Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Robocops Come to Pittsburgh


No longer the stuff of disturbing futuristic fantasies, an arsenal of "crowd control munitions," including one that reportedly made its debut in the US, was deployed with a massive, overpowering police presence in Pittsburgh during last week's G-20 protests.
Nearly 200 arrests were made and civil liberties groups charged the many thousands of police (transported on Port Authority buses displaying "PITTSBURGH WELCOMES THE WORLD"), from as far away as Arizona and Florida with overreacting ... and they had plenty of weaponry with which to do it.
Bean bags fired from shotguns, CS (tear) gas, OC (Oleoresin Capsicum) spray, flash-bang grenades, batons and, according to local news reports, for the first time on the streets of America, the Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD).
I saw the LRAD, mounted in the turret of an Armored Personnel Carrier (APC), in action twice in the area of 25th, Penn and Liberty Streets of Lawrenceville, an old Pittsburgh neighborhood. Blasting a shrill, piercing noise like a high-pitched police siren on steroids, it quickly swept streets and sidewalks of pedestrians, merchants and journalists, and drove residents into their homes, but in neither case were any demonstrators present. The APC, oversized and sinister for a city street, together with lines of police in full riot gear looking like darkly threatening Michelin Men, made for a scene out of a movie you didn't want to be in.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Caught in the crossfire: the forgotten casualties of war in Afghanistan Some Afghans say foreign forces are as dangerous as Taliban


Shafiq, 6, lost his eye in an IED explosion
Shafiq, 6, lost his eye in an IED explosion in Helmand. Three of his playmates were killed in the blast. Photograph: Jon Boone
By Jon Boone
The stooped and withdrawn 18-year-old breathed painfully as he relived the day last month when shrapnel from a missile ripped through his lung and bowels.
It was 9am and he was out collecting fruit from his family's trees in a village so small it is not included on most maps of Helmand province.
Although it was the day of the Afghan elections he, like everyone else in his neighbourhood, had no interest in voting in an area too insecure for polling stations to open. "I was just a few steps outside my front gate when about eight rockets landed," he says, sitting in a hospital in the provincial capital of Helmand, bandages around his chest. "I was hit and ran into the house where women and children were yelling because a rocket had also landed on one of the rooms."
He is convinced that it was a rocket from "foreign forces" ‑ something that the hospital cannot confirm, although they say the shrapnel was clearly from a rocket, possibly delivered from a helicopter.
With his lung filling up with blood and an equally potentially fatal wound to his lower abdomen all the village "medical worker" could do was wrap him up and begin the arduous business of moving him along roads littered with IEDs and checkpoints to a place where his life could be saved. It took more than a day for him to arrive at the Emergency Hospital in Lashkar Gah. The immaculate surgical facility run by an Italian charity, with a policy of not asking patients about how they received their injuries, does not turn away anyone. "He certainly would have died if he had not come here," says Mirco Barchetta, the hospital's head nurse, who is only allowed to travel between his nearby secure compound and the hospital in one of Afghanistan's most dangerous cities.