Sunday, May 31, 2015

You’re All Out -- Dahlia Lithwick,

Prosecutorial and police misconduct are often dismissed as just a few bad apples doing a few bad apple-ish things. But what happens when it’s entrenched and systemic and goes unchecked for years? That looks to be the case in Orange County, California, where the situation got so completely out of hand this spring that Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals issued an order disqualifying the entire Orange County District Attorney’s Office (that’s all 250 prosecutors) from continuing to prosecute a major death penalty case.

After literally years of alleged misconduct involving jailhouse informants, as well as prosecutors’ repeated failures to turn over exculpatory material, Judge Goethals determined in March that the office can simply no longer work on the case of mass murderer Scott Dekraai, who pleaded guilty last year to killing his ex-wife and seven others at a beauty salon in 2011.

evelations of misconduct in the Dekraai case have raised questions about patterns of obstruction and deception that have unraveled various other murder cases in the county, which has a population larger than that of 20 different states. Other cases involving informants who were eliciting illegal confessions have emerged, entire cases have collapsed, and more may follow. The story goes way back to the 1980s, as R. Scott Moxley explains at length in the OC Weekly, to a prosecutorial scandal that ended in the execution of one defendant and a lengthy sentence for his alleged co-conspirator. Their convictions were based on the testimony of various jailhouse informants even though they told conflicting stories. That scandal rocked the area then, and this new one shows eerie parallels. 

ll this is happening right up the road from Los Angeles, home of one of the most massive jailhouse informant scandals in history. In 1989, in an infamous interview with 60 Minutes and an explosive piece in the Los Angeles Timesformer jailhouse snitch Leslie Vernon White demonstrated how he fabricated the confessions of other inmates, then leveraged them for reduced sentences. The White revelations led to a grand jury investigation that revealed that jailhouse snitches often lied, and that police and prosecutors—knowing they were lying—used them anyhow. L.A. has since enacted significant reforms of its jailhouse informant policies. Not so Orange County. And both the scope and scale of the Orange County shenanigans are remarkable. - Read More at

Orange County prosecutor misconduct: Judge Goethals ... More

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Vice President Biden’s family announces death of his son Beau Biden

FULL STORY: Beau Biden, vice president’s son, dies of brain cancer
Vice President Biden late Saturday announced the death of his son Beau Biden. Here is his statement:

It is with broken hearts that Hallie, Hunter, Ashley, Jill and I announce the passing of our husband, brother and son, Beau, after he battled brain cancer with the same integrity, courage and strength he demonstrated every day of his life.

The entire Biden family is saddened beyond words. We know that Beau’s spirit will live on in all of us—especially through his brave wife, Hallie, and two remarkable children, Natalie and Hunter. - Read More at washingtonpost

Vice President Biden’s family announces death of his son Beau Biden

Rand Paul: 'I will force the expiration' of Patriot Act - The Hill

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) vowed Saturday to do everything in his power to prevent an extension of the Patriot Act and its provisions concerning U.S. intelligence measures.

Paul, a 2016 GOP presidential candidate, also promised he would shut down attempts to authorize the USA Freedom Act, an alternative piece of proposed legislation.

“I have fought for several years now to end the illegal spying of the NSA on ordinary Americans,” Paul wrote on his website.

“The callous use of general warrants and the disregard for the Bill of Rights must end,” he said, citing the warrantless bulk collection of metadata from individuals’ phone records by the National Security Administration (NSA).

“Forcing us to choose between our rights and our safety is a false choice and we are better than that as a nation and as a people,” he said.  “So tomorrow, I will force the expiration of the NSA illegal spy program,” Paul added.

The Patriot Act is scheduled to expire at midnight Sunday unless the Senate renews some or all of the law. - Read More at thehill

Rand Paul: 'I will force the expiration' of Patriot Act

Patriot Act's fate now in Rand Paul's hands

Surveillance Vote in Senate Is Tangled in G.O.P. Debate - nytimes

WASHINGTON — Since 2011, when Republicans took control of the House, Congress has lurched from one deadline to the next, as Republicans and Democrats have sparred bitterly over funding for the government, the ability to lift the debt ceiling and other policy matters.

