U.S. President Donald Trump is calling on Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to release an American pastor who has been in prison for two years awaiting trial on terrorism charges.
A Turkish court Wednesday ordered Andrew Brunson to remain in jail until his next hearing on October 12. Brunson was arrested in 2016 and charged with supporting followers of U.S.-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, who has been blamed by Ankara for the failed 2016 coup against President Erdogan. Brunson is also accused of assisting the outlawed Kurdish insurgent group PKK.
Trump called Brunson’s continued detention “a total disgrace” in a post on Twitter hours after the court hearing. “He has been held hostage far too long,” the president tweeted. “@RT_Erdogan should do something to free this wonderful Christian husband & father. He has done nothing wrong, and his family needs him!”
Trump reportedly raised the pastor’s case in a telephone call Monday with his Turkish counterpart.
Speaking to reporters outside the courthouse, Philip Kosnett, U.S. charge d’affaires in Turkey, expressed disappointment with the decision.
“I’ve read the indictment; I’ve attended three hearings. I don’t believe that there is any indication that Pastor Brunson is guilty of any sort of criminal or terrorist activity,” Kosnett said. “Our government remains deeply concerned about his status, as well as the status of other American citizens and local Turkish employees of the U.S. diplomatic mission who have been detained under the state of emergency rules.”
Kosnett, speaking before the court decision, had warned of the damaging effect of the case on U.S.-Turkish relations.
In Washington, a State Department official said the United States has been closely engaged with the Turkish government on Brunson’s case and repeated calls for his release.
“We have seen no credible evidence that Mr. Brunson is guilty of these crimes. The case against him is built on anonymous accusations and speculation,” the official told VOA in a statement. “We strongly believe that he is innocent, and we call on the Turkish government to resolve his case in a timely, transparent, and fair manner.”
Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi, who is chairman of the Helsinki Commission, an independent U.S. government agency that monitors democracy and human rights in Europe, said, “The cruelty of today’s decision is astonishing.
“By extending Pastor Brunson’s indefinite detention and setting his next trial date for mid-October, the Turkish government has declared its intention to keep this innocent man in jail past the two-year anniversary of his arrest without conviction or any credible evidence against him. There is no room in NATO for hostage-taking. Pastor Brunson should be freed immediately,” Wicker added.
The 50-year-old Brunson has lived in Turkey for more than two decades. The North Carolina native worked as a pastor serving a small Protestant congregation in the western Turkish City of Izmir, close to the town of Aliaga, where he is now on trial. Brunson has spent much of his incarceration in solitary confinement. Brunson describes the charges against him as “shameful and disgusting.”
Last month, U.S. Senators Lindsey Graham and Jeanne Shaheen also pressed for Brunson’s release in a meeting with Erdogan in Ankara.
The U.S. Congress is threatening to introduce sanctions on Turkey if the pastor is not released.
Several members of Congress have accused Turkey of hostage taking by seeking to use Brunson as diplomatic leverage. Adding to Congress’anger, three local employees of U.S. diplomatic missions in Turkey are also being held on terrorism charges. Ankara strongly denies allegations of hostage taking, maintaining that the cases are a matter for the courts.
Observers warn the continued detention of Brunson now increases the likelihood of Washington imposing measures against Ankara.
“It’s (the Brunson case) very important because it’s already an obstacle and sticking point between the countries, having prompted the discussion about sanctions against Turkey,” political columnist Semih Idiz of Al-Monitor said. “Senators are coming to Turkey and Trump referring to Brunson as a hostage. Tensions will increase, calls for sanctions against Turkey will increase, and the downward spiral in relations will continue (if the trial continues).”
The blocking of the U.S. sale to Turkey of a new F-35 fighter is a move that has been threatened by Congress.
Turkish financial markets fell heavily on the news of Brunson’s ongoing detention. The falls reversed earlier gains stoked by the expectation of the pastor’s release and the hope of improved U.S.-Turkish relations.
Erdogan and his advisers have linked the Brunson case to calls to extradite Gulen in connection with the 2016 coup attempt. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Sunday U.S. authorities were cooperating in investigating Gulen and his followers. Observers, however, say the detention of Brunson suggests Ankara could be looking for more concessions from Washington.
Erdogan could release Brunson under the presidential power to free jailed foreign citizens if it is deemed to be in the country’s national interest.
The ongoing jailing of Brunson comes as analysts point out the two countries were making tentative progress on a number of disputes. In the past few months, there have been intense diplomatic efforts to resolve differences over Syria and Ankara’s controversial purchase of a Russian S-400 missile system. Observers warn if Congress carries out its threat to sanction Turkey over Brunson’s jailing, it will likely add to broader diplomatic tensions.
