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26 Dec

News and Analyses, A Foreign Perspective

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Obama blames Republican Congress for stalled efforts to make good on campaign promise, but detainees’ lawyers say fault lies within his administration

guantanamo bay

Lawyers for Guantánamo Bay detainees say 42 of the 94 potentially available for transfer are caught in legal limbo amid state bureaucracy and partisan politics. Photograph: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

Lawyers representing Guantánamo Bay detainees who have been held at the camp in Cuba for up to 14 years without charge or trial have accused President Obama of stalling on his promise to close the military prison.

As the US president enters his final year in office, pressure is mounting on him to stand by his pledge to shut down the detention center by the time he leaves the White House. Numerous defense lawyers working directly with Guantánamo detainees have told the Guardian that they hold Obama and his senior officials personally responsible for the lack of action.

Obama made his vow to close Guantánamo within a year on his second day in the White House in 2009. In recent months, he has stepped up the rhetoric, promising to redouble efforts to close the prison while also heavily criticising the Republican-controlled Congress for blocking moves to transfer prisoners out of the prison to the US mainland.

Anonymous briefings by Pentagon officials have also indicated that the administration is to speed up the process of transfers of detainees. The New York Times reported earlier this month that the defense secretary, Ashton Carter, has approved 17 transfers of lower-level detainees and would try and push them through by the end of January.

But attorneys at the sharp end of representing the detainees are protesting that though the pace is being picked up in reviewing cases, it remains too sluggish to meet the January 2017 deadline. They see Obama’s criticism of Congress as a smokescreen to obscure the fact that a primary source of the current inertia lies not on Capitol Hill but within his own administration……………..

About 10,588 unaccompanied children crossed the US-Mexico border in October and November, more than double who crossed during the same period last year

Texas’s Rio Grande Valley corridor is the busiest border crossing into the United States.

Texas’s Rio Grande Valley corridor is the busiest border crossing into the United States. Photograph: John Moore/Getty Images

The seven children had just crossed the river, shoes still caked with mud, when US border patrol agents stopped them.

The youngest was six, Jon Smith Figueroa Acosta, he said, and he’d made the 2,000-mile journey from Honduras. He did not know to what city or state he was headed, but he had a phone number for his father in the United States.

“Estoy solo,” he said, meaning, “I’m alone.”

It was unclear how long the group had been traveling together, or who had brought them across the Rio Grande. There were two teenage siblings whose mother had sent for them after their elderly grandmother in Honduras could no longer care for them, and two teenage Nicaraguans.

Luis Arias Dubon, 15, said the trip required that he walk through much of Mexico for nearly a month. He left San Pedro Sula, Honduras, when he was threatened by members of the deadly 18th Street gang.

“They tried to force me into the gang,” he said, adding that he was afraid they’d kill him.

The recent spike in the number of unaccompanied minors crossing the border brought US Customs and Border Protection commissioner R Gil Kerlikowske to the Rio Grande Valley sector this month.

“Historically the numbers would not be at the levels we see right now,” Kerlikowske said, while standing in a warehouse where about 20 migrant children rested on large green mattresses, wrapped in reflective plastic blankets. “The concerning part is, are we seeing the new normal?”

A total of 10,588 unaccompanied children crossed the US-Mexico border in October and November, more than double the 5,129 who crossed during the same two months in 2014, federal statistics show. The number of family members crossing together, meanwhile, has nearly tripled, to 12,505. And though the influx began in July, the numbers were slightly higher this fall, a time when colder weather usually drives down the number of migrants crossing…………..

No injuries reported, though about 200 people had been inside the building for a prayer service an hour before the fire started on Christmas day

Crime scene

Members of the mosque told local news station that the facility was only a few years old and well-maintained. Photograph: Alamy

Officials have deemed a fire at a Houston mosque on Friday “suspicious”, as investigators work to determine the cause.

No injuries were reported, though about 200 people had been inside the building for prayer an hour before the fire started around 2.45pm on Christmas day.

A special agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ (ATF) Houston field division, Nicole Strong, told CNN that it was “too soon” to determine what caused the fire at the Savoy Mosque.

Strong said, however, that the fire had “multiple points of origin” and “appears suspicious”.

