ICE Is Falsely Accusing Undocumented New Yorkers of Being Gang Members in a Plot to Deport Them En Masse

from December 4, 2017 at 05:04AM

Immigration activists have launched a truth-seeking mission.

When the Trump administration can’t find crimes to detain undocumented immigrants with, it invents them. That’s exactly what activists fear is occurring in Long Island, NY with Operation Matador, under which Immigration and Customs Enforcement claims to have arrested nearly 350 people for being members of MS-13, or Mara Salvatrucha, a Salvadorean gang whose violence is spreading across America. Advocates believe undocumented residents of Suffolk and Nassau counties are being erroneously arrested for being gang members so they can then be deported. To prove it, a coalition of immigration advocacy groups have filed Freedom of Information Act requests to discover the truth behind the mass deportations. 

The nationwide operation against the Central American MS-13 has been underway since May, and the sting is clearly politically charged. The GOP tried to win the Virginia governor’s race with baseless ads claiming Governor-elect Ralph Northam is linked to the violent gang, in an effort not only to defeat Northam but to spread the lie that undocumented immigrants are responsible for the gang’s growth. They failed in Virginia, but while ICE might have been restrained under previous administrations, as acting director Tom Homan explained to CBS News, "since Mr. Trump’s election, ICE has been able to make more arrests; in part, because this administration allows him to prioritize any individual who crosses the border illegally, not just those who have committed other crimes. "The NGOs and the advocates can say what they want. Everybody has their day in court."

The NGOs refers to are fighting back. "Immigration authorities seem to be using supposed gang affiliation as a pretext to detain immigrants and deny them benefits. New York communities will not be safer if immigrants avoid local law enforcement for fear of being arbitrarily locked up and deported," said Camille Mackler, director of immigration legal policy at the New York Immigration Coalition. Her organization is a member of I-ARC, a collaborative of 65 immigration, legal and nonprofit services around New York State that jointly filed the FOIA request. They hope to find the information they need from Homeland Security Investigations, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the Suffolk and Nassau County Police Departments, and the New York City Police Department.

Babe Howell, a professor at CUNY School of Law, thinks the arrests are "based on inaccurate information, including information from law enforcement gang databases, which are based on appearances and association rather than on criminal conduct." In fact, she continued, "any conviction for a crime or criminality is not required. There’s no notice, or a review, or an ability to appeal, so there’s no way of correcting errors in the gang databases." 

ICE agents have even admitted the evidence is less than foolproof. Before one early morning raid targeting a 20-year-old suspected gang member earlier this month, Jason Molina, an assistant special agent in charge of the raid told CBS News, "Yes. We have information, we have pictures of him actually flashing gang signs." However, as even CBS pointed out, "gang membership is not a crime, and the agents did not have a criminal warrant." Molina had told reporter Margaret Brennan prior to the raid that he expected the suspect to be heavily armed, but the agents found only "pellet guns or BB guns." 

Unfortunately, as Mackler explained, ICE, Homeland Security and related agencies were still able to make this arrest and hundreds of others under Operation Matador simply because the target is an undocumented person. "They were actually using Operation Matador to not only arrest gang members but also arrest individuals who have no other issues on their record other than they are here in the United States undocumented," Mackler said.  

Activists are adamant that raids like this are counter-productive. In fact, MS-13 is "terrorizing our immigrant communities and our immigrant neighbors," Mackler said. "Many of them, themselves or their family and friends and neighbors fled those very same gangs and thought that they were finding safety here on Long Island or here in the United States." 

Operation Matador is also undoing years of work spent building trust between immigrant communities and police in an effort to fight gang violence. Patrick Young, program director at the Central American Refugee Center (CARECEN) and a member of the coalition that filed the FOIA request explained that “we have always wanted to work to bring the police and the community together because we believe the community are the eyes and the ears of the police in countering the growth and violence of Mara Salvatrucha and other gangs on Long Island." Unfortunately, he continued, "we’ve seen a lot of our work basically go by the wayside in the last 11 months. People now in the community are very much afraid to come forward. They see the police as working together with ICE in immigration enforcement.”

Once I-ARC has received and analyzed the documents, Mackler, Howell and Young explained they will be compiling a report with their findings and creating toolkits for immigrant communities and immigration attorneys to use when they believe gang allegations have been made in an inappropriate way. They’re not expecting a smoking gun, but rather stronger proof of the government’s attempts to use fabricated gang affiliation as a pretense for deportation. 

Read more at: Alternet

New Investigation Finds U.S. Special Forces Massacred Somali Civilians and Orchestrated a Cover-Up

from December 4, 2017 at 05:04AM

The victims were farmers, according to a report this week of eyewitness accounts.

