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US Bomb-Sniffing Dogs Dying From Neglect in Jordan

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  • A new federal report said that at least 10 bomb-sniffing dogs sent to Jordan as part of an anti-terrorism program died from medical issues related to inadequate care between 2008 and 2016. 
  • Despite becoming aware of the mistreatment and neglect in 2016, the State Department continued to send dozens of canines to Jordan. 
  • After the latest report was issued, the State Department agreed to follow some recommendations, including more frequent wellness checks but refused to stop sending dogs to Jordan until there was a sustainability plan in place. 

Federal Investigation

The State Department sent dozens of bomb-sniffing dogs to Jordan even after it was aware of severe neglect and mistreatment, a federal investigation found.

After a year-long investigation, the Inspector General’s Office of the State Department released a report last week, saying at least 10 dogs died in Jordan between 2008 and 2016 from “various medical problems” out of at least 100 canines that were sent. The investigation, which was launched after a hotline complaint, found that surviving animals were suffering after being overworked and forced to live poor conditions. 

The specially trained dogs were found living in feces-covered kennels, with insufficient food, water, or medical care. In some facilities, the handlers fed dogs by throwing food on the ground as there were no dog bowls available. Photos released from the report show emaciated animals with their ribs protruding from their sides. Many had overgrown nails and ears infested with large ticks.

The majority of the canines were described as being well beyond their working years and in need of being retired and replaced immediately. “Several canines were observed to have hip dysplasia and obvious arthritis, and have lost the will to work,” the report said.

Images Included in OIG Report

The U.S. sent these specially trained animals to partner nations as part of an anti-terrorism program. The report concluded that despite spending “millions of dollars” training and dispatching the animals, State Department officials failed to ensure their health and welfare.

As far as the major issues that allowed this problem to form, the State Department cites loose regulations and a lack of concrete policies. The department said it could not provide investigators information for other dogs in countries besides Jordan. They also said there often weren’t any written agreements with countries that outlined how to care for the canines

Jordan, the largest recipient of the program, has 61 active bomb-sniffing dogs. Other counties like Thailand, Morocco, Indonesia, and Bahrain have less.

The report says that the first dog to die in Jordan was Zoe, a 2-year-old Belgian Malinois. Zoe died from heatstroke in 2017 after less than a year. Investigators described her passing as a “terrible death” that was not an accident, but rather, caused by inadequate care and negligence. 

In a separate case, 2-year-old Athena became severely emaciated after being starved and forced to live in filthy conditions. Photos of Athena show dirt and feces all over her kennel, along with an empty water bowl. Athena was sent back to the U.S. in 2018 to recover. 

A 3-year-old named Mencey was overwhelmed by ticks and sandflies under Jordanian care. He was evacuated to Virginia in 2018 but by then it was too late. While at the Virginia facility, he suffered from vector-borne disease and kidney failure. Less than a year after he left, Mencey was euthanized at the same facility where he was trained before heading to Jordan. 

Dogs Sent Despite Reports of Mistreatment 

Perhaps the most concerning information in the report was the fact that canines were still sent despite previous reports of neglect. The investigation noted that concerns were raised as early as April 2016, when U.S. canine training staff visited Jordan for a welfare check. There, officials noted the high death rate, lack of medical care, and poorly maintained facilities.

Despite those 2016 findings, more dogs were sent to Jordan and the program continued to receive funding. Some new measures were put into place. For instance, full-time mentors from the U.S. were deployed to monitor the dogs in Jordan, but the problems carried on. In fact, two mentors were stationed in Jordan during the “entire time” of Athena’s declining health, the new report says. However, those on the ground officials reportedly failed to intervene until a site visit in 2018.

The report says that for two years the State Department knew Jordan was unable to adequately care for the dogs, yet at least 60 more were sent in six waves through 2018. The Inspector General’s office said it “remains concerned that Jordan is not able or willing to provide adequate care for working dogs without the Department’s intervention and that any improvements that have been made were simply a reaction to pressure ” from U.S. officials.

Recommendations

The report laid out five recommendations, including more frequent welfare checks and the creation of a written agreement with partner nations. The State Department agreed to four of the recommendations but did not agree to the suggestion that it stop sending dogs to Jordan until there was a sustainability plan in place. 

After the report was released, U.S. officials began demanding action. Senator Chuck Grassley, chairman of the Senate Committee of Finance, sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday, asking for more information on the issue.

“It is important for Congress to know whether the [Explosive Detection Canine Program] is operating effectively and efficiently and whether animals involved in the program are being treated according to the humane and ethical standards that the American people undoubtedly expect,” Grassley said. “The best-trained dog in the world is still ill-equipped to protect American interests if it is sick or starving.”

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U.K. Court Rules Julian Assange Can Be Extradited to U.S.

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The judgment overrules a lower court decision that blocked the WikiLeaks founder’s extradition on the grounds that his mental health was not stable enough to weather harsh conditions in the American prison system if convicted.


New Developments in Assange Extradition Battle

A British court ruled Friday that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange can be extradited to the United States to face charges of violating the Espionage Act that could land him in prison for decades.

Prosecutors in the U.S. have accused Assange of conspiring with former army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning in 2010 to hack into a Department of Defense computer network and access thousands of military and diplomatic records on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The information obtained in the hack was later published by WikiLeaks in 2010 and 2011, a move U.S. authorities allege put lives in danger.

In addition to a charge of computer misuse, Assange has also been indicted on 17 espionage charges. Collectively, the charges carry a maximum prison sentence of 175 years.

