Archive for August, 2017


The US Navy released the names and hometowns of the 10 sailors who went missing after the USS John S. McCain, a guided-missile destroyer, collided with a merchant ship near Singapore, east of the Malacca Strait on Monday.  Initial reports indicated that the destroyer sustained damage to her port side aft, the left rear of the ship, in the collision that left five injured and 10 sailors missing. Authorities said four of those injured were medically evacuated by a Singapore navy helicopter with non-life threatening injuries and the fifth injured sailor stayed on board with minor injuries.

The collision was reported at 6:24 a.m. Japan Standard Time, while the ship was en route to a routine port visit in Singapore.   The ship headed to port under its own power after the collision.  The other ship, the Alnic MC, is a 600-foot oil and chemical tanker with a gross tonnage of 30,000 and is about three times the size of the McCain.    The USS McCain is based at the fleet’s homeport of Yokosuka, Japan. It was commissioned in 1994 and has a crew of 23 officers, 24 chief petty officers and 291 enlisted sailors, according to the Navy’s website.

The US Navy confirmed they recovered the remains of two sailors — Kenneth Smith, 22, and Dustin Doyon, 26 but suspended the search for the sailors who are still missing after “more than 80 hours of multinational search efforts,” the statement said.

Those lost in the collision have been identified as Kenneth Smith, 22 of Cherry Hill, New Jersey; Dustin Doyon, 26, of Suffield, Connecticut; Kevin Bushell, 26, of Gaithersburg, Maryland; Jacob Drake, 21, of Cable, Ohio; Timothy Eckels Jr., 23, of Manchester, Maryland; Charles Findley, 31 of Amazonia, Missouri; John “CJ” Hoagland III, 20 of Killeen, Texas; Corey Ingram, 28 of Poughkeepsie, New York; Abraham Lopez, 39, of El Paso, Texas and Logan Palmer, 23, of Decatur, Illinois.

The incident is the second serious collision for a Navy vessel in two months and fourth since January. The USS Fitzgerald collided with a freighter off the coast of Japan on June 17, leaving seven sailors dead.  The Navy last week relieved the Fitzgerald’s skipper and two top sailors of their command for losing “situational awareness” in the hours leading up to the collision. About a dozen sailors in all are facing some punishment, including all of the destroyer’s watch, the Navy said.

The Navy is preparing to conduct an extremely rare suspension of ship operations worldwide for a day or two in order to review safety and operational procedures. Navy officials are also investigating the role that training, manning and crew communications may have played in the accidents.  Vice Adm. Joseph P. Aucoin, the head of the Seventh Fleet, the Navy’s largest overseas, was removed Wednesday in connection with the four accidents since January, according to a statement by the Navy.

Admiral Aucoin had been expected to retire in the coming weeks, but his superiors pushed up his departure date after losing confidence in his leadership.  Admiral Aucoin is being replaced by Rear Adm. Phil Sawyer, “who has already been nominated and confirmed for the position and promotion to vice admiral,” the Navy statement said.

 

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A federal appeals court has thrown out the prison sentences of former Blackwater contractors who were involved in a 2007 massacre in Nisoor Square in central Baghdad that left 17 civilians dead and 20 injured when they opened fire with machine guns and threw grenades into the crowded public space.   The appeals court ruled three of the contractors could be resentenced, meaning their 30-year prison sentences could be dramatically shortened. A fourth contractor’s murder conviction was thrown out entirely, so he’ll now face a new trial.

The Blackwater guards claimed that the convoy was ambushed and that they fired at the attackers in defense of the convoy. The Iraqi government and Iraqi police investigator Faris Saadi Abdul stated that the killings were unprovoked.  The Iraqi government claimed that as the convoy drew close to Nisour Square, a Kia sedan carrying a woman and her adult son was approaching the square from a distance, driving slowly on the wrong side of the road, ignoring a police officer’s whistle to clear a path for the convoy. The security team fired warning shots and then lethal fire at the Kia. They then set off stun grenades to clear the scene. Iraqi police and Iraqi Army soldiers, mistaking the stun grenades for fragmentation grenades, opened fire at the Blackwater men, to which they returned fire.

