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’14 yrs at Guantánamo Bay, nearly half of me has disappeared, gradually I am going to vanish’’


’14 yrs at Guantánamo Bay, nearly half of me has disappeared, gradually I am going to vanish’’

Of the original 780 prisoners, 740 have been released, but here I am, thousands of miles from my wife and children — including Jawad, who is 17, and who I have never had the chance to touch.

On 21 August, 2006, records show that I weighed 73 kilos. When I was weighed a week ago, the scale registered just 39 kilos. In the last 14 years at Guantánamo Bay, nearly half of me has disappeared.

In total, it has now been 18 years since I was kidnapped and handed over to US forces, to be tortured in Afghanistan and flown halfway across the world to this island gulag. Of the original 780 prisoners, 740 have been released, but here I am, thousands of miles from my wife and children — including Jawad, who is 17, and who I have never had the chance to touch.

Can you imagine one of your children being almost adult, yet you have never touched him? My hunger strike is a peaceful protest against this indefinite detention without trial. Nobody suggests I have ever committed a crime.

The US military are paranoid about people escaping, though it is hard to think where I might go: there are 100 soldiers for each detainee, along with the second largest landmine field in the world after Korea, plus the shark infested Caribbean sea.

Yet I have an escape plan: I am going to gradually vanish. I like to think that almost half of me has found freedom already, though I am so thin I can now feel my thumb and finger when I pinch where my stomach ought to be.

This is despite them force feeding me with tins of Ensure, deliberately hurting me in the process. Twice a day they take me to the ‘torture chair’.

They say I go voluntarily, but if I do not walk there in my shackles, they send a team of guards to throw me to the floor and violently drag me out of my cell — and then punish me afterwards for refusing to comply. I may as well get there on my own two feet.

They strap me in and a military nurse uses a 110-centimetre tube on me. It is painful and I get a splitting headache each time they do it, but I am used to that. What I can never accept is being used as a sub-human guinea pig for the nurses to learn the job. Soldiers come and go every few months, but I remain. I try to teach them how to do it, as I am an expert by now: after seven years of hunger striking, on and off, I have probably had a tube stuck up my nose more times than anyone else on the planet.

In each new six-month deployment there are one or two who can’t get it round the top of my nose, or send the tube into my lungs instead of my stomach. (They have to blow air in first to show where it went — or else I would drown in protein shake). One soldier I have at the moment is just untrainable, I don’t think she’ll ever get it right, no matter how many times she tries.

Mine is a fairly desperate strategy, particularly for someone like me. Back in another world, before I was kidnapped, when I was not driving a taxi around Karachi I would be cooking for my friends and family. Preparing and eating food is one of life’s great pleasures, and I do not give it up lightly.

To distract myself from my misery, I have been working on a cookbook. My family is originally from the Rohingya minority that has suffered from Burmese genocide, so we are used to being mistreated. One of my dishes is Rohingya ‘Strappado Chicken’, so named as you must hang the chicken rather like they dangled me in the ‘Dark Prison’.

A ‘Guantánamo Diet Book’ would be rather shorter — you just stop eating. What else am I supposed to do? What would you do if you had lost 18 years of your life, with no end in sight? The freedom to refuse food — to starve myself in protest against this terrible injustice — is the only freedom I have left.They tell me that I am not ‘cooperating’ with them. They told my lawyers if I testified against some of the high-value detainees, I could go home.

But they wanted me to repeat what I said during 540 days in their ‘Dark Prison’ in Kabul, where they hung me from an iron bar in a pitch dark pit. (That is a form of torture that was cal-led ‘Strappado’ 500 years ago in the Mid-dle Ages, yet is sadly something the US used on me in the 21st century — the pain as your shoulders gradually dislocate is excruciating.)

But I have lines I will never cross, and I said I could not ‘cooperate’ in repeating lies that I made up to get them to stop torturing me.

