Archive for the ‘Law’ Category
That was certainly Timothy Leary’s hope: he was convinced that LSD trips with good guidance could significantly reduce recidivism, and he did indeed drop acid with imprisoned convicts. He confided to one, while they were tripping, that he was somewhat fearful, and the convicted laughed. “Hell, I’m terrified, in here with this crazy doctor and I don’t know what he’s going to do.”
I actually met Leary at a party held at Trip Hawkins house. Hawkins was then the CEO of Electronic Arts and I was working on a program (never published), so was at the party. I also met at the same party Thomas Disch, the science-fiction writer. Disch really wanted to meet Leary, but seemed a bit shy, so I took him over and introduced them. Leary knew Disch’s work and had been impressed, so it was sort of interesting to see the two, each impressed by the other and a little in awe, start to converse.
But to the issue: Joshua Rapp Learn writes in Motherboard:
That’s the implication of a new study, which found that 42 percent of US inmates whohadn’t taken psychedelic drugs before doing time were arrested within six years of their release for domestic battery—compared to 27 percent of those who had taken drugs like acid, mushrooms and ecstasy.
It’s a small, observational study, and a lot more research is needed. Even so, “it adds to growing evidence that these substances may have positive effects,” Zachary Walsh told me. Walsh is a psychology professor at the University of British Columbia Okanagan, and the lead author of the study in The Journal of Psychopharmacology.
He and his coauthors interviewed 302 adult inmates at a county jail in Illinois. All of them had a history of substance disorders, and 72 percent had past histories of violent crime (though not necessarily domestic violence). After they were released from jail, these researchers monitored the men through FBI records and other sources for an average of six years, checking for any domestic violence arrests.
Most of the men—about 56 percent—had tried hallucinogens before, while another 13 percent had a disorder relating to psychedelic drugs, according to Walsh. Most had used “classic psychedelics” like LSD, magic mushrooms and to a lesser extent mescaline and DMT. This study was initiated in the early 2000s, and the date may be a sign of the times: only 45 percent had tried what researchers classified as “a-typical,” or less common, psychedelics, including ecstasy, special k (ketamine) and angel dust (PCP).
“Maybe there are some personal health benefits to these substances,” Walsh said.
The reason why the inmates who have tried hallucinogens tended less towards domestic violence than other drug users is difficult to say based on these results, but Walsh said that it may have to do with the nature of the experiences the drugs afford.
“The experiences of unity, positivity, and transcendence that characterize the psychedelic experience may be particularly beneficial to groups that are frequently marginalized and isolated, such as the incarcerated men who participated in this study,” he explained in a release.
He also says . . .
As I recall, Leary found that using LSD reduced recidivism by about 40%. Taking the drug seemed to relax the rigidity of outlooks and assumptions, allowing one to find a new and less unpleasant mindset.
Texas believes that it is very important that the government control what you’re allow to say or publish in social media
In The Intercept Jordan Smith has an article that shows how the government—in this case, the Texas government—is getting fed up with people speaking their minds and is taking steps to stop that. From the article (definitely worth reading):
. . . BY THE TIME Hartwell arrived at the Crowne Plaza for the meeting, she was mad; she felt forced by the TDCJ to take offline the Facebook page she had long maintained. And that quickly turned into frustration when a board coordinator approached to deliver a bit of confounding news. Because there were so many people signed up to speak during the public comment period (including three who wanted to speak about the social media rule), the board’s chair had decided to chop in half each speaker’s normal allotted time of three minutes. How many people were signed up? The board rep didn’t know; this is what the chairman has decided, she said.
But throughout the comment period, the rules kept changing, and not everyone got the promised 1 1/2 minutes. First, Chair Dale Wainwright, a former jurist on the Texas Supreme Court, announced that individuals who’d signed up to speak on the same topic would have to coordinate among themselves to figure out who would abridge and deliver comments on behalf of the group — regardless of whether the individuals had similar comments to make. For social media comments, he would offer a total of two minutes. Midway through the meeting, Wainwright changed the rules again, offering each speaker just 60 seconds to communicate their complaints and concerns.
After the comment period — during which board members did not respond to questions (Wainwright promised each speaker would later receive a written response) — Hartwell was quick to link the chair’s actions to concerns about the social media rule. If the board so easily bent its rules for citizen communications, what was to keep the agency from bending its social media rule too? “They’re very arbitrary,” she told The Intercept. “They do what they want to do, and this is what scares me about this stuff.”
