Amnesty International Group 22 Pasadena/Caltech News
Volume XXV Number 5, May 2017

  Thursday, May 25, 7:30-9:00 PM. Monthly 
Meeting. We meet at the Caltech Y, Tyson 
House, 505 S. Wilson Ave., Pasadena. (This is 
just south of the corner with San Pasqual. 
Signs will be posted.) We'll share recent news 
of Amnesty human rights campaigns and plan 
future Group 22 actions. Please join us! 
Refreshments provided.
  Tuesday, June 13, 7:30-9:00 PM. Letter 
writing meeting at Caltech Athenaeum, corner 
of Hill and California in Pasadena. In the 
summer we meet outdoors at the "Rath al 
Fresco," on the lawn next to the building. This 
informal gathering is a great way for 
newcomers to get acquainted with Amnesty.
  Sunday, June 18, 6:30 PM. Rights Readers 
Human Rights Book Discussion Group. This 
month we read "The Bad-Ass Librarians of 
Timbuktu" by Joshua Hammer.

Hi everyone,

Kathy didn't have time to write the column this 
month, so here's a few notes from me (Joyce). 

Amnesty USA announced a complete makeover 
of their website. Go to 
and see what you think. There's a little comment 
icon at the right which you can click and rate the 
new site. I'm not sure - perhaps I should try 
with a different browser, but I didn't much like 
the graphics - maybe I'm just being cranky. 

One thing I really did like about the new 
website was that there's a tab right at the top for 
Urgent Actions, which will take you straight to a 
list of UAs, starting with the most recent. If you 
can't join us on the second Tuesday of the month 
for letter writing, you can download whichever 
UAs appeal to you and take action. Most have 
email or online options besides the traditional 
mailing addresses. Be sure and click on the link 
to report the actions you took!

And of course, the new website has icons at the 
bottom of the screen to Amnesty USA accounts 
on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and 
even more social media. Follow! Enjoy!

That's all for now. 

Next Rights Readers Meeting

Sunday, June 18,  
6:30 PM

Vroman's Bookstore
695 E Colorado Blvd.

The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu 

by Joshua Hammer

By Ben MacIntyre, April 28, 2016, New York Times

And Their Race to Save the World's Most 
Precious Manuscripts 
By Joshua Hammer

In the summer of 1826, a Scotsman named 
Alexander Gordon Laing became the first 
European to set foot in Timbuktu, a city that 
would become synonymous with mysterious 
remoteness. The inhabitants of Timbuktu would 
have been amused by the British imperialist 
assumption that their city had been 
"discovered." By the time Laing reached the 
place, it had been a thriving international center 
for centuries, the economic and intellectual heart 
of the sub-Saharan world, where travelers, 
traders and thinkers, ?Africans, Berbers, Arabs, 
Tuaregs and others gathered to trade gold, salt, 
slaves, spices, ivory - and knowledge.

While Europe was still groping its way through 
the dark ages, Timbuktu was a beacon of 
intellectual enlightenment, and probably the 
most bibliophilic city on earth. Scientists, 
engineers, poets and philosophers flocked there 
to exchange and debate ideas and commit these 
to paper in hundreds of thousands of 
manuscripts written in Arabic and various 
African languages. The British historian Hugh 
Trevor-Roper once remarked: "There is only the 
history of Europeans in Africa. The rest is 
darkness." Timbuktu's staggering manuscript 
hoard is the most vivid proof of how wrong he 

That ancient literary heritage, and the threat it 
faces from radical Islam, is the subject of Joshua 
Hammer's book "The Bad-Ass Librarians of 
Timbuktu," part history, part scholarly 
adventure story and part journalistic survey of 
the volatile religious politics of the Maghreb 
region. The title is quite irritating; the rest of it is 
very good.

