The Panama Papers: ICIJ Investigators Expose Global Corruption and Crime

Corruption

The Panama Papers is an unprecedented, global investigation into the sprawling, secretive industry of offshore that the world’s rich and powerful use to hide assets and skirt rules by setting up front companies in far-flung jurisdictions.

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, together with the German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung and more than 100 other media partners, spent a year sifting through 11.5 million leaked files to expose the offshore holdings of world political leaders, links to global scandals, and details of the hidden financial dealings of fraudsters, tax evasion, drug traffickers, billionaires, celebrities, sports stars and more.

The trove of documents is likely the biggest leak of inside information in history. It includes nearly 40 years of data from a little-known but powerful law firm based in Panama. That firm, Mossack Fonseca, has offices in more than 35 locations around the globe, and is one of the world’s top creators of shell companies, corporate structures that can be used to hide ownership of assets.

Executive producer: Hamish Boland-Rudder
Producer: Carrie Ching
Animation artist: Arthur Jones
Report: Will Fitzgibbon
Narrator: Eleanor Bell Fox
Supported by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting

ICIJ’s analysis of the leaked records revealed information on more than 214,000 offshore companies connected to people in more than 200 countries and territories.

The leaked data reveals information about 140 politicians, 12 current or former heads of state from 50 countries, including Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad, Egypt’s former president Hosni Mubarak, and Libya’s former leader Muammar Qaddafi. It reported Icelandic Prime Minister Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson stored millions of dollars of investments in Iceland’s major banks in an offshore company. The Guardian reported that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s associates secretly moved as much as $2 billion through offshore accounts. Sueddeutsche Zeitung reported Juan Pedro Damiani, the Uruguayan lawyer who is president of the country’s most popular soccer team and a FIFA ethics expert, managed companies through which FIFA members may have received bribes.

ICIJ’s data and research unit indexed, organized and analyzed the 2.6 terabytes of data that make up the leak, using collaborative platforms to communicate and share documents with over 100 news outlets and 400 journalists working in 25 languages in nearly 80 countries.

The first news reports based on the papers, and 149 of the documents themselves, were published on April 3, 2016. The ICIJ plans to publish a full list of companies involved in early May 2016.

Source: The Panama Papers | ICIJ


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❋ The Panama Papers: The Power Players

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❋ Panama Papers: The Real Scandal Is What’s Legal by Brooke Harrington | The Atlantic

❋ The Panama Papers: The Mysterious U.S. Connection by John Carey | WSJ

❋ Mossack Fonseca: Statement Regarding Recent Media Coverage (Web/PDF)

Love in the Time of War: Newlyweds in Syria Amid the Ruins

Newly-wed Syrian couple Nada Merhi,18, and Syrian army soldier Hassan Youssef, 27, pose for a wedding picture amid heavily damaged buildings in the war ravaged city of Homs on February 5, 2016. (Photography: JOSEPH EID /AFP /Getty Images)

In Homs, Syria, where entire city blocks have been reduced to rubble by years of civil war, a Syrian wedding photographer thought of using the destruction of the city as a backdrop for pictures of newlywed couples “to show that life is stronger than death,” according to AFP photographer Joseph Eid. Here, Nada Merhi, 18, and her husband, Syrian army soldier Hassan Youssef, 27, pose for a series of wedding pictures amid heavily damaged buildings in Homs on February 5, 2016.

SYRIA-CONFLICT-DAILY LIFE-WEDDING

Joseph Eid / AFP / Getty Images

 

Joseph Eid / AFP / Getty Images

Joseph Eid / AFP / Getty Images

 

Joseph Eid / AFP / Getty Images

Joseph Eid / AFP / Getty Images

 

Joseph Eid / AFP / Getty Images

Joseph Eid / AFP / Getty Images

 

Joseph Eid / AFP / Getty Images

Joseph Eid / AFP / Getty Images

 

Joseph Eid / AFP / Getty Images

Joseph Eid / AFP / Getty Images

Source: Newlyweds in the Ruins: A Syrian Wedding Shoot by Alan Taylor | The Atlantic

The Playgrounds of Pakistan – Where Children Play and Die

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Angie Wang

Not far from the house where I grew up in Karachi, Pakistan, there was a children’s amusement park. It sat on top of a hill, its slides and swings beckoning children from the houses below. As summer vacations dragged on, my brother and I would hear the gleeful screams of other children, and we begged my mother to take us. It wasn’t an easy sell. “The swings are so rickety,” she would say one day. “Aren’t you afraid you will fall out of the spinning wheel?” she would say on another. We were a little afraid, but we ached to go. That park was the only one we knew, and if it was shabby, its toy horses and pretend cars worn and weary, it still held the promise of exhilaration.

Like children everywhere, we were drawn to being a little scared. That, after all, is the pull of the amusement park: small thrills ordered and anticipated, and then conquered, fear confronted and overcome. When we did get to go, our hearts pumped wildly at the crazy height of a swing, our breath raced as our bodies were flung about; all of it made us wild with joy. Like everywhere, there were small dangers: grim grown men who sat at the periphery, watching giggling children with beady eyes; boarded-up or broken rides, like ominous warnings of thrills gone wrong; beggars who beseeched us for the coins we clenched in our fists. But the heedlessness of childhood worked its wonders; the swings and the slides blurred them into the background.

The children who died in Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park in Lahore on Sunday would have been riding those familiar crests of feeling: the wild joy of being high up or spun around mixing suddenly, grotesquely with the grim finality of death. Twenty-nine of the at least 72 dead were children, all of them, presumably, engaging in the child’s pastime of facing fear and surviving it. In the footage of the aftermath, their bloodied clothes and toys are strewn about; a green plastic toy car sits untouched in the rubble.

Their deaths are a stern rebuke to the country that failed them and to the world that turns away from them. The lurking men of the playgrounds of my childhood are no longer predictable villains, the deviants and kidnappers who feature in the cautionary tales told to children around the world. They are assassins, their hearts harnessed with explosives, their bodies bundled with bombs. The mothers refusing their children a trip to the amusement park will now tell them not about a rickety swing but about a bombing. Even the resilience of the very young cannot dream that away; the shadow of terror encroaches on childhood.

For much of the world, the deaths of Pakistani children are forgettable. They are, after all, the progeny of poor distant others destined to perish in ever more alarming ways. It may not be said, but it is believed that they are complicit in their own deaths, guilty somehow — even at 2 or 4 or 6 years of age — of belonging to a nation that the world has appointed as its own boogeyman, a repository of all its vilest trepidations. In December 2014, Taliban militants gunned down more than 140 people at a school in Peshawar, a vast majority of them students. A former American ambassador, speaking of his government’s lack of desire to help the Pakistani government fight extremists, put it succinctly: “There is great Pakistan fatigue in Washington.”

In the media, too, it seems. Two days after Sunday’s attack, Lahore has disappeared from the top headlines. Pakistan’s pain has already been extinguished from the global news cycle, its catastrophe a news item and not — as in Paris or Brussels — a news event. The world has many demands on its meager stores of empathy. The children’s names, their pictures, the terrain of the park where they fell to bits will never be familiar to a mourning world. Efforts to make the dead children of Pakistan real and innocent, worthy of a tear and not just a tweet, start, sputter and fizzle.

The playgrounds of Pakistan have fallen silent for the moment as the country buries its dead children. As I think of them, my ears ring with the sounds carried down by the wind from the playground on the hill. We wished to go when we couldn’t, but even that longing for the playground has now been denied to Pakistani children. What children ache to do when they stand on top of a slide or swing high in the air is simply to face their fear and vanquish it. In this the dead children of Lahore are braver than their country, braver than the world, braver than all of us who are scared but cannot confront our fears.

