Archive for July, 2018

It’s Holiday Time: Off to WOMAD and the West Country, Back in August

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Dear friends,

Every year, at this time, I attend the WOMAD world music festival in Wiltshire with my family and friends. I’m slightly astonished to work out that this will be our 17th WOMAD, as we’ve been going since 2002, when we spent a boozy, hard-working time there between our wedding in Edinburgh, and a post-wedding party in London. The drinking has tailed off or come to an end since that time, but we still do children’s workshops, and WOMAD continues to be the perfect festival, with amazing music from around the world, and a very peaceful vibe. Every year, I discover music that I love, but that I had no knowledge of beforehand, like last year’s Thursday night entertainment (before the festival proper began) —Bixiga 70, enthusiastic and talented Afrobeat players from Brazil, whose music has moved me all year.

On Monday, we’re heading down to Cornwall, to stay for a few days with friends near Mevagissey, and then we’re heading back east, but only as far as Dorset where we’re staying for a few days in a very special place on Chesil Beach that we’ve visited before. We leave there on August 8, and travel to Bristol, where I have a radio interview that day, and a screening of ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, the film abut resistance to the destruction of council estates, which I narrate, and which I posted an article about yesterday. Read the rest of this entry »

UK Torture: Ex-Guantánamo Prisoner’s Memories Provide A Reminder That We Need Accountability

Protestors with Witness Against Torture calling for the closure of Guantanamo and accountability for torture outside the White House on January 11, 2015 (Photo: Andy Worthington).Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration.

 

How short memories are in this goldfish world of ours. Less than a month ago, Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) issued two reports, one on ‘Detainee Mistreatment and Rendition: 2001–2010’ and the other on ‘Detainee Mistreatment and Rendition: Current Issues.’

On Facebook, I commended Dominic Grieve MP for his stewardship of the ISC, and for having spent years trying to uncover the truth about Britain’s involvement in post-9/11 rendition and torture, inspired, I have no doubt, by the US’s demonstration of checks and balances in its own political system, with the Senate Intelligence Committee’s 6,200-page report, of which the 528-page executive summary was issued in December 2014, providing a permanent reminder that, in contrast, the UK tends to prefer an all-encompassing blanket of “official secrecy” regarding its own wrong-doing.

I wrote of the ISC’s reports, “This is compelling stuff, and a testament to Grieve’s determination to go beyond previous whitewashes, but what is clearly needed now is an official judge-led inquiry which will leave no stone unturned — and no senior ex-officials (up to and including Tony Blair and Jack Straw) unquestioned. Grieve noted that the committee was ‘denied access to key intelligence individuals by the prime minister’ (Theresa May) and so ‘reluctantly decided to bring the inquiry to a premature end.’” Read the rest of this entry »

Resistance to Social Cleansing: Screening of ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’ in Bristol, August 9, 2018

Poster for the screening of 'Concrete Soldiers UK' in Bristol on August 9, 2018.Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, commentator and activist.

 

It’s over a year since the defining event of 2017 in the UK — the Grenfell Tower fire, in west London, in which 72 people died because everyone responsible for their safety — central government, local government, the management company that had taken over the management of their homes, and the various contractors involved in a refurbishment of the tower that ended up being lethal — put cost-cutting and profiteering before safety.

The Grenfell survivors, and the wider community in north Kensington, are still awaiting anything resembling justice. The official inquiry is crawling along at a snail’s pace, many of the survivors are still in temporary housing (even though the Independent revealed, just yesterday, that over a hundred council homes in Kensington and Chelsea are lying empty), and up and down the country people are still living in tower blocks (470 at the latest count) that are enveloped in the same dangerously flammable cladding that turned Grenfell Tower into an inferno.

The Grenfell disaster showed, fundamentally, how in modern Britain those who live in social housing — even those who bought their council homes under Margaret Thatcher’s ‘Right to Buy’ policy — are perceived as second-class citizens, whose very lives are disposable. Those in power argue that this is not the case, but Grenfell reveals this to be the case, and elsewhere politicians’ and housing professionals’ actions reveal their fundamental dishonesty. Read the rest of this entry »

A “Cluster Covfefe”: Guantánamo Prisoner Majid Khan’s Damning Verdict on the Shambolic Military Commissions

Guantanamo prisoner Majid-Khan, photographed at Guantanamo in 2009 by representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross.Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration.