The new rule first made news on April 12, when a reporter for the local FOX station in Houston essentially took credit for its creation. According to the reporter, the rule followed from a story he did back in January that drew attention to a Facebook page maintained for a prisoner named Elmer Wayne Henley Jr., who in the early 1970s, was an accomplice to the sexual assault and murder of more than two dozen teenage boys. In addition to written posts, Henley’s page was apparently displaying jewelry for sale and other art that he made in prison.
Although he didn’t mention Henley directly, TDCJ spokesperson Jason Clark later said the rule was necessary because some inmates had misused their accounts. “Offenders have used social media accounts to sell items over the internet based on the notoriety of their crime, harass victims or victims’ families, and continue their criminal activity,” he told Fusion in an email. Of course, trying to sell so-called murderabilia or threatening or harassing victims is already prohibited under TDCJ rules. Given that the content for Facebook and other internet sites must be transmitted from prison via mail, phone, or in-person visit, all of which are heavily monitored, it is hard to see how banning social media for all prisoners would be necessary to ferret out such violations.
When asked to provide details on incidents that prompted adoption of the rule, Clark referred The Intercept to the agency’s Office of the Inspector General, suggesting we file an open records request for the information. In a follow-up email, he said there was “not one specific incident related to an offender that prompted the new rule.” Rather, he wrote, it was that “it had become more difficult to have an offender’s social media account take down because the agency had no policy that specifically prohibited it.”
AS IT TURNS OUT, Facebook, at least, has been censoring prisoner pages for a number of years — despite its stated goal of giving “people the power to share and to make the world more open and connected.” According toreporting by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, from at least 2011 through early 2015, prison officials and Facebook shared a “special arrangement” whereby a prison could provide Facebook with links for prisoner pages it wanted removed, and Facebook would then suspend those profiles, “often [with] no questions asked, even when it wasn’t clear if any law or Facebook policy was being violated.” . . .
By all means read the whole thing.
Ryan Devereaux and Cora Currier report in The Intercept:
Nearly seven months after the first shots were fired, the Pentagon has released its full report detailing the night of chaos and horror that left 42 patients and staffers dead at a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan. In publishing the highly anticipated account, the military concluded that its attack did not amount to a war crime because its effects were not intentional, a view at odds with certain interpretations of international law.
In the wake of the attack, Doctors Without Borders, also known by its French name, Médecins Sans Frontières, or MSF, described the October 3 raid as “abhorrent and a grave violation of international humanitarian law,” adding, a “war crime has been committed.”
In announcing the report today, Gen. Joseph Votel, the head of U.S. Central Command, argued that was not the case.
“The label ‘war crimes’ is typically reserved for intentional acts — intentional targeting [of] civilians or intentionally targeting protected objects or locations,” the general said. The Americans “had no idea,” they were targeting the hospital, Votel said, and once they recognized what was happening, they called off the attack.
In a statement, MSF said it had not had an opportunity to review the military report before it was posted online, though the organization did receive a two-hour verbal briefing from Votel on Thursday. The humanitarian group fired off a set of unanswered questions, and repeated its call for an independent inquiry into the attack by the International Humanitarian Fact Finding Commission.
“MSF and other medical care providers on the front lines of armed conflicts continually experience attacks on health facilities that go uninvestigated by parties to the conflict,” the statement read. “However, MSF has said consistently that it cannot be satisfied solely with a military investigation into the Kunduz attack.”
While Votel stressed that the conclusions of the report were subjected to legal review by military lawyers, the general’s argument that the absence of intentionality meant the attack on the MSF could not be a war crime wades into complex legal territory. According to the International Red Cross definition, “war crimes are violations that are committed willfully, i.e., either intentionally…or recklessly…The exact mental element varies depending on the crime concerned.” Following the release of the report, Patricia Gossman, Human Rights Watch’s senior researcher in Afghanistan, tweeted, “It is established principle of customary international law that war crimes can be committed through recklessness.”
What’s more, Votel’s claim appeared inconsistent with the military’s own law of war manual, which states, “In some cases, the term ‘war crime’ has been used as a technical expression for a violation of the law of war by any person; i.e., under this usage, any violation of the law of war is a war crime. This has been longstanding U.S. military doctrine.” According to the findings of their report, the investigators looking into the Kunduz attack noted violations of the rules of engagement, and also breaches of the laws of war.
MSF president Meinie Nicolai said that “a grave breach of international humanitarian law” is not determined solely by whether or not the act was intentional.
“With multinational coalitions fighting with different rules of engagement across a wide spectrum of wars today, whether in Afghanistan, Syria, or Yemen, armed groups cannot escape their responsibilities on the battlefield simply by ruling out the intent to attack a protected structure such as a hospital,” Nicolai added.
