Monthly Archives: February 2016

As Schengen Crumbles, EU Rallies Demand #SafePassage for Refugees

With global displacement crisis threatening Europe’s open borders project, protesters call for legal and safe routes for those fleeing war

By Deirdre Fulton, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 2-27-2016

In 2016, more than 300 people have died in the Aegean sea alone, says Doctors Without Borders. (Image: @MSF_Sea/Twitter)

In 2016, more than 300 people have died in the Aegean sea alone, says Doctors Without Borders. (Image: @MSF_Sea/Twitter)

With refugees dying by the hundreds and stranded by the thousands, people across the EU and beyond rallied on Saturday for “safe passage.”

“No more bracelets! No more confiscations! No more borders closed!” organizers said in a call-to-action online. Events big and small were planned for 115 cities in 28 countries.

“These people are running away from death,” the statement continued. “We cannot allow them to die in front of our eyes! We cannot allow them to be held in inhumane camps when they came looking for freedom and safety! We cannot watch our Europe fall apart!” Continue reading

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Where do women belong in Indian cities?

While men can be seen hanging around, women are expected to have a purpose for being outdoors. This question must be addressed.

By Asiya Islam. Published 2-26-2016 at openDemocracy

A woman sits in front of her shop near Aligarh. Evonne/Flickr. Some rights reserved.

A woman sits in front of her shop near Aligarh. Evonne/Flickr. Some rights reserved.

Every time I go back to Aligarh, my hometown in India, I see a new eating spot. McDonald’s, KFC, Domino’s and Café Coffee Day are very recent additions to the city. Aligarh, pretty much like Oxford and Cambridge, is primarily a university city although it is also known for lock making and some handicrafts. When I went to the Women’s College, Aligarh Muslim University for my Bachelor’s almost a decade ago, I hung out mostly at the canteens in the college and university and went for lunch to local restaurants. The big city offerings of coffee, fried chicken and burgers were not around then (the closest we got to international cuisine was spicy chowmein which was probably more Indian than Chinese); those were the temptations of Delhi, the metropolis nearest to us. Continue reading

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ACLU Sounds Alarm as Obama Administration Plans Quiet NSA Expansion

“Before we allow them to spread that information further in the government, we need to have a serious conversation about how to protect Americans’ information.”

By Nadia Prupis, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 2-26-2016

The new draft rules would loosen restrictions on what the intelligence community can access, without applying privacy protections, the New York Times reports. (Photo: Digitale Gesellschaft/flickr/cc)

The new draft rules would loosen restrictions on what the intelligence community can access, without applying privacy protections, the New York Times reports. (Photo: Digitale Gesellschaft/flickr/cc)

Civil liberties advocates slammed reports on Friday that the Obama administration is poised to authorize the National Security Agency (NSA) to share more of its private intercepted communications with other U.S. intelligence agencies without expanding privacy protections.

“Before we allow them to spread that information further in the government, we need to have a serious conversation about how to protect Americans’ information,” Alex Abdo, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project, told the New York Times.

The change would loosen restrictions on access to the communications that are collected in mass data sweeps, including emails and phone calls, the Times reported, citing “officials familiar with the deliberations.”

As Times reporter Charlie Savage explains, the new rules would give intelligence agencies access not just to phone calls and emails, but also to “bulk collection of satellite transmissions, communications between foreigners as they cross network switches in the United States, and messages acquired overseas or provided by allies.”

“That also means more officials will be looking at private messages—not only foreigners’ phone calls and emails that have not yet had irrelevant personal information screened out, but also communications to, from, or about Americans that the N.S.A.’s foreign intelligence programs swept in incidentally,” he writes.

The draft rules have yet to be released to the public. Brian P. Hale, a spokesperson for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which oversees the government’s intelligence community, told the Times, “Once these procedures are final and approved, they will be made public to the extent consistent with national security.”

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In FBI versus Apple, government strengthened tech’s hand on privacy

Written by Rahul Telang. Published 2-25-2016 by The Conversation.

The ongoing fight between Apple and the FBI over breaking into the iPhone maker’s encryption system to access a person’s data is becoming an increasingly challenging legal issue.

