Somali villager travels to US to confront army chief he says tried to kill him

Farhan Warfaa to give emotional testimony in Virginia courtroom in case that shines light on brutal 21-year reign of Siad Barre

Human rights abuses and atrocities committed in Somalia during the brutal 21-year reign of the dictator Siad Barre will come under scrutiny in a Virginia courtroom this week as a villager finally confronts the military commander he accuses of attempting to kill him.

Related: ‘We’re excluded from the table’: Somali UN staff say they struggle in ‘two-tier’ aid sector

He is hoping to achieve some measure of accountability for the abuses that he alleges he and others have suffered

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Africa | The Guardian

Rosenstein: Russia Probe Justified, Closing It Wasn’t an Option

Fresh out of his job as deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein said Monday that the Justice Department’s investigation into Russian election interference was “justified,” that he would have never allowed anyone to interfere with it and that closing it had not been an option.

He also took aim at former FBI Director James Comey, characterizing him as a “partisan pundit” busy selling books and earning speaking fees. The barbs continued an extraordinary public spat between the two law enforcement officials, coming days after Comey said in a television interview that he didn’t view Rosenstein as a person of high character.

The speech before a Baltimore advocacy group for business and civic leaders marked Rosenstein’s most expansive remarks on the recently concluded probe into Russian election interference and potential coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia. In it, Rosenstein repeatedly distanced himself from President Donald Trump — who has decried the investigation as a hoax and witch hunt — and sought to burnish a legacy for himself as a protector of the Justice Department’s independence who tried to do what he thought was right regardless of public criticism.

“I was responsible for overseeing that investigation,” Rosenstein said, according to his prepared remarks. “I knew from preliminary briefings with the agents and prosecutors that it was an important investigation. If it was not done correctly, there would always be lingering doubts about the scope of Russian efforts and the extent of American involvement.

“I would never have allowed anyone to interfere with the investigation,” he added.

Rosenstein’s resignation took effect last week, but the speech Monday night made clear he is likely to remain a public figure in the months ahead and underscored a desire to explain and even justify a decision-making process that has come under heavy scrutiny by Democrats and Republicans alike.

He used his speech, his second of the day, to defend some of the most contentious actions of his tenure, including his role in Comey’s firing — he wrote a memo the White House held up as justification for it — and his subsequent appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller to lead the Russia investigation.

He said Mueller’s appointment was necessary to preserve public confidence in the Justice Department and to resolve the investigation in a way that would protect America from foreign adversaries. He said he knew not everyone was happy with the move — a likely reference to Trump and congressional Republicans — and it would be unpleasant for him and his family.

“But at my confirmation hearing, I promised that I would conduct the investigation properly and see it through to the appropriate conclusion,” Rosenstein said. “In my business, you keep promises. And in my business, the appropriate conclusion is the one that results when you follow the normal process and complete an independent investigation.”

Perhaps his most pointed comments were reserved for Comey, whom he had criticized in a May 2017 memo for his handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation, including his decision to publicly announce that the FBI was not recommending charges.

He said in his speech that though he did not blame Comey for being upset with him, “now the former Director is a partisan pundit, selling books and earning speaking fees while speculating about the strength of my character and the fate of my immortal soul.

“That is disappointing,” Rosenstein added. “Speculating about souls is not a job for police and prosecutors. Generally we base our opinions on eyewitness testimony.”

He also said the memo was “correct” and “reasonable under the circumstances,” even if Trump’s reasons for firing Comey were different from his own.

Two days after firing Comey, Trump acknowledged in a television interview that he was thinking of “this Russia thing” when he made the move. Rosenstein said no one had told him what reasons for firing Comey should be put in the memo — though Mueller’s report says Rosenstein had been asked to reference Russia, a request it says he rejected — and said he was never told that dismissing Comey was meant to shut down the investigation. He said he did not believe that firing Comey would affect the investigation.

In a clear break from Trump, though, he said that if he had been in charge of Comey’s firing, “the removal would have been handled very differently, with far more respect and far less drama.” 

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Voice of America

Without Heart Disease, Daily Aspirin May Be Too Risky

For people without heart disease, taking a daily aspirin to prevent heart attacks and strokes may increase the risk of severe brain bleeding to the point where it outweighs any potential benefit, a research review suggests.

U.S. doctors have long advised adults who haven’t had a heart attack or stroke but are at high risk for these events to take a daily aspirin pill, an approach known as primary prevention. Even though there’s clear evidence aspirin works for this purpose, many physicians and patients have been reluctant to follow the recommendations because of the risk of rare but potentially lethal internal bleeding.

For the current study, researchers examined data from 13  clinical trials testing the effects of aspirin against a placebo or no treatment in more than 134,000 adults.

The risk of intracranial hemorrhage, or brain bleeds, was rare: taking aspirin was associated with two additional cases of this type of internal bleeding for every 1,000 people, the study found.

But the bleeding risk was still 37 percent higher for people taking aspirin than for people who didn’t take this drug.

“Intracranial hemorrhage is a special concern because it is strongly associated with a high risk of death and poorer health over a lifetime,” said study co-author Dr. Meng Lee of Chang Gung University College of Medicine in Taiwan.

