Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley

Aug. 20 2014 7:38 PM

U.S. Forces Tried To Rescue James Foley

In the wake of news of James Wright Foley's execution, senior administration officials have revealed that the U.S. military tried to rescue Foley and other Americans held by ISIS in a secret operation earlier this summer. 

From ABC News:

U.S. special operations forces early this summer launched a secret, major rescue operation in Syria to save James Foley and a number of Americans held by the extremist group ISIS, but the mission failed because the hostages weren’t there, senior administration officials told ABC News [on Wednesday].
President Obama authorized the “substantial and complex” rescue operation after the officials said a “broad collection of intelligence” led the U.S. to believe the hostages were being held in a specific location in the embattled Middle Eastern nation.
When “several dozen” U.S. special operation members landed in Syria, however, they were met with gunfire and “while on site, it became apparent the hostages were not there,” one of the officials said. The special operators engaged in a firefight in which ISIS suffered “a good number” casualties, the official said, while the American forces suffered only a single minor injury.

In a statement, Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby stressed, “As we have said repeatedly, the United States government is committed to the safety and well-being of its citizens, particularly those suffering in captivity. In this case, we put the best of the United States military in harms’ way to try and bring our citizens home.”

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Aug. 20 2014 6:15 PM

Liberian Ebola Quarantine Results in Violent Clashes

What began as an attempt to quarantine West Point, an Ebola-infected area of the Liberian city of Monrovia, soon became a violent clash between security forces and community members on Wednesday.

From the Los Angeles Times:

Angry residents stormed barbed-wire barricades and threw stones at the troops, who fired shots in the air to drive them back, news reports said. Photographs from the scene showed a youth on the ground with blood pouring from his legs.
Fear and confusion have been spreading in the West African nation, where at least 576 people have died, more than in any other country affected by the deadliest Ebola outbreak on record. 

In the battle to beat Ebola, this is but the latest struggle between those trying to stop the spread of the virus and those who are themselves at risk, who feel not enough is being done to help them. Last Saturday, Ebola patients fled during an attack on their health care facility by an angry mob. As Liberian National Police spokesman Sam Collins told CNN: “It was an attack from people afraid of Ebola. ... Everybody is afraid.”

Aug. 20 2014 2:07 PM

Ferguson Officer Pointing Gun at Man With Camera: "I Will Kill You"

While Ferguson was relatively peaceful last night, a video posted on YouTube early this morning captures an officer aiming his gun at a man with a camera and threatening to kill him:

While the men shouting at the officer in the video come across less as protestors in fear for their lives and more like brat kids tattling on their little sister, the officer's reaction still seems well out of proportion to the circumstances, and it's far from the first time in recent days that police have aimed weapons at unarmed protestors.

Update, 4:30 p.m.: The ACLU, responding to BuzzFeed's Chris Geidner on Twitter, says that the officer involved in the incident described above has been removed from duty following a public ACLU complaint.

Aug. 20 2014 1:57 PM

Ferguson Highway Patrol Captain Flashes Frat Greeting, Gets Called a Gang Member

A CNN iReport mistakenly iDentified Missouri Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson as flashing a gang sign. In reality, Johnson is a brother of Kappa Alpha Psi, which is not a gang, but rather a historically black fraternity.

From the Washington Post:

Capt. Johnson is a member of Kappa Alpha Psi, a black fraternity that was formed in 1911 at Indiana University in Bloomington, and the hand sign you see in the pictures below is a Kappa greeting. The Kappas are part of the Divine Nine or the National Pan-Hellenic Council, the nine historically black fraternities and sororities that include Delta Sigma Theta, Alpha Kappa Alpha, Alpha Phi Alpha, Omega Psi Phi, Phi Beta Sigma, Zeta Phi Beta, Sigma Gamma Rho and Iota Phi Theta, none of which are gangs.
This particular piece of misinformation, asserting Johnson was aligning himself with the Bloods, appears to have originated in a post on CNN’s iReport site — since removed — and then circulated on Twitter by user @DixielandDiva, an account that no longer exists.

Twitter users responded to @DixelandDiva's tweet, which featured the photo and a declaration that "BLACK Capt. Ron Johnson and his gang signs need to resign," in equal parts incredulity and disgust.

In place of the removed iReport is a producer note, which reads, "This iReport, which was not verified by CNN, has been pulled as it is in violation of our site's community guidelines." 

CNN iReport is a "compilation of news items submitted by citizen journalism." Those considering contribution to the compilation in the future should note the distinction between gang signs and frat greetings before theyReport.

Update August 21, 2014, 10:25 a.m.: CNN responded to our request for comment, clarifying, "iReport is a social network for news. A small number of user submissions are approved for use on air and online. The iReport in question had not been vetted, was labeled as 'NOT VERIFIED BY CNN,' and was removed shortly after being flagged by the community."

