Archive for the ‘Law’ Category
In The Intercept Jeremy Scahill has a good report on the Baghdad massacre of civilians done by the Blackwater employees:
A federal jury in Washington, D.C., returned guilty verdicts against four Blackwater operatives charged with killing more than a dozen Iraqi civilians and wounding scores of others in Baghdad in 2007.
The jury found one guard, Nicholas Slatten, guilty of first-degree murder, while three other guards were found guilty of voluntary manslaughter: Paul Slough, Evan Liberty, and Dustin Heard. The jury is still deliberating on additional charges against the operatives, who faced a combined 33 counts, according to the Associated Press. A fifth Blackwater guard, Jeremy Ridgeway, had already pleaded guilty to lesser charges and cooperated with prosecutors in the case against his former colleagues. The trial lasted ten weeks and the jury has been in deliberations for 28 days.
The incident for which the men were tried was the single largest known massacre of Iraqi civilians at the hands of private U.S. security contractors. Known as “Baghdad’s bloody Sunday,” operatives from Blackwater gunned down 17 Iraqi civilians at a crowded intersection at Nisour Square on September 16, 2007. The company, founded by secretive right-wing Christian supremacist Erik Prince, pictured above, had deep ties to the Bush Administration and served as a sort of neoconservative Praetorian Guard for a borderless war launched in the immediate aftermath of 9/11.
While Barack Obama pledged to reign in mercenary forces when he was a senator, once he became president he continued to employ a massive shadow army of private contractors. Blackwater — despite numerous scandals, congressional investigations, FBI probes and documented killings of civilians in both Iraq and Afghanistan — remained a central part of the Obama administration’s global war machine throughout his first term in office.
Just as with the systematic torture at Abu Ghraib, it is only the low level foot-soldiers of Blackwater that are being held accountable. Prince and other top Blackwater executives continue to reap profits from the mercenary and private intelligence industries. Prince now has a new company, Frontier Services Group, which he founded with substantial investment from Chinese enterprises and which focuses on opportunities in Africa. Prince recently suggested that his forces at Blackwater could have confronted Ebola and ISIS. “If the administration cannot rally the political nerve or funding to send adequate active duty ground forces to answer the call, let the private sector finish the job,” he wrote.
None of the U.S. officials from the Bush and Obama administrations who unleashed Blackwater and other mercenary forces across the globe are being forced to answer for their role in creating the conditions for the Nisour Square shootings and other deadly incidents involving private contractors. Just as the main architect of the CIA interrogation program, Jose Rodriguez, is on a book tour for his propagandistic love letter to torture, Hard Measures: How Aggressive CIA Actions After 9/11 Saved American Lives, so too is Erik Prince pushing his own revisionist memoir, Civilian Warriors: The Inside Story of Blackwater and the Unsung Heroes of the War on Terror.
While the Blackwater verdict is an important and rare moment of accountability in an overwhelmingly unaccountable private war industry, it does not erase the fact that those in power—the CEOs, the senior officials, the war profiteers—walk freely and will likely do so for the rest of their lives.
What is so seldom discussed in public discourse on the use of mercenaries are the stories of their victims. After the Nisour Square massacre, I met with Mohammed Kinani, whose 9-year-old son, Ali, was the youngest person killed by Blackwater operatives that day. As he and his family approached the square in their car: . . .
He includes this brief movie:
Both articles are at Wall Street on Parade.
Sometimes the drive to charge people for everything—particularly those who have fallen on hard times—is somewhat sickening.
Here are some examples:
That article explains the primary tactics and provides more detail under three headings:
1. Offering skimpy plans to workers that don’t cover all their needs.
2. Making drugs too expensive for sick patients to afford.
3. Forming narrow networks to discourage sick people from enrolling.
Of course, these things could be easily fixed were it not for the absolute opposition of the GOP, which does not want healthcare to work.
A Dallas Company Finds Profit in Video-Only Jail Visitations. The article begins:
There’s nothing nice about jail. The food stinks. There’s nothing to do. People are in a bad mood. The best you can hope for is to get out quickly with minimal hassle. One of the few things you have to look forward to is a visit from a friend or a loved one—a brief face-to-face connection to remind you that the world is waiting on the other side of the glass. But some Texas jails are eliminating in-person visitation and requiring instead the use of a video visitation system sold by Dallas-based Securus Technologies. Critics say it’s an outrageous profiteering scheme that has no policy rationale and could actually deteriorate security at jails.