The Kunduz report comes in the context of a disturbing trend of attacks on medical facilities. This week, an MSF-supported hospital was bombed in Syria, killing three doctors. MSF says seven medical facilities that it works with in Syria have been hit this year, while four have been bombed in Yemen.
Votel, who was the head of U.S. Special Operations Command at the time of the Kunduz raid, confirmed that more than a dozen U.S. service members were disciplined for their roles in the airstrike — they would not, however, face criminal charges in connection with the ordeal. Repeating much of what the military has already claimed with respect to the attack — an account that has changed multiple times — Votel framed the tragedy as the result of overlapping human and technological errors. . .
Later in the report (but read the whole thing):
. . . Donna McKay, executive director for Physicians for Human Rights, slammed the military’s punishments as insufficient. “The decision to dole out only administrative punishments and forego a thorough criminal investigation of October’s deadly strike in Kunduz is an affront to the families of the more than 40 men, women, and children who died that night, punished merely for being in a hospital, a supposed safe haven in a time of war,” McKay said in a statement.
The military’s response does not assure the future of MSF’s work in one of Afghanistan’s most volatile regions.
“We can’t put our teams – including our colleagues who survived the traumatic attack – back to work in Kunduz without first having strong and unambiguous assurances from all parties to the conflict in Afghanistan that this will not happen again,” Nicolai, the MSF president, said.
The Pentagon has approved a $5.7 million effort to rebuild the facility it destroyed, and as “a gesture of sympathy,” more than 170 individuals have received condolences for loved ones injured or killed, Votel said. “$3,000 for wounded and $6,000 for killed,” he said.
On Thursday, The Intercept published a months-long investigation into the attack on the hospital, based on dozens of interviews with American and Afghan officials, witnesses, regional experts and survivors of the air raid. The picture that emerged was one of remarkable confusion about who was in charge, and of a divergence between how American and Afghan forces viewed the situation.
Afghan authorities claimed that the Taliban were using the hospital to launch attacks — despite fervent denials from MSF that there were armed fighters in the compound, and a lack of evidence to back up the Afghan officials’ claims. A senior Western official told The Intercept that the Afghans’ “biggest fear after the strike was that this would put a chill on their being able to request U.S. air support when shit hits the fan.” . . .
Paul Kiel reports in ProPublica:
Two years ago, the president of Credit Management Services, a collection agency in Grand Island, Nebraska, presented a struggling local family with the keys to a used 2007 Mercury Grand Marquis. To commemorate the donation, the company held a ceremony that concluded outside its offices, where the couple and their two young girls could try out their new car.
The family’s story was dire: their eight-year-old daughter’s failing kidney had led to multiple surgeries and a deluge of medical bills, according to an article in the local newspaper.
But CMS played another role in the family’s life, one the article didn’t mention. The company had previously sued the couple eight times over unpaid medical bills and garnished both of their wages. As recently as two weeks earlier, CMS had seized $156, a quarter of the girl’s father’s paycheck.
Shortly after the ceremony, CMS released the family from further garnishment, court records show. But just four months later, the company filed a motion to start up again. The couple, who did not respond to attempts by ProPublica to contact them, has since declared bankruptcy.
In almost any other state, such a barrage of lawsuits against a family in desperate financial straits would be remarkable. Not in Nebraska. There, debt collectors frequently sue over medical debts as small as $60 and a simple missed doctor’s bill can quickly land you in court.
Filing suit is one of the most aggressive ways to collect debt, but no one tracks how frequently it happens or to whom. An examination of Nebraska’s courts, however, shows that where debtors live can have an enormous, and unexpected, impact on the quantity and types of lawsuits.
Nebraska’s flood of suits isn’t merely a reflection of residents’ inability to pay their bills. About 79,000 debt collection lawsuits were filed in Nebraska courts in 2013 alone, according to a ProPublica analysis. In New Mexico, a state with a population, like Nebraska’s, of around two million, about 30,000 suits were filed. Yet by virtually any measure, households in Nebraska are significantly better off than those in New Mexico: Income is higher. Poverty is lower. And fewer families fall behind on their bills.
The reason for the difference is simple. Suing someone in Nebraska is cheaper and easier.
The cost to file a lawsuit in Nebraska is $45. In New Mexico, where suits are filed at about one-third the rate as in Nebraska, the fee for smaller debts starts at $77.
Nebraska lawmakers, of course, didn’t set out to turn the Cornhusker State into the Lawsuit State. Instead, it appears no one understood the consequences of having cheap court fees: Suing became an irresistible bargain for debt collectors. It’s a deal collectors have fought to keep, opposing even the slightest increase.