By Rafia Zakaria | NYT (OpEd)

UNICEF: Female Genital Mutilation More Widespread Than Previously Thought

FGM Header

Among the Marakwet people of Kenya, FGM is still considered a prerequisite for marriage, marking the transition from girlhood to adulthood. Photograph: Siegfried Modola/ Reuters

“You are brave, you are courageous, tomorrow you are going to be a woman.” These words are what relatives of six-year-old Hibo Wardere told her the night before she was led to a makeshift hut in the Somalian capital of Mogadishu, where a local ‘cutter’ used a razor to remove her genitalia.

Wardere, now 46, is one of at least 200 million women and children who have experienced female genital mutilation and cutting (FGM) in more than 30 countries, according to new data from UNICEF. Not only is that total far higher than previous estimates, the practice is also more widespread than researchers thought.

UNICEF researchers have only been able to source national data from 30 nations, but there are reports of procedures happening in pockets of Europe, Colombia, the U.S., India and South East Asia.

New data from Indonesia, where around 50% of girls under 11 have been cut, was largely responsible for an explosion in overall figures of nearly 70 million more people than totals of three years ago.

“What is relevant to highlight is we have always thought the practice originated in Africa and remained concentrated in many parts of the Middle East, but now with new evidence…the focus becomes wider,” Claudia Cappa, lead author of UNICEF’s report on FGM, told TIME.

Although global prevalence of the practice has declined over the past three decades, booming youth demographics in developing countries where FGM is most common has meant that absolute numbers of victims are increasing.

Today, more than 100 million girls in Egypt, Ethiopia and Egypt have undergone FGM, UNICEF reports, and at least 90% of women and girls between 15-49 in Guinea, Somalia and Djibouti.


BLOOD, FEAR AND RITUAL: WITNESS TO FEMALE CIRCUMCISION IN KENYA | MEERI KOUTANIEMI-ECHO

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According to the World Health Organization, FGM is classified into four types. Each involves the partial to total removal of a female’s external genitalia for no medical reason. Wardere, today an FGM educator and author in London, says Type 3 is the most devastating. Known as infibulation, the clitoris and other parts of the genitalia are carved away, leaving a tiny opening after the remaining skin is stitched-up together. ‘It is basically a slab… a wall with tiny holes, it is a dangerous business and the psychological affects that come with it is massive” Wardere says.

In all types of FGM, the short-term risks include haemorrhaging, urine retention, shock and, in the worst case scenario, death, says Leyla Hussein, a prominent anti-FGM campaigner whose online petition successfully lobbied the British government to launch an inquiry into the practice. Victims must live with infections, painful and irregular menstrual cycles, cysts, sexual dysfunction and infertility.

The reasons why FGM is inflicted varies from country to country: it is related to specific regional practices found in Christian areas to Muslim countries, linked to female right-of-passage ceremonies or the idea of preserving virginity. But activists say the common link are entrenched, patriarchal communities. “Fundamentally, it is done to control women, that is why myself and millions of young girls have undergone this” says Hussein, who started the U.K.’s first counseling service for FGM survivors.

Activists say political will, education and community dialogue are now needed to stem the problem. Wardere, who works for a U.K. governmental pilot scheme that will teach students, teachers and local councils about the risks of being cut, says a 16-year-old girl realized she was a FGM victim after attending Wardere’s lecture. She then disclosed that fact to her teachers, so as to protect her younger sisters from suffering the same fate.

Some progress is being made; Since 2008, 15 thousand communities and sub-districts in 20 countries have publicly declared they are abandoning FGM. Surveys also show men from countries with high prevalence are becoming more opposed to the practice than girls or women. In Guinea, 41% of boys aged between 15 and 19 think the practice should end compared to 27% of girls the same age, UNICEF says, while in Sierra Leone over a third of men (36%) between the ages of 45 and 49 want it to end, compared to 13% of women.

If more men in areas of Africa and the Middle East knew the issues it creates with fertility and women’s health, activists say, those voices of opposition might be louder. “I challenge these communities who undergo the practice: if you want us to have children, then why do you make it so difficult?’” Hussein says.

Source:  Female Genital Mutilation More Widespread Than Previously Thought, UNICEF Says -By Tara John | TIME

HRW World Report 2016: The United States

Human Rights Poster

The United States has a vibrant civil society and strong constitutional protections for many civil and political rights. Yet many US laws and practices, particularly in the areas of criminal and juvenile justice, immigration, and national security, violate internationally recognized human rights. Often, those least able to defend their rights in court or through the political process—members of racial and ethnic minorities, immigrants, children, the poor, and prisoners—are the people most likely to suffer abuses.

1. Harsh Sentencing

The United States locks up 2.37 million people, the largest reported incarcerated population in the world. About 12 million people annually cycle through county jails.

Concerns about over-incarceration in prisons—caused in part by mandatory minimum sentencing and excessively long sentences—have led some states and the US Congress to introduce several reform bills. At time of writing, none of the federal congressional measures had become law.

Thirty-one US states continue to impose the death penalty; seven of those carried out executions in 2014. In recent decades, the vast majority of executions have occurred in five states. In August, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled the state’s death penalty unconstitutional, barring execution for the 11 men who remained on death row after the Connecticut legislature did away with the death penalty in 2007.

At time of writing, 27 people had been executed in the US in 2015, all by lethal injection. The debate over lethal injection protocols continued, with several US states continuing to use experimental drug combinations and refusing to disclose their composition. In March, Utah passed a law allowing execution by firing squad. In June, the US Supreme Court ruled that Oklahoma’s lethal injection protocol was constitutional. Two prisoners executed in Oklahoma in 2014—Clayton Lockett and Michael Wilson—showed visible signs of distress as they died.

2. Racial Disparities in Criminal Justice

Racial disparities permeate every part of the US criminal justice system. Disparities in drug enforcement are particularly egregious. While whites and African Americans engage in drug offenses at comparable rates, African Americans are arrested, prosecuted, and incarcerated for drug offenses at much higher rates. African Americans are only 13 percent of the US population, but make up 29 percent of all drug arrests. Black men are incarcerated at six times the rate of white men.

A US Department of Justice report on the police department of Ferguson, Missouri, commissioned after the 2014 police killing of unarmed African American teenager Michael Brown, found that African Americans were disproportionately impacted at all levels of Ferguson’s justice system—a problem that persists in justice systems throughout the country.

3. Drug Reform

The federal government has begun to address disproportionately long sentences for federal drug offenders. At time of writing, President Barack Obama had commuted the sentences of 86 prisoners in 2015, 76 of them drug offenders. Yet more than 35,000 federal inmates remain in prison after petitioning for reconsideration of their drug sentences. In October, the Bureau of Prisons released more than 6,000 people who had been serving disproportionately long drug sentences; the releases resulted from a retroactive reduction of federal drug sentences approved by the US Sentencing Commission.

4. Police Reform

Once again, high-profile police killings of unarmed African Americans gained media attention in 2015, including the deaths of Freddy Gray in Baltimore and Walter Scott in North Charleston, South Carolina. The federal government does not maintain a full count of the number of people killed by police each year. The Bureau of Justice Statistics revealed in 2015 that it tracks only 35 to 50 percent of arrest-related deaths on an annual basis. A new federal law incentivizes the collection of data regarding deaths in police custody, but does not require states to provide that data and so fails to ensure reliable data on people killed by police.

In May, Obama’s Law Enforcement Equipment Working Group released recommendations to better regulate and restrict the transfer of Defense Department equipment to local law enforcement.

5. Prison and Jail Conditions

Momentum against the use of solitary confinement continued in 2015, but according to a new report, an estimated 100,000 state and federal prison inmates are being held in isolation.