But unlike those fights, the Senate’s showdown this weekend over the future of the government’s dragnet of American phone records is not a result of a partisan fracas. It is an ideological battle within the Republican Party, pitting the Senate majority leader against the speaker of the House and, in the Senate, newcomers against long-serving members, and defense hawks against a rising tide of younger, more libertarian-minded members often from Western states.

Senate leaders are expected to try to assemble a compromise surveillance bill on Sunday that can get the required votes to proceed before the authorizing law expires Monday. 

President Obama and his director of national intelligence, James R. Clapper Jr., added more pressure with sharp statements on Friday and Saturday calling for immediate approval of a surveillance bill passed by the House.

“A small group of senators is standing in the way, and, unfortunately, some folks are trying to use this debate to score political points,” Mr. Obama said in his weekly address. “But this shouldn’t and can’t be about politics. This is a matter of national security.”

Even if a compromise can be reached in a rare Sunday session in the Senate, all signs point to at least a temporary expiration on Monday of a key section of the Patriot Act that the government has been using to sweep up vast amounts of telephone “metadata.” - Read More at NYT

Surveillance Vote in Senate Is Tangled in G.O.P. Debate

Mecca Becomes A Mecca For Skyscraper Hotels - Leila Fadel

At the Grand Mosque in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, the booming call to prayer competes with the racket of construction. The Grand Mosque is the destination for the most sacred Muslim pilgrimage and it holds the Kaaba, the black cube of a building in the center of the mosque known to Muslims as the House of God.

But skyscraper hotels increasingly dominate the skyline, dwarfing the Great Mosque where worshippers gather, and angering those who seek to retain the city's history and traditional architecture.  Cranes fill the sky and soaring above it all is the Clock Tower Hotel, which reaches some 130 stories. To build it, the city literally blew up a mountain that once overlooked the Grand Mosque nestled in the valley between peaks.

This building spree has become a symbol of the transformation and commercialization of Mecca, the birthplace of the Muslim prophet Muhammad. Hotel rooms with a Kaaba view are hot-ticket items.

When you enter the marble-covered plaza surrounding the mosque, to the left is the pathway that millions take to get their first glimpse of the Kaaba, an awe-inspiring sight for Muslims. To the right is a Kentucky Fried Chicken

There are tracts of land around the mosque where hundreds of simple homes once stood but were bulldozed to make room for multi-use construction projects to handle the pilgrims.

The mayor of Mecca, Osama al-Bar, is overseeing the expansion. He says the older structures needed to be destroyed to allow for larger buildings to accommodate the more than 15 million people who come each year, including the 2 million who converge on Mecca during the annual Hajj pilgrimage. -  Read More at NPR

Mecca Becomes A Mecca For Skyscraper Hotels

Friday, May 29, 2015

Ban tells European Parliament to work together to address challenge of migration

27 May 2015 – In Brussels today, where he was addressing the European Parliament, the United Nations Secretary-General today the important role played by the European Union in boosting the UN agenda, particularly on matters of peace, development and human rights.

Within that context, he stressed the importance of addressing the challenge of migration, in the Mediterranean and in Southeast Asia, in his speech to the parliament.

“Too many women, men and children are losing their lives in perilous journeys of escape,” he said. “Half those crossing the Mediterranean are fleeing war or persecution or human rights abuses. They qualify for international protection as refugees.”

Around 1,800 had drowned in the Mediterranean this year already, he said, which was a 20-fold increase on 2014, and he stressed the important role of Europe and the important collective responsibility it has to act.

“Saving lives should be the top priority,” he said. “And while we need to see more effective law enforcement actions against traffickers and smugglers, we also need safer alternatives to dangerous voyages, as well as legal channels such as resettlement, family reunification and work and study visas.”

He described meeting in Ireland several people from Syria, Afghanistan, Myanmar and the Democratic Republic of the Congo who had been successfully re-settled, and he said that more such examples of offering a “helping hand” are needed.

He welcomed the European Commission’s new migration policy and the proposal for the relocation of 40,000 of asylum-seekers, as “a step in the right direction,” and he said the that the UN, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (ION) would continue to work with European leaders to address the crisis in a way that upholds human rights and international law.

