Dhaka, Dec 31 (AP/UNB) -Despite new rules addressing sexual assault among the children of U.S. service members, the federal government failed to fix a flaw that on many military bases has let alleged juvenile abusers escape accountability or treatment.
New records obtained by The Associated Press underscore how few child-on-child sex assault reports pursued by military investigators are prosecuted. That problem is most serious on U.S. installations overseas, where at least 47,000 children are enrolled in Pentagon-run schools.
Children and teens suspected of sex crimes on U.S. bases overseas often faced no legal consequences, such as court-ordered rehabilitation, records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act show. Those held to account were generally either kicked off base into the civilian world or received modest punishments, the records show.
One, for example, was told to write a 1,000-word essay about "the difference between appropriate and inappropriate touching." Another avoided punishment by enlisting in the Army. A third, who was put on curfew after two girls accused him of sexual assault, was investigated a year later in an alleged rape, a case that also went unprosecuted.
Congress ordered internal investigations and mandated Pentagon reforms this summer after an Associated Press investigation revealed the problems of juvenile sexual assault on U.S. military bases, including the failure of the Defense and Justice Departments to help either victims or offenders.
One proposed reform would have required federal prosecutors with jurisdiction over civilians on base to transfer child-on-child sex assault cases to counterparts in state juvenile justice systems, which have resources dedicated to rehabilitation. But that requirement did not survive final negotiations over the legislation.
Federal prosecutors, under pressure to win big convictions, don't take juvenile sex assault cases because they can be hard to prove and require extra paperwork, former prosecutors say. Military officials privately bemoan what they see as the Justice Department's indifference while publicly noting their own limitations.
"We could bar that kid from being on post, or we could move the family from the post, but beyond that, the authorities really reside outside the military," Army Secretary Mark Esper told senators at a May hearing.
Representatives of the Defense and Justice Departments have been meeting for several months to resolve problems that AP's investigation highlighted.
Officials are "considering a range of options to ensure that these types of cases are effectively addressed," Justice Department spokesman Wyn Hornbuckle told the AP. The idea is to use state courts when possible, he added.
That would not apply to U.S. installations in Europe and Asia, where U.S. officials can be reluctant to involve prosecutors from host nations.
AP's review of investigative reports in which military officials documented prosecution decisions found that about one in 10 on overseas Army, Navy or Marines bases were accepted from 2007 into 2017.
Weak cases don't explain the lack of prosecutions. Army criminal investigators concluded that nearly 90 percent of juvenile sex crime allegations on bases were credible, records show. Naval Criminal Investigative Service agents do not routinely record whether they believe allegations, but on the Navy and Marines bases where NCIS works, AP identified two dozen unprosecuted cases in which an alleged attacker confessed.
The Justice Department refused to share data on the prosecution of juveniles for sex crimes committed overseas. The department added that its lawyers decline to prosecute cases for many reasons, including strength of evidence, age of the suspect and severity of the alleged crime.
Congress acted in response to AP stories that identified nearly 700 cases of child-on-child sexual assault or rape on American military installations worldwide over a decade. Military investigators buried some cases, AP found, while many of those they investigated fell into the legal and bureaucratic netherworld.
Military lawyers cannot prosecute the civilian children of service members and contractors. Given the infrequency of federal prosecution, kids suspected of sexually assaulting other kids rarely get the kind of court-supported rehabilitation that research shows will prevent most young offenders from committing another sex crime.
Lawmakers directed the Pentagon's inspector general and the Government Accountability Office to investigate. They also ordered the Department of Defense Education Activity, which oversees the Pentagon's network of schools in seven U.S. states and 11 other countries, to create new policies to track and respond to reports of child-on-child sexual assault. Legal protections that students in U.S. public schools enjoy were extended to the military-run schools as well.
The AP's investigation also found that the military's Family Advocacy Program has denied services to sex-assault victims because their alleged attacker was not an adult. Spokeswoman Lt. Col. Carla Gleason said Pentagon experts are now "working on identifying gaps in our family advocacy processes and programs concerning problematic juvenile sexual behavior." Congress appropriated $10 million for family advocacy services over the next year.
In contrast, efforts to pressure the Justice Department to change the way it handles juvenile sex assault prosecutions have floundered.
When Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., asked the Justice Department's inspector general to review why federal prosecutors rarely take such cases, Inspector General Michael Horowitz responded that any action would be premature, pending the outcome of the ongoing discussions between the Justice and Defense Departments.
Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the chamber's No. 2 Republican, had proposed requiring federal authorities to share legal jurisdiction over juvenile crimes with states. That proposal was watered down in negotiations with the House of Representatives, and the final bill that President Donald Trump signed in August contained language merely urging that such authority be shared.
