- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:

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March 4

The Washington Post on a dual Saudi-U.S. citizen imprisoned in Saudi Arabia:

Before he was murdered inside a Saudi Consulate in October, our colleague Jamal Khashoggi questioned why Saudi Arabia had detained a prominent doctor, Walid Fitaihi, a dual Saudi-U.S. citizen seized in a November 2017 roundup of businessmen. The detainees, in what was described as an anti-corruption drive, were held at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Riyadh. “What happened to us?” Khashoggi, himself a Saudi, asked on Twitter. “How can a person like @Walidfitaihi get arrested, and for what reason?” He added, “With no interceding channels to pursue & no Attorney General to answer questions & verify charges, of course everyone is struck with awe and helplessness.”



Today, Khashoggi is no longer able to ask such impertinent questions. He was assassinated in Istanbul by a hit squad that intelligence reports say was dispatched by the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman. But Khashoggi’s question remains relevant. Mr. Fitaihi, founder of a medical center in Jeddah, is still a captive. It is not known precisely why, and he has never been charged, although the New York Times quoted a friend saying he was being pressured to give evidence against a relative.

He has been tortured during his captivity. He was reportedly grabbed from his room at the Ritz, slapped, blindfolded, stripped to his underwear, bound to a chair, shocked with electricity and whipped so severely that he could not sleep on his back for days. The Times said his lawyer has written to the State Department that the doctor “is in fear for his life, that he cannot take his situation any longer, and that he desires all possible help.” The Associated Press quoted the lawyer as saying Mr. Fitaihi is now in a prison hospital after suffering “an emotional breakdown.” Mr. Fitaihi earned his medical degree from George Washington University and holds a master’s degree in public health from Harvard University.

On another front in Mohammed bin Salman’s drive to crush critical voices, Saudi Arabia’s public prosecutor announced charges Friday against a group of female activists who campaigned to give women the right to drive - a right that Mohammed bin Salman conferred after they sought it. The activists have been jailed for nearly a year, during which Amnesty International says they have been tortured and sexually abused. They did nothing wrong and should be released unconditionally and immediately.

In the New York Times Magazine on Sunday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, asked about the crown prince’s role in the Khashoggi murder, declared that the United States would “hold everyone that we determine is responsible for this accountable in an appropriate way, a way that reflects the best of the United States of America.”

A doctor with U.S. citizenship was tortured and held without charge. Women who stood for human dignity and equality were jailed and tortured. A journalist was killed. Yet President Trump and his administration - including his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who last week met with the crown prince - are loath to act. That does not reflect the best of the United States of America.

Online: https://www.washingtonpost.com/

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March 4

Los Angeles Times on Stephon Clark, an unarmed black man who was shot and killed by officers in California:

Sacramento County Dist. Atty. Anne Marie Schubert’s decision not to file criminal charges against the two officers who shot 22-year-old Stephon Clark to death a year ago did not reflect a determination that the officers acted properly. It was not a clean bill of health for their training, their department or their profession. It was not a statement that all is as it should be in policing and in racial equity. It was merely a conclusion - a proper one - that the officers did not commit crimes.

Murder charges against police officers are too often held up as the gold standard of justice in fatal police shootings of young unarmed African American men like Clark. That simplistic calculus allows us to pretend that racism and injustice are alien forces that police spread through neighborhoods while on patrol, and that ridding ourselves of those evils can be as simple as weeding bad cops out of our law enforcement agencies.

And indeed, there are bad cops. But not every shooting that seems in retrospect to have been avoidable is committed by a bad cop. Clark found himself in harm’s way thanks to a host of circumstances that prey upon many black young men.

Schubert’s recitation at a news conference of Clark’s personal circumstances - including his numerous anguished calls to his girlfriend, his emails and texts, his search records showing he was studying suicide - was gratuitous in that the police knew none of it at the time they encountered him. The details had no bearing on their decision to open fire. But they do help explain his behavior. He was distraught. He needed help of a kind police are ill-equipped to provide.

The officers who followed Clark to his grandmother’s backyard were responding to reports of vandalism in the neighborhood. They encountered a man who turned toward them, advanced and, Schubert said the evidence showed, assumed a shooting stance. They shot him, expecting that they would find a firearm in his possession. They found instead a cellphone.

In response to the Clark shooting, California lawmakers last year proposed a bill that would change the standards that determine when police may lawfully resort to deadly force. Under the bill, they would have to first seek reasonable alternatives. They could fire only when the circumstances make it “necessary.” It’s a worthy bill, and although it failed to pass last year, a version has been introduced in the current session and deserves support.

But even many of the experts who promoted the bill as it made its way through the Legislature last year quietly acknowledged that had it been law at the time of the Clark shooting, it would not have changed the analysis. Police cannot be expected not to follow a suspect. And when they do follow and catch up and the suspect turns toward them with what in their experience and training appears to be a shooting stance, with an object in hand, they cannot be expected to know that it is a phone. They cannot be expected to wait for the suspect to fire before determining that it is a gun.

