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Thursday, January 30, 2014

In Boston, Mixed Reaction to Death Penalty Decision in Marathon Bombings Case

When he was a state lawmaker, Martin J. Walsh, the mayor of Boston, voted against the death penalty. On Thursday, he said that he would vote the same way today.

But Mr. Walsh also said he supported the judicial process and therefore the Justice Department’s decision to seek the death penalty against the man accused of killing three people and injuring nearly 200 others in the bombings at the Boston Marathon last April. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. had the final say on whether to authorize prosecutors to seek the death penalty.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev

Martin Richard, Lu Lingzi and Krystle Campbell were killed in the bombings. Sean Collier, a police officer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was shot and killed when the man accused in the case, Dzhokhar A. Tsarnaev, and his brother tried to flee the Boston area after the Federal Bureau of Investigation released photos of them from surveillance cameras.

In Massachusetts, where the death penalty has been abolished since 1984 and nearly 40 percent of the population is Roman Catholic, the reaction to the decision to seek the death penalty was mixed.

The Boston Globe pointed to a poll’s findings last September.

Jarrod Clowery, 36, a carpenter from Milville, Mass., who was struck by shrapnel and sustained severe burns on his legs in the bombing, told The Globe that the news had no impact on him.

“I’m moving on with my life,” Mr. Clowery said. “It has no bearing on my life whatsoever … I don’t even think about the trial or anything like that. [The attackers] were tried and convicted by a power higher than us the moment they did what they did.”

A Boston Herald reporter quoted on Twitter the grandmother of one of the victims.

The mother of two young men, Paul and J.P. Norden, of Stoneham Mass., who each lost a limb in the bombing, said she backed the attorney general’s decision.

“I just think it is important going forward, that all the options, that the death penalty is one of the options for the jurors,” the woman, Liz Norden, told WHDH-TV in Boston.

Gov. Deval Patrick, a Democrat, issued a statement:

One way or another, based on the evidence, Tsarnaev will die in prison. In each milestone of this case â€" today’s announcement, the trial and every other significant step in the justice process â€" the people hurt by the Marathon bombings and the rest of us so shocked by it will relive that tragedy. The best we can do is remind each other that we are a stronger Commonwealth than ever, and that nothing can break that spirit.

Juliette N. Kayyem, a former Boston Globe columnist who is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor, said on Facebook that she remained against the death penalty.

The crimes committed by Dzhokhar Tsarnaev were heinous. Period. I have, based on my principles and on my work in death penalty appeals litigation in Alabama, always opposed the death penalty. I have spent a career helping to protect our communities from the harms, including terrorism, that we may face. He will spend the rest of his life in prison. As a state, we move forward, resilient. We are Massachusetts.

On Ms. Kayyem’s Facebook page, one man wrote that his views about the death penalty had changed over the years, first with the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and now with the Boston Marathon bombings.

“On this issue I am conflicted,” he wrote. “My whole life I have opposed the death penalty. 9/11 my views were shaken. The act of terrorism at The Boston Marathon cemented my new position. I regret to say that I now feel that there are some crimes just so heinous that the guilty do not deserve to live among us.”

Mr. Walsh, the city’s newly elected mayor, began his remarks on the death penalty decision by offering prayers to the families of the victims “and the brave survivors whose lives have been forever changed by the events of April 15, 2013.”

“I can’t imagine what these families are feeling out there today,” Mr. Walsh said. “Over the past nine months, the people of Boston have shown the world that we are a city full of heart and courage. We stand together as one Boston in the face of evil and hatred.”

Charge Sheet Against Al Jazeera Journalists in Egypt

As our colleague David Kirkpatrick reported, Egyptian prosecutors said on Wednesday that they were charging 20 journalists working for Al Jazeera with conspiring with a terrorist group and broadcasting false images.

The prosecution statement suggested that the journalists were being accused of joining the Muslim Brotherhood, which the military-backed government that took power in July has declared a terrorist organization. The Qatari network Al Jazeera was among the first targets of the new government’s general crackdown on dissent and sympathy for Egypt’s Islamists.

Here is a translation of the complete statement from the prosecutors:

The chief prosecutor orders the indictment of 20 defendants, including four foreigners (1 Australian, 2 Britons and a Dutch woman), from among the correspondents of the Qatari Al Jazeera media network.

The public prosecution has issued arrest warrants for the defendants, who joined a terrorist group, and the foreign correspondents who created a media network of 20 Egyptians and foreigners. They rented two suites in a luxury hotel in downtown Cairo to use as a media center, and supplied it with filming, editing and broadcasting units and computers used to collect media material and manipulate it in order to produce unreal scenes to suggest abroad that what’s happening in the country is a civil war that raises alarms about the state’s collapse.

They broadcast these scenes through the Qatari Jazeera channel to assist the terrorist group in achieving its purposes of influencing international public opinion.

The general prosecution has examined the devices, equipment and the media material confiscated from the defendants and assigned a committee from the Radio and Television Union and forensic evidence experts to examine them. The technical reports revealed that this media material contains video clips that were altered and edited, using a high-tech program and editing devices, and that these scenes are false and damage the country’s national security.