“These findings suggest caution regarding using low-dose aspirin in individuals without symptomatic cardiovascular disease,” Lee said by email.

Post-cardiac event use

For people who have already had a heart attack or stroke, the benefit of low-dose aspirin to prevent another major cardiac event is well established, researchers note in JAMA Neurology. But the value of aspirin is less clear for healthier people, for whom bleeding risks may outweigh any benefit, the study team writes.

Already, guidelines on aspirin for primary prevention of heart disease in the U.S., Europe and Australia have incorporated a need to balance the potential benefits against the risk of bleeding. For elderly people, who have a greater risk of bleeding than younger adults, the risks may be too great to recommend aspirin.

For adults ages 50 to 59 considering aspirin to prevent heart attacks and strokes, for example, the U.S Preventive   Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends the pill only for people who have at least a 10 percent risk of having a heart attack or stroke over the next decade and who don’t have a higher-than-average risk of bleeding. (The American College of Cardiology provides an online risk calculator.

One limitation

One limitation of the analysis is that the smaller clinical trials examined a variety of aspirin doses up to 100 milligrams daily. The analysis also only focused on brain bleeds, and not on other types of internal bleeding associated with aspirin.

“We have long known that aspirin can precipitate bleeding,  most commonly in the gastrointestinal tract, but most devastatingly in the brain,” said Dr. Samuel Wann, a cardiologist at Ascension Healthcare in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, who wasn’t involved in the study.

Despite the benefits for preventing heart attacks, the consensus on aspirin has changed over time, particularly for people without heart disease or hardening and narrowing of thearteries (atherosclerosis).

“We have previously recommended aspirin to prevent platelets from sticking to the inside of an individual’s arteries, but the benefit, while real, turns out to be small compared to the rare but devastating incidence of brain hemorrhage,” Wann said by email. “We no longer recommend routine use of aspirin in individuals who have no demonstrable cardiovascular disease or atherosclerosis.”

 

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Voice of America

Could Blacklisting Muslim Brotherhood Complicate US Diplomacy in Middle East?

Designating Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood as a foreign terrorist organization could pit the United States against new potential enemies in the Muslim world, experts say.

Analysts argue the designation could hamper U.S. Middle East diplomacy and efforts to promote democratic change in the region.

“For America to write off this important part of politics in the Middle East is really to hobble any kind of intellectual debate and the freedom of American diplomats to operate in this region,” said Joshua Landis, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma.

“America is going to throw a major spanner [wrench] into the works of any kind of democratic and political evolution in the Middle East if it does this,” he told VOA.

The reaction came after the White House recently said President Donald Trump is mulling over designating Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood as a foreign terrorist organization.

“The president has consulted with his national security team and leaders in the region who share his concern, and this designation is working its way through the internal process,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in an email to reporters. 

Egypt’s efforts

The U.S. announcement came nearly three weeks after a visit by Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi to the White House. 

El-Sissi, who toppled former President Mohammed Morsi in 2013, has outlawed the Muslim Brotherhood and thrown Morsi and many of the group’s leaders in jail.

Morsi was the first Muslim Brotherhood president who came to power after winning the 2012 presidential elections in Egypt. Morsi had led the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

But since assuming power, el-Sissi has been urging U.S. officials to label the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, two Sunni powers in the Middle East, also have been lobbying Washington to designate the Islamist group.

‘Neo-conservative team’

During the first weeks of his administration in 2017, Trump had considered the designation but then dropped the idea.

The current U.S. national security team, however, has been in favor of targeting Islamist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood, some analysts charge. 

“President Trump has got this new national security team with [Secretary of State Mike] Pompeo and [National Security Adviser John] Bolton. This is a much more neo-conservative crowd than the first year of Trump’s [presidency],” Mideast expert Landis said.

“So it’s possible that they could actually entertain the idea of supporting Egypt, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates in sanctioning the Muslim Brotherhood and designating them,” he added. 

Fawzi Soufiane, a Tunisia-based expert on Islamist movements, says there are more radical groups in Egypt and other parts of the Middle East that the U.S. should consider targeting.

“For example, there are Salafis in Egypt who are much more radical than the Muslim Brotherhood. So clearly any potential designation of the Muslim Brotherhood won’t be effective in terms of combating terrorism in the Middle East,” he told VOA.

“The Muslim Brotherhood is perhaps the least violent group when it comes to the political spectrum of Islamist parties,” Soufiane said.

Extremist ideology

The Muslim Brotherhood, founded in 1928 in Egypt, is a social, religious and political organization that promotes a governance system run by Islamic law.

The Sunni Muslim group has dozens of affiliates across the Muslim world. Although it has used violence to achieve its political objectives in the past, the group currently eschews such actions.

But some experts believe that the Islamist group continues to promote its agendas through violence by aligning itself with more extremist organizations.

The Muslim Brotherhood “has been funding and supporting extremist groups through an extensive network of humanitarian and political organizations in Syria, Libya and elsewhere,” said Majdi al-Daqaq, editor-in-chief of October magazine, a pro-government publication in Cairo.

