Later On

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The USA PATRIOT Act: What You Need to Know

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Fergus O’Sullivan has a nice rundown of the USA PATRIOT Act:

Here at Cloudwards.net we’re big fans of privacy and even bigger fans of people protecting it. We’ve done an article on 99 free privacy tools and we’ve reported on the U.S. Congress allowing American ISPs to spy on their customers. In this article we’re going to take a look at the grandaddy of modern privacy-breaching legislation, the USA PATRIOT Act.

What Is the Patriot Act?

The Patriot Act, to give it its common name, was passed shortly after the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks, but was not, as most people think, directly related to that. In fact, it’s passage through the houses of parliament was spurred on by the anthrax attacks of late 2001, when celebrities, politicians and plenty of others received suspicious packages of white powder in the mail.

This bit of mail-based nastiness was the perfect fuel on a fire already burning bright and on October 25, 2001, The U.S. Senate passed the, and it’s a mouthful, Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act. The Patriot Act passed both houses almost unanimously, with only 66 Representatives and a single Senator voting against this rather scary piece of legislation.

Now, ever since Edward Snowden came out and spilled the beans on PRISM, SOMALGET and all the other off-the-books programs organized by the NSA, CIA and whatever other alphabet agencies, we all have gotten used to that the government might be listening. Back in 2001, however, all this was new and many people could be forgiven for thinking that it would all blow over.

It didn’t. Many of the surveillance in place now on both Americans as well as other parts of the world was directly inspired by the programs that came out of the passing of the Patriot Act. It’s tempting to think that it was because legislators the world over saw the ease with which the U.S. was able to put a massive surveillance apparatus in place with approval from most of its people, but it’s hard to say exactly.

What’s In the Patriot Act?

Though it’s difficult to give a full overview of what the Patriot Act made possible, even a summary reads like some tinpot dictator’s wish list. The Act,

  • Allowed civilian authorities to request aid from the military to keep order in certain cases
  • Expanded the scope of the spying allowed on both U.S. citizens as well as foreigners in the name of “removing obstacles to investigating terrorism”
  • Introduced several new kinds of warrants, some of which could be served on the flimsiest of pretexts (including “sneak-and-peek” warrants)
  • Weakened banking secrecy regulations to prevent money laundering
  • Gave more authority to the various U.S. border protection agencies to refuse entry to people they didn’t like (if you’ve ever been yelled at at the U.S. border for wanting to go on holiday, now you know why)
  • Changed a whole bunch of legal terminology to make prosecuting suspected terrorists easier (so now pipe bombs are weapons of mass destruction)

For a full overview, Wikipedia has a great breakdown of the Patriot Act, though we recommend the usual grain of salt while reading this open-source encyclopedia.

For those wondering, the Patriot Act did not allow for extraordinary rendition (the fun practice where the U.S. would fly people out to sunny vacation spots to be tortured), it just made it easier to implement it. The basis for rendition was actually laid by Bill Clinton.

Effects of the Patriot Act . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 November 2017 at 1:22 pm

The scientists persuading terrorists to spill their secrets

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Torture does not work as a way to extract information. Ian Leslie reports in the Guardian:

In 2013, a British man was arrested for planning to kidnap and brutally murder a soldier. The suspect, who had a criminal history, had posted messages on social media in support of violent jihad. In a search of his residence, the police had found a bag containing a hammer, a kitchen knife and a map with the location of a nearby army barracks.

Shortly after his arrest, the suspect was interviewed by a counter-terrorist police officer. The interviewer wanted him to provide an account of his plan, and to reveal with whom, if anyone, he has been conspiring. But the detainee – we will call him Diola – refused to divulge any information. Instead, he expounded grandiloquently on the evils of the British state for 42 minutes, with little interruption. When the interviewer attempted questions, Diola responded with scornful, finger-jabbing accusations of ignorance, naivety and moral weakness: “You don’t know how corrupt your own government is – and if you don’t care, then a curse upon you.”