Securus markets its video system as a cost-saver for jails and a convenience for family members who live far from their incarcerated loved ones. But the structure of the deals suggests there are powerful financial incentives for jails to curb or eliminate face-to-face visitation. Securus charges callers as much as a dollar a minute to use its video services, and jails get a 20 to 25 percent cut. For big-city jails, that could mean millions in extra money. . .
The article concludes:
. . . A report released this morning by Grassroots Leadership and the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition found that disciplinary infractions, assaults and contraband cases all increased within the year after the video-only policy was put in place. The report concedes that the trends may be an aberration or temporary but cites social science and long-standing prison policies holding that visitations improves jail security and lowers recidivism rates. One studyof 16,420 offenders commissioned by the Minnesota Department of Corrections, for example, found that “prison visitation can significantly improve the transition offenders make from the institution to the community.” Even one visit lowered the risk that a person would re-offend by 13 percent.
“Video-only visitation policies ignore best practices that call for face-to-face visits to foster family relationships,” the report argues. “They advance arguments about security that are dubious, not rooted in research, and may be counter-productive.”
Grassroots Leadership and the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition report found 10 counties in Texas that have already deployed video-only systems, with more considering the option.
Because cutting taxes means less money for government services, many police departments look for other sources of revenue, such as civil asset forfeiture in addition to things like the cash-up-front video-only visitation system. Indeed, Ferguson MO’s criminal justice system had a nice little racket going, constantly extorting money from the poor.
One excellent way to destroy public education is to turn it over to private, for-profit companies. It may start okay, but pretty quickly the drive to grow profits will result in cost-cutting, and the schools will go downhill, short of teachers, short of supplies, short of maintenance, and so on. The article at the link is worth reading, particularly if you will at some point have children that will attend schools. Take a look at the start of that Pacific Standard article by Marian Wang:
In late February, the North Carolina chapter of the Americans for Prosperity Foundation—a group co-founded by the libertarian billionaire Koch brothers—embarked on what it billed as a statewide tour of charter schools, a cornerstone of the group’s education agenda. The first—and it turns out, only—stop was Douglass Academy, a new charter school in downtown Wilmington.
Douglass Academy was an unusual choice. A few weeks before, the school had been warned by the state about low enrollment. It had just 35 students, roughly half the state’s minimum. And a month earlier, a local newspaper had reported that federal regulators were investigating the school’s operations.
But the school has other attributes that may have appealed to the Koch group. The school’s founder, a politically active North Carolina businessman named Baker Mitchell, shares the Kochs’ free-market ideals. His model for success embraces decreased government regulation, increased privatization, and, if all goes well, healthy corporate profits.
In that regard, Mitchell, 74, appears to be thriving. Every year, millions of public education dollars flow through Mitchell’s chain of four non-profit charter schools to for-profit companies he controls.
The schools buy or lease nearly everything from companies owned by Mitchell. Their desks. Their computers. The training they provide to teachers. Most of the land and buildings. Unlike with traditional school districts, at Mitchell’s charter schools there’s no competitive bidding. No evidence of haggling over rent or contracts.
The schools have all hired the same for-profit management company to run their day-to-day operations. The company, Roger Bacon Academy, is owned by Mitchell. It functions as the schools’ administrative arm, taking the lead in hiring and firing school staff. It handles most of the bookkeeping. The treasurer of the non-profit that controls the four schools is also the chief financial officer of Mitchell’s management company. The two organizations even share a bank account.
“This isn’t as if one of the board members happens to own a chalk company where they buy chalk from, and he recused himself from buying chalk. This is the entire management and operation of the school.”
Mitchell’s management company was chosen by the schools’ non-profit board, which Mitchell was on at the time—an arrangement that is illegal in many other states. . .
If they are not, we get a criminal justice system driven by the politics of power, following directions to imprison people that the power structure dislikes. Unlawful prosecutions are where it starts, and it goes stronger if unethical prosecutors doing illegal prosecutions go unpunished. I recently blogged about the innocent man imprisoned for years, thanks to a Brooklyn prosecutor: the man got a $10 million settlement, and the prosecutor, after taking a couple of months of taxpayer-funded vacation, resigned quietly and is living happily, with no actions taken against him.