About 80 firefighters responded to the fire, which also caused smoke damage to a neighboring pharmacy. Prayer on Friday night was held at an alternative venue and will continue to be held in alternative locations until the mosque is repaired………………

Francis praises generosity of countries accepting Syrian refugees, as archbishop of Westminster attacks domestic violence

Religion correspondent

Pope Francis delivers his Christmas Day homily at St Peter’s square in Rome on Friday, where he praises those individuals and countries for their generosity in accepting Syrian refugees. Thousands of people gathered at the Vatican amid tight security, where they underwent airport-style security screening to listen to the Pope’s message and blessings

Pope Francis has praised the generosity of countries which have accepted Syrian refugees and condemned the “monstrous evil” which has forced increasing numbers of people to flee their homes in the Middle East.

Delivering his Christmas Day homily at St Peter’s in Rome amid heavy security, the pontiff said he was praying for an end to human suffering in a world afflicted by war, poverty and extremist attacks.

Francis referred to “brutal acts of terrorism” in Paris in November as well as conflicts in Africa, the Middle East and Ukraine.

“Only God’s mercy can free humanity from the many forms of evil, at times monstrous evil, which selfishness spawns in our midst,” he told worshippers gathered in St Peter’s Square.

Thousands of people underwent airport-style security screening as they entered St Peter’s Square. Police armed with machine guns discreetly patrolled the area. Security around the Vatican has stepped up since the terrorist attacks in Paris last month.

At the end of a year in which more than a million people have sought sanctuary in Europe, Francis asked God to “repay all those, both individuals and states, who generously work to provide assistance and welcome to the numerous migrants and refugees”.

The pope called for “encouragement … to all those fleeing extreme poverty or war, travelling all too often in inhumane conditions and not infrequently at the risk of their lives”.

He praised those who are helping migrants “to build a dignified future for themselves and for their dear ones, and to be integrated in the societies which receive them”.

Pope Francis has praised the generosity of countries which have accepted Syrian refugees and condemned the “monstrous evil” which has forced increasing numbers of people to flee their homes in the Middle East.

Delivering his Christmas Day homily at St Peter’s in Rome amid heavy security, the pontiff said he was praying for an end to human suffering in a world afflicted by war, poverty and extremist attacks.

Francis referred to “brutal acts of terrorism” in Paris in November as well as conflicts in Africa, the Middle East and Ukraine.

“Only God’s mercy can free humanity from the many forms of evil, at times monstrous evil, which selfishness spawns in our midst,” he told worshippers gathered in St Peter’s Square.

Thousands of people underwent airport-style security screening as they entered St Peter’s Square. Police armed with machine guns discreetly patrolled the area. Security around the Vatican has stepped up since the terrorist attacks in Paris last month.

At the end of a year in which more than a million people have sought sanctuary in Europe, Francis asked God to “repay all those, both individuals and states, who generously work to provide assistance and welcome to the numerous migrants and refugees”.

The pope called for “encouragement … to all those fleeing extreme poverty or war, travelling all too often in inhumane conditions and not infrequently at the risk of their lives”.

He praised those who are helping migrants “to build a dignified future for themselves and for their dear ones, and to be integrated in the societies which receive them”…………..

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Opinion

If you look beyond the tumult of sensational headlines and atrocities, there’s a quiet trend of improvement throughout the world

hope

‘The progress that gives rise to hope is real and ongoing.’ Photograph: Frank Rumpenhorst/dpa/Corbis

The year that’s past was a season of fear. Next to the onslaught of anxiety, hope and optimism seem powerless, if not downright foolish. As a motivating force, hope is more fragile, harder to inspire, easier to lose sight of. Fear is a powerful motivator and easy to conjure – but only hope can lead us into a better world.

In 2015, the brutal violence of the Syrian civil war, which gave rise to a wave of refugees on Europe’s doorstep, metastasized into bloody terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino. In the US, fear and xenophobia is now the theme of the Republican presidential primary. Donald Trump led the way, openly appealing to bigotry in his call to bar all Muslims from the US, but the other candidates weren’t far behind.

It’s not just war and bloodshed that stirred up anxiety in the past 12 months. Between global economic stagnation, a ballooning wealth gap, the ebbing of the middle class and the routine spectacle of gun violence, many voters feel as if the tectonic plates are shifting under their feet, breaking up all old certainties, carrying them away from the world they’re used to.

It’s this sense of dislocation and worry for the future that fascist-inflected, rightwing demagogues like Trump exploit by promising a return to an imaginary past era of greatness.

There’s no doubt that fear is a powerful motivator. It’s a primal emotion, easy to stoke, easy to exploit. The specter of losing your home, your job, your country is a visceral image, readily conjured up by a few choice words. Once unleashed, fear quickly turns into anger – and people who are afraid and angry can be counted on not to think calmly, logically or critically. In the throes of emotion, they’re readily convinced to march behind a strongman who vows to protect them whatever the cost…………….

 

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