‘Clock’ incident reflects US suspicion of Islam

(Deutsche Welle) In Texas, a 14-year-old Muslim student was briefly arrested at his school after he plugged in a ticking box he later described as a clock. Muslim rights activists say this is part of a series of discriminatory events.

An audience member at a Donald Trump rally in New Hampshire had a serious question for the leading Republican presidential candidate.

“We’ve got a problem in this country,” the middle-aged man said. “It’s called Muslims. You know our current president is one. You know he’s not even an American. We have training camps growing where they want to kill us…when can we get rid of the them?”

Trump’s response: “We’re going to be looking at that and a lot of different things.”

The man’s comment – and Trump’s failure to confront it – was only the latest in a string of anti-Islamic incidents that have taken place across the United States in recent days.

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Obama’s prison: last-ditch push to close Guantanamo

(By Deutsche Welle) US President Barack Obama’s new Guantanamo envoy has 18 months to close the infamous prison. Lee Wolosky will face election-year politics and a deeply skeptical Congress. Mission impossible? Spencer Kimball reports.

He was inaugurated on a Tuesday. The following Thursday, President Barack Obama signed an executive order to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. Leading Republicans and Democrats agreed that the prison had become a propaganda tool for America’s enemies and a distraction to her allies. The plan was to shut Guantanamo down within a year.

But a president sets priorities and the candidate of change had more immediate concerns. The economy was a wreck and nearly 50 million Americans had no health insurance. After Republicans took control of Congress in 2010, they refused to allocate money to close Guantanamo.

Six years and two special envoys later, the detention facility remains open. Last Tuesday, the administration appointed Lee Wolosky as the State Department’s Special Envoy for Guantanamo Closure. The position had been vacant for six months.

Wolosky, an attorney, was the director of Transnational Threats under the Clinton administration and early in the Bush administration. John Bellinger, who served on President Bush’s National Security Council, has known Wolosky for two decades.

“Lee Wolosky has experience inside Washington with counterterrorism on the White House staff and ought to be able to – if anyone can – persuade a very skeptical Republican Congress that he and the president have a plan to close Guantanamo,” Bellinger told DW.

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Former death row commissioner: ‘If you seek revenge, dig two graves’

(By Deutsche Welle) The US Supreme Court has ruled states can use a disputed drug in lethal injections. Dr. Allen Ault, who oversaw executions, tells DW about the human cost of the death penalty for the condemned and their executioners.

Did Clayton Lockett suffer severe pain before he died? Nobody knows for sure. That’s what official records say. But his execution did not go according to plan.

The state of Oklahoma uses a three-drug “protocol” for lethal injections. Midazolam is supposed to render the condemned unconscious; vecuronium bromide paralyzes the body; and potassium chloride stops the heart. An execution by lethal injection is supposed to take about 10 minutes.

Lockett’s execution took 43 minutes. After the drugs were administered, witnesses reported that the confessed murderer jerked against the gurney restraints and made noises. Many death penalty abolitionists believe midazolam was the culprit.

Oklahoma and other states turned to the sedative agent, which is used in some surgeries and for other medicinal purposes, after American and European pharmaceutical companies refused to sell them sodium thiopental, the drug traditionally used for executions.

In the aftermath of Lockett’s execution, attorneys representing four death row inmates tried to convince the courts to stop any further executions, arguing that the midazolam drug cocktail may cause “severe pain, needless suffering, and a lingering death.”

While the Supreme Court deliberated over whether or not to consider the case, one of the defendants was executed with the midazolam protocol. Charles Warner, a convicted child rapist and murderer, said “my body is on fire” after the lethal injection was administered. He died 18 minutes later.

On Monday, the nation’s highest court ruled that states can continue using midazolam in executions.

‘I murdered a human being’

The executioners are not sadists or psychopaths. According to Allen Ault, they’re conscientious human beings. And they too suffer severe pain from the death penalty, though they don’t often speak publicly about it.

Ault never used lethal injection. Georgia’s method of execution was the electric chair. The trained psychologist served as the commissioner of Georgia’s Department of Corrections from 1992-1995. He oversaw five executions.

Unable to cope with the psychological trauma, Ault left his job. He told Deutsche Welle how he came to oppose the death penalty:

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US Supreme Court rules in favor of gay marriage nationwide

(By Deutsche Welle) The US Supreme Court has ruled in favor of marriage equality. Though same-sex couples can now marry nationwide, LGBT Americans remain vulnerable to discrimination in other areas of life.

Jim Obergefell was never an activist.

He led the mild-mannered life typical of people in Ohio. Obergefell and his long-time partner, John Arthur, were open in their professional and social lives. But they weren’t actively involved in the gay rights movement.

“Our brand of activism was where do I sign the check,” Obergefell said.