For debtors, unaffordable debts turn into unaffordable garnishments, destroying already tight budgets and sending them into a loop. “It’s just been a vicious cycle,” said Tanya Glasgow, a single mother in Lincoln, Nebraska who’s been sued several times. “It’s been horrible.”
“I resent the stereotype that these are not hard-working people” said Katherine Owen, managing attorney in Legal Aid of Nebraska’s Omaha office. “Truly the majority of them simply cannot afford it. That’s it.”
Lawsuits over medical debts are, of course, filed in other states, usually by hospitals. What makes Nebraska unusual is that almost all the suits are brought by locally owned collection agencies that pursue debts on behalf of medical providers. Although ProPublica found collection agencies filing suits in large numbers in other states, particularly Indiana and Washington, none could match the sheer volume in Nebraska.
It’s a difference that came as a surprise to researchers, consumer advocates, and collection professionals both in and outside of Nebraska. . .
There’s lots more. It’s a long article.
Similar to police department investigations that always find shootings “justified,” DoD finds no serious wrongdoing in its one-hour attack on a hospital
The Department of Defense has carefully done its own investigation of its own war crime (an egregious and sustained attack on a Doctors Without Borders hospital that killed 24 patients, 14 staff members, and four caretakers. The Pentagon’s defense is that, while the incident was regrettable, mistakes will happen, and those involved have been spoken to sharply. But no one was actually held responsible, as the report in the LA Times and the report in the NY Times say: reprimands were issued, but (says the Pentagon) surely no need for an independent investigation. The Pentagon investigates (and protects) its own. No outsiders need to get involved, since they might fail to understand the special burdens of the military and take a hard look at what actually happened and hold people accountable for their actions. That’s not the Pentagon way.
It seems perfectly evident that an independent investigation is absolutely needed, but the military will never agree to that, and the Obama administration has been particularly protective of governmental wrong-doers (e.g., the CIA war criminals and those who gave them their orders), so I imagine the Obama administration will reject any independent investigation, much as it rejects any lawsuit by an innocent person who has been kidnapped and tortured by the CIA.
I find this new attitude by the US, holding itself above the law and above accountability, a bad development. If the terrorists do in fact hate us for our freedoms, as George W. Bush said, I think freedom from any accountability is probably high on that list of freedoms.
From the NY Times story:
. . . After the announcement, Médecins Sans Frontières, the French name of Doctors Without Borders, reiterated its calls for an independent investigation, saying in a statement “that it cannot be satisfied solely with a military investigation.”
“Today’s briefing amounts to an admission of an uncontrolled military operation in a densely populated urban area, during which U.S. forces failed to follow the basic laws of war,” said Meinie Nicolai, the group’s president. “It is incomprehensible that, under the circumstances described by the U.S., the attack was not called off.”
John Sifton, the Asia policy director of Human Rights Watch, disputed General Votel’s assertion that the airstrike did not constitute a war crime because it was the unintentional result of mistakes and equipment failures, not an intentional attack.
The failure to bring any criminal charges was, “simply put, inexplicable,” Mr. Sifton said.
“General Joseph Votel’s assertion that a war crime must be deliberate, or intentional, is flatly wrong.” Mr. Sifton added. He said that there are legal precedents for war crimes prosecutions based on acts that were committed with recklessness, and that recklessness or negligence do not necessarily absolve someone of criminal responsibility under the United States military code. . .
UPDATE: It should be obvious to everyone that there is a serious conflict of interest in having the military investigate itself: they are investigating their colleagues and friends and acquaintances, and the military has a well-documented history of lying to cover up problems—cf. the Pat Tilman incident. Or Jessica Lynch.
Plus the military is a highly hierarchical and authoritarian organization, in which crossing the wishes of a superior can be hazardous to one’s career. The Catholic church is another such organization, and the Catholic church’s self-investigations of the pedophiles in their midst was abysmal: minimization, lies, and cover-ups. I would expect that the military would tend to do the same when it investigates its own misdeeds.
I think there is an obvious reason that the military is so strongly resisting an independent investigation: it’s because the military loses control of the findings.
Congress too often shrugs off its responsibilities to the public in favor of getting money from wealthy donors and corporations. So it is with tax policy, as reported by Lee Fang in The Intercept:
The secret tax-dodging strategies of the global elite in China, Russia, Brazil, the U.K., and beyond were exposed in speculator fashion by the recent Panama Papers investigation, fueling a worldwide demand for a crackdown on tax avoidance.
But there is little appetite in Congress for taking on powerful tax dodgers in the U.S., where the practice has become commonplace.
A request for comment about the Panama Papers to the two congressional committees charged with tax policy — House Ways & Means and the Senate Finance Committee — was ignored.