The Pentagon is on the defensive after a new investigation revealed evidence that U.S. special operations forces massacred civilians in Somalia earlier this year, allegedly firing on unarmed farmers and their families, then planting weapons beside the bodies to appear as though the people were armed members of al-Shabab. On Wednesday they released a statement that said, “After a thorough assessment of the Somali National Army-led operation near Bariire, Somalia, on Aug. 25, 2017 and the associated allegations of civilian casualties, U.S. Special Operations Command Africa has concluded that the only casualties were those of armed enemy combatants.” This came after The Daily Beast published an investigation Wednesday on the operation and its aftermath and reported what eyewitnesses have said since the attack—the victims were farmers, and they were killed by American soldiers. All of this comes as the U.S. recently revealed it has some 500 troops in Somalia, up from a reported 50 earlier this year. We speak with Christina Goldbaum, an independent journalist based in Mogadishu, Somalia. Her new article for The Daily Beast is the investigation headlined, “Strong Evidence that U.S. Special Operations Forces Massacred Civilians in Somalia.”


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

The Pentagon is on the defensive after a new investigation revealed evidence that U.S. special operations forces massacred civilians in Somalia earlier this year, allegedly firing on unarmed farmers and their families, then planting weapons beside the bodies to appear as though the people were armed members of al-Shabab.

On Wednesday, the Pentagon released a statement that said, “After a thorough assessment of the Somali National Army-led operation near Bariire, Somalia, on August 25, 2017, and the associated allegations of civilian casualties, U.S. Special Operations Command Africa has concluded that the only casualties were those of armed enemy combatants.

This statement came after The Daily Beast published an investigation Wednesday on the Bariire operation and its aftermath, and reported what eyewitnesses have said since the attack. The victims were farmers. They were killed by American soldiers, they said.

MUQTAR MOAALIM ABDI: American forces attacked us and our farms, and killed these people, including children. Those killed were farmers who were innocent and not al-Shabab fighters.

AMY GOODMAN: In fact, after the attack, hundreds protested, and survivors refused to bury their dead until the Somali government apologized and withdrew allegations that they were members al-Shabab, and reportedly paid the victims’ families as much as $75,000 each. All of this comes as the U.S. recently revealed it has some 500 troops in Somalia, up from a reported 50 earlier this year. And on Thursday, the death toll reported from a massive truck bomb attack in Mogadishu in October rose from at least 350 to 512.

For more, we’re joined by Christina Goldbaum, an independent journalist based in Mogadishu, Somalia. Today she joins us from Nairobi, Kenya. Her new article in The Daily Beast is headlined, Strong Evidence that U.S. Special Operations Forces Massacred Civilians in Somalia.

Christina, thanks so much for being with us. You interviewed several survivors, as well as the Somali Army commander in charge of Somali soldiers who assisted in the operation, and also Somali intelligence officers, local leaders, and government officials familiar with this attack. Can you lay out what you found? What happened this past summer?

CHRISTINA GOLDBAUM: As you said, after this operation happened, there was a big uproar in Somalia. People were protesting in a town nearby to where this happened. The families also refused to bury their dead until the Somali national government admitted that they were civilians, as you say. And so after that happened, I began looking into what exactly had happened in that operation. This investigation included over two dozen interviews of people who know about it and people who were eyewitnesses. And what I found is shocking in two ways.

The first is that AFRICOM, or the U.S. Africa Command, often says that U.S. soldiers on the ground in Somalia and elsewhere in Africa are doing “advise, assist”—and now they’re starting to say “accompany”—missions. And they will have the public believe that in the course of these operations, U.S. soldiers are not in the line of fire. They are simply advising and assisting local forces.

And so the first thing that shocked me in the course of this investigation was learning that in fact, U.S. soldiers who were part of this mission were on the front lines. They were firing in addition to the Somali National Army soldiers, at these civilians. And we learned that from looking at the shell casings that were found and were immediately collected after this operation happened, and immediately brought to Mogadishu, again because these farmers are civilians and they wanted to make that clear. So that I think is one thing that is very important to note. Because again, U.S. Africa Command will have the American public believe that U.S. soldiers are not in the line of fire, and this clearly demonstrates that that is not the case.

The second kind of interesting fact about this is that—Somalia is an incredibly complex environment. You have al-Shabab militants in rural areas, but then you also have a lot of clans who have rivalries and are in conflict with each other. So you also have a lot of farmers, pastoralists, who are armed, to protect their resources, to protect their camels, to protect their farmland, from rival clans and rival clan militias.

And what became clear to me in the course of this investigation was that the U.S. special operators who had carried out this operation didn’t quite understand that dynamic in the course of planning this operation. They had approached the Ugandan Defense Force’s contingent commander as a part of the African Union peacekeeping force, and his purview includes Bariire. And he had actually advised them against doing this mission.

When he said that he would not offer his soldiers, they instead went to a Somali National Army brigade that had not been trained by U.S. soldiers, as some Somali National Army brigades has been. The U.S. is there training Danab, which is a special forces unit of the Somali National Army. So they approached the Somali National Army to help them with this operation.

