We spend the hour with an explosive new film that shines a bright light on the FBI’s shadowy use of informants in its counterterrorism sting operations. These undercover operatives are meant to root out would-be terrorists before they attack. Since 9/11, they have been used to prosecute at least 158 people. But critics argue they often target the wrong people, "including those with intellectual and mental disabilities, and the indigent." "(T)ERROR" goes inside the world of a particular informant who has played a key role in several major terrorism cases. It does so while he is in the middle of carrying out his latest sting operation. It came together when two independent filmmakers gained unprecedented access to follow Saeed Torres, whose undercover name is "Shariff," a 63-year-old former black revolutionary turned FBI informant, as he monitors a white Muslim convert named Khalifah al-Akili. Torres knew one of the directors, Lyric Cabral, and after he came out to her as an informant, he agreed to share his story, without informing his superiors. As the film unfolds, al-Akili begins to post on his Facebook page that he suspects the FBI is targeting him. The filmmakers used this an opportunity to approach him, and soon find themselves interviewing him at the same time they are also documenting "Shariff" monitoring him. During this time each man remains unaware that the filmmakers are talking to the other one. We get the rest of the story when we are joined by the filmmakers who co-directed "(T)ERROR," Lyric R. Cabral and David Felix Sutcliffe, and play part of an interview with al-Akili from federal prison. Al-Akili was arrested just days after he emailed civil rights groups to say he believed he was the target of an FBI "entrapment" sting. He is now serving eight years in federal prison for illegally possessing a gun after having previous felony convictions for selling drugs. We are also joined by Steve Downs, executive director of the National Coalition to Protect Civil Freedoms. He works with Project SALAM, which published a report last year called "Inventing Terrorists: The Lawfare of Preemptive Prosecution." He is also representing imprisoned Pakistani scientist Dr. Aafia Siddiqui. We are also joined by Marlene, the mother of Tarik Shah, who was arrested in 2005 after a joint FBI/NYPD sting operation that also involved Saeed "Shariff" Torres. She details in the film how Shah thought Shariff was his close friend, but he was actually an FBI informant.
In Louisiana, former prosecutor Marty Stroud has met with former death row prisoner Glenn Ford to apologize to him for wrongfully charging him with murder. After 30 years in prison, Ford was released from death row last year after the state admitted new evidence proves he was not the killer. Stroud recently wrote a three-page letter in the Shreveport Times calling on the state to stop refusing to compensate Ford, who now has stage 4 lung cancer. We get an update on Ford’s case from his friend Jackie Sumell.
We speak with New Orleans-based artist Jackie Sumell about her collaboration with former prisoner and Black Panther, Herman Wallace. As Democracy Now! reported in October of 2013, Wallace died just days after his conviction was overturned and he was released from nearly 42 years in solitary confinement. He was a member of the Angola 3, who was convicted for the 1972 murder of a prison guard, but long maintained his innocence and said they were framed for their political activism. The project Wallace worked on with Sumell began when she asked him, "What sort of house does a man who has lived in a 6-foot-by-9-foot cell for over 30 years dream of?" You can see his response in the exhibit called "#76759: Featuring the House That Herman Built." The exhibit opened this week at the Brooklyn Public Library’s main branch and includes a life-sized replica of Wallace’s prison cell, selections from his correspondence with Sumell, books from his reading list, and, in the library’s main lobby, a model of the dream house that he designed.
NBC News is at the center of a new controversy, this time focused on its chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel. Back in 2012 he and five other members of an NBC News team were kidnapped by armed gunmen in Syria. They were held for five days. Just after his release Engel spoke on NBC News and said this about his captors: "This is a government militia. These are people who are loyal to President Bashar al-Assad. They are Shiite." Well, earlier this week, a New York Times investigation prompted Engel to revise his story and reveal he was actually captured by Sunni militants affiliated with the U.S.-backed Free Syrian Army. In an article published on Wednesday, Engel said the kidnappers had "put on an elaborate ruse to convince us they were Shiite Shabiha militiamen." According to the Times investigation, NBC knew more than it let on about the kidnappers. We speak to As’ad AbuKhalil, professor of political science at California State University, Stanislaus. He runs the Angry Arab News Service blog. He expressed serious doubts about the circumstances surrounding Engel’s captivity and release when the story first broke in December 2012.
In an act of mass civil disobedience, tens of thousands of parents in New York state had their children boycott the annual English Language Arts exam this week. At some Long Island and upstate school districts, abstention levels reached 80 percent. Protest organizers say at least 155,000 pupils opted out — and that is with only half of school districts tallied so far. The action is seen as a significant challenge to the education agenda of Gov. Andrew Cuomo and to standardized testing nationwide. More than a decade after the passage of No Child Left Behind, educators, parents and students nationwide are protesting the preponderant reliance on high-stakes standardized testing, saying it gives undue importance to ambiguous data and compromises learning in favor of test prep. We speak to Jack Bierwirth, superintendent of Herricks Public Schools in Long Island, and parent Toni Smith-Thompson, who led the boycott against standardized testing at Central Park East 1 Elementary School in East Harlem.
Students at Harvard University have expanded their blockade of key administration offices while calling on the school to divest from fossil fuels. Harvard has the largest endowment of any university in the world, at $36.4 billion. The protest began on Sunday when students began blockading Massachusetts Hall, the school’s central administrative building. Several alumni of Harvard have also taken part in the blockade including Bill McKibben, the founder of the group 350.org, and former Colorado Senator Tim Wirth. We speak to sophomore Talia Rothstein, one of the coordinators of Divest Harvard, and Harvard science professor Naomi Oreskes.
