Washington Post: Thousands Dead, Few Prosecuted

On a rainy night five years ago, Officer Coleman “Duke” Brackney set off in pursuit of a suspected drunk driver, chasing his black Mazda Miata down rural Arkansas roads at speeds of nearly 100 miles per hour. When the sports car finally came to rest in a ditch, Brackney opened fire at the rear window and repeatedly struck the driver, 41-year-old James Ahern, in the back. The gunshots killed Ahern.

Prosecutors charged Brackney with felony manslaughter. But he eventually entered a plea to a lesser charge and could ultimately be left with no criminal record.

Now, he serves as the police chief in a small community 20 miles from the scene of the shooting.

Brackney is among 54 officers charged over the past decade for fatally shooting someone while on duty, according to an analysis by The Washington Post and researchers at Bowling Green State University. This analysis, based on a wide range of public records and interviews with law enforcement, judicial and other legal experts, sought to identify for the first time every officer who faced charges­ for such shootings since 2005. These represent a small fraction of the thousands of fatal police shootings that have occurred across the country in that time.

In an overwhelming majority of the cases where an officer was charged, the person killed was unarmed. But it usually took more than that.

When prosecutors pressed charges, The Post analysis found, there were typically other factors that made the case exceptional, including: a victim shot in the back, a video recording of the incident, incriminating testimony from other officers or allegations of a coverup.

WARNING: GRAPHIC – SOUTH CAROLINA SHOOTING 

This video contains graphic content. A police officer in North Charleston, S.C., has been charged with murder after shooting a man during a traffic stop. Authorities said the decision to charge officer Michael Slager was made after they viewed video footage of the incident that showed him shooting the other man in the back as he was fleeing the scene.

Forty-three cases involved at least one of these four factors. Nineteen cases involved at least two.

In the most recent incident, officials in North Charleston, S.C., filed a murder charge Tuesday against a white police officer, Michael T. Slager, for gunning down an apparently unarmed black man. A video recording showed Slager repeatedly shooting the man in the back as he was running away.

“To charge an officer in a fatal shooting, it takes something so egregious, so over the top that it cannot be explained in any rational way,” said Philip M. Stinson, a criminologist at Bowling Green who studies arrests of police. “It also has to be a case that prosecutors are willing to hang their reputation on.”

But even in these most extreme instances, the majority of the officers whose cases have been resolved have not been convicted, The Post analysis found.

And when they are convicted or plead guilty, they’ve tended to get little time behind bars, on average four years and sometimes only weeks. Jurors are very reluctant to punish police officers, tending to view them as guardians of order, according to prosecutors and defense lawyers.

The definition of “officers” used in the analysis extends beyond local police to all government law enforcement personnel who are armed, including sheriff’s deputies and corrections officers. The analysis included some shootings that officers described as accidental.

There is no accurate tally of all the cases­ of police shootings across the country, even deadly ones. The FBI maintains a national database of fatal shootings by officers but does not require police departments to keep it updated.

Over the past year, a series of controversial police killings of unarmed victims — including Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., Tamir Rice in Cleveland and Eric Garner on Staten Island — has raised questions over what it takes for officers to face criminal ­charges. Often, the public is divided over whether the police went too far. Only in rare cases­ do prosecutors and grand juries decide that the killing cannot be justified.

Such cases include a Michigan state trooper who shot and killed an unarmed homeless man in Detroit as he was shuffling toward him, the man’s pants down past his knees. The incident was captured on video, and the officer, who said he thought the man had a gun, was charged with second-degree murder. A jury accepted the officer’s account and found him not guilty. He remains on the job.

They also include a police officer in Darlington County, S.C., who was charged with murder after he chased an unarmed man wanted for stealing a gas grill and three U-Haul trailers into the woods, shooting him in the back four times. A jury, believing that he feared for his life, found him not guilty.

Two Atlanta plainclothes officers opened fire and killed a 92-year-old woman during a mistaken drug raid on her home. As they pried the bars off her front door, she fired a single warning shot with an old revolver. The police responded by smashing the door down and shooting at her 39 times. One of the officers tried to disguise their error by planting bags of marijuana in her basement. The two officers pleaded guilty and received unusually stiff sentences of six and 10 years in a federal prison.

A rap musician, Killer Mike, wrote a song to memorialize the death of this African American grandmother at the hands of white officers, comparing her killing to “the dream of King when the sniper took his life.”

After the death of Michael Brown last summer, concerns about racism in policing have exploded in public debate, in particular whether white officers use excessive force when dealing with minorities and whether the criminal justice system protects the victims’ rights.

Among the officers charged since 2005 for fatal shootings, more than three-quarters were white. Two-thirds of their victims were minorities, all but two of them black.

Nearly all other cases­ involved black officers who killed black victims. In one other instance, a Latino officer fatally shot a white person and in another an Asian officer killed a black person. There were a total of 49 victims.

Identifying the exact role of race in fatal shootings and prosecutions is difficult. Often, prosecutors pursued charges against a backdrop of protests accusing police of racism. Race was also a factor in court when federal prosecutors stepped in and filed charges­ against officers for allegedly violating the victims’ civil rights. Six officers, all white, faced federal civil rights charges for killing blacks.