Watching a video of this encounter, it is just possible to discern Diola’s desire, beneath his ranting, to tell what he knows. In front of him, a copy of the Qur’an lies open. He says he was acting for the good of the British people, and that he is willing to talk to the police because, as a man of God, he wants to prevent future atrocities. But he will not answer questions until he is sure that his questioner cares about Britain as much as he does: “The purpose of the interview is not to go through your little checklist so you can get a pat on the head. If I find you are a jobsworth, we are done talking, so be sincere.”

Even distanced by years from the events in question, it is impossible to watch the encounter without feeling tense. Periodically, Diola turns away from the interviewer and goes silent, or gets up and leaves the room, having taken offence at something said or not said. Each time he returns, Diola’s solicitor advises him not to speak. Diola ignores him, though in a sense he takes the advice: despite the verbiage, he tells his interviewer nothing.

Diola: “Tell me why I should tell you. What is the reason behind you asking me this question?”

Interviewer: “I am asking you these questions because I need to investigate what has happened and know what your role was in these events.”

Diola: “No, that’s your job – not your reason. I’m asking you why it matters to you.”

The interviewer, who has remained heroically calm in the face of Diola’s verbal barrage, is not able to move the encounter out of stalemate, and eventually his bosses replace him. When the new interviewer takes a seat, Diola repeats his promise to talk “openly and honestly” to the right person, and resumes his inquisitorial stance. “Why are you asking me these questions?” he says. “Think carefully about your reasons.”

The new interviewer does not answer directly, but something about his opening speech triggers a change in Diola’s demeanour. “On the day we arrested you,” he began, “I believe that you had the intention of killing a British soldier or police officer. I don’t know the details of what happened, why you may have felt it needed to happen, or what you wanted to achieve by doing this. Only you know these things Diola. If you are willing, you’ll tell me, and if you’re not, you won’t. I can’t force you to tell me – I don’t want to force you. I’d like you to help me understand. Would you tell me about what happened?” The interviewer opens up his notebook, and shows Diola the empty pages. “You see? I don’t even have a list of questions.”

“That is beautiful,” Diola says. “Because you have treated me with consideration and respect, yes I will tell you now. But only to help you understand what is really happening in this country.”


For years, any debate over what constitutes effective interrogation has been dominated by a pervasive folk belief in coercion. From NYPD Blue to 24 and Zero Dark Thirty, we are trained in the idea that interrogators get the job done by intimidating, demoralising and, when necessary, brutalising their subjects. Steven Kleinman, a former army colonel and one of the US military’s most prolific and experienced interrogators, told me it is not just the public that is influenced by popular narratives: “Politicians, policy-makers, senior military officers – people who have never conducted interrogations are somehow just convinced they know what works.”

In 2003, Kleinman tried to stop his fellow soldiers from conducting abusive interrogations of Iraqi insurgents; he later became the first military officer to speak out against such practices. He did so not just because he thought they were wrong, but because he thought they were stupid. Kleinman believes that coercion is counterproductive, because it destroys the trust that underpins a successful interview. Most specialist practitioners agree, as do the scientists who study interrogation. But conventional wisdom in military and law enforcement circles has been very hard to shift.

This is because it is difficult to prove what works. High-stakes interrogations take place in secret, and have rarely been available to objective researchers. In place of cool analysis, colourful but unreliable stories of vital secrets wrenched from fearful suspects have prevailed. In reality, well-run interrogations are rarely dramatic: drama thrives on conflict – something professional interrogators strive to avoid.

A body of scientific literature supports Kleinman’s view, but most of it is based on laboratory experiments, in which students are asked to pretend they have just robbed a bank and interrogators are asked to believe them. The virtue of these experiments is that they allow for controlled trials of specific interrogation techniques; the drawback is that they are easily dismissed by practitioners as academic game-playing.

