Archive for March, 2011

March 31, 2011

Damming the Mekong: 9 of 11 dams are planned for Laos

March 31, 2011

Photos: Dams Threaten Mekong River Megafishes

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March 31, 2011

The Mystery Behind Gadhafi’s Birth: Some Say He’s Jewish

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Mar 31, 2011 – 1:28 PM

What if the biggest mystery surrounding Col. Moammar Gadhafi had nothing to do with his long, brutal reign as the world’s most eccentric and violent leader turned pariah?

And what if a long-lost letter from a Catholic cardinal who knew Gadhafi’s true identity was evidence that could have solved the mystery?

A picture taken on September 27, 1969 shows Libyan Colonel Moammar Gadhafi in Tripoli after the military putsch. Long a pariah on the international stage, Gadhafi, has sought to build bridges with the western world by renouncing Libya's support for terrorism and ceasing the development of arms of massive destruction.

To many Libyan people, the biggest question mark about Gadhafi does not involve his repressive and dictatorial rule, delusional statements or brazen lies. Behind closed doors, for years, they’ve wondered if he is Jewish. Last week the issue came out in the open, as NBC’s Richard Engel reported from Libya that one in five rebels was fighting Gadhafi because he believes the leader is Jewish.

Conflicting reports surrounding Gadhafi’s birth have circulated since about 1970, two years after a Gadhafi-led coup made him the de facto leader of Libya.

In a handful of biographies from years ago, mostly written by Europeans, Gadhafi is almost always described as being born in a tent in Sirt, the son of a poor, illiterate Bedouin sheepherder and his wife.

But the hushed-up rumors in Libya about Gadhafi’s parentage involved his mother being Jewish. The stories have conflicted over the years, and the narratives are different. One had her converting to Judaism at age 9. In another, Gadhafi’s grandmother is Jewish but leaves her husband for an Arab sheik.

A more specific claim, backed up by a Libyan historian, is that Gadhafi was born out of wedlock to a Jewish woman and an Italian soldier in a village east of Tripoli. Because of the shame surrounding the birth, the baby was given to a Catholic cardinal who in turn gave the child to the sheepherder and his wife.

For decades, some Arab regimes have used hatred of Israel and Jews to deflect attention from their own shortcomings and have labeled their perceived enemies as secretly being Jewish when it suited their purposes.

Many contemporary scholars of Libya and policy experts interviewed by AOL News drew a blank when asked for more details about Gadhafi’s origins and early years.

A spokesman for the U.S. State Department’s Libya desk said it was of no concern, and the Vatican had no comment. Mohamed El-Jahmi, a Libyan-American activist who left Libya 30 years ago, said that the rumors have always been strong in Libya and that there are reasons to believe they are true.

“But I’d prefer not to talk about it,” El-Jahmi said. “It doesn’t matter if Gadhafi is Jewish or not, in the long run. What’s important is that he is evil, and he needs to go. And the Arab people need to embrace Jews and Israel if the Arab world is ever going to really grow.”

Mohamed Yusuf al Magariaf, 71, a prominent Libyan dissident now based in the U.S., investigated Gadhafi’s past for several of his books and believes much of what the dictator has told people about his origins is a lie.

During research for one of his books, Magariaf tracked down a letter he said was written years later by the cardinal whom he believes was given the infant Gadhafi and who turned him over to his Bedouin parents. Gadhafi’s mother, Aisha, reportedly died in 1978, and his father, Abu Meniar, in 1985.

The Oxford University-educated Magariaf was a professor at the university in Benghazi in 1971 when he joined Gadhafi’s cabinet and later became the Libyan ambassador to India. In 1980, he became the first diplomat to break with the regime and formed the National Front for the Salvation of Libya.

Magariaf was sentenced to death in absentia and hunted abroad for years by hit squads carrying out Gadhafi’s notorious “physical liquidation.” Six of his brothers were imprisoned in Libya, but were eventually released. A seventh brother disappeared in Libya and has never been heard from again. He is thought to be in prison or dead. Magariaf finally moved with his family to the U.S. in 1991.