In interviews with more than 20 prosecutors across the country, they said that race did not factor into their decisions to bring charges against officers. The prosecutors said they pursued cases­ based on the legal merits.

RACE MATTERS 

 

But defense lawyer Doug Friesen, who represented a white officer convicted in 2013 for fatally shooting an unarmed black man, said that “it would be naive” for prosecutors to say race isn’t a consideration.

“Anytime you have politicians that have to make charging decisions, realistically that is part of their decision-making process,” Friesen said. “They are asking themselves, ‘Is there going to be rioting out in the streets?’ ”

Both Officer Coleman “Duke” Brackney and his victim James Ahern, shot dead in his Miata, were white.

Brackney, 32, recalled in an interview that he believed Ahern was about to back his car up and run over him. The engine was racing and the backup lights flashed, Brackney said.

A video, captured by a camera mounted on his cruiser’s dashboard, indicated that the sports car was not moving when the officer opened fire. The existence of that video was the key reason why prosecutors decided to bring charges, they said.

Number killed“In my mind, it was the third time he tried to run me over,” Brackney said in an interview with The Post. “His right hand came up in this sweeping motion, and I thought he was going for a gun. I don’t know what a jury would have believed — and that’s the problem. There was this risk, so entering a plea, I viewed it as a business decision.”

After pleading to a reduced charge of negligent homicide, a misdemeanor, Brackney served 30 days in jail as part of a plea agreement. The judge deferred the conviction, and if Brackney fulfills the terms of his probation, the case will be dismissed.

“No one wants to take a life, but at the end of the day, I realize that I’m the one who got to go home,” he said, adding, “I wouldn’t change what I did.”

He was fired by the Bella Vista Police Department, where he worked at the time, but was given another chance by the city of Sulphur Springs, Ark. Two years ago, city officials hired him to run the police department, where he manages a force of four officers who spend much of their time patrolling quiet streets and arresting small-time drug dealers.

Excerpt, read more Thousands Dead, Few Prosecuted | Washington Post

❋ Story by Kimberly Kindy, Kimbriell Kelly
❋ Graphics by Vesko Cholakov, Kevin Schaul
❋ Videos by Whitney Leaming, Divya Verma, Natasha Rudnick


Related: South Carolina: Police Dashcam of Moments Before Shooting (FULL VIDEO)

RECOMMENDED READINGS

South Carolina Officer Is Charged With Murder of Walter Scott -By Michael S. Schmidt & Matt Apuzzo | NYT

The Total Rejection of Michael Slager -By Adam Chandler | The Atlantic

❋ Michael Slager Had History Of Violence Against Black People | The Young Turks (Video)

❋ Another Police Shooting Of An Unarmed Black Man | The Young Turks (Video)

Fairfax Jail Inmate [Natasha McKenna] in Taser Death was Shackled -By Tom Jackman & Justin Jouvenal | Washington Post

Reserve Deputy Who Killed Eric Harris Pleads Not Guilty, Is Allowed to Take Vacation in Bahamas -By Breanna Edward | The Root

Tamir Rice and the Value of Life -By Charles M. Blow | NYT

Police Killed More Than 100 People In March -By Carimah Townes | ThinkProgress

A New Estimate Of Killings By Police Is Way Higher — And Still Too Low -By Carl Bialik | FiveThirtyEight

Killed By Police (Data Collection)

IGNORANCE OF THE LAW

There’s wide consensus around the video: Walter Scott was shot and killed in cold blood as he ran for his life from Michael Slager, the cop who stands charged with his murder in North Charleston, South Carolina. But Scott’s demise was set in motion moments earlier, when Slager decided to pull him over for a traffic violation—a stop that never should have happened.

The dashcam video leaves no doubt as to why Slager pulled over Scott: “The reason for the stop is that your third brake light’s out,” Slager told Scott, minutes prior to the fatal shooting.

Slager’s asserted “reason” had no premise in South Carolina law: Scott’s vehicle was in full compliance. Lacking reasonable suspicion that Scott was doing something illegal, Slager should’ve never pulled him over in the first place, unless his true motive was something other than a concern for enforcing the laws he took an oath to uphold.

Policing minor traffic violations as a pretext for more intrusive, “crime-fighting” stops is a real and dangerous problem—Slate’s Jamelle Bouie broke down the numbers of how people of color are hit hardest by this rampant style of roadside discrimination.

But there’s another problem: The legal pretexts police use for such traffic stops can be plainly mistaken or made up.

South Carolina law is straightforward on the issue of third brake lights. Motor vehicles must be equipped with “a stop lamp on the rear”—a singular brake light, which is to be maintained in good working order. A South Carolina appeals court confirmed this reading: A single operating brake light means a vehicle is “in full compliance with all statutory requirements regarding rear vehicle lights,” and a stop premised on requiring anything more is “unreasonable” and thus a violation of the driver’s constitutional rights. However, the decision was later overturned on appeal.

So why did Slager pull over Scott? If what he said, as captured on the dashcam account, is to be believed, Slager made a mistake and decided to “seize” Scott for a law not in the books. In a perfect world, such errors should never give a police officer an opportunity to stop anyone.

That perfect world was shattered in December, when the Supreme Court blessed the shady police practice of pulling someone over for breaking a law that doesn’t exist. The case was Heien v. North Carolina, involving the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches and seizures—the only shield against police overreach during close encounters with law enforcement. In an 8-to-1 decision, the court ruled that “reasonable” mistakes about what the law is can justify police stopping an otherwise law-abiding citizen.

