Top news stories for today – August 18
17,000 Killed in Syrian prisons since 2011
A new Amnesty International report details allegations of systematic torture of political prisoners and accuses the Syrian government of killing more than 17,000 people held in custody from the outset of the conflict in 2011 to December 2015. The report is based on the recollections of 65 torture survivors.
Torture has long been used in Syrian prisons, but its scale has increased “dramatically” since the 2011 conflict began, according to Amnesty’s Syria expert Claudia Scheufler, who was instrumental in putting the report together. VOA
A little boy in Aleppo
The haunting, heartbreaking video of Omran, a Syrian boy has been circulating on social media. The image of him, bloodied and covered with dust, sitting silently in an ambulance awaiting help, is another stark reminder of the toll of the war in Syria. He is young — one witness puts him at four, perhaps five years old, but his chubby arms and legs and the way he clings to the man who pulled him from the rubble of his bombed-out home suggest he is still a toddler.
Aleppo, in northern Syria, has been besieged for years during that country’s civil war. Thousands of people have been killed there, and many lives have been upturned. Omran’s family are among them. It shows a civil defense worker carrying him to an ambulance. His cartoon character T-shirt is covered in dust, the left side of his face is bloody. He is silent despite the cacophony of screaming men around him.
He was not crying at any point during the rescue. “He was in extreme shock,” according to a spokesman for the Aleppo Media Center, an activist group. His eyes look glassy as he sits on the vehicle’s orange seat, his hands on his lap as he awaits treatment. He raises his left hand to his eye and feels the area around his temple as if he has been hit there. He wipes his face and looks down at the blood. But Omran has had a lucky escape — he appears to have been one of the first pulled out of the rubble before his parents, the Aleppo Media Center says.
Omran has now been released from the hospital and he and his family are staying with relatives.
California firefighters make progress against wildfire
Firefighters in the western U.S. state of California have made some progress containing a wildfire that has burned more than 12,000 hectares since Tuesday, but authorities warned that while they do not know how many homes have been destroyed, the number will be large.
The fire is in a mountainous area north of the city of San Bernardino, burning brush and sending large amounts of white and black smoke into the sky. More than 1,500 firefighters are already on the ground and more are on their way to help. California is used to seeing wildfires during the warm summer months, but this fire grew unusually quickly. How it started is not known. VOA
N. Korea may send agents after defector
North Korea may send agents after a top diplomat who defected to South Korea recently, a defection expert told CNN.Liberty in North Korea Director of Research and Strategy Sokeel Park said the defection of senior North Korean diplomat Thae Yong Ho was a “unique situation,” and could lead to threats of retaliation from North Korea.
“There’s been those kind of things that have happened in the past for very high level defectors, assassination attempts and death threats … there will be protection from the South Korean authorities around this person, especially [in] the short term,” Park said. As with all high-profile defections, Park said the family of the diplomat still in North Korea could expect to face suspicion and possibly punishment in the future.
From January to July 814 North Koreans have defected to the South, according to South Korea’s Unification Ministry, compared to 705 over the same period in 2015. Defections are most common among the unemployed and laborers, the Unification Ministry said. Defections from those in managerial positions are relatively rare, with just 480 defecting in the past decade, according to South Korea’s government. Overall, an estimated 1,275 North Koreans defected in 2015, the lowest number since 2002. In the past two decades, defections peaked in 2009, with 2,914. CNN
2 U.S. Olympic swimmers pulled off plane as part of Rio robbery probe: Olympic officials said Wednesday evening two American swimmers who were allegedly held up at gunpoint last week in Rio were removed by Brazilian authorities from their flight back to the United States. Jack Conger and Gunnar Bentz were taken off an American Airlines plane on the tarmac at Rio’s Galeão International Airport, and investigators from Rio’s Tourism Police requested their passports be seized so they can be questioned. Gold medalist Ryan Lochte said that early Sunday, he was riding in a taxi with Conger, Bentz, and another teammate, James Feigen, when they were robbed at gunpoint by men who said they were police officers. Investigators said they have been unable to uncover evidence corroborating the story, and a judge issued an order earlier Wednesday to prevent Lochte and Feigen from leaving Brazil. Lochte left Rio on Monday and is back in the U.S., his attorney Jeff Ostrow said; CNN reports Feigen is still in Rio. Lochte and Feigen both spoke with police after the alleged incident. The New York Times