Now Pamela Colloff has an excellent article in the Texas Monthly that makes a strong case for punishing prosecutors who misuse their powers. She writes:
On September 17, in a decisive 7–2 ruling, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overturned the capital murder conviction of a Corpus Christi woman named Hannah Overton. Readers of Texas Monthly may recall Overton’s case, which I examined in an article a few years ago called “Hannah and Andrew,” a lengthy story that questioned the assumptions that had led to her prosecution. Overton is one of a number of defendants I have written about in recent years whose convictions have been overturned by the CCA.Michael Morton, who was sentenced to life in prison in 1987 for the murder of his wife, and Anthony Graves, who was sent to death row in 1994 for killing six people, were exonerated after spending a collective 42 years behind bars. Although these three cases are each quite different, they share a common theme: the prosecutors who sought their indictments and secured their convictions should never have tried the cases in the first place.
Take, for example, the facts surrounding Overton’s case. The mother of five was arrested in 2006 after Andrew Burd, a four-year-old foster child whom she and her husband were in the process of adopting, mysteriously died from a rare case of salt poisoning. Overton, who had no prior arrests and no previous run-ins with Child Protective Services—and who had earned an excellent reputation as a private-duty nurse for special-needs children—quickly became the focus of the Corpus Christi Police Department’s investigation into Andrew’s death. The Nueces County district attorney’s office discounted evidence suggesting that Andrew had an undiagnosed eating disorder called pica, which is not uncommon among foster children and involves ingesting inappropriate items, including salt. Concluding that a crime had taken place, the DA’s office secured an indictment for capital murder.
The Nueces County DA’s office aggressively pursued Overton, asking jurors to find her guilty and give her a life sentence without the possibility of parole, even though prosecutors could not answer the most basic questions about how she would have committed the crime. How had the diminutive Overton, who was six months pregnant at the time of Andrew’s death and mostly confined to her bed because she was recovering from whiplash after a car accident, managed to overpower the boy? How had she gotten him to choke down such a considerable quantity of salt without causing any lacerations or injuries to his mouth? How could Overton, who had no history of mental illness or violence, have suddenly become capable of the cold-blooded murder of a child? Worst of all, prosecutors could never establish a plausible motive. If she was too overwhelmed by the demands of parenting Andrew, as they told jurors, why hadn’t she terminated the adoption process?
During oral arguments before the CCA earlier this year, Overton’s appellate attorney, Cynthia Orr, asserted that lead prosecutor Sandra Eastwood had been so intent on winning a conviction that she failed to disclose exculpatory evidence—a charge Eastwood has strenuously denied. According to Orr, the defense was never told about a container of Andrew’s vomit that had been collected on the day he was hospitalized. Its low sodium level corroborated Overton’s account that on the day Andrew fell ill he’d likely ingested the salt on his own, when she briefly dozed off that morning, and not that afternoon, when he was under her supervision.
Yet the seventeen-page decision the CCA handed down in September largely laid the blame for Overton’s conviction on her defense attorneys for failing to call a key witness, a world-renowned expert on salt poisoning. As to the assertion that prosecutors withheld evidence, Judge Lawrence E. Meyers demurred, writing, “Because we are granting relief on Applicant’s first claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, there is no need for us to address the second issue of whether the state failed to disclose exculpatory evidence.”
Judge Cathy Cochran, though, did not hold back in her criticism of the prosecution. In a blistering concurring opinion, she took Eastwood to task, noting that the prosecutor had conceded during a 2012 evidentiary hearing that she had been an alcoholic and had also been taking prescription diet pills that affected her memory at the time of Overton’s trial. “[Eastwood] repeated seventy-two times that she did not recall or did not know the answers to questions concerning the investigation or trial of applicant,” Cochran observed. The judge, who noted that Eastwood was later fired for unrelated ethical violations, did not stop there. Cochran went on to explain how the second-chair prosecutor, an assistant DA named Anna Jimenez, had taken the stand during the hearing to testify that Eastwood “told her that ‘she would do anything it would take to get an advantage over the Defense,’ including sending a ‘spy’ to applicant’s church group to learn the defense strategy. The second-chair prosecutor testified that the lead prosecutor was not ethical and was ‘not truthful.’ She said that the lead prosecutor told her that no vomit samples had been saved as evidence.”
Sadly, the themes that run through the Overton case—from tunnel vision to an overly aggressive prosecution—are hardly unique. Take the case of Alfred DeWayne Brown, currently on death row. . .
A very interesting article in Pacific Standard by Lauren Kirchner explores what drives and protects bribery and corruption. The article describes in some detail the two incompetent conspirators (one an FBI agent working in counter-intelligence) and how they worked, but it also looks at the general picture. From that article:
. . . The very particular set of thinking and expectations involved in bribery and corruption has been an occasional topic of research for economists and psychologists throughout the years—on the overall cultural, organizational, and personal levels.