Cornyn said in a statement he would "keep fighting to allow local prosecutors to pursue these cases so our most vulnerable and their families can get the justice they deserve." Spokeswoman Ryann DuRant said the senator will introduce similar legislation in 2019.
One of the rare cases in which federal prosecutors filed sexual assault charges against military kids involved a 10-year-old who was accused of abusing five younger boys at Fort Huachuca in Arizona.
The abuser was first reported in August 2010. Records show investigators didn't pursue a criminal case until a second report four months later. The boy was sentenced to probation and ordered to get treatment.
"He needed to go somewhere to be rehabilitated," Assistant U.S. Attorney Ann DeMarais said during a court hearing this summer, after the boy landed in custody for a probation violation. "We know he can succeed and do really well in a controlled environment."
Washington, Dec 31 (AP/UNB) — Three confidantes of President Donald Trump, including his departing chief of staff, are indicating that the president's signature campaign pledge to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border would not be fulfilled as advertised.
Trump sparked fervent chants of "Build that wall!" at rallies before and after his election and more recently cited a lack of funding for a border wall as the reason for partially shutting down the government. At times the president has also waved off the idea that the wall could be any kind of barrier.
However, White House chief of staff John Kelly told the Los Angeles Times in an interview published Sunday that Trump abandoned the notion of "a solid concrete wall early on in the administration."
"To be honest, it's not a wall," Kelly said, adding that the mix of technological enhancements and "steel slat" barriers the president now wants along the border resulted from conversations with law enforcement professionals.
Along the same lines, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway called discussion of the apparent contradiction "a silly semantic argument."
"There may be a wall in some places, there may be steel slats, there may be technological enhancements," Conway told "Fox News Sunday." ''But only saying 'wall or no wall' is being very disingenuous and turning a complete blind eye to what is a crisis at the border."
Sen. Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican who is close to the president, emerged from a Sunday lunch at the White House to tell reporters that "the wall has become a metaphor for border security" and referred to "a physical barrier along the border."
Graham said Trump was "open-minded" about a broader immigration agreement, saying the budget impasse presented an opportunity to address issues beyond the border wall. But a previous attempt to reach a compromise that addressed the status of "Dreamers" — young immigrants brought to the U.S. as children— broke down last year as a result of escalating White House demands.
Graham said he hoped to end the shutdown by offering Democrats incentives to get them to vote for wall funding and told CNN before his lunch with Trump that "there will never be a deal without wall funding."
Graham proposed to help two groups of immigrants get approval to continue living in the U.S: about 700,000 young "Dreamers" brought into the U.S. illegally as children and about 400,000 people receiving temporary protected status because they are from countries struggling with natural disasters or armed conflicts. He also said the compromise should include changes in federal law to discourage people from trying to enter the U.S. illegally.
"Democrats have a chance here to work with me and others, including the president, to bring legal status to people who have very uncertain lives," Graham said.
The partial government shutdown began Dec. 22 after Trump bowed to conservative demands that he fight to make good on his vow and secure funding for the wall before Republicans lose control of the House on Wednesday. Democrats have remained committed to blocking the president's priority, and with neither side engaging in substantive negotiation, the effect of the partial shutdown was set to spread and to extend into the new year.
In August 2015 during his presidential campaign, Trump made his expectations for the border explicitly clear, as he parried criticism from rival Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor.
"Jeb Bush just talked about my border proposal to build a 'fence,'" he tweeted. "It's not a fence, Jeb, it's a WALL, and there's a BIG difference!"
Trump suggested as much again in a tweet on Sunday: "President and Mrs. Obama built/has a ten foot Wall around their D.C. mansion/compound. I agree, totally necessary for their safety and security. The U.S. needs the same thing, slightly larger version!"
Aside from what constitutes a wall, neither side appeared ready to budge off its negotiating position. The two sides have had little direct contact during the stalemate, and Trump did not ask Republicans, who hold a monopoly on power in Washington until Thursday, to keep Congress in session.
Talks have been at a stalemate for more than a week, after Democrats said the White House offered to accept $2.5 billion for border security. Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer told Vice President Mike Pence that it wasn't acceptable, nor was it guaranteed that Trump, under intense pressure from his conservative base to fulfill his signature campaign promise, would settle for that amount.
Conway claimed Sunday that "the president has already compromised" by dropping his request for the wall from $25 billion, and she called on Democrats to return to the negotiating table.
"It is with them," she said, explaining why Trump was not reaching out to Democrats.
Democrats maintain that they have already presented the White House with three options to end the shutdown, none of which fund the wall, and insist that it's Trump's move.
"At this point, it's clear the White House doesn't know what they want when it comes to border security," said Justin Goodman, Schumer's spokesman. "While one White House official says they're willing to compromise, another says the president is holding firm at no less than $5 billion for the wall. Meanwhile, the president tweets blaming everyone but himself for a shutdown he called for more than 25 times."