 

I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, with the US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

To the US political, military and intelligence establishment, Guantánamo prisoner and “high-value detainee” Majid Khan — held and tortured in CIA “black sites” for three years, where he was subjected to water torture and another horrible form of torture, “rectal feeding” — is a dangerous convicted terrorist, but to anyone who takes an interest in the man himself, Khan, a Pakistan citizen who spent six years in the US as a teenager, graduating from a high school in Maryland, is a reformed character, who has cooperated fully with the authorities, and ought to be regarded as having paid his debt to society, and to be able to resume his life. 

To some extent, the authorities have accepted Khan’s transformation. Over six years ago, in February 2012, they arranged a plea deal whereby, as the Miami Herald explained in September 2016, he “pleaded guilty to serving as a courier of $50,000 linked to the Aug. 5, 2003, terrorist truck bombing of a Marriott hotel in Jakarta, Indonesia, that killed 11 people and wounded dozens of others,” and “also admitted to agreeing to be a suicide bomber in an unrealized plot to murder former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf.”

By pleading guilty, and also by agreeing to cooperate with the authorities in forthcoming military commission trials — and, specifically, the 9/11 trial, involving Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks — it was agreed that, on sentencing, he would be required to serve a further 13 years. Read the rest of this entry »

Good News! Haringey Council Ends Its £2 Billion Social Cleansing Deal with Predatory Developers Lendlease

An image the StopHDV campaign made for the development vehicle being scrapped by Haringey's new council on July 17, 2018.Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, commentator and activist.

 

Good news is so rare these days on so many fronts that I want to celebrate what happened in Haringey, in north London, on Tuesday (July 17), when the new Labour council voted to halt the proposals, put forward by the previous Labour administration, to enter into a £2bn joint venture with the Australian property developer Lendlease, known as the Haringey Development Vehicle (HDV), which would have involved a significant amount of publicly-owned land and assets being transferred to the control of the new company. In housing activist circles, Lendlease are notorious as the profiteering destroyers of the Heygate Estate in Southwark, which is currently being replaced by a new development, Elephant Park, from which all the existing residents have been socially cleansed.

The FT, the only mainstream media outlet to cover the story positively, wrote that the council’s decision was “the latest sign of public anger over lucrative regeneration schemes.” and proceeded to explain that, had the scheme gone ahead, “Lendlease would have provided development expertise and earned fees for managing Haringey’s commercial property portfolio.” However, as the FT added, “the scheme, which would have built 6,400 homes over 20 years and redeveloped the Northumberland Park and Broadwater Farm estates, became the centre of a bitter political feud at the Labour-run council, with opposition from leftwing campaigners, residents and Liberal Democrat councillors.”

I first covered the story last July, after the entirely preventable Grenfell Tower fire brought into sharp focus how disposable those of us who live in social housing are, in the eyes of those supposedly responsible for our homes and our welfare, and I then made contact with campaigners from the StopHDV campaign, and played a benefit gig in support of the campaign in Tottenham in September with my band The Four Fathers. Read the rest of this entry »

New Videos by The Four Fathers: ‘Rebel Soldier’, ‘Masters of War’ and ‘Grenfell’ Recorded Live

Screenshot from the video of The Four Fathers playing 'Masters of War' at a street party in June 2018.It’s been some time since I’ve posted an update about the activities of my band The Four Fathers, so I’m hoping to amend that by posting some recent videos — of ‘Rebel Soldier’ and ’Masters of War’, recorded at a street party in Brockley, in south east London, of ‘Grenfell’, recorded at a summer solstice party in the Old Tidemill Garden in Deptford, and of another song from that party, ‘Kicking the Poor’, used as a housing campaign song in Lewisham, where I live.

Rebel Soldier’, a driving reggae number, is an old folk song, which I gave a new tune and a reggae groove more years ago than I care to remember, while living in Brixton after I left university. It’s been a live favourite since The Four Fathers first started four years ago, and we generally open our set with it. The studio recording, from our first album, ‘Love and War’, is here, and the live video is also on Facebook here.

Masters of War’ was written and recorded by Bob Dylan in 1963, and, sadly, its sentiments remain just as relevant today as they were back then. It’s another live favourite, and another song we’ve been playing regularly since we first got together in 2014. The studio recording isn’t available online, but it is on the CD of ‘Love and War’, which you can buy here. Our second album, How Much Is A Life Worth? is also available on CD or to download, and you can also individually download any of our songs. Prices start at just 60p. Read the rest of this entry »

Really? Trump Lawyer Argues in Court that Guantánamo Prisoners Can Be Held for 100 Years Without Charge or Trial

Protestors with Witness Against Torture outside the Supreme Court on January 11, 2017, the 15th anniversary of the opening of Guantanamo (Photo: Andy Worthington).Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration.

