Lawyers made opening statements Tuesday as the trial began in earnest for the first former Guantanamo detainee transferred to U.S. soil. While the government portrayed the slight, baby-faced 36-year-old as a vicious al Qaeda murderer who helped plan two US embassy bombings that killed 224 people, the defense told a very different story. Although not contesting much of the evidence the government plans to present --- about the bombings themselves, its destructiveness and their innocent victims -- defense lawyers argue that Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani was a hapless young Tanzanian duped into helping his powerful childhood friends who, unbeknownst to him, were al Qaeda killers.
What's most surprising about the case is that, based on the government's opening arguments, it's not clear whether prosecutors have any direct evidence establishing that Ghailani intended to hurt anyone, or even knew that the items he purchased in Tanzania were going to be used as a bomb. That knowledge is a critical element of the charges against him -- particularly the multiple murder charges.
When Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani was first transferred to New York from Guantanamo Bay last year, House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio called it "the first step in the Democrats' plan to import terrorists into America."
More than a year later, Ghailani remains the only detainee from Guantanamo Bay to be brought to the United States. He's scheduled to go on trial starting this week in lower Manhattan. Jury selection begins Monday.
Ghailani is a Tanzanian accused of helping to bomb two U.S. embassies in East Africa in 1998 that killed 224 people. Like the September 11, 2001 attacks, those bombings have been attributed to Osama bin Laden.
In hundreds of legal charges filed with the federal court in New York, Ghailani is accused of having scouted out the American embassy in Tanzania before it was bombed, assembled bomb materials and escorted the suicide bomber to the site. After the bombings, prosecutors say he fled to Afghanistan and rose up the ranks of al Qaeda, forging documents for the group and working as a cook and a bodyguard for Osama bin Laden.
When he was captured in Pakistan in 2004, U.S. authorities deemed Ghailani a "high-value" detainee and sent him to a secret CIA prison for interrogation, where Ghailani claims he was tortured. Indeed, a variety of so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques," including waterboarding, were authorized for use by CIA interrogators on high-value detainees.
Ghailani was transferred to Guantanamo Bay in 2006. Last year, more than ten years after the embassy bombings, he was transferred to the New York prison. The same prison has safely held such notorious criminals as John Gotti and the blind terror leader Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman.
Critics of Ghailani's transfer warned that his prosecution could be derailed by his abuse in prison and the long delay in bringing him to trial. But the federal judge hearing the case, Judge Lewis A. Kaplan, has denied the defense lawyers' requests to dismiss the trial on those grounds.
Last week, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani insisted that it would be safer to try Ghailani in a military commission in Guantanamo Bay than in New York City.
Ghailani has already appeared in court for pretrial hearings, however, without incident. New York City police have said that while they will provide some extra security for the trial, the proceedingswill not require any of the elaborate and costly measures that New York City officials had warned would be necessary for a trial of the 9/11 plotters. After receiving complaints from local business groups about the potential disruption that trial might cause, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly announced that he would take a range of extraordinary security measures, including a flood of uniformed police officers, checkpoints and thousands of interlocking metal barriers. Mayor Bloomberg estimated the cost at $200 million a year, and the Obama administration soon backed away from the plan.
Despite the huge costs and inconvenience predicted for the 9-11 plotters' trial, no such estimates have been made for the trials of any of those accused of carrying out al Qaeda's U.S. embassy bombing attacks.
Four other men have already been tried and convicted in the same New York courthouse for their roles in the U.S. embassy attacks. All were sentenced to life in prison without parole.
The last place most of us look to for useful information is television soap operas. But Makutano Junction, a Kenyan-produced soap opera set in the fictional town of the same name is not your average TV drama. Broadcast in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, and throughout English-speaking Africa on Digital Satellite Television (DSTV), Makutano Junction doesn't deal with the evil twins, amnesia, and dark family secrets typical of U.S. daytime dramas. Instead, the show's plot lines revolve around more grounded (although not necessarily less dramatic) subjects like access to health care and education, sustainable income-generation, and citizens' rights.
Funded by the U.K. Department for International Development, produced by the Mediae Trust, and broadcast by the Kenya Broadcast Corporation, the show was originally designed as a 13-part drama in 2004. But Makutano Junction was since developed into a six-season TV phenomenon, with over 7 million viewers in Kenya alone. Its website provides all the information one might expect from a television show site, including episode summaries and character profiles. It also features "extras" on themes from specific episodes and encourages viewers to text the producers for more information.
In Episode 8 of Season 6, which aired in 2008, the character Maspeedy gets into trouble for soaking seeds. Seed soaking works by essentially tricking the seed into thinking it has been planted, allowing it to soak up in one day as much water as it would in a week in the soil. This speeds up germination and significantly shortens the time between planting and growth, leading to a vegetable harvest in a quick amount of time.