U.S. women sweep 100m hurdles in Olympic first: American runners Brianna Rollins, Nia Ali, and Kristi Castlin won gold, silver, and bronze medals, respectively, in the women’s 100-meter hurdles at the Rio Olympics on Wednesday night, the first ever sweep of the event by one country. Rollins came in at 12.48 seconds, followed by Ali 0.11 seconds later, and Castlin edged ahead of Britain’s Cindy Ofili in a photo finish. Also on Wednesday, Team USA’s Tianna Bartoletta, a two-time world champion, won the gold medal in the women’s long jump, with a lifetime best of 7.17 meters. Her fellow American and defending champ Brittney Reese took the silver medal. U.S. women’s beach volleyball duo Kerri Walsh Jennings and April Ross won the bronze after dropping their first set against Brazil, and the U.S. men’s basketball team defeated Argentina in the quarterfinals, 105-78. USA Today, The New York Times
Track superstar Bolt’s time to shine: Jamaican runner Usain Bolt is back in action Thursday to defend his unofficial title of “fastest man alive” as he competes in the 200 meter sprint. Bolt won the race in London in 2012 and already won the 100 meter race this year. But he doesn’t just want to win the race, Bolt thinks he has a good shot to break the world record – which he currently holds – and become the first man to run a sub-19 second 200 meters. VOA
Christ the redeemer statue a hit for Rio visitors: Many Olympic visitors to Rio de Janeiro – including athletes, officials and their families – are in the stunningly beautiful coastal city for the first time in their lives. “We have 3,000 to 4,000 visitors a day during peak season. In low season, there are about 2,000,” Jacqueline de Melo, daughter of the owners of the management company that oversees the site, told VOA. She said the crowds are especially large on Saturdays and Sundays. Christ the Redeemer is located about 20 minutes from Rio’s famous Copacabana beach. A popular way to reach the top is by tram, which costs about $21. But the experience is priceless once there, said De Melo. VOA
US Presidential election
Trump lawyer questions Clinton’s polling lead: ‘Says who?’: During an interview with CNN’s Brianna Keilar on Wednesday, Michael Cohen,special counsel to Donald Trump, balked at the suggestion that Trump’s campaign was struggling in the polls. When Keilar mentioned that the Republican nominee, whose campaign is undergoing a shakeup, is down in the race, Cohen snapped, “Says who?” An incredulous Keilar responded, “Polls, most of them, all of them?” “Says who?” Cohen repeated. “Polls,” Keilar said again. “I just told you, I answered your question.” “Okay, which polls?” Cohen asked. “All of them,” said Keilar. “OK,” Cohen said. “And your question is?” Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton is ahead of Trump in most polls. A Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday showed her with double-digit leads in Colorado and Virginia and holding a slim margin over Trump in Iowa. The Week, Quinnipiac University
Green Party’s Jill Stein sees way to beat Clinton, Trump: Green Party candidate Jill Stein says she has a chance to become the next U.S. president, despite the big task of overcoming what is largely a two-party system when it comes to national elections. During a CNN town hall event Wednesday, Stein called Democrat Hillary Clinton’s record “very troubling” and described Republican Donald Trump as someone who “bashes immigrants and is a xenophobic and racist loudmouth.”
A big part of her belief in her chance of winning is a plan to attract what she called a “winning plurality” of 43 million young people who are trapped economically by student loan debt. Stein wants to abolish that debt through action by the Federal Reserve that would then allow people to spend money in other areas of the economy instead of making loan payments. VOA
Clinton insists Trump would use Oval Office to enrich self over working class: Trump has built his appeal as a real-estate billionaire who uses fiery populist rhetoric and pledges to bring back working-class jobs to the nation’s most depressed regions. Last spring, he even floated fashioning the GOP into a “workers’ party.” Yet Clinton says his economic plan, detailed in a speech last week in Detroit, will hurt working families in favor of millionaires and billionaires, and she’s calculating the ways in which Trump stands to personally benefit from it. At a Wednesday rally in Cleveland, Clinton said the GOP nominee’s tax plan would create a new “Trump loophole” that would allow wealthy Americans like himself to pay less than half the current tax rate on their income. USA Today
- About 8,000 refugees migrate into Europe daily
- FBI suspects Russia hacked DNC to help Donald Trump
- How Putin is badly losing in Syria
- In Letter, Obama Tells Congress U.S. Will Still Press Iran