The Friday decision from the High Court overturns a lower court ruling in January, which found that Assange’s mental health was too fragile for the harsh environment he could face in the U.S. prison system if convicted.

Notably, the January ruling did not determine whether or not Assange was guilty. In fact, District Judge Vanessa Baraitser explicitly rejected the defense’s arguments that the charges against him were politically motivated and that he should be protected under freedom of press.

However, she agreed that the defense had provided compelling evidence that Assange suffers from severe depression and that the conditions he could face in the U.S. prison system were “such that it would be oppressive to extradite him to the United States of America.”

The U.S. appealed the ruling, arguing that Assange’s mental health should not be a barrier to extradition and that the psychiatrist who examined him had been biased. 

In October, the Biden administration vowed that if Assange were to be convicted, he would not be placed in the highest-security U.S. prison or immediately sent to solitary confinement. Officials also said that the native Australian would be eligible to serve his sentence in his home country.

High Court Ruling

The High Court agreed with the administration’s arguments in its ruling, arguing that the American’s assurances regarding the conditions of Assange’s potential incarceration were “sufficient.” 

“There is no reason why this court should not accept the assurances as meaning what they say,” the ruling stated. “There is no basis for assuming that the USA has not given the assurances in good faith.”

Assange’s fiancé, Stella Moris, said in a statement that his legal team would appeal the decision to the British Supreme Court at the “earliest possible moment,” referring to the judgment as a “grave miscarriage of justice.”

The Supreme Court will now decide whether or not to hear the case based on if it believes the matter involves a point of law “of general public importance.” That decision may take weeks or even months.

If the U.K. Supreme Court court objects to hearing Assange’s appeal, he could ask the European Court of Human Rights to stay the extradition — a move that could set in motion another lengthy legal battle in the already drawn-out process.

Assange and his supporters claim he was acting as an investigative journalist when he published the classified military cables. They argue that the possibility of his extradition and prosecution represent serious threats to press freedoms in the U.S.

U.S. prosecutors dispute that Assange acted as a journalist, claiming that he encouraged illegal hacking for personal reasons.

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International

Early Data Indicates Omicron is More Transmissible But Less Severe

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The studies come as Pfizer and BioNTech claim that preliminary research shows a third shot of their COVID vaccine appears to provide sufficient protection against the new variant, but two doses alone may not.


More Information About Omicron

Several preliminary studies published in recent days appear to show that the new omicron COVID-19 variant may be more transmissible but less severe than previous strains.

One recent, un-peer-reviewed study by a Japanese scientist who advises the country’s health ministry found that omicron is four times more transmissible in its initial stage than delta was.

Preliminary information in countries hit hard by omicron also indicates high transmissibility. In South Africa —  where the variant was first detected and is already the dominant strain — new COVID cases have more than doubled over the last week.

Health officials in the U.K. said omicron cases are doubling every two or three days, and they expect the strain to become dominant in the country in a matter of weeks.

In a statement Wednesday, World Health Organization Director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that while early data does seem to show high transmissibility, it also indicates that omicron causes more mild cases than delta.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevent Director Rochelle Walensky echoed that sentiment, telling reporters that of the 40 known omicron cases in the U.S. as of Wednesday, nearly all of them were mild. One person has been hospitalized so far and none have died.

Studies on Vaccine Efficacy 

Other recent studies have shown that current COVID vaccines are effective at preventing severe illness and death in omicron patients, and boosters provide at least some added protection.

On Wednesday, Pfizer and BioNTech announced that laboratory tests have shown a third dose of their COVID-19 vaccine appears to provide sufficient protection against the omicron variant, though two doses may not.

According to the companies, researchers saw a 25-fold reduction in neutralizing antibodies for omicron compared to other strains of the virus for people who had just two Pfizer doses. 

By contrast, samples from people one month after they had received a Pfizer booster presented neutralizing antibodies against omicron that were comparable to those seen against previous variants after two doses.

Still, Pfizer’s chief executive also told reporters later in the day that omicron could increase the likelihood that people might need a fourth dose earlier than previously expected, which he had initially said was 12 months after the third shot.

Notably, the Pfizer research has not yet been peer-reviewed, and it remains unclear how omicron will operate outside a lab, but other studies have had similar findings.

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40 Camels Disqualified From Beauty Contest After Breeders Inject Their Faces With Botox

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The animals were barred from competing for $66 million in prizes at this year’s King Abdulaziz Camel Festival in Saudi Arabia.


Camels Booted From Beauty Contest

More than 40 camels were disqualified from a beauty contest in Saudi Arabia this week after judges found artificial enhancements in their faces, marking the biggest crackdown on contestants in the competition to date.

The animals were competing for $66 million in prizes at the King Abdulaziz Camel Festival, a month-long event that is estimated to include around 33,000 camels.

However, according to The Guardian, they were forced out of the contest when authorities found that breeders had “stretched out the lips and noses of the camels, used hormones to boost the animals’ muscles, injected heads and lips with Botox to make them bigger, inflated body parts with rubber bands, and used fillers to relax their faces.”

Those types of alterations are banned since judges look at the contestant’s heads, necks, humps, posture, and other features when evaluating them.

An announcement from the state-linked Saudi Press Agency said officials used “specialized and advanced” technology to detect tampering.

“The club is keen to halt all acts of tampering and deception in the beautification of camels,” the SPA report added before warning that organizers would “impose strict penalties on manipulators.”

While it’s unclear what that actually entails, this isn’t the first time people have tried to cheat in this way.

In 2018, 12 camels were similarly disqualified from the competition for injections in their noses, lips, and jaw.

See what others are saying: (Insider) (The Guardian) (ABC News)

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