Congressman Gary Palmer, R-Alabama, commended U.S. Attorney General William Barr and the U.S. Department of Justice on the indictment of Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh, part of an ISIS cell known as “The Beatles” who were captured in Syria in 2018.
“I applaud the amazing work of the patriotic men and women at the Department of Justice in making these two terrorists answer for their crimes,” Palmer said. “These two killers became famous across the world for participating in the kidnapping, torture, and murder of innocent people, including Americans Kayla Mueller, Peter Kassig, and journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff. Bringing them to the US to face charges for their horrific crimes is a victory for justice and all the victims of ISIS terror.”
Vice President Mike Pence referenced this prosecution during Wednesday’s vice presidential debate.
“Trump unleashed the American military and our armed forces destroy the ISIS caliphate and took down their leader, al-Baghdadi without one American casualty,” Pence said. “Al-Baghdadi was responsible for the death of thousands, but notably America’s hearts today are with the family of Kayla Mueller. Her parents, which are here with us tonight in Salt Lake City. Today, two of the ISIS killers responsible for Kayla Mueller’s murder were brought to justice in the United States. Jihadi John was killed on the battlefield along with the other beetle. The reality is that when Joe Biden was vice president, we had an opportunity to save Kayla Mueller. Breaks my heart to reflect on it, but the military came into the oval office, presented a plan, they said they knew where Kayla was. Baghdadi had held her for 18 months, abused or mercilessly before they killed her, but when Joe Biden was Vice President they hesitated for a month, and when armed forces finally went in, it was clear she’d been moved two days earlier. And her family says with a heart that broke the heart of every American, that if President Donald Trump had been president, they believe Kayla would be alive today.”
On Wednesday, Justice Department officials and FBI Director Christopher Wray announced that the two British citizens turned Islamic State fighters will face multiple federal charges over accusations that they jailed and tortured hostages.
“We are here to announce the indictment of Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh. Kotey and Elsheikh were members of the notoriously brutal ISIS hostage-taking cell that became known as ‘the Beatles,’ a name their captives gave to them because of their British accents,” Wray said. “The defendants are charged with terrorism offenses related to hostage-taking and killing of four Americans, as well as citizens of Great Britain and Japan. For over a year, Kotey and Elsheikh were held in Iraq by the U.S. military under the law of armed conflict. I’m pleased to confirm that they are now in F.B.I. custody, and will soon appear in federal court in the Eastern District of Virginia.”
“The F.B.I. and our partners are working tirelessly every day to recover all U.S. hostages held abroad,” Wray concluded. “And we won’t rest until we see a similar resolution for justice against all those responsible for holding Americans captive, especially when those captives lives are taken.”
“These charges are the product of many years of hard work in pursuit of justice for our citizens slain by ISIS,” Attorney General Bill Barr said in a statement. “Although we cannot bring them back, we can and will seek justice for them, their families, and for all Americans.”
The DOJ claims that the terrorists are linked the group to the kidnapping and abuse of more than two dozen hostages. Some of those prisoners were ultimately beheaded for propaganda videos including the journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff.
The DOJ claims that British Islamic extremists repeatedly beat their hostages at the then-ISIS capital in Raqqa, Syria.
Prosecutors say that they subjected their hostages to numerous abuses including: waterboarding, mock executions, painful stress positions, food deprivation, beatings with sticks lasting 20 minutes or longer, chokeholds causing blackouts and electric shocks.
They also forced their hostages to fight each other and to witness murders, court papers claim.
The two alleged terrorists were captured by Kurdish militia. They turned them over to the U.S. during the chaos of the Turkish invasion of Kurdish occupied territory in Syria.
The families of their victims had pushed for the men to be prosecuted in federal court instead of being sent to the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, where many terrorists are detained.
Palmer represents Alabama’s 6th Congressional District. Palmer has no Democratic opponent in the Nov. 3 general election.
Alabama’s Black Belt lacks quality internet access, report finds
Twenty-two of 24 Black Belt counties are below the statewide average of 86 percent of the population who have access to high-speed internet, and two Black Belt Counties — Perry and Chocktaw — have no access at all.
