Friday, June 02, 2006Here's a harrowing look at what the US's policy of pushing abstinence in other countries is achieving. I don't understand how someone can be so stubborn about their beliefs that they would effectively encourage people to die just so they can feel good about how righteous their cause is and how they're doing the work of the Lord.
"No No sex! No No Sex!" The chant startles slumbering bats from their trees, repeated until you are left in no doubt that the 3,000 students crammed around this swimming pool really mean what they shout.
"Praise God, I have been saved!" says Isaac Ichila, 24, with a young crowd hanging on every word. "We are fighting the enemy of humanity which is HIV/Aids. It is killing us. I was a drunkard and I slept with 17 women before university. So I took the pledge to abstain from sex and have kept my promise to God. I am physically and psychologically pure."
Isaac is one of those who gather every Saturday night to listen to pro-chastity music and sermons at Uganda's prestigious Makerere University. Abstinence-until-marriage pledge cards fly around for students to sign. Simon Peter Onaba, 24, cautions a friend against flirting with women. "Sex is a progression," he warns. "One minute, you are holding hands with a girl, the next kissing. Don't go in a room with one man and one woman otherwise your pants will go off! Sex is so powerful." Then the clincher: "Remember condoms don't prevent Aids. They have a high failure rate."
Abstinence is working for Isaac and Simon - and for tens of thousands of teens and twentysomethings proudly attending virginity rallies in Uganda. But Aids activists and development officials point to the 130,000 Ugandans infected with HIV last year alone - up from 70,000 in 2002 - and say the recent obsession with abstinence is handicapping the country's once-successful fight against the virus.
Health workers see the fingerprints of America's Christian right all over the chastity message and believe the Bush administration is using its financial might to bully them into accepting evangelical ideology at the expense of public health.
Aids may have killed one million Ugandans and infected a further million but the latest crisis seems strange when you consider that foreign donors still hold up Uganda as Africa's Aids success story. What's more, under Bush's 2003 Emergency Plan For Aids Relief, where he pledged $15bn (£8bn) to fighting Aids in the worst-afflicted countries, Uganda receives more US money than ever: doubling in two years to $169.9m in 2006. But that cash comes with conditions: in a gesture to the Christian right in the US, at least one-third of all prevention money must go to "abstinence-only" projects - $10m in Uganda in 2005. Critics counting each new infection in field clinics say this has dangerously skewed Uganda's previous "balanced" approach which seemed to be working.
At a tiny clinic in the capital's suburbs, women wait for antenatal advice and Aids testing. "We have worked so hard to get people to understand HIV and that there are three options open to them: A, B or C," says Dr Henry Katamba. "That's Abstain from sex, Be faithful or use a Condom, whichever is the one for you. That's what our government used to say - and everyone understood. The message recognised that it wasn't realistic to ask for abstinence from everyone who's not married." Dr Katamba is health co-ordinator of the Uganda Protestant Medical Bureau, an umbrella of churches providing clinical help in the absence of government hospitals.
Under the previous "balanced" strategy, condom distribution grew from four million a year to 118 million by 2001. Thanks to the abstinence message, teenagers lost their virginity about 18 months later than before. People with several partners realised they needed to stop sleeping around so much. In 1992, one in five Ugandans had Aids. By 2001 that dropped to one in 20.
"Because of the US, our government now says Abstain and Be faithful only," says Dr Katamba. "So people stop trusting our advice. They think we were lying about how condoms can stop Aids. Confusion is deadly."
And so it is proving to be: the number of infections is again rising, after years of decline. Questionable government figures say that 6.4 per cent of Ugandans have HIV/Aids. One in three civil war refugees in camps in the north has Aids, a local NGO says.
Uganda's evangelicals preach that abstinence is the only way to halt the spread of the virus. The trusted and influential first lady, Janet Museveni, is a born-again Christian. She has publicly equated condom use with theft and murder and said that Aids is God's way of punishing immoral behaviour. The first lady also offers scholarships to girls who can prove they are virgins.
