TIME China

Chinese Firms Are Exporting ‘Torture Devices’ to Africa

China Tools of Torture
In this undated photo released by Amnesty International, Chinese made weighted leg cuffs are displayed at the Chengdu Jin'an Equipment’s booth at an exhibition at an undisclosed location AP

Amnesty International claims at least 130 Chinese firms are involved in the worrying trade

Chinese companies are increasingly getting into the business of selling torture instruments, such as restraint chairs and spiked batons, to police departments in countries with miserable human rights records, Amnesty International claimed in a report on Tuesday.

At least 130 Chinese companies are now selling or manufacturing such equipment, up from just 28 a decade ago, the rights group says.

But as more Chinese companies enter the business, Beijing has not upped protocols to ensure that the exports do not end up in the wrong hands. Instead, most of the equipment is going to African countries where the rule of law is poor and where the potential for abuse is high, according to the respected human-rights watchdog.

Some of the Chinese-made equipment, such as handcuffs and projectile stun guns, is standard police issue that “can have a legitimate use in law enforcement if used correctly and in line with international standards for law enforcement,” says Amnesty.

However, other instruments are described by Amnesty as “inherently abusive” and include weighted cuffs, neck cuffs, electric shock batons and spiked batons, among others.

The report is a collaboration between Amnesty and the Omega Research Foundation, a British group that studies the international use and distribution of law-enforcement equipment. Liberia, Uganda and Madagascar are among the countries that have imported such equipment from China.

The use of torture to extract confessions is ubiquitous in China, although the government has pledged to crack down on the practice. This week, three police officers and four security personnel from the Chinese city of Harbin were convicted of torturing seven suspects to get confessions, according to Xinhua, China’s state news outlet. One of the tortured suspects died of his injuries, Xinhua said.

TIME Japan

U.S. and Japanese Forces Lock and Load With One Eye on China

Japan-U.S. Joint Drill Begins
U.S. Marines and members of the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force line up before a joint exercise at the JGSDF's Aibano facility in Takashima, Japan, on Oct. 8, 2013 The Asahi Shimbun

And China's leaders have, in turn, become increasingly wary

When U.S. Marines stormed ashore during a beach-landing exercise in Okinawa recently, they weren’t alone. Charging alongside them was a group of Japanese soldiers assigned to live and train with the Marines and learn the basics of amphibious warfare.

“When they landed on the beach, it was difficult to tell who was who, which was an impressive feat,” said Colonel Romin Dasmalchi, a Marine commander.

The beach drill was just the latest in a dramatic increase in joint training activities between U.S. and Japanese forces. The goal is to broaden Japan’s military capabilities, weave U.S. and Japanese forces ever closer together and solidify the U.S. “pivot” to Asia.

On almost any day, U.S. and Japanese ground troops, sailors or aircrews can be found practicing combat skills side by side or preparing for major training operations throughout the Japanese archipelago, and across the Pacific.

Day-to-day coordination is up as well. U.S. Marines now have full-time liaison officers with the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force (JGSDF) in Tokyo and southern Japan. And JGSDF officers are assigned to Marine headquarters in Okinawa, Hawaii, Washington, D.C., and Quantico, Va.

That’s a deep sea change from even a few years ago, when most U.S. and Japanese forces had little direct contact, says Grant Newsham, senior research fellow at the Japan Forum for Strategic Studies in Tokyo and former liaison officer between U.S. Marines and the JGSDF.

“There is both a qualitative and quantitative difference in training these days. We are beginning to train together jointly, instead of the traditional parallel arrangement,” Newsham says.

U.S. and Japanese officials agreed during talks in Tokyo in 2012 to boost joint training and improve interoperability. That was due in part to lessons learned from the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in northeastern Japan — where there were communication and coordination breakdowns — as well as concerns over China’s rapid military buildup and aggressive territorial demands.

Much of the new training is focused on improving Japan’s ability to defend its sprawling southwest islands chain.

That has not gone unnoticed in China, which claims historical ownership of some of those islands. Chinese leaders are increasingly wary of both the U.S. pivot and the Abe administration’s efforts to boost defense spending and ease restrictions on Japan’s powerful but low-profile military.

“The PLA [People's Liberation Army], as well as the mass media, are certainly very sensitive to these joint training and exercise programs between the U.S. and Japan, especially the increasing amphibious war-fighting capability,” says Yu Tiejun, deputy director of Peking University’s Center for International and Strategic Studies, in Beijing.

