Rashed Mian

Rashed Mian has been covering local news for the Long Island Press since 2011. He graduated from Hofstra University in 2010 where he studied print journalism. Rashed, the staff's multimedia reporter, covers daily news for the web, shoots/edits feature videos and writes about civil liberties. He loves Afghan food and sports. Rashed is also a caffeine freak. Email: [email protected] Twitter: rashedmian

Whistleblower Chelsea Manning Appeals ‘Unprecedented’ Sentence

Chelsea Manning appeal

Lawyers for Chelsea Manning, the former U.S. Army soldier convicted of leaking a massive trove of classified documents related to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, formally appealed her lengthy prison term handed down in 2013, calling Manning’s punishment “grossly unfair and unprecedented.”

In their 209-page appeal, Manning’s lawyers said the whistleblower was convinced disclosing the cache of classified documents to the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks “was the right thing to do.”

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“She believed the public had a right to know about the toll of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the loss of life and the extent to which the government sought to hide embarrassing information of its wrongdoing,” Manning’s lawyers wrote. The documents were published by WikiLeaks in 2010.

The appeal comes more than two years after Manning was convicted under the Espionage Act—a World War I-era law intended to prosecute spies—but was acquitted of the most serious charge of aiding the enemy. Manning, a private first class in the U.S. Army, was subsequently sentenced to 35 years in prison and dishonorably discharged at a military trial at Fort Meade, Md.—the home base of the National Security Agency.

Related: Revolution’s Family Tree: Franklin and Adams to Manning and Snowden

Her lawyers are now arguing that the judge’s sentence was overly harsh compared to prosecutions of other leakers, most notably, Gen. David Petraeus. The former CIA director pleaded guilty to disclosing classified documents to his mistress and biographer. For his crimes, Petraeus was sentenced to two years of probation.

Manning is asking military judges to dismiss all charges based on the military’s use of solitary confinement, vague evidence and for the absence of proof that her disclosures harmed the United States.

Manning’s leak included more than 700,000 classified military and state department documents. Among the cache of intelligence was cockpit gun-sight footage of a U.S. Apache helicopters killing a dozen unarmed civilians and two Reuters photojournalists in Iraq in 2007. At the time it was the largest leak of U.S. intelligence secrets in history.

The disclosures rocked U.S. intelligence agencies and prompted dubious suggestions that by leaking classified intelligence Manning was putting American lives in danger—but such claims have gone unfounded, her supporters claim.

Bradley Manning Trial
Sketch of Pfc. Bradley Manning Trial Courtesy of Deb Van Poolen, (www.debvanpoolen.com)

Manning’s trial also came during a historically aggressive prosecution of whistleblowers under President Obama, whose administration has prosecuted more people under the Espionage Act than all other presidents combined.

Vincent Ward, of the New Mexico-based firm Freedman Boyd Hollander Goldberg Urias & Ward, which is representing Manning, said they’ll argue that the Espionage Act violates Manning’s due process and First Amendment rights.

“The elements are so broad and vague that you don’t know what to defend against,” Ward told the Press, adding, “It’s an issue that’s been subjected to lots of scrutiny and debate for a long time, even before Chelsea.”

Manning, who has gone through a very public sex change, was previously known as Bradley Manning.

“No whistleblower in American history has been sentenced this harshly,” Manning’s lawyers wrote. “Throughout trial the prosecution portrayed PFC Manning as a traitor and accused her of placing American lives in danger, but nothing could be further from the truth.”

Her lawyers chided the government for its pretrial confinement of Manning, which, they claim, worsened her already serious mental health issues.

Court documents note that Manning was restricted to what amounted to solitary confinement for nine months while awaiting trial despite Manning having informed Army officials about her challenges dealing with obsessive compulsive disorder, attention deficit hyperactive disorder and anxiety.

The American Civil Liberties Union, in an amicus brief filed in support of Manning’s appeal, challenged the legality of the Espionage Act because it prohibits suspects from defending themselves on the merits of the disclosures. The civil rights group also regaled at a double standard in which government officials are permitted to disclose information to perpetuate a certain agenda—which critics have dubbed “authorized leaks.”

“Disclosures of government information happen all the time, whether by officials seeking to advance their interests or by whistleblowers exposing misconduct for public benefit,” a pair of ACLU attorneys wrote in a blog post announcing the agency’s amicus brief. “But only one person in our history has ever been sentenced to decades in prison for disclosing truthful information to the press and public: Chelsea Manning.”

Ward said Manning is “anxious and nervous” and has been highly engaged in all aspects of her case.

“She also recognizes that she has a voice that transcends even the current situation,” Ward told the Press. “She’s brought awareness to both the issues associated with being a whistleblower to transgender issues, and I think she understands she occupies that political space.”

Manning enlisted in the Army in 2007 and was deployed to Baghdad as an intelligence analyst two years later. It was during the course of her deployment that Manning deteriorated emotionally because of her inability to live openly as a transgender woman, her appeal states.

In February 2015, Manning, who is incarcerated at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas, was authorized by the Army to undergo hormone therapy. Just days after she was sentenced, Manning announced via a statement to NBC’s Today show that she was transitioning to a woman.

“As I transition into this next phase of my life, I want everyone to know the real me,” the statement read. “I am Chelsea Manning. I am a female. Given the way that I feel, and have felt since childhood, I want to begin hormone therapy as soon as possible. I hope that you will support me in this transition. I also request that, starting today, you refer to me by my new name and use the feminine pronoun (except in official mail to the confinement facility). I look forward to receiving letters from supporters and having the opportunity to write back.”