During an online video briefing Monday on a report about a lack of internet access in Alabama’s Black Belt, University of Alabama student Brad Glover warned reporters that he could get kicked off the briefing at any moment.
That’s because he was talking during the video briefing by way of audio only, using his cell phone, as he does not have access to high-speed internet access at his Linden, Alabama, home in the Black Belt’s Marengo County.
The COVID-19 pandemic that sent students home to study online left many in the Black Belt and other rural parts of Alabama in the lurch, without access to the high-speed internet enjoyed by so many other Americans, according to the latest report in the University of Alabama’s Education Policy Center’s Black Belt 2020 series.
The latest report, titled “Internet Access Disparities in Alabama & the Black Belt,” found that 22 of 24 Black Belt counties, as defined by the Education Policy Center, are below the statewide average of 86 percent of the population who have access to high-speed internet, and two Black Belt Counties — Perry and Chocktaw — have no access at all.
“It is still a terrible struggle for me to connect to get the things done that are required,” said Glover, who interned with the Education Policy Center.
Stephen Katsinas, director of the Education Policy Center, said that in the 1930s, nine of ten rural homes lacked the electric service that urban American homes, by that point, had for 40 years.
“The Rural Electrification Act was passed to address this abject market failure,” Katsinas said. “Today, as the COVID pandemic has shown, access to high-speed internet is as essential to rural Alabama as the REA was in the 1930s. Alabama must directly address the market failures that exist today to bring high-speech internet to every rural Alabamian, so that our rural workforce can access the lifelong learning skills they need, and our rural businesses can compete globally.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has also spotlighted the need to expand the growing area of telemedicine.
Dr. Eric Wallace, medical director of Telehealth at UAB, told reporters during the briefing Monday that patients are largely doing telehealth from their homes, and explained that disparities in access to high-speed internet present a problem for them.
“Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, UAB has done approximately 230,000 telehealth visits, and 60 percent of those were done by video,” Wallace said.
“Forty percent are audio only, and why is audio only? It’s because we do not have broadband,” Wallace said. “So it’s not just broadband. It’s broadband. It’s tech literacy. Socioeconomics, to have a device in your home. It’s all of that.”
Wallace said that the coronavirus crisis has made clear that telemedicine is a “100 percent necessity” and that patient satisfaction studies make clear it’s not going anywhere.
The reasons for disparities in access to high-speed internet are myriad, explained Noel Keeney, one of the authors of the report and a graduate research assistant at the Education Policy Center.
Keeney noted a study by BroadbandNow that estimates there are 154 internet providers in Alabama, but there are 226,000 Alabamians living in counties without a single provider, and 632,000 in counties with just a single provider.
Even for those with access to internet providers, Keeney said that just approximately 44.4 percent of Alabamians have internet access at a cost of $60 monthly or below.
“If we really care about our rural areas, we need to make an investment, and it needs to cut off that cost at a very low rate,” Wallace said.
Katsnias said there’s a growing consensus on the part of Alabama’s political leaders that access to high-speed internet is an important issue, noting that Gov. Kay Ivey in March 2018, signed into law the Alabama Broadband Accessibility Act, which has given internet access to nearly 100,000 Alabama students.
“In March, Gov. Ivey awarded $9.5 million in broadband expansion grants, with a significant amount going to Black Belt communities,” the report reads. “This was followed by $5.1 million in additional grants in May.”
“The State of Alabama also allocated $100 million in federal CARES Act-related dollars for “equipment and service for broadband, wireless hot spots, satellite, fixed wireless, DSL, and cellular-on-wheels to increase access for K-12 students undergoing distance learning,” the report continues.
An additional $100 million in CARES Act funds were made available to facilitate virtual learning across Alabama’s K-12 schools, researchers wrote in the report, and another $72 million in federal aid went to the state’s colleges and universities.
Katsinas said however those federal funds are spent, the state still needs a long term plan for how to address the disparities in access to high-speed internet.
“We need a long term plan and we need to do what we can do immediately,” Katsinas said
Read more of the Education Policy Center’s reports in the “Black Belt 2020” series here.
