Saving Cuban crocodiles


This video says about itself:

Cuban Crocodile (Crocodylus rhombifer)

17 October 2011

Watch the Cuban Crocodile and learn how to recognize its unique characteristics. This video captures behaviors and identifies the size, shape and distinctive markings of the Cuban Crocodile. The Cuban Crocodile can be found in the wild and at a number of zoos around the world. Our Cuban Crocodile video is an ideal study guide for students, kids and children who want to learn more about wild animals.

From Phys.org:

April 19, 2015

Kids of Cold War crocs going to Cuba on conservation mission

Cuba’s efforts to sustain the critically endangered Cuban crocodile are getting a boost from Sweden, home to a pair of reptiles that Fidel Castro gave to a Soviet cosmonaut four decades ago.

A Stockholm zoo on Sunday is sending 10 of the couple’s children to Cuba, where they will be placed in quarantine and eventually released into the Zapata Swamp, said Jonas Wahlstrom, the zookeeper who raised them.

“It’s the dream of any zoo director to be part of releasing animals into the wild,” said Wahlstrom, 62, clutching one of the stout-legged youngsters outside its enclosure at the Skansen aquarium and zoo in Stockholm. The 10 crocodiles each are about 1 ½ years old and a meter (yard) long.

The Cuban crocodile, once found across the Caribbean, is restricted today to two swamps in Cuba, where it is threatened by interbreeding with American crocodiles, habitat loss and illegal hunting.

Wahlstrom said he received his original couple during a 1981 trip to Moscow. They had ended up in the Soviet capital after Castro gave them to cosmonaut Vladimir Shatalov in the 1970s as a token of friendship between the communist nations.

“He (Shatalov) brought them back to Moscow and he had them in his flat until his wife said: ‘No more!’ And then he had to give them to the zoo in Moscow,” Wahlstrom told The Associated Press.

But the zoo officials didn’t have a good space for the aquatic reptiles so they asked Wahlstrom if he could take them to Sweden.

“I had them as my hand luggage back from Moscow,” Wahlstrom said.

Zoo officials in Moscow confirmed the background of the crocodiles and their handover to Wahlstrom.

Later named Hillary and Castro—in a nod to international politics—the two crocodiles have become a star attraction at Wahlstrom’s zoo, where they have been breeding since 1984.

Wahlstrom said he’s sent hatchlings to zoos worldwide, but this is the first time he’s given any to Cuba for introduction into the wild.

Cuba’s representative to Sweden welcomed the move.

“We need this type of crocodiles,” Cuban Ambassador Francisco Florentino said as he inspected the animals before their departure Sunday.

With only about 4,000 animals remaining in the wild, the Cuban crocodile, or Crocodylus rhombifer, is red-listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The population is restricted to Cuba’s Zapata Swamp and the Isle of Youth.

This would be the first time that Cuban crocodiles raised abroad are introduced into the wild in Cuba, according to Natalia Rossi of the Wildlife Conservation Society. She’s been involved in other efforts to protect crocodiles in the Caribbean island nation but not the Swedish project.

However, the crocodiles first would be genetically screened to ensure that they come from a pure breed, Rossi said.

The Cuban crocodile can be distinguished from its American cousin by the way it walks and its characteristic bony ridge behind the eyes. But you cannot distinguish hybrid crocodiles from pure-bred Cuban crocodiles by their appearance, Rossi said.

Wahlstrom said he was sure his crocodiles were pure Cubans and expected them to adapt quickly to the real world.

“A crocodile is always ready for the wild,” Wahlstrom said. “They are always aggressive.”

As if to emphasize his point, the baby croc he was holding briefly writhed out of his grip and snapped at an AP journalist’s jacket.