Helping her in the recruitment of virgins and "secondary abstainers" (the formerly sexually active) is Pastor Martin Ssempa. The evangelical priest rose to prominence as a breakdancing champion - fame he now uses to get across the message that condoms are a "ticket to death". Both Pastor Ssempa and the first lady enjoy influence among Republican Congressmen. Even the President, Yoweri Museveni, has attacked "those who want to condomise the world" - a far cry from two years ago, when he gratefully embraced condoms as a means of saving his people.
Back then, the enormous billboards lining the red dusty road through any Ugandan town advertised condoms. Look now and you see posters of girls urging: "She's keeping herself for marriage ... what about you?" Uganda's first attempt to teach all its schoolchildren about Aids - an initiative bankrolled by the US - was abruptly purged of references to condoms after the abstinence legislation came in. A popular teenage magazine that referred to condoms was burnt. The publisher lost out on a $30m contract to continue its family planning and Aids work because it "believes that condoms are the answer", the former head of Bush's Aids programme said. The condom promoter Marie Stopes was intimidated into withdrawing advertising.
The gag even extends to the respected Straight Talk Foundation. Radio producer Hassan Sekajoolo describes how US funders demanded he excise condoms from sexual health shows in two languages. "We didn't have a choice," he says. "The American donors came and said, 'Our way is Abstinence and Be faithful, full stop'." Abstinence money was given to the first lady's Uganda Youth Forum, which holds huge virginity rallies in Kampala, and to Samaritan's Purse, an American missionary charity that spreads the Gospel of Jesus in the developing world. US law forbids the use of federal funds for evangelising.
What has changed in Uganda is that condoms are no longer promoted to the general population. In line with US Aids policy under Mr Bush, condoms should be promoted exclusively to high-risk groups such as truck drivers, soldiers and "discordant" couples (where just one of the partners is HIV-positive). Everyone else should hear the rubber-free virtues of abstinence and fidelity only. Yoweri Museveni's government hungrily devoured the American abstinence policy and the attached cash. It is dependent on foreign donors for half its budget.
People on both sides of the argument agree that Washington is prolonging tens of thousands of Ugandans' lives through treatment - and that abstinence is crucial. "The evangelicals are absolutely right: abstinence is the best way of preventing the spread of HIV/Aids," says Sigurd Illing, the EU ambassador to Uganda. "But some people aren't receptive. We need an end to this bedevilling of condoms by people who take a high moralistic stance and don't care about the impact that this has on reality."
In the stinking back alleys of the capital's Kisenyi slum, abstinence has little currency among the destitute refugees from the Congo, Sudan, Somalia and northern Uganda.
"I try to use condoms but they burst, or our client says no," explains prostitute Jennifer Natalema, 22, propping a brick against the broken door to her brothel. Posturing, unemployed young men loiter outside the entrance, jeering at passing women.
"I don't argue or there's no money when he finishes using me. He will beat me." She has been selling unprotected sex for 4,000 shillings (£2) for seven years. Somehow she has escaped the feeble wasting of Aids. So far.
Asked what she thinks about abstaining, Jennifer's colleague "Pretty", 23, laughs: "We need the money! What else can I do? Abstinence can't work somewhere like Kisenyi." In this part of Kampala, girls tend to lose their virginity aged between 9 and 11. Sex is a marketable commodity in the struggle to survive. Walk through Kisenyi market, and you get an idea of the local economy: fruit sellers, scrap merchants, barbers, thieves, drug dealers and prostitutes. One in seven girls tested in a study last year had HIV.
"Abstinence is not a message that children with no money listen to," says Maurisia Ssebuggwawo, 58, a volunteer midwife who gives advice at a local youth club, gated and patrolled by armed guards to protect the paltry stock of Aids drugs. "They need condoms and don't have any, because they are so expensive." The arbitrary nature of international aid, where money is here one year and gone the next, doesn't help. Since funding from the United Nations ran out in 2001, her club cannot afford to distribute free condoms.
One of those failed is Musa Kabanda, 24. In 2004, he got a girlfriend and had sex for the first time but didn't use protection. He became a weak man fighting Aids. "The club used to come to my market to talk about Aids but they stopped," he says, a rasping cough punctuating the words, sweat rolling down his waxy face as he rearranges the dirty bedsheets. "All I wish is that I had used a condom. Saying 'abstain' is not realistic."
