Tag Archives: Ezra Kaplan

Conflict drives the emergence of disease in refugee camps

DFID Burma (Courtesy of the UK Department for International Development)

DFID Burma (Courtesy of the UK Department for International Development)

WASHINGTON – Conflict and poverty are key factors in the emergence of disease worldwide according to Dr. Peter Hotez, who is President Barack Obama’s appointed science envoy focused on global health and vaccine development.

Hotez is one of four presidentially appointed scientists tasked with taking on a major scientific challenge on behalf of the United States.

“The forces of poverty and conflict are driving the emergence of disease,” said Hotez in a recent interview. He is finishing a book on the topic and has focused much of his work on the issue in his role as dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College in Houston and as the President of the Sabine Vaccine Institute in Washington.

He looks back and various instances of pandemics and disease outbreaks and points to either poverty or conflict – or often both – as the root cause for the impact on human life.

“One of the reasons Ebola came out of West Africa…was that those countries had emerged out of 10 years of devastating conflict with a complete breakdown in public health infrastructure, human migrations, deforestation,” said Hotez. All those forces combine to create the perfect storm that allowed Ebola to flourish. This is not new. This has been a recurring theme that we have seen since the 1970s.”

He believes the next Ebola will be the diseases coming out of areas occupied by ISIS. The Middle East and North Africa will be the next big wave of catastrophic epidemics “and it would be nice if we could be proactive about it for once,” said Hotez.

He went on to describe that there is a critical failure in the pathway toward vaccine development. The institutions that are responsible for strategic preparations are lacking the ability to make products. For instance, the Ebola vaccine was sitting with completed science for more than 10 years but with no manufacturer until it was too late said Hotez.

“That really was a terrible failure.”

Though the community still has a long, said Hotez, they are now working with the Saudis and the Malaysians to build vaccine infrastructure through public-private partnerships.

The refugee camps for those fleeing ISIS have become a hot bed of Leishmaniasis, a parasitic disease that causes scarring skin ulcers and can be fatal, said Hotez. The disease is transmitted through a bite from a sand fly and with the hastily set up refugee camps, piles of trash have made a home for the insects.

“There has been an explosion in cases coming out of the conflict zones,” he said.

The WHO Eastern Mediterranean Regional Office, based out of Cairo, is responsible for surveillance in the camps receiving refugees from the ISIS areas. The problem is they only get a glimpse of what is spilling out of the conflict zones and coming across the borders, said Hotez.

There have been more than 100,000 new cases of Leishmaniasis in the last 18 months and the locals call it “lepo evil,” said Hotez.

He said that the major driving force in disease is human behavior.

“Everyone is focusing on climate change right now but I think it’s actually social forces that are far more important,” said Hotez.

DHS makes sure terrorists don’t get access to chemical facilities

"IED Baghdad from munitions". Licensed under Public Domain via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:IED_Baghdad_from_munitions.jpg#/media/File:IED_Baghdad_from_munitions.jpg

“IED Baghdad from munitions”. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:IED_Baghdad_from_munitions.jpg#/media/File:IED_Baghdad_from_munitions.jpg

WASHINGTON – Chemicals are an important part of modern society but, in the wrong hands, they can be deadly weapons. The government has recognized this danger and taken on the act of trying to protect the American people by protecting the stocks of chemicals across the country.

Since the 9/11 attacks the United States has collectively feared a repeat terrorist attack on domestic soil. In, then-President George W. Bush called for the creation of what is now called the Department of Homeland Security to address and attempt to resolve this very fear.

Part of that effort includes the work done by the Office of Infrastructure Protection, which has a mission to work with the chemical industry to protect critical infrastructure, including chemical facilities, from terrorist attacks.

A key piece of the critical infrastructure that needs to be protected is chemical facilities.

“We are talking about things where people could turn a facility into a weapon much like the terrorists in 9/11. They took something that we would not have expected to be used as a weapon and turned it into [a weapon]. And this presents a significant concern for the department,” said Todd Klessman, a senior policy advisor at the Department of Homeland Security.

