This Week

Issue: "Bailing Out," June 14, 1997

Land for death

Israeli police claimed to have "direct proof" linking Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority to the killing of two Arab land brokers who sold Arab-owned land to Jews. Last month, Palestinian Justice Minister Freih Abu Medein urged a death sentence for Arabs who sell land to Jews, and since then three land dealers have been murdered. Israeli police rescued another dealer minutes after his June 1 abduction, taking into custody his six kidnappers. In Israeli politics, former army chief Ehud Barak easily won election as leader of the Labor Party. Mr. Barak pledged to push for early elections to oust conservative Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Is Kevorkian libel proof?

Just when you thought you'd heard it all, a Michigan judge ruled in a decision made public last week that suicide doctor Jack Kevorkian's claim he was libeled may now move forward. How, exactly, does one libel Dr. Death? According to Mr. Kevorkian's attorney Geoffrey Fieger, the American Medical Association libeled his client in a news release by saying he had engaged in "criminal conduct" and labeling him a "killer." Imagine that. Instead of being proud of this perfectly appropriate title, Mr. Kevorkian is suing the AMA for $10 million. For what? To get his "good name" back? "'Free' though speech may be, it can still carry a price tag," Judge Sharon Finch stated in a ruling disclosed last week by Mr. Fieger. "The First Amendment does not guarantee that one will be safe from suit for libelous statements." The judge held that because Mr. Kevorkian has never been convicted of the crime of murder, it is "libel per se" to label him a killer. "This allegation is so strong and so unequivocal," Judge Finch ruled, "that when directed against a specific person, it constitutes libel." Problem is, this specific person kills specific other persons, causing their hearts to stop beating, their lungs to quit breathing. Regrettably, this is neither criminal nor murder by the sorry standards of today's jurisprudence, but carbon monoxide does kill. This ridiculous libel case still must be tried; the ruling simply was to allow the case to come to court. But if Mr. Kevorkian wins and the judgment stands on appeal, pro-lifers and pro-life publishers had better brace themselves for the onslaught of libel litigation from the child-killers better known in polite society as "abortionists."

Death and destruction

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Dozens of tornadoes ripped through central Texas May 27, the deadliest hitting the small farming community of Jarrell, killing at least 27 people. The half-a-mile-wide Jarrell twister, with winds near 300 mph, stayed on the ground for an unusually long 25 to 30 minutes, flattening houses, ripping auto bodies from their chassis, and even tearing pavement off streets. Some people remain missing.

Life apart from God

A 7-year-old girl, left to play in a 24-hour children's video arcade while her father gambled upstairs at a Nevada casino, was raped and strangled in a women's restroom. Police arrested an 18-year-old California man on suspicion of kidnapping, rape, and murder. The father told police he thought his daughter, left in the arcade with her 14-year-old brother, would be safe. The murder occurred at about 4 a.m. In New Jersey, a jury convicted Jesse Timmendequas, 36, of the 1994 rape and murder of 7-year-old Megan Kanka-the crime that sparked passage of a federal law requiring public notification if a convicted sex offender moves into a neighborhood. Megan's parents had not known that Mr. Timmendequas, who lived across the street, was a twice-convicted child molester. Seething over his parents' strict rules and curfews, Robert Dingman, 17, shot them in cold blood-so ruled a New Hampshire jury May 28. Prosecutors said Robert, with help from his 14-year-old brother, Jeffrey, ambushed his parents as they arrived home from work on Feb. 9, 1996. Jeffrey pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and agreed to testify against his brother in exchange for a reduced sentence. He faces 18 years in prison. Robert has been sentenced to life without parole. In California, a teenager who bludgeoned to death his parents and grandparents and the next day killed his 10-year-old sister with an ax, faces 116 years in prison after a jury found him legally sane. Joshua Jenkins, who was 15 at the time of the killings last year, confessed to the murders. Prosecutors said the boy was motivated by anger over his parents' placing him in a school for troubled youths.

Seventh suggestion

After several days of speeches and media interviews staunchly defending the military's strict code of moral conduct, Defense Secretary William Cohen June 4 opted for a "rule of reason instead of a rule of thumb" after a close ally admitted he, too, had committed adultery. Air Force General Joseph Ralston-Mr. Cohen's choice to succeed as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff John Shalikashvili, who will retire at the end of September-admitted he carried on a year-long extramarital affair during the time he was separated from his wife in the 1980s. Mrs. Ralston sought and was granted a divorce in 1988. After the news broke, Mr. Cohen said it was time to "draw a line" against the "frenzy" of sexual misconduct complaints "that end up destroying people unnecessarily." The previous day, 32-year veteran Maj. Gen. John E. Longhouser, commander of the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland, announced his resignation effective June 30, citing a desire to spend more time with his family. The New York Times reported the decision was prmmpted more by reports he had committed adultery while separated from his wife in the early '90s. On May 29, Mr. Cohen addressed graduates of the Air Force Academy and defended the military's rules against sexual misconduct, saying high standards of behavior become essential in the crucible of war. The next day, Pentagon officials temporarily relieved of duty two men-an officer and a civilian-pending an investigation into sexual misconduct. Also May 30, a jury sentenced staff Sgt. Vernell Robinson Jr. to six months in jail and a dishonorable discharge for having sex with five women under his command at Aberdeen. Before the sentencing, members of the jury watched Sgt. Robinson burst into tears and plead for their mercy. Mr. Cohen said June 5 he was disappointed that Gen. Ralston kept his adultery a secret until now, and said he would wait a week or two before officially recommending Gen. Ralston to President Clinton as Gen. Shalikashvili's successor. He also said he may appoint a commission to review the military's rules against adultery and sexual misconduct.

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