Senator: US does not want ‘precipitous’ withdrawal from Afghanistan

Afghan National Army officers take part in a training exercise at the Kabul Military Training Center. File/Reuters
Updated 15 April 2019
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Senator: US does not want ‘precipitous’ withdrawal from Afghanistan

  • Women must have a place in talks with militants, says key American politician

The US does not want to pursue a “precipitous” withdrawal from Afghanistan, a top Democratic lawmaker said in Kabul on Monday amid an ongoing push to end the war.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, who sits on the influential Senate Armed Services Committee that oversees the US military, also stressed that women must have a place at the table as the US tries to negotiate with the Taliban.

President Donald Trump last year told advisers he wanted to slash America’s 14,000-strong troop presence in Afghanistan by about half, prompting criticism he was seeking to rush a withdrawal.

“What we’ve heard here (is) that whatever negotiated settlement ends the conflict, that it be done in a way that’s very deliberate, that ensures a transition that all sides can participate in, and that there should not be a precipitous withdrawal from Afghanistan,” Shaheen told reporters at the US Embassy.

Congressional colleagues agreed, she said, adding “that’s the position of the administration as well.”

“There is a deliberate position that may not always be reflected in the tweets that come from the White House,” she said, referring to Trump’s penchant of firing off unexpected foreign policy messages.

Foreign relations

Shaheen also sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and is the only woman on the panel.

She said it is vital for women to be included in talks with the Taliban, whose regime shredded any Western notion of women’s rights.

“What we know from the data is that when women are engaged, there is about a 35 percent more likely chance that those negotiations will ... endure for a longer period of time,” Shaheen said.

It’s important that “whatever comes out of any peace negotiations, that we support having women at the table.”

A fresh round of talks is expected to take place later this month between Afghan political leaders, including some officials from the Kabul government, and the Taliban.

The Taliban have long refused to speak officially with Kabul, dubbing the government a “puppet” of the West.

 


Texas executes white supremacist in black man’s dragging death

Updated 11 min 36 sec ago
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Texas executes white supremacist in black man’s dragging death

  • John William King and his cohorts were found guilty of chaining James Byrd Jr. to the back of a truck and dragged for nearly 3 km
  • Prosecutors said Byrd, 49, was targeted because he was black. He was alive for at least 3 km until his body was ripped to pieces
HUNTSVILLE, Texas: An avowed racist who orchestrated one of the most gruesome hate crimes in US history was executed Wednesday in Texas for the dragging death of a black man.
John William King, who was white, received lethal injection for the slaying nearly 21 years ago of James Byrd Jr., who was chained to the back of a truck and dragged for nearly 3 miles (5 kilometers) along a secluded road in the piney woods outside Jasper, Texas. The 49-year-old Byrd was alive for at least 2 miles (3 kilometers) before his body was ripped to pieces in the early morning hours of June 7, 1998.
Prosecutors said Byrd was targeted because he was black. King was openly racist and had offensive tattoos on his body, including one of a black man with a noose around his neck hanging from a tree, according to authorities.
King, 44, was put to death at the state penitentiary in Huntsville, Texas. He was the fourth inmate executed this year in the US and the third in Texas, the nation’s busiest capital punishment state.
The killing of Byrd was a hate crime that put a national spotlight on Jasper, a town of about 7,600 residents near the Texas-Louisiana border that was branded with a racist stigma it has tried to shake off ever since. Local officials say the reputation is undeserved.
King’s appellate lawyers had tried to stop his execution, arguing King’s constitutional rights were violated because his trial attorneys didn’t present his claims of innocence and conceded his guilt.
The US Supreme Court rejected King’s last-minute appeal.
“From the time of indictment through his trial, Mr. King maintained his absolute innocence, claiming that he had left his co-defendants and Mr. Byrd sometime prior to his death and was not present at the scene of his murder. Mr. King repeatedly expressed to defense counsel that he wanted to present his innocence claim at trial,” A. Richard Ellis, one of King’s attorneys, wrote in his petition to the Supreme Court.
The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles also turned down King’s request for either a commutation of his sentence or a 120-day reprieve.
Over the years, King had also suggested the brutal slaying was not a hate crime, but a drug deal gone bad involving his co-defendants.
King, who grew up in Jasper and was known as “Bill,” was the second man executed for Byrd’s killing. Lawrence Russell Brewer was executed in 2011. The third participant, Shawn Allen Berry, was sentenced to life in prison.
King declined an interview request from The Associated Press in the weeks leading up to his execution.
In a 2001 interview with the AP, King said he was an “avowed racist” but wasn’t “a hate-monger murderer.”
Louvon Byrd Harris, one of Byrd’s sisters, said King’s execution sent a “message to the world that when you do something horrible like that, that you have to pay the high penalty.”
Compared to “all the suffering” her brother suffered before his death, Harris said King and Brewer got “an easy way out.”
Billy Rowles, who led the investigation into Byrd’s death when he was sheriff in Jasper County, said after King was taken to death row in 1999, he offered to detail the crime as soon as his co-defendants were convicted. When Rowles returned, all King would say was, “I wasn’t there.”
“He played us like a fiddle, getting us to go over there and thinking we’re going to get the rest of the story,” said Rowles, who now is sheriff of Newton County.
A week before Brewer was executed in 2011, Rowles said he visited Brewer, who confirmed “the whole thing was Bill King’s idea.”
Mylinda Byrd Washington, another of Byrd’s sisters, said she and her family will work through the Byrd Foundation for Racial Healing to ensure her brother’s death continues to combat hate everywhere.
“I hope people remember him not as a hate crime statistic. This was a real person. A family man, a father, a brother and a son,” she said.