Body Part Hunters Target Albino Children in Tanzania

Twelve-year-old Mwigulu Matonage poses with a stuffed animal that he says makes him feel safe at night and that he sleeps with on September 21, 2015. Shy, soft-spoken Mwigulu is missing an arm from a brutal attack in Tanzania  (Photographer: Carlo Allegri / Reuters)

Children born with albinism in Tanzania live in constant danger of being attacked by people looking to profit from superstitious beliefs. About one in 20,000 people is born with albinism, lacking pigment in their hair, skin, and eyes. In Tanzania, according to reporting from the Thomson Reuters Foundation, albino body parts are highly valued in witchcraft and can fetch a high price: “Superstition leads many to believe albino children are ghosts who bring bad luck.

Some believe the limbs are more potent if the victims scream during amputation, according to a 2013 United Nations report.” Reuters also notes, “The United Nations estimates about 75 albinos have been killed in the east African nation since 2000 and have voiced fears of rising attacks ahead of this year’s election, as politicians seek good luck charms from witch doctors.”

Reuters photographer Carlo Allegri recently documented the lives of several Tanzanian children receiving care in New York after being brutalized in their home country.

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Sources & Additional Images: & Albino Children in Tanzania Targeted by Body Part Hunters -By Alan Taylor | The Atlantic & Rescued from the Albino Hunters | Thomson Reuters Foundation

Médecins Sans Frontières: “Even War Has Rules!”

Graphic: Thomas Bræstrup/ Behance

President Obama personally apologized on Wednesday to the head of Médecins Sans Frontières – MSF (Doctors Without Borders) for what he described as the mistaken bombing of its field hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, promising a full investigation into the episode, which took the lives of nearly two dozen doctors and 10 patients.

The Oct. 3 airstrike took place as Afghan forces were fighting to retake the strategic northern city of Kunduz, which was overrun and briefly held last week by the Taliban. The insurgents, who have been massing around the city for months, launched a multi-pronged attack that took authorities by surprise.  An American AC-130 gunship devastated the medical facility.

White House officials said Mr. Obama told Dr. Joanne Liu, the international president of Médecins Sans Frontières, that he would make any changes necessary to ensure that such incidents were less likely in the future. And they said that the president promised a “full accounting” of who was to blame, and whether the military’s rules of engagement need to change.

That may not be enough for MSF, which has said they do not believe the three investigations that have been begun into the incident — by NATO and a joint United States-Afghan group and the Defense Department — are independent enough to find the truth about what happened.

Dr. Liu said the President’s apology had been “received” then repeated her request that the United States “consent to an independent investigation led by the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission” establish what happened in Kunduz, how it happened, and why it happened.

The use of the word “consent” in her statement was central to the group’s demand that the United States endorse a more independent investigation. The International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission (IHFFC) is a body set up under the Geneva Conventions that can investigate violations of international humanitarian law, but only if the countries involved give their permission. In this case that would mean extracting the blessings of both Afghanistan and the United States, which seems unlikely.

The commission is made up of 15 members, elected by the 76 countries that recognize its authority. Neither the United States nor Afghanistan is among the 76. The commission was created in 1991 but has never been used.

At a news conference in Geneva on Wednesday, Dr. Liu said that patients at the Kunduz hospital burned in their beds, and that doctors, nurses and other staff members were killed as they worked. “Our colleagues had to operate on each other,” she said. “One of our doctors died on an improvised operating table — an office desk — while his colleagues tried to save his life.”

Jason Cone, the executive director of Doctors Without Borders in the United States, said that the organization’s staff called the office of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the bombardment of the hospital. Mr. Cone would not discuss the contents of the calls, saying that Doctors Without Borders wanted to preserve the privileged nature of its communications with the government.

But he did say that the chairman’s office was the same office to which MSF had provided GPS coordinates for the hospital on Sept. 30. The group also provided the same GPS coordinates to the American-led coalition in Afghanistan on Sept. 29.

Mr. Cone could not say who or what office at the American-led coalition in Afghanistan was contacted during the attack.

“All we know is that our one hospital was struck repeatedly after we told them where we were located, and called them in desperation to stop the attack,” he said.

Speaking to reporters on Thursday in Kabul, MSF’s General Director, Christopher Stokes, reiterated the group’s demand for the probe, saying it would be important and a precedent for non-government organizations working in conflict zones worldwide.

Stokes said MSF wanted the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission “to get the facts of what happened, the truth.”

The IHFFC is based in the Swiss capital, Bern. It is made up of diplomats, legal experts, doctors and some former military officials from nine European countries, including Britain and Russia. Created after the Gulf War in 1991, the commission has never deployed a fact-finding mission.

Médecins Sans Frontières, a Nobel Peace Prize-winning organization that provides medical aid in conflict zones, is awaiting responses to letters it sent Tuesday to 76 countries that signed Article 90 of the additional protocol to the Geneva Conventions, seeking to mobilize the 15-member commission.  MSF says no country has responded yet.

Source: MSF: Enough! Even War Has Rules

What Happened: Download MSF’s Kunduz Air Bombing Fact Sheet (PDF)

Action: #Kunduz Outrage: Demand an #IndependentInvestigation

HUMAN, A Film Project About Humanity


“I am one man among seven billion others. For the past 40 years, I have been photographing our planet and its human diversity, and I have the feeling that humanity is not making any progress. We can’t always manage to live together. Why is that? I didn’t look for an answer in statistics or analysis, but in man himself.”

Yann Arthus-Bertrand


HUMAN is a collection of stories about and images of our world, offering an immersion to the core of what it means to be human. Through these stories full of love and happiness, as well as hatred and violence, HUMAN brings us face to face with the Other, making us reflect on our lives. From stories of everyday experiences to accounts of the most unbelievable lives, these poignant encounters share a rare sincerity and underline who we are – our darker side, but also what is most noble in us, and what is universal. Our Earth is shown at its most sublime through never-before-seen aerial images accompanied by soaring music, resulting in an ode to the beauty of the world, providing a moment to draw breath and for introspection.

HUMAN is a politically engaged work which allows us to embrace the human condition and to reflect on the meaning of our existence.


To create HUMAN, Arthus-Bertrand and his team of 16 journalists interviewed 2,020 people in 60 countries. Each interview consisted of the same 40 questions, covering heavy subjects from religion and family (“When is the last time you said ‘I love you’ to your parents?”) to ambition and failure (“What is the toughest trial you have had to face, and what did you learn from it?”). The questions stemmed from those asked in 7 Billion Others, Arthus-Bertrand’s 2003 project and traveling exhibition that features over 6,000 interviews.

