Damned Heretics

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Qualified outsiders and maverick insiders are often right about the need to replace received wisdom in science and society, as the history of the Nobel prize shows. This blog exists to back the best of them in their uphill assault on the massively entrenched edifice of resistance to and prejudice against reviewing, let alone revising, ruling ideas. In support of such qualified dissenters and courageous heretics we search for scientific paradigms and other established beliefs which may be maintained only by the power and politics of the status quo, comparing them with academic research and the published experimental and investigative record.

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I am Albert Einstein, and I heartily approve of this blog, insofar as it seems to believe both in science and the importance of intellectual imagination, uncompromised by out of date emotions such as the impulse toward conventional religious beliefs, national aggression as a part of patriotism, and so on.   As I once remarked, the further the spiritual evolution of mankind advances, the more certain it seems to me that the path to genuine religiosity does not lie through the fear of life, and the fear of death, and blind faith, but through striving after rational knowledge.   Certainly the application of the impulse toward blind faith in science whereby authority is treated as some kind of church is to be deplored.  As I have also said, the only thing ever interfered with my learning was my education. My name as you already perceive without a doubt is George Bernard Shaw, and I certainly approve of this blog, in that its guiding spirit appears to be blasphemous in regard to the High Church doctrines of science, and it flouts the censorship of the powers that be, and as I have famously remarked, all great truths begin as blasphemy, and the first duty of the truthteller is to fight censorship, and while I notice that its seriousness of purpose is often alleviated by a satirical irony which sometimes borders on the facetious, this is all to the good, for as I have also famously remarked, if you wish to be a dissenter, make certain that you frame your ideas in jest, otherwise they will seek to kill you.  My own method was always to take the utmost trouble to find the right thing to say, and then to say it with the utmost levity. (Photo by Alfred Eisenstaedt for Life magazine) One should as a rule respect public opinion in so far as is necessary to avoid starvation and to keep out of prison, but anything that goes beyond this is voluntary submission to an unnecessary tyranny, and is likely to interfere with happiness in all kinds of ways. – Bertrand Russell, Conquest of Happiness (1930) ch. 9

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Libya: bullets for five nurses and doctor – or pay up


World deplores insanity, unaware of greater AIDS madness

AIDS critics may be in luck – another boost to growing examination of HIV∫AIDS in and out of courts

Drawing the world’s attention and curiosity for the second time, the Libyan court again convicted the five Bulgarian nurses and sentenced them to death by firing squad, along with the Palestinian doctor. The session took all of seven minutes.

Months more entanglement with this legal system, while Libya tries to extract more money than it already has from Bulgaria and the West for their ransom, is now forecast for the unhappy nurses, who have been held and threatened by the society they came to save for eight years now, an experience which has already led to some of them saying that they can’t stand it any more, just get it over with.

Apart from bringing Qaddafi and Libya once more into disrepute, this news, however, may be a gift to HIV∫AIDS critics and the millions they hope to save from largely useless and dangerous AIDS drugs.

In fact we imagine that HIV∫AIDS’s smoothest operator, the renowned Dr Fauci of NIAID, may be frowning at this tsunami of publicity centered on questionable HIV∫AIDS science, much as he probably deplores the politically dim Robert Gallo and John P. Moore for rising to the bait of the Harper’s Celia Farber essay in March on “Out of Control” AIDS science, and the subsequent wasp stings from Harvey Bialy in email exchanges which were subsequently run on Barnesworld, before that changed its name into Hank’s You Bet Your Life.

What could turn up the spotlight on the science of the shaky paradigm more effectively, and lead to more penetrating analysis of the flawed status quo, than this very vivid drama, personalized by the five hapless nurses, and the obviously flawed logic used to convict them? Not much. Maybe John P. Moore‘s conscience stricken suicide jump off the Empire State Building, easily reached from the Cornell Weill Medical College building where he works and runs the misleading AIDSTruth propaganda site.

With this blatant example of non-science accepted by the courts in an Arab country under a strong man, and contradicted by the best scientists in the field across the world (or those that the public supposes to be the best scientists) editorial writers and readers across the globe will have the responsibility of thinking about it briefly for the first time in two decades.

