What’s in The News

What’s in The News

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Week in Review

International
NATO leaders are asking themselves whether the alliance has a role in containing the militant threat in the Middle East, as heads of state attend a summit focused on the crisis in Ukraine and next steps in Afghanistan.

President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron declared that their nations would “not be cowed” by extremists from the Islamic State group who have claimed responsibility for killing two American journalists. They also challenged NATO to not turn inward in the face of the threat.

“Those who want to adopt an isolationist approach misunderstand the nature of security in the 21st Century,” Obama and Cameron wrote in a joint editorial in the Times of London. “Developments in other parts of the world, particularly in Iraq and Syria, threaten our security at home.”
Obama, Cameron and dozens of other NATO leaders met in Wales for the two-day summit. Leaders there also planned to commit to a more rapid response force on its eastern flank, which would aim to serve as a deterrent to Russian aggression.
At the summit, the American and British leaders were expected to seek support for an international response to confronting the Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said he believes the broader international community “has an obligation to stop the Islamic State from advancing further,” but noted that the alliance hasn't received any request for help.

“I’m sure that if the Iraqi government were to forward a request for NATO assistance, that would be considered seriously by NATO allies,” Rasmussen said.

Obama also planned to meet with Jordan's King Abdullah II, a key U.S. ally in the Middle East that's caught in the crossfire of the region's instability. The Islamic State militants have claimed responsibility for murdering two American journalists, releasing gruesome videos of their beheadings.

Both the U.S. and Britain are deeply concerned about the potential threat to their homelands that could come from the foreign fighters who have joined the violent Islamic State group. Cameron proposed new laws that would give police the power to seize the passports of Britons suspected of having traveled abroad to fight with terrorist groups.

The U.S. began launching airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Iraq in August, and both the U.S. and Britain have been making humanitarian aid drops to besieged minority groups there. Cameron said that he hadn't ruled out joining the U.S. in airstrikes, but added that the priority was to support those already fighting the militants on the ground.

“We need to show real resolve and determination, we need to use every power and everything in our armory with our allies – with those on the ground – to make sure we do everything we can to squeeze this dreadful organization out of existence," Cameron told the British network ITV.

Also facing Obama is a decision about whether to expand U.S. military action against the extremists to Syria. While Obama has said he's considering that step, he has suggested in recent days that it's not imminent. U.S. officials say Obama is reluctant to delve into Syria's quagmire on his own.

He’s expected to use some of his discussions in Wales to try to build a coalition that could join him in confronting the Islamic State through a combination of military might, diplomatic pressure and economic penalties.

Obama and Cameron visited a local school, where they greeted students learning about NATO. Later, the two met with their counterparts from France, Germany and Italy to discuss the crisis in Ukraine. The new Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko also joined the discussion.

Ukraine and Russia have been locked in a standoff for months, with pro-Moscow forces stirring instability in eastern Ukrainian cities. On the eve of the NATO summit, Russia and Ukraine said they were working on a deal to halt the fighting, but Western leaders expressed skepticism – noting it wasn't the first attempt to end the deadly conflict.

A centerpiece of the NATO summit was to be the announcement of the rapid response force. Officials said the alliance could position at least 4,000 forces and military equipment in the Baltics and elsewhere in Eastern Europe.

“We must use our military to ensure a persistent presence in Eastern Europe, making clear to Russia that we will always uphold our Article 5 commitments to collective self-defense,” Obama and Cameron wrote.

Under Article 5 of the NATO charter, an attack on one member state is viewed on an attack on the whole alliance. Obama reiterated his support for that principle during a visit to Estonia, one of the newer NATO members set on edge by Russia's provocations.

In the cities and towns across the desert plains of northeast Syria, the Islamic State has injected itself into nearly every aspect of daily life. The group famous for its beheadings, crucifixions and mass executions provides electricity and water, pays salaries, controls traffic, and runs nearly everything from bakeries and banks to schools, courts and mosques.

While its merciless battlefield tactics and its imposition of its austere vision of Islamic law have won the group headlines, residents say much of its power lies in its efficient and often deeply pragmatic ability to govern. Syria's eastern province of Raqqa  held up as an example of life under the Islamic “caliphate” they hope will one day stretch from China to Europe.

In the provincial capital, a city that was home to about a quarter of a million people before Syria's three-year-old war began; the group leaves almost no institution or public service outside of its control.

“Let us be honest, they are doing massive institutional work. It is impressive,” one activist from Raqqa who now lives in a border town in Turkey told Reuters. In interviews conducted remotely, residents, Islamic State fighters and even activists opposed to the group described how it had built up a structure similar to a modern government in less than a year under its chief, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

The group’s progress has alarmed regional and Western powers –  last month U.S. President Barack Obama called it a “cancer” that must be erased from the Middle East as U.S. warplanes bombarded its positions in Iraq.