Nor is saying "Be faithful" at present, given the widespread and accepted male infidelity in Uganda that results in one infected person spreading the virus quickly. "I was faithful to my husband but he told me a man has to have up to 10 women and not less than two," says Sarah Ndagire, 41, infected by her adulterous partner in 1997. Constance Namuyiga, a 28-year-old mother of three young children, found out she was HIV-positive two years ago. "Men think they own us here," she says. "My husband had other women. He laughed when I asked him to use condoms with them." She adds: "I told him to go for a test when I found out I am HIV, but he left me. I hope to see my children grow. I don't tell my parents in case they worry I die before them."
It is 30- to 35-year-old women and 35- to 45-year-old men in marriages, not sexually active teens and twentysomethings who are most likely to be infected.
Another hurdle Aids workers have to jump is the US condition that they sign a pledge opposing prostitution. Ask Mrs Ssebuggwawo, the midwife, why her club does not apply for Bush's Aids funding and her good nature crumbles in an instant. "How can we help the girls if we condemn them?" she demands.
Even senior members of the Ugandan government admit that the first lady and her US backers are dangerously moralising the situation. "There are some prominent people in government, and some outside, who with the help of conservative agents in the US are stigmatising Aids, saying that only sinners use a condom," says Dr Jotham Musinguzi, director of the Population Secretariat at the Ministry of Finance. "That is the message we are struggling with." Ugandans are becoming more reluctant to ask for free condoms, advice and testing - particularly vulnerable groups such as prostitutes and homosexuals.
Not everyone is sad about the escalating epidemic. In a roadside timber yard near Kampala's Mulago Hospital, coffin makers report that business has never been better. "Three years ago, I sell 15 coffins a week. Now it is 20 adult coffins and seven children's coffins," says Lawrence Kiwanuka, the jovial boss of an expanding workforce of 25 carpenters. "I think the Aids deaths are really more than the government says." So is he happy more people are dying from Aids? He laughs: "That is a very difficult question."
New 'Iraq massacre' tape emerges
The BBC has uncovered new video evidence that US forces may have been responsible for the deliberate killing of 11 innocent Iraqi civilians.
The video appears to challenge the US military's account of events that took place in the town of Ishaqi in March.
The US said at the time four people died during a military operation, but Iraqi police claimed that US troops had deliberately shot the 11 people.
A spokesman for US forces in Iraq told the BBC an inquiry was under way.
The new evidence comes in the wake of the alleged massacre in Haditha, where US marines are suspected of massacring up to 24 Iraqi civilians in November 2005.
The video pictures obtained by the BBC appear to contradict the US account of the events in Ishaqi, about 100km (60 miles) north of Baghdad, on 15 March 2006.
The US authorities said they were involved in a firefight after a tip-off that an al-Qaeda supporter was visiting the house.
According to the Americans, the building collapsed under heavy fire killing four people - a suspect, two women and a child.
But a report filed by Iraqi police accused US troops of rounding up and deliberately shooting 11 people in the house, including five children and four women, before blowing up the building.
The video tape obtained by the BBC shows a number of dead adults and children at the site with what our world affairs editor John Simpson says were clearly gunshot wounds.
The pictures came from a hardline Sunni group opposed to coalition forces.
It has been cross-checked with other images taken at the time of events and is believed to be genuine, the BBC's Ian Pannell in Baghdad says.
Thursday, June 01, 2006Heard about this on the radio yesterday, and I don't even know what to say.
BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- The U.S. military is investigating reports its soldiers killed two women, one of whom was pregnant, in Samarra, according to the U.S. military and an official with the Joint Coordination Center in Salaheddin province.
Elsewhere Wednesday, insurgent attacks across Iraq killed 22 people, including an Iraqi journalist and a mayor, according to police reports. Another 52 people were injured.
Witnesses of the Samarra shooting said the women were killed when their vehicle drove through a checkpoint around 3 p.m., but that information has not yet been verified, the Joint Coordination Center official said.
The official said 35-year-old Nahiba Husayif Jassim and Faliha Mohammed Hassan, 55, were headed for the hospital Tuesday for the delivery of Nahiba's baby.