“Even if we assumed that Muslim Brotherhood is not involved in armed violence, it is still active in promoting extremist political ideology throughout the region,” he told VOA in a phone interview.

Al-Daqaq added that the Muslim Brotherhood “also has direct ties with the Palestinian militant group Hamas,” which is a U.S.-designated terrorist organization.

Financial networks

Designating Egypt’s oldest Islamist movement a foreign terrorist organization would allow Washington to impose sanctions on any individual or group with links to the Muslim Brotherhood.

Experts say targeting the group’s financial networks overseas could undermine its activities in the Middle East.

“If the U.S. could target the Muslim Brotherhood leadership by sanctioning powerful individuals who have been working with the organization in Middle East, Europe and North America, then the group would be harmed significantly,” said Shafeeq Mamdouh, a political commentator based in Alexandria, Egypt.

“This is a group that heavily relies on funding and donations from Muslim groups in and outside the Middle East. So their financial transactions abroad need to be disrupted,” he added.

What next

If the White House decides to label the Muslim Brotherhood a foreign terrorist organization, it must prove that the group engages in terrorist activity against the U.S. or its interests.

The secretary of state then would have to consult with the attorney general and the treasury secretary before making the designation official.

U.S. Congress would have seven days to review the designation, choosing either to block or allow it.

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Voice of America

Veteran Palestinian Negotiator Says She Was Denied US Visa for First Time

A veteran Palestinian negotiator said Monday she had been denied a U.S. travel visa for the first time, and viewed it as retaliation for her criticism of the Trump administration and Israel.

Asked about Hanan Ashrawi’s allegations, a U.S. State Department official did not comment directly, but said visas are not refused on the grounds of an applicant’s politics if those political statements or views would be lawful in the United States.

Since they boycotted the Trump administration over its recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in late 2017, the Palestinians have seen cuts to U.S. funding that have contributed to their economic distress in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

“It is official! My US visa application has been rejected. No reason given,” Ashrawi said on Twitter. She is a member of the executive committee of the umbrella Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and took part in interim peace talks with Israel dating back decades.

She posited that “this administration has decided I do not deserve to set foot in the U.S.” and gave as possible reasons her “vocal critic(ism) of this administration & its underlings” and her “(zero) tolerance for the Israeli occupation in all its manifestations as a most pervasive form of oppression, dispossession & denial.”

Peacemaking process

The rancor between the United States and the Palestinians has deepened as Washington prepares to unveil a long-awaited plan for restarting peacemaking, possibly next month.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki said last week that the United States seems to be crafting a plan for a Palestinian surrender to Israel instead of a peace deal.

Ashrawi has sparred publicly with Jason Greenblatt, a Trump envoy and an architect of the peace plan, saying on Twitter on Sunday that he is a “self-appointed advocate/apologist for Israel.”

In February, Greenblatt tweeted that Ashrawi was “always welcome” to meet him at the White House. A month later, after Ashrawi condemned Israeli military strikes in Hamas-ruled Gaza, he tweeted to her: “Stop hurting Palestinians w/bad judgment.”

Speaking to Reuters, Ashrawi said she had applied for a B-1/B-2 visa, which is for either business or tourism travel to the United States. She described the rejection as a first for her.

“Most of my life, I’ve been going back and forth, meeting people, speaking everywhere. This is new,” she said. “They (the Trump administration) are trying to punish us.”

U.S. visa rules

A State Department official declined to respond to a Reuters query about Ashrawi’s statements, citing confidentiality for visa records.

But the official said: “U.S. law does not authorize the refusal of visa based solely on political statements or views if those statements or views would be lawful in the United States. Visas may be denied only on grounds set out in U.S. law.”

Those grounds, the State Department website says, include concerns about an applicant’s health, criminal or security background, his or her labor status or incomplete documents.

Last month, Omar Barghouti, a Palestinian leader of an international campaign to boycott Israel, said he was refused a U.S. travel visa as “part of Israel’s escalating repression.”

U.S. officials declined to respond to his allegations.

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Voice of America

Jury Awards $2 Billion to Couple Claiming Roundup Weed Killer Caused Cancer

For the third time in less than a year, a jury has ruled the main ingredient in a popular weed killer caused cancer in its users.

A San Francisco jury Monday awarded more than $2 billion to a couple in their 70s who say glyphosate in Roundup weed killer gave them non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

The couple say they used Roundup for 35 years.

Attorneys for the couple say numerous scientific studies show glyphosate led to cancer in both animal and human populations.

The World Health Organization has classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans” and last month, Vietnam said it would stop importing Roundup and other weed killers with the ingredient.

Bayer, Roundup’s manufacturer, argued that hundreds of other scientific tests show glyphosate is safe and that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency determined that when used as directed, glyphosate is not dangerous.

Bayer says it is disappointed by Monday’s verdict and plans to appeal. 

Two other juries in March and last August awarded multimillion-dollar settlements to Roundup victims, and thousands of other cases are pending against the company.

The Wall Street Journal reports the price of shares in Bayer has dropped 30% since its first courtroom defeat in August. The newspaper also says shareholders are angered the German-based company bought Monsanto last year when it sells a product suspected of causing cancer. 

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Voice of America

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