He has written about 20 books, mostly in Arabic, about Libyan policy and history. In 2009 he wrote “A Coup d’Etat by an Informant,” which posits that Gadhafi was a double agent who only pretended to be a revolutionary and in fact had been an informant for the monarchy.

Magariaf is also among the many in Libya who believe Gadhafi has Jewish roots. But he mentions it only very briefly in his books and doesn’t want to be portrayed as someone whose work focuses on the issue.

Last year, Israel’s Channel 2 interviewed two Israeli women of Libyan origin who claimed to be Gadhafi’s Jewish relatives.

A journalist named Mary Pace wrote a book last year called “Gadhafi’s Secret” in which she claims that Gadhafi should be considered Catholic because he was born to an Italian officer who impregnated a Libyan girl and then took the baby to Venice, where he was baptized at the age of 8 or 9 months.

AOL News spoke with Magariaf about what he learned about Gadhafi’s origins, including the “Da Vinci Code”-like rumors surrounding his birth.

AOL News: Why is there so much mystery surrounding Gadhafi’s childhood?

Magariaf: No one knows exactly which year he was born or exactly where he was born. Nobody knows which day or month. There are so many question marks about it. Everything the average person knows — and there isn’t much — was a story he invented.

But aren’t there people from his tribe around today who knew him back then?

This is the bizarre thing. Tribal traditions are everything in Libya, and everyone is always known by their cousins and uncles. In the case of Gadhafi, no one has ever mentioned that he is from his uncle’s tribe. Who are his uncles? For someone like Gadhafi to be so powerful, it would be normal for his uncles to come out and say he is our nephew. Gadhafi never mentions his uncles.

How legitimate are the reports that have circulated for years in Libya that Gadhafi has Jewish roots — especially the one where he was born out of a wedlock to a Jewish girl and an Italian soldier?

There have always been rumors in Libya about this. But then came two facts. In the early 1970s, the Italian newspaper Oggi published a story saying Gadhafi was born to a Jewish mother. I have no idea why or where it came from.

In 1973, Gadhafi told two journalists who were interviewing him for a local Libyan magazine called Al Blagh that he had some cousins of Jewish background. One of the cousins was born to a Jewish mother. This cousin, who has since died, looks very much like him. But Gadhafi retracted the line about his Jewish cousin, and it was never published in the magazine. I interviewed one of the journalists, Ahmed Dajani, in 1980, and he confirmed all this.

The born out of wedlock to a Jewish girl story sounds a little apocryphal. Do you believe it, or was it to make Gadhafi look bad in Libya?

What I know comes from my own investigation. First, I want to say that Gadhafi’s Jewish roots are a very sensitive subject. I don’t mention them because I hate Jews or because I hate Gadhafi. I hate what he has done, not the man himself. And my books are not focused on the subject of whether Gadhafi is Jewish. It’s about telling the world the truth about all his lies.

What did you learn specifically?

In 1972, one of Gadhafi’s colleagues, Omar el-Meheshi, who was acting in charge of the Revolutionary Command Council, received a letter written in Italian from a cardinal who was working in Libya when Gadhafi was born. I only heard about the letter when el-Meheshi fled to Egypt in 1975 and mentioned it on a radio address.

What did the letter say?

First of all, Omar could not read Italian, so he gave it to the Libyan ambassador of external affairs, Khalefa Almuntasir, and asked him to translate it. He mentioned Almuntasir’s name on the radio. In December 1984, I met with Almuntasir and asked him specifically about it. Almuntasir confirmed to me the existence of the letter and that it was from a cardinal reminding Gadhafi of his Jewish and Christian blood.

Why would the cardinal wait until 1972 to write a letter to Gadhafi about this?

My interpretation was that Gadhafi had been in power for a few years and the cardinal realized who he was and his past — and he also saw the repression and brutality Gadhafi was exhibiting.

What was the cardinal’s name?

I was never able to find out. In the 1980s, an Italian journalist tried to contact the Vatican about this very issue and was warned to stay away from the subject and received threats. She doesn’t even want to be identified. I will remind you that the Vatican has not condemned any of Gadhafi’s crimes. Don’t you wonder why?