The reluctance by congressional leaders to tackle tax dodging is nothing new, especially given that some of the largest companies paying little to no federal taxes are among the biggest campaign contributors in the country. But there’s another reason to remain skeptical that Congress will move aggressively on tax avoidance: Former tax lobbyists now run the tax-writing committees.
We researched the backgrounds of the people who manage the day to day operations of both committees and found that a number of lobbyists who represented world-class tax avoiders now occupy top positions as committee staff. Many have stints in and out of government and the lobbying profession, a phenomenon known as the “reverse revolving door.” In other words, the lobbyists that help special interest groups and wealthy individuals minimize their tax bills are not only everywhere on K Street, they’re literally managing the bodies that create tax law: . . .
The way that Congress now serves the wealthy and not the public is another sign of the decline of the US, IMO.
Eyal Press has a follow-up to his story (blogged earlier) on how Florida Department of Corrections abuses mentally ill prisoners:
On January 24, 2013, the Florida Department of Corrections received a grievance letter from an inmate named Harold Hempstead, who was imprisoned at the Dade Correctional Institution. The letter was brief and its tone was matter-of-fact, but the allegations it contained were shocking, raising troubling questions about the death of a mentally ill inmate named Darren Rainey, who had collapsed in a shower seven months earlier, on June 23, 2012—a case that I wrote about in the magazine this week. According to Hempstead’s letter, the death had been misrepresented to disguise the abuse that preceded it. The reason Rainey collapsed in the shower, Hempstead alleged, was that he had been locked in the stall by guards, who directed scalding water at him. Hempstead’s cell was directly below the shower. That night, he had heard Rainey yelling, “I can’t take it no more,” he recalled. Then he heard a loud thud—which he believed was the sound of Rainey falling to the ground—and the yelling stopped. Hempstead concluded his letter by calling for an investigation.
A week after receiving this information, the Florida D.O.C. sent Hempstead a terse response. “Your grievance appeal is being returned without action,” it stated. In the months that followed, Hempstead continued to file grievances with the D.O.C. He also wrote to the Miami-Dade County Medical Examiner Department and to the Miami-Dade police. At first, nothing appears to have been done in response to the letters, which is perhaps not surprising: prisoners routinely level false accusations at guards. Hempstead’s allegations might have carried more weight if an employee at Dade had backed them up. However, as I noted in my article, the psychiatrists in the mental-health ward at Dade feared (reasonably) that reporting even minor misconduct could trigger harsh retaliation from the guards, putting their own safety at risk. When Hempstead turned to some counsellors for support and guidance, they urged him to keep his accusations vague and to stop “obsessing” about Rainey. But Hempstead, who has been diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder, was determined to get the word out. With the help of his sister, Windy, he eventually contacted the Miami Herald, which on May 17, 2014, published a front-page story on Darren Rainey, called “Behind bars, a brutal and unexplained death.”
The literature on whistle-blowers is full of stories about moral crusaders who risk everything to expose misconduct and succeed only in upending their own lives. (This is one of the themes of my own book on the subject, “Beautiful Souls.”) At first glance, Hempstead’s story appears to veer dramatically from this script. Prompted in part by the revelations he made, the Justice Department has launched an investigation to determine whether Rainey’s death was part of a broader pattern of abuse. Some of the guards in the mental-health ward at Dade have been reassigned. The Florida D.O.C. has adopted a series of reforms, including crisis-intervention training for corrections officers and other steps that may deter future violence.
But it is also possible that Hempstead’s story will end less happily, particularly when it comes to the question of whether justice will be done. Although investigations are ongoing, none of the guards who allegedly took Rainey to the scalding shower have been charged with any crimes. (They have since resigned, and their files included no indication of wrongdoing.) Earlier this year, an autopsy of Rainey that was forwarded to state prosecutors ruled the death “accidental,” and did not recommend criminal prosecution.
Meanwhile, Hempstead has paid a steep price for exposing the circumstances under which Rainey died. After the reporter Julie Brown, of the Miami Herald, interviewed him, several corrections officers threatened him with solitary confinement. Hempstead has since been transferred to another prison and placed in “protective management” status by the D.O.C., but his reputation as a whistle-blower (“Miami Harold,” as some now put it) has not been forgotten, and will follow him as long as he remains behind bars.
That will be a long time: specifically, until 2161, the year Hempstead will be released, if he somehow lives long enough to serve the hundred-and-sixty-five-year sentence that Judge Brandt Downey handed him, in 2000, for his involvement in dozens of house burglaries. Hempstead, who is now forty, was twenty-two at the time. . .