In 2013, the Press visited Fort Meade, Maryland to report on Manning’s trial:

(Featured photo: Famed Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Elsberg during a demonstration in support of Chelsea Manning/Courtesy Free whistleblower PVT Chelsea Manning – Facebook)

Here’s Who Will Be Flying at this Year’s Bethpage Air Show at Jones Beach

U.S. Navy Blue Angels
U.S. Navy Blue Angels

For the first time the Bethpage Air Show at Jones Beach will feature a trio of jet teams, including the acclaimed U.S. Navy Blue Angels, which will be making its seventh such appearance at the popular summer kick-off event.

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This lineup for year’s air show, which will run from May 28-29 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., also boasts rookie flight squad, the U.S. Air Force F-35 Lightning II, as well as legendary aerobatic performer, Sean D. Tucker and his custom-built Oracle Challenger II.

Rounding out the rest of the jet team will be the U.S. Navy Blue Angels’ counterpart across the northern border, the Royal Canadian Air Force Snowbirds, and the Breitling Jet Team, a civilian aerobatics team, which will be making its second appearance at the venerable air show.

Members of the first ever F-35 Lightning II heritage flight team from Luke Air Force Base, Ariz. participate in the Heritage Flight Conference at Davis Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Ariz., March 4-6, 2016. The heritage flight program features modern USAF fighter aircraft flying alongside World War II, Korean and Vietnam era aircraft in a dynamic display of our nation's air power history. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Staci Miller)
Members of the first ever F-35 Lightning II heritage flight team from Luke Air Force Base, Ariz. participate in the Heritage Flight Conference at Davis Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Ariz., March 4-6, 2016. The heritage flight program features modern USAF fighter aircraft flying alongside World War II, Korean and Vietnam era aircraft in a dynamic display of our nation’s air power history. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Staci Miller)

This year marks the 70th anniversary for the U.S. Navy Blue Angels—and their seventh appearance over the skies of Jones Beach State Park.

RELATED STORY: Inside the Blue Angels Bethpage Air Show at Jones Beach Practice 

Organizers touted this year’s lineup as the most prolific in the air show’s 13-year history.

“This year’s 2016 Bethpage Air Show is one of, if not the best, schedule of performers we have ever seen in the history of the Bethpage Air Show at Jones Beach State Park,” George Gorman, Deputy Regional Director, New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historical Preservation, said in a statement.

The air show consistently attracts hundreds of thousands of fans to the historic South Shore beach each year. Last year’s show saw 325,000 people come out to see the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds soar over Long Island.

Jones Beach Air Show
US Navy Blue Angels will make their seventh appearance at the Bethpage Air Show at Jones Beach

Also ringing in the unofficial start to the summer season this Memorial Day will be the U.S. Army Golden Knights Parachute Team, making their 12th Bethpage Air Show appearance, and the dynamic GEICO Skytypers.

In another first, SUNY Farmingdale’s Flying Rams will make their debut when they fly a fleet of seven college-owned aircrafts.

The air show itself is free but visitors will be charged a $10 vehicle fee. New York State Empire Passport holders will not be charged.

While you prepare for the air show, check out Press managing editor Timothy Bolger’s death-defying experience with Sean D. Tucker prior to last year’s event.

James M. Shuart, Venerable ex-Hofstra President, Dies

James M. Shuart, the beloved ex-president of Hofstra University who oversaw a dramatic expansion of the venerable private college, died Friday, the university said.

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News of Shuart’s death was announced by his successor, Stuart Rabinowitz, who called Shuart a “friend and mentor” and credited him for raising enrollment and for more than doubling the size of the Hempstead campus over his 25 years as president.

“It has been an honor and a privilege to succeed someone whose stewardship helped make Hofstra a world-class university,” Rabinowitz said in a statement. “His grace and generosity of spirit serves as an example of the true meaning of Hofstra Pride.”

Shuart served as president from 1976-2001. But his love affair with Hofstra began much earlier: earning both his bachelor’s and master’s degree from the university in 1953 and 1962, respectively.

Shuart, a tenacious student, moved on to New York University, where he earned a doctor of philosophy in 1966. But Shuart never truly left Hofstra’s campus. In 1959, Shuart was hired as an admissions officer and and earned several promotions before becoming Hofstra’s seventh president.

Shuart also felt the pull of public service. He spent three years as Nassau County Commissioner of Public Services in the early ‘70s and later served as deputy Nassau County Executive. His next post, overseeing Nassau’s Commission on Priorities, provided great insight into demographics trends and its impact on higher education.

But his greatest accomplishment was Hofstra’s impressive expansion during the course of his presidency. With Shuart at the helm, Hofstra saw a rise in enrollment and degree programs, the university said. That period also brought more prestige to Hofstra athletics, which garnered Division I status. The campus itself doubled in size, new facilities were built and the School of Communication, now the Lawrence Herbert School of Communication, was born.

Shuart also solidified Hofstra’s reputation globally when its presidential conferences drew international praise. Shuart’s love for the campus is something that those who knew him personally will never forget.

“His legacy can be seen in the tens of thousands of trees and tulips planted during his tenure–an effort that has turned our campus into a leafy oasis and led to it becoming a nationally recognized arboretum,” Rabinowtiz said.

Hofstra’s on-campus stadium, which hosts collegiate competitions and is home to North American Soccer League’s New York Cosmos, is emblazoned with Shuart’s name.

All of Hofstra’s flags will fly at half-staff and a moment of silence will be observed during upcoming commencement ceremonies, the university said.

(Featured photo credit: Hofstra University)

Bicyclist Killed in Collision with ATV in Wyandanch, Cops Say

A 24-year-old Wyandanch man was killed Wednesday afternoon after his bicycle collided with an ATV in his hometown, Suffolk County police said.

Inoe Dejesus Padilla was riding his bike around 4:15 p.m. when he steered into the path of an all-terrain vehicle traveling east on Davidson Street which struck him, police said.

Padilla and the operator of the ATV were both transported to Good Samaritan Hospital Medical Center in West Islip. Padilla was pronounced dead at the hospital. The 26-year-old ATV operator was treated for non-life-threatening injuries, police said.

