The governor of Texas commuted the death sentence of Kenneth Foster yesterday six hours before Foster’s scheduled execution. Governor Rick Perry made the decision after the state’s parole board voted six to one in favor of sparing Foster’s life. This marked only the third time Perry has commuted a death sentence. Since he took office in 2000, Perry has overseen 162 executions. Anti-death penalty activists hailed the decision as a major victory. Dana Cloud of the Save Kenneth Foster campaign said, “This case demonstrated to the world just how arbitrary and capricious capital punishment is.” Foster had been sentenced to death for a crime the state of Texas admits he did not commit or plan. In a recent interview with Court TV, Kenneth Foster talked about how he wants to keep helping raise his 11-year-old daughter.
Kenneth Foster: “I’m trying to breed another little activist here. I’m trying to breed us maybe another Barbara Lee or another Barbara Jordan or a Maxine Waters or a Sheila Jackson Lee. … We need to actually raise our children more so to get involved with the system. You know, a lot of people like to point fingers: 'Well, this is what's wrong with this, and this is what’s wrong.’ And, well, we need to get our family involved with the system, raise our kids to go to school and be politicians and legislators and Senate members and House reps. We have to do that. And that’s something that I’ve been putting on her head, and I think I got her.”
Departing Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is under investigation by the Justice Department for lying to Congress. Justice Department Inspector General Glenn Fine revealed that the internal investigation will focus on whether Gonzales intentionally gave false, misleading or inappropriate statements about the Bush administration’s warrantless domestic surveillance program and the removal of nine U.S. attorneys.
Wired Magazine is reporting the FBI has quietly built a sophisticated, point-and-click surveillance system that performs instant wiretaps on almost any private communications device. The network allows an FBI agent in New York to remotely set up a wiretap on a cellphone based in Sacramento, California. This would allow the FBI agent to immediately learn the phone’s location, then begin receiving conversations, text messages and voicemail pass codes in New York. The surveillance system is called the Digital Collection System Network. It connects FBI wiretapping rooms to switches controlled by traditional land-line operators, Internet providers and cellular companies. Experts say the system is far more intricately woven into the nation’s telecom infrastructure than previously suspected.
In Afghanistan, the Taliban has freed the seven remaining South Korean hostages, ending a six-week ordeal. On July 19, the Taliban seized 23 Korean hostages. It was the largest case of abductions since the U.S. invasion in 2001.
The United Nations nuclear watchdog agency says Iran is cooperating with international inspectors. The new IAEA report found Iran’s uranium-enrichment program is operating at substantially less than its expanded capacity and that Iran isn’t producing significant amounts of nuclear fuel. The report also praised Iran for taking “a significant step forward” by agreeing to a new work plan and timelines for resolving numerous questions about the history of its nuclear program. One senior Iranian official said the IAEA report puts an end to the Bush administration’s baseless allegations about Iran’s nuclear program. The report comes at a time when parts of the Bush administration are advocating possible military attacks against Iran if it does not halt its enrichment of uranium.
The Syrian government has announced it will soon prevent Iraqi refugees from crossing its border unless they have work visas. The new rules take effect on Sept. 10. Over 1.5 million Iraqi refugees have fled to Syria since the U.S. invasion. More than 30,000 Iraqi refugees continue to arrive in Syria each month.
In other news from Iraq, a military plane carrying four U.S. lawmakers came under fire on Thursday after taking off from Baghdad. The plane was carrying Republican Senators Mel Martinez, Richard Shelby and James Inhofe, as well as Democratic Congressman Bud Cramer. The plane was not hit.
Calls are increasing for Republican Senator Larry Craig to resign after it was revealed he recently pleaded guilty for lewd conduct in a men’s bathroom. On Thursday, police in Minnesota released an audiotape of Craig’s interview with the arresting officer. Police arrested the senator after he made a series of sexual advances to an undercover officer in an airport bathroom. The senator denied any wrongdoing and claimed he was a victim of entrapment. But Craig did admit that he placed his foot and hand under a bathroom stall divider several times.
Sen. Craig: Did I slide them too close to yours? Did I — I looked down once, your foot was close to mine.”
Police Officer: “Yes.”