“These joint training activities will not only intensify the security dilemma that’s already there, but also trigger the escalation of the arms race in this region,” Yu says.

With a defense budget only about a third of China’s and with just a modest spending increases planned for the coming years, it is not clear that Japan is bent on an arms race.

Nonetheless, it is clear that Japan is boosting the size, scope and frequency with which it trains with, and learns from, the powerful Americans.

In 2006, for example, the JGSDF sent just a couple dozen soldiers to take part in the Marines’ annual Iron Fist exercise in Southern California. Those soldiers took part in only a few phases of the weeks-long drill.

Now, more than 300 troops take part in the full exercise each year, including live-fire training and force-on-force drills against the battle-tested Americans.

Last year, the JGSDF launched a new exercise with the Marines in California, called Dawn Blitz. Tokyo sent a flotilla of warships packed with ground troops, landing craft, helicopters, vehicles and other heavy equipment all the way across the Pacific for two weeks of hard training with the Marines.

For the next edition of Dawn Blitz, in spring 2015, the Japanese have said they hope to send fighter planes as well. Close air support is essential element of amphibious warfare, but one that requires sophisticated skills.

Less noticeable but perhaps equally significant is a program launched in 2013, in which a platoon (about 30 soldiers) of JGSDF is assigned to the Okinawa-based 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit.

Those troops live and train with the Marines for a period of up to three months. That includes, in most cases, clambering aboard U.S. Navy assault ships to cruise the Asia-Pacific region alongside the Marines (if the Marines are called into combat, however, Japan’s pacifist constitution requires that the Japanese troops off-load at the nearest location and return to Japan).

Colonel Takayasu Iwakami, training and exercise director for the JGSDF, says the overall goal is to develop both tactical skill and the ability to operate seamlessly with the Marines in wartime conditions — should that become necessary.

“We are trying to develop an amphibious warfare capability, but we don’t have the knowledge yet. The Marines have the experience of real war so they know much more about it, and we can learn from them,” Iwakami says. “But it’s not just a matter of how frequently we train together, or even the type of training that we do. It’s also about developing a deep sense of understanding and trust for each other.”

That also has benefits for the Marines. With land wars in Iraq and Afghanistan all but over, thousands of Marines have returned to their bases in Okinawa. Training opportunities are limited there, however, and the Marines have begun training more frequently at JGSDF at bases on the main islands.

“Even though we were in Japan and trained in Japan, we didn’t put as much effort into training with the Japanese as we should have,” says Major Eric Mattson, who heads the Marines’ joint training program in Japan.

“Now it’s ‘Let’s do some real training. Put them on our ships. Let them see how we live, see how we train. Do all that right along with them.’ And then we go up to their ranges, stay on their bases, fire their weapons. So it has tangible benefits for us,” says Mattson.

Even the U.S. Navy, which has long had a close relationship with the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF), is upping the frequency and sophistication with which it trains with its counterpart.

Earlier this year, for example, U.S. warships completed a complex live-fire exercise off the coast of Guam with eight JMSDF ships, including naval gunnery, antisubmarine warfare, tactical maneuvering and communication drills.

Vice Admiral Robert Thomas, commander of the Yokosuka-based U.S. Seventh Fleet, says U.S. and Japanese ships now work together “virtually every day.”

“Our operations with the JMSDF are focused on high-end interoperability, so often the quality of the training is even more important than quantity,” Thomas says.

Both the frequency and scope of U.S.-Japan training is almost certain to increase.

Japan plans to field a 3,000-man amphibious warfare unit, based in southern Japan, no later than 2018. They will use the same amphibious assault vehicles, V-22 Osprey aircraft and other equipment used by the Marines and Navy. That will require close coordination with Americans.

That’s not a bad thing, says Brad Glosserman, executive director of the Pacific Forum CSIS, a think tank in Honolulu.

The Chinese are likely to complain no matter how much or how little U.S. forces train with the Japanese, and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s efforts to ease restrictions on Japan’s military are likely to remain tempered by public opinion, Glosserman says.

“I like the idea of our armed forces training so much with other countries’ militaries. It increases familiarity, reminds our military that all armies don’t fight alike, and the better that we understand those differences among our partners, the smarter we can be. What’s not to like?”