The Associated Press identified the driver as Jassim's brother, Khalid Nisaif Jassim, who is quoted as saying he drove "at full speed because I did not see any sign or warning from the Americans."
"It was not until they shot the two bullets that killed my sister and cousin that I stopped," the AP quoted him as saying. "God take revenge on the Americans and those who brought them here. They have no regard for our lives."
He said that the baby also died, according to the AP.
The U.S. military said the vehicle had entered a "clearly marked prohibited area near coalition troops at an observation post in Samarra."
"Shots were fired to disable the vehicle" only after the vehicle "failed to stop despite repeated visual and auditory signals. The vehicle stopped, changed directions and quickly departed the area," the U.S. military said.
"Coalition forces later received reports from Iraqi police that two women died from gunshot wounds at the Samarra hospital; and one of the females may have been pregnant.
"The loss of life is regrettable and coalition forces go to great lengths to prevent them."
The incident came at a time when Iraqis are already outraged over reports that U.S. Marines allegedly killed 24 civilians in Haditha in November.....
But do take heart, Americans! Our soldiers are being trained in "Core values". Slide presentations will save all innocent Iraqis!
U.S. commander orders 'core warrior values training'
Move comes in wake of Haditha allegations
BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- A U.S. military commander in Iraq on Thursday ordered subordinate commanders on the ground "to conduct core warrior values training, highlighting the importance of adhering to legal, moral and ethical standards on the battlefield."
The back-to-the-basics move, announced in a coalition military statement, is being made in the wake of the alleged killings by Marines of 24 civilians in the Anbar province city of Haditha last November.
Lt. Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, Multi-National Corps-Iraq commander, issued the directive.
The commanders will receive "a slide presentation with training vignettes they can adapt to their organization." The training -- which would "reinforce and sustain training that forces received prior to their deployment to Iraq" -- will be conducted over the next 30 days.
"The training package emphasizes professional military values and the importance of disciplined, professional conduct in combat, Iraqi cultural expectations and the second and third order effects of actions that are contrary to professional military values."
Chiarelli is quoted in the statement as saying that 99.9 percent of the "nearly 150,000 coalition forces" in Iraq "perform their jobs magnificently every day."
"They do their duty with honor under difficult circumstances. They exhibit sound judgment, honesty and integrity. They display patience, professionalism and restraint in the face of a treacherous enemy. And they do the right thing even when no one is watching. Unfortunately, there are a few individuals who sometimes choose the wrong path."
Chiarelli said "as military professionals, it is important that we take time to reflect on the values that separate us from our enemies.
"The challenge for us is to make sure the actions of a few do not tarnish the good work of the many."
Gen. Michael Hagee, the commandant of the Marine Corps, traveled to Iraq recently to discuss the treatment of noncombatants with his troops and remind them of their "core values."
President Bush said Wednesday that if an investigation finds Marines killed civilians in Haditha, "there will be punishment."
"The Marine Corps is full of honorable people who understand the rules of war," Bush said in his first public comments on the killings in Haditha. "... those who violated the law, if they did, will be punished." (Full story)
Military investigators strongly suspect that a small number of Marines snapped after one of their own was killed by a roadside bomb November 19 in Haditha, a city on the Euphrates River northwest of Baghdad, and went on a rampage, sources told CNN. (Watch Defense Secretary Rumsfeld discuss the Haditha probe -- 5:30)
Marine Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said two investigations are under way -- one into the killings themselves, the other on "why didn't we know about it sooner than we knew about it."
The commander of the battalion involved in the incident has been relieved of his command, along with two company commanders.
The investigation is likely to result in murder charges against some Marines and dereliction of duty counts against others, sources told CNN.
Rep. John Murtha -- an ex-Marine and Democrat critical of the Bush administration's handling of the war -- said the allegations could do worse damage to the U.S. war effort in Iraq than the 2004 revelations of torture at the U.S.-run Abu Ghraib prison.
And finally, it's good to know that John Gibson does not support civilian massacres and cover-ups.
Wednesday, May 31, 2006Goddammit. Judging by the last five years, "consistent with the legitimate privacy rights of Americans" means "as far as the press will allow, and probably a bit further".
