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Archive for September 11th, 2016

Where police departments go wrong: Hiring troubled officers without doing a reference check

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Timothy Williams provides information that provides some insight in recurring problems in law enforcement in the US:

As a police officer in a small Oregon town in 2004, Sean Sullivan was caught kissing a 10-year-old girl on the mouth.

Mr. Sullivan’s sentence barred him from taking another job as a police officer.

But three months later, in August 2005, Mr. Sullivan was hired, after a cursory check, not just as a police officer on another force but as the police chief. As the head of the department in Cedar Vale, Kan., according to court records and law enforcement officials, he was again investigated for a suspected sexual relationship with a girl and eventually convicted on charges that included burglary and criminal conspiracy.

“It was very irritating because he should never have been a police officer,” said Larry Markle, the prosecutor for Montgomery and Chautauqua counties in Kansas.

Mr. Sullivan, 44, is now in prison in Washington State on other charges, including identity theft and possession of methamphetamine. It is unclear how far-reaching such problems may be, but some experts say thousands of law enforcement officers may have drifted from police department to police department even after having been fired, forced to resign or convicted of a crime.

Yet there is no comprehensive, national system for weeding out problem officers. If there were, such hires would not happen, criminologists and law enforcement officials say.

Officers, sometimes hired with only the most perfunctory of background examinations — as Kansas officials said was the case with Mr. Sullivan — and frequently without even having their fingerprints checked, often end up in new trouble, according to a review of court documents, personnel records and interviews with former colleagues and other law enforcement officials.

As fatal police shootings of unarmed African-American men and sometimes violent protests have roiled the nation, the question of how best to remove the worst police officers has been at the core of reform attempts.

But a lack of coordination among law enforcement agencies, opposition from police executives and unions, and an absence of federal guidance have meant that in many cases police departments do not know the background of prospective officers if they fail to disclose a troubled work history.

Continue reading the main story

Among the officers, sometimes called “gypsy cops,” who have found jobs even after exhibiting signs that they might be ill suited for police work is Timothy Loehmann, the Cleveland officer who fatally shot 12-year-old Tamir Rice in 2014.

Before he was hired in Cleveland, Officer Loehmann had resigned from a suburban police force not long after a supervisor recommended that he be fired for, among other things, an inability to follow instructions. But Cleveland officials never checked his personnel file.

Officer Loehmann, who was not indicted, remains on the Cleveland force. He is on desk duty pending the result of an administrative review, Sgt. Jennifer Ciaccia, a police spokeswoman, said.

While serving as a St. Louis officer, Eddie Boyd III pistol-whipped a 12-year-old girl in the face in 2006, and in 2007 struck a child in the face with his gun or handcuffs before falsifying a police report, according to MissouriDepartment of Public Safety records.

Though Officer Boyd subsequently resigned, he was soon hired by the police department in nearby St. Ann, Mo., before he found a job with the troubled force in Ferguson, Mo., where Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old African-American, was fatally shot by a white officer in 2014.

Officer Boyd is being sued by a woman in Ferguson who said he arrested her after she asked for his name at the scene of a traffic accident. He declined an interview request.

The Ferguson police declined to comment about him, but said in a statement that their applicants “undergo extensive investigation before final hiring decisions are made, which includes, but is not limited to, a psychological examination, investigation of an applicant’s prior work history, consultation with applicant’s previous employers and a criminal background check.”

Across the state, the Kansas City police fired Kevin Schnell in 2008 for failing to get medical aid for a pregnant woman after arresting her during a traffic stop. The baby was delivered, but died a few hours later.

Officer Schnell has since been hired by two other Missouri police departments, including his current employer in Independence. Officer Schnell and the Independence police declined to comment. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 September 2016 at 7:13 pm

F-16 pilot was ready to give her life on Sept. 11

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Quite an amazing story, well worth reading today. Steve Hendrix writes in the Washington Post:

Late in the morning of the Tuesday that changed everything,   Lt. Heather “Lucky” Penney was on a runway at Andrews Air Force Base and ready to fly. She had her hand on the throttle of an F-16 and she had her orders: Bring down United Airlines Flight 93. The day’s fourth hijacked airliner seemed to be hurtling toward Washington. Penney, one of the first two combat pilots in the air that morning, was told to stop it.