With a deadline looming, Apple filed court papers explaining why it is refusing to assist the FBI in cracking a password on an iPhone used by one of the suspects in the San Bernardino shooting. CEO Tim Cook has declared he will take the case all the way to the Supreme Court.

The tech company now wants Congress to step in and define what can be reasonably demanded of a private company, though perhaps it should be careful what it wishes for, considering lawmakers have introduced a bill that compels companies to break into a digital device if the government asks.

But there is an irony to this debate. Government once pushed industry to improve personal data privacy and security – now it’s the tech companies who are trumpeting better security. My own research has highlighted this interplay among businesses, users and regulators when comes to data security and privacy.

For consumers, who in coming years will see ever more of their lives take place in the digital realm, this heightened attention on data privacy is a very good thing.

The heart of the case is the phone of a suspect in the San Bernardino shootings. Reuters

The business case for better privacy grows

Not too long ago, everyone seemed to be bemoaning that companies aren’t doing enough to protect customer security and privacy.

The White House, for example, published a widely cited report saying that the lack of online privacy is essentially a market failure. It highlighted that users simply are in no position to control how their data are collected, analyzed and traded. Thus, a market-based approach to privacy will be ineffective, and regulations were necessary to force firms to to protect the security and privacy of consumer data.

The tide seems to have turned. Repeated stories on data breaches and privacy invasion, particularly from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, appears to have heightened users’ attention to security and privacy. Those two attributes have become important enough that companies are finding it profitable to advertise and promote them.

Apple, in particular, has highlighted the security of its products recently and reportedly is doubling down and plans to make it even harder for anyone to crack an iPhone.

Whether it is through its payment software or operating system, Apple has emphasized security and privacy as an important differentiator in its products. Of course, unlike Google or Facebook, Apple does not make money using customer data explicitly. So it may have more incentives than others to incorporate these features. But it competes directly with Android and naturally plays an important role in shaping market expectation on what a product and service should look like.

These features possibly play an even more critical role outside the U.S. where privacy is under threat not only from online marketers and hackers but also from governments. In countries like China, where Apple sells millions of iPhones, these features potentially are very attractive to end users to keep their data private from prying eyes of authorities.

Consumers are demanding more security, something Apple has taken to heart. Reuters

Regulators hum a different tune

It is clear that Apple is offering strong security to its users, so much so that FBI accuses it of using it as a marketing gimmick.

It seems we have come a full circle in the privacy debate. A few years ago, regulators were lamenting how businesses were invading consumers’ privacy, lacked the proper incentives to do so and how markets needed stronger rules to make it happen. Today, some of the same regulators are complaining that products are too secure and firms need to relax it in some special cases.

While the legality of this case will likely play out over time, we as end users can feel better that in at least in some markets, companies are responding to a growing consumer demand for products that more aggressively protect our privacy. Interestingly, Apple’s mobile operating system, iOS, offers security by default and does not require users to “opt-in,” a common option in most other products. Moreover, these features are available to every user, whether they explicitly want it or not, suggesting we may be moving to a world in which privacy is fundamental.

Apple CEO Tim Cook has promised to take the fight all the way to the Supreme Court if he must. Reuters

Data sharing gets complicated

At its core, this debate also points to a larger question over how a public-private partnership should be structured in a cyberworld and how and when a company needs to share details with either the government or possibly with other businesses for the public good.

When Google servers were breached in China in 2010, similar questions arose. United States government agencies wanted access to technical details on the breach so it could investigate the perpetrators more thoroughly to unearth possible espionage attempts by Chinese hackers. The breach appeared to be aimed at learning the identities of Chinese intelligence operatives in the U.S. that were under surveillance.

Information sharing on data breaches and security infiltration is something the government has widely encouraged, last year passing the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act of 2015 to encourage just that.

Unfortunately, various government agencies themselves have become self-interested parties in this game. In particular, the Snowden disclosures revealed that many government agencies conduct extensive surveillance on citizens, which arguably not only undermine our privacy but compromise our entire information security infrastructure.