In the film, single-frame interviews are interspersed with the sweeping shots of deserts and mountains that Arthus-Bertrand is known for, against a soundtrack of world music composed by Armand Amar.  Arthus-Bertrand, who points to Godfrey Reggio’s Koyaanisqatsi and Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life as influences, sees the film as a portrayal of the world through three voices: people, landscape, and traditional music. “Getting at the heart of what it means to be a human can be a little heavy,” he says. “The aerial images give you a respite, a moment to reflect on what has been said before.”

One thing HUMAN does not offer is background. The film cuts between interviews and landscapes without an introduction of name or country or language.  Arthus-Bertrand hopes that removing personal identifiers will draw focus to our similarities. “We wanted to concentrate on what we all share,” he explains.  “If you put the name of a person, or what country they’re from, you don’t feel that as strongly.”

Arthus-Bertrand hopes that message will lead those watching HUMAN—whether in the U.N. General Assembly Hall or on a smartphone browser in a rural village in Mali—to seek out meaningful conversations about our responsibilities to each other.  It’s a lofty goal, and one that he believes we should all build our lives around.  “To succeed in your professional life isn’t that hard, but to succeed in your personal life is a lot harder,” says Arthus-Bertrand. “To really be a human is a lot harder.  We forget about that.”

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Since 2012, the crew behind human has been gathering an exceptional range of content. This unique collection of interviews and images is intended to be shared with the widest possible audience.

Drawing on this unrivalled collection of images, Arthus-Bertrand offers us a galaxy of works adapted for all platforms and every type of interaction: cinema, television, the digital space, and major public events.

HUMAN: The Cinematographic Movie (190 mins)

The movie will be in theaters from 12 September in France, and from 22 September will be available for free to local authorities, NGOs, and charities that wish to organize screenings.

A selection of exclusive, hypnotic and contemplative longer testimonies, combined with breathtaking aerial views: that is The Stories of HUMAN, going ever further. Broadcast on french TV France 2.

Excerpts from HUMAN (Website) and The Documentary That Found Humanity by Interviewing 2,000 People -by Charley Locke | WIRED MAGAZINE

HUMAN Extended Version, Volume 2

HUMAN Extended Version, Volume 3

HUMAN Presentation Kit 

Yann Arthus-Bertrand is a photographer and renowned specialist in aerial imagery. He has written several books, including The Earth from the Air, which has been translated into 24 languages and has sold more than three million copies. His 2009 film Home has been viewed by more than 600 million people around the world.  It is the most successful environmental film of the decade. 7 Billion Others, a portrait of humanity today, has so far been seen by 350 million people. 

Yann Arthus-Bertrand is also known for his commitment to the ecological battle. For five years, he hosted the famous show Vu du Ciel which explored environmental issues for the public broadcaster, france télévisions. In 2011, he made the film Planet Ocean with Michaël Pitiot, which took audiences on a unique journey into the very heart of our blue planet.

Since 2005 and the creation of the GoodPlanet Foundation, Arthus-Bertrand has been committed to educating about the environment and the fight against climate change and its consequences. This commitment led to him being named a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Environment Program on 22 April 2009. It was the first step on the path that led Arthus-Bertrand to make “HUMAN”.

ISIS Fighter to Child: ‘Raping You Draws Me Closer to God’

Photo by Sheren Khalel / MintPress News

QADIYA, Iraq — In the moments before he raped the 12-year-old girl, the Islamic State fighter took the time to explain that what he was about to do was not a sin. Because the preteen girl practiced a religion other than Islam, the Quran not only gave him the right to rape her — it condoned and encouraged it, he insisted.

He bound her hands and gagged her. Then he knelt beside the bed and prostrated himself in prayer before getting on top of her. When it was over, he knelt to pray again, bookending the rape with acts of religious devotion.

“I kept telling him it hurts — please stop,” said the girl, whose body is so small an adult could circle her waist with two hands. “He told me that according to Islam he is allowed to rape an unbeliever. He said that by raping me, he is drawing closer to God,” she said in an interview alongside her family in a refugee camp here, to which she escaped after 11 months of captivity.

The systematic rape of women and girls from the Yazidi religious minority has become deeply enmeshed in the organization and the radical theology of the Islamic State in the year since the group announced it was reviving slavery as an institution. Interviews with 21 women and girls who recently escaped the Islamic State, as well as an examination of the group’s official communications, illuminate how the practice has been enshrined in the group’s core tenets.

The trade in Yazidi women and girls has created a persistent infrastructure, with a network of warehouses where the victims are held, viewing rooms where they are inspected and marketed, and a dedicated fleet of buses used to transport them.

A total of 5,270 Yazidis were abducted last year, and at least 3,144 are still being held, according to community leaders. To handle them, the Islamic State has developed a detailed bureaucracy of sex slavery, including sales contracts notarized by the ISIS-run Islamic courts. And the practice has become an established recruiting tool to lure men from deeply conservative Muslim societies, where casual sex is taboo and dating is forbidden.

A growing body of internal policy memos and theological discussions has established guidelines for slavery, including a lengthy how-to manual issued by the Islamic State Research and Fatwa Department just last month. Repeatedly, the ISIS leadership has emphasized a narrow and selective reading of the Quran and other religious rulings to not only justify violence, but also to elevate and celebrate each sexual assault as spiritually beneficial, even virtuous.

“Every time that he came to rape me, he would pray,” said F, a 15-year-old girl who was captured on the shoulder of Mount Sinjar one year ago and was sold to an Iraqi fighter in his 20s. Like some others interviewed by The New York Times, she wanted to be identified only by her first initial because of the shame associated with rape.

“He kept telling me this is ibadah,” she said, using a term from Islamic scripture meaning worship. “He said that raping me is his prayer to God. I said to him, ‘What you’re doing to me is wrong, and it will not bring you closer to God.’ And he said, ‘No, it’s allowed. It’s halal,’ ” said the teenager, who escaped in April with the help of smugglers after being enslaved for nearly nine months.

Calculated Conquest

The Islamic State’s formal introduction of systematic sexual slavery dates to Aug. 3, 2014, when its fighters invaded the villages on the southern flank of Mount Sinjar, a craggy massif of dun-colored rock in northern Iraq.

Its valleys and ravines are home to the Yazidis, a tiny religious minority who represent less than 1.5 percent of Iraq’s estimated population of 34 million.