The ATV was impounded for a safety check, and the investigation is continuing, police said. Detectives ask anyone with information about the crash to call the First Squad at 631-854-8152.

Why an Army Captain Is Suing Obama

August 4, 2015 "On his birthday, the President listens to a prayer during a phone call with pastors." (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza) This official White House photograph is being made available only for publication by news organizations and/or for personal use printing by the subject(s) of the photograph. The photograph may not be manipulated in any way and may not be used in commercial or political materials, advertisements, emails, products, promotions that in any way suggests approval or endorsement of the President, the First Family, or the White House.

Last week, Nathan Michael Smith, a U.S. Army Captain, sued his commander-in-chief, President Barack Obama, claiming that the war against ISIS is illegal because Congress has yet to authorize it.

In court papers filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Smith, stationed at the command hub in Kuwait at the center of the battle against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, argues that the Obama administration has been fighting an illegal war since Aug. 8, 2014, therefore violating Smith’s oath to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution.”

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Smith, who joined the Army in 2010, cites the Vietnam War-inspired 1973 War Powers Resolution stipulating that the president has up to 60 days to involve armed forces in a conflict before ceasing military action if Congress does not act within 30 days.

“The President did not get Congress’s approval for his war against ISIS in Iraq or Syria within the sixty days, but he also did not terminate the war,” Smith’s suit states. “The war is therefore illegal.”

This is not the first time the legality of Obama’s unauthorized war has been scrutinized.

Several members of Congress have criticized their colleagues for failing to hold a single vote on the war and have also questioned Obama’s own legal interpretation claiming existing law permits him to fight ISIS.

Since the White House began bombing ISIS positions in Iraq—and later in Syria—in August 2014, the administration has presented both the 2001 and 2002 authorizations to use military force to justify its war on the so-called Islamic State. But critics say both versions are outdated and overbroad.

The 2001 AUMF, for example, was enacted shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks to give then-President George W. Bush the power to target those responsible for killing nearly 3,000 Americans on US soil—meaning al Qaeda. The 2002 AUMF essentially authorized the US to go to war with Iraq.

In fact, Obama’s own National Security Adviser, Susan Rice, sent a letter to then-House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) in 2014 characterizing the 2002 authorization as “outdated” and called for it to be repealed.

As the war has dragged on, the military has bombed ISIS targets while Obama has also deployed troops to Syria, which contradicts his past statements that he would not put soldiers on the ground in the battle-scarred region.

The president has not only used the 2001 AUMF to legalize unauthorized wars but also to justify drone strikes across the Middle East and Africa. The highest profile case involved a drone strike that killed a US citizen in Yemen who had become a radical cleric. That targeted strike also killed Samir Khan, former Westbury, L.I., resident who had  become editor of al Qaeda’s propaganda magazine. The so-called drone memo approving the strike, which the administration fought in court to keep secret, revealed that the cleric was the intended target, not the editor.

Although Smith is now suing Obama, the Army captain said in a letter accompanying the suit that he “was ready for action” after the president ordered air strikes against ISIS in 2014.

“In my opinion,” Smith wrote, “the operation is justified both militarily and morally. This is what I signed up to be part of when I joined the military.”

Capt. Smith holds the so-called Islamic State in contempt.

“They are an army of butchers,” he said. “Their savagery is sickening.”

Smith comes from a family with three generations of military officers, but he says he grew concerned once people back home began questioning the legality of the war. In his suit, he wrote, “I began to wonder, ‘Is this the Administration’s war, or is it America’s war?’”

Given the lack of action from elected officials, Smith says he hopes that the court will order the president to get proper authority from Congress to fight ISIS.

The suit was reportedly inspired by an article published last August in The Atlantic by Yale law professor Bruce Ackerman that suggested US soldiers have the legal standing to challenge a war they deem illegitimate.

“Existing case-law establishes that individual soldiers can go to court if they are ordered into a combat zone to fight a war that they believe is unconstitutional,” Ackerman wrote.

In an Op-Ed for The New York Times published last week, Ackerman doubled down on his claim and backed the suit brought by Smith, whom he’s serving as a consultant in the case.

“My aim is simply to insist that Captain Smith is right to believe that the federal courts provide the proper forum for relieving him, and other conscientious soldiers, of the terrible dilemma posed by their oaths of office,” he wrote.

For his part, Obama proposed his own AUMF in February 2014 that would sunset after three years. But Congress still has not voted on it. And when Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif), a critic of Congress’ refusal to vote on the war, proposed a measure that would have forced his colleagues to hold a vote on the AUMF’s merits, it failed.

Now Smith believes it is his duty to force the White House and Congress to act.

“The Constitution tells us that Congress is supposed to answer that question,” he wrote. “But Congress is AWOL.”

(Featured photo credit: White House/Pete Souza)

How A Long Island Couple’s Journey to Help Syrian Refugees Changed Their Life

As they soared over the Greek island of Lesbos, Colin and Latifa Woodhouse of Great Neck peered through the plane’s tiny window and were struck by the sight of life preservers strewn along the shore of the Aegean Sea—which, as the legend goes, bears the name of an Amazonian Queen swallowed up by the sprawling body of water.

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It wasn’t until they landed that the Woodhouses truly began to comprehend the enormity of the refugee crisis engulfing Europe. Yet here they were, 5,000 miles from home, ready to take on the greatest migration of people since World War II.

“Wow,” Colin recalled as the plane made its final approach, “this is big time.”

Like the overcrowded dinghies making the treacherous four-mile trip from Turkey to Lesbos, the discarded life preservers tell the tale of countless lives lost, dreams shattered, children literally ripped from the arms of desperate parents by a ferocious sea that even a Queen of the Amazons was ill-fit to conquer. But for those fortunate to survive the perilous crossing, these life preservers tell a story of hope, perseverance and a future free of fear of bloodshed.

