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Africa: A Dump Site for Global Toxic Waste?

 The use of Africa as a dumping site for hazardous waste from industrialized nations is an old news. The issue resurfaced again some weeks ago in Ivory Coast.

Very few African blogs covered this, I could find just a handful on google search. This is one issue the African blogosphere flunked bigtime!

A recap of recent toxic garbage that found some cheap sites in Africa:

International agencies "have confirmed 400 tonnes of gasoline residue were dumped at between 10 and 14 sites in Abidjan on the 19 and 20 August."-- IRIN News.org, (2006).

The same ship attempted to dump this waste in Amsterdam, a month earlier, according to the CNN.

"...Large quantities of obsolete computers, televisions, mobile phones, and other used electronic equipment exported from USA and Europe to Lagos, Nigeria for "re-use and repair" are ending up gathering dust in warehouses or being dumped and burned near residences in empty lots..." -- University of Texas (2005).

"Around 50 thousand tonnes of pesticides have ended up in Africa - 270 tonnes of which are stored in Mali, one of the continents poorest countries..." -- WWF, an independent conservation agency (2004).

"Two Italian ships will be sent to retrieve several tons of unspecified toxic waste left in Koko, a Nigerian port...Nigeria said hundreds of drums of toxic waste have been illegally shipped from Italy to Koko. The Italian company that shipped the waste said the delivery was authorized." -- New York Times (1988).

"During the Somali civil war hazardous waste was dumped in this
African nation by industrialized countries. The alleged
perpetrators were Italian and Swiss firms..." -- TED Case studies #64

Guernica Chemicals, a British company in South Africa received "thousands of tonnes of chemical waste in the 1980s and early 1990s from the United States and European companies, including American Cyanamid and Borden Chemicals, to be reprocessed. All that remains of the facility, since the South African government forced the company to stop operations in 1994, are rusty and corroded machinery." -- Afrol News

The Basel Convention, an internation treaty is "devoted to setting up a framework for controlling the 'transboundary' movements of hazardous wastes, that is, the movement of hazardous wastes across international frontiers"; however, Afghanistan, Haiti, United States of America have not ratified it. While the U.S isn't the sole source of toxic waste, its failure to ratify the treaty speaks volume to its orientation toward toxic waste traffiking.

Slate, an American online magazine states "in the United States the story has been largely relegated to tiny squibs in the "World Briefs" sections of newspapers - if it has been covered at all."

I wouldn't bother ranting any more, the excerpts listed above say it all: the admixture of poverty and ignorance is lethal!


Tag: Toxic Waste Ivory Coast Cote d Ivorie Africa Basel Convention

Saddam is Hanged for His Crimes: Who will Hang Bush/Blair for Theirs?


Global Research, January 2, 2007
 
 

A kangaroo court (the so-called High Iraqi Tribunal) had sentenced Saddam Hussein, his half-brother Barzan Ibrahim, and the former chief justice of the Revolutionary Court Awad Hamed Al-Bandar to be hanged within 30 days. Yet the US administration, in a rash decision, pressured the Al-Maliki  government to hang Saddam on Saturday the 30th of December, the first day of Islamic religious Addha holiday, in a blatant violation of the religious beliefs and laws of all Islamic countries, which ban the execution of any criminal during this holiday. The hanging also violated the Christian spirit of Christmas, and the Iraqi constitution penned down by Bremer. It exhibited spirit of vengeance. Sparing the life of Ibrahim and Al-Bandar clearly shows that Saddam’s hanging was intent on demonizing Muslims in Iraq and around the World as well as inciting increased sectarian violence within Iraq.

Saddam’s death sentence was decided a long time ago, in the late 1980’s when he refused to open up Iraqi assets (and oil reserves) to Western corporations, when he invaded Kuwait, and when he subsequently took the decision to convert Iraq’s reserve funds from Dollars into Euros.

Several assassination attempts had been planned, but failed miserably. The failed Dujail assassination attempt was one of such attempts, which resulted in the execution of 148 Shiites. Finally under the lies of alleged possession of WMD, "the freeing of Iraqis", and the "spreading of  American democracy" British and American forces invaded Iraq in 2003. 

Saddam was originally a CIA asset, recruited to assassinate the previous Iraqi president Abdel-Karim Qassem, who started taxing British and US oil companies as a first step in an attempt to nationalize Iraq’s oil resources. After failing to assassinate Qassem, and being wounded in the process, Saddam escaped to Egypt, where he routinely visited the US embassy in Cairo.

