Archive for July, 2009

Man Charged in Slaying of Kansas Abortion Doctor

Friday, July 31st, 2009

WICHITA, KS—A 51-year-old man was charged with first-degree murder and jailed for the killing of a physician whose women’s-health clinic often was highlighted in the debate over abortion, authorities said.

Dr. George Tiller was shot and killed while serving as an usher at his Wichita, Kansas, church Sunday morning, police reported. Tiller was one of the few physicians who performed late-term abortion. Tiller had also survived a shooting outside of his clinic in 1993.

Scott Roeder from the Kansas City, Kansas area is being held without bond in the Sedgwick County Adult Detention Facility. He is also charged with two counts of aggravated assault.

“This is a tragedy for the Tiller family. We feel so badly about that. That Scott would murder the doctor in the Lutheran Church. We are also Lutherans, and it adds a double touch of sadness and irony,” said Scott’s uncle, Clarence Roeder, in a statement provided to CNN affiliate KMBC.

The shooting prompted U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to direct federal marshals to “offer protection to other appropriate people and facilities around the nation,” according to a statement from the Department of Justice.

Police found Tiller lying dead in the foyer of Reformation Lutheran Church, where he had been serving as an usher on Sunday.

Witnesses described the gunman’s car and a license plate number. About 30 miles southwest of Kansas City, the police stopped the described blue Ford Taurus, and arrested the driver.

“Other than the description the Wichita Police Department put out, we wouldn’t have paid any particular attention to him. He was following all traffic laws and everything,” said Lt. Mike Pfhannestiel of the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office. “We didn’t find a weapon on him. He did not have a weapon on him.”

“We think we have the right person arrested,” said Wichita police Detective Tom Stoltz. “We will investigate this suspect to the Nth degree — his history, his family, his associates — and we are just in the beginning stages of that.”

The motive remains unknown, but if the murder was due to his line of work, Tiller would be the fourth U.S. physician killed over abortion since 1993.

Saudi Judge: It’s OK to Slap Wives Who Spend

Friday, July 31st, 2009

Saudi Arabia—A Saudi judge at a seminar on domestic violence recently announced that slapping your wife is permissible if the wives spend too much money, Saudi media reported Sunday.

The Saudi English-language daily newspaper based in Riyadh called Arab News, reported that Judge Hama Al-Razine said that “if a person gives SR 1,200 ($320) to his wife and she spends 900 riyals ($240) to purchase an abaya—the black cover that is mandatory for all women in Saudi Arabia to wear—from a brand shop and if her husband slaps her on the face as a reaction to her action, she deserves that punishment.”

There was an immediate reaction of loud protesting by the women in the audience to Al-Razine’s statement. The audience was also shocked to learn that the statement was made by a judge, the newspaper reported.

Domestic violence has apparently been increasing in Saudi Arabia and the Arab News reported that Al-Razine’s remark was an attempt to explain this. He said that women and men shared responsibility, but that “nobody puts even a fraction of blame” on women, the newspaper said.

Al-Razine also “pointed out that women’s indecent behavior and use of offensive words against their husbands were some of the reasons for domestic violence in the country,” it added.

In the conservative kingdom, domestic violence has also been a taboo, until now. This recent hot topic has groups like the National Family Safety Program campaigning to educate the public about the problem in an aid to prevent domestic abuse.

Women’s rights activist, Wajeha Al-Huwaider, told CNN that Saudi women continuously face such attitudes.

“This is how men in Saudi Arabia see women,” she said in a telephone interview from the Saudi city of Dahran. “It’s not something they read in a book or learned from a friend. They’ve been raised to see women this way, that they’re less than a person.”

Al-Huwaider added that “I’m not surprised to see a judge or a religious man saying that—they’ve been raised in the same culture—a culture that tells them it’s okay to raise your hand to a woman, that this works.”

There was another recent controversy with another judge because he denied a request from the mother of an 8-year-old girl that the girl be granted a divorce from her 47-year-old husband twice.