Hammer delights in the explosion of medieval 
scholarship that took place in Timbuktu. By the 
16th century, a quarter of the 100,000-strong 
population were students, drawn from as far 
away as the Arabian Peninsula. As one proverb 
puts it: "Salt comes from the north, gold from 
the south, and silver from the country of the 
white men, but the word of God and the 
treasures of wisdom are only to be found in 
Timbuctoo." As well as religious texts, those 
treasures included works of poetry, algebra, 
physics, medicine, jurisprudence, magic, 
mathematics, history, botany, geography and 
astronomy. Ethicists debated polygamy, usury, 
conflict resolution and the ?morality of smoking. 
The thinkers of Timbuktu even compiled sex 
advice, as imaginative and unreliable in the 16th 
century as it is today: "The dried, pulverized 
penis of a lizard placed tenderly into honey then 
licked will let a man experience full sexual 
desire and satisfaction."

The city's scribes wrote in a variety of 
calligraphic styles, inks and colors: the African 
tradition of Hausa with thick brush strokes, the 
angled Kufic script from Persia and the curved 
and looping Maghrebi style. The city was a 
readers' paradise, its inhabitants "searching 
with a real passion for volumes they did not 
possess, and making copies when they were too 
poor to buy what they wanted." Eclectic 
scholarship thrived under the mystical, tolerant 
form of Sufism that dominated what is now 
Mali. The city, as Hammer puts it, was an 
"incubator for the richness of Islam." But the 
tradition of open-?minded academic inquiry was 
also subject to periodic attack from bigots and 
looters, from bouts of anti-Semitism aimed at 
the city's substantial Jewish population, and the 
?anti-intellectual rigidity of successive waves of 

The history of Timbuktu, Hammer writes, is 
marked by "the confrontation between these 
two Islamic ideologies - one open and tolerant, 
the other inflexible and violent." Radical 
Islamists saw the manuscripts as heretical, and 
French colonial forces in the 19th century 
viewed them as plunder, and so another 
tradition emerged: that of concealment. The 
custodians of these priceless documents took to 
hiding them - inside their homes, in holes or in 
desert caves. Timbuktu's intellectual inheritance 
was not only among the richest in the world, but 
also one of the most secret.

The hero of Hammer's story is Abdel Kader 
Haidara, inheritor and protector of a uniquely 
fine manuscript collection, a gentle, scholarly 
man who began gathering manuscripts in the 
1980s on behalf of the Ahmed Baba Institute of 
Higher Learning and Islamic Research in 
Timbuktu. Over the course of two decades, 
Haidara and other dedicated antiquarians 
scoured the region, buying up ancient texts from 
remote villages. Hammer estimates that the 
intellectual patrimony of Timbuktu now 
amounts to a staggering 377,000 manuscripts.
Then came the 21st-century jihadis, Al Qaeda in 
the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the latest eruption 
of Islamic intolerance in the region. In March 
2012, briefly combining forces with Tuareg 
rebels fighting for an independent homeland 
and armed with weapons from the collapsed 
Libyan regime of Muammar el-Qaddafi, they 
descended on Timbuktu.

Having driven out the government forces, the 
Islamists set about the now all-too-familiar 
process of religious cleansing, enforcement and 
destruction. The wide-ranging music selection 
on Timbuktu radio was replaced by 
uninterrupted Koranic verse, women were 
forced behind veils, men made to grow beards. 
Squads of enforcers ensured strict Sharia 
observance at the point of AK-47s; citizens who 
wore their pants too short, or allowed their 
cellphones to ring with Western tunes, or 
otherwise violated the minutiae of strict 
Islamism were liable to thrashing or worse. 
While the Islamists set about imposing their 
rules, Haidara and the other librarians 
undertook one of the greatest cultural 
evacuations in history: The manuscript 
collections were secretly packed into metal 
trunks, loaded onto mule carts, and hidden in 
private houses and then in the Malian capital, 

Hammer writes with verve and expertise, but 
there are two problems with the thriller tone 
that underpins his story. The first is the question 
of just how "bad-ass" Haidara really was. While 
his teams were removing manuscripts, he had 
evacuated himself to Bamako, offering 
coordination and encouragement from a 
distance. This is a perfectly acceptable decision 
for a middle-aged scholar with two wives and 
lots of children, but it doesn't quite make him 
Indiana Jones.