But the other characters in the show are unfamiliar with this practice and, when they discover Maspeedy's project, have him thrown in jail because they are convinced that he is brewing alcohol illegally. After some plot twists and a little slapstick humor involving two trouble-making characters who attempt to drink the water in order to get drunk, the truth comes to light and Maspeedy is released from jail. He then teaches the rest of the town the simple technique of soaking seeds to speed plant-growth time.
After the episode aired in May 2008, thousands of viewers sent texts to Mediae requesting more information about seed-soaking techniques. These viewers were sent a pamphlet with detailed instructions on how to soak their own seeds. Follow-up calls- which were part of a study to test the effectiveness of the show's messaging- revealed that 95 percent of those who had texted for more information had found the pamphlets helpful. And 57 percent had tried out seed soaking even before the pamphlet arrived, just based on the information provided on the show. Ninety-four percent said that they had shared the information with up to five other people.
By peppering the drama-infused lives of its characters with demonstrations of agricultural practices, trips to the doctor for tuberculosis tests, and Kenyan history, Makutano Junction serves to both entertain and provide reliable information for families throughout sub-Saharan Africa. This is soap opera drama that people can actually relate to-and learn from.
Thank you for reading! As you may already know, Danielle Nierenberg is traveling across sub-Saharan Africa visiting organizations and projects that provide environmentally sustainable solutions to hunger and poverty. She has already traveled to over 19 countries and visited 130 projects highlighting stories of hope and success in the region. She will be in Benin next, so stay tuned for more writing, photos and video from her travels.
If you enjoy reading this diary, we blog daily on Nourishing the Planet, where you can also sign up for our newsletter to receive weekly blog and travel updates. Please don't hesitate to comment on our posts, we check them daily and look forward to an ongoing discussion with you. You can also follow us on Twitter and Facebook.
Earlier this week, we highlighted Nicholas Kristof's OP-ED in the New York Times about Gabon, a country in West-Central Africa where the rights of farmers are frequently in conflict with wildlife conservation efforts. One young village chief and farmer, Evelyn Kinga explained that she doesn't like elephants because they eat her cassava plants-a crop her livelihood depends on-because she doesn't benefit from rich foreigners who come to Gabon for eco-tourism.
But it doesn't have to be this way, says Raol du Toit, Director of the Rhino Conservation Trust in Zimbabwe. His organization works closely with farmers on the ground to help communities realize that protecting wildlife can be in their own best interest.
du Toit promotes "landscape-level planning" that takes into account the needs of wildlife, the environment, and farming communities. Rather than relying on development agencies and governments to decide where cattle fences should go or where farmers should plant their crops, local communities and stakeholders need to be part of the process. Development aid, says du Toit, should follow what local stakeholders need and perceive, not the other way around. Additionally, the Rhino Conservation Trust provides classroom materials for schools so that students may learn the connections between sustainable agriculture and wildlife conservation at an early age. (See also Helping Farmers Benefit Economically from Wildlife Conservation)
And du Toit is not alone in his effort to improve the lives of farmers, as well as protect wildlife.
In Tanzania, the Jane Goodall Instutite (JGI) started as a center to research and protect wild chimpanzee populations in what is now, thanks to their efforts, Gombe National Park. But by the early 1990's the organization realized that in order to be successful it would have to start addressing the needs of the communities surrounding the park. JGI was planting trees to rebuild the forest but members of the community were chopping them down-not because they wanted to damage the work but because they needed them for fuel and to make charcoal.
In response, JGI started working with communities to develop government- mandated land use plans, helping them develop soil erosion prevention practices, agroforestry, and production of value-added products, such as coffee and palm oil. "These are services," says Pancras Ngalason Executive Director of JGI Tanzania, "people require in order to appreciate the environment" and that will ultimately help not only protect the chimps and other wildlife, but also to build healthy and economically viable communities. (See also: Rebuilding Roots in Environmental Education)
In Botswana, the Mokolodi Wildlife Reserve is doing more than just teaching students and the community about conserving and protecting wildlife and the environment, they're also educating students about permaculture. By growing indigenous vegetables, recycling water for irrigation, and using organic fertilizers-including elephant dung-the Reserve's Education Center is demonstrating how to grow nutritious food with very little water or chemical inputs.
When school groups come to learn about the animals, the reserve also teaches them about sustainable agriculture. Using the garden as a classroom in which to teach students about composting, intercropping, water harvesting, and organic agriculture practices, the Wildlife Reserve helps draw the connection between the importance of environmentally sustainable agriculture practices and the conservation of elephants, giraffes, impala, and various other animals and birds living in the area.(See also: Cultivating an Interest in Agriculture Conservation)
Thank you for reading! If you enjoy our diary every day we invite you to get involved: 1. Comment on our daily posts-we check comments everyday and look forward to a regular ongoing discussion with you. 2. Receive weekly updates-Sign up for our "Nourishing the Planet" weekly newsletter at the blog by clicking here and receive regular blog and travel updates.
Cross posted from Border Jumpers, Danielle Nierenberg and Bernard Pollack.