The one thing she didn’t have as she roared into the crystalline sky was live ammunition. Or missiles. Or anything at all to throw at a hostile aircraft.

Except her own plane. So that was the plan.

Because the surprise attacks were unfolding, in that innocent age, faster than they could arm war planes, Penney and her commanding officer went up to fly their jets straight into a Boeing 757.

“We wouldn’t be shooting it down. We’d be ramming the aircraft,” Penney recalls of her charge that day. “I would essentially be a kamikaze pilot.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 September 2016 at 3:44 pm

Posted in Military

Travelers beware: Battery fires do occur

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Christine Negroni reports in the NY Times:

The Federal Aviation Administration, citing fire hazards, has warnedagainst using Samsung Galaxy Note 7 smartphones on aircraft. Three Australian airlines and the German carrier Lufthansa have outright banned their use onboard.

But the threat of airliner fires is not limited to Samsung devices, which the company has offered to replace. And the hazard is far more than theoretical.

Qantas, one of the Australian carriers, had an onboard fire during a trans-Pacific flight this year when a passenger’s cellphone was crushed in the mechanism of a business-class seat and the phone’s lithium-ion battery ignited.

In January as a Delta Air Lines flight from Minneapolis to Atlanta arrived at the gate, crew members discovered that a carry-on bag containing two laptop computers had burst into flames, according to the F.A.A. The smoke prompted some passengers to use the emergency exits and wait on the wings until help arrived.

The problem is lithium-ion batteries, which have become the standard for portable consumer electronics, including phones, tablets and laptops, because of the power they can pack into a small package. They are also highly volatile.

Battery fires were considered a contributing factor in the crashes of three cargo planes in the last 10 years: an Asiana 747 in 2011, a UPS 747 in Dubai in 2010 and a UPS DC-8 in Philadelphia in 2006.

In January, the F.A.A. issued a warning that lithium-ion batteries in a cargo hold carried the “risk of a catastrophic hull loss” on an airplane.

So far there have been no airliner disasters specifically attributed to passengers’ digital devices. But experts worry about the sheer mathematics. The Royal Aeronautical Society in Britain estimates that even a single-aisle jet with only 100 passengers might have more than 500 lithium-ion batteries aboard. Those numbers, and the attendant fire risks, could eventually catch up with the air-traveling public.

The question is: What to do about it — besides issuing advisories? . . .

Continue reading. There’s more, and there’s a sidebar with links to related stories.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 September 2016 at 3:24 pm

Posted in Daily life

‘Terror’ and Everybody’s Rights

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In the NY Review of Books Jed Rakoff reviews an important book by Owen Fiss:

A War Like No Other: The Constitution in a Time of Terror
by Owen Fiss, edited and with a foreword by Trevor Sutton<
New Press, 330 pp., $27.95

Say the word “war” and the rule of law often implodes, with courts frequently employing sophistry to avoid any interference with governmental conduct. To take an obvious example, during World War II the Roosevelt administration interned thousands of American citizens of Japanese descent solely on the basis of their ancestry, and the Supreme Court, in an opinion by Justice Hugo Black, upheld this patently unconstitutional confinement by simply repeating the mantra that, in time of war, total deference (unchecked and unbalanced) is due the military.

During the same war, the US troops fighting Nazi racism were, without judicial interference, segregated by color. Even the 1940 draft law, which stated that “in the selection and training of men under this Act,…there shall be no discrimination against any person on account of race or color,” was held by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals not to prohibit separate draft quotas for whites and blacks, since “the Army executives are to decide the Army’s needs.”

The so-called “war on terror” declared by President George W. Bush soon after September 11, 2001, has already lasted more than three times as long as American involvement in World War II, with no end in sight. By its shapeless and secretive nature, it tends to generate amorphous fears and shrouded responses that compromise our freedoms in ways we may only dimly recognize but that create troubling precedents for the future. And so far, the federal courts have done precious little to challenge these incursions.

