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US Militarizes Racism and Neoliberal Violence

The Militarization of Racism and Neoliberal Violence
18 Aug. 2014 15:43 By Henry A. Giroux, Truthout

policestate
Police form a line during a standoff with protesters in Ferguson, Mo. – Photo: Whitney Curtis – NYT

The recent killing and then demonization of an unarmed 18-year-old African-American youth, Michael Brown, in Ferguson, Missouri by a white police officer has made visible how a kind of military metaphysics now dominates American life. The police have been turned into soldiers who view the neighborhoods in which they operate as war zones. Outfitted with full riot gear, submachine guns, armored vehicles, and other lethal weapons imported from the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, their mission is to assume battle-ready behavior. Is it any wonder that violence rather than painstaking, neighborhood police work and community outreach and engagement becomes the norm for dealing with alleged “criminals,” especially at a time when more and more behaviors are being criminalized?

But I want to introduce a caveat. I think it is a mistake to simply focus on the militarization of the police and their racist actions in addressing the killing of Michael Brown. What we are witnessing in this brutal killing and mobilization of state violence is symptomatic of the neoliberal, racist, punishing state emerging all over the world, with its encroaching machinery of social death. The neoliberal killing machine is on the march globally. The spectacle of neoliberal misery istoo great to deny any more and the only mode of control left by corporate-controlled societies is violence, but a violence that is waged against the most disposable such as immigrant children, protesting youth, the unemployed, the new precariat and black youth.

Neoliberal states can no longer justify and legitimate their exercise of ruthless power and its effects under casino capitalism. Given the fact that corporate power now floats above and beyond national boundaries, the financial elite can dispense with political concessions in order to pursue their toxic agendas. Moreover, as Slavoj Žižek argues “worldwide capitalismcan no longer sustain or tolerate . . . global equality. It is just too much.” (1) Moreover, in the face of massive inequality, increasing poverty, the rise of the punishing state, and the attack on all public spheres, neoliberalism can no longer pass itself off as synonymous with democracy. The capitalist elite, whether they are hedge fund managers, the new billionaires from Silicon Valley, or the heads of banks and corporations, is no longer interested in ideology as their chief mode of legitimation. Force is now the arbiter of their power and ability to maintain control over the commanding institutions of American society. Finally, I think it is fair to say that they are too arrogant and indifferent to how the public feels.

Neoliberal capitalism has nothing to do with democracy and this has become more and more evident among people, especially youth all over the globe. As Žižek has observed, “the link between democracy and capitalism has been broken.” (2) Theimportant question of justice has been subordinated to the violence of unreason, to a market logic that divorces itself from social costs, and a ruling elite that has an allegiance to nothing but profit and will do anything to protect their interests. This is why I think it is dreadfully wrong to just talk about the militarization of local police forces without recognizing that the metaphor of “war zone” is apt for a global politics in which the social state and public spheres have been replaced by the machinery of finance, the militarization of entire societies not just the police, and the widespread use of punishment that extends from the prison to the schools to the streets. Some have rightly argued that these tactics have been going on in the black community for a long time and are not new. Police violence certainly has been going on for some time, but what is new is that the intensity of violence and the level of military-style machinery of death being employed is much more sophisticated and deadly. For instance, as Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers point out, the militarization of the police in the United States is a recent phenomenon that dates back to 1971. They write:

The militarization of police is a more recent phenomenon [and marks] the rapid rise of Police Paramilitary Units (PPUs, informally SWAT teams) which are modeled after special operations teams in the military. PPUs did not exist anywhere until 1971when Los Angeles under the leadership of the infamous police chief Daryl Gates, formed the first one and used it for demolishing homes with tanks equipped with battering rams. By 2000, there were 30,000 police SWAT teams [and] by the late 1990s, 89% of police departments in cities of over 50,000 had PPUs, almost double the mid-80s figure; and in smaller towns of between 25,000 and 50,000 by 2007, 80% had a PPU quadrupling from 20% in the mid-80s. [Moreover,] SWAT teams were active with 45,000 deployments in 2007 compared to 3,000 in the early 80s. The most common use . . . was for serving drug search warrants where they were used 80% of the time, but they were also increasingly used for patrolling neighborhoods. (3)