These agencies, including the FBI in the current case, may have good intentions, but all of this has finally given profit-maximizing companies the right incentives they need to do what the regulators once wanted. Private businesses now have little incentive to get caught up in the bad press that usually follows disclosures like Snowden’s, so it’s no wonder they want to convince their customers that their data are safe and secure, even from the government.

With cybersecurity becoming a tool for government agencies to wage war with other nation-states, it is no surprise that companies want to share less, not more, even with their own governments.

The battle ahead

This case is obviously very specific. I suspect that, in this narrow case, Apple and law enforcement agencies will find a compromise.

But the Apple brand has likely strengthened. In the long run, its loyal customers will reward it for putting them first.

However, this question is not going away anywhere. With the “Internet of things” touted as the next big revolution, more and more devices will capture our very personal data – including our conversations.

This case could be a precedent-setting event that can reshape how our data are stored and managed in the future. But at least for now, some of the companies appear to be – or least say they want to be – on our side in terms protecting our privacy.

About the Author:
 is Professor of Information Systems and Management, Carnegie Mellon University.

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2015: When Global Governments Trampled Human Rights in Name of National Security

Rights ‘are being treated with utter contempt by many governments around the world’

By Andrea Germanos, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 2-24-2016

Protesters in London take part in a November 2015 action to protest a visit by Egypt's president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. (Photo: Alisdare Hickson/flickr/cc)

Protesters in London take part in a November 2015 action to protest a visit by Egypt’s president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. (Photo: Alisdare Hickson/flickr/cc)

Governments worldwide in 2015 capitalized on supposed national security threats to trample over human rights.

That’s Amnesty International’s assessment of global human rights in its latest report.

“Your rights are in jeopardy: they are being treated with utter contempt by many governments around the world,” said Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International. Continue reading

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Trade Officials Promised Exxon That TTIP Will Erase Environmental ‘Obstacles’ Worldwide

EU trade officials soothed the oil giant as it fretted about new regulations popping up in Global South

By Lauren McCauley, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 2-23-2016

The revelations underscore criticisms that trade agreements like the TTIP constitute a "race to the bottom" for environmental, public health, and labor standards. (Photo: Holger Boening/cc/flickr)

The revelations underscore criticisms that trade agreements like the TTIP constitute a “race to the bottom” for environmental, public health, and labor standards. (Photo: Holger Boening/cc/flickr)

Newly released documents show that, in back-room talks, European officials assured ExxonMobil that the pending US-EU trade agreement would force the removal of regulatory “obstacles” worldwide, thus opening up even more countries to exploitation by the fossil fuel empire.

Heavily redacted documents pertaining to an October 2013 meeting, obtained by theGuardian and reported on Tuesday, reveal that then-trade commissioner Karel de Gucht met with two officials from ExxonMobil’s EU and U.S. divisions to address the benefits of the TransAtlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). Continue reading

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Purveyors of Global Violence, US Continues to Lead World Arms Trade

Topping the list of those on the receiving end of these deals are Middle East allies, including Saudi Arabia

By Lauren McCauley, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 2-22-2016

A joint weapons training exercise on how to operate an M67 120mm mortar system with the Royal Saudi Naval Forces and U.S. Marines. (U.S. Marine Corps photos by Gunnery Sgt. Rome M. Lazarus/Released)

A joint weapons training exercise on how to operate an M67 120mm mortar system with the Royal Saudi Naval Forces and U.S. Marines. (U.S. Marine Corps photos by Gunnery Sgt. Rome M. Lazarus/Released)

The U.S. weapons industry continues to lead the world as the greatest supplier of major arms and munitions, according to an authoritative analysis, fueling the global violence and turmoil that has soared to unprecedented levels in recent years.

The report (pdf), put forth by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) on Monday, found that the U.S. continues to dominate the global arms trade, driving 33 percent of total exports between 2011 and 2015. Continue reading

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Turkey: Will the US choose the wrong side of history again?

Turning Turkey into the next Syria has already begun – and the US could play a pivotal role in stopping it

Written by Carol Benedict, Independent Journalist

Historic Armenian church in the Sur district of Diyarbakir destroyed by Turkish army February 21, 2016. Image via Twitter.

Historic Armenian church in the Sur district of Diyarbakir destroyed by Turkish army February 21, 2016. Image via Twitter.

