The race to the unschooled, fearful, fascist bottom lurches on in the right's war on learning, with bigots fighting to keep out of innocent hands pernicious books like The Hobbit, Madame Bovary, Arthur's Birthday (don't ask) and, now, the story of two guys who raised a lion in London and returned him to the wild - a lovely bonding-of-animals-and-humans story that cranks have banned because the men sit with the lion on their paisley couch so they must be (gasp) gay. You must be (holy fuck) kidding.
The awful "new chapter to an old book" that is morality gatekeepers' terror of anything about the human condition they might not have known - or even (horrors) disagree with - has moved from Holden Caulfield's profanity or John Steinbeck's "class hatred" to today's boogeymen - race, sex, gender, panic over an imaginary "Marxism." Some things haven't changed: Carnality remains suspect, with Puritans queasily howling about "porn" and "trash" while librarians, libertarians and other defenders of freedom of thought insist it's all good if nobody gets hurt. But its enemies are far more organized, with right-wing groups like Focus On the Family and Moms For Liberty part of a new wave of book despots - so far this year, in a record surge - who are "loud and legion, with deep pocketed backers." Thanks to them, and the rise of bullies, theocrats and mountebanks like Messrs. Abbott and DeSantis, states are passing ever more regressive laws giving ever more power to cranks and lone wolves fulminating about "indoctrination" and "vulgar material." One analysis of book challenges across the U.S. finds most were filed by just 11 people; in one Florida county, a single crackpot filed 94% of complaints.
Earlier this year, the nonprofit PEN America published a list of books banned or restricted across the country; states, media and other advocacy groups have also compiled lists. They all raise the vital question: How small, mean, dumb or scared do you have to be to view these books, many of them award-winning, as a threat? To wit: Adventures of A Kid Magician, Paradise Lost, Eleanor Roosevelt: Fighter for Justice, A Room With a View, Home For the Holidays, Anne of Avonlea, Secrets of Isaac Newton, Americanah, Brave New World, The Hobbit, The Battle Against Polio,The Handmaid's Tale, Amanda Gorman's The Hill We Climb, What on Earth is a Pangolin?The analyses for the challenges, often chicken-scrawled, are surreal. Little Rock Nine: "Profanity." The Kite Runner: "Inappropriate content." Michelangelo: "Obscenity." Cuban Kids: "Indoctrination." A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo, about a lonely bunny who lives with Mike Pence: "Gender identity content.” Countries in the News: Cuba: “Cuba is a communist country." How To Be an Anti-Racist: "Have hate messages." Or, overall, "This is not normal literature." Like that's a thing.
For most thinkers, readers, and fans of the First Amendment, libraries are what one Arkansas librarian calls "the last great bastion of democracy." "Censorship, far more than books about systemic racism, threatens the health of the nation," she argues. "A democracy without dissent is not a democracy." Parents evidently agree; polls show them largely opposed to book bans, following the maxim of another librarian who concedes of his home turf, "There's something for everybody to get pissed about." The simple solution: "Parents can monitor what their children check out. If you don’t like it, don’t read it. Nobody’s putting a gun to your head and making you read ‘Fifty Shades of Grey.’" But that's far too sensible for today's Arkansas, 48th in education, under Sarah Huckabee Sanders. She's quickly moved to subjugate the masses with a Don’t Say Gay law, an executive order banning the teaching of “divisive concepts” like racism, and a demand schools turn over material for AP African-American Studies - with dangerous themes of "intersection" and "resilience" - that "may not comply with Arkansas law, which does not permit teaching that would indoctrinate students with ideologies."
Arkansas has yet to reach the censorship big time, but they're trying. Safe Library Books for Kids is busy pushing the narrative that books about racism lead to pedophilia and revolution - bad book alerts! - and right-wingers have embraced it. On And Tango Makes Three, about two male penguins who raise a family: "Phrases like 'they woke up together' is propaganda to normalize sexually deviant behavior." On What's Happening to Me?, a puberty guide: "WE MUST STAND AGAINST THE EVIL FORCES THAT TRY TO DESTROY OUR YOUTH!" Teachers have been chargedwith hanging the Pride flag and other "divisive materials" in classrooms, which are "indoctrination violations." And commenters thank Sanders for "standing up" for them: They cheer "Bravo, Sarah!," note "There is an awful lot of Marxist hate in schools" and "CRT stands for Create Racial Tension," warn Merrick Garland is buying the porn and CRT was devised by 1923 German communists, urge classroom cams to monitor the filth, make conspiring to teach it a crime, get officials to do searches and "Shut down the communist training camps known as public schools." Go. Hate. Fear.