Bernie Sanders, House Progressives Release Bill To Cancel Student Debt
WASHINGTON (AP) — Days before the first Democratic presidential debates, Sen. Bernie Sanders and House progressives rolled out legislation to cancel all student debt, going farther than a signature proposal by Sen. Elizabeth Warren as the two jockey for support from the party’s liberal base .
By canceling all student loans, Sanders says the proposal would address an economic burden for 45 million Americans. The key difference is that Warren’s plan considers the income of the borrowers, canceling $50,000 in debt for those earning less than $100,000 per year and affecting an estimated 42 million people in the U.S.
Questions face both candidates about how to pay for all of that plus their proposals for free tuition at public colleges and universities. But the battling ideas highlight the rivalry between senators who have made fighting economic inequality the cornerstones of their 2020 presidential campaigns.
Sanders vowed at a Monday news conference that his plan “completely eliminates student debt in this country and the absurdity of sentencing an entire generation, the millennial generation, to a lifetime of debt for the crime of doing the right thing. And that is going out and getting a higher education.” He appeared alongside the proposal’s House sponsors, Reps. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., with American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten also in attendance.
His bill and Warren’s plan are part of their broader appeal to liberal voters on issues such as health care, technology and education.
That appeal is likely to be fleshed out this week during the first Democratic debates. Twenty candidates are set for the showdown, with Warren part of the lineup on Wednesday and Sanders appearing a day later. The events come as Warren appears to be cutting into Sanders’ support from the left.
Sanders’ effort at one-upmanship on student loans, named the College For All Act, would cancel $1.6 trillion of debt and save the average borrower about $3,000 a year, according to materials obtained by The Associated Press. The result would be a stimulus that allows millennials in particular to invest in homes and cars that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford. It would cost $2.2 billion and be paid for — and then some — by a series of taxes on such things as stock trades, bonds and derivatives, according to the proposal.
The universal debt relief is designed partly around the idea that it would mostly benefit Americans who can’t afford college tuition without loans, according to a senior Democratic aide who spoke on condition of anonymity because the legislation wasn’t yet public.
Warren’s plan, which she plans to introduce as legislation alongside Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., would be paid for by imposing a 2% fee on fortunes greater than $50 million. Warren projects the levy would raise $2.75 trillion over 10 years, enough to pay for a universal child-care plan, free tuition at public colleges and universities, and student loan debt forgiveness for an estimated 42 million Americans — with revenue left over. Critics say top earners would find ways around such penalties.
One key difference between Sanders’ and Warren’s plans is their differing treatment of high earners: Warren wrote that her plan would offer “no debt cancellation to people with household income above $250,000,” or the top 5%. Sanders would extend the benefit even to wealthy borrowers.
Asked on Monday about that decision, Sanders told reporters that he believes in “universality” and added: “In other areas we are going to demand that the wealthy and large corporations start paying their fair share in taxes.”
Attorneys: Texas Border Facility Is Neglecting Migrant Kids
EL PASO, Texas (AP) — A 2-year-old boy locked in detention wants to be held all the time. A few girls, ages 10 to 15, say they’ve been doing their best to feed and soothe the clingy toddler who was handed to them by a guard days ago. Lawyers warn that kids are taking care of kids, and there’s inadequate food, water and sanitation for the 250 infants, children and teens at the Border Patrol station.
The bleak portrait emerged Thursday after a legal team interviewed 60 children at the facility near El Paso that has become the latest place where attorneys say young migrants are describing neglect and mistreatment at the hands of the U.S. government.
Data obtained by The Associated Press showed that on Wednesday there were three infants in the station, all with their teen mothers, along with a 1-year-old, two 2-year-olds and a 3-year-old. There are dozens more under 12. Fifteen have the flu, and 10 more are quarantined.
Three girls told attorneys they were trying to take care of the 2-year-old boy, who had wet his pants and had no diaper and was wearing a mucus-smeared shirt when the legal team encountered him.
“A Border Patrol agent came in our room with a 2-year-old boy and asked us, ‘Who wants to take care of this little boy?’ Another girl said she would take care of him, but she lost interest after a few hours and so I started taking care of him yesterday,” one of the girls said in an interview with attorneys.
Law professor Warren Binford, who is helping interview the children, said she couldn’t learn anything about the toddler, not even where he’s from or who his family is. He is not speaking.