He said the root causes of migration need to be addressed, as does the stigma and discrimination suffered by migrants in countries of destination.

“Europe is experiencing low population growth and demographic transition to an aging population,” he said. “The equation is clear: to meet its workforce deficit and maintain its economic dynamism, Europe needs migrants.” - Read More at UN

Ban tells European Parliament to work together to address challenge of migration

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Narco-Republic of Afghanistan - Abdullah Sharif

Every country on the globe would like to distinguish itself by some description of its societal achievements, natural beauty, education or other attributes. While Afghanistan can stand out with its beautiful landscapes and certain historical events such as defeating the invading USSR, for some time now it has had the dubious distinction of being by far the world's largest producer of opium, the raw material of heroin. The United Nations estimated that last year's opium harvest amounted to about 6400 tons, constituting 90% of the entire world's production, hence the 'Narco-Republic of Afghanistan.' The devastating consequences of this distinction are felt from the country of origin to Europe and even in the sleepy towns of rural America where heroin is more plentiful and cheaper than ever. In Afghanistan the number of "podaries" (users of powder) as they are called colloquially has been on the rise. 

According to reports by the US Department of State and the Afghan government 11%of Afghans use opium in various forms. This could be one of the highest number of addicts in the world. Teenagers and even children under the age of 10 have been afflicted by the problem. Surprisingly the percentage of Afghans using drugs in the rural areas is higher than that in the large cities. In a country which lacks any kind of social net, education or health care the problem is even more acute. Podaries are shunned by the rest of the society. The Kabul River, which bifurcates the city, runs mostly dry in the summer providing temporary shelter for the users. I have seen many podaries in Kabul taking refuge under the Kabul River bridges waiting to die. 

The poppy planting season in Afghanistan begins in October and runs until the end of November depending on the region. The opium resin is harvested in late spring to early summer commensurately. So now is the high season of harvest and what kind of a bumper crop this year will yield remains to be seen. Poppy flowers are mesmerizingly beautiful, and decorate the countryside with assorted colors before the harvest season begins. The largest poppy fields are in the Helmand province in southern Afghanistan bordering Kandahar province, another fertile poppy producer. 

Due to the large scale of operation, the typical poppy farmer does not have enough manpower to harvest the opium. So many people such as school kids and teachers otherwise engaged in other activities pitch in. At times migrant workers from the neighboring provinces are brought in to help in the slow and laborious harvesting process. When the flower is gone and the bulb is ripe, it is time to extract the milky substance within. An incision is made on the bulb's skin similar to the tapping of a maple tree. This takes place in the evening. The thick milky sap (raw opium) begins to flow very slowly, becoming thicker and accumulating on the bulb. The harvester returns early in the next morning and scrapes off the stuff with a blade. They go from one bush to the other collecting the raw opium in tins or similar containers.

The farmer sells his harvest to a wholesaler and thus the complicated journey begins. There are many layers involved, including the Taliban who collect hefty taxes which is one lucrative way to finance the insurgency. The opium is eventually processed into heroin in labs located in lawless areas of Pakistan's Baluchistan region and elsewhere, then trafficked to the rest of the world.

Looking back at history, there is no indication that Afghanistan had been a drug exporting country prior to 1978 and the beginning of its descent into chaos. While poppy had been cultivated in the highlands for millennia, it was mostly for local use on a very small scale. Some argue that the current insurgency and instability is the result of the drug proliferation. I argue that the primary cause is insecurity which has resulted from the existence of ineffectual and corrupt Afghan governments since 2002. Many former warlords who perpetuate the culture of impunity have been directly or indirectly part of the government. Many of these warlords are also directly involved in the proliferation of poppy, especially in the southern provinces of Helmand, Kandahar and Nimroz.