Still, Texas and Florida are way ahead of them, fighting it out in a repulsive, moronic "culture-war pissing contest." For now, Greg Abbott's Texas leads the totalitarian pack with 438 book bans, a mere fraction of the nearly 2,350 titles they tried to restrict; Florida follows with 386 bans. Texas sages have banned Neil Gaiman's American Gods ("obscene"), MLK: Journey Of A King (anti-white), The Fellowship of the Ring (blasphemous), Texas State Poet Laureate Guadalupe Mendez' Why I Am Like Tequila (alcohol in title), Sendak's In the Night Kitchen (nude kid), etc. They've even cracked down on "symbols of personal ideologies" - aka a poster of multi-colored children holding hands - after a child was "traumatized" by it to avoid further "situations like that." This week, an 8th-grade teacher was fired for teaching a graphic novel of Anne Frank's Diary, deemed inappropriate for its "sexual content"; the district wrote parents the reading "will cease and your student’s teacher will communicate her apologies to you and your students soon." You'd think Anne wondering about her body would be less germane than the genocidal fact of her being shipped to Auschwitz to be slaughtered, but maybe that's just us.
Florida's numbers are lower, but their despotism and denial is so vast they reject the word "banned": “Florida does not ban books." Still, hundreds of titles have vanished from shelves so fast "it would make Goebbels blush," and many kids will be reading "excerpts" of Romeo and Juliet, minus the racy stuff. In July, Clay County banned Arthur's Birthday, in which the bespectacled 3rd-grade aardvark plans a party the same day as monkey classmate Muffy; Arthur resolves the issue by planning a joint gathering, Francine the monkey suggests they play spin-the-bottle, and his friends gift him a bottle reading "Francine's Spin The Bottle Game." No one is seen playing the game, which didn't stop crackpot head of No Left Turn in Education Bruce Friedman - who's compared public schools to "Pol Pot’s Cambodia" and in 2022 compiled a list of over 3,600 maybe-nasty titles off the Internet - from railing "SPIN THE BOTTLE NOT OKAY FOR K-5 KIDS" and "PROTECT CHILDREN." The result, if no ban: "Damaged souls." He also warned, if they don't adhere to "what a clean library looks like," he'd "run over them like a dead body." Foolishly, we thought Arthur's Birthday set the demented bar as low as it could go.
Then Manatee County banned Christian, the Hugging Lion, the "joyful tale of a different kind of family" wherein Australians John Rendall and Ace Bourke raise and love a lion cub in 1970s London, set him free in Kenya, and savor a rapturous, improbable, viral reunion when they visit. There's videos, two documentaries, two Animal Planet shows, praise from conservationists, TV appearances, the memoir A Lion Called Christian - buying him at Harrod's, seeking a flat with garden "for our dog," setting up "his own kingdom" in their shop basement, seeing him grow from 35 to 185 pounds, releasing him, the tearful moment they return and Christian leaps into their arms. Now there's a "seriously adorable" kids' book by psychiatrist Justin Richardson and playwright Peter Parnell; they wrote "And Tango Makes Three" and are suing, among others, over its ban. Christian happily curls on their sofa, chases his toys, gives "clumsy" hugs: "Christian became a very well-behaved little cub. Most of the time. After all, he was still a lion." Then freedom - "Something must be done" - and reunion: "Their old friend took a long look...he remembered them!" The men are deemed "friends"; Rendall became a twice-married, lifelong conservationist with two kids, Bourke is one of Australia’s leading art curators. But zealots fretted - they "seem" gay - and banished them. Now DeSantis is campaigning to “Make America Florida." Not on your fascist life.
"Censorship is telling a man he can't have a steak because a baby can't chew it." - often misattributed to Mark Twain, in fact Robert A. Heinlein
Update: Now a North Carolina school district has banned a book called, Red: A Crayon's Story. Dear God, make it stop.
Christian, Bourke and Rendall happily reunite in Kenya..Screenshot from video of their return
Christian the Lion: Original Viral Videowww.youtube.com
Nuns take gleeful selfie in front of (banned) Michelangelo's DavidTwitter, or X, photo
A joint investigation published Tuesday by the watchdog group Corporate Accountability and The Guardian finds that nearly 80% of the leading carbon offset schemes backed by corporations and governments in a purported attempt to reduce planet-warming pollution should be deemed "likely junk or worthless."
Carbon offset projects are billed as a way for corporations, governmental bodies, and individuals to compensate for their emissions footprints by investing in efforts to curb pollution elsewhere. Environmentalists have long warned that carbon offset schemes—part of the so-called voluntary carbon market (VCM)—are a way for fossil fuel companies such as Chevron to justify continued oil and gas extraction.
Citing the emissions trading database AlliedOffsets, The Guardian noted Tuesday that "the 50 most popular global projects include forestry schemes, hydroelectric dams, solar and wind farms, waste disposal, and greener household appliances schemes across 20 (mostly) developing countries."
The new joint investigation finds that 39 of the top 50 carbon offset projects contain at least one "fundamental failing that undermines its promised emission cuts," making them "likely junk."
The analysis characterizes a project as "likely junk" if there's "compelling evidence, claims, or high risk that it cannot guarantee additional, permanent greenhouse gas cuts, among other criteria."
"In some cases, there was evidence suggesting the project could leak greenhouse gas emissions or shift emissions elsewhere," The Guardian explained. "In other cases, the climate benefits appeared to be exaggerated or the project would have happened independently—with or without the voluntary carbon market."
Rachel Rose Jackson, director of climate research and international policy at Corporate Accountability, said in a statement that "the findings are extremely damning of a scheme that the world's largest emitters repeatedly tout as a lynchpin in solving the climate crisis."