I know nothing about terrorism, and it is ironic that unless I swear to these lies, I am labelled a terrorist myself. I’ve done a lot of ‘cooperating’ — following their stupid rules or taking part in their “Periodic Review Board” even though President Donald Trump tweeted he would not let anyone go — but no matter how much I do this, I am still here.

So I will maintain my peaceful protest, aiming to lose another 17 pounds, down to about 70. I suppose in the end, if I keep going, I will not survive. But I was recently 51 years old, and have had the prime of my life taken from me. If they won’t let me return to my wife and children soon, the rest of me may as well go home in a box.

The writer is a former taxi driver from Karachi held prisoner by the US for 18 years without charge or trial.




NASA unveils $28 billion plan to return to the moon by 2024


NASA unveils $28 billion plan to return to the moon by 2024

The first mission — known as Artemis I — is on track for 2021 without astronauts, and Artemis II will fly with the crew in 2023.

About 18 months ago, NASA accepted a bold challenge to send the first woman and next man to the surface of the Moon in 2024.  On Monday, NASA has shared an update on its Artemis program and revealed its latest plan to return astronauts to the Moon in 2024. The estimated the cost of meeting that deadline is $28 billion, from which $16 billion would be spent on the lunar landing module.

However, meeting the deadline set by US President Donald Trump administrator, Jim Bridenstine, depends a lot on receiving approval from Congress, as they have to approve financing of $3.2 billion quickly for the development of human-rated lunar landers, according to a report in Spaceflight Now on Monday. The $28 billion would cover the budgetary years of 2021-25.

“I am confident in NASA’s partnership with these companies to help achieve the Artemis mission and develop the human landing system returning us to the Moon” said Lisa Watson-Morgan, HLS program manager at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. “We have a history of proven lunar technical expertise and capabilities at Marshall and across NASA that will pave the way for our efforts to quickly and safely land humans on the Moon in 2024.” 




Direct cargo ferry service between India and Maldives starts today


Direct cargo ferry service between India and Maldives starts today

This ferry service, being operated by the Shipping Corporation of India, will run twice a month and will provide a cost-effective, direct and alternate means of transportation of goods between India and Maldives.

Minister of State (Independent Charge) for Shipping, Mansukh Mandaviya and Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation of Maldives, Aishath Nahula, today jointly e-launched a direct cargo ferry service between India and Maldives.

During its maiden voyage, a vessel with a capacity of 200 TEU and 3000 MT of breakbulk cargo will sail from Tuticorin to Kochi today, from where it will proceed to Kulhudhuffushi port in North Maldives and then to Male port. It is scheduled to reach Kulhudhuffushi on September 26, 2020, and Male on September 29, 2020.

This ferry service, being operated by the Shipping Corporation of India, will run twice a month and will provide a cost-effective, direct and alternate means of transportation of goods between India and Maldives.

Speaking on the occasion, Mandaviya noted that this service is another milestone in the comprehensive bilateral relations between India and Maldives. He mentioned that this direct cargo service will further cement the close ties between India and Maldives by enhancing people-to-people contact and boosting bilateral trade.

Nahula expressed deep appreciation for the launch of the service as reflective of the close ties of friendship and cooperation between India and Maldives.

Speaking on the occasion, Mandaviya noted that this service is another milestone in the comprehensive bilateral relations between India and Maldives. He mentioned that this direct cargo service will further cement the close ties between India and Maldives by enhancing people-to-people contact and boosting bilateral trade.

Nahula expressed deep appreciation for the launch of the service as reflective of the close ties of friendship and cooperation between India and Maldives.

The launch of this service concretely fulfils the commitment made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his visit to the Maldives in June last year and the announcement made by External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar during his virtual meeting with the Foreign Minister of Maldives on August 13, 2020.

The senior officials of the Ministry of Shipping, Ministry of External Affairs of India and officials of Maldives were also present.




Firefighter dies while battling California wildfire


Firefighter dies while battling California wildfire

According to Cal Fire, five of the top 20 largest fires in California’s history have occurred in 2020.

