The backlash over the prisoner swap involving U.S. soldier Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl and five members of the Taliban continues to grow. In Bergdahl’s hometown of Hailey, Idaho, community members have a canceled a celebration of his release over public safety concerns. In recent days, angry phone calls and emails poured into Hailey city hall and local organizations over the town’s support for the soldier. Bergdahl was captured by the Taliban in 2009 shortly after he left his military outpost in Afghanistan. Some of Bergdahl’s fellow soldiers have described him as a deserter. They have also said at least six soldiers died while searching for him, a claim the Pentagon rejects. We discuss the Bergdahl controversy and its local impact in Idaho with Larry Schoen, a county commissioner in Blaine County.
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As Oklahoma enacts a law that could close all but one abortion clinic in the state — and Louisiana is poised to follow suit — we look at the legacy of Dr. George Tiller, who was assassinated five years ago this past weekend. Tiller was one of a handful of doctors providing abortions in the third trimester of pregnancy. He braved constant threats, a firebombing at his clinic and an assassination attempt that left him with gunshot wounds to both arms. On May 31, 2009, anti-choice extremist, Scott Roeder, entered Tiller’s church in Wichita, Kansas, and shot him dead. We remember Tiller by speaking with Dr. Cheryl Chastine, who travels from Chicago to Wichita each week to provide abortions at Tiller’s former clinic, which reopened last year. Chastine discusses the obstacles to abortion access in Kansas and responds to the threats and harassment she and her colleagues face. "I get up in the morning and there are patients that need me," Chastine says. "If I allow myself to be deterred from doing this work, then I am allowing a victory for terrorism."
With freed American prisoner of war Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl now facing an Army probe into potential desertion, we are joined by Charles Glass, a historian and former ABC News chief Middle East correspondent. Glass’ book, "The Deserters: A Hidden History of the Second World War," tells the story of three men whose lives dramatize how the strain of war can push a soldier to the breaking point. They are among some 50,000 American soldiers who deserted in the European theater during World War II. "We have to understand what [Bergdahl] was going through," Glass says. "The young person at the front line, having believed in his country’s mission in Afghanistan and discovering it was not at all what he was told it was, and saw himself as part of the mechanism of oppression, of killing people, of going into villages, and when trying to take out enemy combatants was killing families. I hope that we’ll understand what he went through and have compassion for him and his family."
The Taliban has released a video showing the hand over of Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl to U.S. Special Operations Forces in the deal that saw the U.S. exchange five high-ranking Taliban militants held at Guantánamo bay. Despite winning the freedom of the only known U.S. prisoner of war, the deal has come under Republican attack amidst reports Bergdahl voluntarily left his base after growing opposed to the war in Afghanistan. Army officials say they will investigate whether Bergdahl engaged in misconduct, and several of the soldiers who served with him have taken to the media to call him a deserter. "[Bergdahl] is speaking as someone who has seen firsthand what the American imperial machine is all about … and is responding from a very core, visceral place," says James Branum, a lawyer who specializes in representing U.S. military deserters and conscientious objectors. "One can’t help be moved by that." Branum adds that most other soldiers convicted of desertion, including many of his clients, have received six to 24 month sentences. "[Bergdahl] has already effectively served more jail time than anyone ever has in the modern era for desertion, in his time as a POW. Given that, there is no reason to punish him."
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In one of the most significant press freedom cases in decades, the U.S. Supreme Court has turned down the appeal of a New York Times reporter who faces prison for refusing to reveal a confidential source. James Risen had asked the court to overturn a ruling forcing him to testify in the criminal trial of ex-CIA analyst Jeffrey Sterling. Prosecutors believe Sterling gave Risen information on the CIA’s role in disrupting Iran’s nuclear program. Risen vowed to go to prison rather than testify and was hoping for Supreme Court intervention. But on Monday, the Supreme Court refused to weigh in, effectively siding with the government. The Obama administration must now decide if it will try to force Risen’s testimony and risk sending one of the nation’s most prominent national security journalists to jail. We are joined by two guests: Trevor Timm, executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation and a columnist at The Guardian; and Matthew Cooper, a veteran Washington correspondent who was held in contempt of court during the Bush administration leak case that led to the outing of Valerie Plame as a CIA agent.
In a deal brokered by Qatar, the United States agreed to release five Taliban leaders from Guantánamo Bay in return for winning Bowe Bergdahl’s freedom. Bergdahl is now being treated at an American military hospital in Germany and will return to the United States at a later date. The Taliban leaders be forced to remain in Qatar for one year. The deal has been controversial. Some of Bergdahl’s former soldiers say he should face a court-martial for desertion. Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers are accusing President Obama of failing to properly give Congress advanced warning of the Guantánamo prisoner transfers, and of endangering U.S. troops worldwide by incentivising their capture. We get reaction from retired Air Force Col. Morris Davis, who resigned as the former chief military prosecutor at Guantánamo Bay in 2007.
According to a 2012 profile in Rolling Stone magazine by the late reporter Michael Hastings, the newly freed U.S. soldier Bowe Bergdahl joined the Army in 2008 after he first tried to enlist with the French Foreign Legion, but was rejected. He was deployed to Afghanistan just after President Obama ordered the first troop surge in the Spring of 2009. Bergdahl reportedly told a soldier in his unit, "If this deployment is lame … I’m just going to walk off into the mountains of Pakistan." And on June 30, 2009, he may have done just that, leaving the base with just a knife and water, along with a digital camera and his diary. Within 24 hours, he was captured. We are joined by Sean Smith, an award-winning photographer and filmmaker for The Guardian who met Bowe Bergdahl while embedded with his unit in Afghanistan. Smith also profiled Bowe’s father, Bob Bergdahl, in the video we aired in the previous segment.