It became clear that they were getting information from that leader of that brigade of the Somali National Army, who is a former al-Shabab commander. They were also getting information from a militia leader who is in direct rivalry to the clan of the farmers who were killed. And in addition to that, they are also using a translator who they had used in a different operation a year ago in central Somalia, in north central Somalia, that had resulted in the death of ten people that were not al-Shabab. They were in fact from a local militia that the U.S. had been working alongside.

And so it seems as if those three individuals in particular, perhaps others, had misled U.S. forces, and that those U.S. forces had not sufficiently vetted the information that they were getting, about who these farmers are.

I also learned from talking to the farmers who had survived this operation that they had approached the Somali National Army commander multiple times in the week prior to this operation happening, to let him know that they did have arms but they were not al-Shabab. That the arms that they had were to protect them from a rival clan who they believed were going to attack their farm. And they wanted to make clear to the American special operators they knew were now in this town nearby that they were simply farmers, and they were armed, but that did not mean that they were al-Shabab.

And yet, that information was clearly not conveyed to these U.S. special operators. And again,I don’t think that the information that they were getting in the lead-up to this operation had been sufficiently vetted. And again, if you read that AFRICOMstatement that came out just after I published this investigation with The Daily Beast, they will remind you that they take every precaution to try to protect civilian lives. And I would say that in this operation, that’s not the case. That this information was not sufficiently vetted, which is why ten farmers, including one child, was killed in the course of this operation.

AMY GOODMAN: So this happened, Christina Goldbaum, on August 25th, this past summer. Explain what the people did then with—well, what the soldiers did, and which soldiers did this, laying weapons out next to the dead bodies?

CHRISTINA GOLDBAUM: Yes. When the farmers approached the Somali National Army commander, he had instructed them—and he told local media this immediately after this incident—he had instructed them to place their weapons in a house. That way, that if there was drone surveillance, they would not be confused for al-Shabab, because they wouldn’t be carrying arms.

So on those instructions, these farmers placed their weapons in a house. It was a part of this farming village. And after they were killed, after they were shot and the survivors were brought to the scene where some of their fellow farmers were shot, they saw the Somali National Army soldiers go into the house on the instruction of U.S. special operators, collect the weapons that had been inside that house, and then place them next to the bodies of the farmers who were killed. And then they saw the three U.S. special operators taking photos of their bodies.

Now, it is important to note that usually if there is a firefight and a weapon is displaced—maybe it’s thrown a foot or two away from an enemy who was killed—that it is not unusual for a soldier to take that weapon and place it next to the body of that person killed before taking a photo, to demonstrate that they are an enemy combatant. However, these weapons were not displaced on the battlefield in the course of a firefight These weapons were in a home, on the instruction of the Somali National Army commander.

And it seems to me, seeing the Somali National Army soldiers collect them from this house where they had been stashed, and place them next to the weapons, it’s directly misleading. Taking a picture of a farmer who was killed with a weapon that was in a house and not—he was not firing back in the course of this operation—to try to prove that he is an al-Shabab militant, that is directly misleading.

And I think one thing that shocked me again in the course of this investigation is the seemingly kind of cover-up of what happened. From placing these weapons next to the bodies, to diplomats in Mogadishu pressuring the Somali government to hide the findings of their own investigation into this incident, which proved that these people were civilians. And because of that investigation, because the Somali government knows that they are civilians, that’s why they paid these families at least $70,000 in the aftermath. And they would never do that if these people were al-Shabab militants.

AMY GOODMAN: So the amount of money you’re talking about, you’re talking about each family got something like $70,000? Where did the money come from?

CHRISTINA GOLDBAUM: I talked to a number of government officials who gave me the figure between $60,000 and $70,000. At least one of those government official believed that that money is actually coming from the United States. That’s only one person. I haven’t confirmed that. But that is his strong belief, that part of—again, in the aftermath of this, part of the U.S. diplomats pressuring the Somali government to not publish the findings of their investigation was kind of quietly paying these families as compensation for what happened.

Again, that is one source, but it is clear that these families were paid in the aftermath of this event, which again would never happen if they were al-Shabab combatants. You would never have protests like you did if they were al-Shabab combatants. And you would never have al-Shabab bringing the bodies of those killed to Mogadishu and refusing to bury them, if they were al-Shabab. That would be absolutely unprecedented, and I can’t see any reason why al-Shabab would do so.

AMY GOODMAN: And the idea that the villagers took the bodies of the dead to Mogadishu to prove that they were civilians and not al-Shabab?

CHRISTINA GOLDBAUM: Exactly. Again, there has never been any incident in Somalia where al-Shabab brought their own militants to Mogadishu and refused to bury them. That would be absolutely unprecedented and I cannot see any reason why al-Shabab would do that.

The reason that this happened—the elders of this particular clan were again pressuring the Somali federal government to admit they were civilians. The fellow farmers who survived were pressuring them to do the same, because they were being told that they were al-Shabab militants when they are not. So again, that has never happened. And again, I cannot see any reason why al-Shabab would bring their militants to Mogadishu, or why hundreds of people would protest this.