James Bond’s Zapata rail re-discovery in Cuba


Zapata rail, painted by Allan Brooks

From BirdLife:

Rare glimpse of elusive rail

By Martin Fowlie, Mon, 02/03/2015 – 15:34

An ornithological search-team have caught a glimpse of one of the world’s most threatened waterbirds, the Critically Endangered Zapata Rail Cyanolimnas cerverai. The sighting is the first documented in more than four decades and offers hope to conservationists working to ensure its survival.

First described in the early twentieth century, the only nest that has ever been found was by ornithologist James Bond -a name appropriated by Ian Fleming (himself a birder) for 007– and little has since been discovered about its behaviour and breeding ecology. Hopes were fading that viable populations of the Cuban waterbird remained.

The fleeting encounter, now made public, occurred in November 2014. After a series of coordinated surveys of south-west Cuba’s Zapata Swamp, ornithologists (including Andy Mitchell and staff from the Cuban Museum of Natural History) struck gold only after deciding to cut thin strips (rides) into the sawgrass to momentarily expose the secretive birds as they moved through the wetland.

“In the first instance, the head protruded from the sawgrass at the side of the ride,” recounted Andy Mitchell. “After a few seconds the bird emerged slowly into the open, stopped for a few seconds before moving off into the sawgrass on the other side of the ride.”

Now rediscovered, conservation efforts for Zapata Rail will target the wetland in which it was spotted, an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area covering 530,695 ha of wetland in southern Matanzas province. A new project management plan will be developed to assess the species’ current population size, distribution and status.

The sighting is the latest victory in BirdLife’s Preventing Extinctions Programme, which aims to halt extinctions through rigorous science and practical conservation delivered by a range of partners on the ground.

This music video is called John Zorn – The Zapata Rail.

Rails are amazingly camouflaged birds, and their shy, mysterious habits make them even more difficult to get to know. But with these rail identification tips, even novice birders can be more confident about which of these birds they see.

CIA torturer now ‘interpreter’ at Guantanamo trial


This video by Channel 4 in Britain is called Torture -The Guantanamo Guidebook.

By Ed Hightower in the USA:

Interpreter for 9/11 defendants at Guantanamo Bay was a CIA agent

13 February 2015

On Monday, the military trials of five alleged 9/11 conspirators at Guantanamo Bay came to a temporary pause when it came to light that a court-appointed defense interpreter and linguist had previously worked at CIA “black sites” where the defendants had been detained and tortured.

According to the Associated Press, defendant Ramzi Binalshibh told the presiding judge that the interpreter seated next to him was someone that he and other defendants recognized from their earlier incarceration at secret CIA prisons before their transfer to the US Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Defense attorney Cheryl Bormann of Chicago represents Walid bin Attash, another 9/11 defendant who was present at the hearing Monday. She told the AP that Attash was “visibly shaken” to see an individual who “participated in his illegal torture” in the courtroom today.

“If this is part of the pattern of infiltration by government agencies into the defense teams, then the right people to be addressing this issue are not in the courtroom,” Bormann added.

Monday’s court proceedings were the first to take place since the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the CIA’s torture of detainees at CIA and military facilities, including rectal feeding and other barbaric torture practices.

Four out of the five defendants at Monday’s hearing said that they were certain that the interpreter in question was present at the CIA detention site where they were held. Their lawyers suggested to the judge that the former CIA asset’s placement on the defense team was no accident, and they requested time to further investigate this.

On Tuesday, the Pentagon responded to the previous day’s revelations with an admission that the interpreter in question had in fact worked for the CIA.

“The member of the defense team referenced in previous hearings has in the past made readily available to prospective supervisors his prior work experience with the United States government, including with the CIA,” Pentagon spokesman Myles Caggins stated.

“The prosecution does not have any role in providing linguists to defense teams in military commission,” he added.

Defense attorney Bormann contradicted this claim in a statement to the AP, saying that the interpreters are part of a pool of linguists provided to the defense teams, and their resumes and backgrounds cannot be studied in detail.

“Now the question is what other infiltration has occurred and to what extent has it destroyed our ability to represent these men,” she said.