In July, President Obama ordered the Department of Justice to review the practice of solitary confinement. Several states are currently considering legislative or regulatory reforms to reduce the use of solitary confinement. In New York, a proposed bill would limit the time during which an inmate could be held in isolation, and would ban solitary confinement for people with mental illness and other vulnerable groups. California settled a lawsuit brought by prisoners and agreed to eliminate the use of indefinite solitary confinement at the Pelican Bay State Prison—a supermax facility—as well as significantly reduce the length of time prisoners in California can be kept in solitary. However, California’s legislature failed to pass a bill that would have eliminated solitary confinement for children.

Jail and prison staff throughout the US use unnecessary, excessive, and even malicious force against prisoners with mental disabilities. Although no national data exists, research—including a 2015 Human Rights Watch report—indicates that the problem is widespread and may be increasing in the country’s more than 5,100 jails and prisons.

6. Poverty and Criminal Justice

Poor defendants nationwide are subjected to prolonged and unnecessary pretrial detention because they cannot afford to post bail. Kalief Browder committed suicide in June, two years after being released from the jail complex on New York City’s Rikers Island, where from age 16 he had been held for three years in pretrial detention, mostly in solitary confinement, because he could not afford to post $3,000 in bail. His case catalyzed renewed criticism of money bail, prompting the New York City Council to announce creation of a bail fund and city officials to embrace new pretrial detention programs.

A new lawsuit challenging money bail was filed in October in San Francisco, and the governor of Connecticut has called for review of money bail in that state.

State and municipal practices that prey on low-income defendants to generate income gained increased attention after the Justice Department’s report on Ferguson, Missouri described that town’s municipal court system as little more than a revenue-generating machine targeting African Americans, with the Ferguson police as its “collection agency.”

The privatization of misdemeanor probation services by several US states has also led to abuses, including fees structured by private probation companies in ways that penalize poor offenders or lead to the arrest of people who genuinely cannot afford to pay. In March, Georgia passed a law that imposes important new limits on the practices of such companies. Other states where private probation is widespread have thus far not taken similar steps, though awareness of probation-related abuses seems to be rising.

7. Youth in the Criminal Justice System

In every US jurisdiction, children are prosecuted in adult courts and sentenced to adult prison terms. Fourteen states have no minimum age for adult prosecution, while others set the age at 10, 12, or 13. Some states automatically prosecute youth age 14 and above as adults. Fifteen states give discretion to the prosecuting attorney, not a judge, to decide whether a youth is to be denied the services of the juvenile system. Tens of thousands of youth under the age of 18 are being held in adult prisons and jails across the country. The US remains the only country to sentence people under the age of 18 to life without the possibility of parole.

In 2015, there was some movement toward reducing the number of children tried as adults. In Illinois, a new law ended the automatic transfer of children under 15 to adult court. New Jersey increased the minimum age to be tried as an adult from 14 to 15. California, for the first time in 40 years, improved the statutory criteria judges use in transfer hearings, which could reduce the number of youth tried as adults.

8. Rights of Non-Citizens

The US government continued the dramatic expansion of detention of migrant mothers and their children from Central America, many of them seeking asylum, though it announced some reforms mid-year. Human Rights Watch has documented the severe psychological toll of indefinite detention on asylum-seeking mothers and children and the barriers it raises to due process.

In June, the Obama administration announced it would limit long-term detention of mothers and children who pass the first step to seeking refugee protection, and cease detaining individuals as a deterrent to others. A federal judge ruled in July that the US government’s family detention policy violates a 1997 settlement on the detention of migrant children. While detention of families continues, most are released within weeks if they can make a seemingly legitimate asylum claim.

A federal lawsuit halted implementation of the Obama administration’s November 2014 executive actions to provide a temporary reprieve from deportation to certain unauthorized immigrants, which could have protected millions of families from the threat of arbitrary separation. Legislative efforts toward legal status for millions of unauthorized migrants in the US continued to founder.

Human Rights Watch documented in June how the US government targets for deportation lawful permanent residents and other immigrants with longstanding ties to the US who have drug convictions, including for old and minor offenses. State and federal drug reform efforts have largely excluded non-citizens, who face permanent deportation and family separation for drug offenses.

9. Labor Rights

Hundreds of thousands of children work on US farms. US law exempts child farmworkers from the minimum age and maximum hour requirements that protect other working children. Child farmworkers often work long hours and risk pesticide exposure, heat illness, and injuries. In 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency banned children under 18 from handling pesticides. Children who work on tobacco farms frequently suffer vomiting, headaches, and other symptoms consistent with acute nicotine poisoning. After Human Rights Watch reported on hazardous child labor in US tobacco farming, the two largest US-based tobacco companies—Altria Group and Reynolds American—independently announced that, beginning in 2015, they would prohibit their growers from employing children under 16.

10. Right to Health

Stark racial disparities continue to characterize the HIV epidemic in the US, as the criminal justice system plays a key role as a barrier to HIV prevention and care and services for groups most vulnerable to HIV, including people who use drugs, sex workers, men who have sex with men, and transgender women.

A large outbreak of HIV and Hepatitis C infection occurred in rural southern Indiana in 2015, affecting more than 180 people who inject drugs. A state law allowing needle exchange programs in response to outbreaks was passed but maintains prohibitions on state funding for such programs as part of a broader prevention approach.

11. Rights of People with Disabilities

Corporal punishment in state schools is still widely practiced in 19 US states. Children with disabilities receive corporal punishment at a disproportionate rate to their peers, despite evidence that it can adversely affect their physical and psychological conditions. In contrast, 124 countries have criminalized physical chastisement in public schools.

12. Women’s and Girls’ Rights

Military - Sexual Assault

Despite Defense Department reforms, US military service members who report sexual assault frequently experience retaliation, including threats, vandalism, harassment, poor work assignments, loss of promotion opportunities, disciplinary action including discharge, and even criminal charges. The military does little to hold retaliators to account or provide effective remedies for retaliation. In May, Human Rights Watch released a report that found both male and female military personnel who report sexual assault are 12 times as likely to experience some form of retaliation as to see their attacker convicted of a sex offense.

In June, the US Supreme Court ruled that housing policies and practices with a disproportionate and negative impact against classes protected from discrimination violate the Fair Housing Act, regardless of whether the policy was adopted with the intent to discriminate. The ruling is important for domestic and sexual violence victims who can face eviction due to zero-tolerance policies—where an entire household may be evicted if any member commits a crime—or municipal nuisance ordinances that subject tenants to eviction if they call the police frequently.

13. Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The US Supreme Court issued a landmark decision on June 26, 2015, that grants same-sex couples throughout the country the right to marry.

At time of writing, 28 states do not have laws banning workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, while three states prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation but not on gender identity.

In July, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is prohibited under the existing definition of discrimination based on sex in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

In June, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) introduced a policy providing certain protections for transgender women in immigration detention. Nevertheless, transgender women in ICE custody continue to receive inadequate medical care and report verbal and sexual harassment in detention.

14. National Security

The practice of indefinite detention without charge or trial at Guantanamo Bay entered its 14th year; at time of writing, 107 detainees remained at the facility, 48 were cleared for release, and the Obama administration had in 2015 transferred 20 detainees to their homes or third countries.

The administration continued to pursue cases before the fundamentally flawed military commissions at Guantanamo. In June, a federal appeals court overturned the 2008 conviction of Ali Hamza Ahmad Suliman al-Bahlul, the alleged Al-Qaeda “public relations director” who was found guilty of conspiracy, soliciting murder, and providing material support for terrorism. As a result of the decision, at least five of the eight convictions imposed by the military commissions are now no longer valid.

