In Saudi Arabia, breaking the law can lead to the chopping block for a public beheading—even for minors, according to a new report. The first fact-finding visit by a human-rights group allowed by the Saudi government turned up disturbing evidence about the country’s justice system: children under 18 are routinely tried as adults, with potential sentences of flogging, amputation, or death; legal counsel is often unavailable for youth offenders; and juvenile-detention facilities are so overcrowded and poorly supervised that minors sometimes end up in the same cells as hardened criminals. Many of the tens of thousands of children trafficked into the country—for use as beggars or for sexual exploitation—end up on the streets, where they’re treated as criminals and risk deportation. Youths can be detained for exchanging phone numbers with the opposite sex, and girls can face prosecution for “seclusion,” or being alone with a male who’s not a relative. The authors report that at least 12 children have been sentenced to death in recent years, and that at least three were executed in 2007.
—“Adults Before Their Time: Children in Saudi Arabia’s Criminal Justice System,” Human Rights Watch
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Think you can spot a spy? Cold War caricatures won’t help: a study by a Defense Department think tank finds that the profile of a homegrown spook has changed significantly in the past two decades, reflecting new threats from abroad. The report compares data on nearly 200 Americans caught spying on their countrymen since 1947, using public records and classified files from federal agencies. Today’s spies tend to be much older than their Cold War predecessors, more educated (twice as many have advanced degrees), and less likely to be drunks or gamblers. Blackmail—of the compromising-photo variety, say—is no longer a salient motivation. In fact, according to the study, no one is known to have been coerced into spying since 1980. Most spies are not even lured by cash: in the past two decades, only 7 percent of spooks passed on secrets solely for the money (74 percent did so during the Cold War), and 81 percent received no money at all. Instead, they’re typically spurred by loyalty to other countries and causes, partly because many more of them are foreign-born. More than half of the most recent cases involved terrorists, and spies are now much more likely to pass secrets to stateless groups like al-Qaeda—which technically may not be a crime. The ambiguous legal framework governing espionage dates back to World War I and seems to address only spying done on behalf of foreign states.