A firefighter died while battling a massive wildfire that was sparked by a gender reveal party two weeks ago in Southern California, bringing the total number of fatalities to 26 so far this year across the US state, authorities said.

On Friday, the San Bernardino National Forest Service officials confirmed the death of the firefighter due to the El Dorado Fire, which is currently estimated at 21,678 acres with 66 per cent containment, reports Xinhua news agency.

The blaze was caused by a smoke generating pyrotechnic device used during a celebration to reveal the gender of a baby in San Bernardino County on September 5.

The name of the firefighter is being withheld pending notification of next of kin, the San Bernardino National Forest Service said.

“Our deepest sympathies are with the family, friends and fellow firefighters during this time,” tweeted the San Bernardino National Forest Service, adding that the cause is under investigation.

The El Dorado Fire is one of the major wildfires burning around California.

Over 18,500 firefighters remain on the frontlines fighting wildfires in the state as of Friday, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

The total number of fatalities in California is 23 civilians and three firefighters.

Since the beginning of the year, there have been over 7,900 wildfires that have burned over 3.4 million acres in California.

Since August 15, when California’s fire activity elevated, more than 5,500 structures have been destroyed, the department said in its daily wildfire report.

According to Cal Fire, five of the top 20 largest fires in California’s history have occurred in 2020.

California’s peak fire season usually runs until October, but can continue until further in the year.




Bangladesh to halt Covid-19 services in 12 hospitals


Bangladesh to halt Covid-19 services in 12 hospitals

Meanwhile, Health Minister Zahid Maleque said he was working on the issue, but it would take some time to halt services in all the 12 hospitals because they still had some patients.

Covid-19 services will be halted in 12 hospitals across Bangladesh due to the lack of patients, according to the Directorate General of Health Services.

The remark was made by the Directorate in a letter dated August 27 to Health Secretary Md Abdul Mannan, bdnews24 reported on Thursday.

The hospitals comprised five in Dhaka, six in Chattogram and one in Sylhet.

As many as 11,165 beds out of 14,275 in Covid-19 hospitals were without any patients on Wednesday. The rate was a little over 68 per cent by the end of June.

The government signed contracts with different hospitals for the treatment of Covid-19 patients after the outbreak began in Bangladesh in March.

Though the government is paying the cost of treatment in these facilities, the number of patients has been very low.

“The equipment and staffing in these hospitals have remained unused,” bdnews24 quoted Professor ABM Khurshid Alam, the Director General of Health Services, as saying on Thursday.

“We will redistribute the manpower and equipment of these hospitals. But we will need to keep some hospitals ready because we don’t know what might happen in future.

“The government hospitals will continue the services,” he added.

Meanwhile, Health Minister Zahid Maleque said he was working on the issue, but it would take some time to halt services in all the 12 hospitals because they still had some patients.

The Ministry has instructed the government hospitals dedicated for coronavirus patients to gradually resume services for non-Covid-19 patients, Maleque added.

As of Friday, Bangladesh has reported a total of 344,264 coroavirus cases with 4,859 deaths.




No new Covid-19 cases in New Zealand for 1st time in a month


No new Covid-19 cases in New Zealand for 1st time in a month

They remain in an Auckland quarantine facility, which includes 22 people who have tested positive for Covid-19 and their household contacts.

There were no new coronavirus cases in New Zealand on Friday for the first time early August, according to the Health Ministry.

In a statement, the Ministry said that currently there were 54 people linked to a community cluster which was detected last month in Auckland, the country’s largest city, reports Xinhua news agency.

They remain in an Auckland quarantine facility, which includes 22 people who have tested positive for Covid-19 and their household contacts.

There are four people in hospital with Covid-19, including one in ICU, the statement said.

With no new cases to report and seven additional recovered cases, the total number of active cases in New Zealand is 70.

Of those, 33 are imported cases in managed isolation facilities, and 37 are community cases, the statement said.

