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Friday
Oct132017

Two-star Army general relieved from duty for alleged inappropriate contacts

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The Army has relieved from duty a two-star general who allegedly sent inappropriate Facebook messages to the wife of an enlisted soldier under his command at a base in Camp Vicenza, Italy.

"Maj. Gen. Joseph Harrington was today relieved of his duties as the Commander of United States Army Africa / Southern European Task Force due to a loss of confidence in his ability to command,” said Col. Pat Seiber, an Army spokesman, in a statement on Friday.

“The Army has been investigating allegations related to Maj. Gen. Harrington's communications with the spouse of an enlisted Soldier; however, since the review of the investigation is still ongoing, we can provide no further comment at this time."

An Army official said Harrington allegedly sent inappropriate Facebook messages to the soldier's wife.

U.S. Army Africa, based at Camp Vicenza, Italy, is responsible for U.S. Army troops that are deployed to Africa for training and bilateral exercises.

Harrington has been reassigned to the staff of the Director of the Army at the Pentagon until the investigation is finished, said the official.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Oct132017

Storytelling group Relato:Detroit celebrates diversity through bilingual performers 

Nicole Lucio(DETROIT, Mich.) -- Every day, about 350 languages are spoken in American homes, according to 2015 U.S. Census Bureau data, with one in five residents speaking at least one language other than English. In the various cultural corners of Detroit, Michigan, a small organization is working to celebrate and embrace that diversity.

Once a month, Relato:Detroit, a storytelling project, provides a small stage for immigrants and bilingual performers to tell their stories the way they would speak at home. At these events, languages blended with English like “Spanglish,” “Porglish,” and “Chinglish” are the norm, allowing speakers of Spanish, Portuguese and Chinese to share their stories. Each gathering offers a different theme and featured speaker, and audiences get to hear an unfiltered version of storytellers' tales.

For example, last month’s event focused on the theme of love and featured Rabbi Herschel Finman. He recounted his love for Sabbath in a mixture of Yiddish and English.

The project's founder, Jeni De La O, said she doesn't want storytellers to worry about translation, so she works with performers to make sure audience members can follow the story based on context.

A first-generation Cuban American from Miami, De La O is a bilingual performer herself. The frustration of having to translate and explain different cultural norms as she went along led her to envision a platform that allowed bilingual people to speak freely, which later inspired her to start her own storytelling project. Relato:Detroit's slogan is "leave your translator at the door."

"To cage that innate tendency [to speak in multiple languages] inhibits them to tell a story naturally," De La O told ABC News.

Adolfo Campoy, an immigrant from Spain, echoed this sentiment as he performed in Thursday's Hispanic Heritage Month event at Oakland University in Michigan, where he works as a Spanish professor.

"We often forget many people around the world are bilingual and trilingual; it’s their natural state of being," Campoy told ABC News.

At the event, Campoy told a three-part story on the way Spanish speakers pass on knowledge and wisdom through refranes or "sayings." From his bedtime routine with his children to his experiences of working as a pro-bono translator for seasonal farm workers, he told one tale after another to the audience.

Jiyong Pak, a Korean American who is also fluent Spanish, spoke of her adventures in Peru. She said she accidentally stumbled into a prostitution ring in the Peruvian jungle, Puerto Maldonado. Through that experience, she told ABC News, she learned the importance of not only language but also our connection to each other as human beings.

De La O said she had a similar realization when she first moved to Detroit. She remembered walking into a grocery store in Dearborn, Michigan and overhearing families switching between English and Arabic. “In that moment, it felt a bit isolating,” she said.

But the more she thought about it, she said she realized their linguistic and cultural differences shouldn’t be “something that isolate or divide us." Instead, she said, those differences allow people to find beauty in all that makes us unique and human.

Even though English is the de facto national language in the United States, the country has never been monolingual. There are at least 126 languages spoken in Detroit homes, according to 2015 Census data. The beauty of storytelling from such diverse perspectives "is that it allows people to enter a room filled with strangers and by the end of the night we would feel like family," De La O said.

In the face of rising reports of intolerance and anti-immigrant rhetoric, she hopes to expand Relato:Detroit to other cities around the nation and continue to share more stories that will bring different communities together.

Many repeat performers for Relato:Detroit said they are grateful for De La O’s budding platform. Ber-Handa Williams, who teaches Spanish, told ABC News the project "allows folks to bring their whole selves to the experience and folks like me to walk both worlds as a bridge."

Myrna Segura, a community organizer and actress from Mexico, told ABC News she felt “vulnerable and empowered at the same time” to be able to perform in both English and Spanish. She believed her storytelling helped create “a sound and intangible vision, a feeling of who we are.”

“We live in a time where any difference is polarizing,” De La O said. “We should instead create bridges and find unison in diversity.”

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Oct132017

As families of freed hostages Coleman and Boyle rejoice, tensions rise about their return

ABC News(TORONTO) -- As American Caitlan Coleman flies to Toronto Friday with her Canadian husband Joshua Boyle and their three children after five years in Taliban captivity, tensions between the couple’s families surrounding circumstances of their abduction and the decisions about their journey home have already begun to flare.