Continued reports coming out of Turkey indicate a dire situation, worsening daily for the civilian population in the southeast region that is predominantly Kurdish. American media still refuse to cover this crisis, leaving most Americans clueless of not only what is wrong in Turkey, but why their own government is now in a precarious situation which has distasteful outcomes regardless the decisions made.

Because the US has a track record of basing policy decisions on oil and strategic military interests, it remains to be seen if they can take the moral high ground in the war against terror, or if they will buckle to the whims of a megalomanic bent on the destruction of the civilian Kurdish population within his own country.

President Erdogan and the Turkish government have taken revenge on the Kurds for their recent gains in the country’s elections in 2015. After winning a representative portion in parliament during the June elections, Erdogan called a snap election in November to take back any gains the Kurds had achieved. Since that time, efforts to decrease the support of his political opponents has resulted in his AKP government waging a literal ground war and extermination campaign against the HDP.

In the middle of last August, the government enacted curfews and sieges in the Kurdish cities, using the discarded peace talks and escalating violence with the PKK as an excuse. They set about destroying Kurdish homes, cemeteries, schools, villages, historical landmarks and art from ancient cultures to dehumanize the Kurds. President Erdogan has stated that this campaign will not end until south east Turkey has been “cleansed” of all “terrorists.”

Official reports from the Turkish press claim all those killed in the SE region of Turkey since August are terrorists. They make this claim by declaring the political party of the Kurds, the HDP, to be a terrorist group because of the simple fact that there are Kurds in the HDP and the PKK is also comprised of Kurds. In their minds, that makes anything Kurdish associated with terror, a just enough reason to massacre all Kurds, effectively beginning a genocide in the SE of Turkey.

The following press release was written by Hişyar Özsoy,  Vice co-Chair for Foreign Affairs, Peoples’ Democratic Party in Ankara.

Don’t let tomorrow be too late for Sur!

The indefinite, round-the-clock curfews that the AKP government has declared in Turkey’s Kurdish provinces since August 16, 2015 continue to deepen the emergency situation that undermines basic human rights and freedoms in the region, including the right to live and personal safety. As of today, curfews have been effective in seven provinces and twenty counties for a total of 395 days. This curfew policy directly and clearly violates imperative provisions of the Constitution of the Republic of Turkey as well as basic principles of international humanitarian law, first and foremost the provisions of Geneva Convention for the protection of civilians in war and conflict zones. The last and most destructive example of systematic violence and massacre threats under the curfew rule occurred in the town of Cizre, Şırnak province, before the eyes of indifferent Turkish and international publics: at least 165 civilians who had taken refuge in the basements of residential buildings amidst military operations were bombarded to death by Turkish security forces.

Whereas the AKP government continues to absolve itself of the responsibility to account for the basics of the civilian massacre in Cizre beyond the cliché of “fighting terror,” we are, once again, terrified by the news that most recently came from Sur district of Diyarbakır, which has been under curfew for the last 78 days, since December 11, 2015. According to local sources and the press, as of February 18th, around 200 people, including children and injured individuals, remain trapped in the basements of residential buildings in Sur district, where armed clashes have been taking place. For the last two days our party officials and members of the parliament have been trying to communicate with the government representatives, demanding official investigation of these claims and the opening of a safe corridor for the transfer of trapped civilians. Yet, all our efforts and demands remain unanswered. We are extremely concerned about the possibility that the massacre in Cizre may be repeated in Sur.

Under these circumstances, we are further concerned about the ongoing silence of the international public against the violence and massacres in Kurdish cities. As the military attacks against the trapped civilians were going on in Cizre, we had told the international public that their silence and indifference was bolstering the AKP government and its security forces in their unlawful and inhumane practices in Kurdish cities. Had the international public raised a powerful voice for the protection of the lives and safety of the trapped civilians in Cizre, perhaps we would not have had hundreds of dead bodies retrieved from beneath the ruins of Cizre today.