As in the court cases in Australia and in Canada, the issue of whether HIV actually causes AIDS is likely to enter into their thinking if only because it will be raised by outsiders as a possible defense, even if the lawyers don’t run with it as they have in Australia, though not yet Canada as far as we know (for a good update post on the vindictively stupid treatment of Canadian Football League linebacker Trevis Smith for ‘attempting to murder’ women he slept with after an uncertain positive HIV test, read the stunning and nightmarish story at Hanks You Bet Your Life: The Travesty of Canadian Justice and the Trial of Travis Smith, Part II by Shelley McNeil) today (Tue Dec 19).

The paradigm under review in the courts.

Trial by judge and jury in Canada, Australia, Libya and soon the US and other countries, and in the court of world public opinion, may now be the route to unchaining AIDS from HIV. It certainly is liable to focus more public attention on the issue than ever before.

Meanwhile, those who know and study the Libyan politics which will decide the real dispensation of the case say that the Libyans will continue to negotiate for compensation from the Bulgarians and other nations before eventually releasing the group after a Qaddafi pardon.

Ramadan al-Faitore, whose 4-year-old stepsister was among the first to die, predicted earlier this month that the medical workers would be sentenced to death.

“But no one will kill the nurses,” Mr. Faitore said in Paris, echoing a statement made by Col. Qaddafi’s son, Seif, two years ago. “After the trial, negotiations will start again.”

Even if they are finally released perhaps the nurses in their long travail will be counted martyrs to the movement to liberate humanity from the best defended scientific theory extant.

(show)
The New York TimesDecember 19, 2006

Libyan Court Upholds Death Sentences

By CRAIG S. SMITH

PARIS, Dec. 19 — A Libyan court again sentenced five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor to be shot by a firing squad for deliberately infecting 400 children with H.I.V., further complicating the country’s efforts to improve relations with the West.

Today’s verdict drew expressions of anger and alarm from Bulgaria and its supporters in the nearly eight-year-old case, which now appears likely to drag on for months more, if not years. Lawyers for the medical workers said they would appeal the sentence to Libya’s Supreme Court.

“We are going to urge the Libyan political leadership to engage in the process,” said Bulgaria’s foreign minister and deputy prime minister, Ivailo Kalfin, from Washington, where he met with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice hours after the verdict was announced.

Mr. Kalfin said that his country was working through the Libyan foreign ministry to ask the Libyan leader, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, and the country’s political institutions to intervene, because Libya’s inefficient and biased judicial system had failed to deal with the case credibly. He called the verdict “absolutely unfounded and unfair.”

The case began in February 1998 when the nurses arrived to work at the Al Fateh Children’s Hospital in Benghazi, the country’s second-largest city. By August 1998, children at the hospital had begun testing positive for H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS. Health authorities soon realized they had a huge problem.

An official investigation concluded that the infections had been concentrated in the wards where the Bulgarian nurses had been assigned. Dozens of Bulgarian medical workers were arrested, and a videotaped search of one nurse’s apartment turned up vials of H.I.V.-tainted blood.

According to a Libyan intelligence report submitted to the court, the nurse, Kristiyana Vulcheva, later confessed that the vials were given to her by a British friend who was working for the KBR subsidiary of Halliburton at the time. The nurse was quoted in the report as saying that she and her colleagues used the vials to infect the children.

Col. Qaddafi subsequently charged that the health care workers had acted on the orders of the Central Intelligence Agency and Israel’s intelligence agency, Mossad.

KBR is primarily an engineering and construction company, but it undertakes many kinds of contract work for the United States Department of Defense and other agencies, and its activities in Iraq and elsewhere have sometimes been controversial.

A Benghazi court eventually convicted five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor of deliberately injecting the children with the virus. But two of the five nurses said they were tortured into confessing, and international AIDS experts — including Luc Montagnier, the French virologist whose team is among those credited with discovering the H.I.V. virus — concluded that the virus predated the nurses’ arrival and was more likely spread through the use of contaminated needles.