Some detainees continued hunger strikes to protest their detention, including Tariq Ba Odah, who has been force-fed by nasal tube for several years and whose lawyers and doctors say is near death. The Obama administration opposed Odah’s legal request for a court-ordered release, even though the administration had cleared him for release five years ago.

Congress and President Obama signed into law the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which in recent years has included provisions on Guantanamo detentions. In 2015, the law tightened existing restrictions on the transfer of detainees out of Guantanamo. The provisions will make it more difficult, though not impossible, to transfer detainees home or to third countries, and maintains the complete ban on transfer of detainees to the US for detention or trial.

The release in December 2014 of a summary of a Senate Intelligence Committee report on the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)’s detention and interrogation program uncovered new information on the methods and extent of torture and Bush administration efforts to avoid culpability. The summary sparked calls by Human Rights Watch and others for new Justice Department criminal investigations into CIA torture and other violations of federal law, and, should the US fail to act, for action by other governments, including renewed efforts in Europe where a number of cases related to CIA torture already have been filed.

In response to the Senate summary, Congress included a provision in the NDAA that requires all US government agencies except law enforcement entities to abide by rules in the Army Field Manual on interrogation, and provide the International Committee of the Red Cross with notification of, and prompt access to, all prisoners held by the US in any armed conflict. The provision will bolster existing bans on torture, but without credible criminal investigations into CIA torture it is unclear how effectively the provision will guard against future abuse.

In June, Congress took a first small step toward curbing the government’s mass surveillance practices by passing the USA Freedom Act. The law imposes limits on the scope of the collection of phone records permissible under section 215 of the USA Patriot Act. It also puts in place new measures to increase transparency and oversight of surveillance by the National Security Agency (NSA).

The law does not constrain surveillance under section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act or Executive Order 12333, the primary legal authorities used by the US government to justify mass violations of privacy of people outside US borders. The law also does not address many modern surveillance capabilities, from use of malware to interception of all mobile calls in a country.

US law enforcement officials continued to urge major US Internet and mobile phone companies to weaken the security of their services to facilitate surveillance in the course of criminal investigations. In May, the UN special rapporteur on freedom of expression called on all countries, including the US, to refrain from weakening encryption and other online security measures because such tools are critical for the security of human rights defenders and activists worldwide.

15. Foreign Policy

In July, the US and other countries reached a comprehensive deal with Iran, restricting its nuclear weapons program in exchange for sanctions relief.

Although a full drawdown of US troops from Afghanistan was planned for the end of 2014, Obama ordered 9,800 US troops to remain in Afghanistan through the end of 2015 and 5,500 to remain into 2017.

Throughout the year, the US conducted airstrikes against the forces of the armed extremist group Islamic State (also known as ISIS) in Iraq and Syria and led a coalition of Western and regional allies in what Obama called a “long-term campaign” to defeat the group. A US program to train and equip “moderate” Syrian rebels—costing hundreds of millions of dollars—only produced approximately 60 fighters, a number of whom were promptly captured or killed. The US continued to call for a political solution to the conflict in Syria without a role for President Bashar al-Assad.

In March, a Saudi-led coalition of Arab states began a military campaign against the Houthis in Yemen. The US provided intelligence, logistical support, and personnel to the Saudi Arabian center planning airstrikes and coordinating activities, making US forces potentially jointly responsible for laws-of-war violations by coalition forces.

US drone strikes continued in Yemen and Pakistan, though at reduced numbers, while
US strikes increased in Somalia.

The US restored full military assistance to Egypt in April, despite a worsening human rights environment, lifting restrictions in place since the military takeover by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in 2013. Egypt resumed its position as the second-largest recipient of US military assistance, worth $1.3 billion annually, after Israel. In June, the US lifted its hold on military assistance to the Bahraini military despite an absence of meaningful reform, which was the original requirement for resuming the aid.

In July, President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria met with Obama in Washington; the US then pledged broad support for counterterrorism efforts and the fight against the militant Islamist group Boko Haram, as well as collaboration on economic development and tackling corruption. Obama in July traveled to Kenya and Ethiopia, where he urged respect for term limits across Africa.

More than 50 years since trade and diplomatic ties were severed during the Cold War, the US officially reopened diplomatic relations with Cuba in August. Obama also called for the lifting of the economic embargo, which would require an act of Congress.

In September, Obama waived provisions of the Child Soldiers Prevention Act to allow four countries—the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, Somalia, and South Sudan—to continue to receive US military assistance, despite their continued use of child soldiers. Obama delegated authority to Secretary of State John Kerry to make determinations under the act regarding Yemen, where child soldiers are used by all sides to the conflict; at time of writing, all US military aid to Yemen was suspended because of continuing instability there.

Reprint: World Report 2016 – Country Chapters: United States | Human Rights Watch (all hypertext sources added by SWilliamsJD)

The Rhineland Bastards: The Forgotten Black Victims of the Holocaust

Afro-German 1An Afro-German girl in a school photo. Afro-Germans in the Third Reich were victims of persecution, isolation, sterilization, medical experimentation, incarceration, brutality and murder.  (Photo: USHMM)

Most people know about the Nazi Holocaust, the murder of 6 million Jews and 6 million others: Russians, Gypsies, Slavs, socialists, disabled people and LGBT people.

Alongside the big narrative of the Holocaust there are a myriad of small, individual stories and testimonies that help illustrate and shed light on the cruelty and barbarity of the Nazi regime. One such account is the story of what happened to Germany’s tiny black population.

Primo Levi once wrote, “this is a story interwoven with freezing dawns”. Some may know their story, I certainly didn’t. Tucked away inside Hitler’s anti-Semitic diatribe, Mein Kampf, there is the following passage:

It was, and is, the Jew who brought negroes to the Rhine, brought them with the same aim and with deliberate intent to destroy the white race he hates by persistent bastardisation, to hurl it from the cultural and political heights it has attained, and to ascend them as its masters.

This was not entirely a figment of his imagination; there were a small number of young black children of African heritage living in the Rhineland. Like most west European countries, by the 17th century, Germany had a small black population. The modern state of Germany was founded in 1871.

The number of black people living in Germany increased from 1870 onwards. They came mainly from Germany’s small colonies in Africa and south east Asia; they were students, artisans, entertainers, former soldiers, low-level colonial officials, such as tax collectors, who had worked for the imperial colonial government.

Black Population

The black population of Germany at the time of the Third Reich was 20,000 – 25,000 out of a total population of over 65 million.

Even before the Nazis took power in 1933, Germany’s black population faced racial discrimination and violence. Most government, religious and colonial officials refused to register interracial marriages or births. The state promoted eugenics, and popularized arguments about the inferiority of dual-heritage children.

Following the defeat of Germany in the First World War, the Allies stripped Germany of its colonies. Also as part of the war reparations (under the Versailles Treaty) the Allies occupied the Rhineland in western Germany.

Firpo Carr in Germany’s Black Holocaust: 1890-1945, estimates that over 200,000 French troops occupied the Rhineland region. They included a number black colonial troops. Some of these African Rhineland-based soldiers married German women and raised their children as German; other German women had children by African soldiers outside of marriage.

Estimates vary, but there were over 800 dual-heritage children living in the Rhineland region. The Nazis and some sections of the press labeled these children “Rhineland Bastards” or “Rhineland Mischlingers” (mixing their blood with “alien” races).

The term “Rhineland Bastard” is of course vile. It both articulated the Nazis’ biological construction of race and colonial conceptions of race and racial mixture that were seen as posing a threat to “white” superiority.