"The VCM is proving a dangerous diversion of political capital and time from the meaningful and just solutions needed to rise to the challenge of the climate crisis," said Jackson.
"We cannot afford to waste any more time on false solutions."
The investigation is just the latest research to cast serious doubt on the effectiveness of carbon offset initiatives as companies and governments around the world, including the United States, increasingly invest resources in unproven voluntary carbon trading schemes as they face mounting backlash for doing little to phase out fossil fuels.
Last week, Carbon Market Watch released an analysis from experts at the University of California, Berkeley showing that popular carbon offset projects focused on forest preservation exaggerate their emissions reductions and are ineffective at combating deforestation, a major threat to the climate.
In their investigation, Corporate Accountability and The Guardian pointed to a major forest conservation project in Zimbabwe that "was reported to have had so many exaggerated and inflated claims—and probably shifted emissions elsewhere—that it was described as 'having more financial holes than Swiss cheese.'"
"In the U.S., the most problematic project is the world's largest carbon capture and storage plant in Wyoming, which has benefited from generous taxpayer subsidies, but where the vast majority of the captured CO2 has been released into the atmosphere or sold to other fossil fuel companies to help extract hard-to-reach oil," The Guardian reported, citing the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis.
Anuradha Mittal, director of the Oakland Institute, told the newspaper that "the ramifications of this analysis are huge, as it points to systemic failings of the voluntary market, providing additional evidence that junk carbon credits pervade the market."
"We cannot afford to waste any more time on false solutions," Mittal added. "The issues are far-reaching and pervasive, extending well beyond specific verifiers. The VCM is actively exacerbating the climate emergency."
The United Auto Workers union kicked off historic strikes against the Big Three U.S. car manufacturers early Friday morning after the companies failed to meet workers' demands for adequate pay increases and benefit improvements.
The initial wave of strikes hit select Ford, General Motors, and Stellantis facilities, with the union deploying a tactic it has described as a " stand-up strike."
UAW members at General Motors' Wentzville Assembly in Missouri, Ford's Michigan Assembly, and Stellantis' Toledo Assembly in Ohio were the first to walk off the job on Friday, and additional locals will be called on to strike in the coming days as negotiations continue.
Those who remain on the job will be working under an expired collective bargaining agreement, though they still have status quo protections.
The labor actions mark the first time the UAW has ever gone on strike against all three major automakers simultaneously.
"We've been working hard, trying to reach a deal for economic and social justice for our members," UAW president Shawn Fain said in a speech late Thursday, just ahead of the midnight strike deadline. "We have been firm. We are committed to winning an agreement with the Big Three that reflects the incredible sacrifice and contributions UAW members have made to these companies."
"The money is there, the cause is righteous, the world is watching, and the UAW is ready to stand up," Fain added. "This is our defining moment."
The companies' latest publicized offers to the UAW included raises of up to 20% over the course of a four-year contract, but the proposals thus far have fallen well short of the union's demands on wages, cost-of-living adjustments, retiree benefits, and other key issues.
Ford CEO Jim Farley, who brought in nearly $21 million in total compensation last year, told CNN that the UAW's push for a near-40% wage increase would "put us out of business," a claim that Fain dismissed as a "joke."
"The cost of labor for a vehicle is 5% of the vehicle," Fain said from the picket line outside Ford's Michigan Assembly plant. "They could double our wages and not raise the prices of vehicles, and they would still make billions of dollars. It's a lie like everything else that comes out of their mouths."
Between 2013 and 2022, according to an Economic Policy Institute analysis released this week, the Big Three automakers saw roughly $250 billion in total profits—an increase of 92%—and the companies' CEOs received a 40% pay increase. The automakers also rewarded shareholders with $66 billion in dividend payouts and stock buybacks.
U.S. autoworkers' wages, meanwhile, have declined by over 19% since the car industry's 2008 crisis, during which workers gave up cost-of-living adjustments and other benefits to help keep the major automakers afloat.
"As a single parent, I'm working paycheck to paycheck," Adelisa LeBron, a striking Ford worker, toldThe Washington Post. "I love the way Shawn is fighting for us, how he's not going to settle."
In his address late Thursday, Fain urged locals that are not currently on strike to "keep organizing" to "show the companies you are ready to join the stand-up strike at a moment's notice."
"This strategy will keep the companies guessing," he said. "It will give our national negotiators maximum leverage and flexibility in bargaining. And if we need to go all out, we will. Everything is on the table."
"We must show the world that our fight is a righteous fight," said Fain.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and several other U.S. lawmakers introduced a resolution on Thursday that formally commemorates the 50th anniversary of the deadly 1973 military coup in Chile and apologizes for the role the United States played in the toppling of the Latin American nation's democratically elected government.
The resolution also calls for the declassification of all remaining U.S. documents related to the coup and the events preceding and following it.
"Let me be clear: we must stand up for democracy here in the United States and beyond," Sanders (I-Vt.) said in a statement. "And that means we must also acknowledge that the United States has not always defended democracy abroad, and in fact, has sometimes done the opposite."