Chief Justice John Roberts, who doesn’t seem to get pulled over often, announced the Heien reasoning with elegance: “To be reasonable is not to be perfect, and so the Fourth Amendment allows for some mistakes on the part of government officials, giving them fair leeway for enforcing the law in the community’s protection.”

It’s hard to argue with any of that, except for the fact that nowhere in the pronouncement is there any mention that the Fourth Amendment exists to protect the community from the government. Roberts’ formulation makes it seem as if the provision exists to protect the community from criminals.

And maybe Nicholas Heien, the petitioner in that case, was a criminal. When a North Carolina police officer pulled over Heien and Maynor Javier Vasquez in 2009, the officer informed them that they had been stopped “for a nonfunctioning brake light”—the same line Slager used on Scott. Heien, the owner of the car, got a warning citation and everything should’ve ended there. But the officer, for some unexplained reason, decided to ask Heien if he could give the car a “quick check” to ensure there were no “drugs or guns or anything like that.” That’s when Heien—against his better judgment—consented to the search, which revealed a baggie of cocaine, and everything went downhill for the two men.

Perhaps Heien and Vasquez got what they deserved, but should the car have been pulled over in the first place? Like South Carolina’s, North Carolina law only requires one working “stop lamp” in vehicles. (In the vast majority of states, the norm is two such lamps.) So if Heien’s single working brake light meant he was in compliance with the law, what legal justification did the officer have to perform the traffic stop to begin with? Shouldn’t the law enforcer know the essence of the traffic laws he’s enforcing, especially for something so common and straightforward as properly working taillights?

Not exactly, said the Supreme Court. Roberts and seven other colleagues were largely unpersuaded by the argument that if ignorance of the law is no excuse for the average citizen, it shouldn’t be an excuse for police officers, either. To the court, cops are just different. They get a pass for being ignorant about the law, so long as the ignorance is “reasonable.”

The lone dissenter, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, seemed to grasp the consequences of the court’s lopsided logic. Acknowledging that traffic stops “can be annoying, frightening, and perhaps humiliating,” Sotomayor argued that “an officer’s mistake of law, no matter how reasonable, cannot support the individualized suspicion necessary to justify a seizure under the Fourth Amendment.” More strikingly, she seemed to speak to our recent conversations around policing, portending that the Heien decision would lead to an erosion “of civil liberties in a context where that protection has already been worn down.”

The video of Scott running for his life as a result of a mundane traffic stop makes it clear that Sotomayor was right. Her focus on the experience of being confronted by the police, especially for communities where constitutional protections are thinner than anywhere else, was the more realistic approach. Other systemic factors surely played a role in Scott’s death—starting with the fact that too many police officers find it odd for someone to drive a luxury car while black. But it all began with that initial traffic stop, an unjustified intrusion on Scott’s freedom premised on Slager’s apparent ignorance of South Carolina law. Ignorance, the Supreme Court has now ruled, is an excuse for cops to get away with things you and I can’t.

Ignorance of the Law -By Cristian Farias | Slate


Cristian Farias is a journalist and lawyer who writes on Latino issues, civil rights, and the courts.

Arc of the Moral Universe: Justice for Blackwater Victims

Dead Iraqi Child

Mohammed Hafiz with a photo of his son, who was killed in the Blackwater shooting. Credit Khalid Mohammed/AP

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” -Martin Luther King, Jr.

For years, it seemed inconceivable to Iraqis that the American justice system would ever punish the private security contractors who wantonly opened fire in a busy Baghdad traffic circle in September 2007, killing 17 civilians.

Yet, on April 13, a judge in Washington imposed lengthy sentences on four former employees of the notorious security firm then known as Blackwater. These men, who came to embody the American government’s often heavy-handed and at times careless conduct during the Iraq war, asked for leniency but were defiant in asserting their innocence. Judge Royce Lamberth of Federal District Court sentenced one of the men, Nicholas Slatten, to life in prison. The other three, Paul Slough, Dustin Heard and Evan Liberty, were sentenced to 30 years in prison. Mr. Slatten, who was the first to open fire that day, was convicted of murder. His former colleagues were convicted of voluntary manslaughter and of using a machine gun to commit a violent offense.

The sentences represented a victory for the Justice Department, which faced a litany of setbacks and challenges over the years as it struggled to make sense of the events of that day and gather evidence that could be admissible in court.

“What happened on Sept. 16, 2007, was nothing short of an atrocity,” T. Patrick Martin, one of the prosecutors who handled the case, said Monday.

The team of F.B.I. agents and federal prosecutors who oversaw the case should be commended for their perseverance. In 2009, a judge dismissed the initial set of charges filed against five Blackwater guards because the case had relied on affidavits the men submitted shortly after the massacre, having been promised immunity. That could have ended the legal proceeding. But prosecutors managed to build a case in 14 of the deaths relying on the testimony of Iraqi witnesses and former Blackwater guards, including one who pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and has yet to be sentenced.