At the same time, the impact of the rapid militarization of local police forces on poor black communities is nothing short of terrifying and symptomatic of the violence that takes place in advanced genocidal states. For instance, according to a recent report entitled “Operation Ghetto Storm,” produced by the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, “police officers, security guards, or self-appointed vigilantes extra judicially killed at least 313 African-Americans in 2012. . . . This means a black person was killed by a security officer every 28 hours. The report suggests that “the real number could be much higher.” (4) …more

August 19, 2014   No Comments

Ferguson Riot Police Stoke Flames of Discord with agitation and violation of Civil Rights

August 19, 2014   No Comments

Ferguson, MO enjoys Neoliberal Repression shared by Bahrain

What The Police’s ‘Non Lethal Weapons’ Can Do To Human Bodies
by Tara Culp-Ressler – 18 August – Think Progress

riotpoliceferguson
Police advance after tear gas was used to disperse a crowd of protesters in Ferguson, MO on Sunday – AP Photo/Charlie Riedel

The ongoing unrest in Ferguson over 18-year-old Mike Brown’s shooting has illustrated the increasingly blurry line between law enforcement and military combat, as heavily armed police forces in riot gear have repeatedly clashed with unarmed protesters. On Sunday night, that tension was on full display, and police reportedly fired tear gas and rubber bullets into the crowds well before the town’s midnight curfew.

U.S. police are increasingly relying on those so-called “non lethal weapons” for crowd control, a dynamic that’s inspired a national conversation about whether it’s appropriate to arm cops with weapons that are typically used in combat. Indeed, there’s increasing evidence that non lethal weapons can actually inflict serious pain and, in some rare cases, even kill people. Here’s how the police in Ferguson are potentially putting protesters’ health in danger:

fergusongassed
People run from tear gas after police dispersed protesters in Ferguson on Sunday night – AP Photo/Charlie Riedel

Although tear gas is a chemical agent that’s banned in warfare, it’s perhaps the most common method of crowd control at protests around the world. Tear gas activates pain receptors in the body, causing a sensation of burning in subjects’ eyes, noses, and throats. In response to the pain, victims typically cough and choke, and their bodies produce excessive tears and mucous in an attempt to flush out the chemical. Because there are so many pain receptors in the cornea, it’s usually impossible for them to keep their eyes open, and some people report temporary blindness. People who suffer from asthma, or people who have been sprayed with tear gas in an enclosed space, often struggle to breathe.

Although tear gas is classified as non lethal because it’s generally considered to have only short term consequences, some scientists warn that things can quickly go wrong if it’s deployed incorrectly. There have been several reports of people dying in Egypt and Israel after inhaling too much tear gas.

Opponents of this particular chemical agent point out that there hasn’t been enough conclusive research into its potential long term health effects. Physicians for Human Rights has documented several cases in which people in Bahrain have suffered miscarriages, respiratory failure, and persistent blindness after being exposed to tear gas. The Chilean government suspended the use of tear gas in 2011 over concerns that the chemicals could damage women’s reproductive systems and harm their fetuses.

“These agents are certainly not benign,” Sven-Eric Jordt, a professor of pharmacology at Yale University School of Medicine, told the National Geographic in an interview last year. “There is no way to disconnect the pain that is induced from the physiological inflammatory effects of these agents.” …more

August 19, 2014   No Comments

Voices Grow Louder Calling for Release of Blind Detainee Jafar Matooq

9 Bahraini Human Rights Organisations Launched a Campaign for the Release of the Blind Detainee Jafar Matooq
18 August, 2014

SHAFAQNA – 9 Bahraini human rights organisations along with human rights activists in Bahrain have launched a campaign for the release of Bahraini blind detainee Jafar Matooq, who is in urgent need of treatment.

This campaign was launched because of the deteriorating situation in Bahraini prisons in terms of the treatment provided for prisoners, as many of them live in therapeutic crisis and neglect of their health.

The right to receive treatment is guaranteed by international charters and conventions, as it is a fundamental human right. The government of Bahrain ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which states that receiving treatment is a right of each person just as the other residual rights enshrined in the Covenant.