"As we mark the 50th anniversary of the horrific coup in Chile, we must make clear that we regret our involvement and commit to supporting Chilean democracy," he added. "To build the lasting partnerships we need in this hemisphere, we will need to establish a basis of trust and respect. Part of that process includes full accountability for the coup and its aftermath."
"Fifty years ago, the U.S. government supported a violent coup that toppled democracy in Chile and brought years of mass murder and authoritarianism to the country."
The new resolution comes after Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) joined a group of U.S. lawmakers on a Latin America trip that included a stop in Chile, where the New York Democrat stressed the importance of declassifying the coup-related documents to shed more light on the Nixon administration's role in the violent ouster of Salvador Allende on September 11, 1973.
That day, Gen. Augusto Pinochet led the Chilean military in seizing control of the nation's government and ushering in a decadeslong reign of brutal repression and terror. Tens of thousands of Chileans were tortured, killed, or disappeared by the Pinochet regime.
In the lead-up to the coup, then-President Richard Nixon ordered the CIA to make Chile's economy "scream" as part of an effort to prevent Allende, a democratic socialist, from taking office.
Decades after the coup—during which Allende took his own life after refusing to step aside—the CIA acknowledged that it "actively supported" the Pinochet regime and that some of its agents were involved in human rights abuses.
"The U.S. cannot credibly show up as a trustworthy partner that can help advance democracy in the present if we don't own up to our complicated past," Ocasio-Cortez said Thursday.
Following the congressional delegation's visit to Chile last month, the U.S. State Department declassified two briefs that Nixon received on the day of the 1973 coup and three days prior.
"While we appreciate President Biden listening to our call and declassifying two relevant documents, there are still many outstanding questions," said Ocasio-Cortez. "The people of Chile and the victims of Pinochet's violence deserve answers."
The new resolution—also backed by Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) in the Senate and Reps. Greg Casar (D-Texas), Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.), and Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) in the House—highlights the CIA's support for the Pinochet regime and points specifically to the involvement of Henry Kissinger, who served as Nixon's national security adviser and later as the U.S. Secretary of State.
"Then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger told coup leader General Augusto Pinochet in a private meeting, 'We want to help, not undermine you. You did a great service to the West in overthrowing Allende,'" the resolution states, citing a declassified transcript of a conversation between Kissinger and Pinochet in June 1976.
The resolution "expresses profound regret for the United States' contribution to destabilizing Chile's political institutions and constitutional processes" and praises "the Chilean people for rebuilding a strong and resilient democracy against the forces of authoritarianism."
The measure adds that "full accountability requires a full accounting in the form of disclosure and declassification of remaining United States records relating to events leading up to, during, and after the military coup of 50 years ago."
"Fifty years ago, the U.S. government supported a violent coup that toppled democracy in Chile and brought years of mass murder and authoritarianism to the country," Casar said in a statement. "We should apologize and be transparent about the role that the U.S. government and major economic interests played in supporting the coup and the following years of authoritarian rule. Together, we can build a new relationship based on mutual respect and a commitment to peace."
This story has been updated to include Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.) on the list of lawmakers backing the resolution. Her name was mistakenly left off an earlier press release about the measure.
A new report released Thursday by the free expression group PEN America warns that the Republican-led book banning movement is intensifying nationwide, with U.S. classrooms and libraries prohibiting more than 1,500 unique titles during the 2022-23 school year.
PEN recorded 3,362 total instances of book bans across the U.S., a 33% increase compared to the previous school year. More than 40% of all book bans in the U.S. in 2022-23 took place in Florida, where Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis—a GOP presidential candidate—has launched a massive assault on public education.
"Florida isn't an anomaly—it's providing a playbook for other states to follow suit," said Kasey Meehan, director of PEN America's Freedom to Read program and lead author of the new report. "Students have been using their voices for months in resisting coordinated efforts to suppress teaching and learning about certain stories, identities, and histories; it's time we follow their lead."
PEN noted that officials and outside groups pushing for book bans often deployed "hyperbolic and misleading rhetoric about 'porn in schools' and 'sexually explicit,' 'harmful,' and 'age inappropriate' materials led to the removal of thousands of books covering a range of topics and themes for young audiences."
"Overwhelmingly, book bans target books on race or racism or featuring characters of color, as well as books with LGBTQ+ characters," the group found. "This year, banned books also include books on physical abuse, health and well-being, and themes of grief and death. Notably, most instances of book bans affect young adult books, middle-grade books, chapter books, or picture books—books specifically written and selected for younger audiences."
Suzanne Nossel, PEN America's chief executive officer, said in a statement that "the toll of the book banning movement is getting worse."
"More kids are losing access to books, more libraries are taking authors off the shelves, and opponents of free expression are pushing harder than ever to exert their power over students as a whole," said Nossel. "Those who are bent on the suppression of stories and ideas are turning our schools into battlegrounds, compounding post-pandemic learning loss, driving teachers out of the classroom, and denying the joy of reading to our kids. By depriving a rising generation of the freedom to read, these bans are eating away at the foundations of our democracy."
PEN's report comes days after the American Library Association said that a record number of library books—1,915—have been challenged during the first eight months of this year.
As The Associated Pressreported earlier this week, "The most sweeping challenges often originate with such conservative organizations as Moms for Liberty, which has organized banning efforts nationwide and called for more parental control over books available to children."
