International Committee of the Red Cross delegates have met with a US citizen held at an undisclosed location as an enemy combatant, the humanitarian agency said Oct. 2.
The man was handed over to US forces about three weeks ago by the Syrian Democratic Forces, a US-allied militia made up mostly of Kurds. His name has yet to be released, but the Associated Press reported last week, citing unnamed “senior US officials,” that the American captive was being held at a detention center in Iraq, suggesting he was perhaps in Kurdistan. A Department of Defense spokesman declined to comment.
“The ICRC confirms that it has been able to visit a US citizen, captured in Syria and currently held by the US authorities,” spokesman Marc Kilstein said Oct. 2. “In accordance with our confidential approach, we are not in a position to comment on the individual’s identity, location, or conditions of detention.”
The Department of Defense, likewise, has been short on details about the man — his age, name, where he is held, what would become of him — after initially disclosing the existence of the only known American citizen in US military custody who is held as an Islamic State fighter. A Pentagon statement called him a “known enemy combatant” who was handed over to US forces “on or about Sept. 21.”
The capture has created a policy conundrum for the Trump administration. President Donald Trump campaigned on a vow to load up Guantánamo with prisoners. But if the American is to be charged with a crime, he cannot go to Guantánamo, where by law only non-citizens can be tried by military commission. Moreover, if he were to be sent to the war-on-terror detention center in southeast Cuba, he could not be later sent to a federal court for prosecution under a different provision of US law enacted during the Obama administration that prevents the transfer of Guantánamo detainees to US soil.
On Sept. 29, a day after the ICRC said it had been notified about the captive, Anthony Romero of the American Civil Liberties Union wrote Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and Attorney General Jeff Sessions that, based on reports of a US citizen in detention, “his ongoing military detention is unlawful as a matter of domestic law, and his constitutional rights to habeas corpus and to a lawyer must be respected.
“If the government has legitimate grounds to suspect the citizen fought with ISIS, he should immediately be transferred to the federal criminal justice system for criminal charges,” he added.
Romero also copied in Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on his correspondence. As of Oct. 2, he had not received a response.
Whatever is harming US diplomats in Havana, it has eluded the doctors, scientists, and intelligence analysts scouring for answers. Investigators have chased many theories, including a sonic attack, electromagnetic weapon, or flawed spying device.
Each explanation seems to fit parts of what’s happened, conflicting with others.
The United States doesn’t even know what to call it. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson used the phrase “health attacks.” The State Department prefers “incidents.”
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Photo from US Embassy Consulate in Korea.
Either way, suspicion has fallen on Cuba. But investigators also are examining whether a rogue faction of its security services, another country such as Russia, or some combination is to blame, more than a dozen US officials familiar with the investigation told The Associated Press.
Those officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to publicly discuss the investigation. The AP also talked to scientists, physicians, acoustics and weapons experts, and others about the theories being pursued.
Perhaps the biggest mystery is why the symptoms, sounds, and sensations vary so dramatically from person to person.
Of the 21 medically confirmed US victims, some have permanent hearing loss or concussions, while others suffered nausea, headaches, and ear-ringing. Some are struggling with concentration or common word recall, the AP has reported. Some felt vibrations or heard loud sounds mysteriously audible in only parts of rooms, and others heard nothing.
Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis, Chargé d’Affaires at US Embassy Havana. Photo from US State Department.
“These are very nonspecific symptoms. That’s why it’s difficult to tell what’s going on,” said Dr. H. Jeffrey Kim, a specialist on ear disorders at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital, who isn’t involved with the investigation.
To solve the puzzle, investigators are sorting symptoms into categories, such as auditory and neurological, according to individuals briefed on the probe.
There can be a lag before victims discover or report symptoms, some of which are hard to diagnose. So investigators are charting the timeline of reported incidents to identify “clusters” to help solve the when, where, and how of the Havana whodunit.
While Cuba has been surprisingly cooperative, even inviting the FBI to fly down to Havana, it’s not the same as an investigation with the US government in full control.
“You’re on foreign soil,” said David Rubincam, a former FBI agent who served in Moscow. “The quality of the information and evidence you collect is limited to what the host government will allow you to see and hear and touch and do.”
Especially when you don’t even know what you’re looking for.
The first signs pointed to a sonic attack. But what kind?
Some victims heard things — signs that the sounds were in the audible spectrum. Loud noise can harm hearing, especially high-decibel sounds that can trigger ear-ringing tinnitus, ruptured ear drums, even permanent hearing loss.
But others heard nothing, and still became ill. So investigators considered inaudible sound: infrasound, too low for humans to hear, and ultrasound, too high.
