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US to resume federal executions after 17-year hiatus

The United States federal government is set to carry out the first federal execution in 17 years on Monday, despite the objection of the family of the victims and after a volley of legal proceedings over the coronavirus pandemic. Daniel Lewis Lee, of Yukon, Oklahoma, is scheduled to die by lethal injection at 4pm (20:00…

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US to resume federal executions after 17-year hiatus

The United States federal government is set to carry out the first federal execution in 17 years on Monday, despite the objection of the family of the victims and after a volley of legal proceedings over the coronavirus pandemic.
Daniel Lewis Lee, of Yukon, Oklahoma, is scheduled to die by lethal injection at 4pm (20:00 GMT) on Monday at a federal prison in Indiana. He was convicted in Arkansas of the 1996 killings of gun dealer William Mueller, his wife, Nancy, and her 8-year-old daughter, Sarah Powell.
The execution, the first of a federal death row inmate since 2003, comes after a federal appeals court lifted an injunction on Sunday that had been put in place last week after the victims’ family argued they would be put at high risk for the coronavirus if they had to travel to attend the execution. The family had vowed to appeal to the Supreme Court.

#KareemJohnson has officially been exonerated in #Pennsylvania, bringing to 170 the number of documented U.S. death-row exonerations since 1973. Here is our map of where and when they happened. https://t.co/L7l4RCpocG #deathpenalty pic.twitter.com/ToPbh6m7wy
— DeathPenaltyInfoCtr (@DPInfoCtr) July 2, 2020

The decision to move forward with the execution – and two others scheduled later in the week – during a global health pandemic that has killed more than 135,000 people in the US and is ravaging prisons nationwide, drew scrutiny from civil rights groups and the family of Lee’s victims.
The decision has been criticised as a dangerous and political move. Critics argue that the government is creating an unnecessary and manufactured urgency around a topic that is not high on the list of American concerns right now. It is also likely to add a new front to the national conversation about criminal justice reform in the lead-up to the 2020 elections.
In an interview with The Associated Press last week, Attorney General William Barr said the Justice Department had a duty to carry out the sentences imposed by the courts, including the death penalty, and to bring a sense of closure to the victims and those in the communities where the killings happened.
But relatives of those killed by Lee strongly oppose that idea. They wanted to be present to counter any contention that it was being done on their behalf.
“For us it is a matter of being there and saying, ‘This is not being done in our name; we do not want this,'” said relative Monica Veillette.
The relatives would be travelling thousands of miles and witnessing the execution in a small room where the social distancing recommended to prevent the virus’s spread is virtually impossible. The federal prison system has struggled in recent months to contain the exploding number of coronavirus cases behind bars. There are currently four confirmed coronavirus cases among inmates at the Terre Haute prison, according to federal statistics, and one inmate there has died.
“The federal government has put this family in the untenable position of choosing between their right to witness Danny Lee’s execution and their own health and safety,” the family’s attorney, Baker Kurrus, said on Sunday.
Barr said he believes the Bureau of Prisons could “carry out these executions without being at risk”. The agency has put a number of additional measures in place, including temperature checks and requiring witnesses to wear masks.
On Sunday, the Justice Department disclosed that a staff member involved in preparing for the execution had tested positive for the coronavirus, but said he had not been in the execution chamber and had not come into contact with anyone on the specialised team sent to the prison to handle the execution.
The victim’s family hopes there won’t be an execution, ever. They have asked the Justice Department and President Donald Trump not to move forward with the execution and have long asked that Lee be given a life sentence instead.
The last person executed by the federal government was Louis Jones Jr, a US Army soldier put to death in 2003 after he was convicted of the rape and murder of another soldier. He was one of three individuals executed during George W Bush’s presidency; before Bush no federal inmates had been put to death since 1963.
But before the pandemic, the economy and healthcare were Americans’ top priorities for the government to work on in 2020, with 59 percent and 50 percent naming the two, respectively, in an open-ended question in an Associated Press-NORC poll from December. Some 35 percent said immigration was one of the most important issues the government should work on in 2020, and about as many referenced politics or partisan gridlock.