It has become, I think, very clear in Somalia, that these people are civilians, which is why the AFRICOM statement saying that their investigation found that they were enemy armed combatants—and note they don’t say “al-Shabab,” they say “enemy armed combatants”—is really troubling. That makes me think that perhaps it is again this kind of cover-up of saying, “No, no, no. These people were firing back at us.” Which simply, in the course of my investigation, is not the case.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, Christina, I want to ask you about a bombing that took place two months later, almost two months later. Now the numbers have been adjusted to over 500 people killed in the twin bomb blasts in Mogadishu October 14th. Can you talk about—is there any link between these two?

CHRISTINA GOLDBAUM: There is not a link between these two. There was an article that came out in the aftermath of that bombing that alleged that one of the suicide bombers was somebody who had been radicalized after that operation. What happened is that about a month after the incident where the farmers were killed, al-Shabab went to the town nearby, which the Somali National Army soldiers were attempting to hold from them, and retook the town, killing about 40 Somali National Army soldiers in the course of that.

And after that happened, which was at the end of September, that entire area now is yet again in the hands of al-Shabab. So it is possible that the suicide bomber came from that area, but if so, it is only because al-Shabab retook the town nearby and perhaps sent one of their militants from that town to Mogadishu to carry out that tragic bombing.

AMY GOODMAN: Christina Goldbaum, I want to thank you for being with us. Last question—what directly has the Pentagon told you in your reporting on both the massacre and what you are alleging is a U.S. Pentagon cover-up?

CHRISTINA GOLDBAUM: I spoke to them a day before my article came out, and they had told me that the investigation was still ongoing. So to me it’s very suspicious that 30 minutes after my article was published, that they have come out to say that the investigation has finished, and that they have found that they were not civilians who were killed. So again, that was 24 hours before this article came out, and the DoD was telling me that the investigation was still ongoing. It was undergoing a credibility assessment then.

AMY GOODMAN: Christina Goldbaum, thank you so much for your incredible reporting. Independent journalist based in Mogadishu. Her new article for _The Daily Beast” is headlined Strong Evidence that U.S. Special Operations Forces Massacred Civilians in Somalia. We will link to The Daily Beast piece at Christina was joining us today from Nairobi, Kenya.

The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.

Read more at: Alternet

Antifa Counter Protesters Overwhelm Nazi Rally at the White House

from December 4, 2017 at 07:05AM

The event lasted 20 minutes before Richard Spencer & Co. beat a hasty retreat.

Antifa Drowns Out Nazi Rally at the White House

President Trump and FOX News aren’t the only ones angry over the verdict in the Kate Steinle trial, wherein undocumented Mexican immigrant Jose Ines Garcia Zarate was acquitted of first-degree murder, second-degree murder, as well as most of the charges he faced. Neo-Nazis and white nationalists, many of whom were present in Charlottesville, Virginia this August…

Read more at: Alternet

The President of Honduras Is Deploying U.S.-Trained Forces Against Election Protesters

from December 3, 2017 at 11:12AM

Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández, using the specter of rampant crime and the drug trade, won extensive support from the American government to build up highly trained state security forces. Now, those same forces are repressing democracy.

The post-election situation in Honduras continues to deteriorate as Hernández, a conservative leader and stalwart U.S. ally in Central America, has disputed the result of last week’s vote while working to crack down on protests sweeping the nation.

Initial results showed Salvador Nasralla, an ex-sportscaster chosen by an alliance of left-wing political parties as their candidate, leading the vote count after the November 26 presidential election. The lead was substantial enough that a magistrate on the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, or TSE, estimated victory by Nasralla, characterizing his lead as “irreversible.”

The next day the TSE announced that Hernández was closing the gap. Then it suddenly stopped publicizing the tally, alleging that its electronic system went down, prompting criticism from European Union election observers. Police and military flooded the streets in the hours of silence that followed. On Wednesday, the announcement that Hernández had overtaken Nasralla in the vote count was met with disbelief. In the words of Salvadoran journalist Carlos Dada, “There are only two possibilities: Either the TSE is of Olympic incompetence or it’s committing fraud.”

The turn of events led to chaos on the streets, and Hernández instituted a military-imposed curfew across the nation on Friday. At least one protester has been killed and scores of others have been injured and arrested in violent clashes with police.

For human rights observers, the curfew and delay of an official recount are steps to produce an inevitable Hernández victory, regardless of the vote tally.

“The delay has only served to fuel claims of mass fraud, confusion, and deep suspicion,” said Karen Spring, a human rights activist with the Honduras Solidarity Network. The demonstrators “went into the street because they know that being calm means allowing a cover-up to happen and what many call a dictator to illegally stay in power,” she added.

Several observers on the ground told The Intercept that they have seen elite military police from the TIGRES and Cobras units alongside the Honduran National Police involved in clashes with protesters in the capital, Tegucigalpa, and around the country. The three forces are increasingly coordinated as the violence soars, they say.