Now at the wake of a similar possible tragedy to take place in the Sur district, we are appealing to the international community once again. We are calling on all international institutions, humanitarian organizations and activists to take urgent responsibility and approach the Turkish government without any delay for the termination of curfews and state violence in Kurdish cities, and particularly for the protection of the lives of the civilians that are trapped inside the basements in Sur. Don’t let tomorrow be too late for Sur!

Sur, Turkey: Indefinite 24-hour curfew, over 200,000 in danger. Image via Twitter.

Sur, Turkey: Indefinite 24-hour curfew, over 200,000 in danger. Image via Twitter.

Meanwhile, in the REAL war on terror…

The Kurds in Iraq have an established military force, called the peshmerga, which in Kurdish loosely translates to mean “He who confronts death.” In Iraq, it was the peshmerga forces, working with the US coalition, that were able to repel ISIS in the northern territory of Iraq. It was the peshmerga, together with other Kurdish forces including the PKK, that were able to rescue the Yazidi population held captive on Mount Sinjar in 2014.

In northern Syria, the most successful and fierce ally in the Syrian war against Daesh (ISIS) has been the YPG/YPJ forces. The YPG (men) and YPJ (women) are Kurdish forces in Rojava, the Kurdish name for northern Syria. Their ongoing campaign against Daesh has taken back cities and territory the terrorist group had occupied. It was a direct result of their actions that the city of Kobane did not fall to Daesh a little more than a year ago. They are also helping refugees fleeing the area around Aleppo, where the war in Syria has worsened since Russia has joined the air campaign of bombing and shelling.

As these Kurdish forces continue to win against ISIS and work with the US coalition forces, Turkey has begun shelling and bombarding them. The AKP recently labeled the YPG/YPJ forces as terrorist organizations to justify their actions and President Erdogan has challenged the US to pick a side in this particular battle.

A History NOT worth repeating

The US government has befriended – and then de-friended – the Kurds in 3 past  interactions.

Writer Rick Noack in an August, 2014 article in The Washington Post, points out the US history of betrayal regarding the Kurds;

1972/1973 –  Iraq’s Ba’ath party has become a threat in the eyes of the U.S. government. President Nixon and Iran’s shah begin to fund the Kurdish pesh merga guerrillas and support their claims for autonomy. In 1972, Saddam Hussein had signed a “Friendship and Cooperation” treaty with the USSR.

1975 – After the surprising Algiers Agreement between Iran and Iraq is reached, the U.S. stops its support for the Kurdish rebels which causes the fragmentation of the opposition and an increased vulnerability to Saddam Hussein’s renewed attacks. While he exacts brutal revenge on the Kurds (including a catastrophic chemical weapons attack in 1988 that kills thousands) the U.S. breaks off all official relations to the opposition it previously backed.

1990 – Iraq occupies Kuwait, prompting the First Gulf War, which ends the alienation between the U.S. and the Kurds that had lasted for more than a decade. Iraq is defeated in Kuwait, but a subsequent uprising of Shiite Iraqis and Kurds (Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath party is primarily seen as Sunni-supported) fails to gain U.S. support. The uprising is unsuccessful but Kurdish areas receive greater autonomy in 1991 when a ‘safe haven’ is set up by the UN. A U.S.-backed opposition group called Iraqi National Congress will be based in Kurdistan in the following years. However, inner-Kurdish cleavages emerge.

1996 – As a result of these rivalries, the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP)  attacks the Iraqi National Congress in Erbil with the help of Saddam’s army. Many rebel fighters are captured and executed by the attackers after the U.S. refuses to provide air support.

2003 – The U.S. invasion of Iraq results in cooperation between the two main Kurdish adversaries, the KDP and the PUK.  Kurdish forces fight alongside U.S. troops against Saddam’s government.

2005 – A regional Kurdish parliament is formed. Soon afterwards, oil discoveries lead to a fear within Iraq’s central government in Baghdad that the Kurdish autonomous region could try to secede. Furthermore, tensions between Turkey and Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq arise and provoke clashes. Turkey’s tough measures against its own Kurdish population extend over the border into Iraq.