 

Last Wednesday, as I flagged up in a well-received article the day before, lawyers for eleven of the 40 prisoners still held at Guantánamo finally got the opportunity to follow up on a collective habeas corpus filing that they submitted to the District Court in Washington D.C. on January 11, the 16th anniversary of the opening of the prison. The filing, submitted by lawyers from organizations including the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and Reprieve on behalf of 11 of the remaining 40 prisoners, argued, as CCR described it after the hearing, that “their perpetual detention, based on Trump’s proclamation that he will not release anyone from Guantánamo regardless of their circumstances, is arbitrary and unlawful.”

CCR added that the motions of eight of the 11 men were referred to Senior Judge Thomas F. Hogan, who heard the argument today”, and stated that the lawyers had “asked the judge to order their release.”

CCR Legal Director Baher Azmy, who argued the case in court, said after the hearing, “Our dangerous experiment in indefinite detention, after 16 years, has run its course. Due process of law does not permit the arbitrary detention of individuals, particularly at the hands of a president like Donald Trump, who has pledged to prevent any releases from Guantánamo. That position is based not on a meaningful assessment of any actual threat, but on Trump’s animosity towards Muslims, including these foreign-born prisoners at Guantanamo — the height of arbitrariness. Short of judicial intervention, Trump will succeed.” Read the rest of this entry »

Photos: The London Protest Against Donald Trump’s UK Visit, July 13, 2018

Some of my photos from the protest in London against Donald Trump's UK visit on July 13, 2018.Please check out my photo set on Flickr!

And please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, commentator and activist.

 

So yesterday a huge protest against Donald Trump, on his first visit to the UK since he became the US president 18 months ago, took place in London. The organisers estimated that almost 250,000 people had turned up, and I was delighted to see so many witty handmade placards, and so many young people showing up to tell Trump that he is not welcome here. Much of the focus, of course, was on his position as the world’s most powerful sexual predator, but there were also numerous placards taking aim at his recent and thoroughly disgraceful immigration clampdown, when he separated children from their parents and imprisoned them.

I was, of course, delighted to see large numbers of people — and particularly women and girls — protesting against Trump, but from the beginning of his presidency, when a visit was first planned, and then called off because of the anticipated scale of protests against him, I have made a point of stating that, while I understand the particular horror of Trump’s role as a sexual predator and people’s opposition to him on that basis, on everything else we should be out on the streets every day protesting against the vile Theresa May and her vile government. In her six years as home secretary, May was persistently racist, xenophobic and Islamophobic, and, of course, was behind the “hostile environment” for immigrants that led to people who were part of the post-war Windrush generation form the Caribbean being forcibly sent back to their countries of origin, despite having lived in the UK for decades.

That said, it is clear that the sheer size of yesterday’s protest ought to give us hope for the future, as it represented, in many ways, a coming together of the many, many different groups of people affected by Donald Trump and what he represents, and if we can do this for Trump then perhaps we can do it again once he’s gone home, and we’re still stuck wth the most ideologically bankrupt government of my lifetime, in which most of the issues that brought people together in such large numbers yesterday are still as relevant — a right-wing, racist, xenophobic, Islamophobic government composed mostly of old white people, hopelessly embroiled in a Brexit nightmare of their own making, that, like Trump’s election, needs to be seen as the death rattle of this old white world. Read the rest of this entry »

Brett Kavanaugh, Trump’s Supreme Court Nomination, Has a Dangerous Track Record of Defending Guantánamo and Unfettered Executive Power

Judge Brett Kavanaugh, Donald Trump and a close-up of Guantanamo prisoners photographed on the day the prison opened, January 11, 2002. The photo on the left is an edit of a photo by Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images.Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration.

 

I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, with the US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

Disgraceful though Donald Trump’s presidency is, it will at least be over at some point in the imaginable future, with the potential that his most outrageous policy changes, enacted in legislation by a Republican majority in Congress, can be reversed should Congress end up with a Democratic majority instead.

When it comes to interpreting the law, however, his impact will last for decades, through his nominations to the nation’s District Courts, appeals courts (the Circuit Courts), and, most crucially, the Supreme Court.