In late January, the Woodhouses—Colin a financial advisor and Latifa a retired New York City school teacher and college professor—made the decision to put their own lives on hold and instead donate their time to helping war-stricken refugees seeking a better life in Europe. The couple was not alone: their daughter Alexandra and friend Diane Lombardi, a doctor, also joined in the cause.

The Woodhouses echo migrants and organizations on the ground that say they need all the help they can get dealing with this historic refugee crisis.

The flow of refugees was initially so overwhelming that Europe was caught flat-footed. According to the International Rescue Committee, 60 million people are displaced worldwide, which is the equivalent the entire population of Italy fleeing their homes. Twelve million of those displaced are from war-ravaged Syria, which has been upended by a five-year-old civil war and the rise of the self-proclaimed Islamic State. Half are children. Like the three-year-old whose body washed ashore on a Turkish beach after his boat overcrowded with refugees had capsized in the Aegean. The photo of his drowned tiny corpse became an iconic image of the ongoing catastrophe.

Syrians aren’t the only migrants seeking asylum in Europe or the United States, however. Iraqis, Afghans, Pakistanis, South Sudanese and Nigerians have also absconded from their homelands. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said in March that since 2015 more than one million refugees have crossed into Greece.

“I had never seen hell, but tonight, it was worse than hell. I thought I died. But I’m alive, I’m alive.”

While the European Union and Turkey reached a deal this February to stem the flow of migrants to Greece, much to the dismay of human rights organization, the United States’ response has been largely relegated to providing humanitarian aid on the ground and in Syria, to the tune of $5.1 billion since the conflict started in March 2011.

American politicians turned the refugee crisis into a political hot potato last year when more than two dozen US governors said they’d refuse to welcome any Syrians, the majority of whom are Muslim, into their respective states. Still, the Obama administration stuck to its plan to admit 10,000 refugees, a tiny fraction of the millions escaping bloodshed, beheadings, rape, sexual slavery, immolation and countless other atrocities. The country that has been most welcoming to refugees has been Germany, which has accepted more than a million migrants.

Colin, for one, is profoundly disappointed in how the US government has responded to hordes of people escaping violence.

“We’re a country that was founded as being a safe haven from persecution,” Colin says. “That’s at the very core of the principles of this country, and to turn away an extremely vulnerable population is not only against our legal obligations, but it’s immoral.”

The challenge facing Greece is much more complicated because refugees are using the economically strapped nation as a springboard to countries with better job prospects. They have no desire to stay there. At its height last year, 5,000 refugees were arriving in Greece each day.

For the Woodhouses, traveling to Lesbos was a no-brainer even though there were plenty of nonprofit organizations already in Greece with the bandwidth to respond to such a calamity. When the Woodhouses boarded their plane on Jan. 24, they had little clue just how much they were needed.

What began as a simple humanitarian mission quickly evolved into a spiritual exploration in which the couple met strangers that would become life-long friends, not crazed terrorists, and discovered how the simplest of deeds can be met with boundless expressions of gratitude. For every person they helped, there was an entire family waiting to say thanks. And with each passing day their commitment to the cause never waned, despite periods of disappointment that they could not do more.

Here is the story of their journey.


The Woodhouse family from Great Neck traveled to Lesbos, Greece to provide assistance to Syrian refugees in January. From left to right: Alexandra Woodhouse, Latifa Woodhouse and Colin Woodhouse. (Photo credit: Latifa Woodhouse/Facebook)
The Woodhouse family from Great Neck traveled to Lesbos, Greece to provide assistance to Syrian refugees in January. From left to right: Alexandra Woodhouse, Latifa Woodhouse and Colin Woodhouse. (Photo credit: Latifa Woodhouse/Facebook)

If a photo could speak, the image of a rain-soaked young Afghan girl pressed up against a chain-link fence during a deluge would cry out in pain.

“That was the breaking point for me,” Colin tells the Press from inside the couple’s Great Neck home, recalling the moment he felt inspired to act.

Instead of wrestling to remove the heart-wrenching image from their minds, the Woodhouses decided to use it as motivation.

Looking at the refugees, Latifa saw her own family, who had fled political persecution following the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan and were granted asylum in the US.

“Being a daughter of refugees and going through that with [the] Russian invasion, I knew first hand what it was like,” says Latifa, who met Colin in Afghanistan, where he was teaching at Kabul University.

This crisis was personal.

So they began to make preparations to fly to Lesbos. The Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Shelter Rock, where Latifa is a member of the board of trustees, approved a $200,000 crisis grant to be split evenly between the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee and the Syrian Medical Staff in Syria. The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee has separately contributed $600,000 to grassroots partners on the ground providing humanitarian aid. The Woodhouses on their own were able to raise $16,000 that they used to deliver aid to refugees in Lesbos.

“It’s a fundamental human right that people who are victims of persecution are able to flee their country and enjoy asylum.”

Armed with the $16,000 they raised to assist for the relief effort and 250 pounds of Patagonia jackets to hand-deliver to frostbitten and weary migrants, the Woodhouses landed in Lesbos. On average, the mercury in Lesbos typically hovers around 50 degrees in January. But the day after they arrived it was “shockingly cold” on the Greek island, Colin recalls. Smoke billowed over the camp as refugees burnt wood inside their tents to stay warm.

Even the Woodhouses couldn’t escape the elements, with winds whipping through their hotel room, sending a shiver through their bodies.

With little access to heat—a luxury in Lesbos—the Woodhouses turned to humanitarian work to warm their hearts.

What they saw when they took stock of the flood of arrivals was extraordinary.

Scores of volunteers would greet refugees as they came ashore, oftentimes offering blankets or a new pair of socks. Many of the incoming dinghies, meant to comfortably hold about 25 passengers, would be brimming with up to 80 people. Those who arrived safely would be directed to a fleet of buses destined for Camp Moria, where the Greek government was stationed to register newly arriving migrants.