The general prosecutor charged the Egyptian defendants with committing the crimes of joining a terrorist group founded in violation of the law’s provisions with the purpose of calling for obstructing laws, hindering the work of state institutions, assaulting citizens’ personal freedoms, damaging national security and social peace using terrorism as means to achieve its purposes.

The foreign defendants were charged with collaborating with the Egyptian defendants through the means of agreement and assistance to supply the members of this group with funds, devices, equipment and information knowing the purposes of this group.

The charges also included:

- The possession of documents and recordings that involve promotion for its purposes for the viewing of others knowing the means used by this terrorist group.

- Broadcasting false statements, news and rumors and unreal images about the domestic conditions of the country and displaying them for the audience, domestic and foreign, to suggest to international public opinion that the country is undergoing a civil war in order to weaken the state’s standing and prestige and to damage the national interest of the country and disturb public security.

- Terrorizing people and damaging the public interest.

- The possession of communication and filming equipment and devices of audio and image transmission without permit from the competent authority.

The charge sheet concluded: “The chief prosecutor ordered the referral of eight detained defendants to Cairo’s criminal court and the arrest of the 12 fugitives to be detained pending trial.”

The charges, against several Al Jazeera journalists regarded as scrupulous professionals by their colleagues at other news organizations in Cairo, provoked anger and caustic laughter online.

Follow Mayy El Sheikh, an assistant reporter in The Times Cairo bureau, @MayyNYT.

Robert Mackey also remixes the news on Twitter @robertmackey.

Scarlett Johansson Chooses SodaStream Over Oxfam After Dispute About West Bank Factory

Updated, 5:49 p.m. | Forced to choose between two endorsement deals, the actress Scarlett Johansson decided Wednesday to end her charitable work on behalf of Oxfam, an antipoverty group that opposes trade with Israeli settlements, and continue as a paid “brand ambassador” for SodaStream, a company that manufactures products in the occupied West Bank.

The break with Oxfam comes a week after the charity said that it was engaged in “a dialogue” with the actress, who had helped raise funds for nearly a decade, and days before the broadcast of Ms. Johansson’s Super Bowl commercial for SodaStream’s home carbonation machines.

A version of Scarlett Johansson’s Super Bowl ad for SodaStream posted on YouTube by the company has been viewed more than five million times since Monday.

Oxfam’s stated position is that “trade from Israeli settlements, which are illegal under international law,” should be discouraged because companies profiting from the continued occupation “further the ongoing poverty and denial of rights of the Palestinian communities that we work to support.” Last week, however, Ms. Johansson expressed her outspoken support for the SodaStream factory in the Israeli settlement of Maale Adumim, echoing the company’s chief executive in calling the plant “a bridge to peace between Israel and Palestine.”

While the content of the talks between the actress and the charity were not made public, a statement released on her behalf contained a significant error about Oxfam’s policy regarding Israel. According to the statement, Ms. Johansson and Oxfam parted ways because of “a fundamental difference of opinion in regards to the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.”

But Oxfam does not support the Palestinian-led campaign known as B.D.S., which seeks to isolate Israel economically until it ends the military occupation of territories seized during the Six-Day War in 1967 and allows Arab refugees to return to their former homes in what is now the Jewish state. The charity objects to the import of goods produced in Israeli settlements but is not opposed to trade with Israel, an Oxfam representative told The Lede on Thursday.

Despite that fact, supporters and critics of Israel read the end of Ms. Johansson’s relationship with Oxfam through the lens of the B.D.S. campaign.

Omar Barghouti, a Palestinian activist and the author of “Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions: The Global Struggle for Palestinian Rights,” hailed the success of B.D.S. supporters in drawing attention to the ethical issues involved in the location of SodaStream’s factory.

“Without doubt,” Mr. Barghouti said in a statement released by the Institute for Middle East Understanding, “the biggest loser in this well publicized B.D.S. campaign was SodaStream, which was exposed to the whole world as an occupation profiteer. Prior to this, most SodaStream customers had no idea that it is involved in grave violations of human rights by producing in an illegal settlement in the occupied Palestinian territory.”

As the Israeli blogger Mairav Zonszein notes, Oxfam’s stance seems identical to that of Peter Beinart, author of “The Crisis of Zionism,” who, in a 2012 New York Times Op-Ed article, called on American Jews to initiate “a counteroffensive” to the B.D.S. campaign by lobbying for a total boycott of the settlements. Mr. Beinart criticized Ms. Johansson last week and reminded his Twitter followers that prominent Israeli actors and writers had refused to perform in the settlements for years.

As The Lede explained last week, SodaStream made ethics a part of the conversation by marketing its domestic carbonation systems as an ethical alternative for consumers concerned with the environmental impact of bottled sodas, including Coke and Pepsi.