He said there are two main concerns when it comes to chemical site facilities. The first is the prevention of an attack directly on the facility. Some of these sites are located in heavily populated urban areas. A release of a toxic gas or substance would result in many people injured or dead. Experts point to the Bhopal disaster in India in 1984, in which a gas leak at a pesticide plant killed at least 3,787 people and injured more than 550,000 others.

The second concern is a terrorist stealing chemicals to build a bomb elsewhere, Klessman said at a talk about chemical weapons and security at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington based think tank.

Acknowledging this infrastructure vulnerability, Congress authorized the creation of the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards program in 2007 and reauthorized it for an additional four years in 2014. This legislation gave DHS regulatory authority over “high-risk chemical facilities.” The first task was to determine what that category meant.

“What we decided was that it didn’t really matter what type of facility these chemicals were at. The chemicals will present threats or risk based on their nature, not necessarily the type of facility,” said Klessman, in an interview.

The department developed a list of 325 chemicals of interest and set out to base their regulator efforts on this list, rather than on categories of facilities. Each of the chemicals on the list presented a security risk in at least one of three categories:

  • Release hazards – Toxics, flammables and explosives
  • Theft aversion hazards ­– Precursors to chemical weapons, explosives, improvised explosive devices (IEDs) or weapons of mass destruction
  • Sabotage hazards – Chemicals that when mixed with water will turn into toxic hazards

This results in DHS regulating a large swath of industry that is not just limited to what would traditionally be classified as chemical facilities. Alongside the many manufacturing facilities regulated are mines, education facilities, prisons and wineries.

Once the department has determined that a facility is within the highest risk category, it works with a company to implement an appropriate security plan. There are about 3,000 facilities in the high-risk category with only 111 falling into the highest risk group.

“Rather than give prescriptive standards and tell a facility that they must have this type of fence or they must have this type of camera system, we’ve identified 18 areas of security and asked the facility to tell us how they are going to address this,” said Klessman. This allows the facilities to build up on what they already have in place and recognizes that this is not a one size fits all security solution.

“It also makes it so that the terrorists cannot simply read our manual and determine how they can overcome our security,” he said. “If we had a requirement of a ten foot fence then the terrorist could just go build an 11-foot ladder.”

Philippine government invites former occupying military powers back to ward off China

Admiral Harry Harris, commander of the United States Pacific Command, arrived in the Philippines on Tuesday for a three-day visit that highlights broad changes to the Southeast Asian nation’s military strategy. The Philippines has lately welcomed the militaries of the US and Japan in order to send a unified signal to China as it asserts its presence in the South China Sea. Though its relationships with the US and Japan have been historically complex, the Philippine government’s current concerns over a newly aggressive China are encouraging it to move past that.

“You’re seeing sort of these odd historic partnerships grow,” Jerry Hendrix, the director of the Defense Strategies and Assessments Program at the Center for a New American Security, told VICE News. “All this means that the South China Sea isn’t going to be settled in the way that China desires it to be any time soon.”

China is the most active country that has declared dominion over islands in the South China Sea and reclaimed land by piling dredged sand on top of narrow reefs, but it’s not the only one. Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan, and the Philippines have all engaged in this, just to a far lesser degree. As of June, the Chinese had reclaimed more than 2,900 acres of land, according to the US Department of Defense. In comparison, the Philippines had built up only 14 acres.

“China has now reclaimed 17 times more land in 20 months than the other claimants combined over the past 40 years, accounting for approximately 95 percent of all reclaimed land in the Spratly Islands,” wrote the Department of Defense in the Asia-Pacific Maritime Security Strategy, which it released last week.

Some in the Philippines are wary of Japan because of its occupation of the country during World War II, as well as of the US owing to the Philippine-American War and its Cold War military presence in the region. Despite this, the Philippine government sees the strategic advantage of fostering these partnerships.

“The government, recognizing its strategic position, would love to see the US visit regularly — like on a weekly basis,” Hendrix remarked. In exchange, the US can further project its influence toward Asia, which has been the focus of a pivot in foreign policy on the part of the Obama administration.

It is a lot like the local convenience store that gives the cops free coffee when they come by. The increased police presence this encourages helps to deter criminals from robbing the place. Even if the storeowner isn’t always on the best terms with the cops on the beat, it’s still better to give away some coffee than it is to get robbed.