The isolation, segregation and attempted eradication of Germany’s black population was carried out in stages. This mirrors (obviously on a tiny scale) the methods used by the Nazis in their attempts to wipe out Europe’s Jewish population. Some of these children and their families fled Germany after the Nazis took power; others were killed in the round-ups that followed.

The Nazis enacted a new law providing a basis for forced sterilization of disabled people, Gypsies, and blacks on the 14 July 1933. If you want to read further about this horrific practice go to Benno Muellar-Hill’s Murderous Science: Elimination by Scientific Selection of Jews, Gypsies, and Others in Germany, 1933-1945.

Under the Nazis, African-German mixed-heritage children were marginalized, isolated socially and economically, and not allowed to attend university. Racial discrimination prohibited them from seeking most jobs.

Then followed the Nuremberg Laws of September 1935. These prohibited miscegenation – mixed marriages between Aryans and others. Any young Afro-German woman who got pregnant was forced to have an abortion.

Commission Number 3

bastarde am rhein_grNazi propaganda about “Rhineland Bastards” (Photo: USHMM)

An organization named “Commission Number 3” was created by the Nazis to deal with the so-called problem of the “Rhineland Bastards”. This was organized under Dr. Eugen Fischer of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute of Anthropology, Human Heredity and Eugenics. It was decided that the African-German children would be sterilized under the 1933 Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring.

The programme began in 1937, when local officials were asked to report on all “Rhineland Bastards” under their jurisdiction.

All together, some 400 children of mixed parentage were arrested and sterilized. The Nazis went to great lengths to conceal their sterilization and abortion programme.

What happened to these Afro-Germans is very complex – their experiences were not uniform. Some of these children were subjected to medical experiments and others mysteriously “disappeared”.

Hans Hauck, a black Holocaust survivor and a victim of Hitler’s mandatory sterilization programme, explained in the film Hitler’s Forgotten Victims that when he was forced to undergo sterilization as a teenager, he was given no anaesthetic. Once he received his sterilization certificate, he was “free to go”, so long as he agreed to have no sexual relations whatsoever with Germans.

Tina Campt, in her path-breaking book, Other Germans: Black Germans and the Politics of Race, Gender, and Memory in the Third Reich, interviewed several black Rhineland survivors. She published testimony from one male member of this Rhineland group. In his complex statement he recalls being sterilized under the Nazi programme, then later he became a member of the Hitler Youth movement. He then joined the German army, was captured by the Russians and spent several years as a German prisoner of war in Russia.

Jean Voste
Two survivors prepare food outside the barracks. The man on the right, presumably, is Jean (Johnny) Voste, born in Belgian Congo, who was the only black prisoner in Dachau. Dachau, Germany, May 1945. (Photo: USHMM)

Not enough research has been done to unravel what happened to Germany’s black population. We know that most – alongside other black Europeans and many black soldiers – ended up in Nazi concentration camps and were murdered.

Like their Jewish counterparts they did not go meekly to their deaths – they resisted the best they could. A tiny handful survived and were able to tell their story.

One such black survivor was Jean (Johnny) Voste, a Belgian resistance fighter who was arrested in 1942 for alleged sabotage and then shipped to Dachau concentration camp.

He told that one of his jobs was stacking vitamin crates in the camp. Risking his own life, he distributed hundreds of vitamins to camp detainees, which saved the lives of many who were starving and weak. His motto was: “No, you can’t have my life; I will fight for it.”

Reprint: The Rhineland Bastards: The Holocaust Forgotten Black Victims -By Martin Smith | Dream Deferred


Related & Recommended Sources
Black During the Holocaust | United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM)
Mosaic of Victim: In Depth (USHMM)
The Nazi Olympics Berlin 1936 (USHMM)
Death Medicine: Creating The Master Race (USHMM)
The 71st Infantry Division (USHMM)

Record Number of People Exonerated in 2015 for Crimes They Didn’t Commit

Darrell CannonDarrell Cannon says police tortured him in 1983 and forced him to confess to a murder he didn’t commit. He spent more than 20 years in prison, but after a hearing on his tortured confession, prosecutors dismissed his case in 2004. He was released three years later.

The Netfilx hit true-crime series “Making a Murderer” leaves many people wondering: Just how common is the story of a wrongful conviction in America’s criminal justice system? Too common, according a new report that tracks exonerations.

Researchers found that 149 people were cleared in 2015 for crimes they didn’t commit — more than any other year in history, according to a report published Wednesday by the National Registry of Exonerations, a project of the University of Michigan Law School. By comparison, 139 people were exonerated in 2014. The number has risen most years since 2005, when 61 people were cleared of crimes they didn’t commit.

“Historically, this is a very large number for a type of event that we’d like to think almost never happens or just doesn’t happen,” Samuel Gross, a University of Michigan law professor who helped write the report, told The Huffington Post.

The men and women who were cleared last year had, on average, served 14.5 years in prison. Some had been on death row. Others were younger than 18 when they were convicted or had intellectual disabilities. All had been swept into a justice system that’s supposed to be based on the presumption of innocence, but failed.

The high number of exonerations shows widespread problems with the system and likely “points to a much larger number of false convictions” that haven’t been reversed, the report said.

“That there is an impetus at all to address the underlying problems that create false convictions is of course good news,” Gross said. “But the other side is equally important, probably more so: When you see this many exonerations, that means there is a steady underlying problem. We now know that this happens on a regular basis.”

Here are some patterns the organization found in 2015 exonerations:

Official Misconduct

About 40 percent of the 2015 exonerations involved official misconduct, a record. About 75 percent of the homicide exonerations involved misconduct.

The wrongful conviction of Debra Milke, detailed in the report, was among them. Authorities accused Milke of conspiring with two men who shot her son in the back of the head to keep him from her ex-husband and to cash in on an insurance policy. Milke’s conviction was built largely on the testimony of now-retired Phoenix police Detective Armando Saldate Jr., who said Milke offered him sex during questioning and confessed to the murder. The interrogation wasn’t recorded, and Milke’s defense argued Saldate had a long history of misconduct that the state had concealed. In multiple other cases, the defense lawyers said, judges had tossed out confessions or indictments because Saldate had lied or violated defendants’ rights.

The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with Milke’s attorneys and overturned her conviction. Milke had always maintained her innocence. She spent 26 years in prison — 22 on death row — before she was exonerated.

Debra Milke 2
Debra Milke, who spent more than two decades on death row for the alleged killing of her 4-year old son(Reuters)

False Confessions

Almost 20 percent of exonerations in 2015 were for convictions based on false confessions — a record. Those cases overwhelmingly were homicides involving defendants who were under 18, intellectually disabled, or both.

Bobby Johnson, of New Haven, Connecticut, was 16 years old with an IQ of 69 — just below the threshold for intellectual disability — without a parent or guardian present when he confessed to two detectives that he murdered 70-year-old Herbert Fields.

Johnson received a 38-year sentence in 2007. But in 2015, a new defense attorney argued that Johnson’s confession was coerced by the detectives, who lied that they had evidence linking him to the murder that would subject him to the death penalty. The lawyer also argued police ignored evidence that the murder was linked to two other killings committed by others. Nine years after his conviction, Johnson was exonerated and set free.

In a separate analysis of hundreds of cases since 1989, false confessions were found to be a leading cause of wrongful convictions, according to the Innocence Project, a nonprofit dedicated to correcting wrongful convictions. Overall, about 31 percent of wrongful conviction cases included a false confession. For homicides, that number balloons to 63 percent.