The killing was “justified,” as that term is used in evaluation of police shootings. But it was also an injustice, in the sense that a man having an emotional meltdown ought to have an array of services and options at his disposal to help him cope without harming himself or others. His family - anyone’s family - ought to be able to call someone with the skill and expertise to defuse the situation without resorting to deadly weapons.

When armed police do respond, they ought to have the training and experience to de-escalate the situation when they can.

After Schubert announced her decision, Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg correctly distinguished between the question of criminal charges against police and the larger question of whether the interaction between the police and Clark had gone as it should.

“Was the outcome wrong and unacceptable?” he asked. “The answer is yes.”

Of course it is immensely infuriating - and frustrating and tragic - when a person loses his life at the hands of police who misjudged the danger they faced. Changes to the use-of-force standard are appropriate, but more community services and support and police training are paramount to ensure that more people don’t put themselves and others in harm’s way, and more police don’t find themselves without an alternative to pulling the trigger.

Online: https://www.latimes.com/

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March 1

The Mail & Guardian (South Africa) on Nigeria’s election:

Last Saturday, 15.2-million voters gave incumbent Muhammadu Buhari a second term as the democratically elected president of Nigeria. It is his third term in total: he served as head of state from 1983 to 1985 after seizing power in a military coup.

His rival, Atiku Abubakar, who received just 11.3-million votes, has rejected these results and has said he will challenge them in court.

In a country with a population of 191 million people and 84 million registered voters, Buhari can hardly claim that this result represents a ringing endorsement. In fact, the opposite is true.

Voter turnout was the lowest in Nigerian history, at 36%. Turnout in the 2015 election was at 45%.

There were some mitigating factors for the Independent National Electoral Commission. Yes, voting was compromised in some northeastern areas by insecurity linked to the Boko Haram insurgency. And, yes, many voters were caught out by the last-minute decision to delay the vote by one week (it was originally scheduled for Feb. 16 but only took place on Feb. 23).

The latter is not much of an excuse, however, given that the electoral commission had four years to organize the election. We will never know exactly how many voters were disenfranchised by its failure to do so on time.

More broadly, however, the low turnout suggests a loss of faith in Nigeria’s political system, with voters uninspired by either of the front-running candidates. And who can blame them? Neither offered anything new, or any real prospect of the change that Nigeria’s ailing economy and endemically corrupt political system so desperately need.

Buhari has delivered on few of his promises from 2015 and spent much of his first term receiving medical treatment abroad for a mysterious condition. Abubakar, meanwhile, is also an old establishment figure, having served as vice-president under Olusegun Obasanjo. He is also a political opportunist who was, until he defected just over a year ago, a senior member of Buhari’s party.

In this election, Nigerians made their feelings clear - by not voting. The people have now spoken. For the sake of Africa’s largest democracy, we hope that its leaders are paying attention. Other African leaders, perhaps even those from the continent’s other economic hub, should also take note.

Online: https://mg.co.za/

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March 6

USA Today on gun control:

Gary Martin was exactly the kind of person that gun control background checks - a federal system now 25 years old - was designed to catch.

It failed. Again.

In Mississippi in 1994, Martin stabbed his girlfriend with a kitchen knife, beat her with a baseball bat, and warned “we are all going to die” if she left him. He should have never been able to buy a gun after that. But many years later, shopping for a gun in Illinois, Martin lied about his criminal past, and a federal background check missed his felony aggravated assault conviction and prison term in Mississippi for attacking his girlfriend.

Martin bought himself a Smith & Wesson .40-caliber handgun.

Illinois authorities later discovered the error and revoked Martin’s firearm permit. But all that happened next was a letter from the state police telling him to give up his gun. Despite the state’s tough gun laws, he didn’t. Instead, in February, as he was being fired from a warehouse job in Aurora, Martin used his Smith & Wesson to kill five co-workers and wound five police officers before being shot to death.

Last week, two important pieces of gun control legislation passed the House of Representatives. One closes the so-called gun show loophole by requiring universal background checks, an idea favored by 85 percent of Americans. The other extends the background review period from three days to 10, allowing more time for disqualifying records to be found.

Both bills have an unlikely future in the Republican-controlled Senate. But improvements of any kind will ultimately fall short when existing laws are not vigorously applied. Americans can hardly be expected to get behind new gun laws when authorities keep bungling old ones.

The Brady Law of 1993, mandating the criminal-background check, has never been adequately enforced. (The National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS, administered by the FBI, was established in 1998 in response to Brady.)

Nearly 1.5 million people have been denied firearms under the system. But unlawful purchases still occur because agencies fail to provide NICS with necessary records or don’t follow up when mistakes are made.

And people keep dying.

The Air Force failed to notify NICS about the criminal record of a discharged airman who then bought an assault-style rifle and killed 26 people at a Texas church in 2017.