Participating organisations see that the human rights situation in Bahrain has reached a very dangerous level at all aspects in a way that the institutions of civil society and human rights organisations are not being able to take care of each individual case despite the fact that many of the victims of the Government are suffering as a result of the systematic persecution. Therefore, a group of human rights and civil society organisations, activists and bloggers in Bahrain and abroad initiated a step to adopt the case of a blind detained Bahraini citizen Jafar Matooq, through a human rights media campaign that will include several events, which will be announced soon. Hoping that this will be the beginning of a continues work on similar cases in order to get the victims their right, and to not let them convert to numbers in the escalating list of human rights violations.

The victim Jafar Matooq, lost both eyes in a painful unclear accident, and was sentenced to 10 years in prison without questioning and with no genuine charges, as he was receiving treatment in the hospital. A court decision was issued for him to be viewed by an eye specialist to examine the extent of his health. This decision was issued in May 2014; however, it has not been implemented yet, which forced his lawyer to submit a complaint against the Criminal investigations unit. This campaign is to demand his release and the necessity of granting him the right to treatment that is available outside of Bahrain to work on recovering his eyesight before it becomes too late.

The involved organisations hope for an extensive interaction with this campaign including its programs and events to succeed and to establish a collective action to defend the victims and try to let them receive their rights and to stop the injustice actions against them. The organisations indicates that the campaign is to be launched on the 19th of August, 2014.

Human rights organisations participating in the campaign:
Bahrain Human Rights Observatory
Bahrain Human Rights Society
Bahrain Center for Human Rights
Bahrain Salam for Human Rights
Bahrain Forum for Human Rights
Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights
European-Bahraini Organisation for Human Rights
“BRAVO” Organisation
“I am free” Campaign
The detainee’s Family
Human Rights activists
August 15, 2014

August 19, 2014   No Comments

Bahrain Children in Chains – Hostages in a Tyrant King’s, Politics of Repression

Children of Bahrain: Those who oppose the regime are in prisons
01 August, 2014 – Shafaqna

SHAFAQNA – Why are more than 190 Bahraini children spending Eid inside the prison cells of the “Prison Island” as, the US Assistant Secretary of State, Tom Malinowski described it?

The very first Eid to occur during the period of the 14th February uprising, saw on 31st August 2011 an event that turned Eid celebrations into mourning and sadness. This was the killing of 14-year-old Ali Jawad Al Shaikh, who was shot and killed at the hands of the regimes security forces in Sitra.

Since this time, Eid in Bahrain has changed into protests. However, Eids has been an opportunity for the regime to continue to harvest the lives of a children; a martyr, a detainee and a tortured. Eid is sometimes considered an occasion to remember these children behind the bars whose number has exceeded the hundreds. Other times and for others, Eid is but a time for tragic events.

According to Al Wefaq statistics, the children in the Bahraini prisons have exceeded 450 since the beginning of the revolution on 14 February 2011 until September 2013.

Between 14 February 2011 and until November 2013, the extrajudicial killing cases have resulted in 16 deaths of children. And now the number has surpassed to 20.

Between Alnham’s eye and Hisham Hassan’s School

On 13 June 2012, the 5-year-old child, Ahmed Alnham, was next to his father who works as a fish seller in one of Al Dair’s neighborhoods when the regime’s forces directly shot Ahmed in his face. Ahmed Alnham lost one of his eyes in front of his parents with blood covereing his face.

Some schools’ administrations called some students’ parents for investigation sessions because of drawings on the students’ desks like Lulu Roundabout. The 8-year-old- Hisham Hassan was suspended from the school on 8 January 2013 and got beaten by the school’s administration members in front of his peers for repeating political slogans. Hisham was entered into a school commission inquiry without his parents knowledge.

Although he was imprisoned, Al Wefaq honored, on 24 July 2014, the outstanding youth, Mohammed Abdulrida Al Jalabi, who graduated from high school with an average of 95%. An empty seat on the platform was specialized for Al Jalabi, where his photo was placed. …source

August 18, 2014   No Comments

Isa Haider Alaali: detained in U.K.and at risk

20 July, 2014 – Urgent

Isa Haider Alaali is a 19 year old who has spent ELEVEN months in prison, six in Bahrain and  five months in Harmondsworth and Campsfield
Detention Centres.

