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Family members gather outside a home in the West Point neighborhood where a man's dead body awaited the arrival of an Ebola burial team to take him for cremation on Oct. 17 in Monrovia, Liberia. The World Health Organization says that more than 4,500 people have died due to the Ebola epidemic in West Africa with a 70 percent mortality rate for those infected with the virus.

- Getty Images

WASHINGTON — As the United States military heads to Liberia to aid in the fight against Ebola, officials should not overlook an unlikely but potentially powerful ally: the rubber tappers who help make their tires.

It may seem an unlikely alliance to have a union of rubber tappers — some of the poorest people in the world — helping the US military and international relief organizations. But they have two invaluable assets: the trust of the local population and the potential to continue supporting programs the relief agencies put in place.

They are making significant contributions even as the disease poses an increasing threat to community leaders and their families.

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ANDREW AIR FORCE BASE, MD - Oct. 14: US President Barack Obama speaks after attending a meeting hosted by Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin E. Dempsey with the military leadership from 21 partner nations to discuss the coalition efforts in the ongoing campaign against IS.

- Getty Images

DENVER — Is President Obama dealing with cognitive dissonance? First, against all available information, he blames the intelligence community for underestimating the Islamic State. Then, he embarks on a strategy that fails to encompass key elements vital to meeting his mission to “degrade and destroy” ISIS.

Americans were surprised to hear their president’s admission on a recent Sunday “60 Minutes” broadcast that he had “underestimated” the Islamic State – aka, the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS/ISIL – and its rapid rise to power and control in Syria and Iraq. Equally stunning, he sought to shift the blame for being caught off-guard to the US intelligence community.

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GRATERFORD, Pennsylvania — I have been in and out of prisons in the US and Latin America since I was about 19 years old for all kinds of reasons: as a journalist and writer, as a friend, as a family member. One night, I even slept in a prison in Mexico.

I am committed to visiting, talking with and interviewing those who believe they have been all but forgotten —people who in some cases believe they have no value to society because they are behind bars. 

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Families of Central American immigrants turn themselves in to US Border Patrol agents after crossing the Rio Grande River from Mexico to McAllen, Texas on Sept. 8. Although the numbers of such immigrant families and unaccompanied minors have decreased from a springtime high, thousands continue to cross in the border illegally into the United States.

- Getty Images

AUSTIN, Texas — In America, women and children as young as 11 months old are being jailed.

More than 500 women and children are currently detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in a for-profit detention center in Karnes City, Texas. Six hundred more are held in Artesia, New Mexico.

Among those detained was Nayely Bermudez Beltran, a 7-year-old from El Salvador who is suffering from a malignant brain tumor. Nayely’s mother, Sara Beltran Rodriguez, came to the US border with her daughter in July, fleeing family violence in El Salvador so severe that she feared for their lives.

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Thousands gathered to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech on August 24, 2013, near the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC.

- AFP/Getty Images

NEW PALZ, New York — Recently, I found a very disturbing message on my car. Just above several bumper stickers praising President Barack Obama, someone had inked, “I love niggers.”

The car was parked in my boyfriend’s driveway in East Fishkill. He had seen the message in black marker as he was about to leave for work and asked me to come outside. “I called the cops,” he said. “It’s a hate crime.”

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Young women look out from a hut in an agricultural area south of Iraq's central Shiite Muslim Shrine city of Najaf on April 14, 2014.

- AFP/Getty Images

BOSTON — We are living in a dangerous reality. It’s a reality where terrorists are holding hostage Islam, a religion that, at its core, is peaceful, compassionate and tolerant.

Since Sept. 11, 2001 and continuing with the most recent executions of journalists, including James Foley of GlobalPost, a misunderstanding and manipulation of Islam and Muslims has permeated discourse about the Middle East and the Arab world. American-Muslim relations are strained and Islam is not portrayed positively in the media.

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A boy pushes a woman in a wheelchair past a wall bearing information about Ebola in Monrovia on September 25, 2014. World leaders were asked to pledge urgently-needed aid to battle Ebola in West Africa as Sierra Leone quarantined one million people in a desperate bid to beat back the deadly virus.

- AFP/Getty Images

SILVER SPRING, Md. — The news coming out of West Africa is nothing if not sobering. The number of dead and infected with Ebola continues to rise, and the outbreak shows no sign of abating any time soon. As President Obama mentioned in his remarks on Ebola, the situation will get worse before it gets better.

By putting so much emphasis on the awful effects of Ebola, are we misplacing our effort to treat the crisis? Judging from the images we are seeing in the media, there are only three types of people in West Africa: the dead, the dying, and the Hazmat-suited workers caring for them.

The reality of course is far more complex: millions of individuals are not infected, and are simply doing their best to go about their lives under these extraordinary circumstances. Any response that fails to take this into account, and focuses solely on treatment of those already infected, will undoubtedly fall short.

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A man sits on a cross in the Tweh farm cemetery on September 30, 2014 in Monrovia, where burials have been halted due to the Ebola outbreak.

- AFP/Getty Images

EVANSTON, Illinois — As a crowd recently stoned local officials and health education workers to death in Guinea, American households were tuning in to the PBS documentary series, "The Roosevelts."

Himself the victim of a debilitating disease and a chief executive during the international crises of the Great Depression and World War II, Franklin D. Roosevelt held an unwavering commitment to mobilizing government to better the lives of the governed. Memory of his record evokes comparisons and criticisms of national and international leadership contending with the Ebola outbreak in West Africa today.

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A woman participates in a march on the International Day of Action for the Decriminalization of Abortion, on September 28, 2012 in San Salvador. Salvadorean women marched to ask the government to legalize abortion as a right for women.

- AFP/Getty Images

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador — El Salvador’s troubled past was marked by 12 years of internal armed conflict from 1980 to 1992, during which many horrific human rights abuses were committed. 



For more than a decade now, the country has enjoyed an era of peace, and major progress has included human rights treaties promising to protect the rights of its people. 



During his inauguration in June, President Sanchez Ceren announced that he will govern "for all" with an "absolute commitment to social justice." 



But my recent visit to El Salvador as secretary general of Amnesty International has revealed how far the country is from a commitment to justice for all. 



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Protestors join Rwandan opposition leaders in calling Rwandan President Paul Kagame a corrupt dictator and war criminal at a demonstration outside a Chicago hotel where Kagame addressed the Rwandan diaspora on June 11, 2011.

- AFP/Getty Images

TORONTO – Foreign countries, including the United Kingdom and the United States, pour nearly a billion dollars every year into Rwanda – 40 percent of the troubled African nation’s budget.

Now, these donor nations need to ask themselves why they are bankrolling Rwanda’s descent into despotism under the direction of President Paul Kagame, who has promoted economic development at the terrible cost of killing, imprisoning, intimidating or exiling his critics.

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