Travis Reinking’s guns were taken away in 2017 after a White House trespassing incident. Police gave them to his father, and investigators said Reinking later used one of them to allegedly murder four random people at a Waffle House near Nashville last year.

A report last year found 112,000 cases in 2017 where people lied about their backgrounds to buy a gun, a potential felony. Only 12 cases were prosecuted.

Of the 10,818 people in Illinois like Martin who had their gun licenses revoked last year, more than 8,000 kept their illegal guns. According to the Chicago Tribune, 10 people were arrested for the offense.

Some progress has been made. Last year, Congress passed legislation offering incentives to state and local agencies to improve NICS compliance. But the Justice Department told The Wall Street Journal that states have yet to submit millions of records to the FBI.

Federal record submissions have increased by 400 percent, but a requirement that military service branches like the Air Force do a better job of reporting criminal backgrounds has not been met. The Department of Homeland Security has also failed to abide by the law.

The nation is awash in firearms. The least that federal, state and local agencies can do is enforce existing laws preventing the violent and the mentally ill from acquiring guns.

Online: https://www.usatoday.com/

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March 5

The New York Times on the law allowing national emergency declarations:

Congress is on the verge of formally repudiating a president’s national emergency declaration, a historic first.

Last month, after losing a funding battle with Congress over his desire for a border wall, President Trump made his declaration, insisting that a “national security crisis on our southern border” precipitated his action. The Senate has mustered enough support to pass a joint resolution, introduced and approved in the House last month, calling for the immediate termination of a national emergency that represented an unprecedented end run around Congress’s power of the purse.

Mr. Trump has threatened to veto the resolution if it passes. Nonetheless, such a rejection from Congress would be healthy for the nation’s constitutional order. Among other things, it’d demonstrate that the separation of powers still matters and that some Republican lawmakers - after two years of looking the other way - are willing to stand up to a president with no respect for constitutional boundaries.

At the same time, the need for this legislative reprimand lays bare flaws in the National Emergencies Act, which Congress passed in 1976 to restrain executive power. Before the law, a president could declare a national emergency and unlock formidable powers under an array of statutes, giving him authority, according to a legislative analysis, “to seize property and commodities, organize and control the means of production, call to active duty 2.5 million reservists, assign military forces abroad, seize and control all means of transportation and communication, restrict travel, and institute martial law, and, in many other ways, manage every aspect of the lives of all American citizens.”

The National Emergencies Act ended that regime, established limits on the duration of national emergencies and put an end to four longstanding emergencies - one of them dating to the start of the Korean War that the government had used as late as 1972 to justify actions in Vietnam.

Senator Charles McC. Mathias, a Republican from Maryland who was a chief sponsor of the legislation, called President Gerald Ford’s signing of the bill “a historic act of relinquishing powers of the presidency” and envisioned it would be a tool for “restoring constitutional democracy.”

But in the more than 40 years that the National Emergencies Act has been in effect, it’s been subject to few checks and balances. That Congress has never invoked its own authority under the act to rebuke a president until now is a sign of the statute’s weaknesses.

The resolution now before Congress serves mainly to nullify Mr. Trump’s border emergency declaration. But further reforms are called for to protect the nation from future excesses.

For one thing, the National Emergencies Act doesn’t define what an emergency is - a loophole that Mr. Trump took advantage of by declaring that there’s a crisis at the border, contrary to all evidence. Congress could set clearer parameters, allowing a president to declare emergencies only when threats to the national interest are imminent and based on observable facts.

Online: https://www.nytimes.com/

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March 6

Chicago Tribune on a study confirming that the measles vaccine does not increase the risk of autism:

The measles vaccine does not increase the risk of autism. A major new study confirms this fact, which has been accepted science for years.

The study of 650,000 Danish children investigated the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine. The results were published Tuesday in the Annals of Internal Medicine: “The risk for autism was no different in children who got the MMR vaccine than in children who did not. This remained true even among children who had risk factors for autism, such as a sibling with autism or an older father.”

Anyone with cockamamie reasons to flout established science will still do so. But for someone with a shred of doubt, or just in need of fresh fuel to push back on a friend or family member who avoids vaccines, it’s a timely dose of new evidence.

We weighed in on anti-vax parents on Feb. 10, after measles was diagnosed Downstate and spread alarmingly in the Pacific Northwest.

“Measles can cause lifelong effects including deafness. It is ugly, with its blotchy, fevered spots, some of which leave permanent scars. It’s highly contagious and miserable to experience,” we said.

With a touch of sympathy for worried parents, we also noted:

“Watching plump, pure baby flesh pierced and feeling trepidation about how the child’s system will react can be legitimately nerve-wracking for a parent. That’s no license to avoid a medical necessity that protects child and community. The right to resist comes with a corresponding responsibility to back up that impulse with rigorous research.”

Now we have even more research to back us up.

Online: https://www.chicagotribune.com/

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