In an illustration of how the association with Ms. Johansson was becoming an impediment to the charity’s work, Oxfam’s social-media team found itself besieged by questions about SodaStream just as it was trying to draw attention to ethical questions about one of the Israeli company’s rivals, Pepsi. In the run-up to the Super Bowl, Oxfam has asked its Twitter followers to complain to Pepsi about its poor treatment of farmers in Brazil and Cambodia.

The charity’s current online campaign against Pepsi, to protest the beverage company’s practice of buying sugar produced on land Oxfam says was unfairly taken from farmers without proper compensation, is the latest wave in a series the antipoverty group calls “Behind the Brands.”

The debate over Ms. Johansson’s endorsement of SodaStream unfolded as reporters began looking more closely at the company’s manufacturing plant in the Mishor Adumim industrial park, part of the Maale Adumim settlement. As The Jewish Daily Forward in New York reported, although many Israelis expect that settlement to become a part of Israel after the land swaps Israeli governments have insisted on in any future peace deal, “Maale Adumim is nevertheless a settlement especially loathed by Israeli peace activists. It was made possible in the 1970s by one of the largest expropriations of Palestinian land implemented by the Israel during its 46-year occupation of the West Bank.”

As the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem explained in 1999, the settlement, including the SodaStream factory, was built on land taken from five Palestinian towns and two Bedouin tribes evicted by Israeli forces.

Perhaps more important, as the Israeli columnist Larry Derfner explained in 2012, this settlement is already “a stake in the heart of a prospective Palestinian state,” because it nearly bisects the West Bank and further construction there threatens to cut off “Palestinians’ access to East Jerusalem, their hoped-for capital.” That appears to be less by accident than by design. Mr. Derfner noted that Benny Kashriel, the settlement’s longtime mayor, told The Jerusalem Report in 2004, “Maale Adumim was established to break Palestinian contiguity.” The settlement, he added, “is Jerusalem’s connection to the Dead Sea and the Jordan valley; if we weren’t here, Palestinians could connect their villages and close off the roads. Maale Adumim necessarily cuts the West Bank in two.”

While opponents of settlement trade, like Oxfam, argue that the relatively small number of jobs generated by factories there do not outweigh the crippling effect of Israel’s military occupation on the Palestinian economy as a whole, SodaStream’s defenders contend that the plant is a boon to hundreds of local workers. The company’s chief executive, Daniel Birnbaum, told The Forward this week that although the location was “a pain,” and that SodaStream could move all of its manufacturing to a factory inside Israeli’s internationally recognized borders, he would not do so out of concern for the Palestinians who would lose their jobs. “We will not throw our employees under the bus to promote anyone’s political agenda,” he said.

The newspaper also reported that during its correspondent’s visit, Mr. Birnbaum was applauded by Palestinian workers in the plant’s employee cafeteria when he reassured them that their jobs were safe.

Mr. Birnbaum also told a Reuters reporter who visited the factory the next day that the SodaStream factory was “a dream for activists and politicians on both sides of this dilemma, because it’s a model for peace and is proving every day that there can and will be peace between our peoples.”

The reporter, Noah Browning, noted however that a “mid-level Palestinian employee who spoke to Reuters outside the plant, away from the bosses, painted a far less perfect picture.”

“There’s a lot of racism here,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “Most of the managers are Israeli, and West Bank employees feel they can’t ask for pay rises or more benefits because they can be fired and easily replaced.”

Robert Mackey also remixes the news on Twitter @robertmackey.

Human Rights Watch Shares Images of Razed Neighborhoods in Syria

One of the residential demolition videos used by Human Rights Watch for its report. Recorded by activists in Qaboun, Sept. 27, 2012.

The Syrian government has used explosives and bulldozers to demolish thousands of residential buildings to punish civilians in neighborhoods where the army has clashed with opposition fighters, Human Rights Watch said in a report on Thursday.

It used satellite imagery, statement from witnesses, and video and photographic evidence to document seven cases in which the government razed buildings between July 2012 and July 2013. Two of the neighborhoods are in Hama and five neighborhoods or areas are in and near Damascus.

The total building area demolished is equivalent to about 200 soccer fields. Many were apartment blocks, some as many as eight stories high, leading to the displacement of thousands of civilians, it said.

“Wiping entire neighborhoods off the map is not a legitimate tactic of war,” said Ole Solvang, emergencies researcher at Human Rights Watch. “These unlawful demolitions are the latest additions to a long list of crimes committed by the Syrian government.”

The rights group urged the United Nations Security Council to refer the case to the International Criminal Court. Excerpts said:

Government officials and pro-government media outlets have claimed that the demolitions were part of urban planning efforts or removal of illegally constructed buildings. However, the demolitions were supervised by military forces and often followed fighting in the areas between government and opposition forces. As far as Human Rights Watch has been able to determine, there have been no similar demolitions in areas that generally support the government, although many houses in those areas were also allegedly built without the necessary permits.

These circumstances, as well as witness statements and more candid statements by government officials reported in the media, indicate that the demolitions were related to the armed conflict and either served no necessary military purpose and appeared to intentionally punish the civilian population, or caused disproportionate harm to civilians in violation of the laws of war.

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