The Blackwater guards contend that the Kia continued to approach even when fired upon and after an Iraqi policeman went over to the car, it looked as if the policeman was pushing it.  They feared they were under attack by a car bomb so they fired at the car, killing both occupants as well as the Iraqi policeman.  Iraqi police officers began to fire at the Blackwater men. The guards felt they could not be sure they were dealing with actual police since insurgents often disguise themselves by wearing police uniforms.

A military report appeared to corroborate “the Iraqi government’s contention that Blackwater was at fault.  Blackwater Worldwide’s license to operate in Iraq was temporarily revoked.  An FBI investigation found that, of the 17 Iraqis killed by the guards, at least 14 were shot without cause.

In 2008, the U.S. charged five Blackwater guards with 14 counts of manslaughter, 20 counts of attempted manslaughter and a weapons violation.  On December 31, 2009, a U.S. district judge dismissed all charges on the grounds that the case against the Blackwater guards had been improperly built on testimony given in exchange for immunity.

In 2011, a U.S. federal appeals court reinstated the manslaughter charges against Paul A. Slough, Evan S. Liberty, Dustin L. Heard and Donald W. Ball after closed-door testimony. A fifth guard had his charges dismissed, and a sixth guard -Jeremy Ridgeway pled guilty to voluntary manslaughter and attempted manslaughter.

On October 22, 2014, a Federal District Court jury convicted Nick Slatten of first-degree murder and sentenced him to life in prison.  Three other guards Paul A.Slough, Evan S. Liberty and Dustin L.Heard were found guilty of all three counts of voluntary manslaughter and using a machine gun to commit a violent crime.  They were each sentenced to 30 years in prison.  The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit tossed Slatten’s murder conviction and ordered the other defendants to be re-sentenced. A new trial was also recommended for Slatten, on the grounds that it was unjustifiable to try him with his co-defendants, and that he should have been tried separately.

 

 

Three people died and 19 were injured in Charlottesville, Virginia after violence erupted between white nationalist protestors and counter-protesters.  The protests began on Friday night, as thousands of neo-Nazis, KKK members and other white nationalists began descending on the city of Charlottesville to participate in the “Unite the Right” rally.

Hundreds bearing torches marched on the University of Virginia campus and surrounded the statue of Thomas Jefferson on Friday night, chanting “You will not replace us” and “White lives matter.”  Thousands of counter-protestors also descended on Charlottesville over the weekend, including clergy, students, Black Lives Matter activists, and protesters with the anti-fascist movement known as “Antifa.”

On Saturday morning, more than 1,000 white supremacists marched to the public park, recently renamed Emancipation Park, which is home to the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Many were carrying Nazi flags and other white supremacist paraphernalia, wore body armor and carried assault rifles and pistols. They were met by the thousands of anti-racist counterdemonstrators.

Soon after this march, the violence began as fights broke out with little police intervention.  Around 1:45 p.m., as police were attempting to disperse the crowds, 20 year old James Alex Fields, drove his Dodge Charger into a crowd of counter-demonstrators and then peeled away.  Fields, a resident of Maumee, Ohio had been rallying with the white nationalists earlier in the day.

Local paralegal Heather Heyer was killed in the attack, and at least 19 others were injured. Two state troopers, Pilot Lt. H. Jay Cullen and Trooper-Pilot Berke M.M. Bates, also died Saturday, when their helicopter crashed en route to the scene of the violence.

James Alex Fields, Jr. was initially charged with 1 count of second degree murder, three counts of malicious wounding and failure to stop in an accident that resulted in death.  Police have now charged him with five additional charges.  The five additional charges include two more counts of malicious wounding and three counts of aggravated malicious wounding.  No bond was set, and he remains in custody.

Fields grew up in Kentucky and recently moved to Ohio, his mother, Samantha Bloom.  She told the Associated Press that she knew he was attending the “Unite The Right” rally this weekend and that he supported President Donald Trump, but said she didn’t know it was a white nationalist rally.  She added that she didn’t “get involved” with her son’s political views.  Neighbors describe him as a quiet teenager who had trouble making friends.  Former class mates , teachers and school officials noticed Fields had “deeply-held, radical” beliefs on Nazism and race.