If he returns to Bahrain he will be in the terrible Jaw Prison, with severe overcrowding and abuse and little food or water. He will be tortured as he REFUSED to become an INFORMER. The Khalifas are putting pressure on the British Government to stop activists getting asylum in Britain. 108 have got asylum since February 2011 out of 185 applications with 20 pending.

We got a last minute APPEAL against his Deportation on 21st May 2014. 

Isa was detained and tortured three times for a total of six months after attending a peaceful demonstration in Bahrain and sentenced to five years’ imprisonment on 23rd March 2014.   He arrived in U.K. on 14th February 2014 and applied for political asylum immediately. He was sent to Harmondsworth Centre under the Fast Track Scheme and was there for five months. He is no longer under the Fast Track Scheme and is now at
Campsfield, Kidlington.   He had NO ACCESS TO A LAWYER FOR THREE WEEKS and only saw his lawyer a day before his first interview. So he had no chance to prepare his defence, or know that he needed to translate his documents.

– 11th March, his application for asylum was refused although the Home Office HADN’T SEEN A TRANSLATION of his DOCUMENTS. 

-14th March – appeal to  the Upper Tribunal.   24th March, the refusal is quashed. at the First Tier Tribunal.  Home Office  challenges the authenticity of the documents, still not translated.  

-24th April – The Appeal was refused but Judge recognises importance of the new documents.

Isa was due to be deported to Bahrain on 22nd May. The Immigration Official brought DEPORTATION PAPERS FOR ANOTHER DETAINEE! My M.P. Zac Goldsmith, who has been supportive of Isa’s case followed this up, but the Home Office deny it.

A last minute appeal on the evening of 21st May at the  High Court stopped his deportation.

He has had TWO BAIL HEARINGS which were postponed because the surity was on a business trip and then the lawyer did not tell the surities what documents to bring! Asylum seekers are allocated a lawyer, however inefficient or over worked and can’t change him.

The Harmondsworth Detention Centre video, through which  the asylum seeker talks to the court was NOT working. 

The U.K. Government supports the Bahrain regime  and tried to stop an Opposition Resolution being passed at the Geneva UNHCR meeting in June on the grounds that “reform” is taking place.   An Interim Statement on Bahrain’s Human Rights abuses was signed by 48 countries. A list of 1400 high priority prisoners, children, women and the sick and injured was presented to the Bahrain Crown Prince nearly three months ago,  but nothing has happened.

This case reflects badly on the U.K. Government,  the Immigration System and the country. Isa has been denied his chance for a fair hearing
through incompetence and lack of concern.

Please contact Theresa May, your MP or US Congress Person about his case.

July 20, 2014   No Comments

Bahrain dying for F1

March 19, 2012   No Comments

Bahrain’s Jaw Prison Hunger Strike Spreads, Hunger Strikers under attack

Around 250 political prisoners started a widespread national hunger strike in the central Jaw prison on the 29th of January after the 14 political and human rights leaders in prison announced they would commence a hunger strike to protest their continued detention as well as the deteriorating human rights situation in the country. I sent out a SOS call yesterday from one of the detainees yesterday, and since then the situation has deteriorated.

According to the information we’ve received, part of the prison (number 4) was teargassed as punishment to the detainees on strike, and a number were severely beaten. Another number of detainees were also put in solitary confinement as punishment for going on hunger strike.

The detainees are also not being allowed to make any phone calls, and are being denied any time outside as they were before.

The 14 political and human rights leaders reportedly were paid a visit by the same judge who had presided over their case, who threatened that they will not be allowed to call their families and put in solitary confinement if they do not stop their hunger strike immediately. The detainees responded that they would continue with their planned one week strike, but if they are punished they will announce it as an open ended strike.

In other updates, after detainees at the Dry Docks prison announced they would join the hunger strike, a number of detainees from different areas in Bahrain were reportedly taken and were reportedly told that they would be released if they plead for the king’s forgiveness, and said they are against the strike and the protests. A number of those who refused to abide were reportedly beaten so severely that they had to be moved to the hospital after. Some of the detainees called their families after upset, saying they had been forced to make video taped apologies.