The Nisour Square massacre was among the most abominable abuses committed by Americans during the Iraq war. Shortly after the shooting, the company changed its name to Xe Services, as though a new brand could wash away its blood-soaked past. The State Department continued doing business with the company, which provided security to American diplomats and intelligence personnel and had won more than $1 billion in government contracts.

The abusive conduct of many Blackwater guards, and the sense that Washington condoned it, fueled the notion that Americans regarded Iraqis as dispensable. That view became widespread, lending legitimacy to Sunni and Shiite extremist groups that killed and maimed thousands of American troops.

The legacy of the United States’ war in Iraq will be forever tarnished by the haunting images of torture at Abu Ghraib prison that emerged in 2003 and the massacre of civilians in Haditha by American Marines in 2005. By bringing some of the Blackwater gunmen to justice, the American government has taken an important, if belated, step toward making amends.

Reprint: Justice for Blackwater Victims | NYT Editorial Board

Ex-Blackwater Contractors Sentenced to Lengthy Prison Terms in 2007 Nisour Square Shooting

Blackwater2

The former Blackwater security guards, from left: Paul A. Slough, Dustin L. Heard, Nicholas A. Slatten and Evan S. Liberty (AP)

Four former Blackwater Worldwide security guards were convicted and immediately jailed last month for their roles in a deadly 2007 shooting in Baghdad’s Nisour Square that marked a bloody nadir in America’s war in Iraq. A jury in Federal District Court found that the deaths of 17 Iraqis in the shooting, which began when a convoy of the guards suddenly began firing in a crowded intersection, was not a battlefield tragedy, but the result of a criminal act.

The convictions on murder, manslaughter and weapons charges represented a legal and diplomatic victory for the United States government, which had urged Iraqis to put their faith in the American court system. That faith was tested repeatedly over seven years as the investigation had repeated setbacks, leaving Iraqis deeply suspicious that anyone would be held responsible for the deaths.

“This verdict is a resounding affirmation of the commitment of the American people to the rule of law, even in times of war,” said Ronald C. Machen Jr., the United States attorney in Washington. “Seven years ago, these Blackwater contractors unleashed powerful sniper fire, machine guns and grenade launchers on innocent men, women and children. Today, they were held accountable for that outrageous attack and its devastating consequences for so many Iraqi families.”

One defendant, Nicholas A. Slatten, a sniper who the government said fired the first shots, was convicted of murder. The others — Dustin L. Heard, Evan S. Liberty and Paul A. Slough — were convicted of voluntary manslaughter and using a machine gun to carry out a violent crime. A fifth contractor, Jeremy Ridgeway, previously pleaded guilty to manslaughter and cooperated with prosecutors.

Jurors could not reach verdicts on several of the counts against Mr. Heard, but that will have little bearing on the sentencing. The machine-gun charges carry mandatory 30-year minimum prison sentences, more than the manslaughter charges. Mr. Slatten faces possible life in prison. No sentencing date has been set.

The trial was an epilogue to the story of Blackwater, which began as a police- and military-training facility in North Carolina and came to symbolize the country’s outsourcing of its wartime responsibilities.

About 1,000 of Blackwater’s contractors guarded diplomats in Iraq. Others loaded bombs onto Predator drones. The company’s founder, Erik Prince, tapped retired Central Intelligence Agency officials for executive positions, and at one point, the C.I.A. hired Blackwater contractors to covertly track and kill Qaeda operatives worldwide, a program that was shelved before any killings were conducted.

While the company’s security guards were involved in scores of shootings in Iraq, it was the 2007 incident in Nisour Square that helped cement Blackwater’s image as a company that operated with impunity because of its lucrative contracts with the American government. The company became the subject of several Justice Department investigations, all of which the company and its executives survived. But ultimately, public outrage over the shooting contributed to Blackwater’s demise. It lost its contracts and was renamed, sold and renamed again.

Despite their skepticism about the trial, more than two dozen Iraqi witnesses volunteered to travel to Washington to testify. They described a scene of horror and confusion as they took cover from the machine-gun fire coming from American armored trucks. An Iraqi traffic officer described watching a woman cradle her dead’s son’s head on her shoulder, shortly before her own death. A father sobbed uncontrollably as he testified about his 9-year-old son’s death. And witnesses from inside the Blackwater convoy described their former colleagues as firing recklessly on innocent people.

NisourSquareDetail

The shooting began shortly after four American armored trucks rolled into Nisour Square on Sept. 16, 2007. The Blackwater contractors said insurgents ambushed them. Their lawyers described the death of innocent civilians as a tragic and unavoidable consequence of urban warfare.

“Nick Slatten is innocent,” his lawyer, Thomas Connolly, said after the verdicts were announced. “We’re disappointed that the jury found otherwise, but the jury’s verdict does not change the reality of what happened — and what didn’t happen — in Nisour Square.”

Prosecutors said the shooting was unprovoked. But with little forensic evidence and no ballistics linking any gunman to any victim, the case came down to the testimony of witnesses. Many told conflicting stories, forcing prosecutors to urge jurors to believe some aspects of their own case and discount others. During their 28 days of deliberations, jurors sent notes to Judge Royce C. Lamberth that hinted they were planning to convict in the case. But the defendants showed little emotion. Three of them arrived late to court. Mr. Heard broke the courtroom silence by popping open a Coke can just before the jury entered. Lawyers, however, said their clients were devastated by the verdicts.