One of the voices decrying this judicial failure is that of Owen Fiss, a very distinguished Yale law professor, who over the past dozen years has written one essay after another analyzing, or one might say exposing, the shallowness of the judicial response to executive excesses committed in the name of national security. That Fiss would undertake this task was by no means inevitable. Now in his late seventies, he had focused much of his academic career (which had made him one of the most-cited legal scholars in the country) on such subjects as civil procedure, freedom of speech, and equal protection of the law. But his palpable disagreement with the way federal courts were, in the name of an uncertain and shifting war, largely avoiding judicial scrutiny of everything from manifest torture to far-reaching surveillance led him, beginning in 2003, to write the ten essays now collected by his former student Trevor Sutton in A War Like No Other.

A few of the most prominent examples that Fiss discusses will illustrate his concern. First, there is the CIA’s use of torture following September 11. One may assume for the sake of argument that torture may sometimes be effective in extracting information that cannot be obtained by ordinary interrogation—although most studies suggest that its main effect is to force the victim to tell his torturer what he believes the torturer wants to hear. Indeed, historically, one of torture’s most prominent uses has been to coerce false confessions, as in the “show trials” of the Stalinist period.

In any case, torture, regardless of any perceived benefits, has been condemned from the earliest days of the American republic. Most scholars agree that it was revulsion at the English kings’ use of torture that led to enactment of the Fifth Amendment’s prohibition against compelled self-incrimination and also played a part in the enactment of the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment. Evidence of Americans’ continuing abhorrence of torture can also be found in numerous current statutes: for example, torturing a victim before murdering him is one of the “aggravating factors” that, under current federal law, warrants the death penalty.

Most directly applicable, in 1988 the United States signed and in 1994 ratified the United Nations Convention Against Torture, which thereby became a binding part of our law. Article 1 of the convention defines torture to encompass, among other things, “any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession.” Article 2 requires each signatory state to “take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture in any territory under its jurisdiction” (emphasis added). Article 2 also provides that “no exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political stability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.”

Although the language in Article 2 italicized above might seem to permit a government agent operating abroad to make use of torture, in 1994, Congress, as part of the legislation implementing the convention, enacted section 2340A of the Federal Criminal Code, which, among other things, prohibits any US agent operating even “outside the United States” from inflicting torture on any person within his custody or physical control. Yet following September 11, CIA agents working abroad subjected suspected terrorists to waterboarding—a technique derived from the Spanish Inquisition in which water is forced into the nose and mouth of the subject so as to induce the perception of suffocating or drowning.

Waterboarding would thus clearly appear to be torture. Nonetheless, legal memoranda prepared by senior Justice Department officials shortly after September 11 purported to justify its use by arguing that the convention’s definition of torture covered only “the worst forms of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment,” and that “physical pain amounting to torture must be equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death.” As for mental suffering, it must, according to the memoranda, be of a kind that leads to psychological harm lasting “for months or even years” to constitute torture.

Since, however, it is up to the judiciary to make the final determination of what a law means, one might have imagined that once the CIA’s waterboarding was made public, a court would then have decided whether or not it constituted torture under section 2340A. But this did not occur, in part because the government also took the position that the CIA’s waterboarding, as an instrument in the war on terror, was exempt from judicial review.

After some uncertainty, this exemption from judicial review of any decision to waterboard became the Bush administration’s position at the highest levels and was effectively reiterated in 2005, after Congress passed the Detainee Treatment Act, which, among other things, provided that “no person in the custody or under the effective control of the Department of Defense” shall be subjected to certain specified “technique[s] of interrogation” that included waterboarding. In addition to maintaining that the legislation did not apply to the CIA, President Bush, in signing the bill, asserted his power to interpret it “consistent with the constitutional limitations on judicial power”—a clear suggestion that his interpretations were exempt from judicial review. In effect he was saying, “if we decide to waterboard, no court can say us nay.”

As it happened, this supposed exemption was never put to the test as far as CIAwaterboarding was concerned. Rather, the issue was resolved politically. Specifically, President Obama, soon after taking office in 2009, banned the use of waterboarding even by the CIA, and Congress effectively codified this order in 2015. (Donald Trump has however announced his support for waterboarding.) Despite rumors, moreover, there have been no verified reports of CIA waterboarding since 2003. So at the moment, at least, there is nothing for a court to decide when it comes to waterboarding by US agents.

Regretfully, however, President Obama’s ban on waterboarding did not put an end to US involvement in the use of torture as part of the war on terror. Instead, within the past decade the US has repeatedly made use of the device known as extraordinary rendition, by which suspected terrorists detained by the US are turned over to police authorities in other countries that regularly employ torture as an interrogation technique.