It is possible for Afghanistan to rid itself of the dubious distinction of the world's largest producer of opium. But, for that to happen, there will be a need for fundamental changes in the composition of the government and the marginalization of the war/drug lords who have had much sway. The Taliban banned poppy cultivation in 2000 when they were still in charge of Afghanistan. The yield fell to 180 tons in 2001 from around 3000 tons in the year 2000. If the Taliban could do it, a competent, legitimate central Afghan government could do it too. - Read More at Huffingtonpost

The Narco-Republic of Afghanistan

AP Interview: Afghanistan's first lady

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Afghanistan's first lady has broken numerous conventions in a society that traditionally sequesters women behind closed doors — speaking out on issues such as violence against women, the rule of law and the power of religion. But perhaps Rula Ghani's biggest taboo breaker is simply being the country's first presidential spouse in decades to be seen and heard in public. - Read More at Associated Press

AP Interview: Afghanistan's first lady breaks taboos - USNews

FIFA Inquiry Yields Indictments; U.S. Officials Vow to Pursue More - nytimes

As FIFA leaders gathered for a meeting, Swiss law enforcement officials arrived unannounced and made arrests at the Justice Department’s request on charges including racketeering and money laundering.  - Read More at NYT

FIFA Inquiry Yields Indictments; U.S. Officials Vow to Pursue More

THE EDITORIAL BOARD: Afghan Minerals, Another Failure - nytimes

In 2010, the Pentagon and American geologists estimated that Afghanistan has $1 trillion of untapped mineral deposits, including huge veins of iron, copper, cobalt, gold and industrial metals like lithium. Gen. David Petraeus, who was then the chief of the United States Central Command, said there was “stunning potential” for the war-ravaged country, which by now should have begun to reap much-needed revenue and equally needed jobs.

That development is lagging, and there are growing concerns that $488 million in American aid could be squandered if Washington and Kabul do not take firmer charge of the extraction projects and put regulatory and other reforms in place. America’s troubled attempts to help Afghanistan with its mineral and hydrocarbon industries were reported last month by John Sopko, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction.

His office found that even after America invested millions of dollars to develop infrastructure and technical skills, the Afghan government “still lacks the technical capacity to research, award and manage new contracts without external support.” Its ability to be self-sustaining in minerals and hydrocarbons seems a “very distant goal,” while many American-financed projects are incomplete.

It is important for Afghanistan to move forward more quickly and smartly than it has. The country depends on foreign aid, which is declining as American troops withdraw, and needs to generate its own revenue. By some estimates, mineral development could produce $2 billion annually in royalties and taxes while oil and gas reserves could be worth $220 billion more.

The American aid went through a special Defense Department Task Force for Business and Stability Operations, which administered 11 projects at a cost of $282 million before Congress shut down its operations in March, and the United States Agency for International Development, which has three programs totaling $206 million. The task force awarded contracts for ventures like mineral exploration and seismic surveys; U.S.A.I.D. is helping reform mining policy regulation and strengthen the ministry of mines and petroleum.

But the report said that there was a lack of overall strategy by the United States and that the task force failed to establish multiyear plans or written guidelines for selecting projects or evaluating them. There was little interagency coordination since the task force answered to the Pentagon rather than America’s ambassador in Kabul, who, for example, learned of a $39.6 million task force project to refurbish a natural gas pipeline only after Afghan officials thanked him for United States support. -  Read More at NYT

Afghan Minerals, Another Failure

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The President Meets with the Secretary General of NATO


More at c-span

President Obama Meeting NATO Secretary General | Video ...

Remarks by President Obama and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg after Bilateral Meeting

Remarks by President Obama and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg after Bilateral Meeting -  Read More at For Immediate Release

Afghan Taliban gunmen killed after attack on Kabul guesthouse

Four Taliban insurgents armed with assault rifles and a grenade launcher stormed a guesthouse in the diplomatic quarter of the Afghan capital overnight and held out for hours until they were killed by government forces early on Wednesday, officials said.

No casualties other than the attackers were reported, Afghanistan's deputy interior minister General Ayoub Salangi said. Kabul police chief Abdul Rahman Rahimi said the guesthouse was owned by a prominent Afghan political family that includes Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani

Salangi said at least one rocket-propelled grenade launcher and three AK-47 assault rifles were seized after the attack in the heavily guarded Wazir Akbar Khan district had ended.  Read More

Afghan Taliban gunmen killed after attack on Kabul guesthouse

Monday, May 25, 2015

Isis actively recruiting in Afghanistan, says US general

The commander of international forces in Afghanistan said on Saturday that the Islamic State group is actively recruiting in the country, but is not yet operational there.