“This was wrong,” said David Schertler, a lawyer for Mr. Heard. “This verdict is incomprehensible.”

The case against the Blackwater guards faced a number of hurdles, many of them of the government’s own making. From the outset, there were indications that State Department officials tried to gather shell casings after the shooting in an effort to protect Blackwater. The State Department also gave the contractors limited immunity after the shooting, which made it significantly harder for the Justice Department to build its case.

A judge threw out all charges in 2009, citing “reckless” government behavior. A new prosecution team salvaged the case but dropped charges against one guard because of a lack of evidence.

Then prosecutors missed a deadline to recharge Mr. Slatten. That is why he alone was charged with murder, which has no statute of limitations.

Susan L. Burke, a lawyer who represented Iraqi victims in a lawsuit against Blackwater, said the conviction sent a message to the world about the power of American courts. “But I don’t think anything can make up for the loss of a family member,” she said.

Blackwater settled the wrongful-death lawsuit for an undisclosed sum.

The criminal trial raised novel legal issues, and the case is expected to wind through the appellate courts for a year or more. One issue — whether the Justice Department had jurisdiction to bring the case at all — could undo the entire case.

Under federal law, the government has jurisdiction for overseas crimes committed by defense contractors or those supporting the Pentagon’s mission. Blackwater was working for the State Department, a distinction that jurors concluded did not matter but which has not been tested.

Defense lawyers are expected to ask an appeals court to let the contractors out of jail while the appeal plays out. “There’s more to be done on this case,” William F. Coffield, a lawyer for Mr. Liberty, said as he left court.

Reprint: Blackwater Guards Found Guilty in 2007 Iraq Killings -By Matt Apuzzo | NYT

A Crime Against Humanity

Generally, mankind does not outlaw weapons. Anything a military can think of is in the arsenals of the world. But there are a few exceptions and one of them is for a weapon so hideous that virtually every country has banned, not only its use, but the mere possession of it. The weapon is sarin. It’s nerve gas. And in 2013, it was unleashed on Syrian civilians in what the U.N.’s secretary general calls, “a crime against humanity.” a year and a half later no one has been held responsible. For several months 60 Minutes has been gathering evidence. According to 60 Minutes correspondent Scott Pelley, “much of what you are about to see has not been public before. None of what we found has been omitted here.”

A Crime Against Humanity, aired April 15, 2015 on CBS 60 Minutes. Scott Pelley, Correspondent; Nicole Young and Katie Kerbstat, Producers

 

Indonesia Executes Eight, Spares One…For Now

Indonesia Executes 8

Anti-death penalty activists hold portraits in Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital, on April 28 of some of the inmates who faced execution Wednesday morning. (Achmad Ibrahim / Associated Press)

JAKARTA, Indonesia — Defying international condemnation and rejecting 11th-hour pleas for clemency, the Indonesian government executed eight drug convicts after midnight on Wednesday, including seven foreigners. But the execution of a ninth convict, scheduled to happen at the same time, was unexpectedly postponed at nearly the last minute, according to the Indonesian attorney general’s office.

The executed prisoners, from Australia, Brazil and Nigeria, along with one Indonesian, were shot by police firing squads about 12:25 a.m. local time at a site outside the gates of Pasir Putih prison on the island of Nusa Kambangan off the southern coast of Java, according to the attorney general’s office.

The authorities granted the stay of execution to Mary Jane Veloso, 30, a Philippine citizen, after the Philippine government requested her assistance in a human trafficking case involving a woman who surrendered to the Philippine police on Tuesday.

“An alleged perpetrator of human trafficking gave herself up, and Mary Jane’s testimony is needed,” Tony Spontana, a spokesman for the Indonesian attorney general, wrote in a text message shortly after the executions were carried out. “Eight people were executed, but not Mary Jane,” he wrote.

Ms. Veloso’s family maintains she was duped by a drug syndicate into flying to Indonesia in 2010 with more than five pounds of heroin hidden in a suitcase. President Benigno S. Aquino III of the Philippines had repeatedly appealed for her to be spared. The woman who surrendered to the Philippine police on Tuesday was identified as one of those who had recruited Ms. Veloso.

Relatives and friends of the condemned paid them final visits on Tuesday but were not allowed to witness the executions. Shortly after midnight Tuesday, mourners in the port town of Cilacap, which is the access point to the prison island, held a vigil for the condemned prisoners that was televised.

The mass execution was the second in Indonesia this year. In January, five foreign drug convicts and one Indonesian convicted of murder were shot by firing squads on the island.

On Saturday, the attorney general’s office gave 72 hours’ notice to the latest group of condemned prisoners, their legal teams and their respective embassies that the executions would be carried out. On Monday, an Australian prisoner, Andrew Chan, married his Indonesian fiancée in a small ceremony at the prison.

A French citizen who was also originally on the list to be executed won a two-week reprieve from the State Administrative Court in Jakarta, the Indonesian capital, which will hear his challenge to a clemency rejection by President Joko Widodo.

Shortly after taking office last October, Mr. Joko declared that Indonesia was facing “a national emergency” of drug abuse, and he rejected 64 clemency appeals from death row drug convicts, most of them foreigners. Saying Indonesia had a right to exercise its drug laws, Mr. Joko’s government rejected international pleas to cancel the executions, including from Ban Ki-moon, secretary general of the United Nations.