TIME Syria

The U.S. Is Risking Stalemate by Expanding the Anti-ISIS Air War Into Syria

U.S. Navy Targets Gaddafi Military Sites On the Libyan Coast
The U.S. attacked targets inside Syria early Tuesday with Tomahawk missiles like this one, shown being launched against Libya from a U.S. Navy warship in the Mediterranean Sea in 2011. U.S. Navy / Getty Images

Bombing the militants will halt their expansion, but it will not wipe them out

Tuesday’s bombing of Islamic militant targets inside Syria by U.S. and allied aircraft marks a sharp escalation of the conflict, with no guarantee of success.

The strikes, in and around Raqqa, the Syrian city that is the home base of the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), began with 47 Tomahawk cruise missiles fired from U.S. Navy ships. Air Force and Navy warplanes, along with unmanned drones, followed in their wake, defense officials said. The Air Force’s F-22 fighter-bomber also made its combat debut during the operation. Bahrain, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates played unspecified roles in the attacks. All aircraft returned safely.

“The strikes destroyed or damaged multiple [ISIS] targets in the vicinity of Raqqa, Dayr az Zawr, Al Hasakah, and Abu Kamal,” U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Fla., said of four towns that are ISIS strongholds. Targets “included [ISIS] fighters, training compounds, headquarters and command and control facilities, storage facilities, a finance center, supply trucks and armed vehicles,” Central Command said in its early-morning statement. More than 150 precision-guided munitions were used against 14 different targets.

ISIS wasn’t the only group targeted inside Syria. “Separately, the United States has also taken action to disrupt the imminent attack plotting against the United States and Western interests conducted by a network of seasoned al Qaeda veterans—sometimes referred to as the Khorasan Group—who have established a safe haven in Syria to develop external attacks, construct and test improvised explosive devices and recruit Westerners to conduct operations,” the Central Command statement added. “These strikes were undertaken only by U.S. assets.” The Pentagon conducted eight strikes against Khorasan targets west of the Syrian city of Aleppo, including “training camps, an explosives and munitions production facility, a communication building and command and control facilities.”

“We wanted to make sure that [ISIS] knew they have no safe haven,” Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters as he flew back to Washington from Europe. “We certainly achieved that.”

Expanding the set of ISIS targets—the U.S. had attacked some 200 ISIS locations, all in Iraq, before Tuesday—is a military gamble with unpredictable consequences.

President Obama warned he would launch expanded strikes in a speech on Sept. 10.

“I have made it clear that we will hunt down terrorists who threaten our country, wherever they are,” Obama said. “That means I will not hesitate to take action against [ISIS] in Syria, as well as Iraq. This is a core principle of my presidency: if you threaten America, you will find no safe haven.”

The Pentagon’s war plan “includes targeted actions against [ISIS] safe havens in Syria — including its command and control, logistics capabilities, and infrastructure,” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told Congress last week. “Our actions will not be restrained by a border that exists in name only.”

U.S. intelligence assets — including satellites and drones — have therefore been scouring eastern Syria for ISIS targets in recent weeks.

The new attacks, against fixed ISIS targets, undoubtedly did significant damage. But they also will force ISIS fighters to hunker down, now that their sanctuary inside Syria has been breached. This means that the jihadists, who have shown little regard for civilians, will move in among them in the relatively few towns and villages in eastern Syria, betting that the U.S. and its allies will not attack them there and risk killing innocents.

That could lead to a stalemate. While air strikes are likely to keep ISIS from massing its forces, and traveling in easy-to-spot convoys, air power can do little to stop small groups of fighters from billeting with and intimidating the local population.

Senior U.S. military officers, including Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and General Ray Odierno, the Army chief of staff, have said in recent days that they may recommend to Obama that small numbers of U.S. ground forces be sent into the fight, to ensure the accuracy of U.S. air strikes.

But most of the fighting on the ground in Iraq against ISIS will be done by Iraqi forces, U.S. officials say. “Moderate” Syrian rebels will battle ISIS on the ground inside Syria. However, the U.S. plans to train only 5,000 such rebels in the coming year — a small force compared with ISIS’s estimated 30,000 fighters. That mismatch is another reason why the conflict could bog down.

U.S. military officials have made it clear that if they are to have any chance of success against ISIS, they have to be able to strike at it inside Syria. In Afghanistan, the ability of the Taliban to move into Pakistan, where they were safe from U.S. attacks, is a major reason why they remain a potent threat to Afghanistan’s future stability, even after 13 years of war.

The Syrian government of Bashar Assad has a robust air-defense system — focused, admittedly, in the western part of the country, near the capital of Damascus, and not in the relatively desolate east. Nonetheless, its existence means that U.S. air strikes are not without risk.