In April 2014, the US signed an Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) with the island nation. The agreement would allow US troops to build facilities and store gear in the country, and to conduct joint training exercises with the Philippine military.

“The EDCA facilitates increased bilateral defense cooperation activities by providing the US access to [Philippine military] facilities and areas on a rotational basis,” Department of Defense spokesman Commander Bill Urban told VICE News. “The US government is not building any bases in the Republic of the Philippines.”

Earlier this year, Japanese and Filipino forces began joint military exercises for the first time. Already they have conducted two maritime exercises under the guise of humanitarian assistance and disaster response, but recent talks of establishing a Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) indicate that this is the beginning of a burgeoning defense relationship between the two Asian countries.

The VFA would involve the exchange of military equipment and technology, as well as training and personnel exchanges, said Philippine Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin. Talks just started, however, and the Philippines’s last VFA, with Australia, took seven years to become official.

But not everyone in the Philippines is so thrilled about the new military cooperation, and both the VFA and EDCA are being legally challenged by local Filipino activists.

There is a natural resistance within the Filipino population to a foreign military presence. World War II episodes like the Bataan Death March, in which thousands died when Japan’s military brutally forced 76,000 American and Filipino prisoners of war to walk 66 miles, are still deeply resented by some Filipinos, Hendrix said.

Two former Philippine senators spoke out against Japanese military aid in Juneat the press club in Manila. Former Senator Leticia Ramos-Shahani advocated for the creation of a self-supporting military and expressed grave caution about the cooperation with Japan.

“Don’t forget they invaded us,” Shahani said. “I watched the Japanese enter the Open City of Manila. And I cried. To see foreign troops enter your native land is one of the most humiliating experiences. I hope you will never experience that.”

But Japan has worked hard to rebuild its reputation in the post-WWII era, particularly with initiatives that offer economic assistance as well as disaster relief.

The US relationship with the Philippines has also changed in the past few decades. In 1992, after almost a century on the island, the Philippines kicked the US military out of Subic Bay Naval Base in the East China Sea as part of its effort to become militarily self-sufficient.

Nevertheless, the US says it still has the Philippines’ back.

“Our commitment to the Philippines is ironclad. We are in constant and close touch with our Philippine ally,” David Shear, assistant secretary of defense for Asian-Pacific security affairs, told VICE News during a Pentagon news conference. “There should be no doubt, either in the region or among our Philippine friends, about the strength of the American commitment and of the strength of the American deterrence.”

The Philippine government’s resources have grown strained as it deals with domestic terror attacks by Abu Sayyaf, an al Qaeda-linked militant group. Abu Sayyaf has been taking hostages and is holding at least nine people, according to the government-run Philippines News Agency.

“The Philippine Navy has a need for just about everything,” Douglas H. Paal, vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told VICE News. “They have never been able to maintain a viable navy or air force.”

Both Japan and the US have already provided the Philippines with equipment, including deeply discounted ships and planes. In 2011, the US refurbished two Coast Guard Hamilton-class cutters at a cost of $25 million and then gave them to the Philippine Navy free of charge. In 2013, it increased military aid to the Philippines by two-thirds.

More recently, in June, Philippine President Benigno Aquino III signed a deal with a Japanese shipbuilder to buy a fleet of 10 patrol vessels. The Japanese government financed the deal with a low-interest $150 million loan.

The Philippines’ military relationships are now anchored largely on China’s continuing reclamation and militarization of islands in the South China Sea.

“It is becoming increasingly clear why China desires to establish its hold over the islands and water in question,” Hendrix wrote in a recent piece for Defense One. “Despite arguments about energy and food supplies that may lay in abundance below the waters of the South China Sea, Beijing’s actions make increasingly clear that it seeks control for its own military advantage and to establish dominance over the other nations in the region.”

Published in conjunction with Vice News Logo

Afghan-Americans to Pakistan: stop supporting terrorism

On August 14, almost 50 Afghan-Americans gathered outside the Pakistani embassy in Washington, D.C. to protest what they say is Pakistan’s ongoing support of terrorist organizations operating in Afghanistan. The protesters called for the United States Congress to stop funding the Pakistani government and for the Pakistani government to stop supporting terrorism networks operating in Afghanistan.