Infrasound often is experienced as vibration, like standing near a subwoofer. Some victims reported feeling vibrations.
And it’s not impossible that infrasound could explain some of what diplomats thought they heard.
Though infrasound is usually inaudible, some people can detect it if the waves are powerful enough. For example, individuals living near infrasound-generating wind turbines have described pulsating hums that have left them dizzy, nauseous, or with interrupted sleep. Such effects have prompted fierce scientific debate.
The balance problems reported in Havana? Possibly explained by infrasound, which may stimulate cells in the ear’s vestibular system that controls balance, scientists say.
But there’s little evidence infrasound can cause lasting damage once the sound stops.
And the pinpointed focus of the sound, reported by some? Infrasound waves travel everywhere, making them difficult to aim with precision.
“There’s no efficient way to focus infrasound to make it into a usable weapon,” said Mario Svirsky, an expert on ear disorders and neuroscience at New York University School of Medicine.
If not infrasound, maybe ultrasound?
At high-intensity, ultrasound can damage human tissue. That’s why doctors use it to destroy uterine fibroids and some tumors.
But ultrasound damage requires close contact between the device and the body. “You cannot sense ultrasound from long distances,” Svirsky said. No victim said they saw a weird contraption nearby.
None of these sound waves seems to explain the concussions. Usually, those follow a blow to the head or proximity to something like a bomb blast.
“I know of no acoustic effect or device that could produce traumatic brain injury or concussion-like symptoms,” said Juergen Altmann, an acoustic weapons expert and physicist at Germany’s Technische Universitaet Dortmund.
It may sound like Star Wars fantasy, but electromagnetic weapons have been around for years. They generally harm electronics, not humans.
The electromagnetic spectrum includes waves like the ones used by your cellphone, microwave, and light bulbs.
And they can be easily pinpointed. Think lasers. Such waves can also travel through walls, so an electromagnetic attack could be plausibly concealed from afar.
There’s precedent. For more than a decade ending in the 1970s, the former Soviet Union bombarded the US Embassy in Moscow with microwaves. The exact purpose was never clear.
What about the sounds people heard?
Microwave pulses — short, intense blasts — can cause people to “hear” clicking sounds. According to a two-decade-old US Air Force patent, the American military has researched whether those blasts could be manipulated to “beam” voices or other sounds to someone’s head.
But when electromagnetic waves cause physical damage, it usually results from body tissue being heated. The diplomats in Cuba haven’t been reporting burning sensations.
The stress and anxiety about the disturbing incidents could be complicating the situation. Diplomats may be taking a closer look at mild symptoms they’d otherwise ignored.
After all, once symptoms emerged, the US Embassy encouraged employees to report anything suspicious. Many of these symptoms can be caused by a lot of different things.
At least one other country, France, tested embassy staffers after an employee reported symptoms. The French then ruled out sonic-induced damage, the AP reported .
Not knowing what’s causing the crisis in Cuba has made it harder to find the culprit. If there is one at all.
The Cuba Theory
It was only natural that American suspicion started with Cuba.
The attacks happened on Cuban soil. The two countries routinely harassed each other’s diplomats over a half-century of enmity. Despite eased tensions over the past couple of years, distrust lingers.
Diplomats reported incidents in their homes and in hotels. Cuban authorities would know who is staying in each.
But what’s the motive?
When symptoms emerged last November, Cuba was working feverishly with the US to make progress on everything from internet access to immigration rules before President Barack Obama’s term ended. Officials still don’t understand why Havana would at the same time perpetrate attacks that could destroy its new relationship with Washington entirely.
Cuban President Raul Castro’s reaction deepened investigators’ skepticism, according to officials briefed on a rare, face-to-face discussion he had on the matter with America’s top envoy in Havana.
Predictably, Castro denied responsibility. But US officials were surprised that Castro seemed genuinely rattled, and that Cuba offered to let the FBI come investigate.
Cuban President Raúl Castro (left) shakes hands with former US President Barack Obama, 2015. Photo courtesy of the White House.
Then, Canadians got ill. Why them?
The warm, long-standing ties between Cuba and Canada made it seem even less logical that Castro’s government was the culprit.
If not Castro, could elements of Cuba’s vast intelligence apparatus be to blame? Investigators haven’t ruled out that possibility, several US officials said.
It’s no secret that some within Cuba’s government are uneasy about Raul Castro’s opening with Washington.
“It’s entirely possible that hard-line elements acted,” said Michael Parmly, who headed the US mission in Havana until 2008.
But mounting unauthorized attacks, tantamount to aggression against a foreign power, would be a risky act of defiance in a country noted for its strong central control.
