MIAMI (AP) — Five prisoners have been released from Guantanamo Bay as part of a renewed effort to close the detention center on the U.S. Navy base in Cuba, officials said Thursday.
Three men were sent to Georgia and two to Slovakia for resettlement. They were among dozens of low-level prisoners at Guantanamo who were determined to no longer pose a threat and should be released by an administration task force in 2009.
Their release brings the total prison population to 143.
President Barack Obama had pledged to close the detention center upon taking office but has been thwarted by Congress, which has prohibited sending any prisoners to the U.S. for any reason and imposed restrictions making it harder to move them overseas.
U.S. State Department envoy Clifford Sloan has been trying to persuade other countries to accept prisoners cleared for release and he praised Georgia and Slovakia for their assistance.
"We are very grateful to our partners for these generous humanitarian gestures," Sloan said. "We appreciate the strong support we are receiving from our friends and allies around the globe."
Georgia took three prisoners from Guantanamo in 2010. Slovakia has now taken a total of eight men from Guantanamo.
One of the men sent to Georgia was Abd Al Hakim Ghalib Ahmad Alhag, the first prisoner from Yemen to be released since 2010. The U.S. has balked at sending prisoners to Yemen because it is unstable and Yemenis make up the majority of men cleared for release.
"As we welcome Mr. Alhag's resettlement, we are reminded that the remaining Yemeni men should be sent home or resettled without further delay," said Wells Dixon, a lawyer for the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights.
With the latest releases, there are now 74 prisoners at Guantanamo who have been cleared and are awaiting resettlement. Another 36 have been designated for continued detention without charge. There are 23 who have been slated for prosecution and 10 are either facing trial by military commission or have already been convicted or sentenced.
WASHINGTON (AP) — Spurning furious Republicans, President Barack Obama unveiled expansive executive actions on immigration Thursday night to spare nearly 5 million people in the U.S. illegally from deportation and refocus enforcement efforts on "felons, not families."
CHICAGO (AP) — The Ebola epidemic has put adoptions in impacted west African countries at a standstill for obvious reasons.
Tessa and Joel Sanborn understand. The arrival of their 5-year-old adopted son Devine, who is in an orphanage in Liberia, is on hold, indefinitely, as the state of emergency continues there.
"We love Liberia, and we want what's best for the country as a whole," says Tessa Sanborn, who lives with her husband and their six other children in Maple Valley, Washington, just outside Seattle.
But the waiting is still difficult, as it is for other parents in a similar predicament. And even as some families keep their commitment to adopt, despite the Ebola threat, the numbers of children in west African orphanages who've lost parents is only increasing because of the deadly virus.
Some aid workers also say a shortage of food and supplies is making it difficult to care for those of children, and that fear is hampering efforts to place those who've lost parents to Ebola, even within their home countries.
It is just the latest crisis in Liberia, a country that was attempting to overcome the ravages of war before Ebola hit, says Patricia Anglin, executive director and founder of Acres of Hope, a children's aid organization in Liberia that houses many orphans, including Devine.
"Long after Ebola is even eradicated, we will have the devastation and challenges left behind of these orphans who need to be cared for," Anglin says.
Anglin, who is American but based in Liberia, is in the United States for a month, trying to raise emergency funds for food and supplies, and to keep her organization going.
Adoptions, while a relatively small part of the organization's services, help fund it, she says. So with those on hold, she and her staff have stopped taking a salary and are focusing on relief efforts.
"We can't do it alone," Anglin tells the philanthropy and school groups she's been addressing across the Midwest in recent weeks.
Already, the Sanborns have adopted twin daughters from Acres of Hope — 2-year-old Faith and Favor. Faith had a stroke at birth and, with the help of her new parents, is getting therapy to strengthen use of her right hand and foot.
The couple was able to adopt the girls because of Faith's medical needs. Favor was allowed to come with her. But, though they met him when they went to Liberia last December, Devine had to wait.
Then Ebola hit.
Tessa Sanborn tears up when recalling having to leave him. "It's never a place a parent wants to be," she says, sitting with husband Joel at their dining room table.
While they wait, they and other families have organized a food and supply drive for Devine's orphanage at local restaurant.
It's difficult, because of the scale of the Ebola outbreak, to calculate the number of children in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea who've lost one or both parents to the disease. The current estimate is about 7,000, according to Anglin and other aid workers.
Guinea has never been a significant source of children adopted by Americans, while the number of children from Sierra Leone adopted by U.S. families has ranged from 33 in 2013 to six in 2009.