The 8

The eight people who were executed in Indonesia on 29 April 2015. Top row from left (including two of the Bali Nine): Australians Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan, Nigerian Okwuduli Oyatanze and Nigerian Martin Anderson. Bottom row from left: Nigerians Raheem Agbaje Salami, Silvester Obiekwe Nwolise, Brazilian Rodrigo Gularte and Indonesian Zainal Abidin. Two others (not pictured) who were scheduled to be executed were given a temporary reprieve. (Photograph: The Guardian)

The executions have angered some of Indonesia’s largest aid donors, including Australia and the European Union.

Australia announced on Wednesday that it would withdraw its ambassador to Indonesia, and Prime Minister Tony Abbott described the deaths of Mr. Chan and another Australian, Myuran Sukumaran, as a dark moment in Australia’s diplomatic relations with Indonesia.

“These executions are both cruel and unnecessary,” Mr. Abbott said at a news conference in the capital, Canberra.

The foreign minister, Julie Bishop, said the government had worked “up to the last minute” appealing for clemency. Mr. Abbott and Ms. Bishop said that they did not understate the seriousness of the two men’s crimes but that Mr. Chan and Mr. Sukumaran had spent a decade in prison, had shown remorse and had been rehabilitated. Advocates for the convicts have also argued that the Indonesian courts that sentenced their clients were corrupt.

Lawyers for Mr. Chan, 31, and Mr. Sukumaran, 34, say the judge who handed down the death penalty to the pair had offered a lighter sentence in exchange for money. The pair, members of the so-called Bali Nine who were arrested in 2005 trying to smuggle 18.5 pounds of heroin out of the resort island, admitted guilt but said they had reformed.

The Indonesian wife of one of the Nigerians executed, Silvester Obiekwe Nwolise, 47, also claimed that the judges at his trial had offered a lighter sentence in return for a bribe.

Another Nigerian who was executed did not have a lawyer when he tried to appeal his death sentence, while the Brazilian convict, Rodrigo Gularte, 42, had had schizophrenia and bipolar disorder since he was a teenager, conditions that his lawyers say should have disqualified him from criminal prosecution under Indonesian law.

The office of Brazil’s president, Dilma Rousseff, issued a statement on Tuesday, expressing “deep consternation” at Mr. Gularte’s death.


Michelle Innis contributed reporting from Sydney, Australia, and Vinod Sreeharsha from Rio de Janeiro.

Reprint: Indonesia Executes 8, Including 7 Foreigners, Convicted on Drug Charges -By Joe Cochrane | NYT

Related: The 7 Foreigners and 1 Indonesian Executed for Drug Offenses -By Joe Cochrane | NYT

Indonesia Spares Condemned Woman for Now But Executes 8 men -By Robyn Dixon | Los Angeles Times

In Earthquake-Torn Nepal, Remote Villagers Fear Starvation and Sickness as Aid Fails to Arrive

Nepal Time

A damaged wall clock is seen lying in the debris of a collapsed house in Kathmandu (Reuters/ Adnan Abidi)

People are tenuously holding onto hope for food and shelter in Ghyangphedi, a picturesque remote village on the southern edge of Nepal’s Langtang National Park. It’s been five days since a 7.8-magnitude earthquake killed five people and reduced the village to a pile of rubble. But relief has yet to arrive and people are desperate.

“If we don’t get food, we will die,” says Prakash Tamang, whose son was killed when his house collapsed. “Please, send food for us.”

Most of the buildings in these areas are made of rock and mud, and had no chance of withstanding the earthquake. Landslides set off by aftershocks and rain continue to threaten the area. The drinking water is polluted. Landslides filled the nearby stream with mud, and the people have no way to filter it.

The entire village of about 150 huddles under two large tarps, waiting for help. Most of the people sit with blank looks, trying to stay out of the afternoon downpour. It’s rained nearly every day since the earthquake, sending temperatures below 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 Celsius) at night.

Karmajit Tamang, a village leader who is trying to organize his people, says they were trying to dig blankets out of the rubble, but so far had only recovered a few.

The food supply is running low. Biscuits and ramen salvaged from a shop sit piled under a tarp, but the villagers worry that they only have enough for two or three days. Some of the village men managed to find a water buffalo that was killed in the earthquake. They quickly set to cutting off its meat. But health workers warn that this could also be a danger, with rotting meat threatening to make an entire community sick.

IN PICTURES: NEPAL EARTHQUAKE 2015

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The total death toll in Nepal now exceeds 5,500. Aid groups say that number could still rise as rescuers begin reaching remote villages like this one. Karmajit Tamang believes that there were even more people killed from landslides in the villages further up the valley.

Most people here were outside working in their fields when the earthquake struck, which minimized the loss of life. The survivors dug out the victims, grieved, and then burned their bodies.

Then came the struggle for survival.

“We need tarps and food, that is all we can ask for right now,” Karmajit Tamang says.

An army helicopter briefly landed a day after the earthquake and evacuated the most severely injured. But, since then, no troops, government officials or aid groups have returned to the isolated village. It is only about a six hour drive from the capital city of Kathmandu, but several landslides are blocking the road. Right now, it is accessible only by foot or helicopter.