In a recent telephone conversation between President Obama and President Erdogan, Obama “emphasized the unwavering commitment of the United States to Turkey’s national security as a NATO Ally.  The two leaders expressed their support for the understanding reached in Munich last week on the cessation of hostilities in Syria and called on Russia and the Assad regime to halt airstrikes against moderate opposition forces.  The leaders pledged to deepen cooperation in the fight against all forms of terrorism, including the PKK, and reiterated their shared goal of degrading and ultimately destroying ISIL.” (emphasis added by OWW)

Words between world powers matter. America’s presence in the Middle East is fraught with resentment, hatred and bitterness based on the double standards, back room deals and treachery we have a demonstrated track history of waging. In our rush to defeat Daesh, we are willing to sacrifice innocent civilians and trample on human rights, so long as another world leader does it too.

After being on the wrong side of history on more than one occasion in the ME, it is time for Americans to force our policy makers to base decisions on the right reasons: humanity deserves no less.

Enough greed, power and capitalism has guided our decisions far too long, and we will no longer allow our military and foreign aid money to be used for the purposes of a genocide against the civilian Kurdish population within and around Turkey. Erdogan’s hatred is not our hatred, and we refuse to acquiesce to the notion that Kurds are terrorists because Erdogan says they are.

We encourage each of you as individuals to call, write or occupy the offices of your elected officials until they listen to these concerns.

  • We must demand that weaponry and ammunition sales to Turkey be halted until the war inside Turkey has ended and all sieges and curfews in all Kurdish cities have been lifted.
  • We must demand that the US continue viewing the YPG/YPJ as an important ally in the war against terror, and pledge to not turn our backs on them as Turkey demands we do.
  • We must demand humanitarian and human rights observers be allowed into SE Turkey’s Diyarbikir region until a reasonable stability has been restored to the civilian population of the area.

In addition, we strongly encourage you to support a Vigil for King’s Dream in Kurdistan, a peace vigil taking place in Washington, DC, across the street from the Turkish Embassy. After 35 days of presence in Washington, the Turkish Embassy has responded with misrepresentative signs and personal insults, but no invitation to talk with anyone from the group of Kurds and Americans calling for hostilities in Turkey to cease. You can learn more about the vigil or make contributions to it by visiting this website.

Occupy World Writes will be sending one of our co-founders to visit the vigil in Washington DC during March. Those of you who live in and around the DC area are encouraged to visit in person, as well as spread the word via social network and other means.

About the Author:
Carol Benedict is an independent researcher studying Kurdish history, culture and politics. She is also a human rights activist and advocate. She earned her BA in Mass Communication from the University of Minnesota, Winona and graduated with honors.

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Supreme Court Quietly Denies North Carolina Redistricting Delay

Congressional districts must be redrawn, delaying elections for months. ‘What a mess in North Carolina,’ writes voting rights expert.

By Nadia Prupis, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 2-20-2016

A lower court ruling issued earlier this month will be left intact and elections in the state's 1st and 12th districts, both majority black, will be paused until new maps are approved. (Photo: Matt Wade/flickr/cc)

A lower court ruling issued earlier this month will be left intact and elections in the state’s 1st and 12th districts, both majority black, will be paused until new maps are approved. (Photo: Matt Wade/flickr/cc)

Late Friday night, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to stay a ruling that ordered two North Carolina congressional districts to be redrawn.

According to the Raleigh News & Observer, that means a lower court ruling issued earlier this month will be left intact and elections in the state’s 1st and 12th districts, both majority black, will be paused until new maps are approved.

The order, which is one of the first significant actions the court has taken since the death of Justice Antonin Scalia last week, was issued in a one-line ruling with little explanation. Lyle Denniston at SCOTUSBlog reports: Continue reading

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Albert Woodfox Free: Last of Angola 3, Who Spent Decades in Solitary, Released

His ‘release is long overdue and undeniably just’

By Andrea Germanos, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 2-19-2016

Albert Woodfox. (Photo: Angola3.org)

Albert Woodfox. (Photo: Angola3.org)

Albert Woodfox, the last of the men known as the Angola 3, was released from a Louisiana prison on Friday.

He had spent over four decades in solitary confinement at the notorious Louisiana State Penitentiary known as “Angola.”

WBRZ Reporter Michael Vinsanau tweeted this photo of Woodfox as he walked out of prison: Continue reading

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