Liberia used to be a major partner with U.S. adoption agencies, but the situation has changed recently due to complications unrelated to Ebola. According to State Department figures, there were only 12 adoptions from Liberia by Americans in 2013, down from a high of 353 in 2006.
Experts on international adoptions caution that disasters and emergencies, such as the Ebola crisis, should not be occasions to hastily encourage adoptions.
"The first priority is to reunite children with their close relatives or other community members willing to look after them," says Najwa Mekki, a communications officer with UNICEF. "Children are never more vulnerable than in the contexts of large-scale emergencies... Making permanent decisions about children's long-term care should be kept to an absolute minimum during this period."
The Joint Council on International Children's Services, a Virginia-based child-advocacy organization whose partners include many U.S. adoption agencies, has taken a similar stance, as has the State Department.
"We want to avoid the situation where adoptive parents go through the process and then are disappointed," says Niles Cole, a State Department spokesman.
Anglin, of Acres Hope, fully supports family reunification, but says that has been challenging when a child has been exposed to the virus, even if they haven't contracted it.
"Those that have extended families, some of those extended families are afraid to reach out to them," she says. "Often times, the traditional thinking is that those children will always be contagious."
The nature of this crisis — and fear that people who go to help will get sick — also makes it much more difficult to send aid workers to help reunify families, says Stephanie Francois, the director of international programs at Adoption Link, an adoption agency in Oak Park, Illinois.
Her organization sent a social worker to Haiti, as did others, after the 2010 earthquake there to help children find their families.
But that has not as possible in this crisis.
So Francois says fundraising efforts like Anglin's are especially important — and give people a way to help "without the fear factor."
Anglin, meanwhile, continues to track the status of orphans such as Devine, so she can update his parents. The impact of Ebola can be difficult to explain to a young child, she says.
"He's, I guess, doing as well as can be expected, but every day, asks, 'When do I get to go? When do I get to go to America and be with my family?'" Anglin says.
On the Internet:
Acres of Hope: http://acresofhope.org
David Crary in New York City and Ted S. Warren in Seattle contributed to this report.
Martha Irvine is an AP national writer. She can be reached at email@example.com or at http://twitter.com/irvineap
ST. LOUIS (AP) — The St. Louis region is on edge in anticipation of an announcement from the grand jury that is weighing whether to charge police officer Darren Wilson in the killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown. The August shooting led to weeks of protests, some of them violent, and many people fear renewed violence after the decision, particularly if the panel does not issue an indictment. Some key things to know about the situation:
DECISION DRAWS NEAR
The grand jury has been meeting since August, reviewing evidence and listening to testimony related to the Aug. 9 confrontation that began when Wilson told Brown and a friend to stop walking in the middle of the street. St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch said the panel's final decision would come in November. A McCulloch spokesman did not return messages Thursday seeking information on whether the jury has finished hearing testimony.
Authorities have said the officer and Brown struggled inside the officer's police SUV, and their confrontation spilled back onto the street, where the shooting happened. According to media reports, Wilson told the grand jury he feared for his life as Brown, who was 6-foot-4 and weighed nearly 300 pounds, came at him. But several witnesses have said Brown was surrendering and had his hands up.
PROTESTERS PREPARE FOR DECISION
Protests have been constant in Ferguson since the shooting. Though a handful of demonstrations have been in support of Wilson, the vast majority of protesters want to see the officer charged with murder. Many are also pushing for changes in the way police and the courts interact with minorities.
On Wednesday night, several protesters gathered outside Ferguson police headquarters. They were nonviolent, but noisy and periodically forced the street in front of the police station to close. Police made five arrests after the group shut down South Florissant Road.
Several protest organizers have been planning their response to the grand jury announcement. Earlier this week, one group put out a map showing more than three dozen locations for potential demonstrations. Other groups are planning protests in major cities.
LAW ENFORCEMENT GETS READY
Gov. Jay Nixon announced last week that more than 1,000 police officers had received special training ahead of the decision. National Guard troops will also be available if needed, and a unified command of state, city and county police will provide security for protests.
Police were criticized in August for being heavy handed with demonstrators. Several journalists were among those arrested. Nixon said police will work to protect the constitutional rights of demonstrators, but warned that those who turn to the "ugliness" of violence will face consequences.
SCHOOLS PLAN FOR POTENTIAL DISRUPTIONS
Several school districts will be told in advance that the grand jury announcement is coming. The Hazelwood School District posted on its website last week that schools will get 24 hours' notice before the news media if the announcement is on a weekend, and three hours' notice if it is on a weekday. The notice is intended to allow schools to get students home before possible disruptions that could be caused by demonstrations.