Later when the CIA was able to topple Qassam’s presidency, Saddam was sent back to Iraq to take on the position of  Head of National Security. He later became president with the backing of the US. Saddam installed as head of State to prevent the nationalization of Iraq's oil industry as well as to quell the Arab Nationalist Movement in Iraq, integrated by Shi’a, Kurdish and Sunni Iraqis.

In the wake of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, Saddam was pressured by Washington to wage war on Iran. Kissinger’s famous statement "let them kill each other" describes the real nature of this eight years' war. The US administration supported both sides. It provided Saddam with weapons and intelligence, while also covertly supporting Iran. The US military industrial complex profited tremendously from the Iraq-Iran war.

The Arab Gulf rulers supported Saddam and handed him the necessary money to pay for his war against Iran. When the war was over Kuwait refused to forgive Saddam’s wartime debt. It also opposed to increase the price of oil, as Saddam had proposed in OPEC with a view to financing  Iraq's war debts. This confrontation ultimately led to the invasion of Kuwait and the 1991 Gulf War I carpet bombing of withdrawing Iraqi troops. Although it was possible to topple Saddam’s regime at that time, the US adminstration feared this would break their alliance with the frontline Arab states.

There is no question that Saddam was a ruthless dictator, like most of the Arab rulers, who were handed their political positions after WWII to keep the Arab World divided and separated, and to subdue their people. Yet with all his ruthlessness and despotic rule he enjoyed public support  for the political positions he took. He built Iraq into the most technologically advanced Arab country. Next to the Palestinians, Iraqis were the most educated in the Arab world. Primary education was compulsory, higher education was free. Women's rights progressed in the context of secular Muslim state. Unlike the rest of the Arab rulers, the Iraqi government provided real homes rather than dirty refugee camps for Palestinian refugees. He also sent money to Palestinian fighters resisting Israeli occupation. Besides his support to Palestinians, Saddam stood defiant towards Israel, the US and Iran; he dispatched Iraqi tanks to protect Syria from Israeli attacks, gave Jordan support in the form of monetary and oil grants, resisted US demands in the wake of the Gulf War.  

Although Saddam was ruthless towards any form of political opposition, much like most Arab rulers, whose crimes and tortures have not yet been exposed, his government, nonetheless, provided for the average Iraqi citizen.  

The Hussein regime formally provided "security and safety" where people could walk the streets without fear of crimes.

The government also provided food rations while under the US sponsored sanctions regime following Gulf War I. Within a few months after the end of the first Gulf War, the Hussein government started rebuilding Iraq's civilian infrastructure, which had been destroyed by US bombings. This included roads and bridges, power stations, water desalination facilities, educational centers, and governmental services.

Saddam was tried by a kangaroo Iraqi Special Tribunal, whose judges had been specially assigned by the US military authorities.  Its judges had been changed few times, and several of Saddam’s lawyers were assassinated. This Tribunal convicted Saddam for crimes allegedly perpetrated in Dujail against 148 Iraqis, who were originally tried and sentenced to death by a legal Iraqi court for their alleged assassination attempt against president Saddam. The Tribunal overlooked Saddam’s other more severe crimes, often perpetrated in cooperation with successive US administrations, which supplied his regime with weapons and intelligence.

Bush/Blair War Crimes

There can be no double standards in assessing war crimes. Hanging should also be the sentence for Bush and Blair, for:

1. causing the death of almost 700 thousands mostly civilian Iraqis during the last three years of US occupation, the destruction of all Iraqi civilian infrastructures,

2. the collapse of all civilian services,

3. triggering the departure into several hundred thousand Iraqis,  fleeing Iraq and becoming refugees in foreign countries,

4. the bombings of various religious shrines,

5. the tearing of the Iraqi social fabric and the incitment of civil war,

6. the theft of Iraqi’s oil national resources,

7. the looting of cultural treasures,

8. the massacre of civilians including women and children,

9. the use of illegal weapons, such as depleted uranium and phosphorus bombs, against whole cities and the burying thousands of victims in massive graveyards,

10. the nightly raids against civilian homes and the kidnapping of people including women and children,

11. the spreading of terror, insecurity and chaos within cities,

12. the imprisonment of thousands of innocent people in massive encampments, torturing, humiliating, raping, and murdering of innocent civilian prisoners, and many other war crimes.