On the evening of Wednesday November 29, the three forces launched tear gas against an estimated 1,000 people who were gathered to wait for results outside the building where the TSE tabulated. Among the demonstrators was former police commissioner Maria Luisa Borjas, who wrote in an email statement to a group of journalists that the people gathered included many children and the elderly, along with opposition candidate Nasralla and his pregnant wife.

An American human rights observer also present said that when the coalition of police forces attacked the crowd the gathering was peaceful. “People were singing and had a giant Honduran flag, they were running up and down the street. It was beautiful actually. People were angry – it was loud – but it was peaceful,” the observer, who asked for anonymity given the increasingly dangerous situation, told The Intercept in a phone interview.

On Friday evening, as police cleared demonstrators from the streets of the La Kennedy neighborhood of Tegucigalpa, officers adorned with visible TIGRES insignia were spotted by Spring. The TIGRES were accompanied by Cobras and Honduran National Police (PNH), according to another human rights observer from the U.S., who also asked not to be named out of fear for her safety.

On Saturday night, Borjas received multiple emergency calls from the Cabañas neighborhood of San Pedro Sula, a city in Northern Honduras. People were being forced out of their houses and into the streets when Honduran law enforcement, including the PNH, launched tear gas canisters into their homes. Police attacked because the neighbors had begun a “cacerolazo,” a common form of protest in Latin America, banging pots and pans when state repression makes anything else impossible. Upon forcing people out of their homes, the PNH arrested them, Borjas said. “This is happening as we speak,” she told The Intercept in a phone interview on Saturday night, adding that the TIGRES and Cobras maintain a strong presence on the streets especially around the building where the votes are being tallied.

Police officers in riot gear clash with supporters of Honduran presidential candidate for the Opposition Alliance against the Dictatorship coalition, Salvador Nasralla, near the Electoral Supreme Court (TSE), as the country waits for the final results of the week-end's presidential election, in Tegucigalpa, on November 30, 2017. Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez edged closer Thursday to winning a tense election as rival Nasralla said he will not recognize the result, claiming fraud. In a vote count dogged by computer failures and claims by Nasralla that the president was stealing the election, Hernandez had overturned a 5.0 percent deficit by early Thursday to lead by just 1.0 percent with 90 percent of the votes counted. / AFP PHOTO / Orlando SIERRA (Photo credit should read ORLANDO SIERRA/AFP/Getty Images)

Police officers in riot gear clash with supporters of Honduran presidential candidate for the Opposition Alliance against the Dictatorship coalition, Salvador Nasralla, near the Electoral Supreme Court (TSE), as the country waits for the final results of the week-end’s presidential election, in Tegucigalpa, on Nov. 30, 2017.

Photo: Orlando Sierra/AFP/Getty Images

The PNH and elite military police units are among the beneficiaries of generous security-related foreign aid earmarked for Honduras by the U.S. government. Figures compiled by the Security Assistance Monitor show that Honduras has received nearly $114 million in security support since 2009.

The PNH receives extensive training by various branches of the U.S. government. The exact substance of U.S. training for foreign security forces is notoriously difficult to ascertain, but some light has been shed by new data provided by the Departments of State, Defense, Justice and Homeland Security at the request of Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., and shared with The Intercept by John Lindsey Poland, a Latin America expert who participated in making the request.

In 2015, for instance, the data shows that members of the PNH received courses titled “Advanced Close Quarter Combat,” “Tactical Safety and Survival,” “Communication and Electronic Intelligence,” among others, and received donations including Toyota trucks and computers. “Multiple Honduran Military and Law Enforcement Units” also received trainings on “Special Forces Advanced Military Operations in Urban Terrain,” “Reconnaissance and Surveillance” and other themes. “This will support [U.S. Southern Command] Theater Engagement strategy and will improve partner national [counternarcotics] units’ abilities to conduct unilateral and combined [counternarcotics] missions,” reads the text describing the purpose and objective of those courses, as reported by the Defense Department and U.S. Southern Command.

Courses listed for the year 2016 were similar. The instructors of the courses both years included federal agencies like the DEA, FBI and the State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL), along with other agencies such as the Chicago police force. The data does not include additional detail about curriculum of the courses or identifying information of trainers or trainees.

Since the elections, the Honduran government has made no effort to conceal the role of the two elite military police units. In the run up to the election, Secretary of Security Julián Pacheco Tinoco announced that TIGRES and Cobra forces would be among the 16,000 police officers deployed to monitor the election.

The Comando de Operaciones Especiales, or Cobras, are riot police trained by U.S. SWAT teams. The Tropa de Inteligencia de Respuesta Especial de Seguridad, or TIGRES, were formed to fight urban violence and organized crime in 2014 by Hernández as he took office promising to bring down the world’s highest peacetime murder rate.

The TIGRES are paid a higher salary than traditional Honduran police, and they have also benefited from close coordination with multiple U.S. military bases in Honduras. A video obtained by the Wall Street Journal shows Green Beret units training with the TIGRES in the mountains of Honduras.