General John F Campbell said the group’s sophisticated social-media campaign was attracting Taliban fighters based in Afghanistanand Pakistan disgruntled with the lack of progress in more than 10 years of fighting to overthrow the Kabul government.

As a result, many were pledging allegiance to Isis, which controls about a third of Syria and Iraq, Campbell told reporters.

“We don’t want it to continue to grow,” he said, adding that efforts were being made to ensure its presence did not reach levels similar to Syria and Iraq.

He said Afghans largely did not agree with the ideology of the Islamic State, a factor that could limit its growth in Afghanistan. But he contradicted his earlier statement that Isis was not active on the battlefields of Afghanistan by saying it was reportedly fighting the Taliban for control of territory and men.

“In fact, Taliban and Daesh are reportedly fighting each other,” he said, using an acronym for Islamic State. “It is absolutely a concern.” - Read More at the Guardian

Isis actively recruiting in Afghanistan, says US general

Senate to Try Again After Bill on NSA Collection of Phone Records Is Blocked

WASHINGTON — After vigorous debate and intense last-minute pressure by Republican leaders, the Senate on Saturday rejected legislation that would curb the federal government’s bulk collection of phone records.

With the death of that measure — passed overwhelmingly in the House this month — senators scrambled but failed to pass a short-term measure to keep the program from going dark when it expires June 1. The disarray in Congress appeared to significantly increase the chances that the government will lose systematic access to newly created calling records by Americans, at least temporarily, after June 1.

“This is a high-threat period,” said Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, who was stymied in his efforts to extend the program even for a few days by the junior senator for his state, Rand Paul.

A senior administration official said Saturday that the “wind-down process has begun” on the surveillance program, and that the administration did not file an application with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court on Friday to continue collecting the data. The White House has long said that the administration would not seek to continue the program if the legal authorities expired. Aspects of the program could be reactivated as allowed under new legislation if Congress acts before the deadline.

The Senate will reconvene on May 31 to try again. But any extension is far from certain to get approval from the House, which is in recess until June 1, with at least one member threatening to block it.

Under the House bill, which passed 338 to 88, the Patriot Act would be changed to prohibit bulk collection by the National Security Agencyof so-called metadata charting telephone calls made by Americans. While the bill would take the government out of the collection business, it would not deny it access to the information. - Read More at NYT

Senate to Try Again After Bill on N.S.A. Collection of Phone Records Is Blocked

Senate Blocks Bill To End Government Collection Of Phone Records

The Senate worked late into the night Friday and early Saturday, but still failed to agree on extending government surveillance programs under the USA Patriot Act before the Memorial Day holiday.

Lawmakers blocked votes on both a House-passed bill and a short-term extension of the Patriot Act provisions that allow government surveillance programs.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says lawmakers will try again on May 31, the day before the provisions expire.

The Senate first took up the House bill, which would end the National Security Agency's bulk collection of domestic phone records. That bill, passed overwhelmingly by the House and supported by the Obama administration, required a 60-vote majority to proceed. It fell three votes short. - Read More at NPR

Senate Blocks Bill To End Government Collection Of Phone Records

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Afghans Call on Warlords and Form Militias to Fight Taliban - nytimes

KABUL, Afghanistan — Facing a fierce Taliban offensive across a corridor of northern Afghanistan, the government in Kabul is turning to a strategy fraught with risk: forming local militias and beseeching old warlords for military assistance, according to Afghan and Western officials.

The effort is expected to eventually mobilize several thousand Afghans from the north to fight against the Taliban in areas where the Afghan military and police forces are losing ground or have had little presence. The action is being seen as directly undermining assurances by officials that the security forces were holding their own against the Taliban.

Further, the plan to turn to irregular forces is stoking anxieties of factional rivalries and civil strife in a nation still haunted by a civil war in the 1990s in which feuding militia commanders tore the country apart. Some of the commanders involved in that bloodletting a generation ago now hold senior government positions and are encouraging the current effort to mobilize and rearm militias.