 

Barcelona Terrorist Attacks

 

In Barcelona, Spain, 13 people died and over 100 were injured when a van plowed into a pedestrian walkway on La Rambla during a terrorist attack.  The driver of the van then fled on foot, killing a 14th victim during a carjacking while escaping the scene of the van attack.   Two hours later, the attacker then rammed a police barricade, exchanged gunfire with an officer who was injured and fled the scene, later abandoning the car.

Nine hours after the Barcelona attack, five men wearing fake suicide vests, drove into pedestrians in nearby Cambrils, before emerging and attacking people with knives.  One woman was killed and six others injured in this attack. All five attackers were shot by police as they were carrying out the attack.

Police have now connected an explosion that occurred in a house in Alcanar the night before to the Barcelona and Cambrils attacks. The explosion was initially thought to be a gas leak but the investigation revealed the home had over 120 gas canisters inside, which police believe were planned to be used in a larger terror attack.

Police say that the 40-year-old imam, Abdelbaki Es Satty,  thought to be the mastermind of the terrorist cell, accidentally caused the explosion.  The second man police believe was in the house, identified as Youssef Aalla, brother of one of the Cambril attackers- is missing and presumed dead.

In the aftermath, 15 people of nine different nationalities were killed, 13 died during the La Rambla attack, one stabbed during the carjacking and  and one in the Cambrils attack.  Over 100 people from over 34 nations were injured, 15 critically.

The police believe a terrorist cell of twelve members is responsible for the attacks.  Eight of them are dead and four are in police custody. The imam Abdelbaki Es Satty died in the Alcanar gas explosion and Youssef Aalla is believed to have also died in the explosion.

The five attackers killed in Cambrils were identified as Moussa Oukabir, Omar Hychami, El Houssaine Abouyaaqoub, Said Aallaa and Mohamed Hychami.  The man believed to have been the van driver in the Barcelona attack, Younes Abouyaaqoub, was killed by police on August 21st.  Four additional suspects have been detained by police.  The  men arrested are the owner of the car used in the Cambrils attack, the brother of Moussa Oukabir, a 20-year-old who survived the Alcanar explosion and a fourth man.

The cholera outbreak in Yemen has become a dire situation as the World Health Organization (WHO) confirms the number of cases has reached over 400,000.   U.N. leaders say the outbreak has increased the number of people in need of assistance to nearly 21 million.  Since late April, the total has reached 402,484 suspected cases, 1,880 of them fatal.  Illnesses have been reported in all but 2 of the country’s 23 governorates.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, along with UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake and World Food Program Executive Director David Beasley, said in a statement that more than 2 years of hostilities have crippled health, water, and sanitation systems, creating ideal conditions for the disease to spread.

“We now call on the international community to redouble its support for the people of Yemen. If we fail to do so, the catastrophe we have seen unfolding before our eyes will not only continue to claim lives but will scar future generations and the country for years to come,” the three said in their statement.

They warned that Yemen is on the brink of famine and 60% of the population doesn’t know where their next meal is coming from. They added that nearly 2 million of the country’s children are acutely malnourished, making them susceptible to cholera, which leads to more malnutrition.

The outbreak began last year but a second wave of the waterborne disease has spread even more quickly in the last couple of months.  UNICEF and WHO have attributed the outbreak to malnutrition, collapsing sanitation and clean water systems due to the country’s ongoing conflict.

The impact of the outbreak has been exacerbated by many factors including the collapse of the Yemeni health services, where 30,000  health workers have remained unpaid for 10 months but are still reporting for duty. Less than half of Yemen’s medical centres are still functional.  WHO officials said “We have asked the Yemeni authorities to pay these health workers urgently because, without them, we fear that people who would otherwise have survived may die.”

Local authorities and humanitarian groups have set up more than 1,000 treatment centers and oral rehydration units.  The UN is working with the World Bank on a partnership to support the response needs and maintain the local health system.

