In North Carolina, a man who killed his estranged wife and father-in-law became the 1,000th person to be executed since the nation resumed capital punishment in 1977. Kenneth Lee Boyd, 57, was killed by lethal injection early Friday morning. Hours before, North Carolina Governor Mike Easly had rejected a last-minute request for clemency. Around 150 anti-death penalty demonstrators gathered outside the prison. Police said at least 18 were arrested for trespassing.
A memo obtained by the Washington Post shows lawyers at the Justice Department concluded a controversial Texas redistricting plan spearheaded by indicted Congressmember Tom Delay violated the Voting Rights Act. The memo argued the redistricting plan illegally diluted the voting influence of minorities in several Texas congressional districts. The memo said: "The State of Texas has not met its burden in showing that the proposed congressional redistricting plan does not have a discriminatory effect." Texas lawmakers approved the plan anyway, the memo says, because it stood to increase the number of elected federal Texas Republicans. Following the plan’s approval in 2003, Republicans gained five seats in the following year’s congressional elections. The redistricting plan is currently being challenged before the U.S. Supreme Court. Meanwhile, Congressmember Delay is facing state charges of money laundering and conspiracy in connection with state elections.
The families of the four Christian Peacemakers Team members taken hostage in Iraq have released a statement calling for the release of their loved ones. The daughter of Tom Fox, the Virginia resident who was kidnapped along with one British citizen and two Canadians Saturday, wrote: "My father made a choice to travel to Iraq and listen to those who are not heard. His belief that peaceful resolutions can be found to every conflict has been tested time and again, but he remains committed to that ideal, heart and soul. This is very difficult for my brother and me. We want to be with our dad again." The daughter is not releasing her name to the public. The families’ letters are available on the CPT website.
In other Iraq news, insurgents have attacked a US-Iraqi military base in the western city of Ramadi. Residents told Agence France Presse the insurgents fired mortars and shells at the base and then briefly roamed through local neighborhoods. Military officials dismissed the accounts.
Meanwhile, the US military says at least four US troops have died since Wednesday.
Faced with dwindling recruiting numbers, the Army National Guard is offering a finder’s fee to soldiers who can enlist new recruits. This according to a report in USA Today. The Guard Recruiter Assistant Program, launched this week in five states, offers National Guard members rewards of $1,000 dollars for enlisting a recruit and an additional $1,000 dollars if the recruit shows up for basic training. The National Guard says recruiting has fallen 20% short of its goal this year.
The Los Angeles Times is reporting an oil deal signed by the Kurdistan Democratic Party could raise a serious dispute within the interim Iraqi government. Last month, the KDP signed an agreement with Norwegian oil company DNO to drill for oil in Zakho, a border city in the northern Kurdish region. Officials say the deal is the first to involve new Iraq oil exploration since the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003. At a ceremony to announce the deal, the prime minister of the northern Kurdish region said "there is no way Kurdistan would accept that the central government will control our resources." A top Iraqi official said the government is looking into the legality of the deal. Control over Iraq’s oil resources is one of the key issues at the heart of Iraq’s sectarian divide. Sunni Arabs fear they’ll be cut off from oil-rich Kurdish areas to the north and Shiite areas to the south.
Meanwhile, top Pentagon officials will appear before a closed-door session of the Senate Armed Services Committee today to answer reports the US is paying Iraqi newspapers to publish military propaganda. Senior Pentagon officials say they have yet to receive an explanation. After the story broke earlier this week, General George Casey argued the program should not be publicly discussed because it was classified. Asked about the issue Thursday, military spokesperson Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch appeared to defend the program without confirming its specifics. Major General Lynch said: "We don’t lie. We don’t need to lie. We do empower our operational commanders with the ability to inform the Iraqi public, but everything we do is based on fact, not based on fiction." State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters: "The State Department is working with journalists in Iraq to help them develop the skills that you all have in terms of reporting and journalistic ethics and practices… This is a country where free media didn’t exist for decades, so they are learning. We think it’s important to assist them in that."
At the Pentagon, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld engaged in an unusual exchange with Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman General Peter Pace at a press conference Tuesday. Asked whether US troops are responsible for preventing human rights abuses by Iraqi forces, General Pace answered: "It is absolutely the responsibility of every U.S. service member, if they see inhumane treatment being conducted, to intervene to stop it." As Pace elaborated, Rumsfeld interrupted him, saying: "But I don’t think you mean they have an obligation to physically stop it; it’s to report it." But General Pace replied: "If they are physically present when inhumane treatment is taking place, sir, they have an obligation to try to stop it", he said.
And in other Iraq news, a US Army officer has become the third person to be charged for graft in the US-run reconstruction of Iraq. Lt. Col. Michael Brian Wheeler was charged with smuggling hundreds of thousands of dollars in reconstruction funds to purchase machine guns and other illegal arms. Lt. Col. Wheeler helped supervise millions of dollars in reconstruction projects from September 2003 until July 2004. According to the New York Times, the affidavit submitted him indicates US authorities plan to bring charges against several other former occupation officials.
In Venezuela, President Hugo Chavez has accused the Bush administration of backing an opposition boycott of this weekend’s legislative elections in the country. Chavez said: "I denounce him before the world from here, from the Miraflores palace. The one responsible for this new conspiracy is the head of the empire: Mr. Danger. To give him his proper name, the president of the United States of America, Mr. George W. Bush. That’s the new head of this conspiracy." Opposition groups have announced a boycott of the vote, alleging that the electoral council has not ensured voter secrecy. In recent weeks, analysts had been predicting a sweeping victory for Chavez supporters. The Financial Times notes the boycott is unusual since the country’s electoral council has withdrawn the use of controversial voting machines the opposition complained about.
In South Africa, the country’s highest court has made the country the first African nation to recognize the legality of a gay marriage. The court approved a marriage of two Pretoria women Thursday. The Washington Post notes only four countries in the world — the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain and Canada — currently allow same-sex marriages nationwide.
And 2,000 children marched through Montgomery, Alabama Thursday to mark the 50-year anniversary of civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her bus seat to a white man. The children, both black and white, marched arm-in-arm, singing "We Shall Overcome" and other anthems from the civil rights era. Parks’ action led to a city-wide boycott of the Montgomery bus system that lasted over one year. The boycott ended soon after the US Supreme Court ruled the bus segregation unconstitutional in June 1956. Rosa Parks died in October at the age of 92.
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