Bobby JohnsonSurrounded by his family, Bobby Johnson addresses the media outside of Superior Court in New Haven, Friday, Sept. 4, 2015. Johnson spent nine years in prison for a 2006 killing his lawyer says he didn’t commit. Prosecutors filed a motion asking a judge to set aside Johnson’s conviction “in the interest of justice and fair play.” (Arnold Gold / New Haven Register via AP)

Guilty Pleas

An innocent person pleading guilty to a crime they didn’t commit may seem unfathomable. But the National Registry of Exonerations said the number of false guilty pleas has been increasing for seven years, and has risen sharply in the past two years.

More than 40 percent of people exonerated in 2015 were convicted based on guilty pleas made by an innocent defendant, a record. The majority of these cases involved drugs. Some were homicide cases.

“Many people, including judges, take comfort in knowing that an overwhelming number of criminal cases are resolved by guilty plea rather than trial,” Judge Alex Kozinski, of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, wrote last year in a paper critiquing the criminal justice system. But Kozinski said this attitude fails to account for issues surrounding plea deals that include the trend of bringing multiple counts for a single crime, the “creativity” of prosecutors in “hatching up criminal cases where no crime exits” and the general “overcriminalization of virtually every aspect of American life.”

Plea bargains can be an efficient way to resolve cases without draining taxpayer resources. They aren’t always bad. But a 2013 Human Rights Watch study found the U.S. system often creates situations where a federal prosecutor will “strong-arm” a defendant into a plea deal. And the deep fear of a harsh sentence — one “so excessively severe, they take your breath away,” in the words of Judge John Gleeson of the Eastern District of New York — can lead a defendant to plead guilty in order to obtain a shorter prison term, even if they’re accused wrongfully.

One example of plea deal complexities is the case of Shawn Whirl, who pleaded guilty to the first-degree murder of Chicago cab driver Billy Williams in 1991, according to the report.

Whirl’s defense argued he was being chased by an assailant the day he wound up in the back of Williams’ cab. The same assailant later killed Williams in retaliation for rescuing Whirl, the lawyers said. Whirl confessed to the crime, but said it was because he was tortured by a Chicago cop. When prosecutors announced they would seek the death penalty, Whirl agreed to plead guilty to murder and armed robbery to save his life — even though he said in court on the day he received a 60-year sentence that he was innocent.

It wasn’t until 2012 that the Illinois Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission, formed to investigate claims of torture against Chicago police, found that Whirl had indeed been tortured by a subordinate of Jon Burge — an ex-Chicago cop who led a police torture ring that used electrical shock, burnings and beatings on more than 200 black men.

Whirl was cleared of all charges on Oct. 13 and freed.

In May 2015, the Chicago City Council approved a $5.5 million reparations fund for victims of police torture. More than 200 people, most of them African-American, were tortured under the reign of Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge from 1972 to 1991. Tactics included electric shocks and suffocation.

No Crime Was Actually Committed

In about half of the exonerations in 2015, no crime was actually ever committed by the people put behind bars — a record, according to the report. Most of these cases involved drugs. Some included homicide or arson.

The report details the 1981 conviction of Raymond Mora, William Vasquez and Amaury Villalobo on six counts of murder for starting a fire in a Brooklyn, New York, building that killed a mother and her five children. The convictions were based on the building owner’s account that she saw the men leaving shortly before the fire, and a fire marshal’s testimony that the blaze had multiple origin points and was started with accelerants — signs of arson.

Each of the men’s wives gave alibi testimony that the men weren’t near the building when the fire started. All three men were convicted and sentenced to 25 years to life.

Mora died in prison in 1989. Vasquez lost his eyesight due to untreated glaucoma, according to the report. In 2012, Vasquez and Villalobos were released on parole, and Villalobos sought the help of a legal clinic. Records from the case were reexamined and, using modern science, John Lentini, an arson expert, concluded that the original fire marshal’s interpretation of the evidence was mistaken, based on science that has since been disproven. This kind of expert testimony has likely resulted in “numerous” wrongful convictions, Lentini said.

Moreover, the building owner, just before she died, admitted lying about seeing the three men leaving the building at the time of the fire. She also hid an insurance settlement.

After this new evidence was presented, the convictions of all three men were vacated in December.

ellerin-bernhard-villalobosNew York Law School graduate Marissa Ellerin, left, and New York Law School professor Adele Bernhard with Amaury Villalobos, center, who was exonerated. (New York Law Journal)

Flawed Forensic Evidence

Many of last year’s exonerations involved flawed or invalid forensic evidence. According to the Innocence Project, improper forensic science is a leading cause of wrongful conviction.

Too often, the group says, forensic experts speculate when they testify, asserting conclusions that stretch the science. Further, some forensic techniques aren’t backed by research, but are nevertheless presented to juries as fact. And there are honest mistakes. The FBI has admitted that from 1972 to 1999, almost every examiner in the bureau’s elite forensics unit gave flawed testimony in nearly every trial in which they presented evidence.

Forensic fields like ballistics, bloodstain pattern identification and footprint and tire print analysis, have been “long accepted by the courts as largely infallible,” Kozinski said in his paper, arguing that the techniques should be viewed with skepticism.

Faulty Eyewitness Identification

False identifications of innocent people happened in several cases the exoneration registry report outlined.

The Innocence Project says eyewitness misidentification of a suspect plays a role in more than 70 percent of convictions that are later overturned through DNA evidence. Hundreds of studies have shown that eyewitness identification is frequently inaccurate and that human memories are not reliable, especially with traditional identification procedures. While simple reforms have been proposed, only about 14 U.S. states have implemented them, according to Innocence Project.

Kozinski called for states to adopt rigorous procedures for witness identification.

How Many More Wrongful Convictions?

Exonerations

There’s no clear data on how many innocent people have been wrongfully convicted. The Innocence Project, citing multiple studies, estimates from 2 percent to 5 percent of prisoners are actually innocent. The U.S., which leads the world in incarceration of its citizens, has approximately 2 million people behind bars. That means a wrongful conviction rate of 1 percent would translate to 20,000 people punished for crimes they didn’t commit. On death row, 1 in 25 are likely innocent, according to a recent study.

“Because these things happen regularly, we should be more open-minded about reconsidering the guilt of convicted defendants when substantial new evidence emerges after conviction,” Gross said. “The impulse to say: ‘It’s over, I don’t want to think about it anymore’ is very strong. However, there are cracks in that position.”

Reprint: A Record Number Of People Were Exonerated In 2015 For Crimes They Didn’t Commit -By Matt Ferner | Huffington Post

Florida Teen Beaten, Mutilated & Raped In Prison Initiation Ritual

A minor at the Sumter Correctional Institution in Florida was brutally beaten and raped as part of a prison initiation ritual that was ignored by a guard, according to a federal lawsuit filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and the Florida Institutional Legal Services Project of Florida Legal Services.

Jail Cell

The minor, R.W., endured a beating by more than six other youths as part of an initiation rite known as a “test of heart,” while a prison guard failed to come to his aid. R.W. was cut multiple times with sharpened barbed wire, choked until unconscious and raped with a broomstick.

“R.W. suffered a nightmare at Sumter,” said Miriam Haskell, SPLC attorney. “Unfortunately, his experience is not unique. A culture of brutality persists within the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC), and what R.W. endured is just another example of why children do not belong in the adult prison system.”

Bruce A. Kiser Jr., the officer on duty at the time and defendant in the lawsuit, was stationed immediately in front of the area where the attack occurred for the very purpose of supervising the youths involved, according to the suit. Yet he did nothing to stop the beating, and never reported the attack. An investigation by the FDOC’s Office of the Inspector General noted Kiser’s inaction and recommended the matter be reviewed for possible administrative action. Despite that recommendation – and FDOC Secretary Julie Jones’ commitment to a “new accountability” – Kiser remains employed.

