Archive for the ‘Government’ Category
A bankrupt policy that costs $15 billion per year and results in increasing drug use. Jon Lee Anderson reports in the New Yorker:
1971, President Nixon announced the U.S. “war on drugs,” which every President since has carried forward as a battle standard. Until recently, most Latin American governments have coöperated, and in return have received intelligence, equipment, and, perhaps most importantly, financial assistance. The overall investment has been huge—the federal government now spends about fifteen billion dollars on it each year—with the net result that drug use has proliferated in the U.S. and worldwide. In the drug-producing countries, where drug consumption was negligible at the start of the American effort, the criminal narcoculture has attained ghoulishly surreal proportions.
Over the course of the past few years, a growing number of Latin American governments have begun to challenge U.S. policy and to call for a radical rethinking of the war on drugs, including widespread decriminalization. A handful of leftist governments, such as those of Venezuela, Ecuador, and Bolivia, have gone so far as to end their coöperation with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, alleging that U.S. drug policy is a new form of Yankee imperialism. Uruguay, under the former President José Mujica, became the first country to legalize state-sponsored production, sale, and use of marijuana.
The latest opposition to the forty-five-year-old drug war came not from a government that is hostile to the U.S. but from its most steadfast ally in the Americas, Colombia. On May 14th, President Juan Manuel Santos announced that his government was halting its longstanding practice of spraying the country’s illicit coca crop with chemicals to kill the plants. The spraying began in the late nineties under the U.S.-sponsored Plan Colombia, which aimed to wipe out the country’s drug culture and its guerrillas, who largely depend onnarcotráfico for their survival. Santos made the announcement after U.N. scientists confirmed what critics of spraying had long alleged: that glyphosate, a key ingredient in the herbicide known as Roundup, is probably carcinogenic to humans.
Colombia was the last country in the world to use chemical spraying to combat illegal drug cultivation. Citing health hazards and damage to impoverished rural economies, both Bolivia and Peru, which also grow coca, have banned aerial spraying. Afghanistan, the world’s chief supplier of opium, overrode American protests to ban spraying in 2007. The Karzai government argued that the program drove poor Afghan farmers into the hands of the Taliban by destroying their livelihoods without offering realistic economic alternatives. Similar arguments have long been made in Colombia, where millions of farmers have been driven from their land to live in urban slums.
The U.S. State and Defense Departments, which jointly oversee Plan Colombia, have always lobbied heavily in favor of spraying, which is outsourced to the giant U.S. security contractor DynCorp. DynCorp has earned hundreds of millions from its Colombian contracts, just as it previously did in Afghanistan, where it also won the government contract to implement counter-narcotics strategy. Notably, after President Santos announced the halt to spraying, that U.S. Ambassador to Colombia, Kevin Whitaker, published an Op-Ed in the leading Colombian newspaper, El Tiempo, arguing in favor of continuing the spraying campaign while saying that the U.S would continue working closely with Colombia in spite of the recent decision. Whitaker ended his Op-Ed with the English phrase “We have your back.”
So who is to be believed about the war on drugs, and what is the right way forward? After almost twenty years, many deaths, and billions of dollars spent under Plan Colombia, has illicit coca production decreased in Colombia? Overall, yes, according to the plan’s proponents: in his piece, Whitaker asserted that the area under cultivation for illegal coca production was reduced by half between 2007 and 2013. But studies also show that that area increased by thirty-nine per cent last year—so the most recent trends aren’t good. And if one third of the initial cultivation area is still left, that means that a significant amount of cocaine is still coming out of Colombia, and will be for the foreseeable future. . .
Maybe we’re going about drugs all wrong?
In the New Yorker Douglass Starr points out that coercive interrogation techniques can readily produce false information:
For more than fifty years, John E. Reid & Associates, Inc., has represented itself as providing the gold standard in interrogation training for police. The company’s technique, developed by Reid himself, a polygraph expert and former cop, in the late nineteen-forties, involves exerting psychological pressure to encourage confession. It is nonviolent and, according to the company, extremely effective. But, as I discussed in an article for the magazine in 2013, the past few decades have seen a growing number of psychologists and advocates question whether the technique isn’t coercive and prone to producing false confessions. Now a twenty-million-dollar wrongful-conviction settlement has provided fuel to Reid’s detractors.