Cuba’s surveillance of US diplomats in Havana is intense. The government tracks US diplomats’ movements and conversations.
So at a minimum, if Americans were being attacked, it’s difficult to imagine Cuba’s spies being left in the dark.
Who else would dare?
US investigators have focused on a small group of usual suspects: Russia, Iran, North Korea, China, Venezuela.
Cuban President Raúl Castro (left) and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Photo from Moscow Kremlin.
Russia, in particular, has harassed American diplomats aggressively in recent years.
Moscow even has a plausible motive: driving a wedge between the communist island and “the West” — nations such as the United States and Canada. Russia also has advanced, hard-to-detect weaponry that much of the world lacks and might not even know about.
None of the officials interviewed for this story pointed to any evidence, however, linking Russia to the illnesses. The same goes for the other countries.
Spying Gone Awry?
Maybe no one tried to hurt the Americans at all.
Several US officials have emphasized the possibility the culprit merely surveilled the US diplomats using some new, untested technology that caused unintended harm.
You might think eavesdropping devices simply receive signals. But the world of espionage is full of strange tales.
During the Cold War, the US Embassy in Moscow discovered Russia listening to conversations through a wooden plaque that the American ambassador received as a gift. The plaque had a tiny “microphone” and antenna embedded, but no power source, making it hard to detect even when the room was swept for bugs.
The Russians had developed something novel. They remotely beamed electromagnetic waves to activate the device, which then transmitted sound back via radio frequencies.
Yet if the Cubans or anyone else were equally as innovative, it’s unclear why the incidents would have continued once the United States and Canada complained.
The training to carry oleoresin capsicum (pepper spray) or a Tazer generally requires that a military police officer experience the sting of their weapon before they can carry it. Some troops are even required to recertify and be sprayed and Tazed every six months.
Here are 17 photos and one video that show what the training is like:
1. Pepper spray, training opens with the service member getting a blast straight to the face.
2. The spray forces the eyes closed and irritates the skin.
3. In most cases, the students have to complete certain tasks and training lanes after being sprayed.
4. Part of the training lane is fighting against a simulated aggressor while still blinded.
5. Students may be required to fight with batons or riot gear.
6. Trying to use weapons while under the spray’s effects is especially challenging.
7. But the soldiers are expected to force their way through.
8. Near the end of the training, the students will usually have to subdue a subject.
9. Once they finish the lane, they can rinse out the spray.
10. Removing the chemical agents is a welcome step.
11. It takes a lot of water to get the oleoresin capsicum off.
12. Even after rinsing, the eyes and face will likely be sore and inflamed for a while.
13. Tazers are an entirely different beast.
14. The shock of the Tazer can immediately incapacitate a trainee.
15. The faces of those being shocked are usually pretty funny.
16. Other troops will support the students during the shock so they won’t hurt themselves as they fall.
17. Attempting to resist the 50,000 volt shock is useless as the Tazer overwhelms the nervous system.
To see Marines going through pepper spray, Tazer, and riot control training, check out the video below:
On August 6th and 9th of 1945, the United States dropped atomic bombs over the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, causing significant death and destruction in both places. To this day, the bombings remain history’s only acts of nuclear warfare.
A lot has been established about the immediate preparations for the dropping of the bombs, known as “Little Boy” and “Fat Man,” which were loaded onto airplanes on the North Field airbase on Tinian Island, part of the Northern Mariana Islands to the south of Japan.
Until recently few photographs were available of the final hours before the bombings. But newly declassified pictures shed additional light on the procedures leading up to the nuclear attacks, giving a chilling glimpse into how and where the most destructive bombs ever used in warfare were loaded.
Soldiers check the casings on the “Fat Man” atomic bomb. Multiple test bombs were created on Tinian Island. All were roughly identical to an operational bomb, even though they lacked the necessary equipment to detonate.
On the left, geophysicist and Manhattan Project participant Francis Birch marks the bomb unit that would become “Little Boy” while Norman Ramsey, who would later win the Nobel Prize in Physics, looks on.
A technician applies sealant and putty to the crevices of “Fat Man,” a final preparation to make sure the environment inside the bomb would be stable enough to sustain a full impact once the bomb was detonated.
Soldiers and workers sign their names and other messages on the nose of “Fat Man.”
Here’s a closer look.
“Fat Man” is loaded onto a transport trailer and given a final once-over.
The bomb is then escorted to the nearby North Field airbase on Tinian, shrouded in tarp.
At the airfield, “Fat Man” is lined up over a pit specifically constructed for it, from which it is then loaded into the plane that dropped it over Nagasaki on August 9, 1945.