“We can die in our country or we can die to find safe sanctuary,” Colin says, describing the mindset of those embarking on the dangerous journey to Europe.

If safely crossing the Aegean was not taxing enough, refugees would face yet another obstacle as they came ashore: a debilitating language barrier.

Latifa, who speaks Farsi, Pashtun and a little broken Arabic, realized her language skills could be a useful tool to help jittery refugees.

At one point she spotted a dazed and confused 10-year-old Afghan girl wrapped in a blanket.

“We thought, ‘Is she alive or is she dead?’” Latifa recalls.

When Lombardi, the doctor, approached the girl, all she could offer was an inaudible mumble. Latifa attempted to speak to the girl in Farsi. It worked.

“Khala Jaan,” the girl told Latifa, meaning “Dear Aunt”—a term of endearment.

Finally able to connect with someone, the girl opened up.

“We read in books about hell, what hell is like,” she told Latifa. “I had never seen hell, but tonight, it was worse than hell. I thought I died. But I’m alive. I’m alive.”

The number of people unable to communicate with volunteers because of the lack of translators highlighted just how difficult it was for refugees to continue their journey. If they couldn’t get even basic instructions, Latifa wondered, what were they supposed to do?

Then Latifa realized she could be the voice for war-weary refugees who otherwise would not be able to get a word across.

At one point she came upon an Iraqi family who had been shuttled to the camp by UN representatives who left them with scant instruction about what to do next.

“Why are you sitting here?” she asked the family in their native tongue.

The family, one woman explained, had been brought to the camp but were not advised about what to do next. She told Latifa about her sister-in-law’s husband who was slaughtered and all the things they had to leave behind.

“We had a house,” the woman said through her tears. “We had everything.”

While Latifa was honing her translating skills, Colin and volunteers from other countries were busy building trenches and alleyways to improve the flow of traffic in the camp. The volunteers may have had their own difficulties communicating but once Colin produced a hammer, everyone seemed to know what to do.

Colin quickly observed that refugees at Afghan Hill needed wider steps to make access to the medical tent easier. He and other volunteers working on the project dubbed it, “Stairs to Europe.” Colin solved the lack of lighting by going to the local hardware store and purchasing some solar lights, which he helped install.

“There was this communication of two guys that can handle a tool,” he says.

If translating or building new steps wasn’t possible, the Woodhouses found other ways to contribute. The money they raised helped pay for food, clothes, bus tickets and ambulance rides from Athens to Macedonia.

Or they’d do little things to lift up the spirits of children by handing out stuffed animals or soccer balls.

“We felt pretty good because we were able to get people on their way,” Colin says.

Jillian Tuck, senior program leader for Rights at Risk at the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, a nonsecretarian global human rights group, said the organization launched a refugee crisis fund almost immediately after the crisis began to unfold, raising $600,000. The money would be funneled out to the UUSC’s partners that operate in the impacted area. The UUSC is currently funding about nine organizations there.

“It’s a fundamental human right that people who are victims of persecution are able to flee their country and enjoy asylum,” Tuck says.


In the wake of the Paris attacks in November that killed 130 people, more than half of the governors in the US reacted angrily at President Obama’s proposal to admit 10,000 Syrian refugees into the country. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, even said orphans under the age of five weren’t welcome in the Garden State.

In his letter to Obama, U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), questioned the vetting process that refugees undergo.

“The recent terrorist attacks in Paris have shown the extent of ISIS’s brutality and ability to conduct a major attack in the West,” King wrote. “There is no denying that the current process through which the United States screens and admits Syrian refugees presents ISIS with an opportunity to transport operatives to carry out attacks in the United States.”

The hysteria over ISIS fighters potentially masquerading as Syrian refugees led to a since-debunked social media-stoked rumor alleging that the Catholic Church’s humanitarian arm was in the process of building a “tent city” in Amityville to house refugees. At the time there were no applications to bring these refugees to Nassau or Suffolk counties, according to Catholic Charities.

What the Woodhouses observed on the ground in Lesbos is very different from the suggestions ricocheting through cable news and the Internet.

A family they met in Greece recently called Latifa via the popular messaging app WhatsApp to update the couple on their progress: They had made it to Germany. But the family wanted more, Latifa says. They want to come to America.

Given the rise of Islamophobia in America, which some Muslim rights groups have linked to xenophobic comments uttered during this presidential election season, Latifa told the family that the time wasn’t right. She wishes it were.

“Why can’t we open our hearts and our minds?” Latifa says. “I met at least 1,500 to 2,000 people personally. I talked to them, engaged with them. None of them had any sign of being a terrorist or being ISIS or being whatever this creepy Donald Trump is talking about.”

“They are desperate for their lives,” she says.

Now home for about two months, Colin says he’s disappointed by the European Union’s recent agreement with Turkey to empower authorities in Greece to return refugees arriving there back to Turkey.

“To say Turkey is a safe place for refugees is cynical at best and murderous at worst,” Colin exclaims.

Colin is not alone in expressing bitter disappointment about the Europeans’ response.

“In their desperation to seal their borders, EU leaders have willfully ignored the simplest of facts: Turkey is not a safe country for Syrian refugees and is getting less safe by the day,” said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Director for Europe and Central Asia, on the human right’s groups website.

Thinking back to their own journey, the Woodhouses remembered a young Afghan named Jaweed, whom Latifa first met at Camp Moria, after primal cries thundering out of his tiny body alerted her to his presence.

Jaweed had slogged through brutally cold temperatures in the mountains abutting Iran and Iraq. As his family waded through the snow, Jaweed’s unprotected hands had developed severe frostbite. By the time he made it to Camp Moria, each hand was the size of a watermelon.