Coleman, 31, and Boyle, 34, were kidnapped by the Taliban while hiking in Afghanistan’s Ghazni Province in 2012. Coleman, who was pregnant at the time of their capture, gave birth to all three of her children while in captivity. The Pakistani military claims its troops rescued the family in a mission “based on actionable intelligence from US authorities,” but the details remain a mystery.

As thrilled as the two families are — hers in Stewartstown, Penn., and his in Ottawa, Canada — the couple's exodus has exposed anger built up over a five-years ordeal. In an exclusive interview with ABC News that aired Friday on Good Morning America, Caitlan’s father Jim said he remains angry at his daughter’s husband for taking her to Afghanistan in the first place.

“What I can say is taking your pregnant wife to a very dangerous place is to me and the kind of person I am, is unconscionable,” he said. “I can’t imagine doing that myself. But, I think that’s all I want to say about that.”

Jim, a retiree who has worked exhaustively for five years in a largely secret effort to secure his daughter's freedom — building a network of counterterrorism, political, media, military, tribal and diplomatic sources —is also struggling to understand why his son-in-law has apparently rejected assistance from the U.S. military.

Late Wednesday, a C-130 full of "tier one" U.S. Navy commandos from SEAL Team Six flew from Afghanistan to a Pakistani military base to secure and transport Coleman, Boyle and their family. What was expected to be a quick "transfer" from the Pakistani army to the U.S. military force hit a snag when Joshua Boyle balked at boarding the American military airplane and refused to allow medical personnel examine his children.

“I don’t know what five years in captivity would do to somebody but if it were me and I saw you a US aircraft and US soldiers, I’d be running for it, OK?” Jim said. “But, I don't -- like I said, I don't know what five years in captivity would do to a person.”

After a tense negotiation, Boyle and his family are on their way to Canada aboard a commercial flight.

Jim credited President Donald Trump for the unexpected release, who he had predicted last December would deliver their daughter from harm's way.

"Thank you, thank you, Mr. President, my friend," he said.

Trump had not called the Colemans personally as of Thursday night, however, a common practice by past presidents, though he did thank the Pakistani government for their efforts in a press conference on Thursday, hailing the news as a sign that the country was “starting to respect the United States again.”

Patrick Boyle, Joshua’s father, told ABC News that he had been briefed on the plan to pick up his son and was as surprised as everyone else when he didn’t board the plane. The FBI even put Patrick on the phone with Joshua to try to resolve the situation.

According to Patrick, his son rejected the invitation to fly the family out on the U.S. military plane because the U.S. military was headed for Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan and not Canada.

"He did not have an objection to who was transporting them," Patrick Boyle insisted, based on his discussions with his son. "He and Cait had decided they wanted to return back directly to Canada and not go to Bagram and Landstuhl."

The SEALs' original mission was an elaborately staged operation hatched weeks ago intended to rescue the family in a commando raid sometime this month from a site in Pakistan associated with the Haqqani network, part of the Afghan Taliban insurgency, counterterrorism officials have told ABC News. That was scratched when the hostages suddenly appeared in Pakistani military protective custody on Wednesday.

Neither the Boyle or Coleman families had known about the planned SEAL combat operation to rescue the family before ABC News disclosed the operation to each of them on Friday.

Boyle's rejection of the flight to Landstuhl, the American military medical center where Amy Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl began his recovery after his release from the same Haqqani captors, could be significant.

The Pentagon-run Joint Personnel Recovery Agency has developed an elaborate repatriation program for released prisoners of war and freed hostages to help them readjust to life outside of extreme and austere imprisonment -- but Boyle and Coleman have rejected entering the program, against the wishes of their parents, they each said.

"Their biggest problem is they won't have even made basic day to day decisions [in captivity],” said Patrick, Joshua’s father. “They will have forgotten how to, or that they even need to.”

Still, both families are rejoicing at their release and anxiously awaiting their return.

"Yesterday was the happiest day of my life. I still cannot believe it," Caitlan’s mother Lyn told ABC News. "I mean there's just no way to describe how happy that this has made me. To know that my daughter and her family are no longer hostages. Are no longer prisoners. And are going to be back and start a life again. I felt like prayers were answered. And I just wanted to hold them all in my arms as soon as possible."

She said a brief call with Caitlan this week was exhilarating.

“I spoke to her briefly. Early this morning. It was just about ten minutes, and to hear her voice and to have it sound exactly like I remembered."

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Oct132017

High alert amid fear of war in Iraq for US-led coalition

iStock/Thinkstock(KIRKUK, Iraq) -- About 6,000 Kurdish Peshmerga reinforcements have been moved into defensive positions around the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, Iraq, amid fear of attack from Iraqi troops, officials from the semi-autonomous region of northern Iraq said.

Kurdistan Vice President Kosrat Rasul told Rudaw News the reinforcements were sent to Kirkuk late Thursday night in response to “threats” of attack from a combined force of Iraqi government soldiers and Iranian-backed militia, called Hashd al-Shaabi, reportedly massing on the Iraqi side of the border with Kurdistan.

Both the Iraqi army and the Kurdish Peshmerga are key allies of the U.S.-led coalition in its fight against ISIS in Iraq, and the threat of armed clashes poses a major challenge for Western governments. The threat of military conflict and open civil war between America’s two biggest allies in Iraq could lead to a potential political minefield for the United States.