Now, two British researchers are quietly revolutionising the study and practice of interrogation. Earlier this year, in a meeting room at the University of Liverpool, I watched a video of the Diola interview alongside Laurence Alison, the university’s chair of forensic psychology, and Emily Alison, a professional counsellor. My permission to view the tape was negotiated with the counter-terrorist police, who are understandably wary of allowing outsiders access to such material. Details of the interview have been changed to protect the identity of the officers involved, though the quotes are verbatim.

The Alisons, husband and wife, have done something no scholars of interrogation have been able to do before. Working in close cooperation with the police, who allowed them access to more than 1,000 hours of tapes, they have observed and analysed hundreds of real-world interviews with terrorists suspected of serious crimes. No researcher in the world has ever laid hands on such a haul of data before. Based on this research, they have constructed the world’s first empirically grounded and comprehensive model of interrogation tactics.

The Alisons’ findings are changing the way law enforcement and security agencies approach the delicate and vital task of gathering human intelligence. “I get very little, if any, pushback from practitioners when I present the Alisons’ work,” said Kleinman, who now teaches interrogation tactics to military and police officers. “Even those who don’t have a clue about the scientific method, it just resonates with them.” The Alisons have done more than strengthen the hand of advocates of non-coercive interviewing: they have provided an unprecedentedly authoritative account of what works and what does not, rooted in a profound understanding of human relations. That they have been able to do so is testament to a joint preoccupation with police interviews that stretches back more than 20 years.

Pausing the Diola video, Emily Alison grimaced. “I call this one ‘the Hannibal Lecter interview’,” she said. “He wants a piece of the interviewer. When I watched this tape the first time I had to switch it off and walk away. I was so outraged, my heart was pounding in my chest. Of course, if you’re in the room, it’s 1,000 times worse.” Laurence Alison nodded. “As the interviewer, you’re bound to have an emotional response,” he said. “What you want to say is, ‘You’re the one in the fucking seat, not me. He’s trying to control you, so you try and control him. But then it escalates.”

The moment that an interrogation turns into an argument, it fails. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 October 2017 at 12:08 pm

The FBI’s Hunt for Two Missing Piglets Reveals the Federal Cover-Up of Barbaric Factory Farms

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Glenn Greenwald reports in The Intercept:

This article includes graphic images some readers may find disturbing.

FBI AGENTS ARE devoting substantial resources to a multistate hunt for two baby piglets that the bureau believes are named Lucy and Ethel. The two piglets were removed over the summer from the Circle Four Farm in Utah by animal rights activists who had entered the Smithfield Foods-owned factory farm to film the brutal, torturous conditions in which the pigs are bred in order to be slaughtered.

While filming the conditions at the Smithfield facility, activists saw the two ailing baby piglets laying on the ground, visibly ill and near death, surrounded by the rotting corpses of dead piglets. “One was swollen and barely able to stand; the other had been trampled and was covered in blood,” said Wayne Hsiung of Direct Action Everywhere (DxE), which filmed the facility and performed the rescue. Due to various illnesses, he said, the piglets were unable to eat or digest food and were thus a fraction of the normal weight for piglets their age.

Rather than leave the two piglets at Circle Four Farm to wait for an imminent and painful death, the DxE activists decided to rescue them. They carried them out of the pens where they had been suffering and took them to an animal sanctuary to be treated and nursed back to health.

This single Smithfield Foods farm breeds and then slaughters more than 1 million pigs each year. One of the odd aspects of animal mistreatment in the U.S. is that species regarded as more intelligent and emotionally complex — dogs, dolphins, cats, primates — generally receive more public concern and more legal protection. Yet pigs – among the planet’s most intelligent, social, and emotionally complicated species, capable of great joy, play, love, connection, suffering and pain, at least on a par with dogs — receive almost no protections, and are subject to savage systematic abuse by U.S. factory farms.

At Smithfield, like most industrial pig farms, the abuse and torture primarily comes not from rogue employees violating company procedures. Instead, the cruelty is inherent in the procedures themselves. One of the most heinous industry-wide practices is one that DxE activists encountered in abundance at Circle Four: gestational crating.