In 1993, Juan Rivera, a resident of Waukegan, Illinois, was sentenced to life in prison for the rape and murder, a year earlier, of an eleven-year-old girl named Holly Staker. For more than two months after Staker’s body was found, the police failed to produce a credible suspect. Following up on a tip from a jailhouse informant, they focussed on Rivera, a nineteen-year-old native of Puerto Rico with a history of psychological problems. No physical evidence linked him to the attack, and readings from an ankle monitor that Rivera was wearing at the time, while awaiting trial for a nonviolent burglary, showed that he had been nowhere near the scene of the crime. Nevertheless, in late October of 1992, he was brought to Lake County Jail, in Waukegan, and interrogated intermittently for four days. Twice during that time, Rivera was taken to Reid headquarters, in Chicago, where a Reid employee named Michael Masokas administered polygraph tests. The results were mixed, but Masokas told Rivera that the evidence demonstrated his guilt. Eventually, after more round-robin interrogation, he signed a confession.
Rivera’s conviction was affirmed three times in the course of the next sixteen years: in 1998, by a jury; in 2001, by the Illinois Appellate Court; and in 2009, by another jury. The last trial was, in many ways, the most astonishing, because it came four years after new DNA evidence had exculpated Rivera. Nevertheless, he was found guilty again, based partly on the strength of his original confession. Rivera’s attorneys appealed, and he was released in 2012. Later that year, he filed a civil suit for false arrest and malicious prosecution, naming a handful of people and government entities as defendants, including the Lake County Major Crimes Task Force, which helped investigate his case.
The settlement was announced in March, but only recently have some of the financial details been made public. The City of Waukegan, which has since withdrawn from the task force, will pay the highest amount—seven and a half million dollars. The State of Illinois and Lake County will each pay three and a half million dollars, with lesser amounts coming from other towns. John E. Reid & Associates will pay two million dollars, which appears to be the largest settlement in its history. Joseph Buckley, the company’s president, did not respond to my requests for comment. When I spoke with him in 2013, however, he distanced Reid from any cases of false confession, arguing that they were the result of improper implementation of the technique. Such distancing will be more difficult in this case, since several of the police officers testified that they were trained in interrogation by Reid, and since one of the company’s employees was apparently directly involved.
In a report to Rivera’s attorneys, the psychologist Saul Kassin, who has studied false confessions for decades, called the interrogation “one of the worst, if not the worst, I have ever seen.” He told me that the settlement reinforces two important points: . . .
Dan Froomkin reports in The Intercept:
Sen. Maria Cantwell [D-WA] engaged in a very public maneuver on the Senate floor Thursday, withholding her vote in favor of the big trade bill until she got assurances that there would be a vote on renewing the Export-Import Bank.
Afterward, explaining the fervency of her support for the Ex-Im Bank, she told such a howler that even the Capitol press corps, not empowered to actually call a senator a liar, made sure to offer readers the opportunity to reach that conclusion on their own.
The Democrat from Washington state, where Boeing is the single largest employer, said her support for the Ex-Im – often called the “Bank of Boeing” because fully $8 billion of the bank’s $12 billion in annual loan guarantees support the international sales of its jetliners – wasn’t inspired by the aerospace giant, but by small businesses in her state, like one in Yakima that exports music stands.
Erica Warner’s story for the Associated Press was headlined “Sen. Cantwell turns Senate divisions on trade to advantage,” and began as follows:
President Barack Obama’s trade bill faced a crucial test vote in the Senate, and Washington state Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell saw an opportunity.
In a tense drama that unfolded in real time on the Senate floor Thursday, Cantwell withheld her vote to move forward on the trade legislation until she received assurances from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., that the Senate would vote on renewing the Export-Import Bank.
Ex-Im is a little-known government agency that guarantees loans to help U.S. exporters. One of its major beneficiaries: Boeing Co., which employs 80,000 people in Washington state.
Warner then drily noted Cantwell’s explanation:
But Cantwell said she thought not of Boeing but of a little company in Yakima., Wash., that exports music stands to China as she made her stand in the Senate well.
