Chinese officials say Houston police beat diplomat

BEIJING — China said Friday that a Chinese diplomat in the U.S. was beaten and injured by Houston Police Department officers and urged an investigation to ensure diplomatic practices are not violated.

The U.S. Department of State was taking the matter very seriously and findings of the investigation would be shared with China “as soon as appropriate,” said Susan Stevenson, spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.

She referred further questions to Houston police, which did not immediately return calls seeking comment Friday morning.

The statement from China’s Foreign Ministry said police harassed and beat a deputy consul-general while he was driving to the Chinese Consulate in Houston. The statement said a family member also was involved, but did not say if that person was injured.

According to a CBS News report, Houston police last Saturday tried to stop a car which was missing a license plate. When the car didn’t stop, they pursued it into a garage without realizing the garage belonged to the Chinese Consulate. Police handcuffed and arrested the driver, injuring him, the CBS report said.

Under international practice, the premises of foreign embassies and consulates are outside the jurisdiction of local law enforcement, and diplomats have legal immunity.

The CBS News report identified the official as Ben Ren Yu. The Houston consulate website lists a deputy consul-general, Yu Boren.

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US lifts travel warning for Syria

The US Department of State has lifted its advisories warning American travelers of security concerns in Syria.

“After carefully assessing the current situation in Syria, we determined that circumstances didn’t merit extending the travel warning,” said Tracy Roberts Pounds, a spokeswoman at the US Embassy in Damascus.

Though Washington tries to boost ties with a country viewed as a key to peace in the region, Syria remains on the US-made list of the “countries sponsoring terrorism,” a designation made in 1979.

US observers have long insisted that the so-called US list of the states sponsoring terrorism, which included Iran, Syria, Cuba, and North Korea, is a political tool to punish states that do not submit to US regional interests.

The country also remains under US sanctions, first imposed by former US President George W. Bush and renewed by President Barack Obama in May.

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Government posting wealth of data to Internet

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration on Friday is posting to the Internet a wealth of government data from all Cabinet-level departments, on topics ranging from child car seats to Medicare services.

The mountain of newly available information comes a year and a day after President Barack Obama promised on his first full day on the job an open, transparent government.

Under a Dec. 8 White House directive, each department must post online at least three collections of “high-value” government data that never have been previously disclosed.

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US lifts visa ban on Muslim scholar

The US Department of State said Wednesday it lifted a ban on Swiss Muslim scholar Tariq Ramadan entering the country, six years after using the Patriot Act to revoke his visa.

The decision was signed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

“I am very happy and hopeful that I will be able to visit the United States very soon and to once again engaged in an open, critical and constructive dialogue with American scholars and intellectuals,” Professor Ramadan said in a statement.

The travel ban on him was imposed in the wake of an accusation that he had contributed to the terrorism from 1998 to 2002 by donating about $1,300 to a Swiss-based charity that provided money to Hamas and other Palestinian groups.

The Bush administration in 2006, under the Patriot Act, revoked Ramadan’s visa, as he sought to travel to the US to take up a position as a tenured professor at the University of Notre Dame.

The Oxford University professor argued that he had believed the charity had no connections to terrorist activities and that he had always condemned terrorism.

In August 2009, Ramadan was dismissed from his positions at a university in the Netherlands for hosting a Press TV program, which the Dutch authorities said was “irreconcilable” with his position as a guest professor.

The Swiss-born scholar said his dismissal was the result of Western “hypocrisy.”

Iraqis outraged as Blackwater case thrown out

In this Oct. 2007 image, Mohammed Hafiz holds
a picture of his 10-year-old son, Ali Mohammed,
who was killed when guards employed by
Blackwater allegedly opened fire at Nisoor
Square in Baghdad. Iraqis responded with
bitterness and outrage Jan. 1 at aU.S. judge’s
decision to throw out a case against Blackwater
guards accused in the killings.

BAGHDAD — Iraqis seeking justice for 17 people shot dead at a Baghdad intersection responded with bitterness and outrage Friday at a U.S. judge’s decision to throw out a case against a Blackwater security team accused in the killings.

The Iraqi government vowed to pursue the case, which became a source of contention between the U.S. and the Iraqi government. Many Iraqis also held up the judge’s decision as proof of what they’d long believed: U.S. security contractors were above the law.

“There is no justice,” said Bura Sadoun Ismael, who was wounded by two bullets and shrapnel during the shooting. “I expected the American court would side with the Blackwater security guards who committed a massacre in Nisoor Square.”

What happened on Nisoor Square on Sept. 16, 2007, raised Iraqi concerns about their sovereignty because Iraqi officials were powerless to do anything to the Blackwater employees who had immunity from local prosecution. The shootings also highlighted the degree to which the U.S. relied on private contractors during the Iraq conflict.

Blackwater had been hired by the Department of State to protect U.S. diplomats in Iraq. The guards said they were ambushed at a busy intersection in western Baghdad, but U.S. prosecutors and many Iraqis said the Blackwater guards let loose an unprovoked attack on civilians using machine guns and grenades.

“Investigations conducted by specialized Iraqi authorities confirmed unequivocally that the guards of Blackwater committed the crime of murder and broke the rules by using arms without the existence of any threat obliging them to use force,” Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said in a statement Friday.

He did not elaborate on what steps the government planned to take to pursue the case.

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FARC in Colombia : A History of Armed Resistance

CARTAGENA DE INDIES, Colombia — In May 2003 a leak from the Bush Treasury Department indicated that the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) was about to add to its extensive narcotics traffickers list. This time it would add someone in Colombia.

OFAC would be using one of the enlightened Republican Congress’s new drug war laws, the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act. I was pretty sure who the new addition would be. The word “kingpin” was a dead giveaway.

It had to be the guy who had attained high office; whose brother had organized 20 or more death squads and maintained a couple of them out at the family hacienda; whose cousin in the Colombian Congress was the mouthpiece for those death squads as well as a close friend and promoter of various well known narcotraficantes, including the legendary Pablo Emilio Escobar Gaviria; someone whose own father was wanted by the Colombian police and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration for cocaine trafficking when he was killed in an abortive kidnap plot; and who himself was removed from his position as mayor of Medellín for having well-known ties to drug runners.

Who else could it be, but master criminal and El Presidente himself, Álvaro Uribe Vélez?

Imagine my surprise when it was announced the next day, that it was not Uribe after all, but the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – People’s Army (FARC-EP: Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – Ejército del Pueblo) and 15 of their known or suspected leaders, even though I already knew they had to be a bad bunch of hombres. Five years before, in 1997, they were named a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the U.S. Department of State.

It couldn’t have been easy to make it to the top of two government lists at the same time (the terrorist list and the narcotraficantes list) and be the defining designees of a whole new hyphenated word, “Narco-terrorist”! That should keep them from gaining credibility with anyone with media access in the U.S.! I started wondering who these FARC guys were. Somebody needed to check them out, find out where they came from, and why.

See also:

New Year Greetings from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – People’s Army (FARC)

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Failure Admitted in Afghan Drug War

The US administration has admitted that Washington has failed to curb narcotics production and trafficking in Afghanistan.

The US Department of State on Wednesday criticized Washington’s 2-billion-dollar plan to combat the drug trade in Afghanistan for poor oversight and lack of strategy.

According to a report by the State Department’s Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, the US counternarcotics efforts do not have clear objectives.

The report also criticized a shift of focus from eradicating poppy fields to interdiction of drug organizations and alternative crop projects, despite a consensus among US agencies.

The report also added that US embassies in Afghanistan and Pakistan do not coordinate well on the issue.

It also criticizes poorly-written contracts for counternarcotics works.

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