The invasion of Iraq, in itself, is a war crime. The invasion was based on  lies and fabrications; Iraq did not have WMD, did not support terrorists, and did not pose any threat to its neighboring countries or to the Western world as claimed by the US administration. 

"Freeing Iraqis" and "spreading American democracy" were the underlying falsehoods used to justify a terrorist war against Iraq. and its population. The UN Secretary Kofi Annan, in his resignation speech, called the war on Iraq an "illegal act that contravened the UN charter", thus making the war a supreme international crime. Annan also declared that Iraq under the rule of dictator Saddam was much better off than under the American democracy.

Bush and Blair. waged an illegal war, with a view to steeling Iraqis natural resources including its extensive oil reserves. They, and their administrations, caused the deaths of almost a million people within a period of three years.

They had caused the destruction of a whole country. They spread terror not only in Iraq but in the entire Middle Eastern region. They legalized torture, rape, and murder of prisoners.

They kidnapped citizens of other nations and sent them to be tortured in prisons scattered around the world.

They not only terrorized and caused the deaths of citizens of other nations, they also terrorized their own citizens, 
 
They derogated their human and civil rights through imposing draconian laws such as the Patriot Act,

They legalized surveillance and ethnic profiling, the imprisoned their own citizens, based on ethnic on religious background labeling them "foreign combatants', trying them with undisclosed evidence, terrorizing their citizens with imaginary enemies.

They sent their young men and women to fight an illegal war in iraq and Afghanistan..

They dramatically curtailed all types of social services, while channelling tax dollars to the military industrial complex. 

Billions of dollars from the public purse, financed by tax payers, allegedly designated to financing "postwar reconstruction" and "spreading American democracy", were channelled into the bank accounts of large corporations such as Halliburton and  Bechtel.  

Saddam Hussein was hanged on the orders of a US sponsored Kangaroo court. Who has the authority to hang Bush, Blair and company for their crimes?

Dr. Elias Akleh is an Arab writer of Palestinian descent, born in the town of Beit-Jala. Currently he lives in the US.


 Articles by Elias Akleh
 

Israel desperately seeks war with Iran
With Saddam out of the way, israel throws all its weight into jumpstarting a war with Iran.


In a stark statement published on Saturday Brigadier General Oded Tira observed, "President Bush lacks the political power to attack Iran. As an American strike in Iran is essential for our existence, we must help him pave the way by lobbying the Democratic Party (which is conducting itself foolishly) and US newspaper editors.

We need to do this in order to turn the Iranian issue to a bipartisan one and unrelated to the Iraq failure."

Because of the dramatic loss of political power of the Bush-Cheney administration, General Tira urges the Israel Lobby to, "turn to Hillary Clinton and other potential presidential candidates in the Democratic Party so that they support immediate action by Bush against Iran."

In another move designed to strengthen Bush politically, General Tira urges the Israel Lobby to exert its influence on European countries so that, "Bush will not be isolated in the international arena again."

As if all of that Israel-lobbying in America and Europe were not enough, General Tira proposes an even more aggressive political tactic, "We must clandestinely cooperate with Saudi Arabia so that it also persuades the US to strike Iran.

For our part, we must prepare an independent military strike by coordinating flights in Iraqi airspace with the US.

We should also coordinate with Azerbaijan the use of airbases in its territory and also enlist the support of the Azeri minority in Iran.

In addition, we must immediately start preparing for an Iranian response to an attack."

Based on the urgency of General Tira's extraordinary pleas, it is immediately apparent that he has been shocked by the turn of political events inside America.

By this time, he has learned from official US sources that the long-anticipated attack against Iran has been shelved because of tectonic shifts in American politics.

Apparently, General Tira did not realize that President Bush has become the most deeply unpopular president in American history and that it was his subservience to the dictates of the Israel Lobby and its demands for wars against Iraq and Iran that led him into the political prison where he now finds himself isolated and impotent.

Neither does General Tira realize that the Republican Party is no longer unified in its support of President Bush's deeply unpopular war in Iraq or his plans for expanding the war by a sustained bombing campaign against Iran. Since General Tira did not publish any remarks about the Iraq Study Group headed by former US Secretary of State, James Baker, he may be oblivious to the political facts now in place in 2007 America.

