- 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.
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.
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.
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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China Rushes to Build New Hospital as Coronavirus Spreads
- Chinese authorities announced plans to build a 1,000-bed hospital in Wuhan by Feb. 3 to treat patients of a deadly new virus that has killed at least 26 people.
- More than 800 cases of the never-before-seen strain of the coronavirus have been detected.
- The majority of the cases are in China, though some have been found in other countries, including the United States.
- Officials hope the new hospital will help alleviate some of the pressure on China’s healthcare system, which has been overwhelmed in the wake of the outbreak.
Race to Build Hospital
In the wake of the new coronavirus outbreak that has killed at least 26 people, China announced plans on Friday to quickly build a 1,000-bed hospital to treat patients of the epidemic.
The hospital is being constructed in Wuhan, where the deadly “2019-nCOV” virus originated and is scheduled to be completed by Feb. 3. Images and video from Chinese media show dozens of workers preparing the site.
China’s healthcare system has been strained by the outbreak. At least eight hospitals across Wuhan have called for protective medical gear donations, according to the Associated Press, citing notices online. Video footage has emerged showing health facilities packed with people desperate for help.
“I am scared because this is a new virus and the figures are alarming,” an unnamed doctor told BBC. “The hospitals have been flooding with patients, there are thousands, I haven’t seen so many before.”
The expedited Wuhan hospital is reminiscent of another project that China undertook almost two decades ago. In 2003, when the nation was swept up by the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) virus that spread to 28 other countries and killed nearly 800 people, a hospital was built from scratch in Beijing in just under a week.
The Wuhan structure is modeled off the Xiaotangshan SARS hospital in Beijing and is being made from prefabricated buildings that help with fast assembly.
What is the Coronavirus?
The outbreak causing all the panic is a novel coronavirus — a strain of the coronavirus that has never been seen before. According to the World Health Organization, coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that cause illnesses ranging from the common cold to more severe ailments. SARS is a member of this family.
Coronaviruses can be transmitted between people and animals. The novel coronavirus was suspected to have come from a seafood and live animal market in Wuhan, which has since been closed for disinfection. The new strain is particularly intimidating because it is not yet known how it affects people or how to treat it.
At least 12 Chinese cities near the center of the outbreak have been placed on a travel lockdown to prevent further spreading of the virus, affecting roughly 35 million residents. The lockdown comes just ahead of one of China’s most important holidays, Lunar New Year, throwing a wrench in many people’s celebration plans.
More than 800 cases of the virus have been detected and a few have been found in countries beyond China, including the United States. On Thursday, the World Health Organization said the new virus has not yet reached a level that makes it a global health emergency.
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Brexit Officially Becomes Law in the United Kingdom
- British Parliament passed a final Brexit withdrawal agreement on Wednesday.
- The following day, Queen Elizabeth gave the bill her royal assent, a formality that turns a bill into law.
- While the European Parliament is set to make the U.K.’s divorce from the European Union official next week, the U.K. still has a long journey ahead in laying out a new relationship with the EU and countries like the United States.
Brexit Becomes Law
After a bitter three and a half year struggle that resulted in the resignation of two prime ministers, protests, elections, and multiple delays, the United Kingdom has officially signed a Brexit withdrawal agreement.
Queen Elizabeth gave her royal assent to the bill on Thursday, a formality that gave the agreement the rule of law. Her signature came after parliament passed the agreement Wednesday evening.
In December, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party gained an 80 seat majority in Parliament’s elected lower house, the House of Commons. The massive win was seen as a mandate that the United Kingdom wanted to divorce itself from the European Union, and Johnson’s victory gave him the ability to pass the withdrawal agreement through the Commons with ease in early January.
The bill was then sent to the non-elected upper house, the House of Lords. On Tuesday, the Lords passed the bill back to the Commons with several amendments attached. Notably, one of those amendments included a provision that would have protected the rights of refugee children to be reunited with their parents if their parents were in the U.K. post-Brexit.
On Wednesday, the Commons used its majority to reject those amendments and tossed the bill back to the Lords. The Lords, lacking a majority to pass the amendments, passed the bill to prevent the U.K. from missing its current Jan. 31 deadline.
Before the U.K. officially leaves the EU, however, the EU’s parliament will also need to vote on a final approval of the withdrawal agreement. That vote is expected to happen Jan. 29, and like the Queen’s royal assent, this stage is also largely being viewed as a formality, with it easily expected to pass.
When it does, the U.K. will officially end its 40-year relationship with the EU.
Reaction to Brexit’s Passage
Unlike the raucous and theatrical debate normally associated with Brexit, the withdrawal agreement’s final passage was largely by the numbers and met with little resistance.