The two faces of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba

NAVAL STATION GUANTANAMO BAY, CUBA – The U.S. may have opened an embassy in Havana, Cuba, but 500 miles away at the Guantanamo Bay naval base you wouldn’t know that anything had changed.

Guantanamo Bay, with its small-town feel, is a major naval base as well as home to the infamous detention center for captives in the war on terror. Since the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba, operations have continued on as usual, with no plans to change. In fact, experts say closing the base would take decades. Meanwhile, the gift shop still has Fidel Castro bobble heads for sale.

“There is no impact on the base at this point,” said Kelly Wirfel, the public affairs officer for the Naval Station Guantanamo Bay. “We are continuing to execute our mission here.”

In essence, the naval base is an island within the island, separated from Cuba and relatively unaffected by changes in diplomatic relations. Whatever changes are going on in Washington and Havana, daily life doesn’t show any signs of changing yet. Global Post spent a week on the base finding out how the historic diplomatic shift would affect residents’ lives.

At Radio GTMO, the local radio station, the maxim is “Rockin’ in Fidel’s Backyard,” and there are no plans to alter it. The $25 Fidel Castro bobbleheads for sale in the radio’s gift shop aren’t going away anytime soon — the sailors running the station just placed a new order. The North East Gate, which used to allow travel to and from Cuba, will remain closed, and the mines surrounding the base will stay in the ground.

“As the US and Cuba normalize relations, two big Cuban demands remain: ending the embargo and giving back Guantanamo,” said Shannon O’Neil, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. “Neither is likely before the 2016 presidential election, given the Republican field and the role Congress must play.”

But she stressed that the challenges to the Obama administration’s attempts to close the military prison are likely only a short-term hurdle.

“In a post-Castro brothers’ Cuba, negotiations to return the territory are possible and even likely, with precedents around the world,” O’Neil said. She pointed to the transfer of the Panama Canal from US control to Panamanian control as an example; that transition took more than 20 years.

The 45 square miles of land occupied by the Guantanamo Bay base have been leased from Cuba since 1903. The original lease agreement gave the land to the US “for the time required,” which effectively means the US can take its sweet time leaving. The US pays just over $4,000 a year in rent, though the Castros still refuse to cash the checks, because that would serve to legitimize the current occupation of Guantanamo. The Cuban embassy did not return calls about whether the Cuban government planned to start cashing the checks.

In January 1961, shortly before John F. Kennedy was inaugurated, President Dwight Eisenhower severed diplomatic relations as Fidel Castro declared himself in favor of Marxist ideology and began mass jailings and executions of Cuban dissidents. Then, in 1964, Castro cut off the water supply, forcing the base to become completely self-sufficient.

Guantanamo Bay is first and foremost a naval base, in operation since the land was acquired over a century ago. It has docks capable of accommodating ships as large as a small aircraft carrier, and facilities catering to the families of soldiers stationed at the base.

“We’re a logistical hub so lots of the ships that are doing operations in the Caribbean pull in here to be refueled, resupplied, whatever it is that they might need,” Wirfel said. The base has also supported humanitarian missions, such as taking in a massive influx of Haitian refugees and migrants in the early 1990s as a part of Operation Sea Signal.

Twenty years later, all but 28 of the refugees have left. The base is home to a mix of service members and their families, civilians, and third-country nationals, mostly Jamaicans and Filipinos who come to the base for work.

In total, nearly 4,000 people live on the base, including more than 500 spouses and children.

The naval base has the feel of a humid small town that could be anywhere on the Gulf Coast. There’s McDonalds, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell. The local high school’s team name is the Pirates. There is a movie playing every night but Wednesday at the Lyceum, a stadium-style outdoor theater, complete with a concession stand that sells popcorn, hot dogs, and soft drinks for a dollar each.

The movie theater is where you will find Jose Polics, 18, many nights of the week. He has lived in Guantanamo Bay his entire life. “It’s a wonderful experience,” said Polica. “The best part is that the Gitmo community has treated me so nice.”

Polica recently graduated from W.T. Sampson High School, the only one on the base. He graduated with only a handful of other students. Though he says he is interested in going into a job having to do with IT, he has no desire to leave the base. “I consider Gitmo my home,” he said.