1,000-Plus Religious Leaders Ask Attorney General Barr to Focus on Life, Not Federal Executions https://t.co/2Lio0a5FA3 pic.twitter.com/YjCHDY9zB7
— Law & Crime (@lawcrimenews) July 7, 2020

The percentage of Americans in favour of the death penalty stood at 60 percent in the 2018 General Social Survey, a long-running trends survey. That is about where it was in the 1970s. Support has steadily ticked back down after peaking at 75 percent in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Most Democrats oppose it. By contrast, President Donald Trump has spoken often about capital punishment and his belief that executions serve as an effective deterrent and an appropriate punishment for some crimes, including mass shootings and the killings of police officers.
“This appears to be a distraction,” said Samuel Spital, the litigation director of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. There are several things that should be at the top of the agenda for the Justice Department right now, he said, including the coronavirus. Another “should be an effort to address the widespread problem of police violence against Black and brown communities in this country which has finally captured the public’s attention”, he said.

A gurney at a jail in Huntsville, Texas where executions take place. [File: Pat Sullivan/AP Photo]

The majority of people on death row are Black and Hispanic, and the number of cases authorised by the attorney general seeking death since the late 1980s are mostly non-white people.
But the three men chosen to die this week are all white:
Danny Lee, who was convicted in Arkansas of killing a family of three, including an 8-year-old. Family members of Lee’s victims have asked a federal judge to delay his execution, saying the coronavirus puts them at risk if they travel to attend the execution. They have asked that the execution be put off until a treatment or a vaccine is available for the virus.
Wesley Ira Purkey, of Kansas, who raped and murdered a 16-year-old girl and killed an 80-year-old woman.
Dustin Lee Honken, who killed five people in Iowa, including two children.

Inside Story Americas – The law of executions (25:03)

The Justice Department had scheduled five executions set to begin in December, but some of the inmates challenged the new procedures in court, arguing that the government was circumventing proper methods in order to wrongly execute inmates quickly.
Executions on the federal level have been rare and the government has put to death only three defendants since restoring the federal death penalty in 1988 — most recently in 2003, when Jones was executed. Though there has not been a federal execution since then, the Justice Department has continued to approve death penalty prosecutions and federal courts have sentenced defendants to death.
In 2014, following a botched state execution in Oklahoma, President Barack Obama directed the Justice Department to conduct a broad review of capital punishment and issues surrounding lethal injection drugs.
The attorney general said last July that the Obama-era review had been completed, clearing the way for executions to resume. He approved a new procedure for lethal injections that replaces the three-drug combination previously used in federal executions with one drug, pentobarbital. This is similar to the procedure used in several states, including Georgia, Missouri and Texas, but not all.

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New Daesh leader was informant for US, says counter terrorism report

NEW YORK: The man widely believed to be the new leader of Daesh was once an informant for the US, according to a new report from the Combating Terrorism Center (CTC), a research body at the US military academy of West Point in New York. “Stepping Out from the Shadows: The Interrogation of the Islamic State’s…

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New Daesh leader was informant for US, says counter terrorism report

NEW YORK: The man widely believed to be the new leader of Daesh was once an informant for the US, according to a new report from the Combating Terrorism Center (CTC), a research body at the US military academy of West Point in New York.

“Stepping Out from the Shadows: The Interrogation of the Islamic State’s Future Caliph” is based on Tactical Interrogation Reports (TIRs) — the paper trail the US military creates when enemy fighters are detained and interrogated — from Al-Mawla’s time in captivity in the late 2000s.

Before his release in 2009, Al-Mawla named 88 extremists involved in terrorist activities, and the information he divulged during his interrogations led US forces in the region to successfully capture or kill dozens of Al-Qaeda fighters, the report claims.

The CTC said it is “highly confident” Al-Mawla became the new leader of Daesh after the previous leader, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, was killed in a US air raid in Syria in October 2019.

Although Daesh announced that a man called Abu Ibrahim Al-Hashimi Al-Qurashi was Baghdadi’s successor, US officials have also stated that Al-Qurashi’s true identity is actually Al-Mawla — also known as Hajj Abdullah.

Before joining Daesh, Al-Mawla is believed to have been the deputy leader of Al-Qaeda.

While details about the operation resulting in his capture are scarce, the TRIs reveal that he was captured on January 6, 2008.

The following day, US Central Command announced the capture of a wanted individual who “previously served as a judge of an illegal court system involved in ordering and approving abductions and executions.”

