Ukraine Ceasefire Takes Hold, but an Expanding NATO on Russia's Borders Raises Threat of Nuclear War
The Ukrainian government and pro-Russian rebels are reportedly set to sign a ceasefire today aimed at ending over six months of fighting that has killed at least 2,600 people and displaced over a million. The deal is expected this morning in the Belarusian capital of Minsk as President Obama and European leaders meet in Wales for a major NATO summit. The ceasefire comes at a time when the Ukrainian military has suffered a number of defeats at the hands of the Russian-backed rebels. In the hours leading up to the reported ceasefire, pro-Russian rebels launched another offensive to take the port city of Mariupol, which stands about halfway between Russia and the Crimea region. The Ukrainian government and NATO have accused Russia of sending forces into Ukraine, a claim Moscow denies. The new developments in Ukraine come as NATO has announced plans to create a new rapid reaction force in response to the Ukraine crisis. We are joined by Stephen Cohen, professor emeritus of Russian studies and politics at New York University and Princeton University, and the author of numerous books on Russia and the Soviet Union.
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New York Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo is being challenged in his own party’s upcoming primary. We host a discussion with two candidates facing off on the party’s ballot. We are joined by Fordham Law professor Zephyr Teachout and her running mate for lieutenant governor, Tim Wu, who coined the concept of net neutrality. We are also joined political activist Randy Credico, also running for governor. While most of the Democratic establishment has backed the Cuomo ticket, the Teachout-Wu campaign has received some notable endorsements, including the Public Employees Federation, the state’s second-largest union of government workers, as well as the state chapters of the National Organization of Women and the Sierra Club. Credico, who has previously run for New York City mayor and U.S. Senate, is running on a platform calling for economic justice and the reform of the state’s drug laws. So far, Cuomo and his lieutenant governor candidate Kathy Hochul have declined all invitations to debate their challengers. We invited them to join us today for this discussion, but they declined.
Two African-American half-brothers have been exonerated of rape and murder after more than 30 years behind bars in North Carolina. Henry Lee McCollum and Leon Brown were found guilty in 1984 of the rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl. There was no physical evidence tying them to the crime, but police obtained confessions that McCollum and Brown have always said were coerced. Police at the time failed to investigate another man, Roscoe Artis, who lived near the crime scene and had admitted to a similar rape and murder at around the same time. After three decades, the case saw a major breakthrough last month when testing by North Carolina’s Innocence Inquiry Commission tied Artis’ DNA to the crime scene. After a hearing presenting the new evidence Tuesday, the two brothers were declared innocent and ordered freed. Over the years, death penalty supporters have cited the brothers’ case in order to back capital punishment. In 2010, the North Carolina Republican Party pasted McCollum’s mug shot on campaign mailers. In 1994, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia pointed to McCollum as an example of why the death penalty is just. We are joined by two guests: Vernetta Alston, one of the lawyers representing Henry Lee McCollum, and a staff attorney with the Center for Death Penalty Litigation; and Steven Drizin, clinical professor at Northwestern Law School and assistant dean of the Bluhm Legal Clinic, where for more than a decade he was legal director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions.
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The videotaped beheadings of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff have heightened global concern about the militant group Islamic State and fueled talks of an international response to their advances in Syria and Iraq. We discuss ISIS with Mohammed al Dulaimy, an Iraqi journalist with McClatchy Newspapers. Dulaimy reported from Iraq for years and is now seeking asylum in the United States out of fear for his safety if he were to return.
The militant group Islamic State has released a video which appears to show the second beheading of a U.S. journalist in as many weeks. Steven Sotloff is seen wearing an orange jumpsuit similar to those worn by foreign prisoners at Guantánamo Bay. He kneels in the same position as ISIS’s previous victim, James Foley. As a masked person stands over him with a knife, Sotloff speaks directly to the camera and recites what appears to be a coerced statement about "paying the price" for U.S. airstrikes against the group. Sotloff was kidnapped about a year ago in Syria while working as a freelance journalist. To discuss the beheadings and the danger journalists face while reporting in Syria, we are joined by Robert Mahoney, deputy director of the Committee to Protect Journalists.
