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The Obama administration has launched a review of execution procedures following last week’s botched killing of a death row prisoner in Oklahoma. Clayton Lockett died of a heart attack 43 minutes after he was injected with untested chemicals in his groin. Prison officials had called off the execution after Lockett remained conscious and convulsed on the gurney. In his first public comments on Lockett’s death, President Obama called the botched execution “deeply troubling” and said it raises “difficult and profound questions.”
President Obama: “In the application of the death penalty in this country, we have seen significant problems: racial bias, uneven application of the death penalty, situations in which there were individuals on death row who later on were discovered to have been innocent because of exculpatory evidence. And all these, I think, do raise significant questions about how the death penalty is being applied. So, I’ll be discussing with Eric Holder and others, you know, to get me an analysis of what steps have been taken, not just in this particular instance, but more broadly in this area. I think we do have to, as a society, ask ourselves some difficult and profound questions around these issues.”
The Justice Department review will focus strictly on the “federal protocol” for how executions are carried out, not the issues of race and wrongful convictions that Obama mentioned.
On Friday, a spokesperson for Navi Pillay, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, said Clayton Lockett’s death during the botched execution may have violated international law barring “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.” The United Nations has called on the United States to impose a nationwide moratorium on the death penalty and work “for abolition of this cruel and inhuman practice.”
Ukraine has seen its deadliest violence in months after the conflict between nationalist and pro-Russian militias spread to the southern port city of Odessa. At least 46 people died on Friday when a massive blaze erupted at a base where the two sides were fighting. On Sunday, pro-Russian separatists attacked an Odessa police station, freeing dozens of prisoners. The Ukrainian government has vowed to intensify its campaign against the separatists, with large parts of Ukraine now appearing on the brink of war. In a move that could help defuse tensions among foreign powers, seven observers with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe were freed on Saturday after over a week in captivity by pro-Russian forces.
A German newspaper is reporting dozens of U.S. intelligence specialists are advising the Ukrainian government. Citing unnamed German sources, Bild am Sonntag says CIA and FBI officials are in Kiev advising on how to end the rebellion in the east and fight organized crime.
In northeastern Afghanistan, thousands of people are feared dead after a massive landslide buried a village. At least 500 people have been confirmed dead, and more than 2,000 are missing. It was one of Afghanistan’s worst natural disasters in years.
Iraq has capped its bloodiest month so far this year. The United Nations says at least 750 Iraqis were killed in April, more than 600 of them civilians. Iraq held nationwide parliamentary elections last week amid relative calm. At least 30 people were killed in violence over a 24-hour period this weekend.
Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan says he has asked for international help toward finding the 276 schoolgirls kidnapped last month. The militant Islamist group Boko Haram is suspected of abducting the girls during a night raid on their northeastern hostel. Jonathan and President Obama have spoken by phone to discuss the crisis, and Nigeria has made appeals to other world powers. Over the weekend, Jonathan held his first meeting with the major groups involved, including outraged parents, following criticism of a lackluster government response. In a televised interview with a panel of journalists, Jonathan pledged to win the girls’ release.
Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan: “We promise that wherever these girls are, we will surely get them out. One good thing that I’m a bit happy and I believe most Nigerians are happy is that there is no story that any of them has been hurt in terms of injured or that. I really sympathize and express my empathy to the parents and the relatives and of course the guardians of these girls. We are all fathers and mothers.”
Rallies were also held around the world this weekend to call for the release of kidnapped girls in Nigeria. A group of Nigerian expats led a rally Saturday in Washington, D.C.
OluwaTosin Adegbola: “Pressure. We’ve got to keep making noise, and we’ve got to keep making sure that the Nigerian government knows everybody’s watching. You can’t just sit by idly while this happens to your kids. Everybody’s watching. Do something.”
Edem Duke: “The president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria has the might of the whole entire military of the country, he has financial resources at his disposal, and he could make things happen if he actually wants to make things happen. So there shouldn’t be any excuses.”
There are unverified reports the girls have been sold off, forced to marry their abductors, and taken across the border to Chad or Cameroon. Earlier today, a leader of the Nigerian protests for the girls’ return accused Nigerian First Lady Patience Jonathan of ordering her arrest.