In his interrogations, Al-Mawla offered up details of terrorist plots to his interrogators, while minimizing his own involvement. He identified many jihadists by name and offered descriptions of their roles in the terrorist organization and details of their involvement in attacks on US-led coalition forces during the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Al-Mawla — a former officer in Saddam Hussein’s army and once Baghdadi’s speechwriter — emerges from the TIRs as a mysterious personality with a vague past, whose ethnicity could not be determined with certainty. The statements in the reports are rife with contradictory elements and open to a wide range of interpretations. As the authors point out in their introduction: “It is incredibly difficult to ascertain whether what Al-Mawla divulges regarding himself or ISI (the forerunner of Daesh) as an organization is true.”

Details of the specific demographics of Al Mawla’s birthplace of Al-Muhalabiyyah in Iraq’s Tal Afar district are sketchy, but it is generally accepted to have a predominantly Turkmen population. The authors of the report point out that some sources have suggested “this could pose legitimacy problems for him because (Daesh) mostly has Arabs in its senior leadership echelons,” but add that at least two other senior members of the group were reported to have been Turkmen.

Al-Mawla also claimed to have avoided pledging allegiance to ISI because he was a Sufi. The report’s authors cast doubt on that claim, given his quick rise to prominence in the terrorist group and the fact that ISI and Daesh branded Sufism as heresy.

But the authors do believe the TRIs give some valuable insights into Al-Mawla’s personality.

“The fact that he detailed activities and gave testimony against (fellow jihadists) suggests a willingness to offer up fellow members of the group to suit his own ends,” they wrote. “The amount of detail and seeming willingness to share information about fellow organization members suggests either a degree of nonchalance, strategic calculation, or resignation on the part of Al-Mawla regarding operational security.

“He appears to have named individuals in some capacity across all levels of the organization, while describing some individuals in some detail,” they continued.

The US Department of Justice has offered a $10million reward for information about Al-Mawla’s identification or location.

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The poisoning of Alexey Navalny: Five key things to know

What happened on the day Navalny fell ill? On August 20, a Thursday, Alexey Navalny, Russia’s leading Kremlin critic, had finished up campaigning for opposition politicians in Siberia for local elections, which were taking place from September 11 to 13.  He left Xander Hotel and headed for the Tomsk Bogashevo airport. There, he drank a…

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The poisoning of Alexey Navalny: Five key things to know

What happened on the day Navalny fell ill?
On August 20, a Thursday, Alexey Navalny, Russia’s leading Kremlin critic, had finished up campaigning for opposition politicians in Siberia for local elections, which were taking place from September 11 to 13. 
He left Xander Hotel and headed for the Tomsk Bogashevo airport. There, he drank a cup of tea. He was on the way to Moscow.
In the first half-hour of the flight, he fell ill and witnesses said he screamed in pain. He was later in a coma.
He was airlifted to Germany’s capital, a six-hour flight, to the Berlin Charite hospital.The plane made an emergency landing at Omsk. He received treatment in the Russian city, where doctors said he was too unwell to be moved, but two days later on August 22, a Saturday, they said his life was not in danger.
Was he poisoned? 
Navalny’s team believes he was poisoned with a Novichok nerve agent, a claim several European countries support.
A laboratory in Germany said it had confirmation on September 2, followed by laboratories in France and Sweden on September 14.
Samples from Navalny have also been sent to the Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in The Hague for testing.
Russia says there is no evidence to prove Navalny was poisoned, while its ally Belarus has also doubted the claim. The doctors in Omsk said they had not detected poisonous substances in Navalny’s body. 
US President Donald Trump has been criticised for towing Russia’s line, saying on September 4 – two days after Germany’s claim to have “unequivocal evidence” – that “we have not had any proof yet”.
How is Navalny’s condition now?
On September 7, more than two weeks after falling ill on the plane, Navalny’s doctors in Germany said he was out of a coma and that his condition was improving. His spokeswoman said, “Gradually, he will be switched off from a ventilator.”
On September 15, Navalny posted on Instagram that he was breathing alone. He has said he plans to return to Russia. 
If he was poisoned, who may have poisoned him and where?
Navalny’s team believes he was poisoned at the orders of Russian President Vladimir Putin – a claim the Kremlin has strongly denied. 
Navalny’s spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh had initially said she believed Navalny’s tea at the airport was poisoned, but on September 17, his team said the nerve agent was detected on an empty water bottle from his hotel room in the Tomsk, suggesting he was poisoned there and not at the airport. 
What effect has the alleged poisoning had?
The alleged attack has widened a rift between Europe and Russia, with Germany and France leading calls for a full investigation but stopping short of outrightly blaming the Russian government. 
MEPs have called for sanctions against Russia, saying on September 17, “The poison used, belonging to the ‘Novichok group’, can only be developed in state-owned military laboratories and cannot be acquired by private individuals, which strongly implies that Russian authorities were behind the attack.”
Russia’s Foreign Ministry has summoned Germany’s ambassador to Moscow, while the United Kingdom has summoned the Russian envoy over the incident.
For its part, Moscow rejects what it called the politicisation of the issue.
Significantly, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is under pressure to halt the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project, which transfers Russian gas to Germany. Once again, the Kremlin has warned not to involve the Navalny case in any discussion about the pipeline, with Dmitry Peskov saying on September 16, “It should stop being mentioned in the context of any politicisation.”
 