Instead of the bipartisan commitment to broaden Bush's unpopular war as General Tira proposes, there is now a broadening bipartisan movement to reign in the US losses in Iraq. No major American politician has voiced any enthusiasm for broadening Bush's war into Iran as General Tira beseeches the US to do.

General Tira's outburst suggests that the official channels for news and the analysis of public affairs in Israel are not working as efficiently as they should in the 21st century. Perhaps, someone should provide the General with a subscription to Ha'aretz and the International Herald Tribune for starters.

---------------

Michael Carmichael is Chairman & Chief Executive Officer, The Planetary Movement, Oxford, United Kingdom


Expect a ruthless last ditch attempt by israel to plunge the world headlong into war.

Click here to watch the video

Olbermann: Special comment about ‘sacrifice’
BBC reports Bush will reveal troop surge plan in sacrifice-themed speech
SPECIAL COMMENT
By Keith Olbermann
Anchor, 'Countdown'
MSNBC
Updated: 10:16 a.m. ET Jan 3, 2007

If in your presence an individual tried to sacrifice an American serviceman or woman, would you intervene?

Would you at least protest?

What if he had already sacrificed 3,003 of them?

What if he had already sacrificed 3,003 of them — and was then to announce his intention to sacrifice hundreds, maybe thousands, more?

This is where we stand tonight with the BBC report of President Bush’s “new Iraq strategy,” and his impending speech to the nation, which, according to a quoted senior American official, will be about troop increases and “sacrifice.”

The president has delayed, dawdled and deferred for the month since the release of the Iraq Study Group.

He has seemingly heard out everybody, and listened to none of them.

If the BBC is right — and we can only pray it is not — he has settled on the only solution all the true experts agree cannot possibly work: more American personnel in Iraq, not as trainers for Iraqi troops, but as part of some flabby plan for “sacrifice.”

Sacrifice!

More American servicemen and women will have their lives risked.

More American servicemen and women will have their lives ended.

More American families will have to bear the unbearable and rationalize the unforgivable —“sacrifice” — sacrifice now, sacrifice tomorrow, sacrifice forever.

And more Americans — more even than the two-thirds who already believe we need fewer troops in Iraq, not more — will have to conclude the president does not have any idea what he’s doing — and that other Americans will have to die for that reason.

It must now be branded as propaganda — for even the president cannot truly feel that very many people still believe him to be competent in this area, let alone “the decider.”

But from our impeccable reporter at the Pentagon, Jim Miklaszewski, tonight comes confirmation of something called “surge and accelerate” — as many as 20,000 additional troops —f or “political purposes” ...

This, in line with what we had previously heard, that this will be proclaimed a short-term measure, for the stated purpose of increasing security in and around Baghdad, and giving an Iraqi government a chance to establish some kind of order.

This is palpable nonsense, Mr. Bush.

If this is your intention — if the centerpiece of your announcement next week will be “sacrifice” — sacrifice your intention, not more American lives!

As Sen. Joseph Biden has pointed out, the new troops might improve the ratio our forces face relative to those living in Baghdad (friend and foe), from 200 to 1, to just 100 to 1.

“Sacrifice?”

No.

A drop in the bucket.

The additional men and women you have sentenced to go there, sir, will serve only as targets.

They will not be there “short-term,” Mr. Bush; for many it will mean a year or more in death’s shadow.

This is not temporary, Mr. Bush.

For the Americans who will die because of you, it will be as permanent as it gets.

The various rationales for what Mr. Bush will reportedly re-christen “sacrifice” constitute a very thin gruel, indeed.

The former labor secretary, Robert Reich, says Sen. John McCain told him that the “surge” would help the “morale” of the troops already in Iraq.

If Mr. McCain truly said that, and truly believes it, he has either forgotten completely his own experience in Vietnam ... or he is unaware of the recent Military Times poll indicating only 38 percent of our active military want to see more troops sent ... or Mr. McCain has departed from reality.

Then there is the argument that to take any steps toward reducing troop numbers would show weakness to the enemy in Iraq, or to the terrorists around the world.

This simplistic logic ignores the inescapable fact that we have indeed already showed weakness to the enemy, and to the terrorists.

We have shown them that we will let our own people be killed for no good reason.

We have now shown them that we will continue to do so.

We have shown them our stupidity.

Mr. Bush, your judgment about Iraq — and now about “sacrifice” — is at variance with your people’s, to the point of delusion.