Shamefully, although Barack Obama successfully nominated two of the Supreme Court’s nine justices during his eight years in office (Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan), Congress — where Republicans had a majority, as they did throughout most of Obama’s presidency — refused to consider his third nomination, Merrick Garland, nominated in March 2016. Garland’s appointment would have given Democratic appointees a majority on the Supreme Court for the first time since 1970, but Garland’s nomination expired in January 2017, when Obama left office, and when Donald Trump took over he wasted no time in nominating Neil Gorsuch instead, a dangerous right-winger whose nomination was subsequently approved by the Republican-controlled Congress. Read the rest of this entry »

Tomorrow, Lawyers Will Argue in Court That Donald Trump’s Guantánamo Policy Is “Arbitrary, Unlawful, and Motivated by Executive Hubris and Anti-Muslim Animus”

Senior Judge Thomas F. Hogan of the District Court in Washington, D.C. and a photo of prisoners at Guantanamo on the day of the prison's opening, January 11, 2002. Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration.

 

It’s a big day for Guantánamo tomorrow, as lawyers for eleven prisoners still held at the prison will be arguing before Senior Judge Thomas F. Hogan in the District Court in Washington, D.C. that, as the New York-based Center for Constitutonal Rights describe it, “[Donald] Trump’s proclamation that he will not release anyone from Guantánamo regardless of their circumstances is arbitrary, unlawful, and motivated by executive hubris and anti-Muslim animus.”

The lawyers submitted a habeas corpus petition for the men on January 11 this year, the 16th anniversary of the opening of the prison, as I explained in an article at the time, entitled, As Guantánamo Enters Its 17th Year of Operations, Lawyers Hit Trump with Lawsuit Stating That His Blanket Refusal to Release Anyone Amounts to Arbitrary Detention.

As I also explained in that article, “The eleven men are: Tawfiq al-Bihani (ISN 893) aka Tofiq or Toffiq al-Bihani, a Yemeni who was approved for release by Obama’s Guantánamo Review Task Force in 2010, Abdul Latif Nasser (ISN 244) aka Abdu Latif Nasser, a Moroccan approved for release in 2016 by a Periodic Review Board, a parole-type process, and nine others whose ongoing imprisonment was upheld by their PRBs: Yemenis Zohair al-Sharabi aka Suhail Sharabi (ISN 569), Said Nashir (ISN 841), Sanad al-Kazimi (ISN 1453) and Sharqawi al-Hajj (ISN 1457), Pakistanis Abdul Rabbani (ISN 1460) and Ahmed Rabbani (ISN 1461), the Algerian Saeed Bakhouche (ISN 685), aka Said Bakush, mistakenly known as Abdul Razak or Abdul Razak Ali, Abdul Malik aka Abdul Malik Bajabu (ISN 10025), a Kenyan, and one of the last men to be brought to the prison — inexplicably — in 2007, and Abu Zubaydah (ISN 10016), one of Guantánamo’s better-known prisoners, a stateless Palestinian, for whom the post-9/11 torture program was initially conceived, under the mistaken belief that he was a high-ranking member of al-Qaeda.”

On January 18, as I explained in a follow-up article, Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly (who ruled on several Guantánamo habeas corpus cases before the appeals court gutted habeas corpus of all meaning for the prisoners) responded, “requiring the government to explain its Guantánamo policy with respect to the men now petitioning the court,” as Scott Roehm, the Washington Director of the Center for Victims of Torture, explained in an article for Just Security, adding, “Specifically, the judge ordered the government to provide the following information by Feb. 16.”

In response, as I explained in another article, the government claimed that, because “the laws of war permit the detention of enemy combatants for the duration of a conflict,” the petititoners “are not entitled to release simply because the conflict for which they were detained — the non-international armed conflict between the United States and its coalition partners against al Qaeda, the Taliban, and associated forces — has been lengthy.”

Lawyers for the prisoners then responded by stating, “The government’s opposition proceeds as if the continuing detention of Petitioners for up to 16 years without charge or trial and without prospect of release by the Trump administration is utterly normal. It is not normal — as a matter of fact and law,” and further explaining that “the government cannot dispute the Trump administration’s stated determination to foreclose any transfers, regardless of individual facts and circumstances — including of those Petitioners cleared for transfer,” and that “there is no legal support for perpetual detention of this sort,” and that “[p]erpetual non-criminal detention violates due process.”

Revisiting these arguments, CCR stated, in a press release a few days ago, “The government maintains that the continuing detention of our clients without charge or trial, and without a prospect of release, is normal. But it is not normal, as a matter of fact and law. We argue that the petitioners’ perpetual detentions violate the Due Process clause of the Constitution and the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF). These ‘forever prisoners’ may never leave Guantánamo alive, unless the court intervenes.”

