Sunday, December 25, 2011

Cuban Prisoner Release Announcement

Mark C. Toner
Acting Spokesperson, Office of the Spokesperson
Washington, DC
We have seen reports that the Council of State of Cuba has announced the release of 2,900 prisoners and Alan Gross is not among them. If this is correct, we are deeply disappointed and deplore the fact that the Cuban government has decided not to take this opportunity to extend this humanitarian release to Mr. Gross this holiday season, especially in light of his deteriorating health, and to put an end to the Gross family's long plight. We continue to call on the Cuban authorities to release Alan Gross and return him to his family, where he belongs.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Final Defendant in UW Horticulture Center Arson Pleads Guilty

Student who Built Fire Bomb, Drove Getaway Car Faces Seven-Year Sentence
The final participant in the 2001 arson of the University of Washington Center for Urban Horticulture pleaded guilty today in U.S. District Court in Tacoma, announced U.S. Attorney Jenny A. Durkan. JUSTIN SOLONDZ, 32, entered a guilty plea this morning to conspiracy and arson. Under the terms of the plea agreement, both the prosecutors and the defense will recommend a seven-year prison term. Judge Ronald B. Leighton can impose any sentence allowed by law. Judge Leighton scheduled sentencing for March 16, 2012.
“This was a dangerous and cowardly crime. This defendant and his group damaged the environment far more than their activism ever protected it,” said U.S. Attorney Jenny A. Durkan. “Not only did the UW blaze destroy endangered plants and important research, it posed a very real danger to the firefighters dedicated to fighting it. I commend the agents who tracked Mr. Solondz and brought him to justice.”
According to the plea agreement, SOLONDZ built the firebombs in a “clean room” behind an Olympia residence, transported them to Seattle, and remained in the car as a getaway driver during the arson. The plea agreement details how SOLONDZ left the country in 2005, and when he learned of arrests in the arson case, decided to stay abroad, traveling under a false name. In early 2009, SOLONDZ was arrested by Chinese authorities for manufacturing drugs. He was returned to the United States in July 2011, in the custody of the FBI.
The UW fire bombing was part of a string of 17 arsons across the west by the radical groups the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) and the Animal Liberation Front (ALF). The arson spree caused tens of millions of dollars in damage. In all, 15 people have been convicted of crimes related to a string of fires across the western United States investigated under “Operation Backfire.” All those connected with the UW arson have been ordered to share in restitution to the University of Washington and the State of Washington totaling $6,092,649.
Three other defendants, Jennifer Kolar, of Seattle, Washington; Lacey Phillabaum, of Spokane, Washington; and Briana Waters, of Oakland, California, have each pleaded guilty to the arson. Kolar was sentenced to a 60-month term of imprisonment for the UW Center for Urban Horticulture and other arsons. Phillabaum was sentenced to a 36-month term of imprisonment. Waters will be sentenced June 22, 2012. Under the terms of her plea agreement, both sides will recommend 48 months in prison. Waters served more than two-and-a-half years in prison following her conviction for the arson in 2008. That conviction was overturned in 2010. Waters entered a guilty plea in June 2011.
In addition to the defendants who have been convicted, the leader of the arson cell, and the fifth participant in the UW Center for Urban Horticulture arson, William C. Rodgers, 40, of Prescott, Arizona, was indicted by a federal grand jury in Seattle in connection with the case. However, Rodgers committed suicide in December 2005, while being held in the Coconino County Jail in Prescott, Arizona.
This case is the result of a 10-year investigation by law enforcement. The Seattle Fire Department battled the blaze. Participating in the extensive investigation were the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives (ATF), the Eugene Police Department, the Oregon State Police, the University of Washington Police Department, and other state and federal law enforcement agencies.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Andrew Friedman and Thomas Woods.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Passing of National Defense Commission Chairman Kim Jong Il

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Washington, DC
With the passing of National Defense Commission Chairman Kim Jong Il, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is now in a period of national mourning.  We are deeply concerned with the well-being of the North Korean people and our thoughts and prayers are with them during these difficult times.  It is our hope that the new leadership of the DPRK will choose to guide their nation onto the path of peace by honoring North Korea’s commitments, improving relations with its neighbors, and respecting the rights of its people.  The United States stands ready to help the North Korean people and urges the new leadership to work with the international community to usher in a new era of peace, prosperity and lasting security on the Korean Peninsula.