The militarized units, known to operate at night with uniforms that disguise the officers’ faces, have featured widely in Hernández’s political campaigns as the president has championed his war on crime.

But the TIGRES, Cobras and PNH have all been denounced for human rights violations.

The TIGRES in particular are said to have been used to harass political opponents and simply rob the cartels they are designed to rein in. Shortly after the formation of the unit, TIGRES officers assigned to work with the U.S. Embassy on counternarcotics operations stole $1.3 million from cocaine traffickers targeted in a raid.

Most controversically, there have been allegations that TIGRES were involved in the harassment of Berta Cáceres, an internationally-known and respected human rights and environmental activist who was assassinated last year.

Before her death, Cáceres, an outspoken critic of the Hernández administration, warned that commandos from the TIGRES had occupied her rural community, where Cáceres had led a protest movement against a planned hydroelectric dam. In a recording made just one month before her killing, she explicitly named the TIGRES, calling commandos from the force a “hostile and aggressive presence.”

There have been attempts to stem U.S. aid to Honduras since the environmentalist’s killing, either through enforcing existing statutes, such as the so-called Leahy Law, barring foreign aid to regimes with repeated human rights violations, or passing new legislation. In the House of Representatives, 68 Democrats have sponsored HR 1299, the Berta Cáceres Human Rights in Honduras Act, to make Honduran foreign aid contingent on anti-corruption measures and a halt to the killing of journalists and activists in the country.

“The Honduran security forces are using our tax payer dollars to repress peaceful demonstrations against stolen elections.”

The Republican majority in Congress has not scheduled a hearing for the bill, making its prospects unlikely. Now, Cáceres’ nephew Silvio Carillo, who lives in the United States, tells The Intercept, “The Honduran security forces are using our tax payer dollars to repress peaceful demonstrations against stolen elections. We are giving Juan Orlando Hernández money so he can get away with murder.”

The build-up of military police forces, ostensibly to combat the drug trade, comes as the Hernández administration faces increasing attention for its own role in drug cartels.

In March, Devis Leonel Rivera Maradiaga, the former leader of the Cachiros cartel, told a federal courtroom in New York that he had met with Hernández’s brother to steer government contracts to a company used to launder cartel money.

The revelation was made during the case of Fabio Lobo, who plead guilty for attempting to smuggle several tons of cocaine from Honduras to the United States. Lobo is the politically connected son of President Porfirio Lobo Sosa, Hernández’s predecessor and ally in the right-wing National Party. Lobo was elected in 2009 following the coup d’etat that swept the left-wing President Manuel Zelaya out of office.

A separate and equally stunning revelation was made last year in a courtroom in South Florida, during a case involving two nephews of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro prosecuted for drug trafficking, as researcher Jake Johnston recently reported for The Intercept.

During the trial, José Santos Peña, a Mexican drug trafficker-turned-informant, confided that he had met with Julián Pacheco, Hernández’s chief of security and the head of the TIGRES forces, to discuss plans to move cocaine through from Colombia through Honduras to the United States. Santos said he was introduced to Pacheco by Fabio Lobo.

Johnston notes that despite the disclosures, “Pacheco remains a close US ally, whose ties to the US military span decades.” Now, Johnston adds, “Pacheco is overseeing the same security forces that are repressing election protesters in the streets.”

Additionally, two 2017 reports, one from Global Witness and the other from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, uncovered damning evidence of systematic corruption, especially as concerns the National Party, to which Hernández belongs.

The increasing scrutiny, as well as the cascading corruption scandal involving millions of dollars stolen from the Honduran social security program in part to fund campaigns for the National Party, has prompted a bonanza of D.C. lobbying by the Honduran government.

Since 2014, Honduras has retained four lobbying firms to reach out to lawmakers, members of the Trump administration and the American media.

Records show that one lobbyist, Gus K. West, has reached out to Florida’s Republican Senator Marco Rubio and Democratic Rep. Ted Deutch, among others on Capitol Hill, to tout Honduran efforts to combat crime, and wrote to the New York Times on the assassination of Cáceres. Another lobbying shop on government retainer, Keybridge Communications, has boosted Hernández’s reelection effort, sending press releases to U.S. media boasting about the president’s commitment to confronting corruption and the integrity of the presidential election.

In a Dec 1 statement distributed by Keybridge, the government of Honduras said that it is “deeply sad that violence has erupted on the streets of Honduras and that our nation’s democratic institutions have come under attack ” — violence it goes on to blame on ousted president Mel Zelaya for “inciting” Nasralla’s supporters to engage in violence.

Hernández has also traveled to Washington to meet with President Trump and Vice President Pence, both of whom warmly welcomed the leader. He is also close to White House chief of staff John Kelly, who referred to the president this year as a “great guy” and a “good friend.”

Cultivating powerful friends in Washington has worked so far, as Hernández has weathered criticism over his handling of the Cáceres slaying, the social security scandal, and his administration’s reported ties to drug traffickers.

