She sees dead people

Israel and Hezbollah declared a ceasefire in Lebanon on Monday, August 14. It came not a moment too soon for Rita Maalouf, a Sacramento student and Lebanese native who was visiting her homeland when fighting broke out in July (see “Letter from Lebanon,” SN&R News, July 27). Maalouf has stayed in contact via e-mail with SN&R for the length of the conflict, and her report on the weekend before the ceasefire was the grimmest so far.

“Things have been worse these days,” she said. “There is a massacre every single day! I do not think this is the day where I tell you things are going to get better. I am feeling very bad today. I feel like there is no hope.”

Maalouf and her family members, who live in a suburb of Beirut, have been helping aid refugees who have fled from southern Lebanon, where the fighting has been the fiercest. Food, water, medication and gasoline are in short supply. “Israel has been attacking cars and scooters,” she said. “They have even targeted some bike riders.”

Nevertheless, she’s trying to make the best of a bad situation. “I am sure that tomorrow I will wake up better and will soon get used to these huge numbers of dead people everyday,” she said.

—R.V. Scheide

New book on Webb

The late Gary Webb, best known for breaking the story of CIA involvement in the U.S. drug trade, is the subject of a new book by alternative-newspaper writer Nick Schou of the OC Weekly. Schou’s book, Kill the Messenger, will be published by Nation Books in mid-October. Webb died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in December 2004. He last worked for a brief period as a staff writer at SN&R.

Schou became acquainted with Webb after the publication of Webb’s book, Dark Alliance: The CIA, the Contras, and the Crack Cocaine Explosion. “I’d read his work on the story when it first broke [in the San Jose Mercury News],” Schou told SN&R, “and I decided to follow up on one of the figures in the investigation, an Orange County cop.” After that, the two kept in touch until shortly before Webb’s death.

Kill the Messenger examines Webb’s work on the “Dark Alliance” stories and their aftermath. Schou is particularly interested in the way that both the mainstream media and “conspiracy theorists” sought to “kill the messenger.” “The title doesn’t just apply to the major newspapers that turned on him,” said Schou, whose book also puts to rest theories that Webb was killed by the CIA. “The lunatic fringe that saw his story as justification for all their wild theories are just as culpable as the mainstream media.”

—Kel Munger

No appeal for Starks

In an unpublished, essentially under-the-radar ruling, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has refused to consider the appeal of Antonio Starks, who was sentenced in a Sacramento federal court to 12 years in federal prison for selling crack cocaine. The case (see “Drug justice,” SN&R Feature Story, June 29) highlighted the disparity in prison sentences meted out to crack- and powder-cocaine defendants. Federal District Judge William Shubb imposed the sentence in March 2005, applying the prison term designated by mandatory federal sentencing guidelines. But at the time Starks was sentenced, the guidelines had just gone from mandatory to advisory. When he sentenced Starks, Shubb said he was unsure whether the new sentencing rules should be applied to Starks’ case, and he encouraged the defendant to file an appeal with the 9th Circuit. However, the 9th Circuit ruled that Starks didn’t have a right to appeal since he had accepted a plea bargain giving up the right to appeal his case.

“There is something fundamentally unfair about holding that a defendant has waived his right to an appeal where the sentencing judge has looked him in the eye and said, ‘I urge the defendant to appeal,'” said Mark Osler, a Baylor University law professor who helped argue Starks’ appeal.

—Stephen James