Two years of conflict between the Saudi-led coalition and Houthi rebels have taken a heavy toll on Yemen, causing widespread internal displacement and leaving millions facing famine.  The collapse of the country’s infrastructure has led to 14.5 million people, including nearly 8 million children,  having no access to clean water and sanitation.

With thousands more cases reported each day the number of cholera cases in Yemen is expected to exceed 600,000 by the end of the year.

 

 

A federal judge in Michigan has blocked the deportation of more than 1,400 Iraqi nationals, giving them time to make their cases in court before the government may deport them.  U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith granted a preliminary injunction request made by attorneys for the Iraqi nationals who had asked him to halt their deportation, saying they would be persecuted in Iraq. Goldsmith said the possible deportees, many whom are Chaldean Christian, would face “grave harm and possible death” in Iraq because there they are members of a persecuted minority.

In June, 234 Iraqi nationals were arrested and detained on removal orders that in most cases had been dormant for five to 10 years. For many years Iraqi has refused to accept deportees from the U.S. but they recently agreed to start accepting them after their country was taken off of the travel ban.

In addition to the 114 arrested during the ICE raids in Michigan in June, the judge’s order applies to 85 other Iraqis arrested outside the state. In total, there are 1,444 Iraqi nationals in the U.S. with final orders of deportation who could be affected by the judge’s ruling.

Judge Goldsmith entered a preliminary injunction to give the Iraqis 90 days to argue their cases before the Board of Immigration Appeals and the courts before the government can deport them back to Iraq.  Goldsmith said that the government made legal representation of the immigrants difficult because many of them have been moved around from state to state to different immigration centers.  Many of those targeted entered in the U.S. as children, and more than half of them have been in the country for more than a decade because Iraq refused to take them back, according to the ruling.

The court said that those detained have been housed around the country in federal detention facilities with limited access to legal advocates and their families.  Most of them are from Detroit, which has a large Chaldean Christian population.  They were targeted for deportation because they overstayed their visas or committed crimes — typically misdemeanors, according to advocates.

Clarence Dass, an attorney who represents about 25 of the 114 Iraqis arrested last month said “For people who have been learning their fate every two weeks, 90 days is a lifetime,” Dass said. “All we are asking is for a chance to show that deportation of these particular individuals is a death sentence, and the judge’s decision today allows us to do that. Once we show those facts and circumstances, I am hopeful we will be able to save their lives.”

A spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said the agency declined to comment on the ruling. ICE has said previously that the Iraqis detained have criminal records, pose safety threats, and have already had their cases heard in courts. The crimes they were convicted of range from marijuana possession to homicide.

 

 

 

Baltimore Ravens offensive lineman John Urschel has retired from the NFL just before the first full-team practice of training camp.  His decision  came two days after a medical study indicated that chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) was found in nearly 99 percent of deceased NFL players’ brains that were donated to scientific research.  A team source said that the findings weighed heavy on Urschel’s decision to retire.

The study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association found that of the 111 NFL players whose brains were studied, 110 of them had signs of CTE, which can lead to memory loss, depression and dementia—often years or even decades after players retire.  Several top names in the game- including Junior Seau, Frank Gifford, John Mackey and Kenny Stabler — were diagnosed with the disease after their deaths.

Coach John Harbaugh said he was surprised when Urschel called him 90 minutes before practice to inform him of his retirement.  “He said he’s going to retire from football, that it was something that’s been on his mind for quite a while and throughout the offseason.”

In August 2015, Urschel suffered a concussion in a helmet-to-helmet collision, which he said “I think it hurt my ability to think well mathematically,” Urschel said. “It took me about three weeks before I was football-ready. It took me a little bit longer before my high-level visualizations ability came back.”

Urschel will now pursue his PhD in Mathematics fulltime at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, focusing on spectral graph theory, numerical linear algebra and machine learning.  He had been pursuing it in the offseason prior to his retirement.  Urschel was recently named to Forbes’ “30 under 30” in the field of science. He has published six peer-reviewed mathematics papers to date and has three more ready for review.  According to the Ravens website, Urschel is an expert mathematician who gets straight A’s while also grinding away in the NFL trenches.