The offensive on the mountain came just two months after the fall of Mosul, the second-largest city in Iraq. At first, it appeared that the subsequent advance on the mountain was just another attempt to extend the territory controlled by Islamic State fighters.

Almost immediately, there were signs that their aim this time was different.

Survivors say that men and women were separated within the first hour of their capture. Adolescent boys were told to lift up their shirts, and if they had armpit hair, they were directed to join their older brothers and fathers. In village after village, the men and older boys were driven or marched to nearby fields, where they were forced to lie down in the dirt and sprayed with automatic fire.

The women, girls and children, however, were hauled off in open-bed trucks.

“The offensive on the mountain was as much a sexual conquest as it was for territorial gain,” said Matthew Barber, a University of Chicago expert on the Yazidi minority. He was in Dohuk, near Mount Sinjar, when the onslaught began last summer and helped create a foundation that provides psychological support for the escapees, who number more than 2,000, according to community activists.

Fifteen-year-old F says her family of nine was trying to escape, speeding up mountain switchbacks, when their aging Opel overheated. She, her mother, and her sisters — 14, 7, and 4 years old — were helplessly standing by their stalled car when a convoy of heavily armed Islamic State fighters encircled them.

“Right away, the fighters separated the men from the women,” she said. She, her mother and sisters were first taken in trucks to the nearest town on Mount Sinjar. “There, they separated me from my mom. The young, unmarried girls were forced to get into buses.”

The buses were white, with a painted stripe next to the word “Hajj,” suggesting that the Islamic State had commandeered Iraqi government buses used to transport pilgrims for the annual pilgrimage to Mecca. So many Yazidi women and girls were loaded inside F’s bus that they were forced to sit on each other’s laps, she said.

Once the bus headed out, they noticed that the windows were blocked with curtains, an accouterment that appeared to have been added because the fighters planned to transport large numbers of women who were not covered in burqas or head scarves.

F’s account, including the physical description of the bus, the placement of the curtains and the manner in which the women were transported, is echoed by a dozen other female victims interviewed for this article. They described a similar set of circumstances even though they were kidnapped on different days and in locations miles apart.

F says she was driven to the Iraqi city of Mosul some six hours away, where they herded them into the Galaxy Wedding Hall. Other groups of women and girls were taken to a palace from the Saddam Hussein era, the Badoosh prison compound and the Directory of Youth building in Mosul, recent escapees said. And in addition to Mosul, women were herded into elementary schools and municipal buildings in the Iraqi towns of Tal Afar, Solah, Ba’aj and Sinjar City.

They would be held in confinement, some for days, some for months. Then, inevitably, they were loaded into the same fleet of buses again before being sent in smaller groups to Syria or to other locations inside Iraq, where they were bought and sold for sex.

“It was 100 percent preplanned,” said Khider Domle, a Yazidi community activist who maintains a detailed database of the victims. “I spoke by telephone to the first family who arrived at the Directory of Youth in Mosul, and the hall was already prepared for them. They had mattresses, plates and utensils, food and water for hundreds of people.”

Detailed reports by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International reach the same conclusion about the organized nature of the sex trade. In each location, survivors say Islamic State fighters first conducted a census of their female captives.

Inside the voluminous Galaxy banquet hall, F sat on the marble floor, squeezed between other adolescent girls. In all she estimates there were over 1,300 Yazidi girls sitting, crouching, splayed out and leaning against the walls of the ballroom, a number that is confirmed by several other women held in the same location.

A 25-year-old Yazidi woman showed a “Certificate of Emancipation” given to her by a Libyan who had enslaved her. He explained that he had finished his training as a suicide bomber and was planning to blow himself up, and was therefore setting her free. (Photo: Mauricio Lima for The New York Times)

They each described how three Islamic State fighters walked in, holding a register. They told the girls to stand. Each one was instructed to state her first, middle and last name, her age, her hometown, whether she was married, and if she had children.

For two months, F was held inside the Galaxy hall. Then one day, they came and began removing young women. Those who refused were dragged out by their hair, she said.

In the parking lot the same fleet of Hajj buses was waiting to take them to their next destination, said F. Along with 24 other girls and young women, the 15-year-old was driven to an army base in Iraq. It was there in the parking lot that she heard the word “sabaya” for the first time.

“They laughed and jeered at us, saying ‘You are our sabaya.’ I didn’t know what that word meant,” she said. Later on, the local Islamic State leader explained it meant slave.

“He told us that Taus Malik” — one of seven angels to whom the Yazidis pray — “is not God. He said that Taus Malik is the devil and that because you worship the devil, you belong to us. We can sell you and use you as we see fit.”

The Islamic State’s sex trade appears to be based solely on enslaving women and girls from the Yazidi minority. As yet, there has been no widespread campaign aimed at enslaving women from other religious minorities, said Samer Muscati, the author of the recent Human Rights Watch report. That assertion was echoed by community leaders, government officials and other human rights workers.

Mr. Barber, of the University of Chicago, said that the focus on Yazidis was likely because they are seen as polytheists, with an oral tradition rather than a written scripture. In the Islamic State’s eyes that puts them on the fringe of despised unbelievers, even more than Christians and Jews, who are considered to have some limited protections under the Quran as “People of the Book.”

In Kojo, one of the southernmost villages on Mount Sinjar and among the farthest away from escape, residents decided to stay, believing they would be treated as the Christians of Mosul had months earlier. On Aug. 15, 2014, the Islamic State ordered the residents to report to a school in the center of town.

When she got there, 40-year-old Aishan Ali Saleh found a community elder negotiating with the Islamic State, asking if they could be allowed to hand over their money and gold in return for safe passage.

The fighters initially agreed and laid out a blanket, where Ms. Saleh placed her heart-shaped pendant and her gold rings, while the men left crumpled bills. Instead of letting them go, the fighters began shoving the men outside, bound for death.

Sometime later, a fleet of cars arrived and the women, girls and children were driven away.

Excerpt, read full article ISIS Enshrines a Theology of Rape -By Rukmini Callimachi & Mauricio Lima | NYT

Repeating History: Efforts to Delegitimize The ‘Black Lives Matter’ Movement a Distraction


The Republican Party and its acolytes in the news media are trying to demonize the protest movement that has sprung up in response to the all-too-common police killings of unarmed African-Americans across the country. The intent of the campaign — evident in comments by politicians like Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina, Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin and Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky — is to cast the phrase “Black Lives Matter” as an inflammatory or even hateful anti-white expression that has no legitimate place in a civil rights campaign.