Some districts are making plans for potential disruptions. Eleven Ferguson-area churches have agreed to provide meals, activities and a place for students to go if classes are cancelled.
ANXIETY ALSO AFFECTS BUSINESSES
The threat of unrest is having an economic effect on St. Louis. Organizers of some conventions slated for downtown are considering moving. Several office buildings in St. Louis, nearby Clayton and elsewhere have increased security, added guards and warned tenants about potential disruptions.
Country singer Hunter Hayes cancelled a Thursday concert at Saint Louis University over concerns about possible unrest, promising to reschedule in 2015. Many businesses on West Florissant Avenue, site of the most violent protests in August, have either boarded up their windows or never taken down the boards installed three months ago.
WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. consumer prices were unchanged in October as a fourth straight decline in gasoline costs helped to keep inflation at bay.
The steady reading for inflation last month followed a tiny 0.1 percent increase in September and a 0.2 percent drop in August, the Labor Department said Thursday. Energy prices fell 1.9 percent last month while food costs edged up a slim 0.1 percent.
Core inflation, which excludes volatile energy and food, rose 0.2 percent in October. For the past 12 months, overall inflation is up 1.7 percent while core inflation is up a similarly modest 1.8 percent.
Both gains are well below the Federal Reserve's 2 percent inflation target, giving the central bank leeway to keep interest rates low to boost the economy without worrying about inflation.
The 0.1 percent rise in food prices was the smallest monthly increase since June. Over the past 12 months, food prices are up 3.1 percent, one of the biggest gains for any category and a reflection of drought conditions in California and other adverse weather patterns which have affected crops.
Gasoline costs were down 3 percent in October and analysts are looking for further declines giving continued drops in global oil prices. The AAA reports that the nationwide average for gas is currently $2.86, down from $3.11 a month ago.
The modest inflationary pressures have allowed the central bank to keep interest rates at a record low for the past six years to help the economy recover from the worst recession since the 1930s.
Inflation, already low, has slowed further in recent months, helped by the declines in energy costs and a stronger dollar, which makes foreign goods cheaper for U.S. consumers.
Analysts expect these inflation trends to continue depressing prices, giving the Fed more room to manage monetary policy. Many economists don't expect the Fed to start raising interest rates until the middle of next year.
BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Roofs began to creak and collapse under the weight as another storm brought the Buffalo area's three-day snowfall total Thursday to an epic 6 feet or more.
Snow-weary residents of western New York were asked by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to "pretty, pretty please" stay off slippery, car-clogged roads for another day as crews struggled to dig out. Some areas got close to 2 feet of new snow by Thursday afternoon.
The wild card was an expected weekend warmup with rain — raising the specter of flooding and an even heavier load pressing down on roofs, where the snow could absorb the rain like a blanket.
More than 30 people were evacuated from several mobile home parks in suburban Cheektowaga, where roofs were buckling, Bellevue Fire Department Lt. Timothy Roma said. He said more than a dozen buildings and carports collapsed, as did a metal warehouse operated by a Christmas decorations company, where damage was estimated in the millions.
Homeowners and store employees around the region climbed onto roofs to shovel off the snow and reduce the danger.
The immediate concern Thursday was recovering from the 5 feet or more of snow that fell earlier in the week. National Guardsmen drove nurses to work their hospital shifts. State troopers helped elderly residents trapped in their homes. State officials assembled 463 plows, 129 loaders and 40 dump trucks from across the state.
Some Buffalo-area schools were closed for the third day, burning through snow days with winter still a month away.
A stretch of the New York State Thruway through western New York remained closed with more than 300 truckers idled at truck stops and service areas, waiting for the highway to reopen.
With deliveries interrupted, some grocery stores reported running low on staples like bread and milk.
Officials also cast doubt on whether the region would recover enough for the Buffalo Bills to host the New York Jets on Sunday. The seats and field of the Bills' stadium south of Buffalo were buried in snow. Many roads are impassible, and a driving ban remained in place in many communities.
"Right now, my sense is it's impractical to do the game because it would jeopardize public safety," the governor said.
Even for the Buffalo area — one of the snowiest and hardiest places in America — this was one for the record books, with the three-day total close to the 8 feet that the region typically gets in an entire year.
"No matter how you cut it, this event will end up in the top five for the Lake Erie area," said National Weather Service Director Louis Uccellini.
Homes and businesses in the snowy Buffalo area are supposed to be able to handle about 50 pounds per square foot on their roofs, according to Mark Bajorek, a structural engineer. He said some buildings may be close to that limit now, with more precipitation on the way.
Associated Press writer Michael Hill and Mary Esch contributed from Albany.