Beatings, buried videos a pattern at Louisiana State Police

MONROE, La. (AP) — The most violent videos languished for years, lost or ignored in a digital vault. Louisiana State Police troopers and top brass alike would often look the other way, even as officers took to official messaging channels to banter about their brutality.

In one video, white troopers can be seen slamming a Black man against a police cruiser after finding marijuana in his car, throwing him to the ground and repeatedly punching him — all while he is handcuffed. 

In another, a white trooper pummels a Black man at a traffic stop 18 times with a flashlight, leaving him with a broken jaw, broken ribs and a gash to his head. That footage was mislabeled and it took 536 days and a lawsuit for police to look into it.

And yet another video shows a white trooper coldcocking a Hispanic drug trafficking suspect as he stood calmly by a highway, an unprovoked attack never mentioned in any report and only investigated when the footage was discovered by an outraged federal judge.

As the Louisiana State Police reel from the fallout of the deadly 2019 arrest of Ronald Greene — a case blown open this year by long-withheld video of troopers stunning, punching and dragging the Black motorist — an Associated Press investigation has revealed it is part of a pattern of violence kept shrouded in secrecy.

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Analysis: Taliban hard-line path worsens Afghanistan dilemma

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Reminiscent of their previous harsh rule in the 1990s, the Taliban have already begun to wipe out some of Afghanistan's gains of 20 years. They've denied women a seat at the Cabinet, beaten journalists into silence and enforced their severe interpretation of Islam, on occasion violently. 

And yet there seems little the international community can do about it.

The world will need to engage with the Taliban to some extent, despite disappointment with the new all-Taliban Cabinet that defied earlier promises it would be inclusive.

The U.S. needs Taliban cooperation to evacuate the remaining Americans and to fight an increasingly brazen Islamic State affiliate, considered the greatest terrorist threat against America emanating from Afghanistan. In recent weeks, the IS flag has been seen flying from several districts of the eastern province of Nangarhar.

Meanwhile, a humanitarian disaster that threatens millions of Afghans has the world scrambling to respond. On most days, Qatar is flying in food and medical supplies. Pakistan has announced it is sending planeloads of aid to Afghanistan.

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Pentagon chief: al-Qaida may seek comeback in Afghanistan

KUWAIT CITY (AP) — U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Thursday the al-Qaida extremist group that used Afghanistan as a staging base to attack United States 20 years ago may attempt to regenerate there following an American withdrawal that has left the Taliban in power.

Austin spoke to a small group of reporters in Kuwait City at the conclusion of a four-day tour of Persian Gulf states. He said the United States is prepared to prevent an al-Qaida comeback in Afghanistan that would threaten the United States.

"The whole community is kind of watching to see what happens and whether or not al-Qaida has the ability to regenerate in Afghanistan," he said. "The nature of al-Qaida and (the Islamic State group) is they will always attempt to find space to grow and regenerate, whether it's there, whether it's in Somalia, or whether it's in any other ungoverned space. I think that's the nature of the organization."

The Taliban had provided al-Qaida with sanctuary while it ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001. The U.S. invaded and overthrew the Taliban after it refused to turn over al-Qaida leaders following the Sept. 11, 2001 attack on the United States. During the course of the 20-year U.S. war, al-Qaida was vastly diminished, but questions have arisen about its future prospects with the Taliban back in Kabul.

"We put the Taliban on notice that we expect them to not allow that to happen," Austin said, referring to the possibility of al-Qaida using Afghanistan as a staging base in the future.

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From election to COVID, 9/11 conspiracies cast a long shadow

Korey Rowe served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and returned to the U.S. in 2004 traumatized and disillusioned. His experiences overseas and nagging questions about Sept. 11, 2001 convinced him America's leaders were lying about what happened that day and the wars that followed.

The result was "Loose Change," a 2005 documentary produced by Rowe and written and directed by his childhood friend, Dylan Avery, that popularized the theory that the U.S. government was behind 9/11. One of the first viral hits of the still-young internet, it encouraged millions to question what they were told. 

While the attacks united many Americans in grief and anger, "Loose Change" spoke to the disaffected.

"It was the lightning rod that caught the lightning," Rowe recalls. He had hoped the film would prompt a sober reassessment of the attacks. Rowe, who lives in Oneonta, New York, doesn't regret the film, and still questions the events of 9/11, but says he's deeply troubled by what 9/11 conspiracy theories revealed about the corrosive nature of misinformation on the internet.

Twenty years on, the skepticism and suspicion first revealed by 9/11 conspiracy theories has metastasized, spread by the internet and nurtured by pundits and politicians like Donald Trump. One hoax after another has emerged, each more bizarre than the last: birtherism. Pizzagate. QAnon.

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Ida deaths rise by 11 in New Orleans; Louisiana toll now 26

HOUMA, La. (AP) — The death toll in Louisiana from Hurricane Ida rose to 26 Wednesday, after health officials reported 11 additional deaths in New Orleans, mostly older people who perished from the heat. The announcement was grim news amid signs the city was returning to normal with almost fully restored power and a lifted nighttime curfew. 

While New Orleans was generally rebounding from the storm, hundreds of thousands of people outside the city remained without electricity and some of the hardest-hit areas still had no water. Across southeastern Louisiana, 250,000 students were unable to return to classrooms 10 days after Ida roared ashore with 150 mph (240 kph) winds. 