And she added this kick at the end of the story:
Her moves did not go unnoticed by Boeing, whose executive, James McNerney, was on the Hill Thursday morning to meet with Senate Democratic leaders. Company spokesman Tim Neale said, “She’s been very supportive of us on this issue which we really appreciate.”
The Ex-Im bank has become a target of Tea-party conservatives and other free-market purists who see it, with some justification, as the height of crony capitalism. It will have to shut down on July 1 if Congress doesn’t reauthorize it. . .
Glenn Greenwald reports in The Intercept:
Colonel Ian Henderson was a British official dubbed “the Butcher of Bahrain” because of atrocities he repeatedly committed during the 30 years he served as chief security official of that Middle Eastern country. His reign of terror began in 1966 when Bahrain was a British “protectorate” and continued when the post-“independence” Bahraini King retained him in the same position. In 1996, The Independent described him as “the most feared of all secret policemen” in Bahrain, and cited “consistent and compelling evidence that severe beatings and even sexual assaults have been carried out against prisoners under Henderson’s responsibility for well over a decade.”
A 2002 Guardian article reported that “during this time his men allegedly detained and tortured thousands of anti-government activists”; his official acts “included the ransacking of villages, sadistic sexual abuse and using power drills to maim prisoners”; and “on many occasions they are said to have detained children without informing their parents, only to return them months later in body bags.” Needless to say, Col. Henderson was never punished in any way: “although Scotland Yard launched an inquiry into the allegations in 2000, the investigation was dropped the following year.” He was showered with high honors from the U.K.-supported tyrants who ran Bahrain.
Prior to the massacres and rapes over which he presided in Bahrain, Henderson played a leading role in brutally suppressing the Mau Mau insurgency in another British colony, Kenya. In the wake of his Kenya atrocities, he twice won the George Medal, “the 2nd highest, to the George Cross, gallantry medal that a civilian can win.” His brutality against Kenyan insurgents fighting for independence is what led the U.K. government to put him in charge of internal security in Bahrain.
For years, human rights groups have fought to obtain old documents, particularly a 37-year-old diplomatic cable, relating to British responsibility for Henderson’s brutality in Bahrain. Ordinarily, documents more than 30 years old are disclosable, but the British government has fought every step of the way to conceal this cable.
But now, a governmental tribunal ruled largely in favor of the government and held that most of the diplomatic cable shall remain suppressed. The tribunal’s ruling was at least partially based on “secret evidence for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) from a senior diplomat, Edward Oakden, who argued that Britain’s defence interests in Bahrain were of paramount importance”; specifically, “Mr Oakden implied that the release of such information could jeopardise Britain’s new military base in the country.”
The U.K. government loves to demonize others for supporting tyrants even as it snuggles up to virtually every despot in that region. Her Majesty’s Government has a particularly close relationship with Bahrain, where it is constructing a new naval base. The Kingdom is already home to the United States’ Fifth Fleet.
The tribunal’s rationale is that “full disclosure of the document would have ‘an adverse effect on relations’ with Bahrain, where the U.K. is keen to build further economic and defence ties.” In other words, disclosing these facts would make the British and/or the Bahrainis look bad, cause them embarrassment, and could make their close friendship more difficult to sustain. Therefore, the British and Bahraini populations must be denied access to the evidence of what their governments did.
This is the core mindset now prevalent in both the U.S. and U.K. for hiding their crimes from their own populations and then rest of the world:disclosure of what we did will embarrass and shame us, cause anger toward us, and thus harm our “national security.” As these governments endlessly highlight the bad acts of those who are adverse to them, they vigorously hide their own, thus propagandizing their publics into believing that only They — the Other Tribe Over There — commit such acts.
This is exactly the same mentality driving the Obama administration’s years-long effort to suppress photographs showing torture of detainees by the U.S. In 2009, Obama said he would comply with a court ruling that ordered those torture photos disclosed, but weeks after his announcement, reversed himself. Adopting the argument made by a group run by Bill Kristol and Liz Cheney against disclosure of the photos, Obama insisted that to release the photos “would be to further inflame anti-American opinion and to put our troops in danger.” Obama went further and announced his support for a bill sponsored by Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman to amend the Freedom of Information Act — a legislative accomplishment which Rep. Louise Slaughter told me at the time had long been “sacred” to Democrats — for no reason other than to exempt those torture photos from disclosure.