Reporting on the case, the Guardian explained that, unfortunately, the prisoners “will not be allowed to listen to oral arguments at their own hearing, as the Guantánamo administration said there [was] no single room at the camp where they could all be put in restraints while listening to a live feed,” adding that the court “accepted the absence of a room big enough for all the petitioners to be shackled to the floor as a valid reason for them not to hear a direct broadcast of their hearing, and that a recording or transcript at a later date was an adequate substitute.”

The Guardian then discussed the case of Tawfiq al-Bihani, who is represented by Reprieve, one of the organizations involved in the habeas petition, describing how he is “a Saudi-born Yemeni who was arrested in Iran in 2002, where he had fled bombing in Afghanistan,” and who “was flown back to Afghanistan and ultimately transferred to the US authorities.”

The Guardian added that, “According to his lawyers, he was handed over for a price, at a time when bounties were paid for bearded Arabs caught in the region around Afghanistan,” and, “According to the Senate Intelligence committee[‘s torture report, whose executive summary was made public in December 2014], he was taken to a CIA ‘black site’ secret interrogation centre, where he was one of 33 inmates subjected to ‘enhanced interrogation techniques,’ before being flown to Guantánamo.”

The Guardian also noted that al-Bihani “was cleared of any involvement in terrorism by US intelligence agencies in January 2010 and given his release papers on three occasions,” and, in 2016, “was even measured for new clothes he was going to wear on being freed, but his release was cancelled at the last minute.”

The Guardian also explained how the Trump administration “has continued to hold him citing ‘a variety of substantive concerns relevant to [his] circumstances, including factors not related to [Bihani] himself,’” prompting al-Bihani himself to ask, “What good is having a court case when there is no hope of justice?” according to his lawyers. He added, “I am still sitting here. Hearing about my court case just gets my hopes up, and my emotions go up and down like a see-saw. I’m happier without the meetings.”

Speaking of the prisoners’ exclusion from their own hearing, Shelby Sullivan-Bennis of Reprieve told the Guardian, “This latest affront to fairness and justice should shock every American, but sadly it doesn’t surprise us. None of the men Reprieve represents has ever been charged with a crime, and two have been cleared for transfer, but they remain stuck in Guantánamo, apparently indefinitely. That the US government now claims they can’t safely be chained to the floor, to hear their own lawyers argue that they should be tried or released, is the latest sick twist in a shameful saga with no end in sight.”

As the Guardian also explained, al-Bihani “has passed his 15 years on Guantánamo writing poetry and has more recently began painting in acrylics,” as his lawyers explained, adding that he also “watches wildlife documentaries, plays football and is following the World Cup.” The lawyers also explained that he is from “a family of 12 siblings,” and that his mother died during his long imprisonment.

“I am able to see the ocean here,” al-Bihani said to his lawyers, adding, “When I feel upset, seeing the ocean helps me go into a trance and deal with my emotions. I have not lost hope, but I got used to the rhythm here. It is the first place I have lived for this long. Before, at home, I was always moving.”

The Guardian also explained how Reprieve has pointed out how ruinously expensive it is to keep prisoners at Guantánamo, stating that “every day al-Bihani spends in Guantánamo costs the US $29,000. Altogether, it has cost more than $170m to keep him in the camp without charge.” On the mainland, in contrast, it costs only a little more than $29,000 to hold a prisoner for an entire year.

In its publicity before tomorrow’s hearing, CCR focused on their client Sharqawi Al Hajj, described as “a 43-year-old Yemeni who has been detained without charge for over 16 years, who is sick and on hunger strike, and for whom the prospect of years more in Guantánamo may mean a death sentence.”

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose music is available via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and see the latest photo campaign here) and the successful We Stand With Shaker campaign of 2014-15, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (click on the following for Amazon in the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US), and for his photo project ‘The State of London’ he publishes a photo a day from six years of bike rides around the 120 postcodes of the capital.

In 2017, Andy became very involved in housing issues. He is the narrator of a new documentary film, ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, about the destruction of council estates, and the inspiring resistance of residents, he wrote a song ‘Grenfell’, in the aftermath of the entirely preventable fire in June that killed over 70 people, and he also set up ‘No Social Cleansing in Lewisham’ as a focal point for resistance to estate destruction and the loss of community space in his home borough in south east London.

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, The Complete Guantánamo Files, the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the Close Guantánamo campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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