Further undermining Caggins’ claim was the statement by Jim Harrington, attorney for defendant Binalshibh, that the interpreter lied on his resume. Harrington told the Miami Herald on Tuesday evening that his team asked the interpreter whether he had “participated in any interrogation, questioning or done any work with respect to detainees. Any place. His resume denies it. It says he worked someplace else—Reston, Virginia, from 2002 to 2006.”

“We vetted him. He denied it,” Harrington said.

The fact that a CIA operative has found his way onto the defense team representing his former victims speaks volumes about the military commission process. Taken in context, the presence of a CIA spy on the defense team fits the show trial character of the proceedings as a whole, which have been discredited time and again by interference with the defendants’ right to counsel.

From the outset, the military tribunals against the 9/11 defendants were designed with two goals: first, to railroad the defendants into conviction by any means, including confessions extracted by torture; and second, to protect the gory details of US imperialist involvement with the Islamic fundamentalist terror groups that it arms and funds one day, and denounces, persecutes and destroys the next, depending on the foreign and domestic policy needs of the American ruling class at any given time.

Thus, the alleged conspirators in the terror attacks of 9/11—an event which has the hallmarks of US government involvement—were in many cases kidnapped from around the globe, held incommunicado and tortured, brought to Cuba for further torture and indefinite detention, and now face the death penalty in proceedings that make the secret court of Star Chamber seem equitable by comparison.

The commission is housed in a $12 million “Expeditionary Legal Complex,” where reporters sit behind soundproof glass, listening to the proceedings on a 40-second delay. A large red light bulb at the judge’s bench, seen in this video, illuminates when he or a security officer presses a button to mute the audio when the testimony may concern evidence of CIA torture or other “sensitive information.”

In January 2013, this muting device was activated without the judge’s say so, indicating that someone outside of the proceeding, and essentially above the law, can intervene and silence the audio feed at will. The Guardian later reported that this “outside” silencer was the CIA.

In February 2013, lawyers for the defendants complained of advanced surveillance devices in attorney-client meeting rooms hidden inside of phony smoke detectors. In April of that year, defense attorneys learned that some 500,000 internal emails had been seized by the Department of Defense.

In April 2014 Judge Pohl again put the proceedings on pause following revelations that the FBI had been secretly recruiting a member of the defense team’s security detail to be an informant. In fact, the CIA agent-turned-interpreter who was exposed at Monday’s hearing was serving as a replacement for an earlier interpreter who was also working with the FBI.

After allowing for the filing of motions on Tuesday, Judge Pohl denied defense motions to halt the case until further inquiry regarding the interpreter on Wednesday, saying that this was “premature.”

The uncovering of a CIA spy on the defense team underscores the sham character of the military commissions for the accused 9/11 conspirators. The defendants are systematically denied their Sixth Amendment right to an attorney, which is meaningless when attorney-client meetings are the subjects of surveillance. No attorney, no matter how skilled, can successfully represent a client who is being intimidated from having honest, open communication with his counsel.

These most recent developments in the proceedings, coming after the release of the Senate Intelligence Report on CIA torture, also highlight the terminal crisis of American democracy as a whole. Those who are accused of terrorism are tortured, indefinitely detained, intimidated and denied the right to counsel, while US government officials who invade countries, fund terrorism, institutionalize torture, and shred constitutional rights do not face so much as an indictment.

A FORMER Guantanamo detainee who was resettled in Uruguay appeared in neighbouring Argentina on Thursday wearing a prison-style orange jumpsuit and asked the country to grant asylum to detainees still held at the US concentration camp: here.

Guantánamo torturer previously led brutal Chicago police regime of shackling and confession: here.

A report in the Guardian has revealed that a leading interrogator at Guantanamo Bay had used torture to extract false confessions as a police detective in Chicago: here.

CIA whistleblower calls for prosecution of officials responsible for torture: here.