Iraqi forces and their allies began moving toward Kirkuk Thursday night, aiming for military bases to the northwest and southwest of the city, Kurdish commander Gen. Pirot Abdulla told ABC News.

In response, Kurdish forces pulled back from outer defensive lines and entrenched behind a major irrigation channel, with Iraqi forces now only about 100 yards to the west, Abdulla said.

Kurdish officials said the move was in response to reports that Iraqi army and federal police forces, along with Hashd al-Shaabi troops, had moved to within a few miles of Peshmerga positions and were preparing a “major attack in southwest Kirkuk” against oil fields, military bases and the airport. The General Command of Peshmerga Forces released a statement saying the situation “has dangerous indications for war.”

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said Thursday he would not use the army against Kurdish citizens, despite reports of military convoys heading toward Kirkuk early Friday morning.

Al-Abadi said he had no plans for military operations in Kirkuk and was focused on recapturing the last ISIS stronghold in Iraq, near the western border with Syria. Iraq’s military command rushed to issue a statement denying media reports that it had commenced operations for the city.

Peshmerga forces annexed Kirkuk and the surrounding area after halting ISIS fighters in their sweep across northern Iraq in 2014 as Iraqi military forces crumbled. Ever since, Kirkuk has become a point of contention between Baghdad and Kurdish officials in Erbil.

The dispute over ownership of Kirkuk escalated in the wake of Kurdistan’s independence referendum held last month. Even though results of the poll were not legally binding, voters living in Kurdish-controlled areas, including Kirkuk, voted overwhelmingly in favor of secession, prompting Kurdish officials to call for negotiated concessions from Baghdad.

Iraq's central government responded by imposing a ban on direct international flights to Kurdistan’s airports, placing severe restrictions on Kurdish-owned banks and threatening to end the region’s independent crude oil sales.

Baghdad remains bitterly opposed to Kurdish ambitions to incorporate Kirkuk province in its autonomous region in the north and has voiced determination to take it back. “Iraqi armed forces are advancing to retake their military positions that were taken over during the events of June 2014,” an Iraqi general told AFP news agency by telephone, asking not to be identified.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Thursday
Oct122017

Famine threatening four countries casts shadow over global hunger progress

Maciej Moskwa/NurPhoto via Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- The number of hungry people around the world has fallen more than a quarter since 2000, but famine has cast a dark shadow over four countries in the past year where conflict and climate shocks are threatening to reverse this progress, according to results from an annual global hunger index.

The overall score of the 2017 Global Hunger Index released Thursday is 27 percent lower than the score 17 years ago, which indicates the world has made strides in reducing hunger and increasing food security.

But this progress has been uneven with levels of hunger still considered "serious" or "alarming" in 51 nations and "extremely alarming" in one country out of 119 countries for which data could be collected. Moreover, inequalities within countries are masked by national averages, while the nations with missing data may be the ones suffering most, the report warned.

“The results of this year’s Global Hunger Index show that we cannot waiver in our resolve to reach the U.N. Sustainable Development Goal of zero hunger by 2030,” said Shenggen Fan, director general of the International Food Policy Research Institute, which calculates the Global Hunger Index scores each year.

“We have made great progress toward that goal but indications that this progress is threatened emphasizes the need to establish resilience in food systems. We must provide immediate aid to those areas facing the most severe crises, such as famines, and construct policies at the international and national levels to address the structural issues that create persistent food insecurity," Fan added.
 
Earlier this year, the United Nations declared that more than 20 million people are at risk of famine in Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen. These four famine-threatened countries, two of which were not included in the Global Hunger Index, show how far our planet is from ending global hunger as it faces one of the largest food crises in decades.

Nigeria

Since launching its brutal insurgency in 2009, Islamic militant group Boko Haram has devastated entire villages and communities in northeast Nigeria. But the scale of the food crisis only came to light as more areas in the region that were once under Boko Haram’s control become accessible to government and aid workers.

Last year, the United Nations children's fund estimated a quarter of a million children in northeast Nigeria’s Borno state are severely malnourished and many are facing death. This year, Oxfam estimates 340,000 people will face food insecurity and 12,000 children will suffer from acute malnutrition.

But the severity of the region's food shortages is obscured when you look at Nigeria's national score on the 2017 Global Hunger Index.

Nigeria ranked 84 out of the 119 countries assessed. Its hunger level, falling in the "serious" category, is more than 15 percent lower this year than it was 17 years ago. That does not fully reflect the vast inequality within the West African nation's borders. Child stunting ranges from 7.6 percent to 63.4 percent by region, according to the report.

Timing also played a factor in why Nigeria did not receive a higher hunger level, the report said. Global Hunger Index scores are based on the most up-to-date information available for four component indicators: undernourishment, child wasting, child stunting, and child mortality. For this year's scores, data was included from the most recent reference period, 2012 to 2016, and thus reflect hunger and malnutrition in this period.

The extent of the unfolding crisis in northeast Nigeria will be reflected in future Global Hunger Index indicators and scores, the report added.