“We are feeling lost,” Karmajit Tamang says. “We don’t know what to do.”

The survivors must face new kinds of danger. Sickness, exposure, and starvation threaten thousands of people trapped in remote areas.

This village is only one of hundreds cut off from relief supplies. In this corner of Nuwakot district, about 6,000 people are in need of basic supplies. U.N. officials say this number could be as high as 1.4 million across the country. On Wednesday, frustrated survivors took to the streets in Kathmandu to protest the slow pace of the rescue and aid effort.

Food and rice factories across Nepal and India are trying to meet the huge demand, but even in Kathmandu, food in large quantities is scarce.

“We are trying to find rice. We ordered some from factories, but they are saying it will be four or five days at least,” says Thir Koraila, the National Coordinator for MICHA, which is one of many organizations trying to facilitate relief efforts.

He had three trucks of rice mobbed by hungry crowds as it tried to get to Kathmandu. In Battar, a town only three hours from Kathmandu and accessible by road, a mob formed around a helicopter that was rumored to be delivering tarps.

Tirtha Raj Joshi of the Nepal Red Cross Society says they are trying to deliver supplies to the most remote mountain areas. But on Thursday, locals said by phone they had not received anything.

As Nepal begins the long process of relief and recovery, chaos continues to pervade the country. The U.N. estimates more than a fourth of the country’s population is affected.

But for the people in Ghyangphedi and hundred of more mountainous villages, all they can do is wait and hope that help arrives soon.

Reprint: Nepalese Villagers Fear Starvation and Sickness as Aid Fails to Arrive -By Stephen Gross | TIME

Recommended: Nepal’s Historic Sites, Before and After the Earthquake | NYT

Fleeing Despair, Finding Death in the Mediterranean

Italy MigrantsA Red Cross officer carries a baby wrapped in a blanket after migrants disembarked at the Sicilian Porto Empedocle harbor, Italy, Monday, April 13, 2015. (AP Photo/Calogero Montanalampo)

As many as 900 migrants may be dead after a ship crowded with migrants capsized and sank in the Mediterranean on April 19. The authorities described a grisly scene of bodies floating and submerging in the warm waters, with the majority of the dead apparently trapped in the ship at the bottom of the sea.

The fatal shipwreck may prove to be the Mediterranean’s deadliest migrant disaster ever and is only the latest tragedy in Europe’s migration crisis. Warmer spring weather has unleashed a torrent of smuggler boats, mostly from Libya, bearing migrants and refugees from the Middle East and Africa.

Even as efforts continued to collect the bodies from the sinking off Libya late Saturday and early Sunday — only 28 survivors have been found — Italian rescue ships responded to new distress calls from other vessels. A second migrant ship crashed near the Greek island of Rhodes, underscoring the relentless flow of people fleeing poverty, persecution and war.

Death at sea has become a grimly common occurrence: Even before this weekend’s sinking, humanitarian groups estimated that 900 migrants had already died this year, compared with 90 during the same period a year ago. That figure could rise sharply, as officials estimate that 700 people may have drowned in the weekend disaster.

The rising death toll is renewing criticism of the European response, especially the Triton program, introduced in November to patrol the Mediterranean and rescue migrants. United Nations officials and humanitarian groups have argued that Triton is too limited in scope and resources and thus is placing migrants at grave risk.

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi of Italy, speaking Sunday, blamed human traffickers who smuggle migrants on rickety ships, describing them as “the slave drivers of the 21st century.”

For the past several years, Europe has been confronted with hundreds of thousands of migrants arriving illegally from Africa and the Middle East. Italy has been in the vanguard of rescue efforts, with its Navy and Coast Guard ships rescuing more than 130,000 people last year in a widely praised program known as Mare Nostrum.

The Italian program began in October 2013 as an emergency response to a shipwreck that killed more than 360 people near the Italian island of Lampedusa.

But Mare Nostrum was phased out last autumn and replaced by the European-led Triton, which has fewer ships and a less well-defined mandate. António Guterres, the United Nations high commissioner for refugees, called Sunday for Europe to expand its rescue and patrol program as well as the legal avenues for migration to Europe so that people would not have to risk their lives at sea.

Sources:
✻ Death in the Mediterranean | CBS 60 Minutes (Video & Transcript)

Death in the Mediterranean -By Nicola Perugini | Al Jazeera English

Hundreds of Migrants Are Feared Dead as Ship Capsizes Off Libyan Coast -By Jim Yardley | NYT

✻ Rising Toll on Migrants Leaves Europe in Crisis; 900 May Be Dead at Sea -By Jim Yardley | NYT

✻ What’s Behind the Surge in Refugees Crossing the Mediterranean Sea (Maps)

From Sleep to Slaughter: Over 140 Students Killed at Kenyan University

A bullet A local resident holds a bullet found near the school. (Dai Kurokawa/European Pressphoto Agency)

Masked al-Shabab militants stormed dormitories at a university in eastern Kenya early Thursday, killing at least 147 people in the worst terror attack on Kenyan soil in nearly two decades, officials said.

More than 500 students were rescued after the Islamist militants, heavily armed and strapped with explosives, attacked the campus of Garissa University College about 5:30 a.m., shooting some young people and taking others hostage. At least 79 people were injured, according to Kenya’s National Disaster Operation Center. A government spokesman said the siege ended after 15 hours, with four gunmen from the Somali group having been killed.