The hippest place to be each night is the Jerk House, a Jamaican restaurant that offers the most highly coveted service for most residents of Guantanamo Bay: Wi-Fi.

The base is notorious for its terrible and outrageously expensive internet service. Visiting journalists pay $150 per week for just one hardwire hook-up with connectivity speeds that are reminiscent of pre-broadband days.

Like moths to a streetlight, the free Wi-Fi creates a melting pot of the community outside the Jerk House. In one evening reporters were joined by a crew of FBI witnesses who were scheduled to testify in an on going military commission.

“It’s my first time here,” said one of the witnesses who had helped collect evidence overseas. The team was sporting sunburns and raving about their time on the beach.

Nearby, at the officer’s club, an IT technician joined a table full of reporters. He said that he comes down to Guantanamo about once a month from Virginia Beach to help broadcast the military commissions to viewing rooms on military bases stateside. He has a couple of boats in the marina and offered to take the group sailing on one of the many down days that come with reporting on the base.

For most, entertainment can be hard to come by in the isolated naval base. The Morale, Welfare, and Recreation Department tries to solve this problem. The organization makes sure there is something to do each day of the week, from kayaking to a “South of the Border” celebration, featuring an adolescent mariachi band flown in from nearby Florida.

Despite all the programming, residents of the base tend to get island fever.

Wouldn’t it be nice if they could take a nice little trip to Cuba?

“I think the consensus is that everyone here would love that. But there is no talk of that, and if it does happen, it will certainly be sometime down the road,” Wirfel said. “I hope I’m here for that.”

There are two sides to Guantanamo. On one side is a regular naval base whose mission is “to guarantee the success of a myriad of strategic operations by providing exemplary support to our tenants, government agencies, and allies,” Wirfel said. On the other side are the notorious Guantanamo Bay detention camps. Separating them are roadblocks and barriers manned by armed guards.

One of the few things the two sides have in common is the 17-mile border they share with Cuba.

A barbed-wire fence and a minefield surround the base. Marines are posted at watchtowers 24 hours a day. Even the local radio station is designed not to broadcast past the border of the base.

But the edge of the base is not completely impermeable.

Since 1995, high-ranking military personnel from each side have held monthly “fence-line meetings.” The site of the meeting alternates, one month in an old Marine barracks on the US side, the next month in a beat-up Cuban customs house.

“The captain of the base, Captain (David) Culpepper, meets with the Cuban Frontier Brigade, which is their equivalent to the military on that side,” Wirfel said. “It’s a very professional meeting. There is never anything political talked about. It’s all administrative in matter.”

The goal of the meetings is to keep the border peaceful. Neither side wants an inadvertent flare-up from a misunderstanding.

“As you can imagine, when you have guards standing on the fence line face-to-face with each other, it’s important that there’s some communication as to what’s happening on our side and what’s happening on your side,” said Wirfel. The reestablishment of diplomatic relations, Wirfel said, would not affect the monthly meetings, which have been going on for 20 years.

In addition to the monthly get-togethers, there is a surprising annual joint military effort at cooperation between two countries that have not gotten along for decades.

“Every year we also do a bilateral exercise with them,” Wirfel said. This year they cooperated to fight an imaginary fire on the fence line. The participants jumped back and forth across the heavily guarded border, at one point carrying a person with a simulated injury across the border into enemy territory.

A short drive away, less than five miles from the naval docks, sits a side of Guantanamo Bay that reminds visitors and service members that this is a deployment site rather than a traditional military base.

Following 9/11, the Department of Defense decided to begin using the base as a detention center for those captured overseas in the newly declared War on Terror.

On Jan. 11, 2002, the first 20 detainees arrived at Camp X-Ray, a facility made up of chain-link enclosures that resembled dog cages more than jail cells. Since then, there have been several new detention facilities constructed, a few of which resemble standard federal correction lock-ups. In total, more than 780 detainees have passed through the island-based detention center. Today, 116 remain.

Many of the guards who work in the detention centers are military police and live in long canvas tents that look like massive drainage pipes sliced in half. The oceanside tents are kept heavily air-conditioned to dissuade the local iguanas and banana rats from seeking shelter during the blistering-hot days.