ISIS and other anti-Assad groups have been waging a civil war, in which 200,000 people have died, against the Syrian government for three years. It’s that war — and the sectarian strife across the border in Iraq — that ISIS has been able to exploit. Over the past year, it has seized a vast portion of eastern Syria and western Iraq and declared it to be an Islamic state.

TIME Military

U.S. Launches Air-Strike Campaign Against ISIS in Syria

The strikes were aimed at key targets of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria

Updated Sept. 23 at 12:56 p.m. E.T.

The United States and allied forces launched airstrikes against Islamist militants in Syria for the first time late Monday, the Pentagon confirmed.

The strikes, which were carried out early Tuesday morning local time, were aimed at key targets of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), including its base of operations in Raqqa, Syria, as well as a secretive al-Qaeda offshoot known as the Khorasan Group. The Pentagon said the U.S. and its allies used a mix of fighter, bomber and Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles.

President Barack Obama authorized the military to begin a broad-based aerial campaign against ISIS forces in Iraq and Syria earlier this month, and is working to assemble a global coalition to combat the group, which has seized vast swaths of Iraqi and Syrian territory. In a victory for Obama’s efforts to demonstrate regional support for the anti-ISIS effort, the U.S. was accompanied by five Arab nations in the strikes, Bahrain, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. Those nations all participated in, or supported, the strikes.

Speaking from the White House South Lawn Tuesday morning, Obama thanked the American allies for their support. “The strength of this coalition makes it clear to the world that this is not America’s fight alone,” he said in a brief statement. Obama highlighted both the strikes against ISIS and Khorasan, saying “we will not tolerate safe havens for terrorists who threaten our people.”

“The strikes destroyed or damaged multiple ISIL targets in the vicinity of Ar Raqqah, Dayr az Zawr, Al Hasakah, and Abu Kamal and included ISIL fighters, training compounds, headquarters and command and control facilities, storage facilities, a finance center, supply trucks and armed vehicles,” CENTCOM said Tuesday.

The strikes began the night before Obama was set to travel to New York City for a meeting of the U.N. General Assembly. A White House official said Obama was updated on the operation as it proceeded.

The president did not seek congressional authorization for the air campaign against ISIS, but Obama and other administration officials briefed leaders on Capitol Hill late Monday shortly before the strikes began. Last week Congress voted to authorize the Pentagon to train and equip moderate Syrian rebels who are fighting both ISIS and the regime of Syrian President Bashar al Assad. U.S. officials said the Assad government was provided notification that the strikes were imminent, but was not consulted or involved in coordinating the effort.

The military said the American strikes included 47 Tomahawk cruise missiles launched from the USS Arleigh Burke and USS Philippine Sea operating from the Red Sea and North Arabian Gulf, “as well as U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps fighter, remotely piloted and bomber aircraft.”

The campaign in Syria follows more than 194 airstrikes carried out over the past two months against ISIS targets in Iraq, but only recently has the U.S. moved on the “offense” against the group.

“The United States conducted these strikes as part of the President’s comprehensive strategy to degrade and ultimately defeat ISIL,” CENTCOM said. “Going forward, the U.S. military will continue to conduct targeted airstrikes against ISIL in Syria and Iraq as local forces go on the offensive against this terrorist group.”

The strikes against Khorasan Group were unexpected, and involved only American assets. Senior government officials have raised alarm about the network of veteran al-Qaeda extremists plotting attacks on the U.S. from Syrian safe havens, but have been wary of even confirming the group’s existence until the past several weeks.

“The United States has also taken action to disrupt the imminent attack plotting against the United States and Western interests conducted by a network of seasoned al-Qa’ida veterans—sometimes referred to as the Khorasan Group—who have established a safe haven in Syria to develop external attacks, construct and test improvised explosive devices and recruit Westerners to conduct operations.” CENTCOM said in the statement. “In total, U.S. Central Command conducted eight strikes against Khorasan Group targets west of Aleppo to include training camps, an explosives and munitions production facility, a communication building and command and control facilities.”

 

TIME Military

Army’s Top Officer Wonders if the Post-9/11 Wars Have Been Worth It

Senate Armed Services Committee Holds Hearing With Top Military Officials On Compensation
General Ray Odierno testifies before Congress in May. Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

“I’m not willing to comment on that yet,” Gen. Ray Odierno says

At 60, Ray Odierno may be an old soldier. But he has yet to fade away.