In March of this year, a U.S. judge who had long sided with the Obama DOJ in this matter reversed course. In a lawsuit brought in 2004 by the ACLU, the judge ordered the release of thousands of photos showing detainee abuse in Afghanistan and Iraq, including at Abu Ghraib. He ruled that the Obama DOJ could no longer show any national security harm that would justify ongoing suppression.
Rather than accepting the ruling and releasing the photos after hiding them for more than a decade, the U.S. Justice Department last week filed an emergency request for a stay of that ruling with the appeals court. The argument from The Most Transparent Administration Ever™: . . .
Radley Balko, among his morning links (worth checking), points out:
House Republicans want to kill the DOJ’s community policing office, which “focuses on improving the relations between police departments and their communities.” They also want to cut funding to the civil rights division, which has been investigating police departments that have shown a pattern of constitutional violations.
I truly do not understand the GOP mind, but that’s been obvious for quite a while.
Matt Taibbi: World’s Largest Banks Admit to Massive Global Financial Crimes, But Escape Jail (Again)
There seems to be a rule that a banker or financier, regardless of the financial crimes committed, cannot be indicted, much less go to jail. (Bernie Madoff is a notable exception.) Democracy Now! has a video interview (with transcript) of Matt Taibbi on the recent government action that once again let bankers walk free—and not even suffer financial penalties, since the bank itself picks up the tab for the fines. Their blurb:
Five of the world’s top banks will pay over $5 billion in fines after pleading guilty to rigging the price of foreign currencies and interest rates. Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Barclays and Royal Bank of Scotland pleaded guilty to conspiring to manipulate the price of U.S. dollars and euros exchanged in the $5 trillion FX spot market. UBSpleaded guilty for its role in manipulating the Libor benchmark interest rate. No individual bank employees were hit with criminal charges as part of the settlements. We are joined by Matt Taibbi, award-winning journalist with Rolling Stone magazine.
Radley Balko points out some very good points in the model police body-camera legislation:
The ACLU has released what the organization recommends as model legislation for police body cameras.
It looks pretty thorough to me. It includes sensible guidelines about when police are to turn the cameras on (at the beginning of any interaction with someone who isn’t a police officer or informant) and off (at the request of anyone who isn’t suspected of a crime). It does not allow police to view camera footage before writing reports and lays out smart rules about storage, access, privacy and when a video should be made public.
Here’s one part that I’ve written about here on a few occasions, and that I think is particularly important:
- Should any law enforcement officer, employee or agent fail to adhere to the recording or retention requirements contained in this chapter, or intentionally interfere with a body camera’s ability to accurately capture video footage:
- Appropriate disciplinary action shall be taken against the individual officer, employee or agent;
- A rebuttable evidentiary presumption shall be adopted in favor of criminal defendants who reasonably assert that exculpatory evidence was destroyed or not captured; and
- A rebuttable evidentiary presumption shall be adopted on behalf of civil plaintiffs suing the government, a law enforcement agency and/or law enforcement officers for damages based on police misconduct who reasonably assert that evidence supporting their claim was destroyed or not captured.
- The disciplinary action requirement and rebuttable presumptions in subsection [a] may be overcome by contrary evidence or proof of exigent circumstances that made compliance impossible
In other words, if there should be video but isn’t, courts will assume that this was intentional, and proceed accordingly. Section (b) is necessary because there may be times when video was impossible for legitimate reasons. But I’d hope that couldn’t be interpreted to include excuses like a technical malfunction or a dead battery. That may sometimes happen, but allowing it as an exception risks allowing it to became the way around section (a).
Of course, this is model legislation by an advocacy group. But there are a lot of issues surrounding the use of body cameras, and to date I don’t believe anyone has tried to formulate a policy that addresses them all. This one takes a swing, and seems to me to strike the right balance between privacy (for the public), transparency (for the police) and accountability (for both police officers and the public).