“We have experienced this failed experiment of militia-making before,” said Fawzia Koofi, a member of Parliament from Badakhshan, one of the provinces where the government is planning to form the militias. “This will spread the war from house to house, starting rivalries as everyone begins arming their own groups.” - Read More at NYT

Afghans Form Militias and Call on Warlords to Battle Taliban

John Nash, mathematician who inspired 'A Beautiful Mind,' killed in car crash

Mathematician John Nash, a Nobel Prize winner whose longtime struggle with mental illness inspired the movie "A Beautiful Mind", was killed in a car crash along with his wife in New Jersey, state police said on Sunday.

The couple were in a taxi when the driver lost control, crashed into a guard rail and hit another car on Saturday afternoon on the New Jersey Turnpike, said police.

Nash, 86, and his wife, Alicia, 82, were thrown from the taxi and pronounced dead at the scene, New Jersey State Police spokesman Sgt. Gregory Williams added, declining to comment on media reports that they were not wearing seat belts.

Russell Crowe, who portrayed Nash in the Oscar-winning movie, said on Twitter that he was stunned by the deaths. "An amazing partnership. Beautiful minds, beautiful hearts," the Hollywood star wrote.

The taxi driver was taken to hospital with non-life threatening injuries and the driver of the other vehicle was also treated in hospital, police said. No charges had been filed, Williams added.

Nash was awarded the Nobel Prize for economics in 1994 for his work on game theory and the mathematics of decision-making.

The film "A Beautiful Mind" was loosely based on his battle with schizophrenia. - Read More

John Nash, mathematician who inspired 'A Beautiful Mind,' killed in car crash

Italy coast guard rescues 70 Afghan, Iraqi migrants from crowded boat

Seventy Afghan and Iraqi migrants were rescued from a packed boat off the southeastern coast of Italy and brought to shore on Sunday, Italy's coast guard said.

Italy closed down a specialized naval mission to rescue migrants in the Mediterranean last year, but continues to bear the brunt of the rescues as the European Union and member states conduct talks on how to deal with the influx.

Two Italian coast guard cutters brought the group to the port of Santa Maria di Leuca in Puglia. There were two women and four minors on board, the coast guard said in a statement.

Refugees escaping war and persecution and economic migrants from Africa and the Middle East have poured into Italy this year. Lawlessness in Libya gives traffickers a free hand to pack people into boats.

But the journey is highly dangerous: on Saturday five Tunisians died after their boat capsized while attempting the crossing, and last month around 800 people drowned in the worst such disaster in recent history. - Read More

Italy coast guard rescues 70 Afghan, Iraqi migrants from crowded boat

Afghan Currency Losing its Value Against US Dollar

پول افغانی ارزشش را در برابر دالر امریکایی از دست می دهد - Read More

President Ghani’s remarks at a gathering “International Contact Group on Afghanistan”

Read More at President Ghani’s remarks 

Let me begin with paying tributes to the sacrifices that your sons and daughters have made in blood. They will be remembered by this nation, and I want to honor every one of them, those who paid the ultimate sacrifice, those who wounded, those who would be marked by our valleys, by our deserts, by their memories for ages to come.- Read More

Transcript of Remarks Delivered by President Ghani at the Meeting of the International Contact Group  - Read More

Friday, May 22, 2015

کشف شهر عصر برونز با قدامت 5 هزار ساله در لوگر - رادیو آزادی

باستان شناسان نشانه های از موجودیت یک شهر عصر برونز با قدامت پنج هزار سال را در ساحه مس عینک لوگر یافته اند. به گفتهء این باستان شناسان این شهر در زیر شهر بودا قرار دارد. تا هنوز تنها در یازده درصد ساحه مس عینک حفریات صورت گرفته است، اما آثار یافت شده در این منطقه می تواند تاریخ بودیزم، افغانستان و دنیا را از سر رقم زند.  Read More

Thursday, May 21, 2015

TOLOnews 21 May 2015 TAWDE KHABARE / تودی خبری ۳۱ ثور ۱۳۹۴

Security Issues in Nangarhar province  - More
مشکلات امنیتی در ولایت ننگرهار  - Read More