Last month, after human-rights groups condemned the union, the girl was allowed the divorce.

First Guantanamo Detainee To Be Tried in U.S.

Thursday, July 30th, 2009

NEW YORK—As the controversial detention center at Guantanamo Bay prepares to close, the first “high value” detainee will go to trial in New York City.

Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, who was indicted by a federal grand jury in connection with the American Embassy bombings that took place in Tanzania and Kenya in 1998, will be the first Guantanamo detainee brought to the U.S., and the first to face trial in a civilian criminal court.

The bombings to which Ghailani was tied killed 224 people, including 12 Americans, and injured thousands. Authorities claim that he helped plan the attack and delivered the explosives, and have also connected him with a vehicle used in the bombings. Military prosecutors allege that Ghailani later worked for al-Qaida as a document forger, trainer at a terror camp and bodyguard for al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.

Four others have been convicted and sentenced to life in prison after having been tried for participation in the embassy attacks.

Ghailani was one of several so-called “high value” suspects that was supposed to be brought to trial in the United States before the 9/11 terrorism attacks on the World Trade Center. Trying Ghailani, say prosecutors, may help them avoid legal challenges surrounding his detention.

Yet lawmakers and others have expressed concern about bringing Guantanamo detainees to United States soil for trial, even if they are heavily guarded.

President Obama has announced his plan to close the detention center, which is located on a U.S. Naval base in Cuba, by January of next year, and is facing pressure from both sides of the political aisle. Republicans generally want to maintain Guantanamo and keep it open, whereas Democrats are pushing Obama to show them his plan for closing the base before they approve financing.

Announcing the president’s decision to bring the alleged terrorist and al-Qaida member to trial, Attorney General Eric Holder said, “The administration is committed to keeping the American people safe and upholding the rule of law, and by closing Guatanamo and bringing terrorists housed there to justice, we will make our nation stronger and safer.”

Ghailani, who is originally from Tanzania, was captured in Pakistan in 2004.

Radio Host Michael Savage Banned From Britain

Thursday, July 30th, 2009

SAN FRANSISCO, California—Michael Savage, a San Fransisco-based conservative talk show host, has been banned in Britain.

Savage is notorious for his sharp-tongued right-wing commentary, which has made headlines and landed him in hot water, throughout his career.

The Chronicle had an exclusive interview with Savage where he relayed that he was shocked to hear of the news that he was included in the British government’s groundbreaking new list of nearly two dozen people from across the world who are banned from entering the nation for allegedly fostering hatred or extremism.

“When I woke up and saw this this morning … my first thought was, damn, there goes the summer trip where I planned to have my dental work done,” the “Savage Nation” host joked. “My second thought was, darn … there goes my visit to the restaurants of England for their great cuisine.”

He does recognize, however, that this represents a serious issue and threat to the freedom of speech.

“Today it’s me. Tomorrow it’s someone else,” he said. “My first reaction is, this can’t be happening … that the land of the Magna Carta has now become the land of the mini-Carta.”

Michael Savage is on the list of 22 names which include Muslim extremists, jailed Russian gang members, Stephone “Don” Black, who founded a white supremacist Web site in Florida, an anti-gay church leader and an Israeli settler.

“I think it’s important that people understand the sorts of values and sorts of standards that we have here, the fact that it’s a privilege to come and the sort of things that mean you won’t be welcome in this country,” said Home Secretary Jacqui Smith in an interview with Britain’s GMTV.

Savage reaches an estimated audiences of 8 to 10 million listeners on more than 350 stations nationwide, and has made news for calling the Quran, the Muslim holy book, a “book of hate.”

“This lunatic … is linking me up with Nazi skinheads who are killing people in Russia, she’s putting me in a league with Hamas murderers who kill Jews on buses,” he said. “I have never advocated violence … I’ve been on the air 15 years. My views may be inflammatory, but they’re not violent in any way.”

Savage is now preparing to take legal action but is unsure of who the defendant would be. “Is it the government’s investigation? Who did this? If she didn’t draw it up, who did?” he said.