Researchers have measured and studied corruption on the global scale, for instance. The World Bank has estimated that $1 trillion gets paid every year in bribes, worldwide. There’s corruption in every government in the world, but what varies is how extreme, how visible, and how tolerated it is. Researchers at the University of Toronto have made a connection between the cultural “collectivism” of a country’s population and its acceptance of bribery (as opposed to its “individualism”). It might sound counter-intuitive, but the results of their study suggest that “collectivism promotes bribery through lower perceived responsibility for one’s actions.”
Likewise, researchers writing in the journal Social Psychological & Personality Sciencehave found a correlation between the “seemingly unrelated behaviors” of voluntary tipping and bribery. Namely, “countries that had higher rates of tipping behavior tended to have higher rates of corruption”—even after they control for GDP and income inequality. The context surrounding those two acts may be different, but the expectation of a quid-pro-quo for good service rendered seems to be the same.
A duo of psychologists in Germany struggled to identify the particulars of “a corrupt organizational culture in terms of its underlying assumptions, values, and norms.” But, writing in the Journal of Business Ethics this year, they found generally that “corrupt organizations perceive themselves to fight in a war, which leads to their taken-for-granted assumption that ‘the end justifies the means.’” Wartime attitudes degrade the traditional values of the members of the group, and they start to develop rationalizations and something the authors call “ethical blindness.” Corrupt organizations also tend to protect the “social cocoon” they’ve built up by harshly punishing those members of the group who aren’t willing to join in the rule-breaking.
It seems that the structure of the organization itself can have a subconscious effect on its members, as well. When asked about kickbacks and bribes in the U.S. military, a spokesperson for the government watchdog group Project on Government Oversightsaid that the strict, top-down structure of the military means that commanders must work even harder to set an ethical example for their subordinates. Otherwise, corruption trickles down. . .
Here’s the abstract of the article the duo of psychologists in Germany:
Although theory refers to organizational culture as an important variable in corrupt organizations, only little empirical research has addressed the characteristics of a corrupt organizational culture. Besides some characteristics that go hand in hand with unethical behavior and other features of corrupt organizations, we are still not able to describe a corrupt organizational culture in terms of its underlying assumptions, values, and norms. With a qualitative approach, we studied similarities of organizational culture across different corrupt organizations. In this study, we performed content analysis on interviews of 14 independent experts about their experience with corrupt organizations. With this approach, we gained insights about different corrupt organizations spanning different branches (e.g., government, foreign trade, pharmacy, sports, building industry). We found that corrupt organizations perceive themselves to fight in a war, which leads to their taken-for-granted assumption that “the end justifies the means”. This assumption inspires many values and norms of the organizational culture. An important value in a corrupt organization is “security”, and an important norm is punishment of deviant (i.e., non-corrupt) behavior. Furthermore, managers and employees differ in their perception of organizational culture. While the management endorses values, such as success, results, and performance, and implements these values in their norms of goal setting, employees make use of rationalization strategies and endorse values of security and team spirit.
Not surprising: they want protection for how they plan to act. It’s sort of the same courtesy extended by the CIA to its torturers, destroying all video records of the torture sessions. From the article:
. . .their lawsuit does shed light on the sort of resistance officials and police chiefs face as they seek to make their policies more humane. The lawsuit employs rhetoric hostile to the idea of treating vulnerable suspects such as the mentally ill differently, and calls DOJ’s findings on excessive force “highly suspect.” It also embodies a Stand Your Ground-ification of self-defense attitudes in asserting that officers have a right not to de-escalate the situation before turning to deadly force, asserting that their force is protected “regardless of whether or not there existed less intrusive means, or alternatives to self-defense or defense of others, such as inflicting a less serious injury to, retreating from, or containing, or negotiating with a suspect.” (some version of this could be a defense to criminal charges against police, but not to Department policies). . .
And given that exception, shut down the site and fine the owners substantial sums.
UPDATE: This post must have been quite confusing: I used the wrong link in the original post (the link that’s still there). I’m leaving that link in place because Big Chrono’s comment is relevant to the matter at that link (which is a story about how the NYPD has set its own course and is ignoring the Mayor’s direction).
This is the link that should have been used, and the reference in the title refers to circumstances under which the First Amendment right to free speech does not apply. As Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., noted: “The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic.”