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By United Press International   |   April 23, 2002 at 4:45 AM   |   Comments

CRISIS IN THE MIDDLE EAST

The White House has told UPI that the United States has investigators in Jenin attempting to determine what occurred in the refugee camp during the Israeli occupation.

It's been alleged that Israeli soldiers massacred unarmed Palestinians and were guilty of other war crimes.

"We want to hear what the evidence is," said Michael Anton, a spokesman for the National Security Council. He said President Bush is awaiting these direct reports as he continues to grapple with the Middle East crisis.

Anton's comments came as the United Nations Security Council also sent a fact-finding team into Jenin, which was home to some 13,000 Palestinian refugees.

Israeli forces entered the camp April 3 -- saying it was a base for suicide terrorists, and that their incursion was designed to root out an "infrastructure of terror and prevent further attacks. The camp saw the fiercest fighting of the recent Israeli offensive, with Palestinian police and militants resisting the much more heavily armed Israelis in house-to-house fighting. After 13 Israeli soldiers were killed April 9 in a single ambush, the military changed its tactics, employing armored bulldozers to demolish houses where militants were thought to have concealed themselves. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, have been left homeless. Palestinian officials say hundreds of refugees were killed -- either bulldozed in their homes or shot and buried in mass graves.

On Monday, representatives of the rights group Amnesty International -- who visited the camp during the weekend -- issued their preliminary report. "The evidence compiled indicates that serious breaches of international human rights and humanitarian law were committed, including war crimes," said Amnesty's Javier Zuniga. He said there was evidence of extrajudicial executions; failure to allow humanitarian aid into the camp for 13 days, to help residents who were trapped in the rubble of demolished houses or running out of food and water; the use of civilians as "human shields"; the denial of medical assistance to the wounded and the deliberate targeting of ambulances.

But Zuniga added that only an independent international commission could establish the full facts.

Israeli officials have reacted angrily to criticism, saying they demolished only houses from which they were fired upon and took great care to minimize civilian casualties --and that this restraint cost the lives of Israeli soldiers.

The allegations of war crimes in Jenin, if proven true, could be problematic for the Bush White House, which has maintained Israel's right to defend itself in the wake of a spate of suicide bombings last month that killed some 130 Israelis. On the one hand, conservatives have sharply criticized what they consider Bush's light-handed approach in dealing with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, whom they consider a terrorist. Conversely, liberal organizations and pro-Arab groups believe Bush has made himself complicit in Israeli killings and rights violations by giving them the green light to use American-made weaponry with little regard for the welfare of Palestinian civilians.

-- What do you think?

(Thanks to UPI White House Reporter Kathy A. Gambrell)


ROBERT BLAKE

Actor Robert Blake pleaded innocent Monday to all four counts against him -- including murder -- in the death of his wife, Bonny Lee Bakley, in May 2001.

A hearing was scheduled for May 1 to set a date for a preliminary hearing in the case.

Prosecutors charged that the 68-year-old Emmy-winning star of the 1970s police drama "Baretta" shot Bakley, 44, as she sat in his car near the Studio City, Calif., restaurant where they'd just eaten dinner. The complaint also claims that Blake committed the crime by means of special circumstances -- lying in wait -- meaning he could face the death penalty if convicted.

Earle Caldwell -- described as a bodyguard and former handyman for Blake -- was also arraigned Monday and plead innocent to one count of conspiracy to commit murder.

Blake married Bakley in November 2000 after DNA tests revealed that the actor had fathered her infant daughter. Bakley lived in a guesthouse behind Blake's home.

Blake's attorney, Harland Braun, has claimed Bakley routinely used the mail to get lonely men to send her money -- sometimes in exchange for offers of nude photos of herself. He insisted that any number of people had a motive to kill her.

On the night last week that they arrested Blake, however, police said they had eliminated all possible other suspects.

Braun remained unconvinced. "I think the real killer is still out there," he said.

-- Did Blake murder his wife? If convicted, should he face the death penalty? Why or why not?

(Thanks to UPI Hollywood Reporter Pat Nason)


THE DEATH SENTENCE

The U.S. Supreme Court heard argument Monday on whether a judge can have the sole responsibility for sentencing someone to death -- as opposed to relying on a jury recommendation or outright jury sentencing.

The case involves Arizona and eight other states that still give the total responsibility to judges or judge panels.

In 1990's Walton v. Arizona, the Supreme Court seemed to settle the question when it ruled that Arizona's sentencing process did not violate the Sixth Amendment's guarantee of trial by jury and other due process protections. However, in 2000, the Supreme Court ruled in Apprendi v. New Jersey that under the Sixth Amendment, the states cannot remove the jury from any court process that increases the penalty for a defendant.

The high court will now decide whether Apprendi -- which has had reverberations throughout the justice system -- also affects how a convicted murderer is sentenced.

The case out of Maricopa County, Ariz., involved the theft in November 1994 of more than half-a-million dollars in cash, checks and other valuables from a Wells Fargo armored van whose driver was shot to death. Suspect Timothy Stuart Ring was eventually captured and a jury convicted him of first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit armed robbery, armed robbery, burglary and theft.

The trial judge, acting under the state plan without jury involvement, sentenced him to death. The judge acted after Ring's co-defendants testified that he was the triggerman and ringleader. Relying on Supreme Court precedent, the judge ruled there were "aggravating" circumstances that justified the extreme penalty, and no "mitigating" circumstances that would lessen the penalty.

When the Arizona Supreme Court agreed, Ring's attorneys asked the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene.

The justices should hand down a decision before they recess for the summer in late June or early July.

-- If a defendant can be convicted or acquitted by a jury of his peers, shouldn't he also be eligible to be sentenced by that same jury? Why or why not?

(Thanks to UPI Legal Affairs Correspondent Michael Kirkland)

© 2002 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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