Your most respected generals see no value in a “surge” — they could not possibly see it in this madness of “sacrifice.”

The Iraq Study Group told you it would be a mistake.

Perhaps dozens more have told you it would be a mistake.

And you threw their wisdom back, until you finally heard what you wanted to hear, like some child drawing straws and then saying “best two out of three … best three out of five … hundredth one counts.”

Your citizens, the people for whom you work, have told you they do not want this, and moreover, they do not want you to do this.

Yet once again, sir, you have ignored all of us.

Mr. Bush, you do not own this country!

To those Republicans who have not broken free from the slavery of partisanship — those bonded still, to this president and this administration, and now bonded to this “sacrifice” —proceed at your own peril.

John McCain may still hear the applause of small crowds — he has somehow inured himself to the hypocrisy, and the tragedy, of a man who considers himself the ultimate realist, courting the votes of those who support the government telling visitors to the Grand Canyon that it was caused by the Great Flood.

That Mr. McCain is selling himself off to the irrational right, parcel by parcel, like some great landowner facing bankruptcy, seems to be obvious to everybody but himself.

Or, maybe it is obvious to him and he simply no longer cares.

But to the rest of you in the Republican Party:

We need you to speak up, right now, in defense of your country’s most precious assets — the lives of its citizens who are in harm’s way.

If you do not, you are not serving this nation’s interests — nor your own.

November should have told you this.

The opening of the new Congress on Wednesday and Thursday should tell you this.

Next time, those missing Republicans will be you.

And to the Democrats now yoked to the helm of this sinking ship, you proceed at your own peril, as well.

President Bush may not be very good at reality, but he and Mr. Cheney and Mr. Rove are still gifted at letting American troops be killed, and then turning their deaths to their own political advantage.

The equation is simple. This country does not want more troops in Iraq.

It wants fewer.

Go and make it happen, or go and look for other work.

Yet you Democrats must assume that even if you take the most obvious of courses, and cut off funding for the war, Mr. Bush will ignore you as long as possible, or will find the money elsewhere, or will spend the money meant to protect the troops, and re-purpose it to keep as many troops there as long as he can keep them there.

Because that’s what this is all about, is it not, Mr. Bush?

That is what this “sacrifice” has been for.

To continue this senseless, endless war.

You have dressed it up in the clothing, first of a hunt for weapons of mass destruction, then of liberation ... then of regional imperative ... then of oil prices ... and now in these new terms of “sacrifice” — it’s like a damned game of Colorforms, isn’t it, sir?

This senseless, endless war.

But — it has not been senseless in two ways.

It has succeeded, Mr. Bush, in enabling you to deaden the collective mind of this country to the pointlessness of endless war, against the wrong people, in the wrong place, at the wrong time.

It has gotten many of us used to the idea — the virtual “white noise” — of conflict far away, of the deaths of young Americans, of vague “sacrifice” for some fluid cause, too complicated to be interpreted except in terms of the very important-sounding but ultimately meaningless phrase “the war on terror.”

And the war’s second accomplishment — your second accomplishment, sir — is to have taken money out of the pockets of every American, even out of the pockets of the dead soldiers on the battlefield, and their families, and to have given that money to the war profiteers.

Because if you sell the Army a thousand Humvees, you can’t sell them any more until the first thousand have been destroyed.

The service men and women are ancillary to the equation.    

This is about the planned obsolescence of ordnance, isn’t, Mr. Bush? And the building of detention centers? And the design of a $125 million courtroom complex at Gitmo, complete with restaurants.

At least the war profiteers have made their money, sir.

And we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain.

You have insisted, Mr. Bush, that we must not lose in Iraq, that if we don’t fight them there we will fight them here — as if the corollary were somehow true, that if by fighting them there we will not have to fight them here.

And yet you have re-made our country, and not re-made it for the better, on the premise that we need to be ready to “fight them here,” anyway, and always.

In point of fact even if the civil war in Iraq somehow ended tomorrow, and the risk to Americans there ended with it, we would have already suffered a defeat — not fatal, not world-changing, not, but for the lives lost, of enduring consequence.

But this country has already lost in Iraq, sir.

Your policy in Iraq has already had its crushing impact on our safety here.

You have already fomented new terrorism and new terrorists.

You have already stoked paranoia.

You have already pitted Americans, one against the other.

We ... will have to live with it.

We ... will have to live with what — of the fabric of our nation — you have already “sacrificed.”