As Latifa comforted the family, Colin grabbed the boy and rushed him to a nearby clinic, where doctors gave him drugs to numb the pain. Eventually he was taken to volunteer-run refugee site called Camp Pikpa, where people with serious maladies can get special care.

It was at Camp Pikpa where Jaweed’s family finally had the chance to bid a formal farewell to his grandmother, who had frozen to death in the mountains. Unable to carry her body the whole way, they buried her in the snow and continued their struggle to survive.

As for Jaweed, the Woodhouses are not sure what happened to him. One day they went to the camp only to learn that his family had taken him. Apparently the boy’s father was worried that a surgeon would amputate Jaweed’s hands.

But with the help of social media, they discovered that a boy matching Jaweed’s description had been admitted to a Doctors Without Borders facility in Athens.

Many of the refugees they met along the way shared similar stories of survival or heartbreak. Some said they had no choice to but to flee violence. And now many had dreams of making it to Germany.

But the most ambitious request the Woodhouses kept getting they could not fulfill.

One refugee after another would ask them: “Could you take us to America?”

They had to leave them behind. Now back on LI, the Woodhouses say they’re committed to continuing their work, which includes help establishing a network of translators to help bridge the communication gap at refugee camps. And they can hope that one day they can give the refugees a better answer.

“We are strengthened as a nation by the people we open our hearts to and our borders to,” Colin says. “And that’s what’s made America great.”

Study Finds Arab Youth Overwhelmingly Reject ISIS

Five days after the Dec. 2, 2015 terror attack that killed 14 people and injured several dozen in San Bernardino, Calif., Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump issued his now infamous statement calling for the ban of all Muslims traveling to the United States.

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In Trump’s words, the complete ban of Muslims would continue until “our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.”

But Trump isn’t the only candidate vying for the Republican nomination who has proposed controversial policies aimed at Muslims. After the horrific Brussel bombings in March killed 32 people in a coordinated assault on Belgium’s transportation network, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) said law enforcement in the United States should “patrol and secure” so-called Muslim neighborhoods in order to prevent radicalization. Cruz’s proposal was met with stiff criticism from New York Police Department Commissioner Bill Bratton, who, ironically, inherited a police force that conducted widespread surveillance of Muslim Americans in the city and Long Island after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. By the department’s own admission, the NYPD operation, which also included New Jersey, did not lead to a single criminal investigation.

But even before blood was shed in San Bernardino and in Brussels or in Paris—where 130 people died in a wave of bombings and shootings last November—American elected officials had been adamant about not permitting Syrian refugees into the country despite the United States’ already rigorous refugee resettlement process—protocols that could take up to 18 to 24 months to complete before an applicant is allowed into the country.

The concern is that Islamic State-inspired terrorists could hit American cities just as they’ve done to Brussels, Paris and even Istanbul, which has been on the receiving end of extremist attacks in recent months. But a new report called the “Arab Youth Survey” may allay some fears about whether the self-proclaimed Islamic State’s message is resonating with Muslim youth.

Published earlier this month by Dubai-based public relations firm ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller, the study found that the overwhelming majority of Arab youth reject ISIS’ message and its tactics. The survey drew responses from hundreds of young Arab men and women from 16 countries in the Middle East. Syria, however, was not included in the report due to its ongoing civil war and the multi-national coalition’s counterattack on ISIS.

More than 75 percent of those polled said they were concerned about the rise of ISIS, and another 76 percent said they do not believe the group will succeed in establishing a caliphate in the region. Another 78 percent rejected the group outright, according to the survey. And half of those surveyed said they believe ISIS is the preeminent issue facing the Middle East, followed by terrorism and unemployment.

The lack of jobs in the region is seen by those polled as the top recruitment tool for ISIS. With one in four 15- to 24-year-olds unemployed, the Arab world boasts the highest youth unemployment rate in the world. Only 44 percent of youth workers believe there are good job opportunities where they live. Not surprisingly, residents of war-torn Yemen and Libya appeared the most pessimistic about jobs, with only 16 and 22 percent, respectively, stating they believe good jobs are available to them.

When respondents were asked if they would eventually support ISIS if the group weren’t so violent, the vast majority, 78 percent, said they wouldn’t.

“Most heartening is how little appeal extremist groups like Daesh (ISIS) actually have among young people,” the survey’s authors wrote. “The group’s savage tactics and twisted interpretation of Islam are roundly rejected by the overwhelming majority of young Arabs.”

In the report, Hassan Hassan, a resident fellow at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, in Washington, D.C., said that ISIS “exploits existing problems.”

He divided sympathizers of ISIS or Daesh, as it’s also known, into three categories: radical Muslims, religious novices who have been “brainwashed,” and those who have been “disillusioned” by the political process in their home country.

“Many people in the region may reject Daesh due to its extreme tactics, but the issue remains that the group exploits existing problems,” Hassan said. “It did not simply invent the problems the responders identified as factors. Daesh, put another way, is a symptom of a growing disease that needs to be tackled, and not just the disease itself.”

Hassan also rejected the notion that military might alone could solve the world’s ISIS problem.

“The organization thrives on political, economic, social and religious failures,” he said. “Daesh may weaken and disappear, but the underlying sickness will remain, and similar groups will emerge if that sickness is not addressed. The survey’s findings should be a reminder to everyone that Daesh did not simply materialize out of thin air.”

(Photo: Iraqi boys in 2003 giving peace sign. Credit: Christiaan Briggs)

Game of Thrones Recap: The Red Woman Revealed

Beware of spoilers

There you have it folks, Jon Snow is dead. Well, for at least one more episode.

While we assumed most of the Monday Morning Quarterbacking would be devoted to Jon’s ostensible demise, it was Melisandre that captivated Sunday night’s audience with the reveal that the Red Woman is much older than all of Westeros’ false kings (and Queens) combined.