What else did you learn about Gadhafi’s early years?

He grew up very poor. Everyone lived in tents in those days. At the time he was young, Libya was among the poorest and most backward nations in the world. He had a very deprived childhood. His schooling was stopped several times because his father moved around a lot. There were reports he was sexually abused. He was expelled from secondary school because of bad behavior.

What did you find out that made you conclude that Gadhafi only pretended to be a revolutionary and was secretly an informant for King Idris?

I read and listened to hours of Gadhafi’s speeches and the speeches made by a lot of the people closest to him in the government involving what they said and did in the run-up to the revolution. There were so many lies and discrepancies when it was all pieced together. He was collecting information on the officers in the military and giving it to the monarchy while posing as a revolutionary. He played both sides off each other, which has been one of the hallmarks of his rule. All the officers who were his colleagues and companions in the coup claim that he totally changed after the coup when he took power.

How did he change?

He became very abusive to everyone. He was a very handsome, innocent-looking guy at the time. He had a sense of humor. Even I said we should give him a chance. But then he became someone else overnight — who shouted at people, cursed at them, told them they were ignorant. From the earliest days in power, he just turned evil. He never shared power, so no one challenged him. He didn’t hesitate to kill the closest people to him.

What else did he do in the beginning that was unusual?

He accumulated all these arms. Why? We had no enemies. We were surrounded by friendly countries. He spent more than 40 to 50 percent on our oil revenue on arms. He waged wars that had nothing to do with aspirations of the people. Even his colleagues were against him.

What was he like to work with?

I usually was only around him when there were others around. During meetings he could act quite calm and normal. It was through others that you heard all the crazy and vicious stuff he did. He would test his employees from the beginning. If they showed a willingness to do whatever he wanted. If they showed resentment at being used, they had to leave. And when they left they were in danger. They had no security in life or from Gadhafi. The atmosphere was such that every night I told my wife that I didn’t know if I would be alive the next night.

March 31, 2011

Airport security scans: What would your doctor do?

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By Elizabeth Cohen, Senior Medical Correspondent
March 31, 2011 8:07 a.m. EDT

The Transportation Safety Administraiton says full-body scans, which emit a small amount of radiation, are safe.

(CNN) — I was in the security line at an airport a few months ago when I watched a fellow passenger do something I’d never seen done before: He dissed the scan.

“I’d like to opt out,” he said, as a security agent went scurrying for a male agent to give this man a full-body pat-down, the requirement for anyone who refuses to go through a full-body scanner.

Wow, I thought, this man really must want to avoid the scanner if he’s willing to get groped by a total stranger.

The Transportation Security Administration says the scans, which emit a small amount of radiation, are safe. “Multiple independent studies have confirmed that the technology used to protect passengers when they fly is safe for their health,” says TSA spokesman Nicholas Kimball. “TSA takes many precautions to regularly verify that all machines are operating properly.”

So why all the worry? In my obnoxious journalist way, I pounced on the guy to ask him why he’d done it.

“I’m a doctor at M.D. Anderson, and I don’t want radiation if I can avoid it,” he said.

I was next in line. I’d just watched a doctor at M.D. Anderson, a top cancer hospital, opt out because he wanted to avoid radiation. Does that mean I should, too? I had a second to make a decision. I decided to opt out, too.

The pat-down, I learned, is not such an easy option. First, you have to make a bit of a spectacle of yourself by publicly asking for something different. Secondly, it takes time (not a lot, but enough to be a problem if you’re running late) and thirdly, I ended up being touched in places previously reserved for my husband and my gynecologist.

I began to wonder if the doctor was being a little paranoid. Was the radiation so dangerous that it was worth the hassle and embarrassment? To get a little perspective, when I returned home I randomly asked doctors I respect what they do in the security line. It was a completely unscientific sampling, but it yielded this interesting result: All these doctors are smart people with access to the same scientific data, and yet made very different choices.