“The gunmen are dead. There were four; they are all dead,” said Abdulkadir Sugow, spokesman for the Garissa governor. He could not confirm how they were killed.

Outside the university in the city of Garissa, about 90 miles from the Somali border, confusion and tension dominated. Scores of students remained unaccounted for; many had jumped through a fence to escape the campus.

The gunmen had been holed up in the compound with an unconfirmed number of hostages. When they were shot by police, they exploded “like bombs,” said Kenya’s Interior Minister Joseph Nkaissery.

Map 2

Ogutu Vquee, a student at the university, was sleeping in his dormitory when the gunmen arrived. He said there was indiscriminate shooting of both Muslims and non-Muslims, though there were reports that Muslims had been separated from Christians, who were said to be targeted. “When they attacked us, most of us were asleep, so we were woken by the gunshots,” he said. “I am totally in fear and confusion.”

Rosalind Mugambi said she fled her dormitory in a panic, dodging gunfire. Although she had been able to run across the sandy ground into a surrounding field, some of her friends had fallen. “We saw some bloodstains, and they were shot,” she said.

A 19-year-old student from Nairobi, who asked not to be named, said that he had transferred from Garissa University College to Nairobi after threats of an al-Shabab attack circulated in December. “Everybody had to go home because there was a lot of tension,” he said. “Shabab was saying they were going to attack the school in one week’s time, so we went home. It was rumors, but we had to vacate.”

He said the students left in mid-December, missing the end-of-semester exams. “I transferred because of the tension,” he said.

He said he was horrified to learn of the attack Thursday morning: “I was so frightened. People see normality and they think maybe al-Shabab will take two years [to strike]. I never ignored the threat.”

The massacre is the worst terrorist attack in Kenya since the bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi in 1998, which killed 224. An attack on an upscale shopping mall in Nairobi in September 2013 left 67 dead and renewed fears that al-Shabab could wage significant operations from its strongholds in neighboring Somalia.

Al-Shabab considers Kenya an enemy in part because the country sent troops to Somalia in 2011 to fight the group. Kenyan troops remain stationed there as part of an African Union mission.

Kenya’s border with Somalia is vast and largely unguarded. Attacks on many targets, particularly in rural parts of Kenya, are difficult to prevent. The Garissa campus had little protection, despite recent security alerts at universities across the country.

Last week, al-Shabab militants seized control of a Mogadishu hotel, killing at least 20 people, including Somalia’s ambassador to Switzerland.

Students at Garissa reported seeing notices warning of a possible attack on the campus. “As it was April 1, we just thought that it was fooling,” one student said. Several universities in Kenya reportedly had made students aware of a potential security threat by distributing posters around campuses.

Garissa University College, which opened in 2011, according to its Web site, is the first and only public university in North Eastern Province.

Excerpts from Al-Shabab Attacks Kenyan University, Killing at Least 147 -By Jessica Hatcher and Kevin Sieff | Washington Post

Julian Bond: ‘Religious Discrimination’ Laws Have Nothing to Do With Religion

Julian Bond 2The value of religious freedom is paramount in our country — that’s why it’s enshrined in our nation’s Constitution. Let there be no doubt: People of faith and their right to exercise their closely held religious beliefs are fully protected. Most unfortunately, a select group of insidious activists and elected officials is pretending those protections don’t exist and is threatening the civil rights of LGBT Americans.

Legislators in states such as Indiana, Arkansas, and Georgia are busy pushing bills that purport to further protect religious believers from the so-called scourge of government intrusion. But these bills aren’t about religious belief at all: They’re about discrimination, pure and simple.

Legislative proposals like the one coming to Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson and the bill Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed into law Thursday are driven not by belief but by fear of the unknown. As marriage equality edges closer and closer to becoming the law of the land, those who are dismayed by the broad sweep of progress are using so-called religious freedom bills as ballast. But doing so puts not only LGBT Americans and their families at risk — it puts all of us in an untenable position.

These religious refusal proposals tell folks they can pick and choose which laws they want to follow. That individuals can sue not only businesses but teachers, firefighters, and police officers if they believe their religious rights are violated. If a police officer sues his precinct because he is required to patrol a mosque, can laws like the one in Indiana protect him? If a father sues a teacher because she disciplined his child under a community-wide anti-bullying policy, can legislation like that before the governor of Arkansas put that teacher in jeopardy? These bills are intentionally vague, leaving it up to an overburdened court system to decide whether an individual’s religious beliefs are more important than another person’s basic civil rights.

We oppose these bills because they seek not to preserve or protect religious believers but to demean and exclude LGBT people, religious minorities, and others who may find themselves standing on the outside looking in.

I have seen discrimination. I have stood inside businesses that would not serve me because of my race, and I have been told that the rights of those business owners were more important than mine. I countered that logic then, as I do now. We have no crisis of religious discrimination; we have a crisis of fear. I stand against these bills and with those who are fighting to stop them. I refuse to allow discrimination to cloak itself in a shroud of faith. I refuse to give into fear.


Dr. Julian Bond is a civil rights leader and former member of the Georgia legislature. He is the founder and president emeritus of the Southern Poverty Law Center and served as chairman of the NAACP from 1998 to 2010.