He’s now serving as the Army’s top officer, following three senior assignments in Iraq between 2003 and 2010. Few, if any, commanders wearing a U.S. military uniform have spent as much time as the Army’s 38th chief of staff trying to get the nation’s post-9/11 wars right.

Ft. Hood Soldiers Prepare for Deployment
Odierno, 2003 Getty Images

So there he was over breakfast with reporters Friday, trying to explain the U.S. military’s effort, from the sky, to rid Iraq, and then Syria, of the jihadists belonging to the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS).

“Air strikes have slowed the advances of [ISIS],” he said. “But air strikes alone won’t defeat [ISIS]. You need a complementary ground capability that will go in and do that.” He, like other Pentagon leaders, wouldn’t rule out asking President Obama to dispatch small numbers of U.S. ground troops to the fight, even though Obama has said that will not happen. “I never rule anything out,” Odierno said.

Commander of the 4th Infantry Division o
Odierno, 2004 Getty Images

But it’s Iraqis and Syrians who will have to do most of the fighting on the ground, he added. U.S. air strikes will only drive ISIS fighters into urban areas, where innocent civilians will serve to protect them from American bombs and missiles, he warned. It will be a challenge to ensure the U.S. and its allies only train and outfit Syrian rebels dedicated to removing ISIS. “We must be sure they are who they are,” he said, “and won’t be part of some extremist group.”

US Army Lieutenant General Ray Odierno,
Odierno, 2007 Getty Images

Such woes have dogged U.S. efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan for more than a decade. His recitation reminded this reporter of seeing then-Major General Odierno in Kirkuk, Iraq, in December 2003, explaining how things were going in the 4th Infantry Division he commanded. Attacks on his troops were down, and they were hot on Saddam Hussein’s tail. A week later, they pulled the fugitive former Iraqi leader from his spider hole.

Gen. Odierno Holds Press Briefing On Security Situation In Iraq
Odierno, 2010 Getty Images

But such early progress proved elusive later on in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Odierno has felt that shortfall, personally. Eight months after Saddam’s capture, Odierno’s son, Tony, an Army captain and West Point graduate like his father, lost his left arm to an RPG round that killed the driver of his Humvee. Friday’s breakfast had been delayed a month because the original date conflicted with honors for Army Major General Harold Greene. The most senior U.S. officer to die in the wars following 9/11, Greene had been killed by a member of the Afghan army, a supposed ally.

Those were low points in what has become a 13-year grind, and that threatens—despite Obama’s best intentions—to continue for years to come. Has it been worth it?

To his credit, Odierno didn’t respond with a reflexive “Yes.” The hulking, nearly 6-foot-6, bald-headed general said he has been asked the question before. That only makes his answer more credible:

That’s a very difficult question…The bottom line on all of this is, as I think my way through this, is that first, as a soldier, what we do is we try to provide the capability to try to provide security for the nation. And we try to conduct the missions we’re given. As we’ve worked our way through this, one of the lessons I’ve learned is that military power is not the solution to everything—it’s got to be a combination of many other things—military, economic, political, diplomatic, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. I would even argue in my area of operation in 2003—the violence was down, we had just captured the leader, things were looking pretty good—but there was an under-estimation of the societal devastation that had happened inside Iraq. The bottom line is that the Middle East is all inter-connected and it is going to cause problems and we have to stay involved in it. I don’t know what the end state is going to be yet.

What I do know is its terrorist groups are very threatening to both the United States and Europe. I brought some of our leaders up to New York to the 9/11 museum—I suggest everyone go, by the way, I suggest every American go to this 9/11 museum—and it was eerie listening to what was being said in 1991, ’92, ’93, ’94 by Osama bin Laden. It sounds very similar to what we’re hearing out of [ISIS] today. So we have to realize that this is a long-term threat that takes a long-term commitment. And if we don’t believe they want to attack the West and America, you’re kidding yourself…We have to make a decision on whether we are going to be pro-active in doing this, or are we going to wait until it’s too late.

So what’s helped me through all this is, I believe, we are attempting to be pro-active and to protect this country and the freedoms that we have. And I don’t want to sound Pollyannish, but I truly believe that. I think we have to continue to do this, although things have not gone the way I thought they would go. Things are not as smooth as I thought they would be. There’s been personal sacrifice, but not just by my family, but thousands of families in this country. I think we have to remember that there is, I believe, a threat to this country.