Former Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas crystallized this view when he said the other week that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., were he alive today, would be “appalled” by the movement’s focus on the skin color of the unarmed people who are disproportionately killed in encounters with the police. This argument betrays a disturbing indifference to or at best a profound ignorance of history in general and of the civil rights movement in particular. From the very beginning, the movement focused unapologetically on bringing an end to state-sanctioned violence against African-Americans and to acts of racial terror very much like the one that took nine lives at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., in June.

The civil rights movement was intended to make Congress and Americans confront the fact that African-Americans were being killed with impunity for offenses like trying to vote, and had the right to life and to equal protection under the law. The movement sought a cross-racial appeal, but at every step of the way used expressly racial terms to describe the death and destruction that was visited upon black people because they were black.

Even in the early 20th century, civil rights groups documented cases in which African-Americans died horrible deaths after being turned away from hospitals reserved for whites, or were lynched — which meant being hanged, burned or dismembered — in front of enormous crowds that had gathered to enjoy the sight.

The Charleston church massacre has eerie parallels to the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala. — the most heinous act of that period — which occurred at the height of the early civil rights movement. Four black girls were murdered that Sunday. When Dr. King eulogized them, he did not shy away from the fact that the dead had been killed because they were black, by monstrous men whose leaders fed them “the stale bread of hatred and the spoiled meat of racism.” He said that the dead “have something to say” to a complacent federal government that cut back-room deals with Southern Dixiecrats, as well as to “every Negro who has passively accepted the evil system of segregation and who has stood on the sidelines in a mighty struggle for justice.” Shock over the bombing pushed Congress to pass the Civil Rights Act the following year.

During this same period, freedom riders and voting rights activists led by the young John Lewis offered themselves up to be beaten nearly to death, week after week, day after day, in the South so that the country would witness Jim Crow brutality and meaningfully respond to it. This grisly method succeeded in Selma, Ala., in 1965 when scenes of troopers bludgeoning voting rights demonstrators compelled a previously hesitant Congress to acknowledge that black people deserved full citizenship, too, and to pass the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Along the way, there was never a doubt as to what the struggle was about: securing citizenship rights for black people who had long been denied them.

The “Black Lives Matter” movement focuses on the fact that black citizens have long been far more likely than whites to die at the hands of the police, and is of a piece with this history. Demonstrators who chant the phrase are making the same declaration that voting rights and civil rights activists made a half-century ago. They are not asserting that black lives are more precious than white lives. They are underlining an indisputable fact — that the lives of black citizens in this country historically have not mattered, and have been discounted and devalued. People who are unacquainted with this history are understandably uncomfortable with the language of the movement. But politicians who know better and seek to strip this issue of its racial content and context are acting in bad faith. They are trying to cover up an unpleasant truth and asking the country to collude with them.

Reprint: The Truth of ‘Black Lives Matter’ | NYT Editorial Board


In 1938, civil rights activist and poet Langston Hughes (1902-1967) wrote his chilling poem “Kids Who Die” which illuminates the horrors of lynchings during the Jim Crow era.  Now, Hughes’ vivid poetry is being featured in a three minute video created by Frank Chi and Terrance Green. It is a startling reminder that the assault on Black lives did not end with the Jim Crow era.

As we approach the one year mark of the Ferguson uprising that has sparked a movement of resistance against state violence, we are reminded of our ability to secure real change. This is a matter of life or death and we need collective power to win. Join the movement and text JUSTICE to 225568.

This is for the kids who die,
Black and white,
For kids will die certainly.
The old and rich will live on awhile,
As always,
Eating blood and gold,
Letting kids die.
Kids will die in the swamps of Mississippi
Organizing sharecroppers
Kids will die in the streets of Chicago
Organizing workers
Kids will die in the orange groves of California
Telling others to get together
Whites and Filipinos,
Negroes and Mexicans,
All kinds of kids will die
Who don’t believe in lies, and bribes, and contentment
And a lousy peace.
Of course, the wise and the learned
Who pen editorials in the papers,
And the gentlemen with Dr. in front of their names
White and black,
Who make surveys and write books
Will live on weaving words to smother the kids who die,
And the sleazy courts,
And the bribe-reaching police,
And the blood-loving generals,
And the money-loving preachers
Will all raise their hands against the kids who die,
Beating them with laws and clubs and bayonets and bullets
To frighten the people—
For the kids who die are like iron in the blood of the people—
And the old and rich don’t want the people
To taste the iron of the kids who die,
Don’t want the people to get wise to their own power,
To believe an Angelo Herndon, or even get together
Listen, kids who die—
Maybe, now, there will be no monument for you
Except in our hearts
Maybe your bodies’ll be lost in a swamp
Or a prison grave, or the potter’s field,
Or the rivers where you’re drowned like Leibknecht
But the day will come—
You are sure yourselves that it is coming—
When the marching feet of the masses
Will raise for you a living monument of love,
And joy, and laughter,
And black hands and white hands clasped as one,
And a song that reaches the sky—
The song of the life triumphant
Through the kids who die.

President Obama Unveils An Ambitious Clean Power Plan

On August 3, President Obama unveiled the final version of his Clean Power Plan, a set of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations that, if implemented, would represent the strongest action ever taken by the United States to combat climate change.

Obama is using the authority of an existing law — the Clean Air Act, enacted in 1970 — to issue the regulations. That law says that the Environmental Protection Agency must regulate any pollutant that is deemed a danger to human health and well-being. The Supreme Court upheld the agency’s finding that carbon dioxide in large amounts did qualify as a dangerous pollutant, since it contributes to climate change, providing the Obama administration with both the legal authority and the legal obligation to regulate carbon dioxide emissions.

The Clean Power Plan is divided into three components.

One is an E.P.A. regulation that would require a 32 percent overall reduction in greenhouse gas emitted by existing power plants from 2005 levels by 2030. The rule will probably lead to the closing of hundreds of coal-fired power plants and give fresh momentum to carbon-free energy sources like wind and solar power, and possibly next-generation nuclear plants.

The second regulation would require power plants built in the future to produce about half the rate of the pollution now produced by current power plants. That rule would effectively ensure that no new coal plants are built in the United States. The plan then assigns every state a target for reducing its emissions and requires them to come up with a draft plan for how to do it by 2016 and a final plan by 2018.

When taken together with the administration’s other initiatives, chiefly the fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks, it reinforces Mr. Obama’s credibility and leverage with other nations heading into the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris in December.

