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US military struggles in campus battle

US judge delays 'Merchant of Death' trial
New York (AFP) March 3, 2011 - A US judge on Thursday postponed the trial of Russian Viktor Bout, popularly known as the "Merchant of Death" for his alleged career as a massive arms dealer. Judge Shira Scheindlin granted defense lawyers a one month extension to prepare their case, setting the new date at October 11, instead of the previous start of September 12. Bout, a Russian citizen extradited from Thailand last November, has new privately retained lawyers replacing his court-appointed team as of this week. The new head attorney, Albert Dayan, complained that he did not have enough time to go through mountains of evidence and documents before what is expected to be the approximately month-long trial.

Further slowing progress were visiting conditions in the high security detention center where Bout is being held, Dayan said. Meeting in a locked cubicle, where they are separated by thick glass, and with no table to share, "I literally have to hold each piece of paper against the glass," Dayan said. "I have to shout." Dayan said he'd been handed eight discs and a hard drive full of case material when he took over the defense, but that he'd not been able even to start reviewing the material.

Scheindlin turned down Dayan's request for a longer delay, but instructed prosecutors to ask the prison service to ease visiting conditions for Bout. If changes are not made, "I'll consider an order" forcing them, she said. Bout's previous defense team indicated it would challenge the trial on several arguments, including that his extradition from Thailand was illegal. It was not clear whether Dayan would maintain that strategy. The alleged global arms dealer, wearing a dark blue prison smock, smiled at his wife Alla Bout and looked for almost half a minute across the courtroom through the 15th floor windows out over a brilliantly sunny Manhattan.

Alla Bout said after the hearing that he was suffering from tuberculosis contracted in Thailand and that he was not being fed properly or allowed full access to the prison library. "Everything is like cooked porridge," she said. "He should at least have vitamins. He's taking antibiotics for tuberculosis. But he should be getting more of a rehabilitation treatment." Bout -- whose story inspired the 2005 Nicolas Cage film "Lord of War" -- has pleaded not guilty to conspiracy to kill US nationals, acquire an anti-aircraft missile and support a terrorist group. If convicted, he faces between 25 years and life in prison. His arrest in Thailand and lengthy extradition battle infuriated Moscow.
by Staff Writers
New York (AFP) March 3, 2011
US soldiers today face combat in some far-flung places, but it's the battle for Columbia University, right in Manhattan, that could say most about the country they represent.

At issue is whether the prestigious college will end a ban on a military cadet program known as the ROTC that was exiled from most Ivy League campuses four decades ago during the Vietnam era.

The college Senate meets this Friday ahead of a vote next month that will provide a stark look at how US academia -- long a foe of the Pentagon -- feels nearly a decade into the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

For Zoe Willmott, in her junior year of urban studies, the idea of a great university partnering the military is anathema. "In the military you are taught to obey commands, to follow commands, not to think critically and to question what you're doing," Willmott, 20, said.

"This is about allowing a group on campus that is so fundamentally different to what a college teaches you."

But Jose Robledo, a 30-year-old paratrooper sergeant studying political science, says that kind of thinking shows how little opponents -- and the wider public -- understand the professional armed forces.

"Unfortunately the civil-military divide in American society has grown dramatically," said Robledo, who spent nine years on active service before taking an academic break so that he can become an officer.

"People opposing ROTC don't understand where we're coming from, because they don't know what it's like on the other side."

At colleges across the country, ROTC, or Reserve Officers' Training Corps, is often uncontroversial. The program offers scholarships in which students combine normal academic courses with military training, before entering the armed forces.

However, some campuses, notably the left-leaning, hugely expensive Ivy League institutions, booted out the ROTC in protest at the Vietnam war, then extended the ban over the Pentagon's longtime refusal to allow openly homosexual servicemen.

With last December's repeal of the "don't-ask-don't-tell" rule -- effectively allowing gay soldiers to come out of the closet -- Ivy League campuses are entering a historic shift.

Harvard and Yale quickly expressed strong interest in getting the Pentagon to set up ROTC programs.

Meanwhile at Columbia, scene of major Vietnam war demonstrations, debate has been vigorous, grabbing national attention at times.

Ugly newspaper headlines followed a university hearing in February, when anti-ROTC students jeered and called "racist!" at Anthony Maschek, an Iraq veteran who was shot nine times and spent two years undergoing rehabilitation.

Although students on both sides say the scene was uncharacteristic, bitter echoes of the 1960s do haunt the debate.

Robledo -- who combines his Columbia studies with ROTC courses at another Manhattan university where the program is allowed -- says that many of his student peers have no concept of how the armed forces operate.

Seeing him in uniform, "often times people will stop, have bewilderment in their faces," Robledo said.

Veterans feel picked on, in contrast to the support given to every possible other minority, whether religious or sexual.

"You're discriminating," Maschek, 28, told his opponents in an audio recording of the heckling incident. "It's confusing that you want to be discriminatory toward people."

Robledo says veterans pushing for reinstatement of ROTC can also be closed-minded. "There's sometimes a certain elitism -- that 'I fought for your rights to speak up, so shut up,'" he said. "Some servicemen forget that's why we volunteered: to protect the constitution."

Willmott, member of a student activist group called Lucha, insists she does not oppose veterans or servicemen studying at Columbia. "I'm not against individuals joining the military," she said.

But Rich Hanley, a social commentator teaching journalism at Quinnipiac University, said the ROTC debate indicates a vast gap running through the ivory towers of top campuses and far beyond.

"In the all-volunteer army, it's just that the folks who tend to fight our wars are not tending to go to college," he said.

"There's an enormous class divide in America between the soldiers it sends to fight its wars and the elites who stay home."

The result, analysts say, is that even if Columbia does green-light the ROTC, there may not be enough student interest for the Pentagon to want to establish a program there, or at Harvard and Yale, at all.

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British costs soaring for Eurofighter jets: audit
London (AFP) March 2, 2011
The cost of each Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft ordered by Britain has soared by 75 percent due to bad planning and over-optimism, the public sector spending watchdog said Wednesday. The National Audit Office (NAO) said that while the fighter jet was performing some defence tasks, it is unlikely to reach its full potential as a multi-role aircraft until 2018. Britain originally ordered 232 ... read more

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