Two prisoners in AlWesta prison fainted due to the hunger strike and were moved to the MOI hospital.

A number of activists who are not detainees have joined the hunger strike, amongst them Mohammed AlMasqati, president of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights and Zainab Alkhawaja.

confirmed undisclosed source

January 31, 2012   No Comments

In the flames they seek to claim a future the Foreign Mercenaries were hired to steal

January 31, 2012   No Comments

ABC News and Bahrain Regime collaborate on Iran, Syria disinformation campaign

Officials: Iran, Syria Aided Bomb, Assassination Plot in Bahrain
By RYM MOMTAZ – 31 January, 2012 – ABC News

Five men arrested in November in connection with a plot to blow up the only bridge connecting the island of Bahrain with Saudi Arabia and to assassinate Bahraini politicians are allegedly tied to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and reportedly received military training in Syria, according to information leaked to the media by authorities.

The charges are the latest salvo in a regional struggle for power between Iran and the Arab Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia, and come just after the U.S. revealed an alleged plot by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. in Washington, D.C.
…source

January 31, 2012   No Comments

The Disappearance and Torture Death of Yousif Muwali

January 25, 2012   No Comments

New Mexico, Sun News Stands-up in Solidarity with Bahrain

Their View: Standing for freedom in Bahrain
10/31/2011 – WP Editorial Republished by Silver City, New Mexico – Sun News

The following editorial appeared in the Washington Post:

The beleaguered reformist faction within Bahrain s ruling al-Khalifa family has good reason to thank the U.S. Congress. Until this month the Obama administration, which has enormous leverage over the Persian Gulf emirate, was blithely ignoring Bahrain s crackdown on domestic opposition and its failure to implement promised reforms.

Even as the regime staged unfair trials of peaceful opponents in special security courts, dismissed thousands from government jobs for participating in protests and violently repressed demonstrations in restless villages, the administration notified Congress in September that it intended to sell Bahrain $53 million in military equipment, including 40 armored Humvees.

Set aside for the moment the fact that Bahrain, an island nation that hosts the U.S. Fifth Fleet, has no plausible use for armored vehicles other than against its own people. The sale sent the message to the regime s hard-liners that domestic repression would not damage relations with the United States. Little surprise that, not long afterward, 20 doctors and nurses who had treated injured protesters were sentenced to lengthy prison terms after a grossly unfair trial.

Fortunately, Bahrain s abuses — documented and denounced by every major Western human rights group — prompted a reaction in Congress. Legislation was introduced to block the arms sales, and a group of five Democratic senators, led by Robert P. Casey Jr., Pa., wrote to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Oct. 12 to ask that the sale be put on hold. A separate letter was dispatched by Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.

The senators got a response. On Oct. 14, the State Department wrote to Casey to say that the administration would not proceed with the sale until after the independent international commission appointed to investigate the unrest in Bahrain — with the regime s cooperation — issues its report, scheduled for Nov. 23. Bahrain, meanwhile, was backpedaling: even before the senators letters were sent, the doctors sentences were nullified and their cases transferred to civilian court. The pro-reform foreign minister traveled to Washington to assure Congress that the commission s recommendations will be followed.

This is progress — but there is a distinct danger that the promises of the Khalifas and the State Department will prove hollow. The credibility of the commission has been under question ever since its Egyptian-born chief appeared, in an Aug. 8 interview, to preemptively clear the Bahraini government of a policy of using excessive force or torture. The regime has failed to deliver on pledges made by its reformists in previous trips to Washington.

Rather than tying itself to this uncertain process, the United States should set its own conditions for continued good relations with Bahrain. These should include accountability for the torture and killing of protesters; the release of all political detainees; and the initiation of meaningful political reform that enfranchises the country s Shiite majority. The current status quo in Bahrain is unsustainable; reinforcing it with U.S. military sales would be foolish as well as unconscionable. …source

November 2, 2011   No Comments

I Am Bahrain

August 1, 2011   No Comments

Striking similarities in cause of death investigation in US Gitmo and those killed in detention in Bahrain

Latest Guantánamo Death Highlights Need for Independent Investigation

May 19, 2011

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: (212) 549-2666; media@aclu.org

NEW YORK – The American Civil Liberties Union today renewed its call for an independent investigation into all deaths at the Guantánamo Bay detention facility after the death of another detainee, reported last night by the U.S. military as an “apparent suicide.” The prisoner, a 37-year-old Afghan identified as Inayatullah Nassim, had been held without charge or trial since September 2007. Seven other prisoners have died at the camp, including five reported as suicides, but the causes of death have never been independently verified.