In Ireland, police have released Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams after four days of questioning over his suspected role in a 1972 murder. Adams was taken into custody last week as part of an investigation into the killing of Jean McConville by alleged members of the Irish Republican Army. The mother of 10 children, McConville was wrongly accused at the time of being a British informant. New evidence implicating Adams apparently emerged in recordings conducted for an oral history project by students at Boston College. At a news conference upon his release, Adams professed his innocence.
Gerry Adams: “I am innocent of any involvement in any conspiracy to abduct, kill or bury Mrs. McConville. I have worked hard with others to have this injustice redressed and for the return of the bodies of others killed during the conflict and secretly buried by the IRA, and I will continue to do so.”
Adams has faced repeated allegations of ties to the IRA’s political murders, charges he has long denied.
A gunman in Arkansas has killed three people and wounded four other others before taking his own life. The victims included a 12-year-old girl who died and two children who were wounded. The shooter, Porfirio Hernandez, was released from a mental health facility just days before.
President Obama hosted German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the White House on Friday amidst continued differences over National Security Agency spying. Leaks by whistleblower Edward Snowden show the NSA tapped Merkel’s mobile phone in addition to monitoring other German leaders. At a news conference, Merkel said gaps remain between the two sides and that it is too soon to return to “business as usual.” Obama acknowledged the Snowden revelations have strained U.S.-German ties.
President Obama: “It has pained me to see the degree to which the Snowden disclosures have created strains in the relationship. But more broadly, I’ve also been convinced for a very long time that it is important for our legal structures and our policy structures to catch up with rapidly advancing technologies. We are committed to a U.S.-German cyberdialogue to close further the gaps that may exist in terms of how we operate, how you — German intelligence operates, to make sure that there is transparency and clarity about what we’re doing and what our goals and our intentions are.”
Negotiations between the United States and Germany broke down after the Obama administration refused to offer a blanket pledge to refrain from all unauthorized spying on German soil. In a nod to the White House, Merkel’s government has advised the German Parliament not to invite testimony from Snowden over the spying revelations. A report from the German Foreign Ministry warns Snowden’s appearance could further strain ties and potentially bring U.S. charges against German lawmakers for helping Snowden publicize classified information.
There is new speculation the Obama administration will shift its deportation policy following an offhand remark by Vice President Joe Biden. At a speech in Miami on Saturday, Biden encouraged a group of college students to challenge authority and political orthodoxies. When he mentioned the plight of immigrants, an audience member apparently took Biden’s advice and yelled out for the Obama administration to stop its record deportation of undocumented immigrants. Biden’s response left some predicting the White House will do so.
Vice President Joe Biden: “It’s stamped into the DNA of America. From grade school on, we’re encouraged to challenge basic assumptions. No child is criticized for challenging orthodoxy. From our founding fathers on, that has been the case over the last 200 years. The immigrant community represents something special we never talk about —”
Student: “Stop deportations!”
Biden: “We will do that, too, kid, but let me finish my speech.”
The Obama administration is in the midst of reviewing its deportation policy. Last week three sheriffs in Colorado joined a growing list of local authorities that will no longer automatically obey federal requests to hold undocumented immigrants for deportation.
House Republicans have announced a new congressional inquiry into the deadly attack on the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi. House Speaker John Boehner says he will form a select committee following the release of a new White House email discussing the administration’s public talking points. U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed in September 2012 when militants stormed their compound. Republicans have accused the Obama administration of covering up a security failure while Democrats say Republicans are hyping a non-issue.
Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has cancelled an appearance at Rutgers University following a wave of campus protest. Rice was to receive $35,000 to deliver the graduation commencement address later this month. But Rutgers students occupied a campus building and called for the invitation to be withdrawn over Rice’s role in the Iraq War and Bush administration torture. In a statement, Rice said her appearance “has become a distraction.”
Activists gathered in front of the White House on Sunday to stage a re-enactment of a wedding in Yemen attacked by U.S. drones. Twelve civilians died when U.S. aircraft bombed their wedding procession in December. The killings sparked a ban on U.S. military drone strikes in Yemen, but they continue under the CIA.