Where that technique is used, pigs are placed in a crate made of iron bars that is the exact length and width of their bodies, so they can do nothing for their entire lives but stand on a concrete floor, never turn around, never see any outdoors, never even see their tails, never move more than an inch. That was the condition in which the activists found the rotting piglet corpses and the two ailing piglets they rescued.

Female pigs give birth in this condition. They are put in so-called farrowing crates when they give birth, and their piglets run underneath them to suckle and are often trampled to death. The sows are bred repeatedly this way until their fertility declines, at which point they are slaughtered and turned into meat.

The pigs are so desperate to get out of their crates that they often spend weeks trying to bite through the iron bars until their gums gush blood, bash their heads against the walls, and suffer a disease in which their organs end up mangled in the wrong places, from the sheer physical trauma of trying to escape from a tiny space or from acute anxiety (called “organ torsion”).

So cruel is the practice that in 2014, Canada effectively banned its usage, as the European Union had done two years earlier. Nine U.S. states, most of which host very few farms, have banned gestational crating (in 2014, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, with his eye on the GOP primary in farm-friendly Iowa, vetoed a bill that would have made his state the 10th).

But in the U.S. states where factory farms actually thrive, these devices continue to be widely used, which means a vast majority of pigs in the U.S. are subjected to them. The suffering, pain, and death these crates routinely cause were in ample evidence at Smithfield Foods, as accounts, photos, and videos from DxE demonstrate.

FBI raids animal sanctuaries

Under normal circumstances, a large industrial farming company such as Smithfield Foods would never notice that two sick piglets of the millions it breeds and then slaughters were missing. Nor would they care: A sick and dying piglet has no commercial value to them.

Yet the rescue of these two particular piglets has literally become a federal case — by all appearances, a matter of great importance to the Department of Justice. On the last day of August, a six-car armada of FBI agents in bulletproof vests, armed with search warrants, descended upon two small shelters for abandoned farm animals: Ching Farm Rescue in Riverton, Utah, and Luvin Arms in Erie, Colorado.

These sanctuaries have no connection to DxE or any other rescue groups. They simply serve as a shelter for sick, abandoned, or otherwise injured animals. Run by a small staff and a team of animal-loving volunteers, they are open to the public to teach about farm animals.

The attachments to the search warrants specified that the FBI agents could take “DNA samples (blood, hair follicles or ear clippings) to be seized from swine with the following characteristics: I. Pink/white coloring; II. Docked tails; III. Approximately 5 to 9 months in age; IV. Any swine with a hole in right ear.” . . .

Continue reading.

The photos in the article are chilling.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 October 2017 at 4:13 pm

Death at a Penn State Fraternity—and the power of dysfunctional organizations

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Caitlin Flanagan’s article in the Atlantic leaves me feeling that something is deeply wrong with American society and its values. (I am proud to say that I attended an undergraduate college that had no fraternities and no hazing.) She writes:

At about 3 p.m. on friday, February 3, Tim Piazza, a sophomore at Penn State University, arrived at Hershey Medical Center by helicopter. Eighteen hours earlier, he had been in the kind of raging good health that only teenagers enjoy. He was a handsome, redheaded kid with a shy smile, a hometown girlfriend, and a family who loved him very much. Now he had a lacerated spleen, an abdomen full of blood, and multiple traumatic brain injuries. He had fallen down a flight of stairs during a hazing event at his fraternity, Beta Theta Pi, but the members had waited nearly 12 hours before calling 911, relenting only when their pledge “looked fucking dead.” Tim underwent surgery shortly after arriving at Hershey, but it was too late. He died early the next morning.

Listen to the audio version of this article hereFor more feature stories, read aloud, download the Audm app for your iPhone.

Every year or so brings another such death, another healthy young college man a victim of hazing at the hands of one of the nation’s storied social fraternities. And with each new death, the various stakeholders perform in ways that are so ritualized, it’s almost as though they are completing the second half of the same hazing rite that killed the boy.