PEN noted that 80% of the U.S. school districts that banned at least one book during the 2022-23 school year "have a chapter or local affiliate nearby of one or more of the three most prominent national groups pushing for book bans—Moms for Liberty, Citizens Defending Freedom, and Parents' Rights in Education."
"These districts are where 86% (2,902) of book bans have occurred," PEN found.
But the group stressed that book bans aren't just happening in traditionally conservative areas, noting that 42% of the states with book bans during the 2022-23 school year voted Democratic in the 2020 presidential election.
"However, Republican-leaning states had more districts banning books than Democratic-leaning states; 50 districts out of 153 (33 percent) are in states that voted Democratic in the 2020 presidential election, while 103 districts are in states that voted Republican," the group added. "These 103 districts account for 88 percent of all book ban cases in the 2022–23 school year."
Author John Green—whose bestselling book "Looking for Alaska" was the third-most banned book in U.S. schools during the 2022-23 school year—said in a statement that "it's disappointing to see such a steep rise in the banning and restriction of books."
"We should trust our teachers and librarians to do their jobs," said Green. "If you have a worldview that can be undone by a book, I would submit that the problem is not with the book."
Hundreds of other authors, artists, celebrities, and activists signed an open letter earlier this week echoing that sentiment and urging "everyone to join us in pushing back against these book bans."
"We cannot stress enough how these censorious efforts will not end with book bans," the open letter states. "It's only a matter of time before regressive, suppressive ideologues will shift their focus toward other forms of art and entertainment, to further their attacks and efforts to scapegoat marginalized communities, particularly BIPOC and LGBTQ+ folks."
"We refuse to remain silent as one creative field is subjected to oppressive bans," the letter continues. "As artists, we must band together, because a threat to one form of art is a threat to us all."
Cluster Bombs Killed, Wounded Nearly 1,000 Civilians in 2022 as 73 Countries Refused to Join Global Ban
The refusal of countries including Russia, Ukraine, and the United States to end the use and transfer of cluster munitions caused nearly 1,000 civilian deaths and injuries in 2022, according to the latest international report on the use of the widely banned weapons.
In the Cluster Munition Monitor 2023 reporton Tuesday, a coalition including Human Rights Watch (HRW), Humanity & Inclusion, and the Colombian Campaign to Ban Landmines reported that cluster munitions killed or wounded at least 1,172 people last year.
Nearly 1,000 people were killed or injured by cluster bomb attacks—including 890 in Ukraine, which has been under invasion by Russia since February 2022—while at least 185 people were killed or wounded by the remnants of cluster munitions.
Cluster munitions explode in the air after being fired by rockets or aircraft and can disperse numerous submunitions across a wide area, creating de facto landmines in residential neighborhoods and other places frequented by civilians and making the bombs deadly for years after they initially explode.
The "immediate and long-term civilian harm and suffering" caused by cluster munitions are the reason they have been banned by 112 countries that have ratified the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions, said Mary Wareham, arms advocacy director at HRW.
"It's unconscionable that civilians are still dying from cluster munition attacks 15 years after these weapons were outlawed," she said in a statement.
Twelve additional countries have signed the convention, signaling a willingness to abide by its ban on the use, production, stockpiling, or transfer of cluster munitions.
More than 70 countries, however, have yet to sign onto the agreement, leaving civilians in countries including Ukraine, Myanmar, and Syria in danger of the bombs.
In 2022, the remnants of cluster munitions killed or maimed civilians in Azerbaijan, Iraq, Laos, Lebanon, Syria, Ukraine, and Yemen, with 71% of the casualties recorded among children, who sometimes mistake unexploded ordnance for harmless metal balls and pick them up to play with them.
There were no new cluster bomb attacks in Iraq in 2022, but 15 people were killed by their remnants and 25 were wounded, according to HRW. Ninety people were wounded by remnants in Yemen, where there were also no new attacks, and five were killed.
"This weapon must be stopped," said Beatrice Fihn, former executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, after HRW's study was released.
According to HRW's report, Russia used old stockpiles of cluster munitions as well as new weapons in 2022 and the first half of this year. This past July, the U.S. began transferring to Ukraine cluster munitions that have a 6%-14% rate of delivering unexploded ordnance.
HRW says that the progress made by countries that have ratified the Convention on Cluster Munitions suggests that casualties caused by the bombs would be drastically reduced if the U.S. and other countries signed the treaty.
"The greatest obstacle to countries working to eradicate cluster munitions are governments that are unwilling to join the convention and that undermine its principles by using or transferring the weapon," Wareham said. "Overall, countries that have banned cluster munitions are making steady progress to destroy their stockpiles and clear contaminated areas, despite wide-ranging challenges."
There have been no confirmed reports of new use, production, or transfers of cluster munitions by any of the countries that have ratified the agreement.
State parties that have signed onto the treaty have collectively destroyed 99% of their cluster bomb stockpiles, amounting to 1.47 million munitions and 178.5 million submunitions.
Bulgaria destroyed the last of its stockpile in June, and Belgium destroyed 95% of its munitions in 2022. Eleven countries have retained live cluster munitions "for permitted research and training purposes," according to HRW.