A timeline of events surrounding the alleged poisoning attack on Navalny: 
August 20 – Navalny falls ill on flight; plane makes emergency landing in Omsk; his spokeswoman says he was poisoned, perhaps by the tea he drank at the airport
August 22 – Navalny airlifted to Berlin Charite hospital 
September 2 – Germany says it has ‘unequivocal evidence’ Navalny was poisoned, Russia responds by saying the claim is not backed by evidence
September 4 – US President Donald Trump says ‘we do not have any proof yet’
September 6 – Heiko Maas, German foreign minister, threatens action over gas pipeline project, saying, ‘I hope the Russians don’t force us to change our position on Nord Stream 2’
September 7 – German doctors say Navalny is out of an artificial coma
September 11-13 – Russia holds local elections; Navalny’s allies make gains in Siberian cities
September 15 – Navalny posts on Instagram that he is breathing alone
September 16 – Kremlin spokesman warns against politicising Navalny issue in discussions over the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project with Germany
September 17 – Navalny’s team now suspects he was poisoned in his hotel room, not the airport, citing traces of nerve agent on an empty water bottle
September 17 – MEPs call for sanctions against Russia 

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Bollywood star Amitabh Bachchan to lend voice to Amazon’s Alexa

Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan will be the first Indian celebrity to lend his voice to Amazon’s Alexa digital assistant starting next year, as the Silicon Valley giant expands its presence in the significant market.The 77-year-old actor has been a household name in India for nearly half a century, and his deep baritone is instantly recognisable…

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Bollywood star Amitabh Bachchan to lend voice to Amazon’s Alexa

Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan will be the first Indian celebrity to lend his voice to Amazon’s Alexa digital assistant starting next year, as the Silicon Valley giant expands its presence in the significant market.The 77-year-old actor has been a household name in India for nearly half a century, and his deep baritone is instantly recognisable to listeners in the country of 1.3 billion.Foreign firms such as Amazon have spent tens of billions of dollars in India in recent years as they fight for a piece of the Asian giant’s burgeoning digital economy.In a blog post on Monday, Amazon India said Bachchan’s “voice experience” feature will become available for purchase on Alexa next year.”It will include popular offerings like jokes, weather, shayaris (poetry), motivational quotes, advice and more,” the firm said.Alexa first rolled out celebrity voice option last year with actor Samuel L Jackson, following a similar move by Google the year before, which gave users the option of hearing singer John Legend on the Google Assistant.”I am excited to create this voice experience,” the Bollywood megastar said on Amazon’s blog.”With voice technology, we are building something to engage more effectively with my audience and well-wishers.”His earlier foray into vocal blogging in 2010, Bachchan Bol-Bachchan Speak, allowed fans to listen to pre-recorded messages by the star at the push of a button.In addition to competing with voice-activated devices such as Apple’s Siri and Google Assistant for consumers, Amazon is battling Walmart-backed Flipkart and JioMart, owned by Asia’s richest man Mukesh Ambani, for a share of the online retail market.The tech giant, which is owned by Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest person, is also trying to win eyeballs with its streaming service that competes with Netflix and Disney+ Hotstar.Bachchan and his family have been among India’s highest-profile coronavirus patients. The superstar, his actor son Abhishek, actress daughter-in-law Aishwarya Rai, and granddaughter Aaradhya were all admitted to hospital in July. All four have since been released.The veteran star returned to work last month filming India’s version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? after authorities eased coronavirus curbs on movie and TV shoots.Nevertheless, with cases in India nearing five million, authorities in Mumbai – the home of Bollywood – have asked production houses to ensure that common facilities are regularly sanitised, masks worn and social distancing “followed as far as possible”.Bachchan’s last film, comedy-drama Gulabo Sitabo, went straight to Amazon’s streaming service in June, after theatres in India shut down in March due to pandemic fears.

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