Binford described that during interviews with children in a conference room at the facility, “little kids are so tired they have been falling asleep on chairs and at the conference table.”
She said an 8-year-old taking care of a very small 4-year-old with matted hair couldn’t convince the little one to take a shower.
“In my 22 years of doing visits with children in detention, I have never heard of this level of inhumanity,” said Holly Cooper, who co-directs University of California, Davis’ Immigration Law Clinic and represents detained youth.
The lawyers inspected the facilities because they are involved in the Flores settlement, a Clinton-era legal agreement that governs detention conditions for migrant children and families. The lawyers negotiated access to the facility with officials, and say Border Patrol knew the dates of their visit three weeks in advance.
Many children interviewed had arrived alone at the U.S.-Mexico border, but some had been separated from their parents or other adult caregivers including aunts and uncles, the attorneys said.
Government rules call for the children to be held by the Border Patrol for no longer than 72 hours before they are transferred to the custody of Health and Human Services, which houses migrant youth in facilities around the country.
Government facilities are overcrowded and five immigrant children have died since late last year after being detained by Customs and Border Protection. A teenage mother with a premature baby was found last week in a Texas Border Patrol processing center after being held for nine days by the government.
In an interview this week with the AP, acting Customs and Border Protection Commissioner John Sanders acknowledged that children need better medical care and a place to recover from their illnesses. He urged Congress to pass a $4.6 billion emergency funding package includes nearly $3 billion to care for unaccompanied migrant children.
He said that the Border Patrol is holding 15,000 people, and the agency considers 4,000 to be at capacity.
“The death of a child is always a terrible thing, but here is a situation where, because there is not enough funding … they can’t move the people out of our custody,” Sanders said.
The arrival of thousands of families and children at the border each month has not only strained resources but thrust Border Patrol agents into the role of caregivers, especially for the many migrant youth who are coming without parents.
But children at the facility in Clint, which sits amid the desert scrubland some 25 miles (40 kilometers) southeast of El Paso, say they have had to pick up some of the duties in watching over the younger kids.
A 14-year-old girl from Guatemala said she had been holding two little girls in her lap.
“I need comfort, too. I am bigger than they are, but I am a child, too,” she said.
Children told lawyers that they were fed oatmeal, a cookie and a sweetened drink in the morning, instant noodles for lunch and a burrito and cookie for dinner. There are no fruits or vegetables. They said they’d gone weeks without bathing or a clean change of clothes.
A migrant father, speaking on condition of anonymity because of his immigration status, told AP Thursday that authorities separated his daughter from her aunt when they entered the country. The girl would be a second grader in a U.S. school.
He had no idea where she was until Monday, when one of the attorney team members visiting Clint found his phone number written in permanent marker on a bracelet she was wearing. It said “U.S. parent.”
“She’s suffering very much because she’s never been alone. She doesn’t know these other children,” said her father.
Republican Congressman Will Hurd, whose district includes Clint, said “tragic conditions” playing out on the southern border were pushing government agencies, nonprofits and Texas communities to the limit.
“This latest development just further demonstrates the immediate need to reform asylum laws and provide supplemental funding to address the humanitarian crisis at our border,” he said.
Dr. Julie Linton, who co-chairs the American Academy of Pediatrics Immigrant Health Special Interest Group, said CBP stations are not an appropriate place to hold children.
“Those facilities are anything but child friendly,” said Dr. Julie Linton. “That type of environment is not only unhealthy for children but also unsafe.”
The Trump administration has been scrambling to find new space to hold immigrants as it faces criticism that it’s violating the human rights of migrant children by keeping so many of them detained.
San Francisco psychoanalyst Gilbert Kliman, who has evaluated about 50 children and parents seeking asylum, says the trauma is causing lasting damage.
“The care of children by children constitutes a betrayal of adult responsibility, governmental responsibility,” he said.
Train Derails Near Nevada-Utah Line, Closing Interstate
WELLS, Nev. (AP) — A 60-mile stretch (96 kilometers) of U.S. Interstate 80 in northeast Nevada has been closed while emergency crews respond to a train derailment. Authorities were investigating whether any hazardous materials were aboard the train.
There’s been no immediate report of injuries.
Nevada Department of Transportation spokeswoman Meg Ragonese says the interstate was closed along the Utah state line shortly after the derailment was reported at about 11 a.m. Wednesday.
A dispatcher at the Elko County Sheriff’s Office says rail cars containing military munitions are on the train, but not near the site of the actual derailment.
Ragonese says interstate traffic is being rerouted.
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