Monday, March 2, 2015

Family of Woman Film Festival: #chicagoGirl

Posted By on Mon, Mar 2, 2015 at 10:13 AM

Ala'a Basatneh: "I'm always online." - MARCIA FRANKLIN
  • Marcia Franklin
  • Ala'a Basatneh: "I'm always online."
Ala’a Basatneh didn’t do much sightseeing during her visit to Sun Valley this past weekend. Rather, the 22-year old used all her spare time doing what she does almost every hour of every day: checking social media for the latest on the civil war in Syria.

“I’m always online. Always. I wake up in the middle of the night and check on my accounts and I go back to sleep. It’s just nonstop,” she says.

But Basatneh, the focus of the documentary #chicagoGirl, which screened Feb. 28 at the Family of Women Film Festival in Sun Valley, doesn’t just monitor the situation in the country where she was born. From a suburb of Chicago, she also coordinates rallies by anti-regime activists in Syria and sends video of the protests, as well as footage of human rights violations, to media outlets all over the world.

It’s a life documented by director Joe Piscatella, and it’s one that has taken on increased urgency with the actions of the self-proclaimed Islamic State in Syria (ISIS), which has grown since #chicagoGirl was finished.

Basatneh said the brutality of the group has drawn attention away from the mission of the original revolutionaries she supports, who want to see the downfall of President Bashar al-Assad.

“Because the media finds the story of ISIS sexier, and all they’re covering is ISIS, activists like me and expatriates have to double up their work,” she said. “We have to work harder and longer hours online to spread awareness and to show that as we speak right now there are TNT barrel bombs dropping on top of civilian neighborhoods.”

Basatneh can’t forget the images she’s seen on clandestinely uploaded videos, including one recently of a boy eating cardboard boxes because he was starving. She sent the footage to news outlets, but it wasn’t carried.

“And then a couple weeks later, I get a message from one of the activists that the kid was sniped and killed,” she said. “So he’s dead. And the world is going just day by day, not acting. It’s depressing. But I don’t let it bring me down. Because if I stop, and every expatriate stops, and every activist stops, then we are betraying the blood of the people that died.”

She wishes the international community would do something, whether that be boots on the ground or enforcing a no-fly zone. Any action, she maintains, would help the rest of the world in the long run.

“We don’t want to see the chaos and the extremism from ISIS in our backyard. So by helping the Syrian people, we’re actually helping ourselves; we’re helping Europe,” she said.

In the documentary, Basatneh is shown briefly visiting Syria, which her parents left in 1992. She went one other time, but can’t go back until the country is safer.

“Not only have I gotten threats from the Syrian regime, but now I have threats from the extremist groups” like ISIS, she said. “Through activists, they sent me verbal messages that if I were to go back to Syria, “not good” things would happen to me.”

The name of the film, #chicagoGirl, came from an online threat Basatneh received.

To the young girls now joining ISIS, she would say, “Seek help and try to talk to family members about it. Syrian people and girls their age are struggling for freedom. They should be on the right side of history.”

Basatneh hopes more people will see #chicagoGirl and realize that the Syrian people are the ultimate victims of the civil war.

“I love the film. I love it,” she said. “And I want the children of the martyrs and children of the victims and the activists that died 20 years from now to see this documentary and think, “Oh, my God, my dad and my mom have suffered so much for me to live in such a free country and a democratic country.'”

For her part, Basatneh wants to use her freedom to get a Masters in international human rights and work for a global agency helping children.

“Since I was very little, my dad always said that the greatest weapon I could have is a degree,” she said.

She believes that in the end, Syrians will live in peace. 

“We’re walking in a very dark tunnel, but at the end of the tunnel we see the light," Basatneh said. "We just don’t know how long that tunnel is."

Ala'a Basatneh: "We have to work harder and longer hours online to spread awareness." - MARCIA FRANKLIN
  • Marcia Franklin
  • Ala'a Basatneh: "We have to work harder and longer hours online to spread awareness."

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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

AP: Punishments For Bergdahl Have Wide Range If He Deserted

Posted By on Wed, Jan 28, 2015 at 9:12 AM

Reports continue to conflict wildly in the will-he-or-won't-he uncertainty surrounding the possibility of punishment for former prisoner of war Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.

NBC News reported earlier this week that charges were imminent against the Wood River Valley native, who gained freedom in a controversial swap for Taliban prisoners of war. But Pentagon officials quickly pushed back against the report, saying a decision had not been made yet.