U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and FBI Director Robert Mueller on Friday urged telecommunications officials to record their customers' Internet activities, CNET News.com has learned.
In a private meeting with industry representatives, Gonzales, Mueller and other senior members of the Justice Department said Internet service providers should retain subscriber information and network data for two years, according to two sources familiar with the discussion who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The closed-door meeting at the Justice Department, which Gonzales had requested, according to the sources, comes as the idea of legally mandated data retention has become popular on Capitol Hill and inside the Bush administration. Supporters of the idea say it will help prosecutions of child pornography because in many cases, logs are deleted during the routine course of business.
In a speech last month at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Gonzales said that Internet providers must retain records for a "reasonable amount of time."
"I will reach out personally to the CEOs of the leading service providers and to other industry leaders," Gonzales said. "Record retention by Internet service providers consistent with the legitimate privacy rights of Americans is an issue that must be addressed."
Until Gonzales' speech, the Bush administration had generally opposed laws requiring data retention, saying it had "serious reservations" (click for PDF) about them. But after the European Parliament last December approved such a requirement for Internet, telephone and voice over Internet Protocol providers, top administration officials began talking about the practice more favorably.
During Friday's meeting, Justice Department officials passed around pixellated (that is, slightly obscured) photographs of child pornography to emphasize the lurid nature of the crimes police are trying to prevent, according to one source.
A Justice Department spokesman familiar with the administration's stand on data retention was in meetings on Friday and unavailable for comment, a department representative said.
Privacy advocates have been alarmed by the idea of legally mandated data retention, saying that, while child exploitation may be the justification today, those records would be available in all kinds of criminal and civil suits--including terrorism, tax evasion, drug, and even divorce cases.
It was not immediately clear what Gonzales and Mueller meant by suggesting that network data be retained. One possibility is requiring Internet providers to record the Internet addresses their customers are temporarily assigned. A more extensive mandate would require companies to keep track of e-mail messages sent, Web pages visited and perhaps even instant-messaging correspondents.
'Preservation' vs. 'retention'
Two proposals to mandate data retention have surfaced in the U.S. Congress. One, backed by Rep. Diana DeGette, a Colorado Democrat, says that any Internet service that "enables users to access content" must permanently retain records that would permit police to identify each user. The records could only be discarded at least one year after the user's account was closed.
The other was drafted by aides to Wisconsin Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, a close ally of President Bush. Sensenbrenner said through a spokesman last week, though, that his proposal is on hold because "our committee's agenda is tremendously overcrowded already."
At the moment, Internet service providers typically discard any log file that's no longer required for business reasons such as network monitoring, fraud prevention or billing disputes. Companies do, however, alter that general rule when contacted by police performing an investigation--a practice called data preservation.
A 1996 federal law called the Electronic Communication Transactional Records Act regulates data preservation. It requires Internet providers to retain any "record" in their possession for 90 days "upon the request of a governmental entity."
Because Internet addresses remain a relatively scarce commodity, ISPs tend to allocate them to customers from a pool based on whether a computer is in use at the time. (Two standard techniques used are the Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol and Point-to-Point Protocol over Ethernet.)
In addition, Internet providers are required by another federal law to report child pornography sightings to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which is in turn charged with forwarding that report to the appropriate police agency.
When adopting its data retention rules, the European Parliament approved U.K.-backed requirements, saying that communications providers in its 25 member countries--several of which had enacted their own data retention laws already--must retain customer data for a minimum of six months and a maximum of two years.
The Europe-wide requirement applies to a wide variety of "traffic" and "location" data, including the identities of the customers' correspondents; the date, time and duration of phone calls, voice over Internet Protocol calls or e-mail messages; and the location of the device used for the communications. But the "content" of the communications is not supposed to be retained. The rules are expected to take effect in 2008.
Tuesday, May 30, 2006Russia? Are you ever going to get your act together? I mean, here's to a job well-done by the Russian police: arrest the gay guy who gets roughed up out of the blue during an interview and let the neo-nazi walk away. You'd think Russian opinion would fall with the gays. Russia builds, and rightfully so, a large part of their national identity around WWII, so one would think neonazis would be especially unpopular.