Not even a mile down the road is Camp Delta, home to the people allegedly responsible for orchestrating the greatest terrorist attack ever on American soil. This prison is effectively an island within Guantanamo, which itself is an island of US control on the island of Cuba.

The Joint Task Force, with members from all four branches of the US military, runs the detention center. The group in charge is called Joint Task Force Guantanamo (JTF Guantanamo. On its website, the mission is clear: “JTF Guantanamo conducts safe, humane, legal, and transparent care and custody of detainees, including those convicted by military commission.”

That mission remains unchanged, regardless of the reestablished diplomatic relations between the US and Cuba.

“Nothing has changed for us,” said Captain Chris Scholl, public affairs officer for JTF Guantanamo. “It is business as usual.”

In the end, it may be far too much to expect instantaneous changes at Guantanamo. The base acts a tidal pool, collecting debris and detritus from more than a century of history: the Spanish-American War, the US colonial period, the Cuban Revolution, the Cold War, and now the aftermath of 9/11 and the “Global War on Terror.” Yet at the same time, the tortured politics surrounding Guantanamo have given rise to a relic; a fossilized collection of odd legal, political, and cultural circumstances that the world is unlikely to see again.

The Debrief: Guantanamo Edition // OPSEC 101

In the third installment of “The Debrief: Guantanamo Edition,” Medill NSJI reporters Taylor Hall and Ezra Kaplan give you a crash course in OPSEC, or operations security, as it pertains to reporting from Naval Station Guantanamo Bay.  Learn what OPSEC and how to navigate it in the course of your Guantanamo coverage.

Congress pushes for rules on explosive fertilizer

Corrections and clarifications: A prior version of this story incorrectly reported domestic ammonium nitrate production tonnage as domestic farm consumption totals. This story has also been updated throughout to clarify that Rep. Bennie Thompson is pushing for revisions to the proposed rules, not publication of the current draft.

WASHINGTON — Congress is pressing the Department of Homeland Security to take action on its mandate to make sure that ammonium nitrate, the key ingredient in the 1995 Oklahoma City bomb, stays out of the hands of terrorists, but new rules may still be a long way off.

“The misappropriation of ammonium nitrate remains a homeland security threat – however in the eight years since Congress directed the Department of Homeland Security to regulate its sale, the marketplace has changed considerably,” said Mississippi Rep. Bennie Thompson, the top Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee and author of the original bill mandating ammonium nitrate regulation. Despite the delay, Thompson is urging the department to rewrite its proposed rules for the chemical widely used in fertilizer.

“I urge DHS to work with stakeholders to update its proposed ammonium nitrate regulations to take this change in marketplace into account. This will help ensure that the program that DHS stands up will be effective.”

In 2007, lawmakers worried about criminal or terrorist use of the chemical passed legislation instructing the Department of Homeland Security to set up a program to regulate the purchase ammonium nitrate. Four years later the department created the Ammonium Nitrate Security Program.

“Certain purchasers and sellers of ammonium nitrate would be required to apply to DHS for an Ammonium Nitrate Registered User Number, and the department would screen each applicant against the Terrorist Screening Database,” said DHS spokesman S.Y. Lee in explaining the program. “Following the screening process, approved individuals would be issued an AN Registered User Number, which would allow them to engage in the sale, purchase, or transfer of ammonium nitrate.”

The department spent months collecting comments from the public and stakeholders regarding how the program could affect different industries, ending on Dec. 1, 2011.

According to DHS, those public comments are still being reviewed. The next step would be issuing final regulations, but Thompson says the time lapse means more input from the marketplace is needed.

From al-Qaida to ISIS, terrorism groups around the world have come to depend on the chemical for the manufacturing of improvised explosive devices, or IEDs. The problem became so severe in Afghanistan that the Pakistani government worked with the U.S. to stem the flow of ammonium nitrate across the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

Some states, impatient with DHS, passed their own ammonium nitrate regulations, but experts are concerned that criminals or terrorists wanting to purchase the substance will just cross state lines to find those states without regulations.