The fraternity enters a “period of reflection”; it may appoint a “blue-ribbon panel.” It will announce reforms that look significant to anyone outside the system, but that are essentially cosmetic. Its most dramatic act will be to shut down the chapter, and the house will stand empty for a time, its legend growing ever more thrilling to students who walk past and talk of a fraternity so off the chain that it killed a guy. In short order it will “recolonize” on the campus, and in a few years the house will be back in business.

The president of the college or university where the tragedy occurred will make bold statements about ensuring there is never another fraternity death at his institution. But he knows—or will soon discover—that fraternity executives do not serve at the pleasure of college presidents. He will be forced into announcing his own set of limp reforms. He may “ban” the fraternity from campus, but since the fraternity will have probably closed the chapter already, he will be revealed as weak.

The media will feast on the story, which provides an excuse to pay an unwarranted amount of attention to something viewers are always interested in: the death of a relatively affluent white suburban kid. Because the culprits are also relatively affluent white suburban kids, there is no need to fear pandering to the racial bias that favors stories about this type of victim. The story is ultimately about the callousness and even cruelty of white men.

The grieving parents will appear on television. In their anger and sorrow, they will hope to press criminal charges. Usually they will also sue the fraternity, at which point they will discover how thoroughly these organizations have indemnified themselves against culpability in such deaths. The parents will try to turn their grief into meaningful purpose, but they will discover how intractable a system they are up against, and how draining the process of chipping away at it is. They will be worn down by the endless civil case that forces them to relive their son’s passing over and over. The ritual will begin to slow down, but then a brand-new pair of parents—filled with the energy and outrage of early grief—will emerge, and the cycle will begin again.

Tim Piazza’s case, however, has something we’ve never seen before. This time the dead student left a final testimony, a vivid, horrifying, and inescapable account of what happened to him and why. The house where he was so savagely treated had been outfitted with security cameras, which recorded his long ordeal. Put together with the texts and group chats of the fraternity brothers as they delayed seeking medical treatment and then cleaned up any traces of a wild party—and with the 65-page report released by a Centre County grand jury, which recommended 1,098 criminal charges against 18 former members and against the fraternity itself—the footage reveals a more complete picture of certain dark realities than we have previously had.

Once again, a student is dead and a family is shattered. And all of us are co-authors of these grim facts, as we grant both the fraternities and their host institutions tax-exempt status and allow them to carry on year after year with little change. Is it time we reconsidered what we’re doing?

In 2004, a penn state alumnus from the class of 1970 named Donald Abbey visited his old fraternity house, Beta Theta Pi. He had been a star fullback in the early years of the Joe Paterno era, and gone on to become a billionaire real-estate investor and builder in California who remembered the Beta house as a central part of his college experience. But when he visited, he was shocked—it was, he recalled, “repulsive,” and he felt compelled to bring his experience in “repositioning properties” to bear on 220 North Burrowes Road. He would spend a total of $8.5 million on what would be the most extensive renovation of an American fraternity house in history.

Abbey’s taste does not run to the economic or the practical. One of the mansions he built for himself in California, in the San Gabriel Valley, has an underground firing range; a million-gallon, temperature-controlled trout pond; an oak-paneled elevator; and “Venetian plaster masterpieces throughout.” Similarly, his vision for the refurbished Beta house was like something out of a movie about college. (Exterior: the frat where the rich bastards live.) The bathrooms had heated floors, the two kitchens had copper ceilings, the tables were hand-carved mahogany imported from Colombia. At the entrances were biometric fingerprint scanners.

Abbey seems not to have considered why the house might have become so “repulsive” in the first place. A simple trip through the archives of The Daily Collegian might have revealed to him that the Alpha Upsilon chapter of Beta Theta Pi was hardly the Garrick Club. This was an outfit in which a warm day might bring the sight of a brother sitting, with his pants pulled down, on the edge of a balcony, while a pledge stood on the ground below, his hands raised as though to catch the other man’s feces. At the very least, this might not have been the crowd for anything requiring a fingerprint.