Urschel who played on the offensive line for three seasons with the Baltimore Ravens, received a $144,560 signing bonus when joining the Ravens in 2014. The bonus prorated at $36,140 per year. With one year left on the contract, Urschel owes the Ravens $36,140 upon retirement.

Urschel released a statement shortly after the announcement.  “Thank you to everyone for the kind words today. It wasn’t an easy decision, but I believe it was the right one for me,” Urschel said in a statement. “There’s no big story here, and I’d appreciate the right to privacy. I’m extremely grateful to the Ravens, and blessed to have been able to play the game I love at the highest level.

It is a great game. There are some games — like the playoff game at Pittsburgh — that I will never forget. I’m excited to start working on my doctorate in mathematics full time at MIT. I’m looking forward to the chance to take courses that are only offered in the fall semester, while spending time with my fiance and preparing myself for the new challenges that will come with fatherhood. We’re expecting our first child in December.”

Six Burundi teenagers have been reported missing after taking part in an international robotics competition in Washington DC. A police spokesperson said authorities “do not have any indication of foul play” as the investigation continues into what happened after the group attended the FIRST Global Challenge robotics competition with students from 157 nations.

Teams of high school students from more than 150 countries took part in the competition organized by FIRST Global, a U.S.-based non-profit that organized the competition which was designed to encourage careers in math and technology.

Police reports indicated that the four boys and two girls were last seen in the early evening of July 18th in northwest DC after which their adult mentor was unable to locate them. FIRST Global informed the police later that day.  All six members of the robotics team Audrey Mwamikazi, 17, Nice Munezero, 17, Don Charu Ingabire, 16, Kevin Sabumukiza, 17, Richard Irakoze, 18, and Aristide Irambona, 18 reportedly have one-year US visas.

The DC police have said that Ms Mwamikazi and Mr Ingabire are in Canada because they were spotted crossing the border but no details have been released about how they got there or why.  Canada’s Border Services Agency said it could neither confirm nor deny that the pair entered Canada.  DC police also said the other four teenagers seem to be in a safe place, but police are not reporting any further details.

The Republic of Burundi,has a population of 11.2 million people and is a landlocked country in the African Great Lakes region of East Africa.  It is bordered by Rwanda, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  It has been plagued by instability for decades with bouts of ethnic cleansing and ultimately two civil wars and genocides during the 1970s and again in the 1990s left the country undeveloped and its population as one of the world’s poorest.

Burundi continues to experience civil unrest after a failed coup in 2015.  The U.S. State Department issued a travel warning in late June about the African nation, advising Americans of “political tensions, political and criminal violence, and the potential for civil unrest.”  The warning also stated that rebel forces, ex-combatants and youth gangs from the Democratic Republic of Congo reportedly crossed into Burundi and attacked and kidnapped civilians; armed criminals have ambushed vehicles.

There have also been reports of human rights abuses as well. According to the UN, over 300,000 people fled the country since 2014 due to violent gangs from Congo and disappearances and killings allegedly committed by Burundian security forces.

 

Nearly a dozen families are struggling to understand how a loved one died or was injured after consuming alcohol while vacationing in Mexico.  Tourists to multiple upscale resorts in and around Cancun and Playa del Carmen say they believe they were drugged or served bootleg alcohol after small amounts of booze caused them to lose consciousness.

Tourists to multiple upscale resorts in and around Cancun and Playa del Carmen say they believe they were drugged or served bootleg alcohol after small amounts of booze caused them to lose consciousness.  These accounts have happened at Iberostar’s property in Cancun and at the company’s cluster of resorts 30 miles to the south in Playa del Carmen as well as other all-inclusive resorts in the region, such as Secrets and the Grand Oasis.

Victims range in age, male and female, all have reported consuming different types of alcohol, including tequila, rum and beer.  Some said they had as few as one or two drinks before losing consciousness-waking up hours later with no memory of where they had been or what had happened to them. In each case they said their reactions were unlike any other response they had ever had to alcohol, leaving them terrified.