Former Gitmo Prisoner David Hicks Seeks Damages for Torture as Military Court Overturns Conviction: here.

After protracted legal action by former Guantanamo prisoner David Hicks, a US Military Commission Review has unanimously upheld the 39-year-old Australian citizen’s appeal against his bogus “providing material support for terrorism” conviction. The decision is yet another demonstration that the US-led “war on terror” and its associated crimes are built on lies: here.

Pete Townshend celebrated his 70th birthday Tuesday with the release of the politically charged new track “Guantanamo” that will be featured on his upcoming solo compilation Truancy: The Very Best of Pete Townshend. As evidenced by the title, the new song is about the American military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. “Down in Guantanamo, we still got the ball and chain,” he sings. “There’s a long road to travel for justice to make its claim: here.

‘Obama, close Guantanamo, as you promised six years ago’


This video is called Torture -The Guantanamo Guidebook. UK’s Channel 4 “Guantanamo Guidebook” documentary.

From daily The Morning Star in Britain:

Obama Must Honour Gitmo Pledge’

Friday 23rd January 2015

HUMAN rights campaigners demanded yesterday that US President Barack Obama live up to his promise to close Guantanamo Bay, six years after he vowed to do so.

An executive order from the White House, signed by the President on January 22 2009, set out plans to close Guantanamo within a year.

But a total of 122 men are still held at the US prison camp without charge or trial today.

Fifty-four of those still detained have been cleared for release, a process involving unanimous agreement by six US federal agencies that a detainee poses no threat to the US.

Among the cleared men is British resident Shaker Aamer, from London, who has been held at the prison without charge or trial for nearly 14 years, despite having been cleared for release by both the Obama and Bush administrations.

Lawyers for Mr Aamer, who has a British wife and four children, the youngest of whom he has never seen, say that he has suffered appalling abuse.

Clive Stafford Smith, Mr Aamer’s lawyer and the director of legal charity Reprieve, said: “Obama must make good on his promise, and close the prison once and for all.”

President Obama and the Republican Congress Are on a Collision Course over Guantanamo: here.

OBAMA REGRETS NOT CLOSING GITMO ON DAY ONE President Obama said if given the chance to do his presidency over, he’d close the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay on his first day in office. [Jennifer Bendery, HuffPost]

The US must return the territory it holds at Guantanamo Bay, Cuban President Raul Castro told a summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States on Wednesday. He also said that Washington must lift the half-century trade embargo on Cuba and compensate his country for damages before the two nations re-establish normal relations: here.

Torture in Guantanamo Bay, new book


This video says about itself:

Guantánamo Diary Trailer – exclusive video clip read by Dominic West

16 January 2015

Watch a short clip from our upcoming documentary about Guantánamo Diary, a book written by Mohamedou Ould Slahi, who has been a prisoner at the US detention facility for 14 years.

From daily The Guardian in Britain:

Guantánamo Diary exposes brutality of US rendition and torture

Memoir serialised by Guardian tells how Mohamedou Ould Slahi endured savage beatings, death threats and sexual humiliation

Spencer Ackerman in New York and Ian Cobain in London

Friday 16 January 2015 18.15 GMT

Memoir serialised by Guardian tells how Mohamedou Ould Slahi endured savage beatings, death threats and sexual humiliation

The groundbreaking memoir of a current Guantánamo inmate that lays bare the harrowing details of the US rendition and torture programme from the perspective of one of its victims is to be published next week after a six-year battle for the manuscript to be declassified.

Guantánamo Diary, the first book written by a still imprisoned detainee, is being published in 20 countries and has been serialised by the Guardian amid renewed calls by civil liberty campaigners for its author’s release.

Mohamedou Ould Slahi describes a world tour of torture and humiliation that began in his native Mauritania more than 13 years ago and progressed through Jordan and Afghanistan before he was consigned to US detention in Guantánamo, Cuba, in August 2002 as prisoner number 760. US military officials told the Guardian this week that despite never being prosecuted and being cleared for release by a judge in 2010, he is unlikely to be released in the next year.

