs contribute 9 percent and 8 percent.

The FAO and others said the emissions could be cut in the sector by as much as 30 percent if farmers around the world modernized their farms, improved land use practices, and incorporated the recycling of things like animal waste into their operations.

But increasingly, scientists are saying further cuts will have to come from shoppers who are buying all this chicken, pork, and beef.

The UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded in its latest comprehensive report on the state of global warming that "emissions can be substantially lowered through changes in consumption patterns … and dietary change and reduction in food wastes."

The Chatham House report essentially echoed those recommendations and went further, saying "unless strong demand growth for meat is curtailed, livestock sector emissions will increase to the point where dangerous climate change is unavoidable."

It would also improve people's health, the report found, to cut down on meat consumption. Global per capita meat consumption is already above healthy levels, and double the recommended amount in industrialized countries, it said. Too much red and processed meat is associated with an increased risk of non-communicable diseases, in particular cancer, as found by the World Health Organization.

The FAO's Senior Livestock Officer Carolyn Opio was more cautious about the role diet can play. She said the report needed to consider the challenges of shifting diets in the developing world and also what that would mean to the millions of farmers that depend on livestock to survive.

"While changes in consumption patterns can address some of the sustainability issues associated with the sector, the general consensus is that a more holistic approach is required where interventions are targeted at both supply and demand side," she said. "The report also needs to consider the diversity in consumption between regions and countries; a more balanced picture should be provided where due recognition is given to the millions of poor people in developing regions, particularly Africa and Asia, who still consume very low levels of livestock protein and would need to increase their consumption in order to achieve a certain nutritional status."

So far, the message — much like the issue of curbing population growth — appears to be lost on the nations attending the Paris talks.

Reducing meat consumption does not feature in a single national emissions reduction plan submitted in advance of the Paris meeting, according to the report. Governments, the authors said, are afraid to interfere in lifestyle choices for fear of public backlash — a concern that Chatham's own surveys have shown is largely unfounded.

"Raising awareness about the health and environmental impacts of meat is an important first step, but on its own it will not lead to significant behavior change. Governments must do more to influence diets," Wellesley said.

She added that governments need to take the lead in raising awareness about the climate impacts of excessive meat consumption and offer incentives for consumers to diversify their diets.

While the report didn't call on everyone to give up their burgers and embrace vegetarianism, it concluded more could be done by schools, shops, and government agencies to offer vegetarian options. As an example, it cited IKEA's decision to offer vegetarian alternatives to its popular meatballs.

"The placement of vegetarian and vegan sandwiches or fresh fruit and vegetables at the front of a supermarket or at eye level on canteen shelves — may go a long way to alerting customers to options other than their usual meat- and dairy based choices," the report said. 

Follow Michael Casey on Twitter: @Mcasey1


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