Aug. 20 2014 1:06 PM

NFL Referee Avoided Washington Games for Seven Seasons Because of Team’s Nickname

One of the NFL's most respected officials was allowed to stop working Washington games after 2006 because he felt the team's nickname was disrespectful, the Washington Post reports:

Told a search of game logs dating back as far as 1999, his fourth year in the league, revealed Carey had not worked a preseason or regular season home or away Washington game since the opening week of the 2006 season, he smiled coyly, like a man whose cover had finally been blown.
Pausing for eight full seconds, he finally spoke:
“The league respectfully honored my request not to officiate Washington,” Carey said. “It happened sometime after I refereed their playoff game in 2006, I think.”

Carey, who in 2008 became the first black man to work as the head referee in a Super Bowl, said he made the request to the league's referee scheduling supervisors and isn't sure if other NFL figures, including commissioner Roger Goodell, were aware of his stand. Carey will be working this season as an analyst for CBS Sports, whose chairman has said he will allow individual broadcasters to decide whether they want to use Washington's nickname.

Aug. 20 2014 11:16 AM

Airstrike Kills Wife and Child of Hamas’ Military Commander, Rocket Designer

An Israeli airstrike in Gaza today killed one of the wives and the infant son of Mohammed Deif, the leader of Hamas's Qassam Brigades military wing. The fate of Deif, who is also said to have helped design the homemade "Qassam rocket" that is one of the primary weapons fired into Israel from Gaza, is unknown. From the New York Times:

Mustafa Asfoura said his daughter Widad, 28, had married Mr. Deif, who has other wives, about four years ago, and that they had four children. The youngest, 8-month-old Ali, was killed alongside his mother on Tuesday and the other children were injured. Mr. Asfoura, 55, said he did not know where his daughter was living, that he had last seen her 10 days ago and that he had long expected her to die in such a way because she was married to “the No. 1 wanted man in Israel.”

The Israeli military says that nearly 150 rockets have been fired into Israel since a cease-fire collapsed on Tuesday.

Aug. 19 2014 10:52 PM

Ferguson FAQ: What Charge Is Darren Wilson Facing and Other Questions Answered

There have been few answers forthcoming from state and police officials about the situation in Ferguson, Missouri and the results of the investigations into Michael Brown’s killing. We’ve tried to fill in some of the gaps with our own answers to some frequently asked questions. If you have any other questions you’d like us to try to answer, please leave them in the comments.

For what crimes could Darren Wilson, the officer who shot Brown, be charged?

Wilson will very likely not be charged with first-degree murder, as Marcia McCormick of Saint Louis University School of Law explained to NPR. He could be charged with second-degree murder (for “knowingly causing death”), but voluntary manslaughter would be more likely. McCormick says voluntary manslaughter is legally defined as “knowingly causing death under a sudden passion with adequate cause (an assault on the officer).” As University of Pittsburgh School of Law’s David Harris pointed out in the same report, getting juries to convict police officers is historically very difficult. The jurists in such a case would come not just from Ferguson, but from St. Louis County, which is 70 percent white.

Aug. 19 2014 8:57 PM

Rick Perry Turns Himself in for Booking on Felony Charges

On Tuesday afternoon, Texas Gov. Rick Perry handed himself over to authorities at a criminal justice center in Austin to be booked on two felony counts of abuse of power.

Perry, who was indicted on Aug. 15, has been accused of abusing his office to target the office of district attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, who was caught drunk driving in 2013 and refused Perry's call to step down. The governor vetoed $7.5 million in state funding that was meant for the Public Integrity Unit, an anti-corruption agency supervised by Lehmberg, a Democrat.

Perry, however, has maintained his innocence and vehemently condemned the grand jury indictment of him as a “farce of a prosecution.” The Los Angeles Times reports that the Republican politician stood by his veto and vowed to contest the accusations against him as he went through the booking proceedings:

Before entering to be fingerprinted and photographed, Perry defiantly insisted that he would fight the charges against him “with every fiber of my being.”
"I’m here today because I believe in the rule of law,” he said in brief remarks punctuated by repeated applause from his supporters. “I’m here today because I did the right thing. I’m going to enter this courthouse with my head held high knowing the actions I took were not only lawful and legal, but right.”

Perry’s arraignment has been slated for Friday. It is unclear if the governor will show up, as he is also expected to make a trip to New Hampshire on the same day as he considers a 2016 presidential bid.

One of the charges against him—abuse of official capacity—carries a penalty of five to 99 years in prison. The other charge of coercing a public official has a penalty of two to 10 years.

CBS Evening News shared his mug shot on Twitter:

Aug. 19 2014 6:25 PM

ISIS Reportedly Beheads American Photojournalist in Iraq

ISIS terrorists have released a video purportedly showing the beheading of American freelance photojournalist James Wright Foley who went missing on Thanksgiving Day in 2012.

Foley, a 40-year-old New Hampshire native, was kidnapped at gunpoint from an Internet café in Syria. ISIS has threatened that Steven Sotloff—another freelance reporter who has been missing since August 2013 and has written for numerous publications such as TimeChristian Science Monitor, and Foreign Policy—will also be executed depending "on Obama’s next decision" regarding U.S. military strikes against ISIS in Iraq.