Savage’s focus is now on who will be next. “All I’ve done is express strong political opinions that happen to be quite patriotic to a large generation of Americans. They’re not really out of the mainstream with most of America. Yeah, they’re out of the mainstream with San Francisco and Los Angeles,” he said.

But now “who else will be banned — all the people who listen to my show, 10 million people? Should they also not go to Britain?”

Gingrich Joins Other Conservatives in Calling Supreme Court Nominee “Racist”

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said President Barack Obama’s U.S. Supreme Court pick, Sonia Sotomayor, is a racist and should withdraw her name from consideration.

Other conservatives such as Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter have also accused Judge Sonia Sotomayor of making racist comments in 2001,when she addressed former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s famous quote that “a wise old man and a wise old woman will reach the same conclusion in deciding cases” during a lecture at the University of California-Berkeley.

“I am also not sure that I agree with the statement,” Sotomayor said. “First, as Professor Martha Minnow has noted, there can never be a universal definition of wise. Second, I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.”

Gingrich, R-Ga., wrote on his blog today, “Imagine a judicial nominee said ‘my experience as a white man makes me better than a Latina woman. Wouldn’t they have to withdraw? New racism is no better than old racism. A white man racist nominee would be forced to withdraw. [A] Latina woman racist should also withdraw.”

The criticism comes just one day after President Obama made the announcement to nominate Sotomayor, who if confirmed would be the nation’s first Hispanic Supreme Court Justice.

Sotomayor is currently an appellate court judge, who has previously worked as an assistant district attorney in Manhattan, as a partner in the New York law firm of Pavia & Harcourt, and as a judge on both the U.S. District Court in Manhattan and the U.S. Court of Appeals.

Pundits have noted that Sotomayor’s nomination was a masterful political move by Democrat Barack Obama, since it places the Republicans in a precarious position when it comes to confirmation hearing, which are expected to begin within the next few weeks. If the Republicans oppose Sotomayor too stridently, they risk alienating their female and Hispanic demographics, but they also run the risk of angering the conservative base if they are not tough enough on the nominee.

When White House press secretary Robert Gibbs was asked about the comments, he said, “I think it is probably important for anybody involved in this debate to be exceedingly careful with the way in which they’ve decided to describe different aspects of this impending confirmation. I think we’re satisfied that, when the people of America and the people of the Senate get a chance to look at more than just the blog of a former lawmaker that they’ll come to the same conclusion that the president did.”

Two Dozen Arrested in Native American Artifact Sting

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009

Salt Lake City—After a two-year undercover investigation, 24 people were indicted earlier this week on charges of stealing, receiving or attempting to sell a variety of Native American artifacts.

The two dozen people named in the indictment were apparently part of a network of people who engaged in the illegal activities surrounding the artifacts, which included pipes, bowls, jars, arrowheads, jewelry and clothing in addition to burial objects. They are accused of having illegally excavated the items, as well as dealing or collecting them.

Federal officials called this the largest-ever investigation into the theft of archaeological items. In the investigation, four Bureau of Land Management officials and four Federal Bureau of Investigation agents maintained contact with an anonymous source, who had come forward in 2006 in order to help stop the ring of theft. The source allegedly had more than a decade’s worth of experience in dealing in these artifacts.

While wearing a wire or a hidden camera, the source transacted with members of the network to purchase 256 artifacts, paying $335,000 in total.

The artifacts were taken from the Four Corners area of Utah, which was once home to the Anasazi, or ancestral Puebloan, culture, and which has long been the home of thousands of archaeological treasures. It is illegal to remove artifacts from either public of Indian lands without either a permit or permission from the landowner.

The suspects in this case, who range in age from 27 to 78 and who are from Utah, Colorado and New Mexico, are charged with violation of the Archaeological Resources Protection Act and the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. Additionally, some of the suspects face charges of trafficking in stolen artifacts and theft of government or tribal property. They could be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison if convicted.