The only object still admissible in this debate is the quickest and safest exit for our people there.

But you — and soon, Mr. Bush, it will be you and you alone — still insist otherwise.

And our sons and daughters and fathers and mothers will be sacrificed there tonight, sir, so that you can say you did not “lose in Iraq.”

Our policy in Iraq has been criticized for being indescribable, for being inscrutable, for being ineffable.

But it is all too easily understood now.

First we sent Americans to their deaths for your lie, Mr. Bush.

Now we are sending them to their deaths for your ego.

If what is reported is true — if your decision is made and the “sacrifice” is ordered — take a page instead from the man at whose funeral you so eloquently spoke this morning — Gerald Ford:

Put pragmatism and the healing of a nation ahead of some kind of misguided vision.

Atone.

Sacrifice, Mr. Bush?

No, sir, this is not “sacrifice.” This has now become “human sacrifice.”

And it must stop.

And you can stop it.

Next week, make us all look wrong.

Our meaningless sacrifice in Iraq must stop.

And you must stop it.

© 2006 MSNBC Interactive

Mexico offers satnav to illegals crossing into the US

Justin Stares

Would-be illegal immigrants planning to cross the desert and enter the United States on foot are to be given hand-held satellite devices by the Mexican authorities to ensure they arrive safely.

Those who get lost or fall sick during the dangerous four-day crossing will be able to activate the device, to alert frontier police on both sides of the border.

The satellite tracking service will require would-be illegals to register their intentions before setting off - a paradoxical move, given that secrecy is necessary for success - but Mexican authorities are predicting that about 200,000 devices will be handed out when the project is launched formally in the coming year.

"Our intention is to save lives," said Jaime Obregon, the coordinator for the state commission for migrants in Puebla, the Mexican state which is behind the project. "There are lots of people looking to cross and we are working with the US authorities to make sure they do not die on the way."

Between 20 and 30 migrants succumb to hellish temperatures and insect bites while trying to cross into Arizona every year. Heat exhaustion sometimes causes short-term memory loss, with trekkers wandering into the desert.

The route into Arizona, known as the Sasave Pass, is both the most common and the most dangerous way into the United States. According to Mexican state migrant authorities, up to 75,000 try the crossing every month, of whom 50,000 to 60,000 are caught by US border patrols and sent back.

The chance of success depends greatly on the knowledge of the guide, known as a "coyote" or "desert fox." They charge US$2,000 (HK$15,600) to US$10,000 per person.

Coyotes are merciless if a member of their pack lags behind. "If you cannot keep up they will abandon you." Obregon said. "Alone, you have about 36 hours to live. It is in this period the satellite device makes a difference."

A spokesman for US Customs and Border Protection said: "We do not have any information about the Mexican government providing satellite trackers to people, but we strongly discourage encouragement to people who are attempting to cross illegally into the United States."

 

The Private Arm of the Law

Some Question the Granting of Police Power to Security Firms

By Amy GoldsteinWashington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 2, 2007; Page A04

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Kevin Watt crouched down to search the rusted Cadillac he had stopped for cruising the parking lot of a Raleigh apartment complex with a broken light. He pulled out two open Bud Light cans, an empty Corona bottle, rolling papers, a knife, a hammer, a stereo speaker, and a car radio with wires sprouting out.

"Who's this belong to, man?" Watt asked the six young Latino men he had frisked and lined up behind the car. Five were too young to drink. None had a driver's license. One had under his hooded sweat shirt the tattoo of a Hispanic gang across his back.

A gang initiation, Watt thought.

With the sleeve patch on his black shirt, the 9mm gun on his hip and the blue light on his patrol car, he looked like an ordinary police officer as he stopped the car on a Friday night last month. Watt works, though, for a business called Capitol Special Police. It is one of dozens of private security companies given police powers by the state of North Carolina -- and part of a pattern across the United States in which public safety is shifting into private hands.

Private firms with outright police powers have been proliferating in some places -- and trying to expand their terrain. The "company police agencies," as businesses such as Capitol Special Police are called here, are lobbying the state legislature to broaden their jurisdiction, currently limited to the private property of those who hire them, to adjacent streets. Elsewhere -- including wealthy gated communities in South Florida and the Tri-Rail commuter trains between Miami and West Palm Beach -- private security patrols without police authority carry weapons, sometimes dress like SWAT teams and make citizen's arrests.