Somalia

Child mortality was the only indicator for which data was available for Somalia. At 13.7 percent, it was the third-highest rate of under-five mortality among the 119 nations included in this year's report.

While there was insufficient data to calculate Somalia's score for the 2017 Global Hunger Index, the report noted that other available data and information make clear that the country's hunger levels are extreme, driven by conflict and climate shocks.

Clan warlords battling for power carved up the East African nation following the collapse of a military dictator’s regime in the early 1990s. After years of interim authority, an internationally backed federal government was installed in 2012. In February, Somalia elected its first president in decades.

But the federal government has failed to assert central authority over the entire nation which, combined with high youth unemployment, has created a niche for piracy and armed groups, such as the terrorist group al-Shabab.

Al-Shabab, whose name means “the youth,” emerged in 2006 from the now-defunct Islamic Courts Union, which once controlled Somalia's capital of Mogadishu. The Sunni extremist group launched its own insurgency on major cities in Somalia in 2009, seizing Mogadishu and much of southern Somalia until it was pushed out by domestic and international forces around 2012.

While the group lost control of most cities and towns, it continues to dominate in many rural areas of southern Somalia and is reportedly becoming increasingly present in the northern region. The conflict, coupled with a lack of access for aid workers, has made it difficult to deliver food assistance during times of drought.

The ongoing drought in the Horn of Africa region, exacerbated by the strongest El Nino on record, has triggered an increase in food insecurity and malnutrition. Although the weather phenomenon is considered to be over, the region is still reeling from its effects, and the situation is especially dire in Somalia.

More than 6 million people in Somalia -- over half the country’s population -- are in need of aid, including food, water and sanitation, as well as protection and shelter. Meanwhile, over 893,000 people -- mostly women and children -- have been forced to flee their homes from November 2016 to August due to a persistent drought, which the country has declared a national disaster, according to the United Nations.

These displaced families are typically herders from the north whose animals have all perished or farmers from the south whose lands are parched from the lack of rain. While on the move, they don’t know where their next meal will come from or whether they’ll have access to drinking water.

Humanitarian agencies on the ground report the situation has begun to look increasingly similar to Somalia’s 2011 famine, in which over 250,000 people died, according to a press release from the International Organization for Migration in March. Some rural communities were still struggling to recover when the next wave of drought struck.

The Famine Early Warning Systems Network estimates more than a quarter of Somalia's population will face acute food insecurity at "crisis or "emergency" levels through December. If the situation in Somalia escalates into a full-blown famine, it would be the nation’s third famine in a quarter of a century, and the second in less than a decade, the World Health Organization has said.

“Conflict and climate related shocks are at the heart of this problem. We must build the resilience of communities on the ground, but we must also bolster public and political solidarity internationally. The world needs to act as one community with the shared goal of ensuring not a single child goes to bed hungry each night and no one is left behind.” said Dominic MacSorley, head of Concern Worldwide, which helped calculate the 2017 Global Hunger Index scores.

South Sudan

South Sudan also lacked sufficient data for calculating this year's Global Hunger Index score. But in February, the United Nations declared famine in parts of the country — the first to be announced anywhere in the world since 2011. The formal declaration meant South Sudanese were already dying of hunger, the report noted.

By July, more than 6 million people were believed to be severely food insecure.

The acute food crisis is fueled by conflict and insecurity, the report said.

Not long after gaining independence and emerging from civil war, South Sudan spiraled back into conflict in December 2013 when President Salva Kiir sacked his then-deputy Riek Machar and accused him of plotting a coup. The personal rivalry fueled fighting between forces loyal to the president and rebels allied with Machar. It also deepened a rift between two of South Sudan’s largest ethnic groups -- Kiir’s dominant Dinka and Machar’s Nuer people.

Facing sanctions and mounting pressure from the international community, the sparring sides signed a power-sharing agreement in August 2015 with the promise to end nearly two years of ruinous war. However, the peace deal collapsed less than three months later and the struggle for power between the opposing groups rages on today.

South Sudan was among just three countries in this year's Global Hunger Index that showed a child wasting rate above 20 percent from 2012 to 2016.

Yemen

Yemen was the sole country on the 2017 Global Hunger Index suffering from "alarming" or "extremely alarming" levels of hunger that's not located in Africa. Situated at the tip of the Arabian Peninsula, Yemen ranked 114th out of the 119 countries assessed, and its hunger level, falling in the "alarming" category, has dropped 7 percent in the past 17 years.

Yet, as the report noted, 17 million people in Yemen — about 60 percent of the population — are facing crisis levels of acute food insecurity amid the ongoing conflict between the Sunni Muslim-led government and the Houthis, a rebel group backed by Iran and championing Yemen's Zaidi Shiite Muslim minority.

Like Nigeria, the report said Yemen did not fall into the "extremely alarming" category for two reasons: inequality and timing. The latter is particularly true for Yemen, as the already dire humanitarian crisis has deepened.

Yemen plunged into civil war when the Houthis seized the capital Sanna in September 2014, forcing Yemeni President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi to flee and leading a Saudi Arabia-led coalition to launch a military campaign on his behalf.

Riven by years of war, Yemen's instability has created fertile ground for militant groups, such as al Qaeda and ISIS, who have launched attacks on both sides of the crisis.