Meanwhile, the Associated Press is reporting that the Pentagon is facing several options regarding any possible punishment:

AWOL (or absent without leave) would be a relatively non-serious offense. Punishment would be minor, such as having pay docked or being tossed from the Army. The AP reports that chances are slim for this since Bergdahl went AWOL in a combat zone.

A few other possible charges, according to the AP, include:
  • Desertion With Intent to Remain Away Permanently: The Army would need to prove that Bergdahl had no desire to return to his squad. In 1945, the U.S. Army actually stood a private in front of a firing squad and executed him for desertion. The execution was kept secret for nine years. A more likely sentence for Bergdahl could include time in prison and a dishonorable discharge.

  • Desertion With Intent to Avoid Hazardous Duty or to Shirk Important Service: The AP reports this is one of the more likely charges and is much more serious than AWOL. The Army would not need to prove that Bergdahl had no intention of return to his unit. Punishment could include prison, a dishonorable discharge and/or forfeiture of pay and benefits.

  • Failure to Obey a Lawful Order: There's a good chance that this additional charge could also hit Bergdahl, since he allegedly committed a serious breach of military conduct.

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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

NBC News: Bowe Bergdahl to be Charged with Desertion

Posted By on Tue, Jan 27, 2015 at 10:22 AM

UPDATE: 12:20 p.m., Jan. 27, 2015

Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby is pushing back against "untrue" reports that desertion charges have been filed against Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.

CNN reported Tuesday that Kirby issued a deinal via Twitter, and the Army likewise denied the reports in a statement to the news network: 
"Contrary to media reporting, no decision made by Army leadership with respect to Sgt. Bergdahl's case. The process will be respected," Rear Admiral John Kirby said.

"What they are reporting is untrue—there has been no update to what we provided in Dec. Investigation is still with [General Mark] Milley who will determine appropriate action—which ranges from no further action to convening a court martial. We cannot discuss or disclose the findings of the investigation while disciplinary decisions are pending before commanders," the Army said in a statement provided to CNN.  

Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the Hailey native captured and held for five years by Taliban forces in Afghanistan, will be charged with desertion.

Citing unnamed "senior defense officials," NBC News reported this morning that charges against Bergdahl would stem from allegations that he abandoned his post in June 2009, walking off the base  "in the middle of a combat zone, potentially putting the lives of his fellows soldiers at risk [sic]."

Bergdahl has been stationed in Texas since his release following a controversial prisoner swap in May 2014, and was cleared of any misconduct during his five-years in captivity by a formal investigation this past summer. Desertion charges, however, would focus on his actions before capture. In an email to his parents shortly before he went missing, Bergdahl expressed disgust with the war, his superior officers and the United States in general.

"The system is wrong," he wrote. "I am ashamed to be an american. And the title of US soldier is just the lie of fools. ... The horror that is america is disgusting [sic]." 

According to NBC News, the charges, which could be released within a week, "will apparently not allege that Bergdahl left with the intent never to return." The 28-year-old could face prison time, but military officials told NBC News that he will probably be allowed to leave the Army with a "less than honorable discharge," be docked $300,000 in back pay and bonuses, and reduced to the rank of Private First Class.

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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Mother Jones: Police Departments Having Trouble Getting Rid of Military Hardware

Posted By on Tue, Sep 30, 2014 at 11:58 AM

The MRAPs, grenade launchers and assault rifles were easy to get through the Defense Department's 1033 program. It's returning them, police departments across the country are learning, that's the tricky part, Mother Jones reports
The Boise Police Department's mine resistant ambush protected vehicle (MRAP) - HARRISON BERRY
  • Harrison Berry
  • The Boise Police Department's mine resistant ambush protected vehicle (MRAP)

Even before the militarization of police became a household conversation topic this summer, stemming from heavily armed police confronting demonstrators in Ferguson, Mo., some law enforcement agencies began to see the military equipment they'd acquired through the 1033 program as high maintenance, unwieldy or otherwise useless in community policing efforts. According to a representative of Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), in the last 10 years, police departments have returned more than 6,000 such items to the Pentagon.

But as the back flow of military materiel has increased, so has the difficulty police have had in making returns. A representative of Defense Logistics Agency, which is the go-between for police departments and the 1033 program, said that law enforcement may return equipment provided that they complete the right paperwork, and that some equipment, like night vision goggles, require extra certification in order to be returned. But cities are saying that the paperwork is mountainous and labyrinthine, and the Defense Department has made the process even more difficult: The website that lets PDs request returns has been temporarily closed, and won't open again until Wednesday, Oct. 1.