Moscow - Moscow police on Saturday arrested around 120 people during an unsanctioned gay rights demonstration at which a German MP was injured in a scuffle with right-wing activists.
Municipal authorities had banned a planned gay and lesbian parade through the capital despite a court appeal by organizers who pledged to hold a rally regardless.
Around two dozen gay activists mounted an initial protest in front of the city hall where violence ensued as other groups of citizens reportedly including right-wing radicals tried to break up the gathering.
Police units then moved on the crowd and made numerous arrests. Up to 200 other protesters also moved along the city's Tverskaya main street.
Volker Beck, a member of the German Bundestag who took part in the event, was punched in the face in a clash with alleged extremists. Police stood back during the violence, he said.
'There was no aggression from our side, we were simply there,' Beck told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa. 'It is unacceptable that the police offer no protection to gays on the streets.'
The politician was detained in the fracas and kicked into a police bus. He was released with an apology when officers saw his parliamentary credentials.
City authorities were unrelenting at the hard line taken by police. Gay protesters had acted provocatively, said Sergei Tsoi, spokesman for Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, who had banned the event.
Smoke canisters were tossed and signal flares fired, prompting police retaliation, Tsoi said.
Gay activists were also detained approaching the Alexander Garden by the Kremlin wall, where police prevented them from laying wreaths at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Most of those detained were later released, law enforcement officials said.
Riot police also clashed with groups of presumed right-wing extremists and made some 50 arrests as they approached the gathering.
About 120 drivers also took part in a gay car rally in a western Moscow suburb.
A spokesperson for the Duma lower house of parliament called the gay protest a 'provocation' and praised the actions of the police.
Mayor Luzhkov claimed earlier that 99 per cent of Muscovites supported the ban on the event. While European countries were more accepting of the gay community, a parade was impermissible in Russia for 'moral and ethical considerations,' according to the mayor.
'One should not demonstrate publicly his deviations from the norm in the organisation of life and sex,' he said.
A senior leader of Russia's Muslims had also opposed the event, saying that participants should be 'given a thrashing.'
Homosexuality was considered a crime in the Soviet Union and was only legalized in independent Russia in 1993.
According to activists, the country still suffers from state sanctioned gay rights abuses, while gays and lesbians face broad public intolerance.
WASHINGTON - President Bush, marking Memorial Day with a speech paying tribute to fighting men and women lost in war, signed into law Monday a bill that keeps demonstrators from disrupting military funerals.
In advance of his speech and a wreath-laying at America's most hallowed burial ground for military heroes, Bush signed the "Respect for America's Fallen Heroes Act." This was largely in response to the activities of a Kansas church group that has staged protests at military funerals around the country, claiming the deaths symbolized God's anger at U.S. tolerance of homosexuals.
The new law bars protests within 300 feet of the entrance of a national cemetery and within 150 feet of a road into the cemetery. This restriction applies an hour before until an hour after a funeral. Those violating the act would face up to a $100,000 fine and up to a year in prison.
Monday's observance at Arlington National Cemetery was not a funeral, so demonstrators were free to speak their minds at the site.
And several did.
Approximately 10 people from the Washington, D.C., chapter of FreeRepublic.com, a self-styled grass roots conservative group, held signs at the entrance of the cemetery supporting U.S. troops. A large sign held by several people said, "God bless our troops, defenders of freedom, American heroes."
They were faced off against a handful of anti-gay protesters who stood across a four-lane highway as people headed toward the national burial grounds.
The FreeRepublic.com group was trying to counter demonstrations by the Kansas-based group, led by the Rev. Fred Phelps. He previously had organized protests against those who died of AIDS and gay murder victim Matthew Shepard.
In an interview at the time the House passed the bill that Bush signed Monday, Phelps charged that Congress was "blatantly violating" his First Amendment rights. He said that if became law, he would continue to demonstrate but would abide by the law's restrictions.
Bush signed a second bill Monday that allows combat troops to deposit tax-free pay into individual retirement accounts. Supporters of the legislation argued that rules governing these accounts were punishing soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq who earn only tax-free combat pay.