The fighting has devastated Yemen's agricultural sectors and livelihoods, the United Nations said, making the "man-made catastrophe" the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. With 16 million people there lacking access to clean water or sanitation, diseases and epidemics have reached unprecedented levels.
 
Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Thursday
Oct122017

Prince Harry accepts posthumous award on behalf of Princess Diana's HIV and AIDS activism work

ABC News (LONDON) -- Prince Harry accepted a posthumous award for his mother's groundbreaking work raising HIV and AIDS awareness by Attitude magazine this evening.

"William and I are incredibly proud of what our mother achieved. And we thank you for awarding her the Legacy Award," he said of the late Princess Diana.

Collecting the award on his and his brother Prince William's behalf, Prince Harry recalled his mother's work ending the stigma around AIDS. Diana famously changed the public perception of AIDS when she shook hands and kissed the cheek of an AIDS patient, showing that the virus could not be transferred from casual contact

"She knew exactly what she was doing," Prince Harry told the audience as he accepted the award. "She was using her position as Princess of Wales, the most famous woman in the world, to challenge everyone to educate themselves, to find their compassion, and to reach out to those who need help instead of pushing them away."

Throughout her short life, Diana campaigned for increased resources and a change in the way people treated victims of the disease

Prince Harry, 33, and Prince William, 35, have vowed to carry on their mother's work and legacy. Prince Harry made a heartfelt tribute to his mother in setting up the charity "Sentebale," which means "forget me not," to help the vulnerable children in southern Africa struggling with HIV and AIDS. He has campaigned tirelessly following in his mother's footsteps for a greater understanding and funding for the disease.

Last year, Prince William appeared on the cover of Attitude magazine, who held the awards tonight, speaking out against homophobia, bullying and prejudice.
The brothers have spent the last six months commemorating their mother's memory and work leading up to the 20th anniversary of Princess Diana's tragic death in a car crash in Paris Aug. 31, 1997.

"I often wonder about what she would be doing to continue the fight against HIV and AIDS if she were still with us today," Prince Harry said at the awards ceremony tonight.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Thursday
Oct122017

London police confirm investigation into Harvey Weinstein for alleged assault in 1980s

Jacopo Raule/GC Images(LONDON) -- Police in London are investigating an alleged incident of sexual assault involving Harvey Weinstein that the victim claims occurred in the 1980s.

"[We] can confirm the Met have been passed an allegation of sexual assault by Merseyside Police today," the Metropolitan Police in London told ABC News late Wednesday. Police added that the individual came forward earlier that day. "The allegation will be assessed by officers from Child Abuse and Sexual Offences Command."

Merseyside Police released a similar statement adding that the allegation stems from "in the London area in the 1980s."

While neither police agency named Weinstein in their statements, they sent along the statements when asked specifically about the beleaguered movie mogul.

In the United States, the NYPD recently confirmed that it looked into a claim from model Ambra Battilana Gutierrez in 2015 after she alleged Weinstein groped her. Gutierrez agreed to record a meeting with the producer, in which she asks why he had groped her breasts the day before. In the recording, Weinstein tries to convince her to come into his hotel room while he showers, despite her protests. After a nearly 2-minute encounter, he agrees to let Gutierrez leave.

The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office decided not to file charges after a two-week investigation, with ADA Karen Friedman Agnifilo explaining in a statement Tuesday, “The seasoned prosecutors in our Sex Crimes Unit were not afforded the opportunity before the meeting to counsel investigators on what was necessary to capture in order to prove a misdemeanor sex crime. While the recording is horrifying to listen to, what emerged from the audio was insufficient to prove a crime under New York law, which requires prosecutors to establish criminal intent.” Weinstein was never prosecuted.

But the NYPD told ABC News today that they are currently "conducting a review to determine if there are any additional complaints relating to the Harvey Weinstein matter."

Weinstein recently spoke out after a week that included multiple allegations of sexual misconduct from a number of women in stories by the New Yorker, Huffington Post and The New York Times, together with claims posted on social media. The allegations were first revealed in a Times story published Oct. 5. Weinstein was fired from his company on Sunday.

"Guys, I'm not doing OK but I'm trying. I got to get help. You know what, we all make mistakes. ... A second chance, I hope," Weinstein said in a video shot Wednesday outside his daughter's Los Angeles home obtained by ABC News.

In a statement last week after the original Times story was published, Weinstein admitted to causing "a lot of pain" and apologized for his inappropriate behavior. "I so respect all women and regret what happened," he added last week.

But Weinstein's attorney Charles Harder told ABC News that the Times article was "saturated with false and defamatory statements," and as a result, he was preparing a lawsuit against the newspaper. Any proceeds from the lawsuit would be donated to women's charities, Harder added.

When the New Yorker article came out on Tuesday and included claims of sexual assault by a number of women, Weinstein's spokesperson denied "any allegations of non-consensual sex."