The renovations were largely complete by the winter of 2007, and almost immediately the members began to trash the house. Abbey was justly furious, and at some point he had at least 14 security cameras installed throughout the public rooms, an astonishing and perhaps unprecedented step. The cameras were in no way secret, and yet the brothers continued to engage in a variety of forbidden acts, including hazing, in clear view of them. In late January 2009, the national fraternity put the chapter on probation. But the young men continued to break the rules. A few weeks later, the chapter’s probation was converted to the more serious “interim suspension.” Incredibly, with the pressure on and the cameras still recording, the behavior continued. By the end of February, the chapter had been disbanded.

The public often interprets the “closing” of a fraternity as a decisive action. In fact, it is really more of a “reopening under new management” kind of process. The national organization grooms a new set of brothers—a “colony”—and trains them carefully so that the bad behavior of the previous group will not be replicated. The first few years typically go very well. Indeed, not two years after the Penn State chapter of Beta Theta Pi reopened in the fall of 2010, it won a Sisson Award, one of the highest honors the national fraternity can confer. But just as typically, the chapter reverts to its previous behavior. Alumni visit their old house and explain how things ought to be done; private Facebook groups and GroupMe chats are initiated among brothers of different chapters, and information about secret hazing rituals is exchanged. This time, when the brothers of the newly reconstituted Beta chapter reverted to type and started hazing, the national organization did not intervene.

I wanted to learn more about the cameras, and also about something called the “Shep Test,” so in June I called the North-American Interfraternity Conference, the trade association for social fraternities, which is located in Carmel, Indiana. I asked to schedule an interview with the CEO, Jud Horras, who was also a Beta, a former assistant secretary of the fraternity’s national organization, and someone who had been intimately involved in the disbanding and recolonization of the Penn State chapter.

In 1998, a year after Tim Piazza was born, Beta Theta Pi launched something it called Men of Principle, intended to be a “culture-reversing initiative.” What culture was it seeking to reverse? This was best answered in the four planks of the campaign. The first was administrative: create “a five-person trained and active advisory team.” The other three were the crux of the matter: commit “to a 100% hazing-free pledge program,” institute “alcohol-free recruitment,” and eliminate the “Shep Test,” which it described as “the rogue National Test.”

The last one caught my attention, so I Googled around to find out what it was. Most fraternity secrets—their handshakes and members’ manuals and rituals—have gone the way of everything else in the time of the internet, and even those customs that members want to hide aren’t too hard to track down. But there really wasn’t anything at all about the Shep Test—except for this, from the national Beta organization:

Some chapters conduct the “Shep Test.” If Francis W. Shepardson, Denison 1882, one of the greatest leaders in our great and good fraternity knew that this practice was named after him he would be disgraced. This act is in direct violation of our third principle and second and third obligations. It contradicts everything Beta Theta Pi stands for.

It seemed to me—based on the fact that I could find nothing else about it—that the Shep Test had truly been eliminated. Or so I thought, until I read the grand jury’s presentment of the Piazza case. Text messages from members’ cellphones had been entered into evidence, and included this exchange between two brothers at the time of the fall 2016 initiation:

Casey: We were setting up
Torrye: Setting what up?
Casey: Like the shep test and the fake branding
Torrye: Ohh
Casey: I in charge of administering the shep test
Torrye: What happens first
Casey: Fake branding

And from the next night:

Casey: It starting … We have them wait in the boiler room after the shep test until we set up paddling

As people have since explained it to me, the Shep Test itself is little more than a quiz about Beta Theta Pi history, but it’s one part of a night of mind games and physical punishments. A former Beta told me that pledges were held down on a table as a red-hot poker was brought close to their bare feet and they were told they were going to be branded. With pillowcases over their heads, they were paddled, leaving bruises and, on at least one occasion, breaking the skin. They were forced to eat and drink disgusting things, denied sleep, and terrorized in a variety of other ways.