TOLOnews 21 May 2015 FARAKHABAR / فراخبر ۳۱ ثور ۱۳۹۴

Exclusive Interview with Zalmay Khalilzad - Read More 

The Fight to Save an Ancient Buddhist City in Afghanistan - Brent E. Huffman

x25 miles southeast of Kabul, Afghanistan near the border with modern-day Pakistan rests an ancient Buddhist city. This ancient city - named Mes Aynak, or "little copper well" - was once at the heart of the bustling Silk Road, the revolutionary trade route that tied together China, India, the Middle East and the Mediterranean. Buddhists from all over Asia made pilgrimages to worship at Mes Aynak, and for thousands of years, it flourished as one of the most important cities in the region. As its importance waned through the centuries, it was slowly abandoned and eventually, this once mighty city was forgotten, its history lost to the sands of time.

After being re-discovered in the 1960's, it took decades for archeologists to make their way to the site, and sporadic rescue excavation of the ancient city did not begin until 2009. Since then, what they've unearthed is truly astounding: dozens of unique and never-before-seen stupas and temples, enormous monastic complexes, vivid murals, thousands of precious artifacts, and around 600 large Buddha statues -- similar in style to those destroyed by the Taliban in 2001 at Bamiyan. Archaeologists have also begun to find written material -- bitch bark manuscripts representing some of the oldests Buddhist writing ever discovered.

Archaeologists have also found evidence of an older Bronze age site beneath the Buddhist city, meaning there is at least 5,000 years of civilization at Mes Aynak. Although only 10 percent of the site has been excavated, what they are finding is already rewriting the history of Buddhism, Afghanistan and the world.

Tragically, this ancient civilization is in dire peril. Mes Aynak sits on the second largest copper deposit in the world, and in 2007 it was sold by the Afghan government to a Chinese State-owned mining company, who plan to harvest that estimated $100 billion dollars worth of copper. MCC, or China Metallurgical Group Corporation, plans to open-pit mine at Mes Aynak. What does that mean? It means blowing up Mes Aynak and reducing it - and an entire mountain range -- to rubble. It means the forced evacuation and relocation of countless native Afghans from the area, who will never be able to return to their villages due to permanent toxicity from the mining. It means leaving a giant crater where there once was a sprawling 500,000 sq meter city. It means erasing from the face of the Earth all of the culture and history that Mes Aynak contains. 

I first read about Mes Aynak in the New York Times in 2010. The story focused on the potential economic development in the war-torn region -- the Chinese project represents the largest private investment in Afghanistan's history setting up in volatile Logar province -- Taliban country. The Buddhist archaeological site was barely a footnote in this story. -  Read More at Huffingtonpost

The Fight to Save an Ancient Buddhist City in Afghanistan

Afghanistan: The Taliban's Deadly Hypocrisy - Patricia Gossman

The recent attack on a Kabul hotel that killed at least 12 civilians is a grim reminder of the Taliban's contempt for the most fundamental principles of international humanitarian law (IHL) -- the laws of war -- which ban targeting noncombatants.

Among the five Afghans and nine foreign citizens killed in the May 13 attack on the Park Palace Hotel were people who had spent much of their lives working to improve the lives of the country's poorest and most vulnerable. Over the years, the Taliban have developed a code of conduct (layha) that supposedly includes rules on sparing civilians, but they exclude from that category government employees, humanitarian workers and many others who under IHL do qualify as noncombatants. On May 14, the Taliban released a statement purporting to justify the hotel massacre, saying that "Every foreigner from invading country [sic] especially NATO is considered an invader." That same statement categorized Afghans who work with foreigners, including aid workers, as "hirelings."

Those statements are essentially a Taliban admission of culpability for a war crime. One survivor of the attack describes how the attacker hunted down and executed hotel guests, repeatedly shooting some of the wounded to make sure they were dead.

In the rush to report horrific events like these, numbers can obscure the real, human identities of the victims and the tragedy of their brutal deaths. - Read More at Huffingtonpost

Afghanistan: The Taliban's Deadly Hypocrisy