Full implementation and enforcement of the plan is going to be an uphill battle. The plan’s opponents in industry, the states and Congress are already gathering their forces to try to undermine it on Capitol Hill and in the courts, claiming that the plan is radical, will cost thousands of jobs, drive electricity prices through the roof and irreparably damage the economy.

Attorney generals from states that oppose the plan are coming together in a lawsuit to argue that it represents too broad an interpretation of the Clean Air Act. Their legal challenge is expected to reach the Supreme Court around 2017, which will then have to decide whether to uphold the plan or strike it down.

But the truth is this: There is nothing radical about the Clean Power Plan.

For more than a decade, carbon emissions from power plants have been declining — a result of a shift in energy generation from coal to cheap and abundant natural gas, regulation of other pollutants, like mercury, which has caused utilities to shut down older plants, and investments in cleaner fuels and energy efficiency.

Coal generation, which 10 years ago provided just over half the nation’s electricity, last year provided 39 percent. Meanwhile, renewable energy sources like wind and solar power — driven by federal tax credits, improvements in technology and state mandates — have risen sharply in that time.

The new rules will codify and accelerate these trends, making sure that the shift to cleaner fuels continues quickly. Their main goal is a nationwide reduction in carbon dioxide emissions of 32 percent by 2030, from a 2005 baseline. Among their many selling points is flexibility: The rules assign each state a specific target for reducing carbon pollution from plants inside its borders, but allows them to develop custom-tailored plans for meeting these targets. States can choose from a menu of options to meet their targets: switching from coal to natural gas, ramping up wind and solar, reducing energy consumption with so-called demand-side efficiencies, engaging in cap-and-trade systems with other states.

These individual state targets are a result of many months of painstaking negotiations between Washington and the states. Despite this, the plan faces formidable challenges in Congress and the courts. Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, for instance, has begun a pre-emptive strike against the rules, urging states not to submit the required plans (a weirdly anti-states’ rights strategy, since the rules authorize the Environmental Protection Agency to impose its own plans on states that do not comply). But the greater threats lie in the courts, where opponents are preparing to argue that the plan usurps states’ rights, exceeds the agency’s authority or is deficient in other ways.

And then there is the little matter of the coming presidential election. Even if the courts rule that the new regulations are fully consistent with the E.P.A.’s authority under the Clean Air Act, a future president could rescind or delay them. Hillary Rodham Clinton has said she supports the plan and will carry it out.

Republicans are unanimously opposed to the plan.

Sources & Reprints: President Obama’s Tough, Achievable Climate Plan | NYT Editorial Board and 5 Questions About Obama’s Climate Change Plan -By Coral Davenport | NYT

Crown Jewel or Dream Deferred: The Voting Rights Act Turns 50


President Lyndon Johnson signs the Voting Rights Act, Washington, DC, 1965.

In the summer of 1962, 20-year-old Dorie Ladner accompanied a busload of black Mississippi residents to the county seat in Indianola, where the group of 18 tried to register to vote. It was a brave effort, if not something of a death wish.

Back then in Mississippi, literacy tests and poll taxes were par for the course, as was intimidation and sometimes actual violence. That day in Indianola, white men with guns drove circles around the county courthouse. Ladner, who was an early member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, recalled that the entire cohort was unable to register.

“It was uneventful in that no one was beaten,” she told The Huffington Post.

Such blatant, systemic discrimination to stop African-Americans from voting now seems the stuff of history books. The credit goes to the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was signed into law 50 years ago this Thursday.

The VRA has been called “the most successful civil rights statute” in the nation’s history and the “crown jewel” of the civil rights movement. But its victory is not permanent. Minority voting rights are again under attack in America, as the bipartisan congressional majorities that once backed the VRA have crumbled.

In 1965, it wasn’t certain that voting reform would pass. President Lyndon Johnson was hesitant to call for such a bill so soon after he had alienated fellow Southern Democrats with his push for the Civil Rights Act of 1964. His hand was forced, however, on March 7, 1965, when civil rights marchers leaving Selma, Alabama, for the capitol in Montgomery were attacked by state troopers with nightsticks and tear gas at the Edmund Pettus Bridge on “Bloody Sunday.”

Ladner, who was in Selma at the time, did not march because she thought walking across the bridge was “suicidal.” Her fear proved prescient, as her fellow SNCC leader John Lewis, now a Democratic congressman from Georgia, was nearly beaten to death.

But within days of “Bloody Sunday,” Johnson directed the U.S. Department of Justice to draft a bill that would protect the rights of minority voters across the country. He gave a game-changing speech urging Congress to pass the legislation swiftly and calling the right to vote “the most powerful instrument ever devised by man for breaking down injustice.” The Voting Rights Act was approved with bipartisan support; Johnson signed it into law on Aug. 6, 1965.

Recognizing that many states wouldn’t welcome new voters with open arms, Johnson ordered federal workers deployed to especially hostile counties in Southern states to register voters. That effort, along with the law’s limitations on the use of voter literacy tests, saw immediate results: In those states judged to have the most egregiously discriminatory voting regimes, black voter registration rose from 29.3 percent in 1965 to just over 52 percent in 1967.

In the longer run, the Voting Rights Act’s most effective weapon in protecting minority voters was its Section 5.

Before the VRA, voting rights enforcement depended on often reluctant judges and elected officials who simply created new methods of exclusion when their old ones were banned. Section 5 required those states and counties with particularly egregious histories of discrimination to clear any changes to their election procedures with federal officials or in federal court before implementing them.

The reach of this pre-clearance section became evident when the Supreme Court in 1969 ruled against election law changes in Mississippi and Virginia. In an 8-1 ruling, the court said that private individuals can bring cases under Section 5 and that it covered “the subtle, as well as the obvious” state acts that deny people the right to vote based on race.

Violations of the VRA continued to be found in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s. In 2006, the Voting Rights Act was reauthorized for 25 years, over the objections of some conservatives who complained that Section 5 was an assault on states’ rights and who opposed the expansion of ballot accessibility for non-English speakers. Despite those critics, the reauthorization had bipartisan support in Congress.

And then Section 5 was torn out of the act.

In 2013, the Supreme Court struck down Section 5 because, as Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the majority opinion, “things have changed in the South.” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg found that rationale infuriating. In her dissent, she argued that the conservative justices were stripping from the Voting Rights Act the very mechanism that had made it such a success.

“Throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes,” she wrote, “is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”

Woman holds sign 'Section 5 Keep it alive' as Supreme Court hears Voting Rights.
Woman holds sign that reads ‘SECTION 5, KEEP IT ALIVE’ as Supreme Court hears Shelby County, Alabama, v. Holder. Shelby County, a case challenging Section 4 and 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (Credit: Richard Ellis / Getty Images)

The immediate question was how effective the act’s remaining sections could be in protecting gains made over the last five decades. Since Republicans captured a swath of state legislatures in 2010, civil rights groups have been fighting a flood of new voting restrictions that were enacted for the ostensible purpose of preventing almost non-existent voter fraud.

The advocates have turned to Section 2, which bars election procedures that discriminate on the basis of race, to combat these strict new voter identification laws, cutbacks to early voting and elimination of same-day registration. Their efforts received a boost on Wednesday when a federal appeals court found that Texas’ voter ID law violates Section 2.

A federal judge had earlier found that the law effectively served as a poll tax (because of the cost of obtaining the necessary documents for a valid ID) and was intentionally discriminatory. Over 600,000 Texans were estimated to lack a valid form of government-issued photo ID, with black and Latino voters much more likely to be without such an ID. But the Supreme Court had still allowed the measure to remain in place for the 2014 midterm election.

Despite this week’s victory, the problem remains that Section 2 offers more limited protection than Section 5, since it puts the burden on the plaintiffs to bring suit to show discriminatory effects after a law has passed.

“Instead of the Section 5 world, where the state would have to show that laws are not discriminatory before they implement them, now we have a situation where plaintiffs need to show that laws are discriminatory and are sprinting to do that before people’s rights are violated in an election,” said Julie Ebenstein, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s Voting Rights Project.

Sections 2 and 5 also differ substantively in how they judge whether a law restricts minority voting rights. Section 5 compared what the position of African-Americans would be under a proposed change of election procedure with their current position, while Section 2 considers whether an election law would, in effect, disproportionately affect minority voters compared to white voters.

“Obviously the VRA still plays a huge role in protecting voters, but it remains to be seen how the Voting Rights Act will protect against second-generation barriers,” Ebenstein said. “There’s no longer literacy tests, property requirements, but when you look at the information that we have today — who votes during early voting, how you can remove the exact days African-Americans vote, or who uses same-day registration, and how you can attempt to remove certain voters from the electorate — these are still very high hurdles and strong barriers against people casting a ballot, and they should be taken just as seriously as prior forms of discrimination.”

A coalition of civil rights groups, including the ACLU, is now challenging a package of voting restrictions that North Carolina rushed to pass after the Supreme Court invalidated Section 5. The plaintiffs are asking a federal judge to reinstitute the pre-clearance regime for North Carolina under Section 3 of the VRA. Section 3 allows a court to require pre-clearance of a state’s election law changes once it has found that the state intentionally discriminated in a current case. In this case, the plaintiffs argue that the lawmakers knew that African-American voters were disproportionately likely to vote early, vote out of precinct and use same-day registration.

But victory is not assured. The North Carolina plaintiffs don’t have the sort of damning emails or incriminating statements that have surfaced in other places — like Texas, where lawmakers discussed how to craft a district with a large Hispanic population but low proportion of eligible Hispanic voters or, as they called it, an “Optimal Hispanic Republican District.”

Fights over voting rights are a useful metric by which to measure how polarized the two major political parties in America have become. When the Supreme Court limited what kind of discrimination was banned under the VRA in 1980, Congress responded in 1982 in a bipartisan fashion to broaden Section 2. President Ronald Reagan signed the legislation.

Now, bills to restore the VRA can’t even get a hearing in committee. Republicans argue that the Voting Right Act deserves to be celebrated but that it has served its purpose, while Democrats say that discrimination is still rampant. With the two parties farther apart than ever on the issue, the VRA has fallen between the cracks.

This new reality is frustrating for Clarence Magee, who serves as president of his Mississippi county’s NAACP chapter. Magee and his wife, Carrie, were witnesses in a federal trial over denied voter registrations in the early ’60s. He finally received his registration card in 1963 or 1964, he said, after failing to get on the rolls at least five times.

“When I showed up, they would say the registrar’s not in — or if you saw the clerk, they would say, ‘What you want, boy, who sent you?’” he told HuffPost. “While it was embarrassing, it only increased our effort to get it.”

At the trial, Magee said, it was pointed out that an illiterate white truck driver had been registered to vote after he marked an X above the signature line.

Today, Magee looks around and sees an increasing number of states throwing up legal restrictions to once again impede the ability of people of color to vote.

“We thought the Voting Rights Act was permanent — it had been reauthorized over and over — so never in our imagination did we think Section 5 would be stripped away and made ineffective,” he said. “The roadblocks are still out there.”

Reprint (w/ substitutions): The Voting Rights Act Is 50 Years Old Today. So Why Do Things Still Seem So Bad? – By Samantha Lachman & Amber Ferguson | Huffington Post

On the Death of Sandra Bland and Our Vulnerable Bodies

Samdra Bland 2


I AM tired of writing about slain black people, particularly when those responsible are police officers, the very people obligated to serve and protect them. I am exhausted. I experience this specific exhaustion with alarming frequency. I am all too aware that I have the luxury of such exhaustion.

One of the greatest lies perpetrated on our culture today is the notion that dash cameras on police cruisers and body cameras on police officers are tools of justice. Video evidence, no matter the source, can document injustice, but rarely does this incontrovertible evidence keep black people safe or prevent future injustices.

Sandra Bland, 28 years old, was pulled over earlier this month in Waller County, Tex., by a state trooper, Brian T. Encinia. She was pulled over for a routine traffic stop. She shouldn’t have been pulled over but she was driving while black, and the reality is that black women and men are pulled over every day for this infraction brought about by the color of their skin.

We know a lot about Ms. Bland now. She was in the prime of her life, about to start a new job at Prairie View A&M University. She had posted on Facebook earlier this year that she was experiencing depression. She was passionate about civil rights and advocacy. According to an autopsy report, she committed suicide in her jail cell after three days. What I find particularly painful is that her bail was $5,000. Certainly, that is a lot of money, but if the public had known, we could have helped her family raise the funds to get her out.

As a black woman, I feel this tragedy through the marrow of my bones. We all should, regardless of the identities we inhabit.

Recently, my brother and I were talking on the phone as he drove to work. He is the chief executive of a publicly traded company. He was dressed for work, driving a BMW. He was using a hands-free system. These particulars shouldn’t matter but they do in a world where we have to constantly mourn the loss of black lives and memorialize them with hashtags. In this same world, we remind politicians and those who believe otherwise that black lives matter while suffocated by evidence to the contrary.