"Mr. Weinstein has further confirmed that there were never any acts of retaliation against any women for refusing his advances. Mr. Weinstein obviously can’t speak to anonymous allegations, but with respect to any women who have made allegations on the record, Mr. Weinstein believes that all of these relationships were consensual," according to a statement from Weinstein's spokesperson.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Thursday
Oct122017

American hostage mom and family freed 5 years after being kidnapped by Taliban

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- An American woman, her Canadian husband and their three young children -- all of whom were born in captivity -- were rescued on Wednesday, five years to the day since the couple was kidnapped by the Taliban in Afghanistan, ABC News has learned.

Caitlan Coleman, 31, and her husband Joshua Boyle, 34, who were abducted while hiking in Afghanistan’s Ghazni province in 2012, were secured in an exchange between Pakistani military and U.S. commandos late Wednesday in a secret operation to bring them home after one of the longest -- and strangest -- American hostage ordeals in recent history, counterterrorism officials revealed.

The captor network was believed by intelligence and counterterrorism officials to have been part of the al-Qaeda-aligned Afghan Haqqani Network — which also held Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl prisoner for five years until May 2014 — but no one ever asked the families to pay ransom. The Haqqanis also have close ties to Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate.

Only days ago, the family was shown in a video filmed by their captors and sent to their families last January. The Boyle family provided it to the Toronto Star and to ABC News.

It shows the couple’s four-year old son is shown sitting on his father's lap, dressed in the same filthy clothing as in a video posted on YouTube last December. Caitlan is shown cradling their second child, still an infant. A third child has since been born as well, sources told ABC News.

In the video, Joshua Boyle light-heartedly cracked jokes about letters received in reply from their parents in record time and said the conditions of their captivity had improved around the beginning of the year.

The young mother, who grew up in Stewartsttown, Pa., tells her father, Jim Coleman, that her personality in captivity has changed from being like one Disney heroine to another.

"I would also like to say to my father specifically, that I think you would like to know that my time in—married, and my time as a mother, and my time in prison that I’ve become more of a Belle than an Ariel," Caitlan Coleman, known as "Caity" to her parents, explains.

Her father told ABC News earlier this week that his daughter was trying to contrast one animated Disney character, Ariel of "The Little Mermaid," who was rebellious and defied her father, with Belle of "Beauty and The Beast," who tried to protect her father from evil.

"She is telling me, 'Dad, I wish had listened to you more and not been Ariel and more a Belle," the elder Coleman said. "It's a lot of humility and self-analysis of why she is in this situation."

A senior official involved in hostage recovery told an ABC News reporter in January 2016 that the hostage family was to be freed in a deal following the successful recovery of Colin Rutherford, another Canadian in Haqqani hands. He was soon freed but Coleman was not.

It soon emerged that the Taliban were upset over reports that Anas Haqqani, brother of the No. 2 Afghan Taliban commander Sirajuddin Haqqani, had been prosecuted, convicted and sentenced to death in secret proceedings in Kabul.

In August 2016, the Haqqani Taliban snatched two professors from American University of Kabul, one American and one Australian, in retaliation for Anas Haqqani’s death sentence. A few months later, in December, the Colemans appeared in a new video -- seen for the first time with their children, who were born as hostages -- warning that their survival depended on a reprieve for Taliban prisoners.

The families were soon told privately by Afghan officials that Anas Haqqani had been spared execution but that his release was politically impossible, U.S. and Afghan officials told ABC News earlier this year.

In the waning days -- and even the last hours -- of the Obama administration, diplomats tried hard to broker a deal for Coleman's release, to no avail, according to several Obama aides who discussed the previously unreported hostage recovery efforts.

It was unclear Thursday morning whether the Boyle-Coleman family's freedom came as the result of a new deal.

Caitlan’s husband seemed more optimistic than in the ominous videos the Taliban released in December, which appeared to have been made at the same time as the private January video addressed to their families.

"Things here are going about as can be expected," Boyle says in the January video. "But we were buoyed to receive your letter, and for the first time we have hope that things might wrap up soon, God willing.”

In a private letter to his family, who provided it to ABC News, Boyle made it clear that the years of captivity in the most austere of conditions had taken a toll on their sense of hope.

President Trump in a tax speech he made in Pennsylvania on Wednesday made a cryptic reference to a country he did not name where "something happened," and that Americans would "probably be hearing about it over the next few days."

One counterterrorism official said they believed it was a reference to Pakistan's assistance in freeing Coleman and her family.

"America is being respected again. Something happened today, where a country that totally disrespected us called with some very, very important news,” Trump told the crowd. “And one of my generals came in, they said, 'You know, I have to tell you, a year ago they would've never done that.' It was a great sign of respect. You'll probably be hearing about it over the next few days. But this is a country that did not respect us. This is a country that respects us now. The world is starting to respect us again, believe me.”

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Wednesday
Oct112017

North Korea's hacking abilities 'beyond imagination,' defector says

iStock/Thinkstock(PYONGYANG, North Korea) -- North Korea's hacking capabilities are "beyond imagination," one former computer expert for the North told ABC News in the wake of Tuesday's report that the nation had stolen secret intelligence documents, including the U.S.-South Korean war strategy.

Secret intelligence documents and photos unilaterally collected by the U.S. military were among the stolen cache of South Korea’s classified documents by North Korean hackers, but the totality of what was stolen remains unknown, according to South Korea’s ruling Democratic Party lawmaker Lee Cheol-hee.