A former German teacher turned real estate agent, he found acceptance among family, friends and co-workers after coming out in 1992. But Cincinnati, the Ohio city where he lived, also had an intolerant side at the time.

In 1993, voters approved an amendment that stripped gay and lesbian residents of their status under the city’s non-discrimination law. The amendment even banned Cincinnati’s City Council from passing future legislation that would protect gays and lesbians.

“There’s no other way to phrase it – it was just pure hatred for the gay community,” Obergefell said.

Cincinnati has come a long way since those days. Voters repealed the amendment in 2004, and City Council passed new legislation in 2006 shielding the LGBT community from discrimination in housing and employment.

The city also supported Obergefell in his battle for marriage equality, which took the 49-year-old all the way to the nation’s highest court in Washington, D.C.

The Supreme Court on Friday ruled that same-sex couples have a constitutionally protected right to marry in all 50 states.

“It’s amazing to me that our decision to stand up and say we’re tired of being second class citizens has the potential to impact our entire country – millions of people,” Obergefell said.

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Charleston church massacre preceded by a string of racist lone-wolf shootings

(By Deutsche Welle) The massacre of nine African-Americans at a church has forced the US to re-examine a lingering history of racism and its symbols. The Charleston tragedy is the latest in a string of white supremacist shooting sprees.

South Carolina fired the first shots of the American Civil War in 1861.

In 2015, the battle flag of the Confederacy still flies high in the southern state’s capital, Columbia. It can be seen from the statehouse, home to South Carolina’s legislature and the governor’s office.

The flag keeps watch over a monument dedicated to those who died fighting to preserve a way of life that rested on the enslavement of millions of Africans, who were brought against their will to toil in the cotton fields of the American South.

It’s a stubborn flag, one that cannot be taken down without a vote by two-thirds of the state legislature.

The battle flag of the Confederacy is secured to its pole by a padlock, according to the Huffington Post.

While the US and the South Carolina state flags were lowered to half mast in memory of the nine victims of the shooting at Charleston’s historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, the battle flag of the Old South remained at full mast.

Nikki Haley, South Carolina’s first Indian-American governor, called on Monday for the flag to be taken down. It was a reversal of opinion. Previously, the conservative Republican had resisted calls for its removal from the statehouse grounds.

“The Confederate flag is a certainly a powerful symbol of white supremacy in the United States, but also across Europe,” Mark Pitcavage, director of investigative research at the Anti-Defamation League, told DW.

“There are many German neo-Nazis and Swedish white supremacists and others who get Confederate flag tattoos,” Pitcavage said.

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Tech industry wants your face, but not your permission

(By Deutsche Welle) Discussions between privacy advocates and tech companies about facial recognition technology have broken down. The industry would not commit itself to obtaining users’ consent before collecting their biometric data.

If companies have data, the government comes to get it.

That’s the lesson Jennifer Lynch drew from the disclosures made by former NSA analyst Edward Snowden and her own work as a staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

“If companies start collecting this face recognition data, the same scenario will happen,” Lynch told DW. “Law enforcement will try to get access to that data, the FBI will try to get access to that data.”

As facial recognition technology advances and the applications diversify, the Obama administration has introduced a Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights. The White House also facilitated talks between consumer advocates and industry to create rules of the road for using facial recognition technology.

But the privacy bill has stalled in Congress. And after 16 months, consumer advocates walked out of stakeholder talks on Tuesday, accusing the industry of not accepting the principle of consumer consent.

Lynch joined the walkout and signed a statement with eight other consumer advocates stating their reasons. The aborted talks had taken place under the auspices of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA)

“The position that companies never need to ask permission to use biometric identification is at odds with consumer expectations, current industry practices, as well as existing state law,” Lynch and her colleagues wrote in their joint statement.

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President Obama’s unauthorized, incomplete Iraq war strategy

(By Deutsche Welle) More than nine months, 2,000 airstrikes and 3,000 military advisers later, Congress still has not authorized the US war against the “Islamic State.” The White House now wants to deploy 450 advisers closer to the front.

The American bombs falling on Iraq and Syria barely make headlines anymore. Over the past four days alone, the US and its allies have launched at least 70 airstrikes against “Islamic State” (IS) targets.

The public and Congress have largely backed Washington’s third Iraq war. According to the Pew Research Center, 63 percent of Americans support the US military campaign against IS.

Forty-seven percent of the country would even support sending ground troops back to the Middle East. That’s an eight-point increase over last year, according to Pew.

Though the president has ruled out sending combat troops back to the Middle East, he has deployed a growing number of advisers. On Wednesday, the White House announced plans to send 450 additional US troops to train Iraqi forces, bringing the total number to more than 3,500.