Craig: “Did we bump? Ah, you said so, I don’t recall that, but apparently we were close.”
Police Officer: “Yeah, well, your foot did touch mine, on my side of the stall.”
Craig: “All right.”
Police Officer: “OK. And then with the hand. How many times did you put your hand under the stall?”
Craig: “I don’t recall. I remember reaching down once — there was a piece of toilet paper back behind me — and picking it up.”
Meanwhile, two leading gay rights organizations are calling on MSNBC and commentator Tucker Carlson to apologize for remarks that they say condone violent assaults against gay men. On Tuesday night, Carlson appeared on Dan Abrams’ show on MSNBC and bragged about how he had once beaten up a man in a bathroom after the man made an unwanted sexual advance. While Carlson told the story, Dan Abrams and Joe Scarborough could be heard laughing.
Dan Abrams: “Tucker, what did you do, by the way? What did you do when he did that? We’ve got to know.”
Tucker Carlson: “I went back with someone I knew and grabbed the guy by the — you know, and grabbed him. And — and” —
Abrams: “And did what?”
Carlson: “Hit him against the stall with his head, actually! And then the cops came and arrested him. But let me say that I’m the least anti-gay right-winger you’ll ever meet.”
Tucker Carlson later clarified his comments by claiming that he and his friend simply seized the man and held him until a security guard arrived. Carlson said in a statement, “Several bloggers have characterized this is a sort of gay bashing. That’s absurd, and an insult to anybody who has fought back against an unsolicited sexual attack.”
School officials in Jena, Louisiana, have banned students from wearing T-shirts that read “Free the Jena 6.” The school superintendent said the T-shirts are a threat to the order of the campus. Last year six African-American students in Jena were arrested after a school fight in which a white student was beaten and suffered a concussion and multiple bruises. The fight followed months of escalating tension after nooses were hung from a tree in the schoolyard where the black students had sat. The Jena 6, as they have come to be known, were charged with attempted second-degree murder and conspiracy. The students face up to 20 years in prison.
In Haiti, human rights groups have launched a campaign to free the grassroots activist Lovinsky Pierre-Antoine who has not been seen since August 12. He is presumed kidnapped. Pierre-Antoine is a member of the Lavalas Party, and the head of a Haitian human rights organization that advocates for victims of the 1991 and 2004 coups d’état against the democratically elected governments of Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
In Chile, police have arrested at least 750 people following a massive march for higher wages and better working conditions and against the government’s so-called free-trade economic policies. Police used tear gas, water cannons and dogs to stop the labor march. Scores of protesters were reported to be injured. Local television showed one prominent politician with blood pouring from a head wound after he was struck by a riot officer with a police truncheon. Police accused the protesters of looting and clashing with officers. Thursday’s march was the largest protest in Chile since President Michelle Bachelet took office.
In Argentina, the International Day of the Disappeared was commemorated on Thursday at a rally in Buenos Aires. Human rights groups say 30,000 people either died or were abducted under Argentina’s military dictatorship in the late 1970s and early 1980s. This is Tati Almeida, member of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo.
Tati Almeida: “I carry Alejandro here [pointing to her heart], and this wound will never close. They say that time closes wounds, but that is a lie. Each day they open more. Each day I miss Alejandro more. He was 20 years old. He had so much to live for, so much to give. They did not give him life; they snatched it away from him. They snatched away the life of all of those that are here, all 30,000 of them.”
Newly released government documents show that FBI agents spied on Coretta Scott King for several years after her husband, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., was assassinated in 1968. Memos show the FBI was concerned that she might attempt to “tie the anti-Vietnam movement to the civil rights movement.” There is also evidence that the Nixon administration and then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger were kept informed of the FBI’s nearly constant surveillance of Coretta Scott King.
And the Highlander Research and Learning Center is celebrating its 75th anniversary this weekend in Tennessee. The center was founded in 1932 to serve as an adult education center for community workers involved in social and economic justice movements. Highlander aimed to provide education and support to poor and working people fighting economic injustice, poverty, prejudice and environmental destruction. Many civil rights activists passed through Highlander’s grounds, including Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr. and Stokely Carmichael.