Malware contamination of the intranet server of the cyber command that occurred in September last year was confirmed by the South Korea’s Defense Ministry in May but this is the first glimpse of the scope of the damage.

The stolen trove totals about 235 gigabytes of data, equivalent to 15 million pages of documents. About 80 percent of the stolen materials have yet to be identified. But among them, Lee said, were U.S.-South Korean plans for a decapitation strike against North Korea to remove Kim Jong Un, as well as classified reconnaissance information collected by the U.S. military shared with the South Koreans.

"The way it got hacked was preposterous," Lee told ABC News. "It wasn't because North Koreans had advanced hacking skills, but was due to negligence on the South Korean part."
Although there are strict security restrictions in using computers within the military, Lee says huge "holes" have been exposed at times when the intranet and the extranet were connected. North Korean hackers were able to steal data through malicious virus codes that they had implanted inside a software vaccine company that provide exclusive services as a subcontractor to the South Korean military, according to Lee.

The North has previously been accused of hacking into other South Korean government agencies, banks and media outlets as well, but Pyongyang has denied allegations of cyber crime involvement.

"I alerted this to push the new administration and the Defense Ministry to quickly find remedies so that this kind of loss doesn’t happen again," Lee said.

South Korea’s Defense Ministry would not comment to ABC News, citing national security concerns. The Pentagon says it’s closely working with international partners to identify, track and counter cyber threats.

"Although I will not comment on intelligence matters or specific incidents related to cyber-intrusion, I can assure you that we are confident in the security of our operations plans and our ability to deal with any threat from North Korea," said Col. Rob Manning, a Pentagon spokesman.

But many cybersecurity experts believe the North’s advancement in hacking skills has already gone past the level of concern to a "highly damageable" stage.

"It is beyond imagination what they have already done inside South Korea," said Jang Se-Yul, a former North Korean computer expert who defected to the South in 2004. "The North has prepared for a massive cyber attack since the early '90s. They are more than ready to destroy the South’s infrastructure anytime Kim Jong Un gives a green light."

Jang, who runs an NGO helping defectors, claims he has been in touch with his former North Korean colleagues working out of Shenyang, the capital of Liaoning Province in northern China, as recently as last year. He says they were part of the cyber attack units dispatched from Pyongyang to operate out of China, disguised as freelance programmers, but with the aim to hack national security-related information from Seoul and Washington.

"My old college friends who are now heading cyber teams there laugh at the South’s cyber security. They say hacking into South Korean institutions is like a piece of cake," Jang said. "They sounded confident, and they are ready. For them, attacking South Korea with missiles and nuclear weapons are just waste of resources. All they need to bring down South Korea to complete chaos is to activate these malware viruses they have already prepared."

Jang is a graduate of Mirim Military University in Pyongyang, now known as Kim Il Military University. He majored in "wargame programming," where he learned to develop simulation software for the military.

Other majors included "enemy-system penetration programming" -- in other words, hacking education.

Only the "brightest of the best" are handpicked in each province to major in computer science from as early as 13 years old, according to Jang.

A total of 8,700 North Korean hackers are estimated to be active, according to recent research by the South’s Korea Institute for National Unification.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Wednesday
Oct112017

Rights workers respond to Egypt's crackdown: 'Where is the crime in waving a flag?'

iStock/Thinkstock(CAIRO) -- The latest crackdown against Egypt's LGBT community started with a couple of rainbow flags at a concert and ended with the arrest of more than 50 people, according to human rights groups.

Attendees at a rock concert in Cairo last month raised rainbow LGBT pride flags in the air, and soon after, Egyptian authorities rounded up dozens of men -- some of whom they found on gay dating apps, according to rights groups -- and charged them with engaging in or promoting "debauchery." Mashrou’ Leila, a popular Beirut-based band, was playing for a crowd of thousands of people at the Sept. 22 concert that set off the firestorm and has led to dozens of arrests. Since then, the band's openly gay lead singer told ABC News the arrests have "completely consumed" the group.

The police arrested 59 people in all, including at least one woman and one minor, according to the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), a leading local rights group. All were charged with engaging in or promoting “debauchery,” and two of the people who police said were holding a pride flag faced the additional charge of belonging to a banned group, according to EIPR. International rights groups have condemned the detentions, and EIPR said that as of Monday, all of those arrested remained in police custody.

In a conservative, Muslim country where persecution against LGBT people is not uncommon, the latest wave of arrests stands out both because of the number of people who were detained and the ongoing ripples of fear the arrests caused in Egypt's LGBT community.

"I was terrified when I got the news,” a gay man from Cairo in his late 30s, who is currently out of the country and requested anonymity, told ABC News. “It seriously made me feel blocked, absolutely unable to understand what ‘home’ means anymore when one could be thrown into prison on the basis of being homosexual.”

The man, who requested anonymity for fear of arrest and societal retribution, said he is trying to delay his return to Egypt. Several gay Egyptians declined requests to be interviewed, afraid that they too would be detained. Some have deleted the gay dating app Grindr from their cellphones.

“It feels very different. It feels that a decision is being made that will shape the lives of many people for decades to come,” the man said. “Cairo was never easy, but now, personally, I feel very threatened.”