The journal, which Slahi handwrote in English, details how he was subjected to sleep deprivation, death threats, sexual humiliation and intimations that his torturers would go after his mother.

After enduring this, he was subjected to “additional interrogation techniques” personally approved by the then US defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld. He was blindfolded, forced to drink salt water, and then taken out to sea on a high-speed boat where he was beaten for three hours while immersed in ice.

The end product of the torture, he writes, was lies. Slahi made a number of false confessions in an attempt to end the torment, telling interrogators he planned to blow up the CN Tower in Toronto. Asked if he was telling the truth, he replied: “I don’t care as long as you are pleased. So if you want to buy, I am selling.”

Slahi’s manuscript was subjected to more than 2,500 redactions before declassification, ostensibly to protect classified information, but with the effect of preventing readers from learning the full story of his ordeal. The book is being published with all the censor’s marks in place, and the publishers – Canongate in the UK and Little, Brown in the US – hope they will be able to publish an uncensored edition when Slahi is eventually released.

Although one federal court has ordered his release on the grounds that the evidence against him is thin and tainted by torture, Slahi has been languishing in a form of legal limbo since December 2012 after the justice department entangled the case in an unresolved appeal. Several US officials have indicated that he is unlikely to be released this year. One, who spoke to the Guardian on condition of anonymity as he had not been cleared to do so, said getting Slahi out of Guantánamo was not a priority. “Our focus is acutely on the individuals who have been approved for transfer,” he said. Slahi is not among them.

Slahi describes the toll the abuse has taken on his body and mind: “I started to hallucinate and hear voices as clear as crystal. I heard my family in a casual familial conversation … I heard Qur’an readings in a heavenly voice. I heard music from my country. Later on the guards used these hallucinations and started talking with funny voices through the plumbing, encouraging me to hurt the guard and plot an escape. But I wasn’t misled by them, even though I played along.” ‘We heard somebody – maybe a genie!’ they used to say. ‘Yeah, but I ain’t listening to him,’ I responded … I was on the edge of losing my mind.”

The American Civil Liberties Union has launched an online petition calling for Slahi’s release. Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU’s national security project, said: “Mohamedou Slahi is an innocent man whom the United States brutally tortured and has held unlawfully for over a decade. He doesn’t present a threat to the US and has never taken part in any hostilities against it.

“We’re asking the government to put an end to Mohamedou’s years-long ordeal by not contesting his habeas case and releasing him without delay. We hope everyone moved by Mohamedou’s story of abuse and unlawful detention will join us in seeking his freedom.”

The 44-year-old travelled twice to Afghanistan in the early 1990s. There, he swore allegiance to al-Qaida and joined the fight against the Soviet Union-backed regime in Kabul. He says he severed all connection with the group in 1992.

But after 9/11 he was detained on suspicion of being involved in an unsuccessful plot to bomb Los Angeles international airport while living in Canada in 1999. No evidence has been found to support the allegation, other than his own forced confessions. In 2004 a military lawyer refused to play any further part in the prosecution on the grounds that the evidence against him was the product of torture.

The chief military commissions prosecutor in the mid-2000s, Air Force colonel Morris Davis, later said he could not find any offence with which to charge Slahi.

The detainee’s lawyer, Nancy Hollander, said: “Mohamedou has never been charged with anything. The US has never charged him with a crime. There is no crime to charge him with. It’s not that they haven’t found the evidence against him – there isn’t evidence against him. He’s in what I would consider a horrible legal limbo, and it’s just tragic: he needs to go home.

“Mohamedou’s book takes us into the heart of this man the US government tortured, and continues to torture with indefinite detention. We feel, smell, even taste the torture he endures in his voice and within his heart. It is a book everyone should read.”