Governor announces auto supplier IAC plans Alabama expansion
IAC is committing $34.3 million in new capital investment to expand its new manufacturing facility located in Tuscaloosa County.
Gov. Kay Ivey announced Monday that International Automotive Components Group North America Inc. plans to invest over $55.9 million in expansion projects that will create 182 jobs at two Alabama facilities.
“International Automotive Components is a leading global auto supplier, and I am pleased that this world-class company is growing significantly in Alabama and creating good jobs in Cottondale and Anniston,” Ivey said. “IAC’s growth plans show that Alabama’s dynamic auto industry continues to expand despite today’s challenging environment.”
Nick Skwiat is the executive vice president and president of IAC North America.
“Alabama was the logical choice due to its skilled workforce and proximity to the customer,” Skwiat said. “We are excited to see the continued growth of the automotive industry in Alabama and we plan to grow right along with it. We thank the Governor and Secretary Canfield for their leadership in this sector.”
IAC is committing $34.3 million in new capital investment to expand its new manufacturing facility located in Tuscaloosa County. This facility will produce door panels and overhead systems for original equipment manufacturers. That project will create 119 jobs at the production site in Cottondale.
IAC also plans to invest $21.6 million at its manufacturing facility located in the former Fort McClellan in Anniston. That East Alabama project will create another 63 jobs.
This project builds on a milestone 2014 expansion that doubled the size of the Calhoun County facility. There IAC manufactures automotive interior components and systems. Key components produced at the Anniston plant include door panels, trim systems and instrument panels for original equipment manufacturers.
IAC Group is a leading global supplier of innovative and sustainable instrument panels, consoles, door panels, overhead systems, bumper fascias and exterior ornamentation for original equipment manufacturers.
IAC is headquartered in Luxembourg and has more than 18,000 employees at 67 locations in 17 countries. The company operates manufacturing facilities in eight U.S. states.
“With operations around the globe, IAC is the kind of high-performance company that we want in Alabama’s auto supply chain to help fuel sustainable growth,” said Alabama Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield. “We look forward to working with IAC and facilitating its future growth in this strategic industrial sector.”
Danielle Winningham is the executive director of the Tuscaloosa County Industrial Development Authority.
“International Automotive Components is a valued part of Tuscaloosa County’s automotive sector,” Winningham said. “We are grateful for IAC’s investment in our community and the career opportunities available to our area workforce as a result of their investment.”
“The City of Anniston is excited that IAC has made the decision to expand here. I have enjoyed working with the leadership at IAC, the Calhoun County EDC, and the state of Alabama to get this project finalized,” said Anniston Mayor Jack Draper. “This is even further evidence that Anniston is indeed open for business.”
Only Michigan has more automobile manufacturing jobs than the state of Alabama. Honda, Mercedes, Hyundai, Polaris, Toyota and soon Mazda all have major automobile assembly plants in the state of Alabama.
AUM poll suggests Alabamians divided on prison reform proposals
90 percent of Alabamians favor some type of reform to the state’s prison systems, but there is little agreement on what efforts should be pursued.
Last week, a poll by Auburn University at Montgomery’s Department of Political Science and Public Administration found that approximately 90 percent of Alabamians favor some type of reform to the state’s prison systems, but there is little agreement on which reform efforts should be pursued.
- 36.6 percent: “Reduce or eliminate criminal sentences for non-violent crimes.”
- 30.3 percent: “Parole inmates convicted of non-violent crimes.”
- 25.9 percent: “Increase funding to improve existing prison facilities.”
- 21.4 percent: “Construct new prisons to be operated by the state.”
- 14.5 percent: “Contract with private firms to construct new prisons the state would then lease to operate.”
- 27.5 percent: “Increase funding for prison staff such as correctional officers, healthcare providers, educators, etc.”
- 15.2 percent: “Increase funding for probation officers.”
- 9.9 percent: “I support none of these options.”
The totals do not add up to 100 because it was a “select all that apply” poll.
Gov. Kay Ivey’s plan of signing a decades-long lease with private prison contractors was the least popular idea. Repairing the existing prisons 25.9 percent support while constructing new prisons had just 21.4 percent support.