'A piece of cloth that stands for love'

Over the past four years, 232 people have been arrested as part of the Egyptian government's crackdown on LGBT people, according to the EIPR. The arrests often coincide with anti-gay media coverage, the group said.

Hamed Sinno, Mashrou’ Leila’s lead singer, said he did not realize what was to come when flags went up amid the crowd at last month’s show.

“We saw a couple of flags in the audience,” Sinno told ABC News. “We did see them. It was quite heartwarming, to be honest, to see that kind of stuff go up and to not see any fights or any violence happen at the show.”

Images of the flags went viral on social media soon after, and Egyptian state and private media outlets unleashed an aggressive campaign against the concertgoers, often referring to them using a derogatory term meaning “deviant.”

One popular television anchor, Ahmed Mousa, called on the parliament to lengthen the punishment for what he called "crimes" to a life sentence, arguing that they were as dangerous as terrorism.

Homosexuality is not criminalized in Egypt, but authorities often arrest LGBT people under laws against “debauchery” and prostitution.

A coalition of pro-LGBT groups across the Middle East released a statement last week calling on media outlets to refrain from publishing hate speech, which it said had spurred the latest crackdown.

Even after the media backlash, Sinno said, the band members “were all naively optimistic” that the reporting might have been incorrect and that the government was just trying to appease those who had been outraged by the flag photos.

But as news of the arrests spread, the band -- after first remaining silent, on activists’ advice -- issued a statement calling for an international campaign against the Egyptian government. The members are spending the fall in New York as artists-in-residence at New York University's Hagop Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies, where they are leading a workshop.

“We denounce the demonization and prosecution of victimless acts between consenting adults,” the band wrote in the statement. “It is sickening to think that all this hysteria has been generated over a couple of kids raising a piece of cloth that stands for love.”

Sinno said the band planned to proceed as usual -- it has faced threats before, such as in Jordan -- but was disheartened by the lack of international condemnation of Egyptian authorities, particularly from Western countries that provide aid to Egypt.

“If we had known that anything like that sort of thing was going to happen, we probably wouldn’t have played the concert,” Sinno said, although he added that he thought the arrests may have happened anyway. “The idea that this has anything to do with five bodies onstage making sound is a little absurd, if you think about it.”

'It's just one group after another' facing repression


While Egyptian security services have carried out occasional crackdowns against LGBT people before, repression has intensified under Egypt’s military leaders in recent years, analysts said.

While it was unclear if the arrests were pre-planned to draw attention away from Egypt’s weak economy or unrelated political developments, they do follow a clear pattern, according to Michael Hanna, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation.

“It’s not necessarily any broader effort at diversion,” Hanna told ABC News. “This is the way that the government responds. It’s much more elemental than that.”

Egyptian authorities have in recent years arrested not only LGBT people, but also Islamists, secular activists, human rights workers and journalists.

“It’s just one group after another,” Michele Dunne, a senior fellow and director of the Middle East Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told ABC News. “The number of people in detention for political or civic activism of one kind or another is in the tens of thousands.”

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement that the United States was “concerned by reports of detentions and arrests of LGBTI persons” in Egypt. She said the United States urged countries “to uphold and respect their international human rights obligations and commitments” but did not call for any actions by Egypt specifically.

Periodic crackdowns

The LGBT community in Egypt has been subject to period crackdowns from authorities. In 2014, eight men were sentenced to prison for appearing in a video that allegedly showed a gay marriage, and 26 men were detained at a Cairo bathhouse as a television crew filmed the raid, according to reports. The 26 men were later acquitted.

Once detained, those rounded up face abuses by police, human rights groups said.

“From testimonies collected in the past, we know that beating, cursing and limiting visits is a systematic practice by the police,” Dalia Abdel-Hameed, the head of the gender program at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, told ABC News. “The worst treatment takes place in police stations, which sometimes include physical harassment, groping and threatening with sexual violence.”

Authorities sometimes carry out invasive anal examinations, and at least five people arrested after last month’s concert were subjected to the procedure, according to Amnesty International, which the group called “tantamount to torture.”

Sometimes people who have previously visited detainees are arrested themselves, according to Abdel-Hameed. Other times, people whose names appear on lists of sexual partners -- detainees are forced to share their identities with police -- are then rounded up, she said.

As of Monday, 10 of the people arrested in the latest crackdown have been sentenced to prison terms ranging from two to six years and are awaiting appeal, she said. Two had been acquitted but remained in custody, she said.

“It is needless to say that the majority of those arrested have nothing to do with the concert, but the government's interest in a flag being waved raises a lot of questions on the priorities of this government,” Abdel-Hameed said. “Where is the crime in waving a flag at a concert?”

“Whatever the government reasons are, the price those people are paying is a hefty one, the torture and the stigma they have to deal with," she added.

Mashrou’ Leila said it had been banned from playing in Egypt in the future. Since the Sept. 22 concert, Sinno said he had heard from “frightened” and “embarrassed” fans there.

“Change doesn’t come easily,” Sinno said, asked if he had a message for those fans. “I hope this doesn’t disillusion people enough to think that change is impossible.”

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