Private security guards have outnumbered police officers since the 1980s, predating the heightened concern about security brought on by the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. What is new is that police forces, including the Durham Police Department here in North Carolina's Research Triangle, are increasingly turning to private companies for help. Moreover, private-sector security is expanding into spheres -- complex criminal investigations and patrols of downtown districts and residential neighborhoods -- that used to be the province of law enforcement agencies alone.

The more than 1 million contract security officers, and an equal number of guards estimated to work directly for U.S. corporations, dwarf the nearly 700,000 sworn law enforcement officers in the United States. The enormous Wackenhut Corp. guards the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia and screens visitors to the Statue of Liberty.

"You can see the public police becoming like the public health system," said Thomas M. Seamon, a former deputy police commissioner for Philadelphia who is president of Hallcrest Systems Inc., a leading security consultant. "It's basically, the government provides a certain base level. If you want more than that, you pay for it yourself."

The trend is triggering debate over whether the privatization of public safety is wise. Some police and many security officials say communities benefit from the extra eyes and ears. Yet civil libertarians, academics, tenants rights organizations and even a trade group that represents the nation's large security firms say some private security officers are not adequately trained or regulated. Ten states in the South and West do not regulate them at all.

Some warn, too, that the constitutional safeguards that cover police questioning and searches do not apply in the private sector. In Boston, tenants groups have complained that "special police," hired by property managers to keep low-income apartment complexes orderly, were overstepping their bounds, arresting young men who lived there for trespassing.

In 2005, three of the private officers were charged with assault after they approached a man talking on a cellphone outside his front door. They asked for identification and, when he refused, followed him inside and beat him in front of his wife and three children.

Lisa Thurau-Gray, director of the Juvenile Justice Center at Suffolk University Law School in Boston, said private police "are focusing on the priority of their employer, rather than the priority of public safety and individual rights." But Boston police Sgt. Raymond Mosher, who oversees licensing of special police, says such instances are rare.


Private police officers "do some tremendously good things," Mosher said, recalling one who chased down a teenager running with a loaded gun.

In Durham, after shootings on city buses, the transit authority hired Wackenhut Corp. police to work in the main terminal in tandem with city police officers stationed on buses.

"There is a limit to the amount of law enforcement you can expect taxpayers to support," said Ron Hodge, Durham's deputy police chief, who said some of his requests for additional officers have been turned down in recent years. Although, as in most cities, some Durham police work privately while they are off-duty, Hodge said the demand for off-duty police outstrips the supply.

In one of the country's most ambitious collaborations, the Minneapolis Police Department three years ago started a project called "SafeZone" with private security officers downtown, estimated to outnumber the police there 13 to 1. Target Corp. and other local companies paid for a wireless video camera system in downtown office buildings that is shared with the police. The police department created a shared radio frequency. So far, the department has trained 600 security officers on elements of an arrest, how to write incident reports and how to testify in court.

When a bank was robbed in the fall, a police dispatcher broadcast the suspect's description over the radio. Within five minutes, a security officer spotted the man, bag of cash in hand, and helped arrest him.

Private police officers work across the Washington area, although their numbers have not been growing sharply. According to the D.C. police department, any private security employee who is armed must be licensed as a "special police" officer with arrest powers; the city has more than 4,000 of them, including at universities and some hospitals. Maryland and Virginia, which have different criteria, each have several hundred private police, according to law enforcement and regulatory officials.

In Virginia, the Wintergreen Resort has a private police department with 11 sworn officers. They include an investigator who last year helped solve a string of break-ins along the Appalachian Trail, identifying the burglar with images from the department's video camera when he drove out of the resort with a stolen car.

The Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services is also trying to foster closer ties between security companies without police powers and the police and sheriff's departments. The agency has begun training and certifying "Private Crime Prevention Practitioners" and soon plans to send security companies e-mails with unclassified homeland security threats and crime alerts.

Maryland has no similar collaboration, according to the Maryland State Police, which licenses security officers. The District is strengthening its supervision of security and private police, with new requirements for training and background checks having been adopted by the D.C. Council.

Some of the most sophisticated private security operations have expanded in part because of shrinking local and federal resources. The nation's largest bank, Bank of America, hired Chris Swecker as its corporate security executive last year when he retired as assistant director of the FBI. Even as identity theft and other fraud schemes have been booming, Swecker said, fewer federal investigators are devoted to solving such crimes, and many U.S. attorney's offices will not prosecute them unless their value reaches $100,000.