A day after a mailman from Florida landed a tiny personal aircraft called a gyrocopter on the lawn of the U.S. Capitol in a protest to demand campaign finance reform, we speak to Rep. Alan Grayson of Florida about money and politics. Grayson also reveals that he will "probably" run for U.S. Senate in 2016 for Marco Rubio’s seat, who has joined the race for the Republican presidential nomination.
Senate Finance Committee leaders Republican Orrin Hatch and Democrat Ron Wyden are expected to introduce a "fast-track" trade promotion authority bill as early as this week that would give the president authority to negotiate the secretive Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal and then present it to Congress for a yes-or-no vote, with no amendments allowed. On Wednesday, more than 1,000 labor union members rallied on Capitol Hill to call on Democrats to oppose "fast-track" authority. We speak with two people closely following the proposed legislation: Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, and Rep. Alan Grayson, a Democrat from Florida.
Low-wage workers in the United States have staged their largest action to date to demand a $15-an-hour minimum wage, with some 60,000 workers walking off the job in more than 200 cities. The "Fight for $15" campaign brought together fast-food workers, home-care aides, child-care providers, Wal-Mart clerks, adjunct professors, airport workers and other low-wage workers. Organizers say the action was held on Tax Day to highlight the taxpayer funds needed to support underpaid workers. A new study says low wages are forcing working families to rely on more than $150 billion in public assistance. We speak with Steven Greenhouse, former labor and workplace reporter for The New York Times, who has been covering the "Fight for $15" movement.
Protests are being held across the country today in what organizers call the "largest-ever mobilization of underpaid workers." Fast-food workers in 230 cities are walking off the job as part of the "Fight for $15" campaign, a push for a $15-an-hour minimum wage and the right to form a union. Hundreds of workers in Boston held their action one day early in deference to today’s anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings. We hear from some of the workers who kicked off the day of protest this morning at a McDonald’s in New York City.
Protests were held from coast to coast on Tuesday in a day of action against police violence and racial profiling. The protests came as the sheriff’s reserve deputy, who fatally shot Eric Harris in Oklahoma, turned himself in to authorities. Robert Bates said he thought he was using his Taser instead of his gun when he killed Harris earlier this month. Bates is a wealthy insurance executive and heavy donor to the Tulsa Police Department, who gets to volunteer on the force as a reserve. Meanwhile, the South Carolina police officer charged with murder for fatally shooting Walter Scott will probably not face the death penalty if he is convicted. Prosecutors say Michael Slager would still be eligible for a sentence of life in prison. We are joined by Khalil Muhammad, author of "The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime, and the Making of Modern Urban America," and director of the New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.
President Obama has told Congress he will remove Cuba from a U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism, clearing a major obstacle to restoring diplomatic relations with Havana for the first time in a half-century. Obama’s move comes just days after he and Cuban President Raúl Castro sat down at a summit in Panama for a historic meeting. Cuba was placed on the terrorism list in 1982 at a time when Havana was supporting liberation struggles in Africa and Latin America. While Cuba is being removed from the terrorism list, the trade embargo remains in effect. To discuss the thawing of U.S.-Cuban relations, we are joined from Havana by former Cuban diplomat, Carlos Alzugaray Treto.
Cries of "Black Lives Matter" continue to ring out across the country after new police killings of unarmed African Americans. Over the weekend in South Carolina, the funeral was held in North Charleston for Walter Scott, the black man who fled a traffic stop and was fatally shot in the back by police officer Michael Slager. Video of the incident taken by a bystander forced the police to retract its initial defense of Slager and see him charged with murder and fired from the force. This comes as Oklahoma prosecutors have charged a sheriff’s reserve deputy with second-degree manslaughter in the fatal shooting of an unarmed African-American man in Tulsa. Robert Bates — who is white — says he mistakenly used his handgun instead of his stun gun, killing the victim, Eric Harris. We are joined from South Carolina by Muhiyidin d’Baha, an organizer with Black Lives Matter Charleston.
Over the past week, video of police killings of unarmed African Americans in South Carolina and in Oklahoma has led to charges against the officers who fired the fatal shots. Meanwhile, 10 sheriff’s deputies have been suspended in California after a news helicopter filmed them kicking and punching a suspect as he lay face down in the desert after a chase. As video proves decisive in holding police accountable for abuses nationwide, we are joined by Jay Stanley, senior policy analyst with the Speech, Privacy and Technology Project at the American Civil Liberties Union. He authored "Know Your Rights" for the ACLU, and its companion article, "You Have Every Right to Photograph That Cop."
One of Latin America’s most acclaimed writers, Eduardo Galeano, died on Monday at age 74 in Montevideo, Uruguay. The Uruguayan novelist and journalist made headlines when Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez gave President Obama a copy of his classic work, "The Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent." Since its publication in 1971, "Open Veins" has sold more than a million copies worldwide, despite being banned by the military governments in Chile, Argentina and his native country of Uruguay. While in exile after the Uruguayan military junta seized power in a 1973 coup, Galeano began work on his classic trilogy "Memory of Fire," which rewrites five centuries of North and South American history. He also authored "Soccer in Sun and Shadow," "Upside Down," "The Book of Embraces," "We Say No," "Voices of Time," "Mirrors," "Children of the Days: A Calendar of Human History," among others. Galeano received numerous international prizes, including the Lannan Prize for Cultural Freedom, the Casa de las Américas Prize, and the First Distinguished Citizen of the region by the countries of Mercosur. We look back on Galeano’s life and hear from his Democracy Now! interviews in 2009 and 2013.
Sign Up Now to receive our weekly E-Newsletter every Sunday!