|US weathers calls for
torture probes at UN rights meeting
(AFP) - The US weathered a barrage of calls to probe torture
allegations and shut down the Guantanamo Bay detention
centre, in its first examination by the UN’s top human
European countries joined appeals for a halt to the death
penalty, and there was trenchant criticism of Washington’s
recent record during wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well
as the detention and interrogation of terror suspects.
While senior US officials welcomed the “constructive
dialogue,” rights campaigners denounced a “shaky first step”
as Washington put up a robust defence before the 47-member
Human Rights Council.
“Let there be no doubt, the US does not and will not
torture,” State Department legal adviser Harold Koh told the
“This administration began by turning the page and
unequivocally ensuring the humane treatment of all
individuals in US custody in armed conflict,” he insisted.
Cuban ambassador Rodolfo Reyes Rodriguez called on the US to
“halt war crimes and the killing of civilians,” while
Venezuela recommended that Washington put those responsible
for torture on trial.
China and Russia acknowledged progress in health and
education, as well as attempts to tackle what the Russian
ambassador called the “more odious” human rights violations
But they both urged the swift closure of terror detention
centres, while Russia recommended “a careful investigation
of the facts in the use of torture especially in Guantanamo
and Bagram” air force base in Afghanistan.
In Washington, a senior Republican lawmaker responded
forcefully to the criticism. The US should quit the rights
body “dominated by rogue regimes”, said Republican
Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.
“So long as the inmates are allowed to run the asylum, the
Human Rights Council will continue to stand in the way of
justice, not promote it,” she said.
“The US should walk out of this rogues’ gallery and seek to
build alternative forums that will actually focus on abuses
and deny membership to abusers.”
Ros-Lehtinen is set to chair the House Foreign Affairs
Committee when a new US Congress convenes in January.
The half-day public debate came just two weeks after
whistleblowing website WikiLeaks published 400,000
classified US documents on the Iraq war, reviving concern
about a lack of accountability for abuse.
Koh said hundreds of military cases had led to punishments
being handed out, including more than 100 court martials
A US special prosecutor is still investigating whether
civilian officials who gave orders under the previous
administration might be liable for prosecution, he told
The Washington Post reported on Thursday that former US
president George W Bush wrote in his new memoir that he
personally gave the go-ahead for CIA officers to waterboard
self-confessed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
|Mosque attacks kill 65
AKHURWALL, Pakistan (AFP) - A suicide bomber killed at least
61 people when he blew apart a packed mosque, and four
others died in a second attack nearby in Pakistan’s militant
The country’s deadliest attack in two months, on the front
line of the US-led war on Al Qaeda, saw the mosque reduced
to blood-spattered rubble strewn with body parts as a huge
explosion ripped through Friday prayers.
The blast was followed hours later by a grenade assault on a
second mosque in the same area, which killed at least four
Dozens were critically wounded and officials fear the toll
from both attacks could rise.
The first explosion turned worship into a bloodbath in
Akhurwall village, part of the semi-tribal northwest area of
Darra Adam Khel, about 140 kilometres west of the Pakistani
Eleven children were among the dead, said a local official.
Only one wall was left standing and the concrete roof
collapsed, leaving bloodstains, human
remains and hair scattered in the debris.
Houses near the mosque were also damaged, including that of
Wali Mohammad, the leader of a pro-government militia that
had clashed repeatedly with local Taliban militants until
reportedly cutting a deal earlier this year.
Although the Taliban denied responsibility, a local elder
blamed the group, suggesting it could have been acting to
punish Mohammad’s militia.
Witnesses said the bomber walked into the mosque and shouted
“Allahu akbar” (God is greater) before a deafening
Dilawar Gul, 30, said he was collecting donations from
worshippers when he heard the suicide bomber shout.
“Then I heard a huge blast which flung me to part of the
mosque where the roof didn’t collapse, and I survived.”
Local administration official Gul Jamal Khan said 61 people
had been killed and 104 wounded.
Local elder Sohbat Khan Afridi blamed the Taliban, saying
Mohammad, who formed his tribal militia in 2007 to fight the
militants, has a house close to the mosque, although he is
understood to live in Lahore.
NEW DELHI: Police in north-east India
have discovered an elephant smuggling ring which is
suspected of selling scores of animals in India and Nepal.
Police in Assam said five traders were arrested and some
animals due to be taken out of the state were rescued.