"Cluster munitions are widely stigmatized weapons for ethical, legal, and humanitarian reasons," Wareham said. "Governments that buck the stigma against cluster munitions should reconsider their position in light of the terrible harm these weapons cause and join the international ban."
"This decision by the military judge today does mark the first time that the United States has formally acknowledged the CIA torture program produced profound and prolonged psychological harm," said al-Shibh's lawyer.
A U.S. military judge on Thursday found Guantánamo Bay prisoner Ramzi bin al-Shibh—who stands accused of being a key 9/11 organizer—unfit to stand trial because he suffers from mental illness his attorney says was caused by CIA torture years ago.
Air Force Col. Matthew McCall severed al-Shibh, a 51-year-old Yemeni, from the conspiracy case involving four other defendants who allegedly organized the cell of militants in Hamburg, Germany who hijacked American Airlines Flight 11 and flew it into the north tower of the World Trade Center in Manhattan on September 11, 2001. Al-Shibh had been charged as an accomplice in the case.
"This decision by the military judge today does mark the first time that the United States has formally acknowledged that the CIA torture program produced profound and prolonged psychological harm," David Bruck, al-Shibh's lead defense attorney, told reporters at Guantánamo Bay on Thursday evening. "This is exactly what the CIA promised would not happen."
McCall's ruling—which does not directly attribute torture as the cause of al-Shibh's afflictions—came after a three-member military "sanity board" diagnosed the defendant with post-traumatic stress disorder with secondary psychotic features and persecutory delusional disorder. This, the board said, renders him "unable to understand the nature of the proceedings against him or cooperate intelligently in his defense."
According toLawdragon editor-in-chief John Ryan:
Al-Shibh has long claimed that the detention facility guard force has subjected him to noises and vibrations, continuing his torture from CIA black sites... In recent years, his lawyers have also claimed that al-Shibh feels stabbing and other painful sensations that he experiences as directed invisibly at parts of his body. The government has denied the allegations.
"The totality of the facts demonstrates an accused who is wholly focused on his delusions," McCall wrote in his ruling, according to The New York Times. "Again and again, he focuses his counsel's work on stopping his delusional harassment, (which) demonstrates the impairment of his ability to assist in his defense."
Military prosecutor Clayton Trivett Jr. acknowledged that al-Shibh is delusional but insisted "he has the capacity to participate" in his defense, and that his refusal to do so is "really just a choice."
Citing al-Shibh's cooperation with his defense team, Trivett added that "this does not look like someone who is incompetent."
While McCall ordered pretrial proceedings to continue Friday for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed—the alleged mastermind of the attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people on 9/11—as well as three co-defendants, what comes next for al-Shibh is unknown.
All five of the 9/11 defendants—Mohammed, his nephew Ammar al-Baluchi, Walid bin Attash, Mustafa al-Hawsawi, and al-Shibh—were captured in Pakistan in late 2002 and early 2003 before being turned over to the United States. Hassan bin Attash, who was captured with bin al-Shibh in Karachi, has testified that they were both sent via extraordinary rendition to the notorius "Salt Pit" outside Kabul, Afghanistan, where suspected militant Gul Rahman was tortured to death in November 2002.
Like Rahman, al-Shibh says he was shackled naked to a ceiling in a painful "stress position" for days on end. He was then reportedly sent to Jordan, where one witness told Human Rights Watch he was subjected to "electric shocks, long periods of sleep deprivation, forced nakedness, and being made to sit on sticks and bottles."
Al-Shibh told the International Committee of the Red Cross that he was kept naked and shackled to the ceiling for a week at a black site in Poland, where he was also deprived of solid food for three to four weeks.
According to the CIA's own documents:
The interrogation plan proposed that... al-Shibh would be subjected to "sensory dislocation." The proposed sensory dislocation included shaving al-Shibh's head and face, exposing him to loud noise in a white room with white lights, keeping him "unclothed and subjected to uncomfortably cool temperatures," and shackling him "hand and foot with arms outstretched over his head (with his feet firmly on the floor and not allowed to support his weight with his arms)".
The CIA torture plan also included near-constant interrogations, slamming into walls, hard slaps to the face and abdomen, stress positions, sleep deprivation beyond 72 hours, and the interrupted drowning torture known as waterboarding.
Al-Shibh was also held at a black site in Morocco for three-and-a-half months, where Moroccan agents allegedly tortured him under CIA supervision. Moroccan interrogators videotaped some of the interrogations and handed the footage over to the CIA.
This isn't the first time that torture played a role in derailing the prosecution of an alleged 9/11 plotter. In 2009, Susan J. Crawford, the top George W. Bush administration official in charge of deciding whether to bring Guantánamo prisoners to trial, declared that the U.S. "tortured" Mohammed al-Qahtani, the alleged would-be 20th 9/11 hijacker, and declined to green light his prosecution.
Col. Stuart Crouch, a Guantánamo prosecutor whose Marine Corps buddy was a pilot on one of the planes that crashed into the World Trade Center on 9/11, refused to prosecute Mohamedou Ould Slahi—who allegedly helped organize the plane's hijacking—because he was tortured.