"[The 1033 program] is a low-cost storage method for [the Defense Department," said Mayor pro tem of Davis, Calif., which is trying to return its MRAP. "They're dumping these vehicles on us and saying, 'Hey, these are still ours, but you have to maintain them for us.'"

And since the military still technically owns the materiel, PDs can't sell it—they have to find another police department that will take MRAPs, semi-automatic weapons and other technology off their hands. The city of Hillsborough, N.C., has been trying to return its three M14 rifles, which the PD has determined are too heavy for community policing. But the North Carolina liaison between it and the 1033 program told Hillsborough PD that another law enforcement agency will have to take them. 

In fact, the protocol for 1033 liaisons when law enforcement wishes to return materiel is to alert other police departments across the state that the materiel is now available, posing a moral dilemma to departments wishing to rid themselves of weapons and armored vehicles out of protest: Sending back repurposed military hardware means it will end up in the hands of some other police department—not in storage.

"I have a lot of discomfort about that," said Lieutenant Davis Trimmer of the Hillsborough Police Department.
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Monday, July 14, 2014

Bergdahl Begins 'Regular Army Duty' at Ft. Sam Houston, Texas

Posted By on Mon, Jul 14, 2014 at 10:09 AM

Idaho native and U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was officially assigned to regular Army duty this morning at Ft. Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas. The assignment comes a month-and-a-half after his release from his Taliban captors and approximately three weeks of therapy at the Texas military base.

Bergdahl's new duties were not immediately disclosed but a brief Army announcement this morning indicated that his assignment would allow Bergdahl to "contribute to the mission of homeland defense."

Bergdahl has had greater access to print and broadcast media for nearly three weeks now after completing inpatient treatment at Ft. Sam Houston and shifted to "outpatient" status in late June.

Meanwhile, the formal investigation continues into the controversial swap for Bergdahl, which saw the release of five detainees from the Guantanamo Bay U.S. military prison. Bergdahl went missing in June 2009 and was held by his Taliban captors for nearly five years.

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Sunday, July 6, 2014

Idaho Mountain Express: CNN files lawsuit against Blaine County

Posted By on Sun, Jul 6, 2014 at 3:06 PM

Cable News Network has filed a lawsuit against Blaine County after twice being denied a report from a 1999 police investigation involving the family of Bowe Bergdahl.

Bergdahl, a 28-year-old U.S. Army sergeant form Hailey who was held as a prisoner by the Taliban for five years, has received national and international news media attention since his capture in June 2009. Controversy has grown since his May 31 release over allegations that Bergdahl deserted his post—and even aided his captors—though a formal investigation recently cleared Bergdahl of any misconduct during his years of captivity.

The suit was filed on June 25 by Debora K. Kristensen of the Boise law firm Givens Pursley, and claims the report is subject to disclosure based on Idaho public records statutes. But the Idaho Mountain Express reports that Blaine County Sheriff Gene Ramsey doesn't want to give up the information.

"I have declined to release the report because I feel it should be exempt from disclosure because it would be an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy," Ramsey told the Express. He said no charges were filed in the 1999 investigation.

CNN is seeking a court order requiring the release of the report, and a hearing is scheduled for July 21 at 2 p.m. before Judge Robert J. Elgee.

Ramsey did provide CNN with three other reports, including one dated March 27, 1998, when the Bergdahl family reported someone drove past their residence and shot out the rear window of one of their vehicles with a pellet gun. Bowe was 12 at the time and witnessed the shooting. 

Then, on Jan. 29, 2013, a welfare check of the Bergdahl home was requested by an estranged Idaho Falls father, whose children and wife were staying with the Bergdahls. Officers found the "children were safe and well taken care of."

And on Aug. 25, 2013, there was a report involving Bowe's father, Bob, and mother, Jani, in an incident of "road rage." According to the report, the Bergdahls followed a man on their motorcycles after they claimed he cut them off in his car on Highway 75. The driver said he suspected he was being followed and drove to the Sun Valley Police Department. After a discussion with the police, it's stated that both parties apologized.

The Express dug up another undisclosed report involving Bowe's mother in 2007, when she was convicted of a "vicious dogs" misdemeanor violation. She pleaded guilty and was given a 10-day suspended jail sentence and fined $225.50. Court records show another case involving Bowe, but it's sealed.
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Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Bergdahl Cleared of Misconduct, But Still Not Talking to Investigator

Posted By on Tue, Jul 1, 2014 at 9:32 AM

Critics of Idaho native and U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl are pushing back against the findings of a formal investigation that has cleared Bergdahl of any misconduct during his five years of captivity.

"We have no reason to believe that he engaged in any misconduct," read a very short conclusion from the Pentagon.