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Kigoma, Tanzania
We arrived in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania excited to catch a flight to Kigoma, a region in the northwestern part of the country to visit a Jane Goodall Institute Tanzania project working with small farmers to promote sustainable agriculture. Unfortunately Precision Air, one of only two airlines that flies to the remote region, has suspended all flights for the next several weeks and the other airline is all booked.
No worries, we headed to Zanzibar instead....
Zanzibar is a place known for beautiful beaches, but the thing that I liked most about my visit there was the food. Everywhere you look there's a bounty of fresh vegetables, fruit, and, most importantly given the island's history, spices. Zanzibar is one of the "Spice Islands," a group of islands that supplied cloves, coriander, nutmeg, pepper, vanilla, and other spices to Europe in the 17th Century. Today, those spices are grown much the same way they were then-organically, without the use of chemical pesticides and artificial fertilizers, in response to consumer demand. And they're still grown on large plantations, but instead of slaves planting and harvesting the crops, local Tanzanian farmers use intercropping to grow many of the spices along with fruit trees and vegetables. The spice farms are also benefiting from tourism-I paid a shockingly low $12 for my day long trip to the spice farm, which included a wonderful (and spicy!) vegetarian lunch and a trip to a pristine and deserted beach.
The Tanzanian government, however, controls much of the land where the spices are grown and also where they are sold. Vanilla grown in Zanzibar, for example, is not used on the island or even in mainland Tanzania, but is grown exclusively for export. And Zanzibar is also the world's third largest supplier of cloves, the main export from the island.
When we arrived back to Dar Es Salaam we did have the opportunity to meet with Pancras Ngalason who is the Executive Director of Jane Goodall Center (JGI) in Tanzania and he explained how the Institute has evolved since it began in the 1970s. They've gone, according to Ngalason, beyond research to address questions of livelihood.
JGI started as a center to research and protect wild chimpanzee populations in what is now, thanks to their efforts, Gombe National Park. But in the early 1990s JGI realized that if it didn't start addressing the needs of the communities surrounding the park, their efforts to conserve wildlife wouldn't work. JGI first started by planting trees in the region, but soon found that communities cut them down, not because they wanted to, but because they needed them for fuel and for making charcoal. It was at that time, says Ngalason, that we "thought beyond planting trees" and more about community-based conservation.
JGI started working with communities to develop government- mandated land use plans, helping them develop soil erosion prevention practices, agroforestry, and production of value-added products, such as coffee and palm oil. They like to say that their products are "Good for All"-good for farmers by providing income, good for the environment by protecting natural resources, and good for the consumer by providing a healthy product.
They're also working training community health practitioners about reproductive health and HIV/AIDS prevention, educating youth, establishing micro-credit programs, and working with UNICEF and USAID to supply clean water to communities.
We then hopped on a bus to Arusha, Tanzania to meet with the World Vegetable Center...
As hunger and drought spread across Africa , there's a huge focus on increasing yields of staple crops, such as maize, wheat, cassava, and rice. And while these crops are important for food security, providing much needed calories, they don't provide much protein, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, calcium, iron, riboflavin, thiamin, niacin, other important vitamins and micronutrients-or much taste. "None of the staple crops," says Dr. Abdou Tenkouano, the World Vegetable Center's Regional Director for Africa, "would be palatable without vegetables." And vegetables, he says, "are less risk prone" than staple crops that stay in the field for longer periods of time.
Because vegetables typically have a shorter growing time, they can maximize often scarce water supplies and soil nutrients better than crops such as maize which need a lot of water and fertilizer.
Unfortunately no country in Africa, according to Dr. Tenkouano, has a big focus on vegetable production. But that's where the Center steps in. Since the 1990s, the Center (which is a part of the Asian Vegetable Research and Development Center based in Taiwan) has been working in Africa to breed cultivars that best suit farmers' needs.
Despite the focus on staple crops, vegetable production generates more income on and off the farm than most other agricultural enterprises, according to the Center's website. And unlike staple crops, vegetable production is something that benefits urban and rural farmers alike (See our posts on urban farmers in Kibera slum in Nairobi, Kenya).
In addition, vegetable production is the most sustainable and affordable way of alleviating micronutrient deficiencies among the poor. Often referred to as "hidden hunger," micronutrient deficiencies-including lack of Vitamin A, iron, and iodine-affect some 1 billion people worldwide. They lead to poor mental and physical development, especially among children, and cause poor performance in work and in school, further crippling communities already facing poverty and other health problems.
But by listening to farmers and including them in breeding research, the Center is helping to alleviate these problems.
Introducing a new weekly series where we recommend one song, or compilation of songs, from a country in Africa, brought to you by our awesome friends at Awesome Tapes From Africa. Today's selection is from Zimbabwe.
Thank you for reading! If you enjoy our diary every day we invite you to get involved: 1. Comment on our daily posts -- we check for comments everyday and want to have a regular ongoing discussion with you. 2. Receive regular updates--Join the weekly BorderJumpers newsletter by clicking here. 3. Help keep our research going--If you know of any great projects or contacts in West Africa please connect us connect us by emailing, commenting or sending us a message on facebook.