In the graphic video, Foley was forced to read a letter encouraging Americans to rise up against his “real killer”—“the U.S. government,” adding that the U.S. airstrikes against ISIS “hammered the final nail into [his] coffin.” Apparently, his executor was heard in the video speaking English with a British accent. 

Aug. 19 2014 1:15 PM

Latest on Ferguson: Holder Set to Visit, Grand Jury Set to Hear Evidence

Slate will post running news updates about the situation in Ferguson below. For other Slate coverage of Ferguson, click here.

Update, 11:30 p.m.: The city issued another statement on Tuesday asking residents to stay indoors at night. West Florissant Avenue in Ferguson, meanwhile, appeared to be “quiet and subdued,” with peaceful protests earlier in the evening.

Missouri Highway Patrol designated an area south of Ferguson Avenue at 9026 West Florissant as the new "approved assembly zone" for protesters. The highway patrol closed parts of West Florissant Avenue for the evening and turned away non-residents:

Prior to Tuesday evening’s protests, Attorney General Eric Holder wrote an editorial for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch calling for an end to violence and looting in Ferguson ahead of his visit on Wednesday. He also pledged to collaborate with community leaders and investigators. FBI director James Comey also weighed in, saying that the agency has flooded the Ferguson area with agents to carry out the investigation in an “impartial, careful and expeditious way.”

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon decided not to ask County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch to recuse himself from the Brown case, even though the attorney’s objectivity has been called into question and McCulloch himself has said he will step down if requested to by the governor. Nixon told the St Louis-Post Dispatch that he will only appoint a special prosecutor for the case “if Bob feels, for a myriad of reasons, that he and his office should step aside.”

By Tuesday night, more than $95,000 had been raised for Michael Brown’s family through a crowdfunding site created as a memorial fund.

Update, 3:45 p.m.: St. Louis County prosecutors will begin presenting evidence related to Michael Brown's death to a grand jury on Wednesday, the Washington Post reports. It isn't clear what charges they might be seeking and when the jury would ultimately vote on whether to issue an indictment. The county's spokesperson did not even say specifically that the evidence would relate to the conduct of officer Darren Wilson, who shot Brown, though it isn't clear who else would possibly be charged in the incident.

A 23-year-old black man who allegedly threatened police officers with a knife was shot and killed today in St. Louis proper. Initial reports suggest the man was involved in a robbery or perhaps just a confrontation at a convenience store and that at least one witness called police because the man was behaving "erratically." St. Louis police Chief Sam Dotson says the suspect had refused commands to put the knife down and was approaching officers in an "attack posture" when he was shot.

Update, 1 p.m.: NBC reports that, contra Missouri Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson's earlier statement that 31 individuals were arrested late Monday and early today, 78 people were arrested and booked into St. Louis County jail overnight during protests in the Ferguson area. Of the 78, 75 were recorded as having been taken in for refusal to disperse," i.e. nonviolent offenses.* Two were arrested for "unlawful use of a weapon," and one for interfering with a police officer. 

Update, 10:55 a.m.: Statistics from Monday night, via St. Louis's KSDK:

Capt. Ron Johnson of the Missouri State Highway Patrol said early Tuesday that 31 people were arrested, four police officers were injured by thrown rocks and bottles, at least two people were shot, and two fires were set during a night of clashes between police and protesters.

Original post, 3:00 a.m.: From afar, at least, it seems that Ferguson, Missouri, has settled permanently into a bad dream—a quagmire in which every day is narrated by variations on the same grave but resolute political optimism, and every night is loud, anarchic, and exactly the same as the one before. Tonight's events in Missouri have had the same nightmare qualities to which we've become accustomed: heavily armed police, clouds of tear gas, arrests, reports of Molotov cocktails and gunshots, and threats against journalists and protesters. And while this evening saw the introduction of new elements in the form of some Missouri National Guard troops and a rule requiring protesters to keep moving at all times, the real-time reports of journalists on the ground described the usual chronological pattern: dusk and early evening hours of marches, transforming as the hours went on into scattered but constant confrontations that almost miraculously managed not to cross into fatal violence.   

Here is a building on fire:

Here is a line of police with weapons drawn:

Here is a St. Louis Post-Dispatch photographer's report:

The image at the top of this post is a civil rights protestor taunting avowedly pro–civil rights MSNBC host Chris Hayes, who had just been the target of what appeared to be at least two thrown rocks. Why? Who knows?

Here's what Missouri Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson, who still seems to be the top law enforcement authority on the scene, said:

When, though? For now, tonight, the situation seems to have leveled off. But tomorrow is a new day.

Correction, Aug. 19, 1:15 p.m.: This post originally misstated that protesters had been arrested for "failure to disperse" rather than "refusal to disperse." (Return.)

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