During the course of our conversation, he was pulled over by an officer who said he looked like an escapee from Pelican Bay State Prison in California. It was a strange story for any number of reasons. My brother told me he would call me right back. In the minutes I waited, my chest tightened. I worried. I stared at my phone. When he called back, no more than seven or eight minutes had passed. He joked: “I thought it was my time. I thought ‘this is it.’ ” He went on with his day because this is a quotidian experience for black people who dare to drive.

Each time I get in my car, I make sure I have my license, registration and insurance cards. I make sure my seatbelt is fastened. I place my cellphone in the handless dock. I check and double check and triple check these details because when (not if) I get pulled over, I want there to be no doubt I am following the letter of the law. I do this knowing it doesn’t really matter if I am following the letter of the law or not. Law enforcement officers see only the color of my skin, and in the color of my skin they see criminality, deviance, a lack of humanity. There is nothing I can do to protect myself, but I am comforted by the illusion of safety.

As a larger, very tall woman, I am sometimes mistaken for a man. I don’t want to be “accidentally” killed for being a black man. I hate that such a thought even crosses my mind. This is the reality of living in this black body. This is my reality of black womanhood, living in a world where I am stripped of my femininity and humanity because of my unruly black body.

There is a code of conduct in emergency situations — women and children first. The most vulnerable among us should be rescued before all others. In reality, this code of conduct is white women and children first. Black women, black children, they are not afforded the luxury of vulnerability. We have been shown this time and again. We remember McKinney, Tex., and a police officer, David Casebolt, holding a young black girl to the ground. We say the names of the fallen. Tamir Rice. Renisha McBride. Natasha McKenna. Tanisha Anderson. Rekia Boyd. We say their names until our throats run dry and there are still more names to add to the list.

During the ill-fated traffic stop, most of which was caught on camera, Mr. Encinia asked Ms. Bland why she was irritated and she told him. She answered the question she was asked. Her voice was steady, confident. Mr. Encinia didn’t like her tone, as if she should be joyful about a traffic stop. He told Ms. Bland to put her cigarette out and she refused. The situation escalated. Mr. Encinia threatened to light her up with his Taser. Ms. Bland was forced to leave her car. She continued to protest. She was placed in handcuffs. She was treated horribly. She was treated as less than human. She protested her treatment. She knew and stated her rights but it did not matter. Her black life and her black body did not matter.

Because Sandra Bland was driving while black, because she was not subservient in the manner this trooper preferred, a routine traffic stop became a death sentence. Even if Ms. Bland did commit suicide, there is an entire system of injustice whose fingerprints left bruises on her throat.

In his impassioned new memoir, “Between the World and Me,” Ta-Nehisi Coates writes, “In America, it is traditional to destroy the black body — it is heritage.” I would take this bold claim a step further. It is also traditional to try and destroy the black spirit. I don’t want to believe our spirits can be broken. Nonetheless, increasingly, as a black woman in America, I do not feel alive. I feel like I am not yet dead.

Reprint: On the Death of Sandra Bland and Our Vulnerable Bodies -By Roxane Gay | NYT OpEd (Published July 24, 2015)

Roxane Gay is the author of “An Untamed State” and “Bad Feminist” and a contributing opinion writer.

Mass Grave of Migrants Found in West Texas

Grave markers next to a Brooks County burial plot marked for exhumation in May 2013 by the Baylor University forensics team (Photo: Jen Reel).

In the summer of 2013, a team of forensic anthropologists from Baylor University and the University of Indianapolis descended upon Sacred Heart Cemetery, a small, county-run graveyard in rural Brooks County. Small metal markers with the words “Unknown” or “Skeletal Remains” were scattered through the dusty grass and along the cemetery access roads. More than 300 migrants had died in the county during the past five years, and unidentified human remains ended up here. For Dr. Lori Baker, a forensic anthropologist at Baylor University, identifying migrant remains and returning them to grieving families had become a mission. “Nobody cares about dead immigrants,” she said recently. “They’re invisible when they’re alive, and they’re even more invisible when they’re dead.” For years, she and her students had been conducting exhumations and gathering DNA samples across the border regions of South Texas.

But she’d never gone as far inland as Falfurrias, home to a Border Patrol checkpoint some 70 miles north of the Texas-Mexico border. As she had elsewhere, she approached the chief deputy sheriff, Benny Martinez, to offer her services. “Of course the chief was like, ‘Yes, we could use all the help we can get, any help you can give us,’” Baker said.

She knew the graves might be difficult to locate. “I can tell you that we have yet to find a cemetery that has a map,” she said. “So you can’t look at a map and know where human remains are buried. Especially when they’re not marked.” Still, even she was surprised by what she found at the cemetery. Digging around a handful of markers, Baker and her team of volunteers expected to find maybe 10 bodies. Instead, they exhumed more than 50 unidentified human remains during the course of 10 days, all presumed to be border crossers from Central America and Mexico. Some were buried in coffins; others in only body bags. She planned to go back the following summer to continue.

When Baker returned in early June of 2014, she came with a larger team in order to cover more ground. They recovered nearly 70 more human remains. This time, what they found made the evening news. “Mass Graves of Unidentified Migrants Found in South Texas,” read a headline in the Los Angeles Times. Reports emerged of bodies buried in kitchen trash bags, with as many as five piled on top of one another in a single grave. One corpse was wrapped in a burlap bag; other remains were found inside a milk crate. Skulls were wedged between coffins, Baker said. The shocking news attracted the attention of elected officials. By month’s end, state Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa of McAllen, 75 miles to the south, said he would ask the Texas Rangers to investigate. “This is too serious of a wrongdoing,” Hinojosa said. “I’m appalled at the number of bodies just left in body bags and, in many instances, more than one body in one bag.”

On June 25, 2014, the Texas Rangers launched a preliminary inquiry to determine whether any criminal wrongdoing had occurred in the processing and burial of the unidentified remains. They assigned the job to Lt. Corey Lain, an experienced investigator who had recently been honored by the U.S. attorney in Dallas for his exemplary work on a federal attempted murder case. He was assigned to look into any improprieties on the parts of Elizondo Mortuary, which was tasked with collecting DNA samples, identifying bodies, and storing the remains before burial; Funeraria Del Angel Howard-Williams (Howard-Williams Funeral Services), which buried the remains and was suspected of improper burials, failure to properly mark remains and gravesites, and overbilling; and Brooks County, which was missing autopsy records. If Lain found evidence of possible lawbreaking, a criminal investigation would ensue.