So has it been worth it?

I think it’s yet to be determined. I think this is going to be a long endeavor, and I think we have to let history decide that. I’m not willing to comment on that yet.

What’s surprising isn’t how little Odierno sounds a typical Army general, but how much he sounds like a typical American.

TIME celebrities

John Green and Bill Gates Are Teaming Up to Bring Clean Water to Ethiopia

Gates has said he'll match $100,000 if Green can raise it

Author John Green has gotten a lot of attention for his heart-wrenching novel The Fault in Our Stars, the bestselling young-adult-novel-turned-blockbuster-movie about two young cancer patients who meet in a support group. But most fans who only know of Green for this reason aren’t aware of his philanthropic efforts, in which he leverages his large social media following and YouTube fan base. His charitable fundraisers have been geared at everything from cancer to censorship to malaria, but now he’s tackling clean water with the help of Bill Gates.

Green’s biggest fans call themselves “Nerdfighters,” those whose goal in life is to, in Green’s words, “decrease world suck,” and Gates seems to have joined the bandwagon, pledging to match the $100,000 Green hopes to raise through “nerdfighteria.”

Green traveled to Ethiopia with the Gates Foundation earlier this year and documented the trip in his weekly YouTube video, saying that “with 80% of people living in rural areas,” the need for clean water in health care centers was vital. He also raved about the impression that Gates and his foundation’s CEO Susan Desmond-Hellmann left on him.

“To be honest… I kind of assumed that Bill and Sue were visiting Ethiopia for, like, a photo op,” he says in one of his videos. “But they were there to ask questions, and lots of them…and watching Bill and Sue gravitate away from cameras and toward health workers, it became clear to me that the Gates Foundation fundamental principle that all human lives have equal value isn’t just rhetoric.”

Green and Gates seem to be quite the power duo, with Green writing on Gates’ blog: “My visit to Ethiopia wasn’t sad—at least not merely so. It was invigorating and encouraging. And sad. … But we shouldn’t look away or feel discouraged. We should get to work.”

As of Monday afternoon, Green’s donation page was raising more than $1,000 every 30 minutes. Watch one of his videos about his trip below.

 

 

TIME ebola

The Liberian Church Stopping Ebola With Gospel and Chlorine

Dr. Mosoka Fallah, an epidemiologist and immunologist, speaks with residents during a neighborhood Ebola training session in Monrovia, Liberia.
Dr. Mosoka Fallah, an epidemiologist and immunologist, speaks with residents during a neighborhood Ebola training session in Monrovia, Liberia, Aug. 30, 2014. Daniel Berehulak—The New York Times/Redux

The Free Pentecostal Global Mission Church in the Chickensoup Factory district of Monrovia uses the pulpit to teach about the deadly virus, one sermon at a time

“Lord,” shouts the Reverend Joseph T.S. Menjor into a microphone. “We are tired of this situation. We are calling on you to cast this abomination from our country. Jesus, we want our land to be free of Ebola. Cast out this disease!”

The pastor is leading his people in prayer, but it is not a moment of quiet reflection. No, his congregation is on its feet, swaying to a gospel hymn, eyes closed and hands raised in supplication. At Menjor’s call, the 600 or so congregants of the Free Pentecostal Global Mission Church in the Chickensoup Factory district of Monrovia, Liberia chant a chorus of amens and launch into a cacophony of individual prayers, symbolically casting the evil of Ebola to the ground with repeated downward thrusts of their hands.

Menjor is not just trusting in God to solve the Ebola problem. The minister is taking concrete steps to protect his people, and his community, from an outbreak of a deadly virus that has already claimed 2,800 lives and sickened thousands more across Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. Over 1,500 of those fatalities occurred in Liberia, with the densely packed seaside capital of Monrovia the worst affected. The disease, which is transmitted through contact with infected bodily fluids, has no vaccine, and there is no cure.

Preventing Ebola’s spread is the only solution, says Menjor. As with most establishments across the capital, large plastic vessels fitted with spigots and filled with a diluted chlorine solution flank the church doors. Ushers remind churchgoers to wash their hands thoroughly before entering. No one shakes hands anymore. Newcomers are greeted with broad smiles instead of the reverend’s personal embrace. While the church has grown in numbers since the outbreak — “When people are scared of dying, they flock to God,” chuckles Menjor — the pews are no longer tightly packed. The church offers two Sunday services instead, and broadcasts its sermons over the radio.