Additionally, numerous Guantánamo officials have resigned over what they claim is a corrupt military commission system. Former lead prosecutor Col. Morris Davis—who called trials there "rigged from the start"—stepped down in 2007, claiming he was told by top Bush lawyer Jim Haynes that acquittals were unacceptable.
"I now understand that the commissions were doomed from the start. We used new rules of evidence and allowed evidence regardless of how it was obtained."
At least four other military prosecutors—Maj. Robert Preston, Capt. John Carr, Capt. Carrie Wolf and Darrel J. Vandeval—requested to be removed from the military commissions because they also felt that the proceedings were unfair.
In 2021, seven out of eight members of the military jury convened to hear the case against Guantánamo detainee and alleged terrorist plotter Majid Khan recommended total clemency after the defendant testified how he endured torture including rape, being hung from a ceiling beam, and being waterboarded while he was held at a CIA black site in Afghanistan.
Earlier this year, Ted Olson—the former Bush administration solicitor-general who then argued against basic legal rights for Guantánamo Bay prisoners and defended their indefinite detention and torture—made a stunning admission, saying the military commissions don't work and should be shut down, and the government should strike plea deals with 9/11 defendants held at the prison.
"In retrospect, we made two mistakes in dealing with the detained individuals at Guantánamo," Olson wrote. "First, we created a new legal system out of whole cloth. I now understand that the commissions were doomed from the start. We used new rules of evidence and allowed evidence regardless of how it was obtained."
Defense and prosecution attorneys had been negotiating a possible plea deal that would have spared the defendants the prospect of execution. However, earlier this month the White House said that President Joe Biden would not approve or deny such a request because he "was unsettled about accepting terms for the plea from those responsible for the deadliest assault on the United States since Pearl Harbor," according to The Associated Press.
Just Foreign Policy's Aída Chávez said the charges against him "are very serious and call into question Sen. Menendez's character and ability to perform his role as chair of Senate Foreign Relations Committee."
Update (5:00 pm ET):
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer confirmed Friday afternoon that Sen. Bob Menendez will temporarily step down as head of the chamber's foreign relations panel after the New Jersey Democrat was hit with federal bribery charges.
"Bob Menendez has been a dedicated public servant and is always fighting hard for the people of New Jersey. He has a right to due process and a fair trial," said Schumer (D-N.Y.). "Sen. Menendez has rightly decided to step down temporarily from his position as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee until the matter has been resolved."
U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez on Friday faced calls to step down from his powerful chairmanship of the Foreign Relations Committee, or resign altogether, following another damning federal indictment for alleged bribery.
The New Jersey Democrat and his wife, Nadine Menendez, are accused of engaging in "a corrupt relationship" with the businessmen—Wael "Will" Hana, Jose Uribe, and Fred Daibes—and accepting bribes in the form of "cash, gold, payments toward a home mortgage, compensation for a low-or-no-show job, a luxury vehicle, and other things of value."
Nadine Menendez and the businessmen are also facing charges. The indictment says that the senator "provided sensitive U.S. government information and took other steps that secretly aided the government of Egypt," as well as "improperly advised and pressured an official at the United States Department of Agriculture for the purpose of protecting a business monopoly granted to Hana."
The senator also used his role to "disrupt a criminal investigation and prosecution undertaken by the New Jersey Attorney General's Office" related to Uribe, the indictment adds. Menendez further recommended that President Joe Biden nominate Philip R. Sellinger as U.S. attorney for the District of New Jersey, because he believed the lawyer could be influenced regarding a federal criminal prosecution of Daibes.
"It's time for Sen. Menendez to resign. The stain of corruption continuously taints Menendez."
In June 2022 searches of the couple's New Jersey home and a safety deposit box, federal agents found "cash, gold, the luxury vehicle, and home furnishings," the document details. "Over $480,000 in cash—much of it stuffed into envelopes and hidden in clothing, closets, and a safe—was discovered in the home, along with over $ 70,000 in Nadine Menendez's safe deposit box."
The 69-year-old senator, who is up for reelection next year, was previously indicted on federal bribery charges in 2015. He temporarily stepped down as the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Due to a hung jury, the case ended as a mistrial in 2017. The following year, prosecutors decided not to seek a new trial and Menendez was reelected for his current term.
In a statement Friday, the senator said in part that "I have been falsely accused before because I refused to back down to the powers that be and the people of New Jersey were able to see through the smoke and mirrors and recognize I was innocent."
Nadine Menendez's lawyer, David Schertler, toldThe New York Times that she "denies any criminal conduct and will vigorously contest these charges in court."
The newspaper reported that while representatives for two of the businessmen could not immediately be reached for comment, a spokesperson for Hana said that "we are still reviewing the charges but based upon our initial review, they have absolutely no merit."
A spokesperson for the Southern District of New York, Nicholas Biase, told the
Times that all five defendants are set to appear in Manhattan federal court on Wednesday.
Stressing that the charges against him "are very serious and call into question Sen. Menendez's character and ability to perform his role as chair of U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee," Just Foreign Policy communications director Aída Chávez on Friday urged the senator "to do the right thing and to step down for the duration of these legal proceedings, as he did in 2015."