After canceling a vacation to his private Florida club, Trump spent the weekend at the White House. He has remained out of the public eye since returning early Thursday from a 29-hour trip to visit U.S. troops in Iraq, instead taking to Twitter to attack Democrats. He also moved to defend himself from criticism that he couldn't deliver on the wall while the GOP controlled both the House and Senate.
"For those that naively ask why didn't the Republicans get approval to build the Wall over the last year, it is because IN THE SENATE WE NEED 10 DEMOCRAT VOTES, and they will gives us "NONE" for Border Security!," he tweeted. "Now we have to do it the hard way, with a Shutdown."
Democrats have vowed to pass legislation restoring the government as soon as they take control of the House on Thursday, but that won't accomplish anything unless Trump and the Republican-controlled Senate go along with it.
The shutdown has forced hundreds of thousands of federal workers and contractors to stay home or work without pay.
Washington, Dec 31 (AP/UNB) — President Donald Trump has ordered a slowdown to the withdrawal of U.S. forces in Syria, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said Sunday.
"I think we're in a pause situation," the South Carolina Republican said outside the White House after lunch with the president.
Trump announced earlier this month that he was ordering the withdrawal of all the roughly 2,000 troops from war-torn Syria, with aides expecting it to take place swiftly. The president had declared victory over the Islamic State group in Syria, though pockets of fighting remain.
Graham had been an outspoken critic of Trump's decision, which had drawn bipartisan criticism. The announcement also had shocked lawmakers and American allies, including Kurds who have fought alongside the U.S. against the Islamic State group and face an expected assault by Turkey.
"I think we're slowing things down in a smart way," Graham said, adding that Trump was very aware of the plight of the Kurds.
Critics had contended that the U.S. withdrawal would embolden Iran and Russia, which have supported the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
National security adviser John Bolton was expected to travel to Israel and Turkey next weekend to discuss the president's plans with the American allies.
During his appearance on CNN's "State of the Union," Graham previewed his arguments to Trump for reconsidering the Syria pullout.
"I'm going to ask him to sit down with his generals and reconsider how to do this. Slow this down. Make sure that we get it right. Make sure ISIS never comes back. Don't turn Syria over to the Iranians. That's a nightmare for Israel," Graham said.
"And, at the end of the day, if we leave the Kurds and abandon them and they get slaughtered, who's going to help you in the future?" he said. "I want to fight the war in the enemy's backyard, not ours. That's why we need a forward-deployed force in Iraq and Syria and Afghanistan for a while to come."
Yalambojoch, Dec 31 (AP/UNB) — White flowers and flickering candles sat atop a low table inside the simple wooden home in remote, rural Guatemala. Nearby was a small pair of rubber boots, sized to fit an 8-year-old.
Taped to the wall were three photos, alternately smiling and serious, bearing a simple epitaph for the boy whose memory the makeshift altar honored: "Felipe Gomez Alonzo. Died Dec. 24 2018 in New Mexico, United States."
On Christmas Eve, Felipe became the second Guatemalan child this month to die while in U.S. custody near the Mexican border. The deaths prompted widespread criticism of President Donald Trump, who has sought to deflect responsibility toward Democrats even as his Homeland Security secretary vowed additional health screenings for detained migrant children.
In the boy's village of Yalambojoch, in western Guatemala, the political fallout in the United States seemed a world away and there was only deep sadness over his death. Relatives said they had no idea that such a tragedy could occur. Nor had they heard about U.S. policies that led to thousands of migrant children being separated from their parents earlier this year.
"We don't have a television. We don't have a radio," Catarina Gomez, Felipe's sister, said Saturday. "We didn't know what had happened before."
The hamlet, set on a plain and surrounded by spectacular, pine-covered mountains, is a place of crushing poverty and lack of opportunity, home to a single small school, dirt roads that become impassible during the rainy season and rudimentary homes without insulation, proper flooring, water or electricity.
The community is populated by families who fled to Mexico during the bloodiest years of Guatemala's 1960-1996 civil war but returned after the signing of peace accords. There are no jobs, and people live off meager subsistence farming and local commerce. Residents say the Guatemalan government has turned a blind eye to their plight, a complaint that can be heard in other impoverished villages in the country.
Felipe's sister, Catarina, said that in recent years "everyone started heading for the United States," so much so that a local project to boost education financed with Swedish help was abandoned because there were practically no more young people to take the classes.
It was extreme poverty and lack of opportunity that drove Felipe's father, Agustin Gomez, to decide that he and the boy would set off for the United States. Others from the community had been able to cross the U.S. border with children, and he figured they would have the same luck. Felipe was chosen because he was the oldest son. It didn't occur to anyone that the journey could be dangerous.