“The administration needs to finalize this rule right away,” said Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., who has worked to keep ammonium nitrate out of the hands of insurgents in Afghanistan. “A final rule will make it clear that this is a serious challenge and will lay down rules of the road for stakeholders for handling this material appropriately.”

Lee said the process is moving at its current pace because “we seek to strike a balance that both ensures public safety and minimizes the potential economic impact that can arise from additional regulation.”

Luke Popovich, with the National Mining Association, said that the proposed rules would place unnecessary burden on the mining industry. He wants mining facilities to be exempt from the program since the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives already regulates those facilities.

Meanwhile, the fertilizer industry continues to push for speedy regulation.

“We supported this in Congress when it was initially brought up because we as an industry really felt like it balanced the need for security with the problem we were having with a patchwork of state regulation,” said institute spokeswoman Kathy Mathers.

Ammonium nitrate is not a controlled substance, though it is not prepared for consumer use, explained Mathers. In 2011, 2.8 million tons of ammonium nitrate were produced for the U.S. explosives industry, according to the Institute for the Makers of Explosives; in that same year, the agriculture industry produced about 2.4 million tons, according to the Fertilizer Institute.

“If you wanted to go and purchase it, you would go to a fertilizer dealer and that dealer is a retailer. You could call a farm supply center,” said Mathers. “What they could do, and this is what McVeigh did prior to the Oklahoma City bombing, they posed as farmers and went to a farm supply center with a U-Haul truck and bought ammonium nitrate.”

Since then the Fertilizer Institute and the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms have run an awareness program to help retailers identify suspicious activity, said Mathers.

“It is up to the good sense of the seller not an ID process. That is why we support the regulation,” said Mathers. “The potential for human error is always there, versus having a regulation in place that sets a standard.”

Guantanamo detainee hearing resumes Wednesday

The pre-trial hearing for Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi, accused of conspiring in the murders of U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

Published in conjunction with Military Times Logo

Hearing delayed for Gitmo detainee

Flags wave at Camp Justice in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where Abd al Hadi al Iraqi is scheduled to appear before a military commission Wednesday. (Matt Yurus/Medill NSJI)

Flags wave at Camp Justice in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where Abd al Hadi al Iraqi is scheduled to appear before a military commission Wednesday. (Matt Yurus/Medill NSJI)

GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba — Monday’s pretrial proceedings for Abd al Hadi al Iraqi, a “high-value target” detained at U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, since 2007, were delayed Sunday after a closed-door meeting with prosecutors, defense attorneys and the judge.

The hearings, originally set to begin Monday, are scheduled to last two weeks. The Defense Department made it clear in a statement that the military judge was responsible for any decisions regarding scheduling.

“We thus will not comment on why he has delayed the start time of the first session on the record this week,” said Lt. Col. Tom Crosson, a DoD spokesman. He added that court proceedings likely would not start before Wednesday morning.

Such delays are not uncommon.

Another closed-door meeting will be held Tuesday afternoon to determine the schedule for the remainder of the hearings, which are due to conclude on Friday, July 31.

The Hadi hearing is expected to involve a variety of preliminary motions. The defense is expected to argue that the U.S. military commission does not have personal jurisdiction over the defendant and that certain evidence and out-of-court statements should be suppressed.

Hadi’s trial date has not been set. He is accused of being a high-ranking al-Qaida commander who allegedly conspired and ordered attacks that resulted in the deaths of at least eight U.S. service members in Afghanistan. He was captured in 2006 and held in CIA custody for at least 170 days before arriving at Guantanamo Bay.

At a meeting with reporters Sunday, Chief Prosecutor Army Brig. Gen. Mark Martins said he would not comment on the specifics of the motions.

“There’s a pretty strong principle that we don’t litigate stuff ahead of the judge,” Martins said.

Published in conjunction with Military Times Logo

Howitzer brings front-line training to Marine camps

Without seeing the target nearly 15 miles away, the M777 howitzer and its team of eight Marines can deliver a high explosive shell within one meter of the mark. The history of the weapon goes back to the invention of gunpowder during the Tang Dynasty in ancient China. Over 1,000 years later, the M777 is celebrating its 10th year as the flagship weapon of the Marine Corps artillery.