As a result, he said, federal officials now ask the bank's own investigators to do the work, including a three-year probe that helped police and the FBI piece together an identity-theft ring that defrauded 800 bank customers of $11 million.

In North Carolina, the state Department of Justice requires company police to go through the same basic training as public officers. They have full police powers on the property they are hired to protect.

Capitol Special Police's owner, Roy G. Taylor, was chief of three small nearby police departments and held state law enforcement jobs before starting the company in 2002. As Hispanic gangs were increasing, he said, "I saw a niche." The company has eight officers, some of whom are part time while working for area police departments.

They have used batons and pepper spray but have not fired a service weapon, Taylor said. Once, in an apartment complex where they worked in nearby Carrboro, Capt. Nicole Howard, Taylor's wife, dressed in plain clothes to attract a convicted rapist who had been peering in windows and stalking women. Then she arrested him for trespassing.

Today, charging $35 per hour, the firm has contracts with four apartment complexes, a bowling alley, two shopping centers and a pair of private nightclubs. A few weeks ago, two of the Taylors' employees, Capt. Kenny Mangum and Officer Matt Saylors, walked over to a car at the nightclub Black Tie to warn the men inside not to loiter in the parking lot. Catching a whiff of marijuana, they found seven rocks of crack cocaine in the ashtray and two handguns under the seat of the driver, who was a convicted felon. They called the Raleigh police to handle the arrest.

Because they are part of a private company, Taylor and his officers are mindful that customers are billed for the time they spend testifying in court.

"I try to make arrests only when absolutely necessary," said Watt, the officer who stopped the six men with the open beer cans. The company's marked patrol cars, he said, do not have radios to call for backup help or computers to check immediately for outstanding warrants or criminal records.

After satisfying himself that the six young men, lined up nervously and shivering in the cold night air, had no drugs, Watt let them go.


 

Marketplace Radio Program (American Public Media)
January 2, 2007

by Host: Kai Ryssdal / Commentator: Jamie Court (FTCR)

 

Gas-price conspiracy? You bet!

The following commentary by FTCR President Jamie Court, was broadcast on American Public Media's Marketplace radio program on NPR on Tuesday, January 2nd, 2007. Listen to the audio of the commentary here.
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KAI RYSSDAL - HOST: The 110th Congress will be sworn in on Thursday. Speaker-to-be Nancy Pelosi has promised a whirlwind first 100 hours of the session. On the Democrats' list of things to do is cut subsidies to the oil industry. Perhaps as a result, the American Petroleum Institute -- that's big oil's main lobbying group -- is launching a public relations offensive. Complete with Congressional oil patch tours, and contributions to friendly think tanks. It's trying to convince people rising energy prices are simply the result of higher demand and shrinking supply.

Commentator and consumer advocate Jamie Court says that campaign is too slick by half.

JAMIE COURT - COMMENTATOR: Say you're an oil executive and you want to keep the Republicans in control of Congress. What can you do prior to an election?

Well, you can keep your refineries running at full speed, flood the market with extra fuel, and take less per gallon in profit than usual.

And guess what: Department of Energy data suggest that's exactly what the oil companies did this fall.

By the second week in October, gasoline prices fell 70 cents from summer's record highs. Refineries were running full throttle and America's gasoline inventories were up nearly 7 percent from the three previous Octobers.

The rise in supply came despite BP's major pipeline disruption in Alaska. Ordinarily, that's an industry excuse to shrink supplies and raise prices.

Now, the oil industry claimed pump prices fell because crude oil prices dropped.

But gas prices dropped far more steeply than crude oil. Crude oil comes in barrels. There are 42 gallons in a barrel and the price of each gallon was down 10 cents this October over last. But gas prices fell 61 cents a gallon over the same time last year.

In other words, in the run-up to the election, oil companies cut gasoline prices 500 percent more than their raw material cost fell. And it wasn't because refining and distribution costs rose. They're relatively stable.

Oil companies simply took less profit from their refineries for a short period of time. Could it have been to influence a political outcome?

Well, right after election day, the price of gas suddenly rose after two months of sharp decline. Post-election, refineries have slowed down, inventories are shrinking, and gas prices are climbing.

It's back to business as usual, unless the new Congress starts to do business differently.

RYSSDAL: Jamie Court is the president of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights.