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Guantanamo inmates swapped for Bergdahl could move freely

Leg shackles are seen on the floor at Camp 6 detention center, at the U.S. Naval Base, in Guantanamo Bay. Photo by Brennan
         Linsley/Reuters

Leg shackles are seen on the floor at Camp 6 detention center, at the U.S. Naval Base, in Guantanamo Bay. Photo by Brennan Linsley/Reuters

WASHINGTON — Five senior Taliban leaders released last year from the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in exchange for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl could move freely around the world next week as their one-year travel ban expires.

The five detainees were sent to Qatar where government officials agreed to monitor their activities and prevent them from traveling out of the country under the terms of the May 2014 exchange. Bergdahl, who had been held captive by the Taliban for nearly five years after walking away from his Army post in Afghanistan, was released to the U.S. military.

He recently was charged with desertion.

U.S. officials have discussed with the Qataris the possibility of extending the travel ban after it expires on June 1. But so far, the White House has not publicly announced any new agreement with Qatar, meaning the five could leave the tiny nation on the Arabian Peninsula at the end of the month.

“In Congress, we spent a lot of time debating whether the Qataris were going to adequately keep an eye on them in the course of the 12 months,” said Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence committee. “My point all along was that I’m more worried about month No. 13 than the first 12.”

Schiff has been privy to the details of the still-secret memorandum of understanding the U.S. reached with Qatar that put the five under a 12-month watch following their release.

“The Qataris did pretty good — I wouldn’t say perfect,” he said about the year-long monitoring. “But the big question is what comes next.”

At least one of the five allegedly contacted militants during the past year while in Qatar. No details have been disclosed about that contact, but the White House confirmed that one was put under enhanced surveillance. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said last week: “I know that at least one has had communication with the Taliban.”

One or more of the detainees had some members of the al-Qaida-affiliated Haqqani militant group travel to Qatar to meet with them earlier in the year, according to Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. That was an indication that the group was reaching out to communicate with the so-called Taliban Five, said Graham, who predicts all five will rejoin the fight.

Four of the five former detainees remain on the United Nations’ blacklist, which freezes their assets and has them under a separate travel ban. But the U.N. itself has acknowledged that its travel ban has been violated. In a report late last year, the U.N. sanctions committee stated: “Regrettably, the monitoring team continues to receive a steady — albeit officially unconfirmed — flow of media reports indicating that some listed individuals have become increasingly adept at circumventing the sanctions measures, the travel ban in particular.”

The State Department insists that U.S. officials work to mitigate the risk of former Guantanamo detainees returning to the fight, threatening Americans or jeopardizing U.S. national security. U.S. officials have noted in the past that the five Taliban leaders are middle-aged or older, were former officials in the Taliban government and probably wouldn’t be seen again on any battlefield, although they could continue to be active members of the Taliban.

Members of Congress have repeatedly expressed concern about what will happen after the travel ban expires. They have asked the Obama administration to try to persuade Qatar to extend the monitoring.

“It’s impossible for me to see how they don’t rejoin the fight in short order,” said Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., wrote Defense Secretary Ash Carter in March, asking him to take any step necessary to make sure the five do not return to the battlefield in Afghanistan. And earlier this month, the 13 Republican members of the House Intelligence committee wrote President Barack Obama asking him to urge Qatar to extend travel restrictions on the former detainees indefinitely.

“If, as scheduled, Qatar permits these five former detainees to possess passports and travel to Afghanistan or Pakistan when the memorandum of understanding expires on June 1, they will be at liberty to play an even more direct role in attacks against the men and women of our military,” they wrote.

Many lawmakers from both parties were irate when the five Guantanamo detainees were swapped for Bergdahl. They complained that the White House did not give Congress a 30-day notification of the transfer, which is required by law. The White House said it couldn’t wait 30 days because Bergdahl’s life was endangered.

After the transfer, the House Armed Services Committee demanded the Pentagon release internal documents about the swap. The committee received hundreds, but lawmakers complain that they are heavily redacted. The committee inserted language in the fiscal 2016 defense policy bill that threatens to cut Pentagon spending by about $500 million if the Defense Department doesn’t provide additional information about the exchange.

Army Lt. Col. Joe Sowers, a spokesman for the Defense Department, said the Pentagon has provided the committee with more than 3,600 pages of documents and redactions have been minimal.

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Charges against world soccer officials include money-laundering, wire fraud

Walter De Gregorio, FIFA director of communications and public affairs, gestures during a news conference at FIFA headquarters
         in Zurich, Switzerland, on May 27. Seven soccer officials were arrested in Zurich on Wednesday and detained pending extradition
         to the United States over suspected corruption at soccer's governing body FIFA, the Swiss Federal Office of Justice said in
         a statement. Photo by Ruben Sprich/Reuters

Walter De Gregorio, FIFA director of communications and public affairs, gestures during a news conference at FIFA headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland, on May 27. Seven soccer officials were arrested in Zurich on Wednesday and detained pending extradition to the United States over suspected corruption at soccer’s governing body FIFA, the Swiss Federal Office of Justice said in a statement. Photo by Ruben Sprich/Reuters

Seven officials with the world soccer body Federation Internationale de Football Association, or FIFA, were arrested Wednesday, charged with racketeering, wire fraud and money-laundering after a sweeping probe alleging corruption spanning two decades.

Fourteen people total, including nine FIFA officials and five corporate executives, were indicted by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Of the 14 indicted, four individual defendants and two corporate defendants already have pleaded guilty in the U.S. soccer corruption investigation alleging bribes totaling more than $150 million to obtain media and marketing rights to World Cup soccer tournaments.

Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced the charges on Wednesday. “The indictment alleges corruption that is rampant, systemic, and deep-rooted both abroad and here in the United States,” said Lynch. “It spans at least two generations of soccer officials who, as alleged, have abused their positions of trust to acquire millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks.”

Swiss authorities on Wednesday arrested several high-ranking FIFA officials on corruption charges at the Baur au Lac
         hotel in Zurich and plan to extradite them to the United States. Photo by Arnd Wiegmann/Reuters

Swiss authorities on Wednesday arrested several high-ranking FIFA officials on corruption charges at the Baur au Lac hotel in Zurich and plan to extradite them to the United States. Photo by Arnd Wiegmann/Reuters

Also early Wednesday, Swiss authorities in Zurich arrested Jeffrey Webb, Eduardo Li, Julio Rocha, Costas Takkas, Eugenio Figueredo, Rafael Esquivel and Jose Maria Marin as they were attending FIFA’s annual meeting at the upscale Baur au Lac hotel. They are now awaiting extradition to the United States.

Those who pleaded guilty included Charles Blazer, the former general secretary of the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football, or CONCACAF, and former U.S. representative on the FIFA executive committee; Jose Hawilla, owner and founder of Brazil-based sports marketing firm Traffic Group; and two of Hawilla’s companies, Traffic Sports International Inc. and Traffic Sports USA Inc. based in Florida.

“FIFA welcomes actions that can help contribute to rooting out any wrongdoing in football,” the organization said in a statement. “FIFA is fully cooperating with the investigation and is supporting the collection of evidence in this regard.”

FIFA longtime president Sepp Blatter was not arrested. He is up for reelection for a fifth term on Friday. A FIFA spokesman said the election would go ahead as planned.

See a full list of defendants. They face maximum jail terms of 20 years.

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Isolated in prison for nearly a year, Washington Post reporter starts closed trial in Iran

SECRET TRIAL_Monitor

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JUDY WOODRUFF: After being locked up for nearly a year in a Tehran prison, Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian finally had his first day of court this morning. Family members and journalists were not allowed to attend the Tehran Revolutionary Court session. He was accompanied only by his attorney.

Rezaian, who holds both U.S. and Iranian citizenship, was arrested with his Iranian wife last July. She was released on bail in October. In April, The Washington Post reported that Rezaian was charged with espionage and other crimes, including collaborating with hostile governments and propaganda against the establishment.

We invited the Iranian ambassador to the United Nations to come on the NewsHour to talk about Jason Rezaian’s case. His office didn’t respond to our offer.

We are joined, however, by Jason’s brother, Ali Rezaian.

And we welcome you to the program.

ALI REZAIAN, Brother of Jason Rezaian: Thank you for having me.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, what do you know when what happened in that courtroom today?

ALI REZAIAN: You know, we know that this was the first day of the court. They were to go in and they would read Jason the charges against him and the information about it. And he would have to respond to those.

Because it’s a secret court, because it’s closed, we don’t have a lot more information than that. It’s illegal to disclose information. But we know the process and we know that the next thing that’s going to happen is, the judge will set the second day of trial, and there will be more testimony.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, he does have an attorney, as we mentioned.

ALI REZAIAN: That’s correct.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And this is someone that your family selected, is that right, or helped select?

ALI REZAIAN: Yes. It was kind of a long, hard process. We selected Leila Ahsan to be my sister-in-law’s attorney, and because of the complexity of the case, we wanted to have another attorney.

We were hoping to find somebody who also had a lot of English-language skills as well. But the judge wouldn’t allow us to choose some of the people that we wanted. We ended up deciding that we would use Leila for both Jason and Yegi’s case.

I think there’s an advantage there, because she does know the case very, very well. She’s reviewed it and had a lot of time to know the evidence.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And you’re in regular contact with her, but you’re saying you’re — she’s limited in what she can say.

ALI REZAIAN: That’s correct. I think it’s like some trials here, where they close the court and they won’t let information out during the time that it’s happening.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, what do you know, other than he’s being charged with espionage and what we said about the charges?  What do you know about what evidence they’re providing?

ALI REZAIAN: You know, I think the best way to sum it up is what Leila said after she reviewed the case file. She said there’s absolutely no basis in the evidence, no basis in the facts for any of these charges against Jason.

He never should have been arrested. He never should have been taken and questioned. But what we do know is, they’re using some very small things, usually via e-mail, to come up with these ideas that there was propaganda, that he was saying bad things about the government or that he was reaching out to the United States government.

When they talk about collaborating with hostile powers, the example there was sending a letter basically trying to get a job with the White House and wanting to help the countries come together.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Ah, because the New York Times reported today that there was a letter that Jason sent to the transition team, the Obama transition team…

ALI REZAIAN: That’s exactly right.

JUDY WOODRUFF: … in 2008, offering to be of help improving relations between the two countries.

ALI REZAIAN: Yes.

What he said was: “I have been living in Iran for a long time.”  I have seen the letter.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Right.

ALI REZAIAN: It — “I have been living in Iran for a long time. I know a lot of people. I don’t like the fact that the two countries where I grew up and where I’m living now and where my father was born are so hostile towards each other, and I would like to help the new administration improve relations. Can I help you?”

JUDY WOODRUFF: And then — and it was also reported they were using as what they called evidence an application for an American visa for his wife, who, as we said, is Iranian.

ALI REZAIAN: Yes.

So, his wife was born in Iran. After they were married, she applied for a visa for a permanent residency here in the United States. That process, you have to go to an embassy.

Well, there’s no embassy for the United States in Iran. So, Iranians process those in other countries. Jason was in touch with the UAE Embassy in order to process that visa. And after it was put in, he asked for it to be expedited, because that’s what you do. You want the visa as quick as you can get it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But, other than that, I mean, and what you have shared, that’s all you know about what they say this case is?

ALI REZAIAN: Those are the primary things that they’re talking about.

You know, they have said that he was investigating or reviewing foreign policy and internal policy of the Islamic Republic. They didn’t say that he had access to anything confidential or he tried to, just that he was trying to learn about it, which is what a reporter would do to be able to report.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, you were telling me earlier, Ali Rezaian, that his wife has been able to visit him…

ALI REZAIAN: That’s correct.

JUDY WOODRUFF: … every week. What is she reporting?  How is he doing?  How are they treating him?

ALI REZAIAN: You know, it’s just this long up-and-down cycle. Sometimes, he’s better; sometimes, he’s worse.

I think his health is generally better, but, mentally, it’s been very difficult coming up to the trial. I think knowing that there is some progress is helpful. How they have been treating him, I think I would say neglect more than anything else, long periods of time of where they don’t interrogate him, or he doesn’t have access to any other prisoners. You know, he’s just kind of by himself.

Fortunately, he has access to some books, but he’s still locked up.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, your mother was able to visit him, what, in December, is that right…

ALI REZAIAN: Correct.

JUDY WOODRUFF: … when she was in Tehran, and she’s gone back, but she hasn’t been able to see him this time. Is that right?

ALI REZAIAN: She was able to see him. She got to visit with the judge, as well as the Revolutionary Guards, before she did. But she got a one-hour meeting with his wife and with my brother last week, and hasn’t seen him since.

JUDY WOODRUFF: OK.

Well, let me ask you about the judge, because the reports are that this is a judge who is known for handing down tough sentences.

ALI REZAIAN: Yes.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What is known about him?

ALI REZAIAN: A lot of these judges, especially in the Revolutionary Court, there’s not a lot of information about them. People don’t even see their pictures a lot of times.

But with the judge that is assigned to Jason’s case, he’s really worked on a lot of the more political cases. He’s been assigned things that were political in nature, and has handed down very harsh sentences against people.

But what I will say is, many of those sentences have been overturned on appeal. There’s an appeals process. Our hope is, as they look at the evidence, which they have, they will see that there’s no evidence there, there’s no basis, and, you know, he will admit that this is something that they want to do.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Ali Rezaian, based on how other journalists who have been arrested, charged with espionage or something similar, have been treated, what are your expectations for your brother?

ALI REZAIAN: You know, I think we’re fortunate, what’s consistent with what he said and what other folks have said is, they’re typically not very physical with dual nationals, and that’s absolutely what Jason said.

But I think, mentally, over time, it’s really tough on him. He’s been neglected. He’s been isolated. They play mind games with you all the time, and they have been doing that for 10 months. I’m very scared that it can cause permanent issues for him, you know, fear, anxiety, those kinds of things, as well as depression, which he said: “I’m very, very depressed. I don’t belong here.”

JUDY WOODRUFF: No wonder. One would think so.

But what about, finally, the U.S. government?  Has it been of help?  What role has it played in all of this?

ALI REZAIAN: I think, because of the negotiations, they have had a lot of one-on-one discussions with Iran, which is something that wouldn’t have happened in the past.

But there’s only so much they can do, I think, through the diplomatic channel. The Iranians have insisted that it needed to go through a legal process. They delayed that process illegally, by their own standards, as well as international standards, for six or seven months before they even put it into the court.

And so now at least it’s moving along. The State Department has passed along notes, passed along information to the government when we have asked to send letters, as well as kept us informed of what’s going on.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, Ali Rezaian, brother of Jason Rezaian, who is being held by Iranian authorities, we can’t imagine what this is like for your family. We thank you very much for coming to talk to us.

ALI REZAIAN: Thank you for covering his story.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Thank you.

 

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Human trafficking camps and mass graves discovered in Malaysia

Human bones are seen near abandoned human trafficking camp in the jungle close the Thailand border at
         Bukit Wang Burma in northern Malaysia

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JUDY WOODRUFF: We travel now to Malaysia, where thousands of migrants, fleeing persecution and impoverishment, are spending weeks trapped at sea, find a different nightmare when they finally land ashore.

Jonathan Sparks of Independent Television News reports.

And a warning: The story contains some graphic elements.

JOHN SPARKS: We were taken in army trucks to the bottom of the mountain, where the Malaysian authorities said they’d found a human traffickers’ camp. This was a significant development. Last week, they vehemently denied there were any.

We’re still going, are we?  We’re still going to the camp?

MAN: Yes, yes, yes, yes.

JOHN SPARKS: The order was given and we began to climb. Yesterday, the Malaysians came clean, admitting there were at least 28 of these camps where traffickers held thousands of migrants, persecuted Burmese Muslims called Rohingya and impoverished Bangladeshis.

And we followed in their footsteps, men, women and children forced up and down this trail. The track is rough, and it’s also very steep, but you can see that it’s well used. There’s litter all over the place. And it’s difficult to believe that local people and members of the authorities didn’t know that there were hundreds of people living out here.

The camp took shape from a distance. Such was it size, it wasn’t easy to hide a bamboo jail that stretched across a mountain clearing, but further details were hard to come by.

How many people do you think were kept there?

MAN: I’m not sure.

JOHN SPARKS: Not sure?

MAN: Not sure, yes.

JOHN SPARKS: We have been given a few seconds to walk through the camp, but I think that’s the wrong name for this place. It’s more like a village or a prison complex.

There are cells wrung with barbed wire and watchtowers and food and water storage facilities. There’s even a cage where people were kept, I presume, because they tried to escape. Clearly, it was a place of real cruelty, where hundreds were held for the purposes of extortion.

To earn their release, the victims’ family members had to pay a ransom of $2,000 to $3,000. Later, we spoke to young Rohingya who was held for seven months in a jungle camp.

SHARUF KHAN, Rohingya Migrant (through interpreter): Brokers told our relatives to send the money and beat us while we were on the phone. They’re very bad people. There’s little to eat here. Some people starve. Many are sick.

JOHN SPARKS: Sharuf managed to escape two months ago, but many prisoners never leave. Up on the mountain, forensics teams have begun examining 37 graves, or burial pits. And on the earth’s surface, we saw bone fragments.

SHARUF KHAN (through interpreter): One man didn’t have any money to pay the ransom, so the brokers beat him. They had handed him over to the camp guards and said, “You can finish him.” The guards took a rope and hanged him. I saw it.

JOHN SPARKS: It is an odious business, and it’s gone on for years.

But the authorities here in Malaysia and neighboring Thailand seem determined to uncover the truth, the Thais making more than 60 arrests. Still, many think the traffickers will soon return to the mountains.

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BBC News

Fifa officials 'corrupted' football

Fifa officials took bribes over more than 20 years to allocate tournaments and rig elections, US law enforcement officials say.

EU states 'must take 40,000 migrants'

The European Commission urges EU states to take in 40,000 asylum seekers from Syria and Eritrea who land in Italy and Greece in the next two years.

WW2 bomb prompts Cologne evacuation

Some 20,000 people in the German city of Cologne are forced to leave their homes as authorities defuse a one-tonne bomb from World War Two.

Blair quits Middle East envoy role

Former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair is to stand down from his role as Middle East envoy representing the US, Russia, the UN and the EU, sources confirm.