“These treasures are the heritage of all Americans, and in many cases, the objects are sacred to Native Americans,” said U.S. Attorney Brett Tolman. “Those who remove or damage artifacts on public or tribal lands are taking something from all of us.”

The stolen objects, most of which had come from Bureau of Land Management property or tribal lands, would have fetched high prices on the black markets in both the United States and other countries. Artifacts which were recovered in the sting operation will be returned either to Native American tribes, or to museums celebrating Native American cultural heritage.

Supreme Court Revives ‘Wardrobe Malfunctions’ Case

Tuesday, July 28th, 2009

The Supreme Court revived a possible $550,000 fine against broadcast network CBS, following up on a ruling from last week, for having shown a split-second image of Janet Jackson’s breast during a Super Bowl halftime show in 2004.

The Philadelphia court had ruled that the Federal Communications Commissions (FCC) did not give broadcasters enough notice of a policy change on “fleeting images” of “indecency” and that the nudity was probably accidental.

The final conclusion will be reevaluated by the appeals court. The Supreme Court backed the FCC’s zero-tolerance policy last week regarding broadcasting of “fleeting expletives.”

The FCC had received many complaints after the exposure occurred on televisions. The Parents Television Council was one group which praised the justices for “siding” with the families in this case.

CBS, however, downplayed the court’s order. “The Super Bowl incident, while inappropriate and regrettable, was not and could not have been anticipated by CBS,” said the network.

Last week, the high court ruled that the FCC could fine broadcasting stations who aired the F-word during prime time television. Even if the show is live, and the word is said by a guest, it would remain. The decision overturned a ruling by an appeals court in New York that said the agency’s policy change was not justified and unfair.

Both cases will decide whether these heavy fines violate the network’s constitutional right to freedom of speech.

Monday’s order made it clear that the “wardrobe malfunction,” which lasted 9/16 of a second, will remain in courts for at least another year.

Music File-Sharing Case Gets Second Chance

Tuesday, July 28th, 2009

Minneapolis—A Minnesota woman is getting a second day in court, this time accompanied by some aggressive new lawyers, after having been found guilty of copyright violation by sharing music on the file-sharing network Kazaa.

Jammie Thomas, 32, is the only person accused of illegal file sharing to go to court for the crime. Nearly two years after losing her initial trial, at which time she was ordered to pay $222,000 in damages for the 24 songs she offered on the file-sharing service, she has been granted a retrial.

Thomas is unusual in that she has fought her case in court. Most defendants accused by the recording industry – and there have been more than 30,000 copyright lawsuits in recent years, since file-sharing became widespread and popular among Internet users – simply chose to pay their fines, since the fines were still lower than the legal costs of defending themselves. The settlements, according to Thomas new attorney, K.A.D. Camara, have added up to more than $100 million.

There have been several memorable cases in which the industry has backed down, dropping lawsuits against unlikely illegal downloaders. In 2007, an elderly Texas grandmother named Rhonda Crain was charged with downloading music, but denied the charges. The music companies decided not to sue, but instead settled the case in exchange for Crain’s promise to never download any music without having purchased it.

Tanya Anderson, a disabled single mother, also had similar charges dropped against her after it was revealed the industry representatives had threatened to question Anderson’s 10-year-old daughter if a fine was not paid.

Because of these and other cases, the issue of file sharing has become a bit of a public relations conundrum for the music industry. While at the same time trying to protect their profits, the companies also risk alienating the fan base of their recording artists. In December 2008, the Recording Industry Association of America declared that instead of filing lawsuits like the one against Thomas, they will work with Internet service providers to restrict the access of those who attempt to share files illegally. Cases that have been already filed will proceed, however.

At issue in the retrial is whether or not the industry’s lawyers can prove that they own the copyrights on the 24 songs that Thomas allegedly shared. Originally the prosecution had provided uncertified copies of the copyrights, but now a federal judge has declared that certified copies are necessary, and that the prosecution has the burden of proof of copyright in this case.

