Democracy Now! - October 30, 2015

As global talks on Syria take place in Vienna, we look at the dangers to medical workers on the front lines of the world’s deadliest conflict. Nearly 700 medical personnel have been killed in Syria since the war erupted in March 2011. The group Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) says there have been more than 300 attacks on health facilities—with the Syrian regime responsible 90 percent of the time. According to Doctors Without Borders, airstrikes in Syria have killed at least 35 patients and medical staff since an escalation in bombings late last month. Russian airstrikes have damaged six Syrian health facilities this month, killing at least four civilians and wounding six medical staffers. We are joined by PHR’s Widney Brown and a Syrian doctor who fled his country under the cover of night.

The latest figures from Doctors Without Borders (MSF) show the U.S. airstrike on its hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, earlier this month killed 30 people—13 workers, 10 patients and seven others who remain unidentified. Another 27 staffers were injured, along with an unknown number of patients and caretakers. The bombing left the 94-bed trauma center in ruins and hundreds of thousands of Afghans without a critical surgical facility. Doctors Without Borders has accused the U.S. of a "war crime" and demanded an independent international probe. Just three weeks later, another MSFhospital was destroyed in Yemen, this time by the U.S.-backed, Saudi-led coalition that has waged war there since March. Doctors Without Borders says the attack will leave 200,000 people without access to medical care. "The U.S. has been very strong at condemning the Syrian attacks on hospitals in Syria, yet it is backing the Saudis in Yemen—supplying them with weaponry just like Russia is in Syria—and ignoring the fact the Saudis are doing in Yemen everything the U.S. government is accusing the Syrian government of doing in Syria," says Widney Brown of Physicians for Human Rights.

British resident Shaker Aamer has been freed from Guantánamo after more than 13 years behind bars. Aamer had been cleared for release since 2007, but the Pentagon kept him locked up without charge. During his time in captivity, Aamer claims he was subjected to abuses including torture, beatings and sleep deprivation. At one point, he lost half his body weight while on a hunger strike. Aamer is en route to London where he’ll rejoin his wife and four children. "If you think about how much our world has changed, it is like they’re dropping them into a completely different place with very little support, and there’s no right to a remedy for the allegations of torture—which are absolutely credible—for the prolonged arbitrary detention and for any other violations that happened,” says our guest Widney Brown, director of programs at Physicians for Human Rights.

The American Psychological Association has officially notified the U.S. government of its new policy barring psychologists from participating in national security interrogations. The new rules were approved in August after an independent investigation documented how theAPA leadership actively colluded with the Pentagon and the CIA torture programs. In a new letter to the White House and top federal officials, the APA asks the government to withdraw psychologists from any interrogation or prison setting that could put them in violation of the new ethics policy. We get reaction from Widney Brown, director of programs at Physicians for Human Rights, who says the changes are key to protecting health professionals from military prosecution "when they stand by those ethical codes of conduct and refuse to engage in what is unlawful behavior."

The nation’s financial crisis taught us that when it comes to Wall Street giants, political leaders consider some banks "too big to fail." After initial misgivings, Democrats and Republicans joined together to commit over $700 billion to rescue major firms from collapse. Now a new book looks at the inverse of this policy: when it comes to serving communities on the local level, some banks are just too small to rescue. In "How the Other Half Banks: Exclusion, Exploitation, and the Threat to Democracy," University of Georgia law professor Mehrsa Baradaran explores how poor communities have been denied the normal banking opportunities that help sustain households and grow economies.

Despite their stellar record, a loss by the Harvard University debate team wouldn’t normally be national, let alone international, news. But one match last month wasn’t your typical sparring contest. Three members of the Harvard team squared off with opponents not from a rival university, but a maximum security New York prison. The topic was whether U.S. public schools should be able to deny enrollment to undocumented students. Despite being forced to advocate a position they don’t agree with, the prison team was declared the winner. The story went viral across the United States and around the world. The prisoners were debating as representatives of the Bard Prison Initiative, a program that offers inmates a college-level liberal arts education. Since its founding in 2001, more than 300 alumni have earned degrees while behind bars. We are joined by Max Kenner, founder and executive director of the Bard Prison Initiative.

Full episodes of Democracy Now! can be viewed at the link: http://freespeech.org/collection/democracy-now.

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