Susannah Sirkin, deputy director of Physicians for Human Rights, an advocacy group, said the convicted medical workers had been “mercilessly scapegoated” by Libya.

“The fact that the true reason, according to all the scientific evidence, for this horrific case of hospital infection is poor hygienic conditions in the hospital that predate the arrival of the nurses is really the tragedy of the case,” Ms. Sirkin said by telephone from her group’s offices in Cambridge, Mass.

She said emotions ran so high among the families of the infected children that in Libya, “the government’s response has been, ‘Let’s blame some foreigners so we don’t have to take the heat.’ “

The medical workers were sentenced to death in May 2004 in a verdict that was widely condemned in the West. That began a period of difficult negotiations among Libya, Bulgaria, the United States and the European Union to find a solution.

Eventually, the four sides announced in December 2005 that they were setting up an international fund to cover medical care and other costs incurred by the families of the H.I.V.-infected children. Libya’s Supreme Court quashed the death sentences two days later and called for a retrial, this time by a court in the capital, Tripoli.

The families have asked that Bulgaria or other donors provide $10 million for each child, the same amount that Libya agreed to pay each of the families of the 270 people who were killed in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988. Libya has accepted responsibility for the bombing.

Under Libyan law, crime victims’ families have the power to grant clemency in return for compensation. The families of the infected children have said that they would agree to release the medical workers from the criminal charges if their request was satisfied.

But only a few million dollars in cash, services and equipment has been donated to the fund so far. Talks over further donations stalled while the second trial was underway — apparently, the Libyan families say, because Bulgaria hoped the new court would acquit the nurses.

In a seven-minute court hearing in Tripoli today, the presiding judge, Mahmoud Hawissa, read out the verdict and sentence in the latest trial.

Bulgarian officials and the defense lawyers for the nurses argue that the latest trial was as flawed as the first.

“The whole court case was compromised, and covers up the real cause that sparked the AIDS epidemics in Benghazi,” said a joint statement issued today by Bulgaria’s president, Georgy Parvanov, and prime minister, Sergey Stanishev.

Emmanuel Altit, a French lawyer in Paris who worked on the defense team, said: “The question of torture by electricity, proof that the nurses had been beaten, sexually harassed, kept for six months without contact, the question of fabricated evidence — none of this was discussed at all. The court refused to hear our experts.”

Amnesty International issued a statement condemned the trial as “grossly unfair.” “We deplore these sentences and urge the Libyan authorities to declare immediately that they will never be carried out,” said Malcolm Smart, the director of Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa program.

Mr. Smart’s statement raised a number of complaints about the fairness of the trial, and noted that the evidence produced by Libyan medical experts was called questionable by international medical experts.

Warning that the verdict could frighten Western doctors and nurses away from traveling to Africa to help in future health crises, representatives of some charitable organizations expressed hope that it would be set aside and the doctor and nurses allowed to go home.

The European Union’s justice commissioner, Franco Frattini, called on Libyan authorities to rethink their handling of the case, calling it “an obstacle to cooperation with the E.U.” Bulgaria will become a member of the union on Jan. 1.

Official American reaction to the case has been muted, in part, some diplomats suggested, because the United States is trying to improve its relations with Libya on other fronts. Still, Tony Snow, the White House spokesman, said today that the administration was “disappointed with the verdict,” and that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice assured Mr. Kalfin that the United States would continue working for the nurses’ “early return to Bulgaria.”

Outside the Libyan court, families of the children, about 50 of whom have since died, rallied today to call for the sentence to be carried out immediately, news agencies reported.

But for the Libyans who believe the nurses are guilty, the verdict was a foregone conclusion, even if their execution is not.

Ramadan al-Faitore, whose 4-year-old stepsister was among the first to die, predicted earlier this month that the medical workers would be sentenced to death.

“But no one will kill the nurses,” Mr. Faitore said in Paris, echoing a statement made by Col. Qaddafi’s son, Seif, two years ago. “After the trial, negotiations will start again.”