Panetta Says U.S. Unwavering in Support of South Korea

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 19, 2011 – Officials across government have collectively conveyed America’s unwavering commitment to South Korea, Defense Department officials said today.

Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta spoke with South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin about the death of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il in a 15-minute telephone call this morning, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said.

“The secretary conveyed to Mr. Kim the strong commitment of the United States to peninsular stability and to our alliance,” he said. “He made it clear that the United States stands with Korea in this time of uncertainty.”

Little stressed there has been no increase in force protection for U.S. forces in Korea and that there is “no truth” to rumors that U.S. families would be evacuated.

No unusual military movements connected with the death of Kim Jong-il have been detected, Little said. There are 36,000 U.S. service members based in South Korea.

The two defense leaders agreed that it is critical for both countries to remain prudent with respect to all matters related to the security posture on the peninsula. Both promised to consult often in the days and weeks ahead.

U.S. officials would not comment on an announcement from North Korean officials that Kim’s son, Kim Jong-eun, will take over the isolated country.

“I wouldn’t comment on the particulars of succession at this stage,” Little said. “Obviously, we are closely monitoring the succession process. The North Koreans are in a period of mourning at this point, and that being said, the military does exercise a prominent role in North Korea, but I wouldn’t want to speculate at this stage.”

U.S. and South Korean officials believe that a North Korean missile test conducted earlier today was pre-planned and not connected to Kim’s death, a senior Pentagon official said on background.

Panetta was briefed on Kim’s death immediately after word reached the outside world last weekend, Little said.

“He has been closely monitoring the situation ever since,” the press secretary said. “He has been in contact with senior officials here in the department.”

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Kim Jong Il is Dead

By Zach Foster
The North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il was announced to have died of a heart attack on a train outside of Pyongyang.  The announcement was mournfully made on North Korean state television.  His son Kim Jong Un, an armchair general in the Korean People’s Army and a senior member of the Workers Party, was announced as his successor in the same broadcast.
Kim Jong Il was born in 1941 or 1942 in Siberia while his father and dictatorial predecessor, Kim Il Sung, led guerrilla troops in the Red Army and Korean Liberation Army against the Japanese in Manchuria and the northern Korean Peninsula.  His political grooming began in the late 1970s and early 1980s as his father was aging.  When Kim Il Sung died in 1994, Jong Il became the official successor and held all the highest offices in the land.  The combination of the North Korean socialist command economy and his military-first economic policy created a famine that killed over 2 million Koreans.  The 2000s were marked by North Korea’s weapons testing and withdrawal from the nuclear nonproliferation treaty, as well occasional surprise attacks against South Korean troops that undid any progress made in the Inter-Korean Summit meetings.
The funeral is scheduled to be on December 28th in Pyongyang.

Human Rights in Belarus

Concerns About Human Rights in Belarus on the Anniversary of the December 19, 2010 Crackdown
Coat of Arms of Belarus
The following is a joint statement issued by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and EU High Representative Catherine Ashton.
Today we remember the one year anniversary of the start of the brutal crackdown by the Belarus Government on civil society, political opposition and independent media. Over the past 12 months, the Belarusian authorities have imprisoned peaceful demonstrators, suppressed non-violent protests, and worked to silence independent voices. There have also been credible reports of degrading and inhumane treatment of political prisoners. A number of them have been set free, but we reiterate our call for all political prisoners to be immediately released and rehabilitated, including presidential candidates Andrei Sannikau and Mikalai Statkevich, and human rights defender Ales Byalyatski. We also express grave concern over new laws that will further restrict citizens' fundamental freedoms of assembly, association and expression and that target support to civil society.
We reiterate that the improvement of bilateral relations with the United States and the European Union is conditional on progress by the Government of Belarus towards the fulfillment of its OSCE commitments and the respect for fundamental human rights, the rule of law and democratic principles. The United States and the European Union remain willing to assist Belarus as it works to meet these obligations.