The level of threat posed to the manuscripts is 
also debatable. Like most terrorists, the forces of 
AQIM were on the whole very stupid. The 
Islamists' control of Timbuktu focused on 
wrecking the ancient Sufi shrines, mounting 
public amputations and boasting on Twitter; the 
finer points of the city's cultural heritage didn't 
seem to interest them, and as Hammer 
acknowledges, the manuscript collections were 
"mostly ignored" until the final stages of the 
occupation. In January 2013, 15 jihadis made a 
bonfire of 4,000 manuscripts at the Ahmed Baba 
Institute. But by that time many of the jewels of 
the collection were already in safekeeping, and 
the French military was preparing to oust AQIM 
in what would be an object lesson in the use of 
force against radical Islamist forces.

The great Timbuktu manuscript exodus may 
have been more prophylactic than urgently 
necessary, but it was a remarkable achievement, 
nonetheless, bringing together international 
funders, a network of smugglers and a handful 
of dedicated local curators. The exfiltration 
required careful cataloging of the collections, 
and this may be the most lasting legacy of the 
episode: The Islamists accidentally drew 
worldwide attention to Timbuktu's literary 
heritage, and enabled the first full accounting of 
its magnificence.

Joshua Hammer was born in New York and 
graduated from Princeton University with a cum 
laude degree in English literature. He joined the staff 
of Newsweek as a business and media writer in 1988, 
and between 1992 and 2006 served as a bureau chief 
and correspondent-at-large on five 
continents. Hammer is now a contributing editor 
to Smithsonian and Outside, a frequent contributor to 
the New York Review of Books, and has written for 
publications including the New Yorker, the New York 
Times Magazine, Vanity Fair, the Condé Nast Traveler, 
the Atlantic Monthly, and the Atavist. He is the author 
of four nonfiction books, including The Bad-Ass 
Librarians of Timbuktu, and has won numerous 
journalism awards. Since 2007 he has been based in 
Berlin, Germany, and continues to travel widely 
around the world.

By Stevi Carroll

Good News from Philadelphia

Larry Krasner became the Philadelphia District 
Attorney.  Mr. Krasner has never worked as a 
prosecutor but has worked as a civil rights and 
defense attorney who opposes both mass 
incarceration and the death penalty. Perhaps he 
can decrease the incarceration rate in 
Philadelphia which is the highest in the 

Even though Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, US 
Attorney General, indicates he would like to fill 
our prisons, including the private prisons, more, 
the example set by Mr. Krasner may encourage 
other cities and states to follow another path.

Executions in Arkansas

I know we all watched the recent mass 
executions in Arkansas with interest seasoned 
with more than a little horror. Originally, 
Governor Asa Hutchinson wanted to execute 
eight men quickly before the expiration dates on 
the lethal injection drugs arrived.  In the end, 
"only" four out of the eight had 'justice served' 
with the executions of Ledell Lee, Jack Jones, 
Marcel Williams, and Kenneth Williams. These 
executions give us, once again, the opportunity 
to examine whether or not real justice is served.

Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice  Initiative 
took the opportunity to remind us about what 
justice means.  In an interview on NPR, Mr. 
Stevenson says, "[T]he state of Arkansas didn't 
carry out these executions because the process had 
worked to completion with the kind of reliability that 
we tend to want. They did it because they were 
concerned about a drug expiring." Let's think about 
this for a moment. It's not simply because these men 
had run out of appeals, but rather because the drug 
cocktail used to kill them would have gone past its 
'used by' date.  The 'justice' system of Arkansas had 
not executed anyone since 2005, but now because of 
the date on the drugs, Governor Asa Hutchinson felt 
the need to get on with State-sponsored murder.