The latest deaths attributed to Ida happened between Aug. 30 and Monday, but were just confirmed as storm-related by the Orleans Parish coroner, the Louisiana Department of Health said in a statement. Nine of the New Orleans deaths — of people ages 64 to 79 — came from "excessive heat during an extended power outage," while the two others were from carbon monoxide poisoning, the department said. 

More than a million people were left without power, including the entire city of New Orleans, when Ida struck on Aug. 29. The state's largest power company, Entergy, said it expected to have electricity in the city restored to 90 percent by Wednesday evening. 

Meanwhile, the New Orleans Police Department and Mayor LaToya Cantrell lifted an 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew they had imposed two days after the hurricane hit. 

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North Macedonia government to meet over deadly hospital fire

SKOPJE, North Macedonia (AP) — North Macedonia's government was holding an emergency meeting Thursday over an overnight fire that ripped through a field hospital set up to treat COVID-19 patients, leaving 14 people dead.

The blaze broke out late Wednesday in the western city of Tetovo, where the hospital had been set up following a recent spike in infections in the region that left local hospitals full.

The main prosecutor's office in the capital, Skopje, said 14 people had been killed in the blaze. There were no medical personnel among them. 

Tetovo Mayor Teuta Arifi declared three days of mourning for the victims.

The prosecutor's office ordered forensic experts to identify the remains, with the process expected to take longer than usual due to special protocols required because the victims were COVID-19 patients.

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Japan extends virus emergency until end of September

TOKYO (AP) — Japan announced Thursday it is extending a coronavirus state of emergency in Tokyo and 18 other areas until the end of September as health care systems remain under severe strain, although new infections have slowed slightly.

The current state of emergency, which was to end on Sunday, was issued first in Okinawa in May and gradually expanded. Despite the prolonged emergency, the largely voluntary measures have become less effective as the exhausted public increasingly ignores them.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said serious cases remain high and are still overwhelming many hospitals. He called on the people to continue to work remotely and other social distancing measures "so that we can return to safe and prosperous daily lives."

The extension will cover a period when Japan's government is in transition. Suga has announced that he will not run in a Sept. 29 race for his party's leadership, and his successor in that race will likely become the next prime minister.

His government has faced sharp criticism over virus measures seen as too late and too small to be effective and for holding the Olympics despite public opposition during the pandemic.

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N. Korea shows off civil defense units in toned-down parade

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Civil defense forces carrying rifles and personnel wearing gas masks and red hazmat suits paraded in North Korea's capital in a celebration of the nation's 73rd anniversary that was a marked departure from past militaristic displays.

The parade late Wednesday — overseen by leader Kim Jong Un, wearing a cream suit and visibly slimmer than at the start of the year — centered around paramilitary organizations and public security forces protecting the capital, Pyongyang, instead of the military units that handle the most important weapons in Kim's nuclear and missile arsenal.

In January and last October, North Korea rolled out its most provocative strategic weapons, threatening Asian rivals and the American homeland, but there was no immediate indication the latest parade showcased ballistic weapons. 

Thursday's state media reports on the event that began late Wednesday indicated its message was aimed at a domestic audience.

Experts say the toned-down event reflected the harsh challenges facing North Korea as its broken, mismanaged economy is further strained by continuing U.S.-led sanctions, prolonged border closures because of the pandemic, and flooding that caused food shortages in recent years.

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Confederate statue's 1887 time capsule set to be removed

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Now that an iconic statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee has been taken down from its perch above Richmond's Monument Avenue, crews plan to remove a piece of history from its gigantic pedestal. 

A time capsule from 1887 that state officials believe is tucked inside the statue's base is set to be removed Thursday. It will be replaced with a new time capsule that contains items reflective of current times, including an expired vial of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, a Black Lives Matter sticker and a photograph of a Black ballerina with her fist raised near the Lee statue after racial justice protests erupted following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis last year.

Historical records and imaging tests helped state officials pinpoint the capsule's location in the cornerstone of the 40-foot tall concrete pedestal. 

A newspaper article from 1887 suggests that the copper time capsule contains mostly memorabilia, including a U.S. silver dollar and a collection of Confederate buttons. But one line from that article has piqued the interest of historians. Listed among the artifacts is a "picture of Lincoln lying in his coffin."

It is unclear what kind of a picture it is, but the article says it was donated by "Miss Pattie Leake," who was a school principal from a prominent local family.

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Crushed by pandemic, conventions mount a cautious return

In pre-COVID times, business events __ from small academic conferences to giant trade shows like CES __ routinely attracted more than 1 billion participants each year. The pandemic brought those global gatherings to a sudden halt, emptying convention centers and shuttering hotels.

More than a year later, in-person meetings are on the rebound. In late August, 30,000 masked attendees gathered in Las Vegas for ASD Market Week, a retail trade show. In Chicago, the Black Women's Expo recently held the largest event in its history, with 432 vendors and thousands of masked attendees. 

"People are cautious, but they're glad to be able to get out and network with other people," said Dr. Barbara Hall, whose company, JBlendz Communications, was among the exhibitors at the expo.

Still, it could be several years __ if ever __ before conferences attract the crowds they did before the pandemic. Many countries and businesses are still restricting travel, pinching attendance at big events like the Canton Trade Fair in China, which required 26,000 vendors to pitch their wares virtually in April. 

Health concerns also remain. The industry is keen to avoid another black eye like the Biogen leadership conference, a February 2020 event in Boston that was eventually linked to 300,000 COVID cases. 

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