NOTE: Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Alexander Lukashenko has been the country's president since 1994. Under his lead and despite objections from Western governments, Soviet-era policies, such as state ownership of the economy have been continued. According to some organizations and countries, elections have been unfair, and political opponents have been violently suppressed.

Image and note courtesy of Wikipedia.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Terrorist Designation of Basque Fatherland and Liberty Leader Jose Antonio Urruticoechea Bengoechea

The Department of State has designated Basque Fatherland and Liberty (ETA) veteran Jose Antonio Urruticoechea Bengoechea (AKA Ternera) under Executive Order 13224, which targets terrorists and those providing support to terrorists or acts of terrorism. As a result of this designation, all property subject to U.S. jurisdiction in which Jose Antonio Urruticoechea Bengoechea has any interest is blocked and any assets he may have under U.S. jurisdiction are frozen. U.S. persons are prohibited from engaging in any transactions with him. This action will help stem the flow of financial and other assistance to this ETA leader.
Urruticoechea’s status as a long term ETA member and his engagement in terrorist activities such as murder, bombings, recruiting, training, and providing logistical support for a terrorist organization, constitute a threat to U.S. interests. Urruticoechea is wanted for terrorism and the murder of 11 people. He has played a decisive role in ETA’s terrorist activities for decades, both from prison, where he spent more than ten years, and for more than a decade as a fugitive from justice.
ETA, designated by the United States as a Foreign Terrorist Organization in 1997, is responsible for killing more than 800 civilians, police, and military personnel, and injuring thousands since it formally began its campaign of violence in 1968. ETA has primarily used bombings and assassinations, targeting Spanish government officials, security and military forces, politicians, businessmen, judicial figures, journalists, and tourists. Between 2007 and 2010, more than 400 ETA members have been arrested. Since 2008, Spanish and French authorities have apprehended a number of ETA’s top leaders. These arrests have significantly reduced the group’s activities.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Reactionary Socialism

By Ludwig von Mises
From the very beginnings of the socialist movement and the endeavors to revive the interventionist policies of the precapitalistic ages, both socialism and interventionism were utterly discredited in the eyes of those conversant with economic theory. But the ideas of the revolutionaries and reformers found approval with the immense majority of ignorant people exclusively driven by the most powerful human passions of envy and hatred.
The social philosophy of the Enlightenment that paved the way for the realization of the liberal program — economic freedom, consummated in the market economy (capitalism), and its constitutional corollary, representative government — did not suggest the annihilation of the three old powers: the monarchy, the aristocracy, and the churches. The European liberals aimed at the substitution of the parliamentary monarchy for royal absolutism, not at the establishment of republican government. They wanted to abolish the privileges of the aristocrats, but not to deprive them of their titles, their escutcheons and their estates. They were eager to grant to everybody freedom of conscience and to put an end to the persecution of dissenters and heretics, but they were anxious to give to all churches and denominations perfect freedom in the pursuit of their spiritual objectives. Thus the three great powers of the ancien rĂ©gime were preserved. One might have expected that princes, aristocrats and clergymen who indefatigably professed their conservatism would be prepared to oppose the socialist attack upon the essentials of Western civilization. After all, the harbingers of socialism did not shrink from disclosing that under socialist totalitarianism no room would be left for what they called the remnants of tyranny, privilege, and superstition.
However, even with these privileged groups resentment and envy were more intense than cool reasoning. They virtually joined hands with the socialists disregarding the fact that socialism aimed also at the confiscation of their holdings and that there cannot be any religious freedom under a totalitarian system… (Read more)