Numerous complaints related to violence and tests of heart have been brought to the attention of the FDOC, yet this culture of brutality continues. Last month, the department agreed to pay $700,000 to settle a lawsuit by a youth who was permanently injured in a test of heart at Lancaster Correctional Institution. In 2014, a youth died from injuries reportedly sustained in a similar attack.

Children as young as 14 are incarcerated in Florida’s youthful offender prisons, which are part of the adult prison system and among the most brutal facilities in the state. On any given day there are approximately 140 minors incarcerated in Florida prisons. The state incarcerates more children in adult prisons than any other state in the country, according to the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics. Most were tried as adults as a result of “direct file,” a procedure in which prosecutors transfer a child’s juvenile charges to adult criminal court without any judicial oversight.

Advocates around the state are calling on the Florida Legislature to keep more children out of adult prison by requiring that a judge – not just a prosecutor – determine whether a case should be tried in adult court.

The filing of R.W.’s lawsuit coincides with Children’s Week at the Florida Legislature. During this week, children and youth advocates from around the state gather in Tallahassee to raise critical issues affecting Florida’s children, including education, health, safety and abuse prevention.

“We need more accountability at all levels,” said Karen Garcia whose son, Bryce, was released last year from a youthful offender prison. “My son told me stories about inhumane treatment, getting hit by guards, mental abuse and guards opening closets to let kids fight. Whenever I raised these concerns, I got the runaround, from classification officers up to the warden.”

In October, the SPLC and other advocates sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice calling on the federal government to investigate horrific conditions in Florida prisons, including for incarcerated youth.

Reprint: SPLC Suit: Florida Teen Raped, Beaten in Prison Initiation Ritual

Health & Human Rights: Toxic Water in Flint, Michigan

Flint Water

Flint resident Tony Palladino Jr.’s sign reads “Synder’s dirty little secret” atop a crossed out city of Flint on the map on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016 outside of the Capitol in Lansing, Mich., in protest against Gov. Rick Snyder, asking for his resignation and arrest in relation to Flint’s water crisis. (Photo: Jake May/The Flint Journal-MLive.com via AP)

The city of Flint, Mich., is in the midst of a water crisis several years in the making. The city opted out of Detroit’s water supply and began drawing water from the Flint River in April 2014, part of a cost-saving move. Eighteen months later, in the fall of 2015, researchers discovered that the proportion of children with above-average lead levels in their blood had doubled.

The city reconnected to Detroit’s water system in October, but the damage was done. Water from the Flint River was found to be highly corrosive to the lead pipes still used in some parts of the city. Even though Flint River water no longer flows through the city’s pipes, it’s unclear how long those pipes will continue to leach unsafe levels of lead into the tap water supply. Experts currently say the water is safe for bathing, but not drinking.

A group of Virginia Tech researchers who sampled the water in 271 Flint homes last summer found some contained lead levels high enough to meet the EPA’s definition of “toxic waste.”

The researchers posted their test results online, which are represented graphically below with other visuals to help understand just how high above normal Flint’s lead levels really were.

Lead in water is measured in terms of parts per billion (ppb). If a test comes back with lead levels higher than 15 ppb, the EPA recommends that homeowners and municipalities take steps to reduce that level, like updating pipes and putting anti-corrosive elements in the water when appropriate.

But 15 ppb is a regulatory measure, not a public health one. Researchers stress that there is no 100 percent “safe” level of lead in drinking water, only acceptable levels. Even levels as low as 5 ppb can be a cause for concern, according to the group studying Flint’s water.

So let’s start with Flint’s neighboring cities. At the city level, public health officials are most concerned with the 90th percentile level of lead exposure in homes they test — that is, 90 percent of homes will have a lead level below this threshold, while 10 percent will register above it.

Forty-five minutes away from Flint in Troy, Mich., the 90th percentile level for lead in 2013 was 1.1 parts per billion. Not too shabby at all. In the graphics that follow, each splotch represents 1 part per billion. The splotches aren’t proportionally scaled to the cups — 1 part per billion is way too small to be visualized at this level. But all of the following graphics are scaled proportionally to each other, to give an impression of relative lead levels.

Toxic 1

In Detroit, the water supply Flint had previously been connected to, the 90th percentile reading was 2.3 parts per billion — still highly acceptable.

Toxic 2

Here’s an illustration of water at the 5 parts per billion level. This is below the borderline for EPA acceptability, but the team of researchers studying Flint’s water say that levels this high can be a cause for concern, particularly for young children.

Toxic 3

Now things get interesting. Here’s a glass illustrating the 90th percentile reading among the 271 Flint homes tested by researchers last summer:

Toxic 4

At 27 parts per billion, it’s five times as high as the level of concern, and nearly twice as high as the EPA’s already-generous guidelines. According to the researchers who ran these tests, the health effects of lead levels this high “can include high blood pressure and other cardiovascular problems, kidney damage and memory and neurological problems.”

Recall, though, that 10 percent of the homes in the sample had lead levels even higher than this. Here’s the highest lead reading in that sample, from a home in the city’s 8th Ward:

Toxic 5

That’s more than 10 times the EPA limit. It’s 30 times higher than the 5 ppb reading that can indicate unsafe lead amounts.

But that 158 ppb reading is far from the worst one that turned up in Flint, unfortunately. In the spring of 2015, city officials tested water in the home of LeeAnne Walters, a stay-at-home mother of four and a Navy wife. They got a reading of 397 ppb, an alarmingly high number.

But it was even worse than that. Virginia Tech’s team went to Walters’ house to verify those numbers later in the year. They were concerned that the city tested water in a way that was almost guaranteed to minimize lead readings: They flushed the water for several minutes before taking a sample, which often washes away a percentage of lead contaminants. They also made residents collect water at a very low flow rate, which they knew also tended to be associated with lower readings.

So the Virginia Tech researchers took 30 different readings at various flow levels. What they found shocked them: The lowest reading they obtained was around 200 ppb, already ridiculously high. But more than half of the readings came in at more than 1,000 ppb. Some came in above 5,000 — the level at which EPA considers the water to be “toxic waste.”

The highest reading registered at 13,000 ppb.

Toxic 6

The professor who conducted the sampling, Dr. Marc Edwards, was in “disbelief.”

“We had never seen such sustained high levels of lead in 25 years of work,” he said.

According to Edwards, the team retested the water with extra quality controls and assurance checks, and obtained the exact same results.

You can check out their description of the testing at the website they set up for their water study. It includes unsettling photos of LeeAnne Walters’ tap water containing rust and metal particles large enough to be seen with the naked eye.

The Walters family had stopped drinking the water a long time ago, according to the Virginia Tech team. But still, the lead levels were too high. One of Walters’ 4-year-old sons was diagnosed with lead poisoning.

It appears that the city of Flint and state of Michigan have finally started to take the water problem seriously. Again, they reconnected the city to Detroit’s supply back in October, but the water remains unsafe to drink.

In recent days the National Guard was activated to help distribute drinking water to the city’s residents. And in yet another unsettling wrinkle in Flint’s saga, 87 cases of Legionnaire’s Disease, 10 fatal, have been diagnosed in the city since June. It’s not yet clear whether that outbreak is linked to the water.


Reprint: This Is How Toxic Flint’s Water Really Is By Christopher Ingraham | Washington Post

Recommended: Who Poisoned Flint, Michigan -By Stephen Rodrick | The Rollingstone

Michael Moore: Flint Poisoning Is a ‘Racial Crime’ -By Michael Moore | TIME

Corrosive Impact: Leaded Water and One Flint Family’s Toxic Nightmare -By Curt Guyette | ACLU Michigan Democracy Watch Blog

A Timeline of the Flint Water Crisis

Flint Water
Virginia Tech professor Marc Edwards shows the difference in water quality between Detroit and Flint after testing, giving evidence after more than 270 samples were sent in from Flint that show high levels of lead during a news conference on Sept. 15, 2015 outside of City Hall in downtown Flint, Mich. (Photo: Jake May—The Flint Journal-MLive.com/AP)


The Flint water crisis is an ongoing drinking water contamination crisis in Flint, Michigan, in the United States.

