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Trial by Fire - Did Texas execute an innocent man?

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The fire moved quickly through the house, a one-story wood-frame structure in a working-class neighborhood of Corsicana, in northeast Texas. Flames spread along the walls, bursting through doorways, blistering paint and tiles and furniture. Smoke pressed against the ceiling, then banked downward, seeping into each room and through crevices in the windows, staining the morning sky.
Buffie Barbee, who was eleven years old and lived two houses down, was playing in her back yard when she smelled the smoke. She ran inside and told her mother, Diane, and they hurried up the street; that’s when they saw the smoldering house and Cameron Todd Willingham standing on the front porch, wearing only a pair of jeans, his chest blackened with soot, his hair and eyelids singed. He was screaming, “My babies are burning up!” His children—Karmon and Kameron, who were one-year-old twin girls, and two-year-old Amber—were trapped inside.
Willingham told the Barbees to call the Fire Department, and while Dia…

Gay and Marked for Death

AS he tried to concentrate on his final college exams, he couldn’t erase the terrifying images in his head, an endless replay of a video he’d seen. It showed two men being killed — their necks noosed, their bodies dragged through the streets and set on fire.

They had burned, he told me, because they were gay.

Just like him.

Islamic extremism was sweeping through Iraq, and terror coursed through his veins. It became unbearable when, in mid-2014, the Islamic State seized control of the city where he lived. He fled, traveling furtively across Iraq for nearly a month, looking for a point of exit, finally finding one and boarding a flight to a city in the Middle East where he wouldn’t be in danger.

“The greatest moment of my life was stepping on that plane,” said the man, in his mid-20s, who asked that I not use his name or any identifying details, lest harm come to family members back in Iraq. “I was able to breathe again. I hadn’t been breathing.”

On Monday, he will tell his story at a special United Nations Security Council meeting on L.G.B.T. rights. American officials involved in it arranged for me to talk with him in advance by phone.

Jessica Stern, the executive director of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, shared with me her group’s timeline of killings of gay men that the Islamic State has publicized, sometimes with gruesome photos. It’s a bloodcurdling document, recounting 30 executions.

Many men were reportedly thrown off roofs. Others were stoned. One was stoned after the fall from a roof didn’t kill him — to finish the job. The Iraqi refugee I interviewed told me that on social media earlier this year, he saw images of a rooftop execution and learned later that the victim — unrecognizable because he was blindfolded and shown mostly from behind — was a friend of his who hadn’t left Iraq.

“L.G.B.T. rights have become one of the most controversial dimensions — one of the most controversial tests — of the universality of human rights,” noted Jessica Stern.


Source: The New York Times, Op-Ed by Frank Bruni, August 21, 2015

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