Fiss, who views this practice, along with waterboarding, as “one of the most egregious of all abuses associated with the War on Terror,” gives as an example the case of Maher Arar, a dual citizen of Canada and Syria, who was thought by US authorities to be a supporter of al-Qaeda. While returning to Canada from a vacation in Tunisia, Arar had to change planes at JFK in New York. He was immediately taken into custody by US agents, who held him for twelve days and then, after their interrogation apparently did not lead to the desired results, shipped him to Syria, where (he alleges) they knew he would be tortured—as he was.

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals, in a full court decision filed in late 2009, held, by a vote of 7–4, that these facts did not constitute a legitimate legal claim. Similarly, in a case involving five former detainees who alleged that the CIA arranged for them to be flown to other countries so that they could be interrogated by torture, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held in 2010, by a vote of 6–5, that the detainees’ lawsuit was barred by prohibitions against exposing state secrets.

Although the split votes in these cases suggest that judicial opinion is not uniform about whether extraordinary rendition is beyond judicial scrutiny, for the time being it remains a device by which US officials can effectively use the torture techniques of other countries to interrogate those suspected of aiding the war on terror. The majority view of the judiciary is not to interfere.

If the judiciary’s response to extraordinary rendition is an example of its hands-off approach to dubious practices associated with the war on terror, a different kind of judicial response, which might be described as “words without deeds,” is presented by another of Fiss’s examples, namely, detention without trial of persons alleged to be enemy combatants. . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 September 2016 at 10:22 am

Barbara Lee’s Lone Vote on Sept. 14, 2001, Was as Prescient as it was Brave and Heroic

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In The Intercept Glenn Greenwald looks back on how Congress responded to the terrorist attacks of 9/11:

Almost immediately after the 9/11 attack, while bodies were still buried in the rubble, George W. Bush demanded from Congress the legal authorization to use military force against those responsible for the attack, which everyone understood would start with an invasion of Afghanistan. The resulting resolution that was immediately cooked up was both vague and broad, providing that “the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons.”

Despite this broadness, or because of it, the House of Representatives on September 14 approved the Resolution by a vote of 420-1. The Senate approved it the same day by a vote of 98-0. The lone dissenting vote was Democratic Congresswoman Barbara Lee of California, who – three days after the 9/11 attack, in a climate of virtually full-scale homogeneity – not only voted “no” but stood up on the House floor to deliver this eloquent, unflinching and, as it turns out, extremely prescient explanation for her opposition:

In an op-ed she published in The San Francisco Chronicle 9 days later, she explained her vote by pointing out that the resolution “was a blank check to the president to attack anyone involved in the Sept. 11 events — anywhere, in any country, without regard to our nation’s long-term foreign policy, economic and national security interests, and without time limit.” She added: “A rush to launch precipitous military counterattacks runs too great a risk that more innocent men, women, children will be killed.”

For her lone stance, Lee was deluged with rancid insults and death threats to the point where she needed around-the-clock bodyguards. She was vilified as “anti-American” by numerous outlets including The Wall Street Journal. The Washington Timeseditorialized on September 18 that “Ms. Lee is a long-practicing supporter of America’s enemies — from Fidel Castro on down” and that “while most of the left-wing Democrats spent the week praising President Bush and trying to sound as moderate as possible, Barbara Lee continued to sail under her true colors.” Since then, she has been repeatedly rejected in her bids to join the House Democratic leadership, typically losing to candidates close to Wall Street and in support of militarism. I documented numerous other ugly attacks when I wrote about her for The Guardian in 2013.

But beyond the obvious bravery needed to take the stand she took, she has been completely vindicated on the merits. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 September 2016 at 10:07 am

Nihilistic password security questions

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A good list at questions in McSweeney’s by Solheil Rezayazdi:

What is the name of your least favorite child?

In what year did you abandon your dreams?

What is the maiden name of your father’s mistress?

At what age did your childhood pet run away?

What was the name of your favorite unpaid internship?

In what city did you first experience ennui?

What is your ex-wife’s newest last name?

What sports team do you fetishize to avoid meaningful discussion with others? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 September 2016 at 7:38 am

Posted in Daily life

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