The death penalty in the US is in decline. Since the 
death penalty was reinstated in 1976, 158 people 
have been released from death row after being proved 
innocent. According to Mr. Stevenson, that means for 
every nine people who have been executed, one has 
been identified as innocent. He also believes that a 
conviction that involves the death penalty has more 
to do with the quality of the person's legal team than 
anything else. Additionally, the race of both the 
victim and the defendant play an important part in 
capital punishment cases with white victims and 
defendants who are people of color influencing the 
outcome of the sentencing.

Mr. Stevenson goes on to say, "And that's why for me 
the question of capital punishment in this country 
isn't 'do people deserve to die for the crimes they've 
committed?' The threshold question is, 'do we 
deserve to kill?'"

 (If you have not seen Mr. Stevenson's TED talk, 
you can find it here

Kenneth Williams

One of the men executed in Arkansas is Kenneth 
Williams.  During Mr. Williams' execution 
"witnesses reported that Kenneth Williams 
lurched violently against the leather straps that 
bound him to the gurney 20 times, followed by 
"[h]eavy breathing - a striving for air - for the next 
three minutes." Governor Hutchinson dismisses an 
investigation into Mr. Williams' death by saying he 
thinks it's "totally unjustified."

What I think makes Mr. Williams's execution 
noteworthy is the letter sent to Governor Hutchinson 
from Kayla Greenwood, the daughter of the man 
murdered by Mr. Williams. In this letter, Ms 
Greenwood, who was five when her father was 
killed, says, "It would be dishonest to say that this is 
an easy thing to do. It is not. When he took my father 
from us, Mr Williams caused us all a great deal of 
pain. We still miss him and we still hurt. That does 
not mean that asking you spare Mr Williams is not 
the right thing to do. It is."  Ms Greenwood goes on 
to talk about how Mr. Williams has a daughter who is 
Ms Greenwood's age and who wanted to see her 
father one more time, so she'd started a Go Fund Me 
page to raise the money for the trip. This is what Ms 
Greenwood then says, "My family paid for Jasmine 
(Mr. Williams's daughter) and her daughter's flight, 
picked them up at the airport and drove them to the 
prison. Yesterday, I waited outside the prison while 
Jasmine and her daughter visited with Mr Williams.
Watching her leave the prison and knowing that was 
probably their last goodbye broke my heart. Jasmine 
had done nothing at all but like me, she could lose 
her father. If Mr Williams is executed, her loss, her 
pain will be as real as mine. I do not wish this on 

Ms Greenwood goes on to talk about what she'd 
learned about Mr. Williams.  She says, "Jasmine told 
me that when she saw her father and talked to him 
she knew he was a different man. He was a man of 
love and gratitude for the opportunity to say his last 
goodbye. I have come to learn that he is man who 
counsels and helps people who may be in a dark 
place because they never felt love, or were victims of 
a horrible upbringing that caused trauma and hurt.

Because he once knew that same dark place, Mr 
Williams could connect and show people that from 
even the darkest of places, you can always come out 
and change and help others to see right from wrong.
Being there for others, no matter what, and showing 
what true pure unconditional love is and feels like, 
that is the closest we can get to God in this physical 
world. I know Mr Williams has and will change 
people he meets for the better and alive, he can make 
a positive difference and I believe that is the most 
beautiful story of justice."

Ms Greenwood finishes her letter to Governor 
Hutchinson saying, "My family also requested an 
opportunity to meet with Mr Williams but it was 
denied. We just wanted to tell him that we forgave 
him and thought it was important to do that face to 
face. It would be one way for us to get closure.
We would still like to do that. We would also like to 
meet with you. If we met, you would know that our 
wishes are sincere. If we sat and talked about loss and 
forgiveness from where we sit, you might also 
forgive Mr Williams and spare his life."

