NATIONAL CLIPS: Oct. 13

TACOMA, Wash.: Watada trial postponed

U.S. District Court Judge Benjamin Settle granted an emergency stay of new court-martial proceedings Oct. 5 against First Lt. Ehren Watada, the first commissioned officer to publicly refuse to deploy to Iraq.

The trial, which had been slated to open Oct. 9, is now postponed at least until Oct. 26. It is unusual for a civilian judge to act in a case under military jurisdiction.

Watada’s first court-martial ended when the military judge declared a mistrial over the objections of Watada and his lawyers. After earlier appeals to higher military courts were dismissed, Watada appealed to the military’s highest court. Hearing nothing as the trial date approached, his attorneys approached the federal court for a stay.

In granting the stay, Settle wrote, “The court concludes as a preliminary matter, that it has jurisdiction over the petition and the petitioner’s double jeopardy claim is not frivolous.”

Settle, who served as a military lawyer in the 1970s and was recently named a federal judge by President Bush, emphasized that the issues raised in Watada’s habeas corpus petition were not related to the charges or defense in the earlier court-martial trial.

Another hearing is set for Oct. 19.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, which has followed Watada’s case closely, urged in an editorial last week that the lieutenant be allowed to “leave the Army without further ado.” The newspaper added, “At a minimum, many of those who oppose the Iraq war would welcome the leniency for someone they view as a person of conscience.”





BIRMINGHAM, Ala.: Front page sparks fight for equality

Scores of members from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the civil rights organization founded by the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., rallied here on Oct. 4, condemning attacks on African American political and labor leaders by this city’s largest daily newspaper.

Holding up the Sept. 16 front page of the Birmingham News, Bishop Calvin Woods, Birmingham SCLC president, pointed to negative stories on three Black leaders: Rep. Artur Davis, mayoral candidate Larry Langford, and Joe Reed, executive director of the Alabama Education Association.

“Birmingham News coverage of Black leaders appears to be racist and unfair,” Woods said. “The entire front page is attacking Black leaders.” Woods charged the newspaper “has an agenda in mind.”

Responding to reporters’ questions that attempted to defend the newspaper’s editorial decisions, Woods said that while criticisms of Davis are similar to those printed about Gov. Bob Riley, a white Republican, facts in the stories about Black leaders were “whitewashed” and buried in a mountain of text.

An unpublished editorial cartoon, which did show up online, also drew Woods’ fire. Woods charged that editorial cartoonist injected racism into the hotly contested Oct. 9 mayor’s race. “Somebody had to approve this race baiting,” Woods said.





WINFIELD, W.Va.: Cancer victims sue Monsanto

Over 70 residents of Nitro, W.Va. (population 6,800), charged that Monsanto released deadly carcinogen dioxin into the air, resulting in cancer for longtime neighbors of the plant. Nitro is formerly home to the corporation’s chemical plant that used to make a component of Agent Orange. Residents are seeking $300 million in punitive damages plus $5 million in compensatory damages covering medical bills, lost wages and other injuries.

Attorney Stuart Calwell said residents are trying to obtain class action certification. In legal papers filed Oct. 5, Calwell wrote that between 1949 and 2000, Monsanto released 3,000 pounds of dioxin into the air in high enough concentrations to substantially increase the cancer risk.





JENA, La.: Rocker’s song invokes mayor’s protest

Murphy McMillin, mayor of Jena, La., has been silent for over a year while six Black high school students faced racist discrimination. In a letter faxed to The Associated Press and picked up by hundreds of news outlets, McMillin broke his silence — not to condemn injustice or praise the peaceful march of over 50,000 last month, but to condemn rock star John Mellencamp and his song “Jena.”

Mellencamp is on tour, but wrote at his web site, “The song was not written as an indictment of the people of Jena, but rather a condemnation of racism, a problem I’ve reflected in many songs, a problem that still plagues our country today.”

The song is available online at www.mellancamp.com.

At McMillin’s request, the Jena Town Council voted, Oct. 2, to establish an interracial committee to study race relations and propose solutions.

National Clips are compiled by Denise Winebrenner Edwards (dwinebr696 @aol.com). Marilyn Bechtel contributed to this week’s clips.