The crackdown by security forces only further impresses the need to reconsider their U.S. funding, experts say. “U.S.-funded police and military are engaged in violent repression of Honduran protesters, using munitions marked as made in the USA,” said Dana Frank, Professor of History at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

“For years, members of Congress have called for an immediate suspension of police and military aid to Honduras, because of ongoing human rights abuses like this, committed with impunity,” said Frank. “Now those forces are being used to repress the basic right of the Honduran people to protest. The Honduran elections offer a chance to declare which side the US is on: democratic processes and the rule of law, or the ongoing dance with a dangerous dictator, further consolidating his power.”

Top photo: Supporters of Honduran presidential candidate for the Opposition Alliance against the Dictatorship party Salvador Nasralla, are affected by tear gas during a protest outside the Electoral Supreme Court (TSE), to demand the announcement of the election final results in Tegucigalpa, on November 30, 2017.

The post The President of Honduras Is Deploying U.S.-Trained Forces Against Election Protesters appeared first on The Intercept.

Read more at: The Intercept

House Republicans Propose Cutting Student Aid While Lifting Curbs on Taxpayer Funding of For-Profit Colleges

from December 4, 2017 at 01:12PM

While Senate Republicans last week hashed out the details to pass a bill that would hike taxes for the middle class in order to slash them for corporations, House Republicans unveiled a higher education bill that would broadly reshape how the federal government pays for and regulates college — by cutting back on various student aid programs while also lifting current regulations that require for-profit colleges to meet certain thresholds to receive tax dollars.

Reps. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., and Brett Guthrie, R-Ky., of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce on Friday introduced the bill, titled the Promoting Real Opportunity, Success, and Prosperity through Education Reform, or PROSPER, Act. Foxx, who chairs the committee, and Guthrie are the point people for House Republicans when it comes to higher education policy and will now start looking for co-sponsors for the bill, which has a long road to passage.

House Democrats, for their part, have not introduced legislation as a comprehensive alternative, but progressives have been enlisting co-sponsors for the College for All Act, which would make public colleges and universities tuition-free.

The 542-page Republican bill would have a wide-ranging impact on higher education, but two of the proposals stand out for their immediate impact on students and colleges: reductions in traditional aid programs and rollbacks of regulations limiting federal funding to for-profit colleges.

The bill would, for instance, completely eliminate the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, which forgives student loans for borrowers who work for a nonprofit or in a state, local, or federal government job and make 120 qualifying monthly payments over a period of 10 years. More than half a million borrowers have utilized the program since 2007 to help them deal with student debt. Gregory Crespi, a Southern Methodist University law professor who studies the program told the ABA Journal that roughly a quarter of jobs in the U.S. economy would be considered public interest jobs.

The legislation would also consolidate the student financial aid system, shifting it toward a “one grant, one loan” model, which could threaten subsidies offered to borrowers. It would also introduce caps on graduate student loans.

University of Southern California Law School professor Michael Simkovic wrote in a blog post that he worries such caps could would be most beneficial to the private lending market.

“These measures, if enacted, would be a boon to private student lenders like Sallie Mae, who would be able to both increase their prices and increase their market share as federal student loans become less competitive and less available,” Simkovic wrote. “Consequently, expected financing costs for students will likely increase, to the detriment of both students and educational institutions.”

It would possibly also shortchange the government.

“According to a study by the Government Accountability Office and the Department of Education, loans to graduate and professional students are the most profitable in the government’s portfolio — even after income-based repayment and debt forgiveness,” he noted. “Capping loans to these attractive borrowers may reduce the overall profitability of federal student lending and pave the way for arguments for more cuts to federal lending in the future.”

Debbie Cochrane, vice president of the Institute for College Access Success, pointed out in a statement that the bill would also “start charging millions of low- and middle-income students interest on all of their loans while they’re still in school, adding thousands of dollars to students’ loan balances.”

While curbing certain forms of student aid, the bill would also loosen the purse strings on federal dollars to for-profit colleges by eliminating certain regulations.

For instance, it would do away with the so-called “90/10 rule.” Under this rule, for-profit colleges are barred from receiving more than 90 percent of their revenues from Department of Education Title IV federal aid, which includes various loan and grants programs.

It would also eliminate gainful employment rules. These regulations from the federal government establish minimum thresholds in terms of the debt-to-income ratios of the graduates of for-profit colleges. Colleges that do not meet this threshold therefore become ineligible for federal aid.

“Where students are the losers under this proposal, the clear winners are for-profit colleges. By gutting regulations designed to ensure that schools provide the education students have paid for, this bill would have the taxpayers write a blank check to colleges that overcharge and under-deliver,” Cochrane said in a statement.

Top photo: President Donald Trump reacts with Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., before signing a memorandum to expand access to STEM, science, technology, engineering and math, education, in the Oval Office of the White House Sept. 25, 2017, in Washington.