The sale and purchase of elephants is illegal in India but
police say the trade is flourishing.
An adult elephant fetches nearly 1m to 1.5m rupees ($22,572
to $33,841) while a calf is sold for half that amount.
The rates have sharply increased over the last few years.
Assam police spokesman PK Dutta said they recently arrested
a man from the state’s border areas and his confessions led
to more arrests and the rescue of the elephants.
“Some of these illegal traders even have the audacity to
print calling cards saying they deal in elephants,” Dutta
“We have arrested a few of them and we are trying to catch
some more because we now know all those involved in this
Dutta said a wildlife protection society, Green Heart
Nature, helped the police in busting the racket.
“We investigated this illegal trade. When we sighted some of
these traders, we tipped off the police and they responded
speedily,” said Bablu Dey of the Green Heart Nature, based
in western Assam’s Kokrajhar district.
Dutta is the police superintendent of Kokrajhar, through
which the elephants were smuggled into - BBC News
|19 die in shopping
BEIJING (AFP) - Fire ripped through a
shopping mall in northeast China, killing 19 people, state
media said yesterday, as police detained the general manager
of the complex for questioning.
Twenty-seven others were injured in the massive blaze in the
city of Jilin, which broke out on Friday morning, Xinhua
news agency reported. One person was still missing.
Of those hurt, 24 were still in hospital but none of them
suffered serious injuries, Xinhua quoted city government
spokesman Liu Qizhi as saying.
The flames were extinguished 10 hours after the fire
erupted, but thick smoke complicated the firefighters’ task
of searching for survivors and victims, the report said,
citing local officials.
Authorities said they were still investigating the cause of
the blaze, which was concentrated on the fourth floor of the
mall, which mainly housed furniture stores.
Dozens of shops were already open when the fire began at
about 9:15 am, the report said.
would hurt India: McCain
WASHINGTON (AFP) - US
Senator John McCain appealed to President Barack Obama to
stay engaged in Afghanistan, warning that a hasty troop
withdrawal would jeopardise warming ties with India.
The senior Republican senator from Arizona pledged support
for India across the US political divide in an address
delivered just as Obama flew off for a trip meant to breathe
new life into the relationship.
But McCain, whose Republican Party made strong gains in
congressional elections Tuesday, warned Obama against
pulling out of Afghanistan “before positive conditions can
be shaped and sustained on the ground”.
The consequences would
“certainly be terrible for us, but they will even be worse
for India, which will have a terrorist safe haven on its
periphery,” McCain said at the Carnegie Endowment for
“I can think of few more immediate ways to damage the
US-India relationship -- and to convince India that the
United States is both a declining power and an unreliable
partner -- than for us to pull out of Afghanistan before
achieving our goals,” McCain said.
Obama has tripled US forces in Afghanistan since defeating
McCain for the White House, pledging to root out the Taliban
whose extremist regime was ousted by US-led forces following
the September 11, 2001 attacks.
|MSNBC suspends TV host
WASHINGTON: The US broadcasting network MSNBC has suspended
prime-time host Keith Olbermann for making political
The Politico news website said he had contributed to the
campaigns of three Democratic candidates.
MSNBC president Phil Griffin said Olbermann had been
suspended without pay.
During coverage of the US mid-term elections, Olbermann was
one of the network’s key presenters.
“Mindful of NBC News policy and standards, I have suspended
him indefinitely without pay,” Griffin said, according to a
statement quoted by the Huffington Post.
With Rachel Maddow, Olbermann has been one of the most
prominent hosts on the network, which analysts say has come
to be seen as liberal-aligned.
The BBC says that while America’s 24-hour news channels are
increasingly politicised and polarised, it appears there is
The suspension comes just a couple of weeks after America’s
national radio network, NPR, sacked one of its commentators
for saying that he became nervous when flying with
passengers wearing what he called “Muslim garb”.
– BBC News
|Washington Post profit soars
WASHINGTON (AFP) - The Washington Post bucked the industry
trend and reported a modest gain in print advertising
revenue in the third quarter.
The Washington Post Co. said print advertising revenue rose
three percent at its flagship newspaper in the quarter to
$72 million but is down four percent over the first nine
months of the year compared with a year ago.
The Post Co, which owns the Kaplan higher education business
and television operations in addition to The Washington
Post, said net profit more than tripled in the quarter to
60.9 million dollars.