Doctors who say “yes” to the scanners

I started, of course, with my colleague Dr. Sanjay Gupta, a neurosurgeon, who told me he hasn’t opted out thus far.

Many other doctors feel the same way.

“I go through them,” said Dr. Greg Zorman, chief of neurosurgery at Memorial Healthcare System in Florida. “The amount of radiation you get isn’t worth worrying about.”

Dr. Drew Pinsky, an internist and host of a new show on HLN that makes its debut on April 4, called the amount of radiation “inconsequential.”

The radiation you get from a backscatter imaging machine used at many airports is the same amount of radiation you get from sitting on an airplane for two minutes, according to research released this week by the University of California San Francisco.

The researchers calculated for every 100 million passengers who fly seven one-way flights a year, six of them could get cancer as a result of the radiation exposure from the full-body scans.

The California researchers made these calculations based on information from the manufacturers. Some researchers question whether the manufacturers’ measurements are valid. David Brenner, director of the Center for Radiological Research at Columbia University, says he thinks the exposure to radiation is actually 10 times more than what the manufacturers claim.

Even so, Brenner (who’s a physicist, not a medical doctor) still goes through the scanners at airports because even by his calculations the amount of radiation is still small.

Doctors who say “no” to the scanners

Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society, takes a pat-down instead of going through a scanner when he travels. He says he’s concerned about whether the machines are calibrated and inspected properly.

USA Today did a piece on how badly TSA maintained their X-ray equipment for carryon bags, and this gave me little confidence,” he wrote to me in an e-mail.

Brawley’s deputy concurs.

“I do whatever I can to avoid the scanner,” Dr. Len Lichtenfeld wrote to me in an e-mail.

He says as a frequent flier, he’s concerned about the cumulative effect of the radiation.

“This is a total body scan — not a dental or chest X-ray,” he wrote to me. “Total body radiation is not something I find very comforting based on my medical knowledge.”

Lichtenfeld says it doesn’t necessarily give him great comfort that the TSA says the scans are safe.

“I can still remember getting my feet radiated as a child when I went to the shoe store and they had a machine which could see how my foot fit in the new shoes,” he says. “We were told then that they were safe, and they were not.”

(At first I thought Lichtenfeld was making this up, but you can actually see one of these foot scanners at the Museum of Questionable Medical Devices at the Science Museum of Minnesota.)

Another doctor who opts for the pat-down is Dr. Dong Kim, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ neurosurgeon.

“There is really no absolutely safe dose of radiation,” says Kim, chair of the department of neurosurgery at the University of Texas Medical School. “Each exposure is additive, and there is no need to incur any extra radiation when there is an alternative.”

This was echoed by several other physicians, including Dr. Andrew Weil.

“All radiation exposure adds to the cumulative total you’ve received over your lifetime,” Weil wrote to me in an e-mail. “Cancer risks correlate with that number, so no dose of radiation is too small to matter.”

Doctors exposed to radiation at work are particularly sensitive to this issue, as I learned when I got through security that day in the airport and chased after the doctor who’d opted out.

I learned his name is Dr. Karl Bilimoria, and he’s a surgical oncology fellow at M.D. Anderson. He says this is a frequent topic of discussion among his colleagues.

“If we can avoid a little radiation in exchange for the two extra minutes needed for a pat-down, then we will,” he says.

March 30, 2011

Lao gov’t urges all parties to peacefully solve Libyan crisis

Cached: 2011-03-25 15:49:24

VIENTIANE, March 25 (Xinhua) — The Lao government expressed deeply concerned on Libyan situation, and urged all parties for peaceful solutions, Lao News Agency (KPL) reported on Friday.

A statement, released by the Lao Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said the Lao People’s Democratic Republic is deeply concerned about military operations conducted towards Libya which have caused the loss of lives and property of Libyan people and affected peace and stability in the region.

Laos has urged all parties concerned to put an end to the operations and settle the problems by peaceful means on the basis of the United Nations Charter, international law and respect for the independence and sovereignty of states.

Nearly 100 civilians were reported to have been killed so far in air strikes launched by major Western powers on Libya, which started on March 19.

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