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Saturday, 19 April 2014

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Bradley Manning: Hero or Criminal?

Imagine you saw something that troubled you deeply, but few others were aware of it. You have a unique ability to expose this wrongdoing to the public. But what if that meant releasing closely-guarded secrets, and you could be seen as betraying your country? What would you do? In 2010, US Army Private Bradley Manning released around 700,000 government documents to the website WikiLeaks. Manning pled guilty to charges that could bring up to 20 years in prison, but on June 3rd trial began on further charges. The military continued with court martial charges, some with a possible life sentence. Manning, a military analyst in Iraq, was troubled by what he witnessed and how he perceived the military to value human life. He downloaded the documents onto CDs, then tried to contact established news organizations, but got no response, so he went to WikiLeaks. The military says Manning dropped sensitive information “into the hands of the enemy,” and that Osama bin Laden even obtained some of it. His lawyers counter that he was “naive but good intentioned,” and that he was selective in choosing documents to reveal. Manning was recently found not guilty on the most serious charge of aiding the enemy, but his trial and treatment by the US military persist as a global subject of debate. Manning is a controversial figure worldwide. Some see him as a courageous whistleblower, while others maintain that exposing state secrets is a grave security threat. As you read through the perspectives, consider this: Was Bradley Manning right or wrong to expose US military documents?

Trial of Russian Opposition Leader Stirs Protests

Is there a personal cost to speaking out against those in power? Would you criticize a leader if you thought they could punish you for doing so? On the flip side, how far would you go if you were the one in power? If you held a position of influence would you use it to make sure that no one could challenge you? A controversial case in Russia is bringing these very questions into the spotlight. A prominent Russian opposition leader returned to the capital of Moscow from a provincial jail after an unanticipated July 20th court ruling. After being convicted of embezzlement on July 19th, Alexei Navalny was allowed to travel to Moscow until he has to return to court to appeal the charges. Navalny is a notable candidate for mayor of Moscow and one of the country’s loudest critics of the powerful President, Vladimir Putin. Navalny celebrated his temporary freedom to continue campaigning while rallying his supporters and calling for the freeing of political prisoners. In the short term, freeing Navalny importantly keeps alive the influential dissident’s chance to compete with Putin-backed Sergei Sobanyin for Moscow Mayor. If Navanly’s sentence stands, however, that chance is finally over. He would also be unable to challenge President Putin in 2018 national elections, further extending the dominant leader’s rule. The US and European Union questioned his conviction, and the US regarded it as part of a "disturbing trend aimed at suppressing dissent." Thousands have protested Navalny’s conviction in Moscow, but Putin’s government warned them against holding more unsanctioned demonstrations. Navalny’s release during his appeal critically keeps his political hopes alive if he is ultimately freed, but some still consider his trial as a whole to be an unjustified abuse of power. As you read through the perspectives, consider this: Is the Russian government abusing power, or are its actions justified within the law?

Norwegian Woman Jailed in UAE After Reporting Rape

When we travel, most of the excitement comes from the comparison we make with this new place to our own home. How is it different? What do they like to eat? What do they do for fun? Whether Latvia or Laos, Belize or Brazil, it can be hard to forget that we are somewhere totally different. However, one thing many people often overlook is the legal atmosphere. While we are used to our own laws, it can come as a shock to realize that when traveling, you are subject to that country's laws--no matter how different they are from your own. But is this always right? In March, a Norwegian woman was raped while visiting Dubai for work. She immediately reported the crime to the police, but did not get the kind of justice she was expecting. Her alleged rapist was sentenced to 13 months in jail (for having sex out of wedlock and consuming alcohol), but she herself received 16 months, for sex out of wedlock, alcohol consumption, and perjury. Despite the fact that she would never have been jailed in her home country of Norway for simply reporting a rape, the United Arab Emirates has a different view towards the legal system. Her case has stirred up a lot of controversy, and she has appealed the verdict. As you read through the perspectives, consider this: should tourists always be subject to the laws of the countries they visit, or should they not be subject to laws that differ from their own?

Attack on teen consumes Pakistan

Have you ever been attacked for standing up for your right to go to school? In the U.S. – at least after the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s – this idea has become virtually extinct. But there are other parts of the world which are going through a similar struggle right now. One such place is a region of Pakistan called the Swat Valley. Malala Yousufzai, a 14-year-old girl from Pakistan, was shot twice on her way home from school by the Taliban -- a militant movement that is widely classified as a terrorist group. She survived and is now recovering. Ms. Yousufzai has been standing up for education and women's rights since she was 11. She even wrote for the BBC about her life under the Taliban regime and their attempts to take over in Pakistan. She was also awarded the Pakistan's first National Youth Peace Prize. After the attack, a Taliban spokesperson claimed, "This [her outspokenness] was a new chapter of obscenity, and we have to finish this chapter." In other words, should she return to school, she will remain a target. Here is how we will begin to discuss this particular topic: The willingness to take the life of someone who has convictions that differ from your own is to abandon faith in the communication process. The act is particularly despicable given the target was a 14-year-old child. But we can’t let this cloud our ability to first understand the attacker's perspective. It is only when the motivation behind this act is properly understood that it can be universally condemned. So what were the Taliban's motivations? The Taliban believe that children should only receive an “Islamic education,” rather than instruction in math, science and other subjects. They believe girls should only be educated up to the age of 8, in order to "secure environments where the chasteness and dignity of women may once again be sacrosanct". However, another spokesperson for the Taliban stated that, "If anyone belives we had chosen Malala as a topic of education as a goal, they are mistaken. She was chosen because she plays a pioneering role in the spread of secularism, and the so-called enlightened moderation.” The attack, and its justifications, have been universally condemned in the world press. Consider the perspectives from all over the world. What do you believe is the strongest argument for condemnation? ...one that could create a worldwide consensus leading to unified action against the Taliban?

German Artist Projects Political Message Against the US

When you hear the word "democracy," what are the words that come to mind? What about words like "freedom" and "liberty"? Recently, some people might consider these principles in danger. With the United States' massive surveillance revealed, questions come to mind: how far can democracy go in the name of security? Is it right to spy on other countries, or one's own citizens? Among the many secrets revealed by Edward Snowden, one of the most shocking is the claim that the US bugged several embassies and offices of the European Union. As the US and the EU are currently on good terms, this allegation has resulted in fury and outrage from around the world. Many people have connected the US' actions to that of the extremely repressive East German intelligence agency, Stasi. For example, on July 8th, a German artist named Oliver Bienkowski projected an image onto the wall of the U.S. embassy in Berlin. The image was a picture of Kim Dotcom (the founder of Megaupload) underneath the words, “United Stasi of America.” . Already, there has been a good deal of commotion caused by this political message; a video of it on Youtube has over 80,000 views, and there has been talk of charging Bienkowski with slander. Two questions this time -- 1) Do you think the surveillance program helps keep America safe, or do you think it endangers the principles on which America was founded? 2) What role do you think artists should play in a free society?