After the change in source from treated Lake Huron water (via Detroit) to the Flint River, the city’s drinking water had a series of problems that culminated with lead contamination, creating a serious public health danger. The corrosive Flint River water caused lead from aging pipes to leach into the water supply, causing extremely elevated levels of lead. As a result, between 6,000 and 12,000 residents had severely high levels of lead in the blood and experienced a range of serious health problems. The water change is also a possible cause of an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in the county that has killed 10 people and affected another 77.

On November 13, 2015, four families filed a federal class action lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan in Detroit against Governor Rick Snyder and thirteen other city and state officials, and three separate people filed a similar suit in state court two months later, and three more lawsuits were filed after that. Separately, the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Michigan and the Michigan Attorney General’s office opened investigations. On January 5, 2016, the city was declared to be in a state of emergency by the Governor of Michigan, before President Obama declared the crisis as a federal state of emergency, authorizing additional help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Homeland Security less than two weeks later.

Four government officials—one from the City of Flint, two from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, and one from the Environmental Protection Agency—resigned over the mishandling of the crisis, and Snyder issued an apology to citizens, while promising money to Flint for medical care and infrastructure upgrades.

Here is a timeline of key events — a road map of poor decisions, missed opportunities and broken promises — from the 2013 decision to switch water sources to Gov. Rick Snyder admitting this week that the mess could turn out to be his Hurricane Katrina.

2013

April 16: Flint, newly under the control of an emergency manager who answers to the governor, inks an agreement to stop buying water from Detroit and join a new water authority that will get water from Lake Huron, a deal that is expected to save millions. Although it will be three years before the new water source is available, Detroit says it will stop selling water to Flint in a year.

2014

April 25: The city begins using water from the Flint River as a stopgap until the pipeline from Lake Huron can be completed. As officials raise glasses of water in celebration, Mayor Dayne Walling hails it as a “historic moment.” He says “the water quality speaks for itself,” and the state Department of Environmental Quality says residents shouldn’t notice any difference.

May: Complaints about the new water start coming in. “It’s just weird,” resident Bethany Hazard tells the Flint Journal, referring to the murky, foamy quality of the H2O coming from her taps. The state DEQ says analysis of the water shows it meets state standards.

June 12: City officials reveal they are treating the water with lime in response to complaints, but the mayor pooh-poohs concerns about safety. “I think people are wasting their precious money buying bottled water,” he tells the Flint Journal.

Aug. 15: A boil advisory for part of the city is issued after water tests positive for e.coli bacteria. A second advisory will be issued just weeks later.

Oct. 13: After the General Motors plant in Flint refuses to use the river water because it’s rusting car parts, the city arranges for the company to tap into a different water line. The residents of Flint still have to drink the river water.

2015

Jan. 4: The city announces that Flint’s water contains such a high level of trihalomethanes — a disinfectant byproduct — that it’s in violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act. Officials say residents with normal immune systems have nothing to worry about. “Is water from the Flint River safe to drink? Yes,” a city website declares.

Jan. 13: Protesters rally outside City Hall to demand a return to Detroit’s supply and lower bills. Hundreds turn out at a forum, some complaining of rashes on children. Detroit offered to let Flint switch back, but the city’s emergency manager says it would cost too much.

Jan. 20: Environmental activist Erin Brockovich weighs in, slamming officials on Facebook for making “excuses” for the bad water.

Feb. 18: A consultant hired by the city for $40,000 to investigate the water quality says it contains sediment and is discolored but is safe to drink.

Feb. 26: A manager at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency tells Michigan officials that the chemistry of the river water means contaminants from pipes, including lead, are leaching into the water system.

April 2: As the city is forced to tell customers that it has flunked the Safe Drinking Water Act again because of the disinfectants, Mayor Walling posts a tweet: “(My) family and I drink and use the Flint water everyday, at home, work, and schools.”

June 5: Activists file suit in attempt to stop the city from using river water. The city gets it moved to federal court, where a judge denies a preliminary injunction.

June 24: EPA water expert Miguel del Toral sends internal memo to his bosses flagging Flint’s failure to use chemicals to control corrosion, which can cause lead to leach from pipes into drinking water. The warning was not made public until the ACLU leaked a copy of the memo weeks later.

July 22: Gov. Rick Snyder’s chief of staff says in an email to the state Health Department that he believes the Flint residents are “concerned and rightfully so” about lead in the water. “These folks are scared and worried about the health impacts and they are basically getting blown off by us (as a state we’re just not sympathizing with their plight),” he says. The agency says the data shows no increase in lead poisoning.

July 28: An epidemiologist for the state health department identifies a three-month spike in lead levels in Flint during the previous summer, after the switch to river water. She recommends further investigation in an email to her bosses, but they decide it was a seasonal anomaly.

Aug. 31: Virginia Tech Professor Marc Edwards, who is leading students in testing Flint water, reports that 42 percent of 120 samples had elevated lead levels, and 20 percent had levels that require water systems to take action. Edwards explains that the water from the river is “very corrosive” and is leaching lead from plumbing in the city’s homes.

Sept. 24: Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, a pediatrician at Hurley Children’s Hospital, says a comparison a blood samples she undertook shows a jump in lead poisoning in Flint’s children. State officials told the Detroit Free Press their own samples don’t show the same increase.

Oct. 1: State officials announce that a new analysis of their data shows Hanna-Attisha is correct: more children have lead in their blood since the water switch.

Oct. 2: Gov. Snyder announces the state will buy water filters and test lead in schools. Within a week, he will recommend that Flint start using water from Detroit, and $6 million to help the city switch back is eventually approved.

Oct. 16: Flint switches back to Detroit water.

Nov. 3: Karen Weaver, who ran for mayor on a promise of solving the water crisis, is elected over Walling.

Flint-Tap-water

Tap water in Flint’s hospital on October 16 (Photo:Joyca Zhu/Flint Water Study)

2016

Jan. 5: Snyder declares a state of emergency in Flint. The Department of Justice opens an investigation into the debacle.

Jan. 12: Under increasing fire, Snyder calls out the National Guard to distribute bottled water and filters in Flint.

Jan. 13: The crisis expands to include Legionnaires’ disease as officials reveal a spike in cases, including 10 deaths, after the city started using river water.

Jan. 15: The Michigan attorney general opens an investigation to see if any laws were broken in the handling of the crisis. A state legislator points out that he asked the AG to launch a probe three months earlier and was rebuffed.

Jan. 16: President Barack Obama signs an emergency declaration and orders federal aid for Flint, two days after a request from Snyder.

Jan. 17: Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders focus on Flint and criticize Snyder during a televised debate.

Jan. 18: Snyder admits in an interview with the National Journal that Flint could be his Hurricane Katrina. “It’s a disaster,” he concedes.


SOURCES

❋ FLINT WATER TIMELINE (PDF)

Bad Decisions, Broken Promises: A Timeline of the Flint Water Crisis by Hannah Rappleye, Lisa Riordan Seville, and Tracy Connor | NBC News

❋ Events That Led to Flint’s Water Crisis by Jeremy C.F. Lin, Jean Rutter, and Haeyoun Park | New York Times

 The Flint Water Crisis, Explained in 3 Minutes | VOX

❋ Undrinkable: The Flint Water Emergency | DTV News

Wikipedia