The country’s total number of confirmed cases as of Friday stood at 1,458, with 25 deaths.




Single-day Covid-19 cases hit record high: WHO


Single-day Covid-19 cases hit record high: WHO

The US accounted for the world’s highest number of cases and deaths at 6,519,121 and 194,041 respectively.

The number of single-day coronavirus cases globally has hit a new record high, said the World Health Organization (WHO).

In a statement on Sunday, the WHO said that there were 307,930 new cases globally in the last 24 hours, the highest single-day figure ever registered and about 1,000 more than the previous recording-setting daily caseload a week earlier, reports Xinhua news agency.

As of Monday morning, the overall number of global coronavirus cases stood at 28,891,676, while the deaths have increased to 922,441, according to the Johns Hopkins University.

The US accounted for the world’s highest number of cases and deaths at 6,519,121 and 194,041 respectively.

India is currently in the second place in terms of cases at 4,754,356, while the country’s death toll stood at 78,586.

Brazil registered the world’s second-highest Covid-19 death toll, after the US, and the world’s third-largest case count.

On Sunday, it reported 415 new fatalities which took the overall death toll to 131,625.

The country also reported 14,768 new cases, taking the total caseload to 4,330,455.




33 pvt hospitals asked to reserve 80 pc ICU beds for Covid patients


33 pvt hospitals asked to reserve 80 pc ICU beds for Covid patients

Delhi health minister Satyendar Jain concedes some shortage of ICU beds; says govt has asked all private hospitals with 50 beds or more to reserve at least 80 pc of their ICU beds for Covid cases.

The Delhi government has directed 33 large private hospitals in the national capital to reserve 80 per cent of their ICU beds for Covid-19 patients amid a shortage of such beds at some facilities. Delhi has been recording a surge in fresh coronavirus cases for the past few weeks. The city recorded its biggest single-day jump of 4,321 Covid cases yesterday. Delhi health minister Satyendar Jain today said that the Delhi government has directed all the private hospitals in the city having bed strength of 50 beds or more to reserve at least 80 per cent of their total ICU bed strength for Covid-19 patients.

Jain said that 4,321 people were found to be Covid positive out of 60,000 tests conducted yesterday, making the test positivity ratio about 7.19 per cent in Delhi when compared to the national test positivity rate which is about 8.8 per cent.

Considering an increase in cases for the last few days, the Delhi health department has ordered 33 hospitals to reserve 80 per cent of the total ICU beds available for Covid patients. In a video conference with 33 private hospitals, Jain had discussed reserving more beds in their ICUs. Briefing media persons, the health minister said, “If in some hospitals non-Covid patients are already admitted, once discharged, the vacant beds will be reserved for Covid patients only.”

He said that the hospitals in Delhi treating Covid patients were allowed to increase their bed capacity up to 30 per cent which would only be used for Covid patients.

Jain said that the order was relevant only for private hospitals and to ensure that more bed capacity in their ICUs are available so that the demand for ICU beds for Covid patients could be met. The minister added that out of the available 14372 beds, 7938 beds were still vacant and the current order involved ICU beds in private hospitals only and that there were ample beds available in government hospitals. Jain also said that the best way to protect oneself against Covid was the use of masks and the practice of social distancing norm, urging the citizens to be more careful in public and crowded areas.

The minister conceded that there was some scarcity of ICU beds in Delhi. Although there was a sufficient number of beds in hospitals, there was a shortage of ICU beds in easily approachable hospitals.

The hospitals, which are in high demand, have been ordered to increase ICU beds. The ICU beds were currently available in central government-run and Delhi government-run hospitals in the national capital.

Responding to a question, Jain said, “We want to make it clear that we are past the time of the lockdown. We have got a lot of experience after the lockdown. The most effective way to prevent corona infection is to wear masks. If you wear masks, you can avoid infection to a great extent. Also, it is necessary to adhere to social distancing. In the last days, some people had stopped putting masks, and again a campaign was being planned and carried out. The chief minister himself is making all citizens aware. Messages are also being given via FM and IVR etc. We are telling the Delhi residents through every means that if you are stepping out of house, you must wear masks.”