The following can be attributed to Jamil Dakwar, director of the ACLU Human Rights Program:

“This latest death highlights the immediate need for a full and independent inquiry into deaths at Guantánamo. It also underscores the tragic consequences of indefinite detention and unfair trials of detainees. This man was imprisoned at Guantánamo for nearly four years, with no end in sight. If there is credible evidence against detainees then they should be charged and prosecuted in a fair trial or safely settled or released – that is the way for justice to be served according to American law and values.” …source

May 25, 2011   No Comments

I am Bahrain

May 12, 2011   No Comments

Bahrain Kangaroo Court Tries Activist on Trumped Up charges – King says Emergency Law to End

Bahrain emergency to be lifted 1 June as opposition face military court
By RFI

Emergency rule in Bahrain is to be lifted on 1 June, state news agency BNA says. Earlier Sunday opposition leaders appeared before a military court, charged with forming a terrorist organisation which aimed to overthrow the monarchy.

King Hamad Al-Khalifa on Sunday ordered that the state of emergency will be lifted at the end of the month. The trial of the 21 – seven of whom are abroad and to be tried in absentia – was adjounred until Thursday.

Only lawyers and two members of the family of each defendant were allowed to attend the trial, according to the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights. Lawyers are banned from talking to the media, the organisation said.

The group includes both Sunni and Shia Muslims – the majority of the counrty’s population is Shia, while the ruling Khalifa family is Sunni. They are charged with “forming and directing a terrorist group aimed at overthrowing and changing the constitution of the state and the monarchy system,” the official news agency, BNA, said.

They are also accused of “having contact with a terrorist group abroad that operates in the interest of a foreign country by conducting hostile acts against the kingdom of Bahrain” and “raising funds for the terrorist group despite knowing” the nature of the organisation. …more

May 8, 2011   No Comments

Offical Cause of Journalist Deaths is Bullshit – UN official urges probe

21 April 2011 – A senior United Nations official today called for an investigation into the deaths of two media professionals in Bahrain who died earlier this month while held in detention.

Karim Fakhrawi, the co-founder of the country’s only independent newspaper Al-Wasat, died in custody on 12 April, one week after he was arrested.

The non-governmental group Reporters without Borders (RSF) quotes the authorities as saying that Mr. Fakhrawi died of kidney failure, but this has been contested by his family, who claims he had been in good health at the time of his arrest.

Online writer Zakariya Rashid Hassan died in detention on 9 April, according to RSF. He had been arrested a week earlier allegedly on charges of inciting hatred, disseminating false news, promoting sectarianism and calling for the regime’s overthrow.

His family has reportedly rejected the official claim that he died as a result of complications from sickle cell anaemia.

“The circumstances surrounding their deaths are indeed troubling and I urge the authorities of Bahrain to carry out a thorough investigation into these incidents,” said Irina Bokova, the Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). …more

April 21, 2011   No Comments

US-backed Bahrain regime tortures, murders critics

By David Walsh
13 April 2011

The regime of King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa in Bahrain, which the Obama administration backs to the hilt, is continuing its violent repression of political opposition. The Khalifa regime imposed a state of emergency, after its security forces, backed by troops from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, violently cleared protesters from Pearl Square in Manama, the kingdom’s capital, on March 16.

More than 400 people have been arrested, including human rights activists, doctors, bloggers and oppositionists. Twenty-seven political opponents and protesters are officially reported dead and dozens are missing. A leading newspaper has been shut down and its editors and reporters threatened with imprisonment.

Two Shiite activists have been murdered in prison, according to human rights organizations and the families of the victims. The Bahraini interior ministry claimed that Ali Issa Saqer, 31, died when guards tried to restrain him for “causing chaos.” According to news reports, however, Saqer’s corpse showed telltale signs of torture and abuse. …more

April 14, 2011   No Comments