Thursday, when Deputy Speaker Nigel Evans announced in the Commons that the Queen had given her royal assent, only a handful of members of parliament either threw cheers or jeers. Likely, this is a consequence of December’s sweeping elections.
However, that doesn’t mean MP’s and other lawmakers haven’t stifled their strong feelings for the agreement’s passage.
Just after the royal assent announcement, Scottish MP Ian Blackford said the U.K. is facing a “constitutional crisis” because the legislatures in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland don’t support Brexit.
On Wednesday, member Alf Dubs—who had proposed the child refugee amendment—expressed his frustration on Twitter.
“It is bitterly disappointing that after a victory in the Lords, the government have voted down my amendment in the Commons,” he said. “What could be more humane than asking that unaccompanied child refugees stranded in Europe be able to join relatives in this country?”
To note, one of the reasons Dubs is so passionate about the amendment is because he came to the U.K. as a child to escape Nazi persecution shortly before the start of the Second World War.
On the other hand, on Wednesday, after Parliament passed the withdrawal agreement, Johnson said in a statement, “At times it felt like we would never cross the Brexit finish line, but we’ve done it.”
“Now we can put the rancour and division of the past three years behind us and focus on delivering a bright, exciting future – with better hospitals and schools, safer streets and opportunity spread to every corner of our country,” he added.
What Happens Once the Divorce Becomes Official?
Following next week’s expected divorce, the U.K. will begin an 11-month transition period with the EU that is currently scheduled to end on January 1, 2021.
During that time, it will continue to follow most of the EU’s rules, but it won’t actually have any decision-making power in the EU.
The U.K. and the EU will also continue to hash out details of what their relationship will look like after that transition period. For example, that includes things like an ambitious free-trade deal, agriculture, and security.
As for negotiations, those are expected to start either sometime next month or in early March, but like how Brexit saw multiple extensions, a lot of EU officials believe this transition period will also need to be extended. Many believe 11 months is too short of a time frame to completely work out all of the details. Johnson, however, has refused to agree to any extensions.
At the same time, Johnson has also been vocal about getting a free-trade deal with the U.S. While in Davos at the World Economic Forum, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin also indicated the U.S.’s desire for a trade deal, saying, “It’s an absolute priority of President Trump and we expect to complete that within this year.”
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross also said that a trade deal shouldn’t be too hard because the U.S. and the U.K. have similar economies.
But the U.S. and U.K. are also currently in a disagreement over a so-called “tech tax.” That riff stims from the U.K.’s plan to introduce a digital services tax on tech companies like Facebook and Google. Mnuchin then threatened to retaliate by potentially slapping a tariff on U.K. car exports.
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Greece Elects Katerina Sakellaropoulou as First Woman President
- Greece’s first female president was elected on Wednesday in an overwhelming majority vote.
- Beyond being a large step toward gender equality, Katerina Sakellaropoulou’s election to the largely ceremonial role was a rare display of unity in Greek politics.
- The high judge received support from lawmakers across all major political parties after being nominated as a nonpartisan candidate by Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.
- This was a notable move from the Prime Minister as all but one of the 18 senior positions in his Cabinet are currently held by men.
First Female President-Elect
History was made in Greece on Wednesday when Katerina Sakellaropoulou was chosen to be the nation’s first woman president.
The 63-year-old high court judge was elected to the largely ceremonial post by parliament in an overwhelming majority vote that showed unity among Greek politicians. She took the presidency in a 261-33 vote, well above the 200 votes needed to win, and received support from Greek lawmakers across all major political parties. Six members of parliament were not present.
After being notified of her election, Sakellaropoulou said she would strive for the “broadest possible consensus” while she fulfills her presidential duties.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis nominated Sakellaropoulou last week as a non-partisan candidate, a move some believe he took to counter the criticism he has faced for selecting nearly an all-male cabinet after he was elected in July 2019. In the current Greek Cabinet, all eighteen senior positions are held by men except for one.
Sakellaropoulou is a trailblazer in the effort to fix the gender imbalance in the country’s government. She has spent the last fifteen months serving as the president of the Council of State, the country’s top administrative court, and was the first woman to step into that role, too.
Sakellaropoulou will begin her five-year term in March, when the term of Prokopis Pavlopoulos, the current president, comes to an end.
Praise for Sakellaropoulou
Upon the news of Sakellaropoulou’s win, several prominent figures spoke up to express their support. Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, tweeted that Greece is “moving ahead into a new era of equality.”
Charles Michel, the president of the European Council, also applauded Sakellaropoulou on Twitter.
“A great signal to elect the Republic’s first female head of state,” Michel wrote. “I strongly believe that Greece will continue to contribute to the future development of the European Union.”
Prime Minister Mitsotakis described the new president-elect as “a great judiciary personality who unites all Greeks from the minute this procedure began.”