Mr. Kalfin, the Bulgarian foreign minister, said today that his country was committed to the making sure that the fund would “provide lifelong medical treatment for the children, and create conditions that would prevent this from ever happening again.”

But he bristled at the suggestion that Bulgaria would pay “blood money” for the release of the nurses, calling such talk “cynical.”

“We feel a great deal of sympathy for the children and the families,” Mr. Kalfin said. “But making a linkage between this tragedy and the work of the Bulgarian nurses has absolutely no foundation.”

Standing in a muddy field across the street from the Libyan Embassy in Sofia, Zorka Anachkova, Ms. Vulcheva’s mother, said she wasn’t surprised by the verdict.

“What kind of negotiations can you have for innocent people?” she asked. “All the evidence proves their innocence. Their innocence is axiomatic. What else is there to talk about?”

Contributing reporting for this article were Matthew Brunwasser from Sofia, Brian Knowlton from Washington and Christine Hauser from New York.

5 Responses to “Libya: bullets for five nurses and doctor – or pay up”

  1. Otis Says:

    Let’s see: TS writes (for no apparent reason):

    … as far as we know (for a slightly misspelled and slightly ungrammatical update of the equally foolish treatment of football linebacker Travis Smith for “attempting to murder” women he slept with after an uncertain positive HIV test, try Hanks You Bet Your Life) today (Tue Dec 19).

    The author of BOTH articles about Mr. Smith thinks his name is Trevis, as does his wife, Tamika, and the mother of his first child, Lisa, who added a most interesting comment to Ms. McNeil’s first report, as does the Canadian press.

    We have to wonder, along with the 15 or 30 who are readers of this whatever it is where the TS gets his deep inside information that they are all poor spellers…..

  2. YossariansGhostbuster Says:

    TS,

    There you go. Talking about waking up and blind optimism, some dude comes in here talking typos.

  3. TS Says:

    Double touche – hung by our own yardarm.

    Actually intended to be a check of whether Otis was reading carefully.

  4. david burd Says:

    It is pertinent to put this dismal affair under numerical scrutiny. Overall child mortality in Northern Africa, and that of the 400 to 426 Libyan infants (as cited by many news sources accessed via the Web). Web news sources put the total deaths of these Libyan children at 53, which comes to 13% after eight years, which began in 1998.

    UNICEF’s mortality for children up to five (5) years age for Northern Africa is 6.2% in 1995, and decreases to 4.1% in 2002. For 5 years age up to 8 years there are no mortality figures from UNICEF, but of course has to be higher, and could reasonably rise to 7-9%.

    Therefore, the Libyan children in this Bulgarian nurse affair have a mortality of 13% compared to 7-9% background, which comes to a difference of 20 infants/child mortality (out of 400 to 426) above what might be expected, if the babies were born to mothers of average health.

    However, it must be asked if the infants being cared for by the Bulgarian nurses were even close to normal/average risk for childhood death?

    Not so, if they were similar to that of the Northern Hemisphere where babies born to drug/heroin addicted mothers have a tremendously increased mortality (for all the established reasons).

    Then there are the additional factors of antiretroviral or antiviral drugs (all known to have life-threatening effects) or high doses of Bactrim/similarly dangerous drugs given to these children as they were deemed HIV-antibody positive.

    Who knows of their drug regimens? Nevertheless, with 87% of these children still alive after eight years, in spite of their possibly risky birth origin and/or toxic drugs that may have been administered, the death sentence of being “HIV antibody positive becomes ever more elusive – yet has resulted in the nurses being condemned to death. Despite the questionable increase of mortality in these children over background.

  5. pat Says:

    Trevis Smith is at the very best a coward. So he “knows” about HIV and the scientific boondoggle supporting it but finds it completely unnecessary to inform his sex partners of either his status or his position on it, effectively rendering their risk assessments pointless. The law aside, this man lacks any kind of moral fiber by showing utter disrespect for the women he slept with and really shouldn’t be paraded as a “poster boy” for the rethinking movement.

    PS: sorry for posting about the Smith affair here but YBYL seems to be heavily fortified and impenetrable as of late.

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