Both pits for “Little Boy” and “Fat Man,” each roughly 8 feet by 12 feet, still exist today on the island and now serve as a memorial.
The bomb and its trailer are lowered down into the pit using a hydraulic lift.
Workers check “Little Boy” one last time, keeping the tarp on for security reasons. They used a similar lowering procedure for “Fat Man” three days later.
Once “Little Boy” is ready, the Enola Gay, a Boeing B-29 Superfortress bomber, is reversed and positioned over the trench.
The tarp is removed and the bomb is readied for loading.
Using the hydraulic lift, “Little Boy” is carefully raised and loaded into the belly of the Enola Gay.
Once inside the plane, the bomb is secured and all connections and equipment are checked again.
From there, both “Little Boy” and “Fat Man” were flown over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, respectively, and detonated. World War II ended shortly afterwards, but at a cost: an estimated 250,000 people were killed or injured in the attacks, most of them civilians.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, Sept. 18, attended the week-long war games with Belarus that have demonstrated the Russian military’s resurgent might and made neighboring countries nervous.
Putin observed the Zapad 2017 drills — tank attacks, airborne assaults, and air raids that got underway Sept. 14 — at the Luzhsky range in western Russia, just over 100 kilometers (about 60 miles) east of Estonia’s border.
As part of the maneuvers, the Russian military on Sept. 18 also test-fired its state-of-the-art cruise missile at a mock target in the Central Asian nation of Kazakhstan, showcasing the weapon’s extended range and precision strike capability.
Some nervous NATO members, including the Baltic states and Poland, have criticized an alleged lack of transparency about the war games and questioned Moscow’s intentions.
The exercises, held in several firing ranges in Belarus and western Russia, run through Sept. 20. Russia and Belarus say 5,500 Russian and 7,200 Belarusian troops are participating, but some NATO countries have estimated that up to 100,000 troops could be involved.
With Russia’s relations with the West at a post-Cold War low point over the fighting in Ukraine, worries about the war games ranged from allegations that Russia could permanently deploy its forces to Belarus to fears of a surprise onslaught on the Baltics.
Their troops are fighting three invented “aggressor countries” — Veishnoriya, Lubeniya, and Vesbariya. However, the Baltic states — Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania — and Poland see the monikers for the made up enemies as thinly disguised references to their nations.
NATO has rotated military units in the Baltics and Poland and staged regular drills in the region, activities Moscow has criticized as a reflection of the alliance’s hostile intentions.
Russia and Belarus kept the stated number of troops involved in the drills just below 13,000, a limit allowing them to dodge more intrusive inspections by NATO in line with international agreements. The practice maneuvers nonetheless have put Russia’s massive military mobilization capability on display.
They also have involved various branches of the Russian military, including the air force’s long-range bombers and missile forces. In a reflection of the drills’ broad scope, they featured the Sept. 18 launch of the Iskander-M cruise missile, a new weapon that has drawn concern from the United States.
The missile, launched from the Kapustin Yar firing range in southwestern Russia, hit a mock target at a range in Kazakhstan, some 480 kilometers (nearly 300 miles) away, according to the Russian Defense Ministry.
The US has accused Russia of developing cruise missiles banned by the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with a goal to threaten US facilities in Europe and the NATO alliance. Moscow has rejected the accusations and insisted it has adhered to the pact.
The INF Treaty bans an entire class of weapons — all land-based cruise and ballistic missiles with a range between 500 and 5,500 kilometers (310 and 3,410 miles). The Iskander-M’s stated range puts it just below the pact’s threshold.
The Zapad 2017 maneuvers are intended to underline the close military cooperation between Russia and Belarus, but also revealed signs of strains between the allies.
While Putin watched the previous drills in 2013 with his Belarusian counterpart, Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko said he would watch them separately on Sept. 20.
Lukashenko has relied on subsidized Russian oil and gas supplies and billions of dollars in loans to keep his nation’s Soviet-style economy afloat. At the same time, he often has bristled at what he described as the Kremlin’s attempts to subdue Belarus and force it to surrender control over prized economic assets.
Lukashenko also has flirted with the West to try to reduce his dependence on Russia. His decision to dodge a joint appearance with Putin at the military exercises was seen by observers as an attempt to put some distance between Belarus and its giant eastern neighbor.
“Lukashenko is trying to mend ties with the West to get new loans, and the Kremlin’s military games don’t help that,” Alexander Klaskovsky, a Minsk-based political analyst, said.
By 1942, the skies over Germany were aflame with German fighters battling Allied bombers for the survival of Europe and the free world. Central to victory in this air war were the fighter planes of the Allies. At first they were obsolete and woefully inadequate. But with the advent of advanced aircraft like the P-47 Thunderbolt and the P-51 Mustang, the tide of war was about to change. In this episode we hear the powerful words of fighter aces Clarence “Bud” Anderson in his revolutionary North American P-51 and Francis “Gabby” Gabreski, flying the Republic P-47, as they battle the Luftwaffe in the war torn skies over Europe during World War II.
Studies and Observations Group (SOG) was a highly classified, special ops unit that conducted unconventional warfare during the Vietnam War. SOG carried out the capture of enemy prisoners, rescued downed pilots, and conducted rescue operations to retrieve prisoners of war throughout Southeast Asia. The Task Force also engaged in clandestine intelligence, propaganda and psychological operations. J.D. Bath and Bill Deacy were members of this elite group.
Celebrate the 240th birthday of the United States Navy by taking a look at 28 photos (and a couple of paintings) that capture the spirit of the sea service past and present:
Cmdr. Christian Sewell launches from the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68) in an F-35C Lightning II carrier variant joint strike fighter Nov. 4, 2014. The F-35 Lightning II Pax River Integrated Test Force from Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 23 is conducting initial at-sea trials aboard Nimitz.
A port security boat assigned to Maritime Expeditionary Squadron 1 (MESRON 1) patrols the waters near Kuwait Naval Base Feb. 10, 2009.
A Mark 7 16-inch/50 caliber gun is fired aboard the battleship USS Missouri (BB-63) as night shelling of Iraqi targets takes place along the northern Kuwaiti coast during Operation Desert Storm.
U.S. Navy SEALs patrol the Mekong Delta, Vietnam in 1967.
An F-4B drops bombs on Vietnam.
Walt Disney and Dick Van Dyke visiting the USS Kitty Hawk (CVA-63) with Captain Martin D. Carmody on July 6, 1965
The USS Missouri fires 16-inch salvo at Chong Jin, Korea in an effort to cut Northern Korean communications. Chong Jin is only 39 miles from the border of China. October 21, 1950.
The U.S. Navy tests nuclear bombs at Bikini Atoll Jul. 25, 1946.
An unidentified man engages a penguin during a U.S. Navy expedition to Antarctica.
View from a Navy ship navigating waters around Antarctica.
Surrender of Japan, 2 September 1945 ; Navy carrier planes fly in formation over the U.S. and British fleets in Tokyo Bay during surrender ceremonies. USS Missouri (BB-63) , where the ceremonies took place, is at left. USS Detroit (CL-8) is in the right distance. Aircraft include TBM, F6F, SB2C and F4U types.
USS Idaho (BB-42), a New Mexico-class battleship shells Okinawa on 1 April 1945, easily distinguished by her tower foremast and 5″-38 Mk 30 single turrets (visible between the barrels of the forward main turrets). Idaho was the only battleship with this configuration.
Sailor and colleague stitching thatch in the South Pacific during WWII.
Seabees with the 111th Naval Construction Battalion landing at Omaha Beach before the Mulberry bridge was installed, Jun. 6 1944.
USS Darke (APA-159)’s, LCVP 18, possibly with Army troops as reinforcements at Okinawa, sometime between Apr. 9-14 1945.
The U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Hornet launches a B-25 during the Doolittle Raid.
USS Arizona (BB-39) sunk and burning furiously, Dec. 7, 1941. Her forward magazines had exploded when she was hit by a Japanese bomb. At left, men on the stern of USS Tennessee (BB-43) are playing fire hoses on the water to force burning oil away from their ship.
A sailor poses on the USS Bear during an expedition to Greenland in 1941.
Sailors pose in a train at Cardiff, Wales in 1918.
The USS Leviathan heads to France to pick up U.S. troops in this stereo photo from 1918.
The USS Colorado transits the Panama Canal.
The “Great White Fleet” steams the Atlantic Ocean as part of the U.S. Navy mission to prove that it’s a blue water fleet in 1908.
A dog contemplates jumping from the deck of a ship while sailing with the “Great White Fleet.” According to a note with the photo in the Navy historical archive, the dog did later jump.
Divers search the wreck of the USS Maine in Havana Harbor, Cuba. The sinking of the USS Maine was one of the events that triggered the Spanish-American War.
The USS Monitor and CSS Merrimac face off in 1862 near Norfolk, Virginia. This was the first time ironclad ships faced each other in combat.
During the Mexican-American War, the U.S. Navy attack the city of San Juan de Ullca in March 1847.
During the War of 1812, the Navy played a large role by limiting the actions of the British fleet.
A Revolutionary War painting depicting the Continental Navy frigate Confederacy is displayed at the Navy Art Gallery at the Washington Navy Yard.