The Real Death Valley: Full Length Weather Channel Documentary from Weather Films on Vimeo.

Three years ago, Elmer Barahona Iraheta, a 22-year-old father living in San Vicente, El Salvador, made a fateful decision. He had been struggling to find enough work in the impoverished agricultural city to support his wife and 2-year-old daughter, and gang violence there was spiraling out of control. But he had a contact in Houston who would help him find work. He pooled scarce resources to hire the services of a coyote, a human smuggler, to help him navigate the dangerous journey to the United States. It was the only way he could imagine providing a future for his new family.

Elmer said his goodbyes on June 10, 2012, and on June 27 called his mother to say that he’d crossed the border and arrived safely in McAllen. He said he was waiting in a stash house for a guide who would take his group north, and that he would call again once he reached Houston. According to his aunt, Marta Iraheta, who has since pieced together the chain of events, Elmer set out with the guide and a small group of other migrants a few days later, on July 2. They were most likely driven from McAllen to just south of the Falfurrias checkpoint, from where they would have to travel some 40 miles on foot to avoid detection by border agents. North of the checkpoint, they’d be picked up by another smuggler and taken to Houston. Home free.

But it was the height of summer, with temperatures over 100 degrees. The terrain is rough and sandy. Water supplies are quickly drained. Bodies overheat rapidly. The year Elmer took this trek, 130 migrant bodies were found in the remote ranchland he was about to cross.

On the Fourth of July, Marta, then living in Houston, received a call from her sister, Elmer’s mother, in El Salvador. She sounded distraught, and pleaded with Marta to try to find Elmer. Marta quickly went to the Salvadoran Consulate in Houston, a photo of her nephew in hand. She drove to McAllen, six hours away, where Elmer was when he’d last called home, and visited the Mexican Consulate there. She contacted law enforcement and local hospitals. No one had any information.

Marta returned home, where she frantically called and emailed anyone who might be able to connect her with someone who might know what had happened to Elmer. Finally, she found a man Elmer had befriended along the journey, someone who had made it safely to the East Coast. He told Marta that Elmer had injured his leg as they were making their way through a ranch at night. After that, Elmer could barely walk, and struggled to keep up with the group. They had almost reached their pickup point when the guide decided that Elmer had become a burden and left him behind, alone.

Months later, by September, Marta knew in her gut that Elmer was dead. Her new mission was to find his body and return it to his family in El Salvador, so his young daughter would have a place to visit her father. So she headed south to Brooks County.

On June 27, 2014, just two days after he was asked to conduct an inquiry into the mass graves, Lain submitted his report. It was four-and-a-half pages long, and relied heavily on an inspection of Howard-Williams, the funeral home, by the Texas Funeral Service Commission, which oversees mortuaries. He found no evidence of overbilling, no evidence of the use of improper burial containers, no evidence of irregularities with the autopsies, and “no evidence to show that human remains were buried in violation of the law.” Lain found that DNA samples were being properly collected, as required by law, and though they were not forwarded as required to a repository at the University of North Texas, that was only because county officials were “unaware of a requirement to do so.”

Far from insinuating any wrongdoing, Lain noted that Brooks County’s top executive, County Judge Raul Ramirez, said that Howard-Williams employees had built wooden caskets and left flowers at gravesites at their own expense. “It is my opinion,” Lain wrote, “that sufficient information and evidence does not exist to support the initiation of a formal criminal investigation.”

Texas Ranger Maj. Brian J. Burzynski, an award-winning investigator in his own right, signed off on Lain’s findings. And that was that. “Rangers: No Laws Broken in Border Burials,” the Houston Chronicle reported.

Texas law only lightly governs burials and the handling of human remains; in some cases, laws weren’t violated because the laws simply don’t exist. Lain notes, for example, “There are no statutes prohibiting more than one set of human remains to be buried with another at a government owned cemetery.”

None of the forensic or funeral service experts I spoke with could dispute that claim.

But a careful review of the practices Lain was charged with examining reveals that many laws and standard practices were violated in the handling of the unidentified remains. And these violations have made it nearly impossible for grieving families to locate and claim their loved ones. Repeated public-document requests of Brooks County produced only a fraction of what should be retained by law.

According to the Brooks County Sheriff’s Office, from 2009 through 2013, the years when the mass graves were most active, 361 migrant remains were recovered in Brooks County. Each of those remains would have passed through multiple hands. When remains are discovered, a deputy sheriff is called to investigate the scene, along with a county justice of the peace who makes a determination of death. Funeraria del Angel Howard-Williams, the funeral home in nearby Hebbronville owned by Service Corporation International, the nation’s largest death services provider, then arrives to recover the remains, which are transferred to Elizondo Mortuary in Mission for processing. However, Texas law does not require processing and identification of human remains be performed by a licensed medial examiner.

Courtesy of Baylor Forensic Team

Courtesy of Baylor Forensic Team

Elizondo is supposed to try to identify each set of remains, a process that by law includes gathering fingerprints, photographing any clothing or possessions, and “proper removal of a sample from a body” for lab tests. When Ramirez or a justice of the peace requests an autopsy, it is conducted by a third party—starting in 2007, that third party was a local pathologist, Dr. Fulgencio Salinas. After some weeks, Elizondo returns any unidentified remains to Howard-Williams for burial in Sacred Heart. At every stage, a paper trail accumulates. According to Texas law, death records must be retained for at least 10 years.

The sheriff’s office turned over all 361 crime scene reports. But the Brooks County clerk’s office could locate files related to the retrieval and burial of no more than 121 of these remains, leaving records on two-thirds of the dead unaccounted for. According to notes from a series of meetings that took place from December 2012 to June 2013 between the forensic anthropologists and county officials, and confirmed by Chief Deputy Martinez, the county sheriff’s office never received from Salinas a single autopsy report during this period, despite repeated requests. By law, such reports must be made available to law enforcement.

Also, despite requests, the sheriff’s office was never notified about which human remains had been positively identified and returned to loved ones. According to the meeting notes from Dec. 3-4, 2012, “no such list exists.”

Lain was tasked with looking into missing autopsy reports, but, based on a conversation with the county auditor, determined that they’d been sent to the county along with the invoices. Yet in response to a request under the Texas Public Information Act, of the 72 autopsies ordered on unidentified remains from 2007 to 2013, the county clerk could not produce 14 of them—nearly one in five.

Excerpt, read Graves of Shame -By John Carlos Frey | Texas Observer

Recommended: Mass Graves of Immigrants Found in Texas, But State Says No Laws Were Broken | Democracy Now!