Wal-Mart Settles Trampling Death with $2 Million

Monday, July 27th, 2009

Nassau County, NY—The retail giant Wal-Mart will pay $2 million, and take steps to improve safety protocols at all of its NY locations, as part of a deal reached with prosecutors in the case of a worker’s death.

Jdimytai Damour, a temporary employee who had been with the company for only a week, was killed on “Black Friday,” the traditionally busy shopping day after Thanksgiving, when he was trampled and trapped by a crowd of 2,000 people attempting to enter the Valley Stream store.

Damour, who was 6’5” and weighed 270 lbs., had no training in security or crowd control. He was trapped in a vestibule, where he died of asphyxiation. Eleven others were also injured in the melee.

In order to avoid criminal charges, Wal-Mart has agreed to the settlement. In addition to establishing a $400,000 victims’ compensation fund and awarding charitable grants, the company will implement new safety measures.

These measures include a crowd-management program for post-Thanksgiving sales, which will be reviewed independently and overseen by the prosecutor’s office in order to ensure compliance.

The charities that will receive money from Wal-Mart include Nassau County’s Youth Board, which provides career development and job training through nonprofit agencies, and the United Way of Long Island’s Youth Build program. Additionally, Wal-Mart has been asked to hire 50 high school students annual to work in the five Nassau County stores.

Damour’s family had planned to sue the retailer, as well as other defendants, in the case. Their attorney did not comment on the settlement, but any victim who receives compensation from the Wal-Mart fund thereby waives their right to sue the company thereafter on civil grounds.

The agreement constitutes no admission of guilt on Wal-Mart’s part.

Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice had considered filing criminal charges against the discount-store chain, after launching an investigation into the November incident. If she had done so, however, the company would have been liable only to pay a $10,000 fine.

“Rather than bringing the world’s largest retailer to court and imposing a small fine against them,” said Rice, “I felt it was important to require significant safety changes that will affect the whole state.”

Wal-Mart has 92 stores in the state of New York. It is the world’s largest private employer, and the largest grocery retailer in the United States.

Jewelry Store Employee Took $12 Mil in Gold

Monday, July 27th, 2009

New York—The Queens district attorney has filed charges against a Scarsdale woman who is accused to stealing millions of dollars’ worth of gold from her place of employment.

District Attorney Richard Brown said that the woman, 50-year-old Teresa Tambunting, may have taken up to $12 million worth of gold and gold jewelry from Jacmel Jewelry. She worked for the company for 28 years, and had been a vault manager since 1991.

It is unclear exactly when the thefts took place, but authorities believe that they occurred over a six-year time span. They were discovered in January 2009 when an inventory of the vaults was conducted. At that time, the missing merchandise was totaled at $12 million.

Tambunting confessed to stealing the gold, saying that she smuggled it out of the vault in makeshift slits in her purse. Yet after an investigation into the matter following the inventory which revealed the missing gold, she arrived at the company offices with a suitcase that contained about 66 pounds of stolen gold.

The value of that merchandise was valued at about $868,00. In February, law enforcement officials confiscated another 450 pounds of gold from Tambunting’s home.

The company, Jacmel Jewelry, touts itself as one of the largest manufacturers and distributors of popular price jewelry. It employees more than 1,000 people across the world. Its presidents, Jack Rahmey, says he is cooperating with authorities in the case against Tambunting.

Experts say that jewelry is relatively easy to steal, since the only way to detect its theft is to install costly metal detectors and require every employee to remove their belts and shoes when they leave the office – a move which is impractical for most jewelry manufacturers and distributors.

The fluctuation in the market value of gold is complicating the matter, since the prices of the stolen goods vary depending on the rise and fall of gold prices. The company, however, claims it lost between $3 and $12 million as a result of Tambunting’s thefts.

Tambunting was arraigned on charges of first-degree grand larceny and first-degree criminal possession of stolen goods. She was released on $100,000 bail and is scheduled to make an appearance in court on May 19th. If convicted, she could spend up to 25 years in prison.