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But the Lord of Light priestess’ shocker was just one of the many captivating scenes in a packed hour that effectively set the stage for the much-ballyhooed sixth season, which for the first time won’t be anchored by George R.R. Martin’s book the series is based on.

Here’s your LIP GOT recap and some takeaways from Episode 1, The Red Woman:

The Game of Thrones show-runners did not waste any time bringing Kit Harrington back into the fold. The premiere started where Season 5 left off, with Jon Snow’s body lying in a pool of his own blood. This time Jon was all alone.

There was the omnipresent snowfall at Castle Black mixed in with the heartbreaking howls from Ghost, Jon’s now ownerless direwolf. First on the scene was Davos, who quickly instructed those loyal to Jon to whisk his body away. The few men by Davos’ side barricaded themselves inside a room at Castle Black, where they seem also to be standing guard next to Jon’s body.

If he’s not buried or turned into ashes anytime soon, then it makes it exceedingly likely that fan predictions of he-who-knows-nothing’s rebirth will indeed come to fruition. We expect Jon will be lying in a state of repose for some time to build anticipation for his assumed reincarnation, if it ever does come.

This brings us to Melisandre, who many have predicted would be the one to bring our dear Jon back from the dead before the frozen zombies get a hold of him. But with Stannis confirmed dead (we think), it seems the once over-confident Melisandre has lost her swagger. Clearly deflated by Stannis’ overwhelming defeat at the hands of the treacherous Boltons, the fire-loving clairvoyant is shocked by Jon’s murder, telling Davos that the flames showed Jon fighting at Winterfell.

Perhaps losing confidence in her own beloved deity, we get the premiere’s most compelling reveal: that Melisandre uses her power—perhaps thanks to her supernatural necklace or that well-placed potion—to hide the fact that she is extremely old—perhaps even centuries old. As if she feels like her one true God has betrayed her, The Lord of Light’s sultry enforcer in Westeros morphs into a sagging senior shell of her supernatural self. All she could muster is a slow climb into bed, beside a raging fire.

The premiere also offered some hopeful moments, none more inspiring than Brienne’s rescue of Sansa Stark, who GOT fans will remember, fled the Boltons with the help of the man formerly known as Theon. But their legs were no match for human-tormenting Ramsay’s hounds and horse-backed goons. Before Sansa could be taken into captivity yet again, Brienne and a newly confident Podrick emerged from the forest to finally deliver on one of her oaths.

After one of those beautifully choreographed GOT battle scenes, it was Brienne and Podrick who emerged victorious, ending with Brienne pledging her life to Sansa, an offering the hardened Stark girl gracefully accepts. Sansa’s rescue is indeed significant because we know the restless Boltons require her help to unite the North. With many families in the North still loyal to the Starks, it could embolden others to join ranks around Sansa if she can successfully rally the northerners to her side. Watch out, Boltons!

As for Brienne, it is surprising that she made her long-sought recovery of Sansa one episode into the season after failing miserably to find Catelyn Stark’s eldest daughter. Be that as it may, the twist does move the plot along and gives us a small measure of hope that Sansa will take all of those gross injustices that have befallen her and her family and use it to dish out a healthy helping of revenge.

Back where winter is an afterthought and fire-breathing dragons are once again shrieking across the sky, Daenerys is having a tough go of it. The Mother of Dragons, who fled a Sons of the Harpy uprising in Meereen atop one of her ill-tempered dragons at the end of the last season, was dumped in Dothraki territory, where she was taken captive. A chained Daenerys is demeaned repeatedly by a pair of captors discussing how they’d have her way with her in private.

Of course, little do they know that Daenerys was once the wife of a Khal. Faced with the brutal realization that she could become a Dothraki sex slave, Daenerys reveals this powerful piece of information, which as it turns out, means that no man can sleep with the wife of a dead Khal. But Daenerys’ reprieve is short-lived, as she’s told she’ll be thrown in some walled community of other Khal widows, which sounds like cold comfort at best.

Danenery’s tenuous predicament would make us a little more uncomfortable if she didn’t have a trio of dragons that could save her at any moment. Nothing’s guaranteed, but it would make for one hell of a rescue op.

Meanwhile, our favorite GOT pair, Tyrion and Varys are making their way around a deserted Meereen as they plan their next move. Tyrion, it seems, is primed to take over the leadership role left vacant by Daenerys’ absence. But it won’t be easy, as evidenced by the upheaval inspired by the Sons of Harpy and the burning of Daenerys’ fleet of ships. Good luck, Tyrion.

Back in Lannister land, it seems like we’re finally seeing a softer side of Cersei. Told that a Dornish ship is entering the port, Cersei perks up, happy to see her daughter, Myrcella, once again. But the best Jamie could do is return to King’s Landing with their daughter’s dead body.

Remarkably, Cersei blames her daughter’s death not on Jamie but on the evil witch who predicted that three of her children would perish. We all know how much Cersei loves her children, but in Myrcella she found something she didn’t know she was capable of creating: a person with a heart of gold, and not the kind the Lannisters are used to. Jamie and Cersei’s embrace after she concedes that Myrcella’s death was predetermined would be endearing if it wasn’t for that whole incest thing.

But don’t be fooled by Cersei’s newfound motherly touch. With Dorne now without its king thanks to Ellaria’s coup, war with the Lannisters seems to be on the horizon.

Before you go, here’s a preview of Episode 2:

(Photo credit: HBO)

The Americans: Cold War Life Is Complicated on the Home Front

Keri Russell and Matthew Rys play KGB spies in FX's "The Americans." (Photo credit: The Americans/Facebook)

We’re almost a third of the way through the fourth season on FX of The Americans, aka cable television’s most under-appreciated show—looking at you, Emmys—and we can’t help but cringe at how, for so many people, Philip and Elizabeth Jennings included, everything appears to be spiraling out of control.