College student Abbey Conner was on a family vacation when she was found face down in a swimming pool at the Iberostar Hotel & Resorts’ Paraiso del Mar.  Her brother Austin, who also nearly died, said she had taken about five shots of tequila earlier.  Iberostar’s parent company made a statement when asked about tainted alcohol possibly being served to Abbey Connor.  “We only purchase sealed bottles that satisfy all standards required by the designated regulatory authorities. We are deeply saddened by this incident and reiterate our deepest sympathies and condolences to the family.”

Nolan Webster, 22, also drowned in a swimming pool at a Mexican resort.  Witnesses testified that Nolan was not drunk at the Grand Oasis pool in Cancun when he died. A nurse signed a statement saying hotel staff forbade her from performing CPR on the man, who was breathing at the time.  Kathy Daley, 53, lost consciousness after taking a single shot of tequila, and Nancy Mahowald Nelson, 57, reported waking up in bloody sheets after having just two drinks with lunch.

Jamie and Rick Valeri stayed at an all-inclusive resort in 2015 where they both blacked out after a few drinks from the beach bar.  They said the hotel ignored complaints that they thought they had been drugged.  A Wisconsin woman said she was assaulted while both she and her husband were unconscious — something supported by an exam done by her OB-GYN when she returned to Neenah. Her husband woke up with a broken hand — a “boxer’s break” that his doctor said likely resulted from hitting someone — but also no memory of what had happened.

A 2015 report from Mexico’s Tax Administration Service found that 43% of all the alcohol consumed in the nation is illegal, produced under unregulated circumstances resulting in potentially dangerous concoctions.  The national health authority in Mexico has seized more than 1.4 million gallons of adulterated alcohol since 2010 from small local establishments, hotels and other entertainment areas

One Baltimore police officer has been suspended and two others placed on desk duty, after newly surfaced body camera video appeared to show one of the officers planting drugs during an arrest last January. In the video, Officer Richard Pinheiro is seen stashing a soup container in a lot strewn with garbage as two of his colleagues look on.

The officer briefly walks out to the street and returns to the site where he removes a plastic bag full of white capsules from the soup container. The officer was apparently unaware of a feature of his camera that stored 30 seconds of extra footage ahead of the moment he activated the device.  The footage was caught on camera in January but not discovered by a public defender until this month.  The public defender forwarded the video to the prosecutors in the case.   After the video’s release, prosecutors dropped heroin possession charges against the man who had been held in jail since January, unable to pay his $50,000 bail.  The prosecution team said that they were appalled by the behavior of the police officer.

Body cameras capture the 30 seconds before an officer actually hits the record button, but without audio. Baltimore police have said they believe the officer was recreating the discovery of drugs for the body cam.  The video has led to an investigation by the BPD’s Office of Professional Responsibility.

Officials have since released more video to back up their claims as they continue to investigate these serious allegations. Footage taken moments before the original video shows the man being arrested and the officers finding marijuana and heroin on his person. They then headed into the alley to continue their search, where they “found” the bag of 25 heroin pills.

Police are investigating if the officer planted the second set of drugs there or if he was recreating the discovery when his body camera was rolling.  “It’s certainly a possibility that we’re looking into, to see if the officers, in fact, replaced drugs that they had already discovered to document the discovery with their body-worn cameras on,” said Baltimore Police Department Commissioner Kevin Davis.

During a press conference, Davis said that they will look at “what happened, crimes committed, policies or procedures violated” and that he’s “convinced we’re going to get to the bottom of it, if evidence was planted and take assertive action if that’s the case.”  “This is a serious allegation of police misconduct,” Davis added. “There’s nothing that deteriorates the trust of any community more than thinking for more than one second that uniformed police officers — and police officers in general — would plant evidence of crimes on citizens.”

Baltimore Police are not new to scandal.  In 2016, the Justice Department found that officers from the Baltimore Police had planted drugs on a suspect on at least one occasion. In the same year, the police were also forced to settle a lawsuit with a man who accused officers of orchestrating a bogus drug bust at his residence.   They also sparked massive backlash for an incident in April 2015 when a young, black man named Freddie Gray died days after suffering a spinal injury while under police custody.