The Chickensoup Factory church branch, named after a powder soup manufacturing plant that used to be in the area, has also pioneered an Ebola Task Force designed to push the message of prevention into the homes of congregants and community members. Each Sunday, Rebecca Scotland, a founding member of the task force and a nursing instructor at a nearby teaching hospital, delivers her own talk before the sermon.

Combining drama with call and response, Scotland mimes Ebola symptoms for the congregation to identify. She fans her face and mimes taking her temperature. “Fever!” the congregation shouts. She feigns weakness, swaying on her feet. She clutches her stomach and bends over a pretend bucket. “Vomiting!” calls out a member of the choir. She squats in front of the pulpit and blows a raspberry into the microphone. “Diarrhea!” laughs the congregation.

The game of symptoms charades over, Scotland collapses in front of the pulpit, pretending to be sick. One of the prayer leaders, playing the part of a concerned relative, rushes to her side to offer comfort. Scotland jumps up with a stern “No!” The easiest way to get Ebola, she explains, is by touching infected people. “If you think you are sick, or someone in your family is sick, call 4455,” the national emergency hotline number. “The good news about Ebola is that there are survivors. It is not a death sentence. If you can get to the hospital, you have a chance.”

But knowing how difficult it is to find care in a city with more Ebola patients than room to treat them, she instructs the congregation on how to wear long sleeves and gloves before tending sickened family members. She explains how to mix a chlorine and water solution for cleaning hands and skin, and a stronger one for cleaning up vomit, blood and diarrhea. “Most Ebola infections happen at the bedside, when family members are caring for their loved ones,” she explains to TIME after the sermon. “If we can teach our members how to take care of themselves while taking care of their family members, we can go a long way towards stopping this disease.”

Scotland’s now weekly sermon was inspired by the illness of a beloved member of the church leadership, choir director Deborah Kamanda, who contracted Ebola caring for her younger sister and died Aug. 23. It was the first time Ebola had come to the congregation, and spurred the leadership into action. “We couldn’t save Deborah, but we knew we could stop that from happening again.” The task force, which was launched a week after Kamanda took sick, bore fruit immediately. Scotland’s guidance helped save Kamanda’s husband, Alex T. J. Kamanda, a science teacher who nursed his wife for eight days before a bed opened up in one of the city’s overcrowded treatment facilities.

While Kamanda, 39, stayed by his wife’s side, church members kept him in a steady supply of gloves, extra clothes and chlorine powder. “For me it was traumatic, seeing someone you love suffering so much, and not even being able to touch her without gloves, ” says Kamanda, sitting in front of the empty porch where his wife spent her last listless days before going to the treatment center. “But I didn’t get sick.” It’s a double blessing: his four-year-old son, who was staying with his grandparents at the time, still has a family, unlike the country’s hundreds of Ebola orphans.

The guidance of Monrovia’s churches is spreading beyond their congregations. When one of his neighbors got sick, Kamanda’s example inspired the victim’s son, Victor T. Bumbeh, to use the same protective measures. He didn’t get sick either. “It’s a fearful disease,” says the jobless 27-year-old. “I understand why people are afraid. But with the right protections, not everyone who touches it dies.” To members of the Chickensoup Factory church, casting Ebola from Liberia may start with God, but education, counseling and a good dose of chlorine are just as important.

TIME National Security

Some Americans Fighting With Terror Groups Have Returned to the U.S., Obama Administration Says

President Barack Obama delivers remarks at the Democratic National Committee's Women's Leadership Forum, on Sept. 19, 2014, in Washington.
President Barack Obama delivers remarks at the Democratic National Committee's Women's Leadership Forum, on Sept. 19, 2014, in Washington. Evan Vucci—AP

First official government confirmation that at least some of the Americans fighting alongside ISIS have come home

The Obama Administration believes some Americans who have fought alongside the militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) have returned to the United States, a senior Administration official said Monday.

During a briefing for reporters Monday in the ornate Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the Administration’s efforts to address the issue of so-called foreign terrorist fighters, the official said that the latest assessment from National Counterterrorism Center is that more than 100 Americans have attempted to fight in Iraq and Syria alongside ISIS, the al-Qaeda affiliated al-Nusra Front or other groups.

“It includes those who’ve gone, those who’ve tried to go, some who’ve come back and are under active—the FBI is looking at them,” the official said. “These are FBI matters, I refer you to them on specifics.”