"I didn't think of that, because several families had already left and they made it," the boy's mother, Catarina Alonzo said, speaking in the indigenous Chuj language as her stepdaughter translated into Spanish.
Felipe was healthy when they left, according to the family. The last time he spoke with his mother was a day before they were taken into detention by border agents. Felipe told her he was well, that he had eaten chicken, that the next time they talked would be by phone from the United States.
Instead, the call that came Christmas Day was from her husband, who said Felipe had died the day before.
The two had been apprehended a week earlier, on Dec. 18, near the Paso del Norte bridge connecting El Paso, Texas, to Juarez, Mexico, according to border officials. Father and son were held at the bridge's processing center and then the Border Patrol station in El Paso before being transferred on Dec. 23 to a facility in Alamogordo, New Mexico, about 90 miles (145 kilometers) away.
After an agent noticed Felipe coughing, father and son were taken to an Alamogordo hospital, where Felipe was found to have a 103-degree fever (39.4 degrees Celsius), officials have said.
Felipe was held for observation for 90 minutes, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, before being released with prescriptions for amoxicillin and ibuprofen.
But the boy fell sick hours later and was admitted to the hospital on Christmas Eve. He died just before midnight.
New Mexico authorities said late Thursday that an autopsy showed Felipe had the flu, but more tests need to be done before a cause of death can be determined.
The other Guatemalan child, 7-year-old Jakelin Caal, died Dec. 8 in El Paso. She showed signs of sepsis, a potentially fatal condition brought on by infection, according to officials.
On Saturday, Trump claimed that Felipe and Jakelin were "very sick" before they reached the border, though both young migrants passed initial health screenings by Border Patrol.
Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan said last week that prior to this month, no child had died in the agency's custody in more than a decade.
On Sunday he called for a "multifaceted solution" on immigration, including not only better border security and new immigration laws but more aid to the Central American countries the migrants are fleeing from.
Referring to the U.S. pledge earlier this month of $5.8 billion in development aid for Central America, McAleenan called it "a tremendous step forward."
"There are green shoots of progress both on security and the economic front in Central America. We need to foster that and help improve the opportunities to stay at home," he said on ABC's "This Week."
Outside the Gomez family home in Yalambojoch, women gathered wearing lavender skirts in the intricate patterns typical of indigenous garb in Guatemala. Colorful tapestries hung on a clothesline above the muddy yard.
Taped to the door were a pair of Felipe's artworks. One was a rendering of a blue balloon with a green string; in the other, a white horse jumped over a fence against a yellow sun and tangerine sky.
Among the villagers grieving Felipe's death was his 7-year-old best friend, Kevin. Two days before Felipe and his dad left, the two boys quarreled.
"They were crying because they had fought," said Felipe's sister, Catarina.
By the time Kevin came back to look for his friend, he had left for the United States. Kevin now knows that Felipe has died, the family said.
Trying to fight back tears, Catarina Alonzo said her son promised before leaving that when he was grown, he would work to send money home. Felipe also wanted to buy her a cellphone so she could see pictures of him from afar.
Now she hopes for only two things: That Felipe's body is returned as soon as possible for burial, and that her husband can remain in the United States to work off debt and support their other kids.
The Guatemalan Consulate in Phoenix has said that Agustin Gomez was released on a humanitarian license allowing him to remain in the United States for now. Felipe's body is expected to be sent back to Guatemala around mid-January.
Jakarta, Dec 30 (Xinhua/UNB)- Indonesia's Mount Agung volcano of Bali Island, located in northern part of the resort island, erupted on early Sunday, Indonesian authorities said.
"Eruption has occurred in Bali's Mount Agung on Dec. 30 at 4:09 a.m. (local time). Exact height of ash columns hardly able to be observed," Indonesia's Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) said in a statement.
Heavy cloud hindered direct vision to the peak of the volcano when it erupted, it said.
The eruption was recorded by seismograph with maximum amplitude of 22 mm, lasted in three minutes and eight seconds, he added.
"Currently Mount Agung volcano is in alert status," the statement said, adding that the level III danger status has been issued on the volcano.
Indonesia's Center of Volcanology and Geological Disaster Mitigation (PVMBG) urged locals, trekkers and tourists to stay away from red zone at present, which is 4 km from the volcano crater.
The PVMBG said the red zone areas could be expanded or reduced in the following days on the basis of results monitored by its observation outpost.
The agency also warned people residing near the rivers of being cautious of potential threats as the lava and volcanic materials may flow into rivers.
Indonesia's Disaster Mitigation Agency Spokesperson Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said, volcanic ashes have affected Bali's northern regencies during rainy days.