He said, “There is no separate data of people coming from outside, but those who are coming from outside are also being found infected. Now, in Delhi, all the transport is functioning, so there is no restriction for the people coming from outside now. Schools, colleges, cinema halls are now closed in Delhi. We hope that after 10 to 15 days, the cases will come down.”




Concerns over Covid-19 cases spike in Canada


Concerns over Covid-19 cases spike in Canada

The four most-affected provinces — Quebec, Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta, are each reporting between 100 to more than 200 new cases per day, the agency said.

Canadian health authorities have expressed serious concerns over the steady rise in the number of coronavirus cases across the country after more than 630 infections were reported on a daily basis in the past one week.

In a statement on Saturday, the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) said that was more than 20 per cent higher than the previous week, and over 65 per cent higher compared with four weeks ago when an average of just over 380 cases was reported daily, reports Xinhua news agency.

The country has so far reported a total of 135,626 positive cases and 9,163 deaths.

Labs across Canada have tested an average of 47,806 people daily over the past week with 1.1 per cent testing positive, said PHAC.

The four most-affected provinces — Quebec, Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta, are each reporting between 100 to more than 200 new cases per day, the agency said.

On Saturday, Quebec reported 244 new cases, the highest daily figure since the beginning of June, while Ontario confirmed an 232 infections, also the highest daily surge.

“Increasing daily case counts signify heightened disease activity that poses a risk for accelerated or ‘exponential’ epidemic growth to occur,” Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, said in the statement.

Meanwhile, Toronto opened a centre for those with Covid-19 who cannot self-isolate at home, a service the Canadian government said is open to other cities across the country.

Toronto reported 77 new cases in the province on Saturday, the highest single-day count since mid-June.

Lower-income neighbourhoods were disproportionately affected by Covid-19, in part because individuals living in these communities, once they tested positive, may have experienced difficulty to properly isolate themselves, Toronto Mayor John Tory said.




‘Peace process must be Afghan-led’: S Jaishankar at ‘intra-Afghan’ talks in Doha


‘Peace process must be Afghan-led’: S Jaishankar at ‘intra-Afghan’ talks in Doha

‘The friendship of our peoples is a testimony to our history with Afghanistan,’ he said.

India attended the intra-Afghan talks in Doha on Saturday which was attended by a senior official in-person while the foreign minister S Jaishankar virtually.

Joint Secretary (Pakistan-Afghanistan-Iran) in Ministry of External Affairs, J P Singh, in Doha witnessed the ceremony.

Taking it to twitter, Jaishankar said, “Addressed the conference on Afghan peace negotiations at Doha today. Conveyed that the peace process must be Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled, respect national sovereignty and territorial integrity of Afghanistan, promote human rights and democracy, ensure the interest of minorities, women and the vulnerable, effectively address violence across the country.”

“The friendship of our peoples is a testimony to our history with Afghanistan. No part of Afghanistan is untouched by our 400-plus development projects. Confident that this civilizational relationship will continue to grow,” he added.

 

India had attended the signing of the US-Taliban pact on February 29.

Earlier this week, foreign minister had visited Iran and had discussed the situation in Afghanistan.

Later to that, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh met his counterpart in Iran.

Jaishankar on Tuesday flown to Tehran and met Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and discussed the Chabahar port project and the situation in Afghanistan.

The foreign minister was on his way to Moscow for the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Foreign Ministers’ meeting on Monday, and made a technical halt for refueling the special aircraft.

The intra-Afghan talks, a significant development in the middle-east region, come after the Afghan government released the last batch of six Taliban prisoners on Thursday.

Kabul and the Taliban had announced that the long-awaited “intra-Afghan” talks would begin on September 12 in Doha, Qatar.




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