We continue our coverage of Ukraine by looking at the humanitarian crisis on the ground. According to the United Nations, more than one million people have been displaced by the fighting. Some 800,000 Ukrainians have fled to Russia, another 260,000 are displaced inside Ukraine. We speak to Ole Solvang, senior emergency researcher for Human Rights Watch. He returned recently returned from eastern Ukraine and is the lead author of the new HRW report, "Ukraine: Rising Civilian Toll in Luhansk." The report details how both Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed rebels are contributing to the rising death toll in the besieged city where many residents have not had electricity, gas and running water for weeks. Food and fuel are running low.
Ukraine has retracted an earlier claim to have reached a ceasefire with Russia. The office of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko initially said he agreed with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on steps toward a ceasefire with pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine. But the Kremlin then denied a ceasefire agreement, saying it is in no position to make a deal because it is not a party to the fighting. Ukraine has accused Russia of direct involvement in the violence amidst a recent escalation. The confusion comes as President Obama visits the former Soviet republic of Estonia ahead of a major NATO summit in Wales. On Tuesday, White House spokesman Josh Earnest outlined NATO’s plans to expand its presence in eastern Europe. Ukraine and NATO have accused Russia of sending armored columns of troops into Ukraine, but Russia has denied its troops are involved in fighting on the ground. We are joined by Jack Matlock, U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union from 1987 to 1991.
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Nineteen people were arrested in Hong Kong on Monday, one day after thousands protested calling for greater political freedom. The demonstration was organized by a group called Occupy Central after the Chinese government rejected demands for Hong Kong to freely choose its next leader in 2017. Under the new rules, Hong Kong voters will be allowed to choose the territory’s own chief executive, but all candidates must first be approved by a nominating panel. Activists fear the nominating panel will be controlled by pro-Beijing loyalists who will prevent opposition candidates from running. Protesters with Occupy Central are threatening to hold more demonstrations including a blockade of city’s central business district. We speak to Hong Kong legislator Claudia Mo, a former journalist who helped found the Civic Party.
Jurors will begin deliberating this week in the murder and manslaughter trial of four former Blackwater operatives involved in the 2007 massacre at Baghdad’s Nisoor Square. The suspects are charged for the deaths of 14 of the 17 Iraqi civilians who died when their Blackwater unit opened fire. The trial featured testimony from witnesses who survived the attack and saw loved ones gunned down. In closing arguments last week, prosecutors said Blackwater guards had shot fleeing civilians and boasted of taking their lives. Nisoor Square is the highest-profile deadly incident involving Blackwater — or any private war contractor — and many Iraqis are watching the upcoming verdict to see how seriously the United States intends to hold its private security companies accountable for their alleged crimes. The first witness to testify in the Blackwater trial was Mohammed Kinani, who broke down in tears when describing how his nine-year-old son, Ali, was shot in the head while riding in the back seat of the family car. Kinani reportedly sobbed so uncontrollably when testifying that Judge Royce Lamberth temporarily dismissed the jury. We air a documentary that tells Mohammad and Ali’s story, "Blackwater’s Youngest Victim," by the Oscar-nominated filmmakers Jeremy Scahill and Richard Rowley.
Over the past three days, federal judges have blocked a pair of new laws that could have closed most of the 19 abortion clinics in Texas and all five of the facilities in Louisiana. On Friday, a federal judge blocked a Texas law due to take effect Monday that would have required all abortion clinics to meet the same standards as hospital-style surgery centers — even those that offer non-surgical abortions with medication, and simple early surgical abortions. Last year, the controversial rule drew mass protest and an 11-hour filibuster by State Senator Wendy Davis, who is now running for governor. Meanwhile on Sunday, a federal judge in Louisiana issued a temporary restraining order just hours before a new abortion law would have begun forcing physicians who provide abortion services to have patient-admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of their practice. We are joined by Amy Hagstrom Miller, CEO of Whole Woman’s Health, which operates five Texas clinics and was a party in this lawsuit.