Bowe Bergdahl, the last known American prisoner of war in Afghanistan, has been freed in a prison swap with the Taliban five years after his capture. Bergdahl was captured after reportedly walking off his base unarmed. He was said to have left a note claiming he had become disillusioned with the Army, did not support the American mission in Afghanistan, and was leaving to start a new life. Bergdahl’s parents, Bob and Jani, had first revealed their son was the subject of prisoner swap negotiations three years ago when U.S.-Taliban talks broke down. In the lead-up to his son’s release, Bob Bergdahl spoke to The Guardian’s Sean Smith in an exclusive interview filmed around the Idaho countryside where the family lives. "I don’t think anybody can relate to the prisoners in Guantánamo more than our family, because it’s the same thing," Bob Bergdahl told Smith. "How could we have such a high standard of judicial process for horrible war criminals [during World War II] ... and yet now we can go for 10-11 years without even having judicial process? It’s just wrong."
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Richard Clarke, the nation’s former top counterterrorism official, tells Democracy Now! he believes President George W. Bush is guilty of war crimes for launching the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Clarke served as national coordinator for security and counterterrorism during Bush’s first year in office. He resigned in 2003 following the Iraq invasion and later made headlines by accusing Bush officials of ignoring pre-9/11 warnings about an imminent attack by al-Qaeda. "I think things that they authorized probably fall within the area of war crimes," Clarke says. "Whether that would be productive or not, I think, is a discussion we could all have. But we have established procedures now with the International Criminal Court in The Hague, where people who take actions as serving presidents or prime ministers of countries have been indicted and have been tried. So the precedent is there to do that sort of thing. And I think we need to ask ourselves whether or not it would be useful to do that in the case of members of the Bush administration. It’s clear that things that the Bush administration did — in my mind, at least — were war crimes."
Richard Clarke served as the nation’s top counterterrorism official under presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush before resigning in 2003 in protest of the Iraq War. A year before the Sept. 11 attacks, Clarke pushed for the Air Force to begin arming drones as part of the U.S. effort to hunt down Osama bin Laden. According to Clarke, the CIA and the Pentagon initially opposed the mission. Then Sept. 11 happened. Two months later, on November 12, 2001, Mohammed Atef, the head of al-Qaeda’s military forces, became the first person killed by a Predator drone. According to the Bureau for Investigative Journalism, U.S. drones have since killed at least 2,600 people in Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Clarke has just written a novel about drone warfare called, "Sting of the Drone." We talk to Clarke about the book and his concerns about President Obama’s escalation of the drone war. "I think the [drone] program got out of hand," Clarke says. "The excessive secrecy is as counterproductive as some of the strikes are."
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We air part two of our interview with famed essayist Ta-Nehisi Coates about his cover article in The Atlantic, “The Case for Reparations,” in which he exposes how slavery, Jim Crow segregation, and federally backed housing policy have systematically robbed African Americans of their possessions and prevented them from accruing inter-generational wealth. “It puts a lie to the myth that African Americans who act right, who are respectable, are somehow therefore immune to the plunder that is symptomatic of white supremacy in this country,” Coates says. “It does not matter. There’s no bettering yourself that will get you out of this.”
We are joined by Aviva Chomsky, whose new book, "Undocumented: How Immigration Became Illegal” details how systemic prejudice against Mexicans and many other migrant workers has been woven into U.S. immigration policies that deny them the same path to citizenship that have long been granted to European immigrants. She also draws parallels between the immigration laws now in place that criminalize migrants, and the caste system that has oppressed African Americans, as described by Prof. Michelle Alexander in her book, "The New Jim Crow." Chomsky’s previous book on this topic is "They Take Our Jobs! and 20 Other Myths about Immigration." She is a professor of history and coordinator of Latin American studies at Salem State University in Massachusetts.
President Obama announced this week that he is delaying a review of his administration’s controversial deportation practices until after the summer, after earlier ordering Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to look into ways he could take executive action to scale back deportations after civil rights groups dubbed him the "deporter-in-chief." But during a hearing on immigration policy Thursday, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Republican Rep. Bob Goodlatte of Virginia made it clear that they remain highly skeptical of negotiating with the president. Immigration rights groups continue to express frustration over the lack of political traction on comprehensive immigration reform. “Our community is angry and we are going to channel that anger in the most constructive way possible,” says our guest Pablo Alvarado, director of the National Day Laborers Organizing Network, which has engaged in civil disobedience to pressure Obama to immediately stop deportations.
Image Credit: Juliosalgado.com
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An explosive new cover story in the June issue of The Atlantic magazine by the famed essayist Ta-Nehisi Coates has rekindled a national discussion on reparations for American slavery and institutional racism. Coates explores how slavery, Jim Crow segregation, and federally backed housing policy systematically robbed African Americans of their possessions and prevented them from accruing inter-generational wealth. Much of the essay focuses on predatory lending schemes that bilked potential African-American homeowners, concluding: "Until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole." Click here to watch Part 2 of this interview.":http://www.democracynow.org/2014/5/30/part_2_ta_nehisi_coateson
The legendary poet, playwright and civil rights activist Maya Angelou has died at the age of 86. Born in the Jim Crow South, Angelou rose to become one of the world’s most celebrated writers. After becoming an accomplished singer and actress, Angelou was deeply involved in the 1960s civil rights struggle, working with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. Encouraged by the author James Baldwin, among others, to focus on her writing, Angelou penned "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings," her first of seven autobiographies. The book launched the phenomenal career for which she is known around the world as an award-winning author and people’s poet. We look back at some of Angelou’s most celebrated poems and speeches, and speak to her close friend Sonia Sanchez, the renowned writer, activist and leader in the black arts movement.