It marked the first official government confirmation that at least some of the Americans fighting alongside the Islamist extremist group have returned to the U.S. As late as Monday morning, Secretary of State John Kerry said on MSNBC that “we have over 100 fighters there from America,” leaving out any mention of Americans who have returned.

President Barack Obama convened a meeting of his National Security Council last Wednesday to “discuss the threat posed by foreign terrorist fighters to the U.S. homeland and nations around the world and the Administration’s whole-of-government strategic response,” the White House said. Obama will chair a UN Security Council summit Wednesday on the subject, where the international body is expected to pass a resolution establishing an international legal framework for addressing the spread of foreign fighters.

Obama and other Administration officials have repeatedly warned about Americans or Europeans who have fought alongside ISIS potentially entering the United States and causing harm.

“Well, with respect to the Americans who may be engaged in combat in Iraq and Syria, this is something that our national security agencies and counterterrorism team are taking very seriously,” National Security Advisor Susan Rice said Friday. “It’s something we track closely. And we are doing obviously all that we can to both gather the necessary information and take the appropriate precautions to the greatest extent that we possibly can.”

Another official highlighted the myriad ways in which the Administration can prevent foreign fighters from returning to the U.S., including placing them on no-fly lists, adding airport screening measures and seizing their passports. But the first official would not discuss the specific measures used to keep Americans who have fought alongside ISIS from returning to the U.S. “This is worked on a case by case basis,” the official said, “I defer to the FBI.”

The official said the NCTC believes that 15,000 fighters from 80 countries have tried to fight in Iraq and Syria, including 2,000 Europeans and the more than 100 Americans.

TIME ebola

Ebola ‘Pretty Much Contained’ in Senegal and Nigeria

Christopher Dye, Director of Strategy of the World Health Organization speaks to the media about Ebola Virus Disease in West Africa, during a press conference, at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva on Sept. 22, 2-14.
Christopher Dye, Director of Strategy of the World Health Organization speaks to the media about Ebola Virus Disease in West Africa, during a press conference, at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva on Sept. 22, 2-14. Salvatore Di Nolfi—EPA

Good news for containment of an outbreak that has killed more than 2,800 people

The outbreaks of Ebola in Senegal and Nigeria have been “pretty much contained,” the World Health Organization said Monday.

There have been no new confirmed cases of Ebola in Senegal since the first case was reported Aug. 29, and the last case of Ebola reported in Nigeria was Sept. 8, the WHO’s regional office for Africa said in a statement. The news comes on the same day the WHO released details from the second meeting of the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee on Ebola. One of the top conclusions from the group was that travel and trade should continue in West Africa:

“Flight cancellations and other travel restrictions continue to isolate affected countries resulting in detrimental economic consequences, and hinder relief and response efforts risking further international spread,” the committee said.

The Committee reiterated WHO stances on making sure health care workers are protected from possible infections and ensuring people who are quarantined still have access to food and water.

There are currently 5,833 cases of Ebola in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea, Senegal, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (though the DRC outbreak is thought to be unrelated to the others). Among those cases, 2,833 people have died.

 

TIME Soccer

Official Says Qatar Is Too Hot to Host World Cup

FBL-WC2014-QAT-FIFA-TROPHY
A Qatari official stands near the FIFA World Cup trophy following its arrival in Doha, on Dec. 12, 2013. Karim Jaafar—AFP/Getty Images

"Medics say that they cannot accept responsibility with a World Cup taking place under these conditions"

Qatar likely will not be hosting the 2022 World Cup, a top FIFA official said Monday. Why? The country is too hot.

“Medics say that they cannot accept responsibility with a World Cup taking place under these conditions,” Reuters reports FIFA Executive Committee member Theo Zwanziger saying. “I personally think that in the end the 2022 World Cup will not take place in Qatar.”

Qatar leaders have said they will equip stadiums, fan zones, and training areas with advanced cooling systems during the games, but Zwanziger said it won’t be enough.

“They may be able to cool the stadiums but a World Cup does not take place only there,” Zwanziger said.

A Qatari official quickly pushed back in a statement.

“Qatar will host the FIFA World Cup in 2022, despite comments of FIFA Executive Committee member Dr. Zwanziger, which reflect his personal opinion and not that of FIFA,” the official said. “The only question now is WHEN, not IF. Summer or winter, we will be ready. We have proven that a FIFA World Cup in Qatar in the summer is possible with state-of-the-art cooling technology. We have demonstrated that our cooling works in outdoor areas beyond stadiums.”

[Reuters]

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