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Today, a special with Henry Siegman, the former executive director of the American Jewish Congress, long described as one of the nation’s "big three" Jewish organizations along with the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League. Henry Siegman was born in 1930 in Frankfurt, Germany. Three years later, the Nazis came to power. After fleeing Nazi troops in Belgium, his family eventually moved to the United States. His father was a leader of the European Zionist movement, pushing for the creation of a Jewish state. In New York, Siegman studied and was ordained as an Orthodox rabbi by Yeshiva Torah Vodaas. He later became head of the Synagogue Council of America. After his time at the American Jewish Congress, Siegman became a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. He now serves as president of the U.S./Middle East Project.
Over the years, Siegman has become a vocal critic of Israel’s policies in the Occupied Territories and has urged Israel to engage with Hamas. He has called the Palestinian struggle for a state "the mirror image of the Zionist movement" that led to the founding of Israel in 1948. In July, wrote an op-ed for Politico headlined, "Israel Provoked This War." Democracy Now! hosts Amy Goodman and Nermeen Shaikh sat down with him on July 29 — in the midst of Israel’s offensive in Gaza.
President Obama has ordered a White House-led review of federal programs that fund and distribute military equipment to state and local police. Obama cited concern at how such equipment was used during the recent unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, following the police killing of Michael Brown. One of the BearCat armored trucks used during protests there was paid for with $360,000 in Homeland Security grants. According to Pentagon data published by The New York Times, police departments have received tens of thousands of machine guns during the Obama administration, along with nearly 200,000 ammunition magazines; thousands of pieces of camouflage and night-vision equipment; and hundreds of silencers, armored cars and aircraft. Much of the equipment is used by police SWAT teams for what amount to paramilitary raids on people’s homes. A new report by the American Civil Liberties Union examined more than 800 of these raids and found only 7 percent were for genuine emergencies. Nearly 80 percent were for used for ordinary law enforcement purposes like serving search warrants on people’s homes. We are joined by Kara Dansky, a senior counsel for the ACLU and author of its new report, "The War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing."
Immigrants and their allies held protests in more than a dozen cities Thursday to mark what they called the National Day to Fight for Families. Calling on President Obama to take executive action and stem his record level of deportations, about 145 people were arrested in front of the White House after laying red carnations over photos of deported loved ones. The protest came as President Obama called on Congress yet again to help address immigration reform, but suggested he would take executive action if it is the only way to address the situation. We speak to Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Illinois), chair of the Immigration Task Force of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
President Obama is sending Secretary of State John Kerry to the Middle East to help build a regional coalition against the Islamic State, or ISIS, the militant group that has seized large parts of Iraq and Syria. "We don’t have a strategy yet," Obama admitted. We speak to journalist Jonathan Steele, author of "Defeat: Losing Iraq and the Future of the Middle East." Steele says that at this point he believes ISIS represents a "marginal threat" on Western interests and that airstrikes will be counterproductive.
The United States and NATO are openly accusing Russia of sending combat forces into Ukraine as tensions continue to mount. According to the United Nations, nearly 2,600 people have been killed in eastern Ukraine since April in fighting between Ukrainian forces and separatist rebels sympathetic to Russia. On Thursday, at least 15 civilians were killed when Ukrainian forces shelled the rebel-held city of Donetsk. Meanwhile, a new Human Rights Watch report accuses the rebels of arbitrarily detaining civilians and subjecting them to torture, degrading treatment and forced labor. On Thursday, NATO released satellite images that it says show Russian artillery, vehicles and troops in and around eastern Ukraine. We are joined from London by The Guardian’s Jonathan Steele, the organization’s former Moscow correspondent and author of many books, including "Eternal Russia: Yeltsin, Gorbachev, and the Mirage of Democracy."