Given that Menendez is accused of using his post to enrich himself while guiding U.S. foreign policy in a "harmful direction," Chávez argued, Senate leadership should consider a new chair who "is in line with the overwhelming majority of the American people—as well as presidents such as [Barack] Obama and Biden—who want a foreign policy focused on diplomatic solutions."
"Sen. Menendez is notorious for placing roadblocks in the path of efforts by diplomats to reduce tensions and avert war," she explained. "He is also among the senators most responsible for supporting [former President Donald] Trump's cruel efforts to tighten indiscriminate sanctions against innocent populations in places like Cuba and Venezuela, which is a major cause of the surge in migrants at the border and in U.S. cities."
While the senator has not publicly confirmed his plans, NBC Newsreported that "a source close to Menendez says he will step down as chair," in line with Senate Democratic Conference rules regarding felony charges against members of leadership.
Some critics are calling on him to resign as a senator. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) president Noah Bookbinder, a former federal corruption prosecutor, said in a statement that "with these latest revelations, it's time for Sen. Menendez to resign. The stain of corruption continuously taints Menendez."
"CREW has for years raised concerns about Menendez potentially selling his position, and the Senate Ethics Committee previously found serious misconduct by him. The conduct outlined in today's indictment and the evidence presented are even more damning," he added. "The people of New Jersey should not have to be constantly questioning whether one of their senators is taking action for them or to line his pockets. Menendez deserves a fair trial and a presumption of innocence on these latest charges, but it is not appropriate for him to remain in office. Out of respect for the institution of the Senate, he must step down."
The charges against Menendez come amid discussions of corruption on Capitol Hill due to recent revelations about multiple members of the U.S. Supreme Court—including reporting on Friday that conservative Justice Clarence Thomas secretly attended at least two donor events for the Koch network, yet another example of his ties to right-wing billionaires with business before the court.
The Debt Collective wrote on social media Friday, "Who does Bob Menendez think he is, a Supreme Court justice?"
This post has been updated with comment from CREW.
At an event coinciding with the U.N. General Assembly in New York, Gore said he used to believe the sector sincerely wanted to be part of the solution to the climate crisis, but now he thinks it's clear they are not.
Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, a long-time climate activist, had harsh words for the fossil fuel industry on Thursday.
"Many of the largest companies have engaged in massive fraud," he said at The New York Times' Climate Forward event, as the Independent reported. "For some decades now, they've followed the playbook of the tobacco industry, using these very sophisticated, lavishly financed strategies for deceiving people."
Gore, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007, criticized the industry for using their influence to lobby against effective climate action.
"The climate crisis is a fossil fuel crisis."
"The fossil fuel companies, given their record today, are far more effective at capturing politicians than they are at capturing emissions," he said.
Now, he warned, the sector had set its sights on the United Nations COP28 climate change conference in the United Arab Emirates with the appointment of the UAE's state oil company CEO Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber to lead the talks.
"That's just, like, taking the disguise off," Gore said, as The New York Times reported. "They've been trying to capture this process for a long time."
Gore's remarks reflect a recent shift in the tone of his climate advocacy. In a TED Talk filmed in July and released in August, Gore made many of the same arguments about fossil fuel lobbying and Al Jaber's appointment.
"The climate crisis is a fossil fuel crisis," he said. "The solutions are going to come from a discussion and collaboration about phasing out fossil fuels."
After listening to the talk, journalist Emily Atkin wrote in her newsletter Heated:
With this new talk, it's become clear that the man who made An Inconvenient Truth famous is no longer primarily focused on convincing people that the climate crisis is real or dangerous. He's turned a corner, and is now focused on convincing people that if they truly care about solving the climate crisis, they must turn their ire toward the fossil fuel industry—and boot them from the negotiating table before it's too late.
Gore acknowledged the shift in his thinking himself on Thursday.
"I was one of many who felt for a long time that the fossil fuel companies, or at least many of them, were sincere in saying that they wanted to be a meaningful part of bringing solutions to this crisis," Gore said, as The Independent reported. "But I think that it's now clear they are not. Fossil fuel industry speaks with forked tongue."
While he acknowledged that it was not fair to expect the industry to solve a crisis its business model encouraged it to perpetuate, "it's more than fair to ask them to get out of the way, and stop blocking the efforts of everybody else to solve this crisis," he said. "I think it's time to call them out."
Gore's remarks came as world leaders and climate activists and experts gathered in New York for the U.N. General Assembly and Secretary-General António Guterres' Climate Ambition Summit, held the day before.
He is also not the only prominent mainstream climate voice to have turned on the fossil fuel sector.
Former Executive Secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change Christiana Figueres, who helped negotiate the Paris agreement, said that she did not think the industry should be invited to COP28.
"If they are going to be there only to be obstructors, and only to put spanners into the system, they should not be there," she said at a conference Thursday organized by Covering Climate Now, as The Guardian reported.
Her remarks echoed an opinion piece she wrote for Al Jazeera in July, in which she said she was wrong to believe that the sector could be part of the solution.
"My patience ran out, and I say this with sadness," she said Thursday.