Bergdahl remains an outpatient at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, where he was transferred after a surprise swap of POWs with the Taliban. But some soldiers who served with Bergdahl said that the Idaho native should suffer the consequences of walking away from his post, walking into the arms of the Taliban, and some even alleged that "he had helped his captors," according to the Atlantic.

Another report from Fox News indicated that Bergdahl converted to Islam, fraternized openly with his captors and declared himself a "mujahid."

Meanwhile the Associated Press reports that Army officials said there was "no suggestion that Bergdahl was guilty of any misconduct," so there was no reason yet to read him his legal rights. "The tenuous legal line is that the reintegration team is focusing on the five years he spent in captivity, not how he got there."

To date, Bergdahl has still not yet been interviewed by the two-star general appointed to investigate the Bergdahl case. Additionally, Bergdahl has not asked for a lawyer.

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Monday, June 23, 2014

Bergdahl Now Has More Access to Media, People as Outpatient

Posted By on Mon, Jun 23, 2014 at 8:54 AM

The Pentagon confirmed June 22 that Idaho native and U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl had begun outpatient treatment at a Texas military medical center, as he continues his care in the shadow of nearly five years as a prisoner of war.

Military and hospital officials at the Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, said Bergdahl will remain on the base but he will "be exposed to more people as part of his treatment."

"Debriefings and counseling from Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape psychologists continue to ensure he progresses to the point where he can return to duty," said a military statement.

While receiving inpatient care, Bergdahl was being held in a hospital room with no television or access to Army personnel other than the handful of officials who helped him "reintegrate" back into service. But being an outpatient will allow Bergdahl access to broadcast and print media in addition to much more personnel on the Army base.

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Saturday, June 14, 2014

Bowe Bergdahl's Reintegration: Salutes, Privacy and Peanut Butter

Posted By on Sat, Jun 14, 2014 at 9:43 AM

U.S. Army officials want to do everything they can to stem an enormous storm of media scrutiny waiting to sweep down on Idaho native and Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.

"At some point he will be exposed to the controversy and the media," said Col. Bradley Poppen, an Army psychologist who has worked with Bergdahl. But "we want to titrate that."

Bergdahl touched down on U.S. soil early Friday for the first time in nearly five years of captivity in Afghanistan. Officials at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, said that Bergdahl "appeared just like any sergeant" when he exchanged salutes with commanders. He walked into to Brooke Army Medical Center without assistance.

"We are pleased with his physical state," said Col. Ronald Wool, a gastroenterologist supervising Bergdahl's treatment. "It's a slow decompression, to introduce him slowly to what's been happening over the past five years."

And small things matter right now because Bergdahl, for the first time in years, is able to make some choices, including what he eats.

"Peanut butter is a favorite," Wool said.

Meanwhile, Bergdahl's family is being extremely careful not to make their travel plans public. It is believed that they will see their son sometime in the near future at the San Antonio military medical facility but they're not anxious to make it a media event.

Only two weeks ago, the Bergdahls stood in the White House Rose Garden alongside President Barack Obama to announce the freedom of their son.

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Wednesday, June 11, 2014

UPDATE: Blaine County Commissioner Blasts Media Over Repeated Bergdahl Inquiries

Posted By on Wed, Jun 11, 2014 at 3:49 PM

UPDATE: June 11, 2014, 3 p.m.

Blaine County Commissioners said Wednesday that they have had it up to here with reporters hounding their fellow citizens with questions about Hailey native and U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl.

"They've been answering questions politely and honestly, and hoping for the sake of the family that you all go away," said Blaine County Commissioner Larry Schoen, according the Twin Falls Times-News.

The Twin Falls newspaper reports that Schoen said the people of Hailey "are sick of the attention and will be getting on with their lives now. He said they're tired of being stopped on the street and questioned by reporters."

"We only have wanted to support his family and to see Bowe returned safely to U.S. soil."

Schoen said the public should not "rush to judgment."

"Be patient and allow the military justice process to work," he said.


Blaine County commissioners have announced that they'll be holding a 1 p.m. press conference Wednesday. The lawmakers said the topic will be "the controversy in our community surrounding Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl's return."

The Idaho native and U.S. Army sergeant gained freedom a week and a half ago after five years as the only U.S. military prisoner of war during the war in Afghanistan. Bergdahl's freedom was secured through a controversial swap of five Taliban POWs.

The city of Hailey canceled a welcome-home celebration for Bergdahl following a storm of criticism from critics of the White House's plan to swap prisoners with the Taliban.

Today's press conference is set for the Blaine County Courthouse on First Avenue in Hailey.

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