The advisers will be stationed at Taqaddum airbase in Anbar province near the city of Habbaniyah, which is just 33 kilometers (20 miles) from two cities controlled by IS.

“Habbaniyah is sandwiched between Ramadi and Fallujah, now both Islamic State strongholds,” Wayne White, a former senior Iraq analyst at the State Department, told DW. “The Islamic State has made several efforts to move against Habbaniyah.”

“The personnel in Habbaniyah will be in greater danger,” White said.

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Frustration builds in Cleveland over slow pace in Tamir Rice case

(By Deutsche Welle) Cleveland activists have made a direct legal appeal for the arrest of two officers involved in the death of Tamir Rice. After Ferguson, many African-Americans don’t trust the grand jury system. Spencer Kimball reports.

Last November, a grand jury in Ferguson, Missouri decided not to indict police officer Darren Wilson for the shooting death of Michael Brown, an unarmed African-American teenager.

A week later, a grand jury in New York City decided not to indict police officer Daniel Pantaleo over the death of Eric Garner, an unarmed African-American man. Pantaleo had placed Garner in a chokehold. Unlike the Brown case, the altercation preceding Garner’s death had been caught on video.

While the grand juries in Ferguson and New York City were deliberating over whether or not to indict Wilson and Pantaleo, police officers in Cleveland shot dead Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old African-American boy playing with a toy pistol. Like in the Garner case, Rice’s death was caught on video.

The Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Office has reportedly completed an investigation into the shooting, which will be submitted to the county prosecutor. A grand jury will then consider the evidence against the two officers involved in Rice’s death, Timothy Loehmann and Frank Garmback, and decide whether or not to indict them. Loehmann fired the fatal shots.

But activists and supporters of the Rice family have grown frustrated with the process, which has dragged on for more than six months. On Tuesday, they resorted to a rarely used Ohio law that allows private citizens to go around the prosecution and directly ask a court to charge and arrest a suspect.

“Just looking at these cases nationally, in Ferguson and New York, the latest move to try and circumvent the grand jury process is just indicative of the overall distrust that is held within the African-American community toward the criminal justice system,” Ronnie Dunn, a professor of urban studies at Cleveland State University, told DW.

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US domestic surveillance powers in limbo after Patriot Act provision expires

(By Deutsche Welle) What happens now that the US government’s key domestic surveillance program has expired? Privacy advocates and surveillance hawks worry about the consequences, but for different reasons. Spencer Kimball reports.

Section 215 of the Patriot Act has expired.

For the first time since the 2001 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, the American government faces major limitations on its ability to sweep up and sift through the call records of all US residents in search of potential terror plots.

The US Senate held an emergency session on Sunday in a last-ditch attempt to break a week of political gridlock. There were three options on the table: Pass reforms under the USA Freedom Act, extend the Patriot Act unchanged or let Section 215 expire altogether.

Under the pressure of a midnight deadline, 77 senators supported moving the USA Freedom Act to a final vote. Some genuinely wanted to end the government’s bulk collection program. Others thought voting for the bill’s limitations would be better than letting Section 215 expire altogether.

But for one senator, the reforms didn’t go far enough. Rand Paul, the Republican libertarian presidential candidate from Kentucky, issued an objection. The procedural move delayed a final vote beyond Section 215’s expiration date.

“While the sunset of Section 215 definitely demonstrates the strength of and the desire for strong privacy reform, the fact is that this isn’t the only section of the Patriot Act that the government could use, and in fact has used, for bulk collection,” Jake Laperruque, with the Center for Democracy & Technology, told DW.

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Hey Patriot, what about Freedom? A brief history of US post-9/11 surveillance

(By Deutsche Welle) America responded to 9/11 by expanding surveillance through the Patriot Act. Since Edward Snowden’s revelations, the nation has largely recanted. The debate is now about a Freedom Act. Spencer Kimball reports.

Only one senator voted against the Patriot Act in the frantic weeks following the devastating terrorist attacks on New York and Washington DC.

“This is an enormous expansion of authority, under a law that provides only minimal judicial supervision,” Russ Feingold declared during his speech on the floor of Senate.

At the time, first responders were still retrieving more than 2,000 corpses from the rubble of the World Trade Center, which had been renamed “Ground Zero.” A network of Islamist radicals led by Osama bin Laden had launched the worst attack on American soil since the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.

Feingold, a Democrat from Wisconsin, was voted out of office in 2010. But in the fourteenth year post 9/11, the tide has turned in America.

Even the Patriot Act’s father now opposes the most controversial provision of the law. Representative Jim Sensenbrenner, a Republican from Wisconsin, claims he never intended for the now infamous Section 215 to permit the bulk collection of Americans’ call records.

“This program is illegal and based on a blatant misinterpretation of the law,” Sensenbrenner said after a federal appeals court had ruled against the program in early May.

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