Publisher Jamie Byng said Slahi’s account was one of the most significant books Canongate would ever publish. “It’s a gracious, brutal, humbling, at times funny, but more often enraging, and ultimately heartbreaking testimony by a truly gifted writer. And all of his many international publishers hope that by bringing his story to the wider world we can play a part in ending his wrongful and barbaric imprisonment.”

Slahi’s memoir is published on the heels of a landmark US Senate study into CIA torture, and arrives as Republicans in Washington have redoubled their efforts to block Barack Obama from fulfilling his vow to close Guantánamo. The president is determined to reduce the detention centre’s population during 2015: on Wednesday, five more detainees left Cuba for Oman and Estonia, the latest in a flurry of post-election transfers. This leaves 122 inmates at Guantánamo. Among them is Shaker Aamer, a Saudi-born British resident. David Cameron was expected to raise Aamer’s plight with Obama during talks in Washington on Friday.

However, British ministers have raised his case at least 15 times in the last five years, according to statements to parliament. In the past, US diplomats have said privately that they are not convinced the British government is serious when it says it wished to see Aamer returned to the UK, where he could be reunited with his British wife and four children.

Though his captors have long since ceased treating Slahi as a security threat – he is said to inform on other detainees, and lives in a separate facility where he is allowed to garden – the US insists it has legal justification to deprive the Mauritanian of his freedom. Lt Col Myles Caggins, a defense department spokesman, said: “We continue to detain Mohamedou Slahi under the Authorisation for the Use of Military Force of 2001 (AUMF) as informed by the laws of war. He has full access to federal court for review of his detention by United States district court via petition for writ of habeas corpus.”

Guantanamo Diary is published on 20 January. To buy a copy for £15 (RRP £20), visit bookshop.theguardian.com or call the Guardian Bookshop on 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p on online orders over £10. A £1.99 charge applies to telephone orders.

Free innocent British Guantanamo Bay prisoner


This music video is called PJ HarveyShaker Aamer.

By Paddy McGuffin in Britain:

Guantanamo prison wife pleads with PM to secure release

Saturday 17th January 2015

THE wife of British Guantanamo Bay detainee Shaker Aamer has issued a desperate plea to David Cameron, urging him to secure her husband’s freedom during his visit to the White House this week.

Mr Aamer, from south London, has been detained without charge or trial at the US prison camp since 2002.

This is despite his having twice been cleared for release, first by the Bush administration in 2007 and again by President Barack Obama in 2009.

In a heartfelt letter sent to the British Prime Minister, Zinneera Aamer said:

“Thirteen years ago my family was ripped apart when my husband was sold for a bounty and taken to Guantanamo Bay.

“He has never been charged with a crime. He has never faced a trial. He was cleared for release — told he could come home, in other words — by president Bush’s administration. He was then cleared for release a second time, by President Obama’s administration.

“We had such hope, when Mr Obama said he would close the prison — finally, we thought, our family’s ordeal will be over. It is hard to describe the crushing despair of having such hopes dashed.”

She went on to say: “I know that you know all of this. But I hope that if I lay out the desperate state of affairs once again — and it would be foolish to suggest we are anything other than desperate — you will be moved to raise Shaker’s case with President Obama when you meet him, and that you will get Shaker home.”

Grave concerns have long been expressed for Mr Aamer’s mental and physical well-being amid reports that he has suffered repeated abuse, almost daily beatings and long periods in solitary confinement.

Mr Aamer and his British wife, Zinneera, have four British children — the youngest of whom has never met his father.

Cori Crider, a director at legal charity Reprieve who represents Mr Aamer, said: “Successive British governments have claimed to have ‘raised Shaker’s case’ with the US over the years — yet he’s still locked up in Guantanamo without charge or trial, suffering terrible mistreatment every day.

“Enough delays. David Cameron must listen to Shaker’s wife and children, and come back from the White House with a clear timeline for Shaker’s release.”