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We knew that life at the Jennings house in suburban D.C. was going to get even more complicated now that Paige knows her parents’ dirty little secret. If the prior three seasons were about preparing for the inevitability that someone close to them would discover that they’re KGB spies, then what’s happening now is an even broader look at the Cold War implications for all those involved.

Gone is Nina—executed for being a traitor. Once she was locked up in a Soviet prison for turning her back on the motherland, it became apparent that her turbulent life would end in excruciating agony. But the bullet to the head was a shockingly expedient way for her life—and heartbreaking story—to end.

Her death could have far-reaching ramifications, however. None bigger, perhaps, than Oleg’s own future act of betrayal. Already devastated by the loss of his brother on the battlefield during the Soviet Union’s covert war in Afghanistan, Oleg could go running to frenemy and intelligence-rival Stan Beeman, the only person in America he identifies with, and eventually spill his guts to the FBI. If Oleg himself feels abandoned by his own country—spurred by Nina’s execution and his brother’s untimely death—then he may be extremely motivated to show his government that love runs deeper than patriotism.

Meanwhile, Stan has his own problems. On the prowl for an FBI mole, Stan, the agency’s spy hunter, is suspicious of Martha. After months of striking out in his mission to capture an elusive KGB duo (the Jennings, of course), it appears he’s primed for a big win. Martha is worried that the walls of justice are closing in around her, and that she may meet the same fate as Nina, minus an extrajudicial execution. Things are not looking good for Martha, however you slice it.

Considering Philip’s agony that Martha’s cover is in danger of being blown, it appears that he may have to resolve the problem himself. Philip’s love for Elizabeth is undeniable, but there’s something about Martha that changed him. Maybe it’s her innocence, or the way she accepted him into her life despite his many faults. Martha, in some way, represents all of us: diehard fans—Americans fans—who can’t help but root for Philip and Elizabeth despite the trail of innocent blood they leave in their wake. You get the feeling that Martha knows Clark (Philip’s alias) is dangerous but she loves him anyway, which makes what seems to be her impending doom that much harder to take. Maybe the Russians will choose to intervene and pull Martha out, never to be seen on American soil again. But why risk it when it’s easier to silence the problem? Unfortunately for Philip, it appears this will be his cross to bear.

It’s amazing how much the Jennings can juggle. Not only do they have to deal with Martha’s tenuous situation at the FBI and their own near-death experience, but now there’s the nagging problem of Pastor Tim, whom Paige mistakenly entrusted with her parents’ long-held secret identity. Now Paige feels responsible, but she’s unsure if she’s capable of living a life of lies. While it’s easier to predict Oleg and Martha’s future, Paige’s narrative arc is cloudier. Her fate could hinge on Pastor Tim and his wife. One wrong step on the pastor’s part could send her away, sparking her transformation from suburban teen to second generation Soviet spy, which could then put Elizabeth and Philip on a collision course. Elizabeth, of course, is more amenable to Paige continuing the family business, but what about Philip? If Martha’s expected demise is not enough to push him away, then maybe his daughter’s following the Jennings’ KGB career path is.

(Photo credit: The Americans/Facebook)

How Long Island Voted On Primary Night

In her victory speech Tuesday night in New York City, Hillary Clinton thanked New York for giving her a decisive win, but she may have well been extending her gratitude to the suburbs surrounding Manhattan, Long Island especially.

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While the former U.S. Secretary of State under President Obama may have won convincingly over Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT)—58-42 percent, to be exact—Clinton actually lost the majority of the counties in the state. But she performed extremely well in the five boroughs, several western New York cities, and in Nassau and Suffolk counties, where she carried a combined 58 percent of the vote.

As for the Republican presidential primary, Donald Trump thoroughly dominated runner-up Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) across the Empire State, winning everywhere except the place where his home bares his name—Manhattan.

On Long Island, the Republican race wasn’t even close. On a night when the hometown Mets crushed their opponent by 10 runs, Trump won LI in a landslide, capturing 68 percent and 72 percent of the vote in Nassau and Suffolk, respectively, with Kasich coming in a distant second in both counties. There’s not much to say about Cruz’s performance. If anything, the Texas senator learned that it’s difficult to grovel for votes after insulting an entire state and its so-called “values.”

Now that Long Islanders have broken from their collective primary fever, it seems a good time to take a closer look at the results and see how the candidates fared.


In Nassau, more than 113,000 Democrats hit the polls Tuesday, with Clinton garnering the majority of the votes. The former U.S. Senator from New York grabbed 62-percent of the vote in Nassau and dominated Sanders in the affluent communities dotting the North Shore’s Gold Coast, garnering 65 percent in the Congressional district currently represented by outgoing Rep. Steve Israel, a fellow Democrat who appeared with Clinton on the stump.

Sanders competed admirably on the South Shore, but even his performance there wasn’t good enough to break Clinton’s stranglehold on the Island. Clinton won all five Congressional districts in the region. Turnout was 30 percent in both counties.


Simply put: Trump dominated. He grabbed 72 percent of the vote in Suffolk and 68 percent in Nassau—both counties in which he held events ahead of Tuesday’s primary. Kasich, the runner-up, won about 20 percent of the vote and Cruz couldn’t even crack single digits. Turnout for Republicans was about 30 percent in Nassau and 32 percent in Suffolk.

Overall, Trump won the most votes on Long Island with more than 136,000 ballots cast in his favor, with Clinton coming in second with nearly 121,000 votes and Sanders in third. The race for the Democratic nomination was more hotly contested. As a comparison, Kasich, who garnered the second-most GOP votes, ended the night with barely 40,000 votes as opposed to the 83,000-plus in Sanders’ favor. Long Island Democrats cast about 10,000 more votes than did Republicans on Tuesday.

So as Trump and Clinton continue their pursuit to be their party’s nominee, they can look back and thank Long Island for propelling them ever-so closer to the nomination.

(Photo credit: Barbara Kinney for Hillary for America/Flickr)

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