The most popular prison reform measures, according to AUM poll director David Hughes, address prison overcrowding through criminal sentencing reforms.
“Approximately 37 percent of respondents support policies to reduce or eliminate sentences for non-violent offenders, and another 30 percent support paroling inmates convicted of non-violent crimes,” Hughes said.
The governor has included justice reform proposals in her all-encompassing plan. Those proposals were going to be considered by the Legislature in the 2020 legislative session but because of the coronavirus, the 2020 legislative session was cut short and the Legislature went home without addressing that or many other issues.
Much less popular is Ivey’s plan to build three new mega-prisons in Escambia, Elmore and Bibb counties.
“Only 21 percent of respondents supported a proposal to build new prisons the state would then directly operate,” Hughes said. “The least popular proposal we polled involved the state contracting with private firms to construct new prisons the state would then lease. Only 14 percent of respondents approved of this reform measure.”
The state has grossly underfunded its prison system for decades and the Alabama Department of Corrections is still dangerously overcrowded and understaffed, despite recent efforts by the Legislature to deal with its chronic underfunding of the system.
A U.S. Justice Department investigation begun by the Obama administration and concluded by the Trump administration declared that the state has the most dangerous prison system in the country. The prisons are plagued by rampant drug use, extreme violence, and the prisons have not done a good job at preparing prisoners to return to society.
The poor track record of rehabilitating prisoners means that inmates are released without job skills, education and still battling mental health issues and drug dependency. Too many inevitably reoffend and get sent back to prison exacerbating the overcrowding situation.
The U.S. Department of Justice warned the state in July that it was violating prisoners’ constitutional rights and that the attorney general may file or join lawsuits to intervene. A federal court has already found that the prisons were understaffed by a thousand guards and that inmates were not receiving necessary mental health care.
The AUM Poll was conducted between Sept. 30 and Oct. 3. It solicited online participation from 1,072 registered voters in Alabama. Respondents were weighted according demographic factors such as age, gender, race, education and income to produce a more representative sample of Alabama’s voting age population.
The survey has a 4-point margin of error.
Aderholt fully supports Barrett’s confirmation process
Confirmation hearings began last week and a vote on her confirmation is expected in the next week just days before the general election.
Congressman Robert Aderholt, R-Alabama, updated his constituents on the confirmation process for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett. Aderholt said, “I do support her fully and I know she will defend life, protect the Constitution, and uphold our freedoms.”
Confirmation hearings began last week and a vote on her confirmation is expected in the next week just days before the general election.
“Senate Democrats are not seriously questioning Judge Barrett on her credentials, instead they have decided to attack her character and her beliefs,” Aderholt said. “I am disappointed to see this unfold on the national stage, but I think Judge Barrett stood strong and did well during this first week of hearings.”
“While I do not have a vote in her confirmation process, I do support her fully and I know she will defend life, protect the Constitution, and uphold our freedoms when she is officially sworn in as an Associate Justice on the Supreme Court,” Aderholt said.
Barrett is a Notre Dame graduate, has served on the U.S. Seventh Court of Appeals and is a former clerk for the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
“I clerked for Justice Scalia more than 20 years ago, but the lessons I learned still resonate,” Barrett said. “His judicial philosophy is mine, too: A judge must apply the law as written. Judges are not policymakers, and they must be resolute in setting aside any policy views they might hold.”
Barrett vowed to keep an open mind on any matter that comes before the court, though Democrats fear she is prepared to overturn Supreme Court precedent on abortion rights and the Affordable Care Act.
That the Republican controlled committee will recommend that Barrett be confirmed appears certain. A vote to confirm Barrett to the nation’s highest court by the full Senate could occur just days ahead of the Nov. 3 election.
President Donald Trump has been the president of the United States for less than four years but if Barrett is confirmed, then he will have selected one third of the U.S. Supreme Court. Barrett fills a place created by the death of the late Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died in September.
Aderholt is in his 12th term representing Alabama’s 4th Congressional District. He faces Democratic nominee Rick Neighbors in the Nov. 3 general election.