The post House Republicans Propose Cutting Student Aid While Lifting Curbs on Taxpayer Funding of For-Profit Colleges appeared first on The Intercept.

Read more at: The Intercept

International Politics Expert Warns the U.S. Is Sliding Into Fascism

from November 30, 2017 at 07:15AM

Brian Klaas
Photo Credit: Screengrab

An international politics expert who studies authoritarian regimes said President Donald Trump was already taking steps to gather tyrannical power — and he called on Americans to stop him.

Brian Klaas, an expert on global democracy and political violence, told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” that Americans should worry about the Trump’s willingness to flout the law and attack democratic institutions.

“I’m worried about it,” Klaas said. “Retweeting a Britain First account linked to neo-Nazis and provoke a spat with our allies. You have demonization of the press and also attacking CNN, saying we should boycott them. There (are) constant ethics violations, violations of the Hatch Act.”

Klaas, the author of “The Despot’s Accomplice: How the West is Aiding & Abetting the Decline of Democracy,” said the White House press secretary had given an “Orwellian” response to questions about those anti-Muslim videos Trump retweeted from a British fascist.

“Sarah Huckabee Sanders says it doesn’t matter if it’s true, what’s true is what the president says,” Klaas said.

He said what’s happening now in the United States lines up with the early stages of authoritarian regimes he’s studied in other countries.

“These things are happening on a daily basis,” Klaas said. “What I’ve been trying to say for a long time is, this is not a drill. This is not the thing where we move on to the next story tomorrow. This is a threat to our democracy and to the core values we stand for. Are we bigots who just smear Muslims and say that they’re hateful, anti-Christian criminals, and then just move on to the next piece of breaking news? No, we’re not.”

“People need to draw a line in the sand, because if we don’t draw it there, where do we draw it?” he added.

Mika Brzezinski, the show’s co-host, agreed with his conclusions.

“There are a lot of people that say this is how it begins,” she said. “I am there completely.”

Travis Gettys is an editor for Raw Story. 

Read more at: Alternet

Shooting Of Baltimore Detective Set To Testify In Police Fraud Case Fuels Frenzy

from November 29, 2017 at 02:38PM

BALTIMORE (AP) — The death of a Baltimore homicide detective shot in the head with his own gun two weeks ago has transformed into a feeding frenzy of speculation in a city filled with armchair sleuths and deeply suspicious views of law enforcers.

The unsolved Nov. 15 shooting of Detective Sean Suiter is the talk of Baltimore, where residents are dissecting details of the case in offices, on street corners and on social media. It’s a homicide investigation, but the version of events offered up by police brass is being increasingly questioned since it came to light that the detective was shot a day before he was set to testify before a federal grand jury probing an elite unit of indicted officers.

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Nebraska Panel Approves Keystone Pipeline Expansion Despite Oil Leak

from November 20, 2017 at 09:14AM

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — A Nebraska commission approved an alternative route for the Keystone XL oil pipeline through the state on Monday, removing the last major regulatory obstacle to building the long-delayed $8 billion project.

The Nebraska Public Service Commission’s vote on the long-delayed project could still be challenged in court. The alternative route would run farther north than the preferred route proposed by pipeline developer TransCanada Corp., which plans to build a 1,179-mile (1,897-kilometer) pipeline from Canada across several U.S. states.

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Trump Pressured Top Republicans to End the Senate’s Russia Probe: Report

from December 1, 2017 at 04:49AM

Photo Credit: Michael Candelori / Shutterstock

A startling Thursday night report from the New York Times outlines how President Donald Trump tried to pressure top Republican lawmakers in the U.S. Senate to end the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation into Russia.

“It was something along the lines of, ‘I hope you can conclude this as quickly as possible,’” Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), the committee’s chairman, said to the Times.

Trump reportedly called Burr’s congressional colleagues to secure assistance in pushing Burr to end the investigation. The president also urged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) to “swiftly” bring the probe to an end.

An unnamed Republican lawmaker says Trump called him to suggest he investigate Hillary Clinton and her ties to Fusion GPS, which had a role in compiling the dossier on Trump.

White House spokesperson Raj Shah said Trump  “at no point has attempted to apply undue influence on committee members.”

But Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), a former chairwoman of the intelligence committee, said Trump’s behavior is a breach of the separation of powers.

“It is pressure that should never be brought to bear by an official when the legislative branch is in the process of an investigation,” she said.

Chris Sosa is a managing editor at AlterNet. His work also appears in Mic, Salon, Care2, Huffington Post and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisSosa.

Read more at: Alternet

Flynn Pleads Guilty To Lying To FBI Agents About Russian Contacts

from December 1, 2017 at 08:29AM

Former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn pleaded guilty Friday to a single charge brought by Special Counsel Robert Mueller of making false statements to FBI agents about contacts with the Russian ambassador in 2016.

Flynn has agreed to cooperate with the Mueller probe as part of his guilty plea, which he entered in a federal courtroom in Washington, in front of U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras.

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