But Islamic State has embedded itself so thoroughly into the fabric of life in places like Raqqa that it will be all but impossible for U.S. aircraft - let alone Iraqi, Syrian and Kurdish troops - to uproot them through force alone.

Although pragmatism has been a key to the group’s success, ideology is also vital to the group's rule. By declaring the caliphate and setting up a “state,” Baghdadi aimed to attract foreign jihadis and experts from abroad. Supporters say thousands have responded.

At the same time, wealthy Islamists from across the world have sent money to Raqqa to support the caliphate, jihadis say.

According to sources in Raqqa, the group maintains three weapons factories mainly designed to develop missiles. Foreign scientists – including Muslims from China, fighters claim – are kept in a private location with bodyguards. "Scientists and men with degrees are joining the State,” said one Arab jihadi.

The group has also invested heavily in the next generation by inducting children into their ideology. Primary, secondary and university programs now include more about Islam. The group also accepts women who want to fight - they are trained about “the real Islam” and the reasons for fighting.

Islamic education groups are held in mosques for newly arrived fighters, who, according to militants in Raqqa, have flocked to Islamic State-controlled territory in even greater numbers since Baghdadi declared the “caliphate.”

"Every three days we receive at least 1,000 fighters. The guest houses are flooding with mujahideen. We are running out of places to receive them,” the Arab jihadi said.

National
The Justice Department will open a broad civil rights investigation into police practices in Ferguson, Mo., where a white police officer killed an unarmed black teenager last month and set off days of racially charged unrest.
The inquiry is in addition to the F.B.I. civil rights investigation that is looking specifically into the shooting of the teenager, Michael Brown, on Aug. 9. The new investigation is expected to be announced soon, according to two federal government officials who were briefed on the plans.
The broader Justice Department inquiry will cover whether the police in Ferguson have a history of discrimination or misuse of force beyond the Brown case, but the Justice Department has not ruled out expanding it to other St. Louis County departments, one of the federal officials said. Both officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation had not been formally announced.
Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. and his aides first discussed such an investigation weeks ago, immediately after the death of Mr. Brown, 18, when reports surfaced that the Ferguson police force had previously been accused of abuse.
Ferguson’s police chief, Thomas Jackson, said in an interview on that he would welcome the investigation. “We’ve been doing everything we can to become a professional police department and a professional city,” he said.
“We have no intentional policies or procedures which discriminated or violated civil rights. But if we have anything there which may unintentionally do that, we need to know about it.”
Chief Jackson said he met with Justice Department officials and discussed the broader investigation. “Obviously, we have gaps. And any help we can get to help fill those gaps and to make ourselves stronger, we welcome,” he said.
The population in Ferguson, a city of about 20,000 people just north of St. Louis, is about two-thirds African-American. The city’s Police Department has 53 officers, four of whom are black.
Adolphus M. Pruitt II, president of the N.A.A.C.P. chapter in the city of St. Louis, said the investigation should be “just a start.” He said black leaders had long complained about what he described as racial profiling, harassment and improper stops of black residents by white officers from suburban St. Louis police departments.
“They’re doing what we asked for,” Mr. Pruitt said of the Justice Department’s inquiry. “We’re hoping that it brings some resolution to any number of complaints we have in front of the Justice Department about various police departments in St. Louis County.”

In the Ferguson case, the Justice Department will conduct what it calls a “pattern or practice” investigation, with officials looking for evidence that the police have repeatedly violated residents’ civil rights. Such inquiries have been one of the Justice Department’s preferred tactics in addressing accusations of police misconduct.
Under Mr. Holder, the Justice Department has opened 20 such civil rights inquiries into police departments nationwide, more than twice the number opened in the five years before he took office.
The inquiries can lead to agreements that give the Justice Department oversight of the police departments. The Justice Department has said it is currently enforcing 13 such agreements, the largest number in its history.
Michael Brown, 17, was shot six times after Officer Darren Wilson, 28, stopped him for “walking down the street blocking traffic,” as Chief Jackson put it.
Mr. Brown fell on his stomach, his arms at his sides and his head bloody. His body was left on the street for hours. Officer Wilson, who was placed on administrative leave, has not been charged with any wrongdoing.
Mr. Holder has personally assured Mr. Brown’s family that the federal investigation will be thorough and independent. Civil rights investigations into police shootings are difficult: Courts have given the police wide latitude to use deadly force when they feel threatened.
To bring charges, prosecutors must show that Officer Wilson intended to violate Mr. Brown’s civil rights when he opened fire and that he did so willfully – meaning he knew it was wrong but fired anyway.
One incident that caught the attention of the federal authorities after the Brown shooting was a 2009 case in which an African-American man said that officers beat him and then charged him with damaging government property – by getting his blood on their uniforms.
Missouri N.A.A.C.P. leaders lodged another Justice Department complaint against the St. Louis County Police Department last year, accusing its officers of engaging in widespread racial profiling in an attempt to crack down on crime in and around the South County Center, a shopping mall.
Mr. Pruitt said one of the incidents referred to in the complaint involved two White officers who arrested 145 Black men and women in a 30-day period in the mall area for outstanding warrants. “We determined that the stops were not legitimate stops,” Mr. Pruitt said.
“They stopped them because they were Black. The question is, how many Blacks did they have to go through to find 145 with warrants?”
North Carolina’s longest-serving death row inmate and his younger half brother walked out as free men three decades after they were convicted of raping and murdering an 11-year-old girl who DNA evidence shows may have been killed by another man.