Instead of sparing Mr. Williams's life and giving Ms 
Greenwood and her family the opportunity "to get 
closure", Kelly P. Kissel of the Associated Press said, 
"Mr. Williams was 'coughing, convulsing, lurching, 
jerking' after the state began to administer 
midazolam, which is intended to render a prisoner 
unconscious and insensate before the use of painful 
lethal injection drugs.

 'This is my 10th execution,' Mr. Kissel said. 'This is 
the first time I've seen that.'

According to Mr. Kissel, Mr. Williams lurched 20 
times - 15 of them in rapid succession - and 
emitted sounds that could be heard in the adjacent 
witness room. By then, a microphone in the 
execution chamber had been switched off. The 
unnerving moments concluded before a 
consciousness check. Mr. Williams was pronounced 
dead 13 minutes after the lethal injection drugs began 
flowing, an execution length that was not unusually 

And yet Governor Hutchinson believes an 
investigation is "totally unjustified." The question 
remains: "Was justice served?"

Recent Exonerations

William Negron - State: IL
 - Date of Exoneration: 4/14/17
In 1995, William Negron and Roberto Almodovar 
were convicted of killing two people and injuring a 
third in a drive-by shooting in Chicago, Illinois and 
were sentenced to life in prison without parole. They 
were exonerated in 2017 after the evidence showed 
the witnesses were told who to select by a police 

Adam Gray - State: IL - Date of Exoneration: 5/3/17
In 1996, Adam Gray was sentenced to life in prison 
for setting a fire when he was 14 that killed two 
people in Chicago, Illinois. He was exonerated in 
2017 after a witness who said that she sold him 
gasoline shortly before the fire recanted her 
testimony and experts concluded that the evidence of 
arson at his trial was invalid.

Stays of Execution
27	Jason McGehee	AR

10	Alva Campbell, Jr	OH
	rescheduled for 9/13/17
10	Ronald R. Phillips	OH
	rescheduled for 7/26/17
16	Tilon Carter		TX
17	Donald Ketterer	OH
24	Juan Castillo		TX
	rescheduled for 9/7/17

Recent Executions
24	Jack Jones		AR
	Lethal Injection 3-drug (midazolam)
24	Marcel Williams	AR
	Lethal Injection 3-drug (midazolam)
27	Kenneth Williams	AR
	Lethal Injection 3-drug (midazolam)

17	J.W. Ledford Jr		GA
	Lethal Injection 1-drug (Pentobarbital)

Narges Mohammadi
By Joyce Wolf

Alexi has keeping up to date with the work 
being done for Narges on social media by 
groups in Europe and in the US.  

On May 19, Alexi emailed,
"Dear supporters of Narges and Iranian 
prisoners of conscience,
Please join the tweetstorm today!
I received an email yesterday informing that 
Narges's husband has announced that she and 
other prominent female prisoners have asked to 
be able to vote today.  
Wishing the best for the Iranian people today,

FreeNarges@UnitedforNarges tweeted on May 
20 with the following photo:
"Narges Mohammadi (in green) & other political 
prisoners voted for @Rouhani_ir yesterday in 
Evin prison. #FreeThem #FreeNarges 
Incumbent President Hassan Rouhani has 
indeed been declared the winner of the election.  

Our group will continue to work with Amnesty 
local groups on future actions for Narges and 
other prisoners of conscience in Iran. Group 317 
in Indianapolis is working on the case of the 
seven Bahai prisoners and has asked for 
support, so we are collecting signatures on their 

UAs                    25
Total                  25

Amnesty International Group 22
The Caltech Y
Mail Code C1-128
Pasadena, CA 91125

Amnesty International's mission is to undertake research and action focused on 
preventing and ending grave abuses of the rights to physical and mental integrity, 
freedom of conscience and expression, and freedom from discrimination, within the 
context of its work to promote all human rights.