Henry McCollum, 50, hugged his weeping parents at the gates of Central Prison in Raleigh, a day after a judge ordered his release, citing the new evidence in the 1983 slaying of Sabrina Buie.

His half brother, 46-year-old Leon Brown, was later freed from Maury Correctional Institution near Greenville, where he had been serving a life sentence.

“I knew one day I was going to be blessed to get out of prison, I just didn't know when that time was going to be,” McCollum said.

“I just thank God that I am out of this place. There's not anger in my heart. I forgive those people and stuff. But I don't like what they done to me and my brother because they took 30 years away from me for no reason. But I don't hate them. I don't hate them one bit.”

Brown declined to be interviewed following his release, saying through his attorney he was too overwhelmed. He hugged his sister outside the prison before asking to go for a cheeseburger and milkshake.

If not for a series of lawsuits that has blocked any executions in North Carolina since 2006, McCollum would have likely been put to death years ago. He often lay awake at night in his solitary cell, thinking of the needle.

“I'd toss and turn at night, trying to sleep,” he said. “Cause I thought ... these people was going to kill me.”

Superior Court Judge Douglas Sasser overturned the convictions. He said another man’s DNA being found on a cigarette butt left near the body of the slain girl contradicted the case put forth by prosecutors.

Political  
Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife were convicted of using his office to promote a dietary supplement in exchange for gifts in a public corruption case that derailed his political career and a rising Republican star.

A federal jury in Richmond convicted Bob McDonnell of 11 of the 13 counts he faced; Maureen McDonnell was convicted of nine of the 13 counts she had faced. Both bowed their heads and wept as a chorus of "guilty" kept coming from the court clerk.

The couple left the courtroom separately and remained apart. Bob McDonnell left first and walked into a witness waiting room; Maureen McDonnell came out later, hugging one of her daughters while weeping loudly. She went into a separate waiting room.

The couple was charged with doing favors for a wealthy vitamin executive in exchange for more than $165,000 in gifts and loans. They also were charged with submitting fraudulent bank loan applications, and Maureen McDonnell was charged with one count of obstruction.

The former governor testified in his own defense, insisting that he provided nothing more than routine political courtesies to former Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams. Maureen McDonnell did not testify. His testimony and that of others exposed embarrassing details about Maureen McDonnell's erratic behavior and the couple's marital woes as the defense suggested they could not have conspired because they were barely speaking.

Williams testified under immunity that he spent freely on the McDonnells in order to secure their help promoting his supposed cure-all, the tobacco-derived anti-inflammatory Anatabloc.

Among the gifts were nearly $20,000 in designer clothing and accessories for Maureen McDonnell, a $6,500 Rolex watch for her husband, $15,000 in catering for one of their daughter's wedding, free vacations and golf outings. Williams also provided three loans totaling $120,000.

As the gifts were being given, the McDonnells attended various Anatabloc promotional events and hosted a luncheon at the governor's mansion that the company billed as a product launch.

Williams also was allowed to invite several of his associates to a reception for Virginia health care leaders at the mansion, and McDonnell arranged meetings for him with two state health officials as he was taking preliminary steps to seek state-backed research on Anatabloc. No applications for research grants were ever submitted.

Prosecutors claimed that the McDonnells turned to Williams because they were grappling with credit card debt that once topped $90,000 and annual operating shortfalls of $40,000 to $60,000 on family-owned vacation rental properties. Two of the loans totaling $70,000 were intended for the two Virginia Beach rent houses.

Williams said he wrote the first $50,000 check to Maureen McDonnell after she complained about their money troubles and said she could help his company because of her background selling nutritional supplements.

Defense attorneys said Maureen McDonnell had a “crush” on Williams, who preyed on her vulnerability. Several witnesses described their relationship as inappropriate and flirtatious. None suggested it was physical, and Williams testified that it was not. He said his relationship with both McDonnells was all about boosting his business.

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