Jud Horras called me back and proposed something surprising: He would fly to Los Angeles for a day to meet with me in the lobby of an airport hotel. I said it was a pity to come all that way and not see the beach, so I would pick him up and take him to breakfast at Hermosa Beach, where he couldn’t shake me if my questions got too difficult. He was coming out to show that he had nothing to hide, but I knew he was not prepared for the hardest question I had for him, which I would return to over and over again: Why hadn’t Beta Theta Pi taken the simple, obvious steps that would have saved Tim Piazza’s life?

Jud Horras is a young man with a wife and a small son and daughter, and if Tim Piazza were alive and well—if he’d gone home to his apartment that night plastered but with a story to tell—I would have fully enjoyed my time with him. He grew up in Ames, Iowa, and spent summers working on a farm—rare for fraternity members, who are more often suburban kids of relative affluence. His parents divorced, and he lived with his father and brother; by his own estimation, he “made mistakes” in high school. When he began at Iowa State, he was a lost young man, arrogant and insecure. But Beta Theta Pi turned his life around. He learned—via, of all things, a college fraternity—how to exert self-control. Mentors—among them Senator Richard Lugar, a fellow Beta, who brought him to Washington as an intern the summer before his senior year—took him under their wing, and Horras’s gratitude to these men is immense. He loves his fraternity the way some men love their church or their country.

Horras was eager to walk me through a list of talking points that he had written on a yellow legal pad during his flight. He wanted me to understand that changes were coming to the fraternity industry, that the wild drinking could not go on indefinitely. In many regards, our conversation was like other such conversations I’ve had with fraternity executives over the years. He was willing to acknowledge problems in the fraternity, but not to connect certain of its customs to any particular death. At the national level, all fraternities vehemently prohibit hazing, and spend tremendous energy and money trying to combat it. But according to the most comprehensive study of college hazing, published in 2008 by a University of Maine professor named Elizabeth Allan, a full 80 percent of fraternity members report being hazed. It’s not an aberration; it’s the norm.

I asked Horras why no one at Beta Theta Pi had done anything about all the bad behavior those cameras must have recorded over the years since the reopening of the chapter. He said that no one could be expected to watch every single minute of film. He said that at some point, you have to trust young men to make the right decisions. What Beta Theta Pi had done for him as a young man, he suggested, was allow him to make some poor decisions until he started to turn around and become the man he wanted to be. Giving members the freedom to do that was part of what the fraternity was about. If they screwed up and got caught—well, that was on them. As for the death of Tim Piazza, while it constituted “a tragedy for him and his family,” it would provide the industry with the impetus needed to make some necessary reforms. In fact, his death was a “golden opportunity.”Then I asked Horras about the Shep Test, and why it endured, despite the effort that had gone into eradicating it. He interrupted me: “Wait a minute. That test doesn’t happen anymore. We have testimonials instead, where pledges can—”

“But it’s in the presentment,” I said, and he looked at me, baffled. “One kid asks where the pledges were, and the other one says they’re waiting in the boiler room after the Shep Test.”

It was clear in that moment—and as he affirmed in a later email—that Horras hadn’t read the presentment very closely.

In my notebook, I wrote:

Long pause
Long pause—
Long pause

Finally he said, with consummate feeling, “I’m fucking mad that that stuff is going on.”

And then I realized why Horras was able to see the torture and death of a 19-year-old kid as a golden opportunity: He didn’t really know that much about it. I started to ask him another question, but for a few moments he seemed lost.

“Am I just fighting for a bunch of idiots?” he asked.

Ivisited Jim and Evelyn Piazza on a lush New Jersey evening in July, when a summer rain was falling on the wide lawns and large houses of their neighborhood in Hunterdon County, one of the wealthiest areas in the United States.

Jim and Evelyn, who are both accountants, had been at work. . .

Continue reading. It’s difficult to read, but I think it shows something of what’s gone wrong: the lack of accountability, the lack of responsibility, the way organizations seek only to protect themselves (much as businesses seek only to grow profits). Interest in honesty, integrity, and doing what is right seems to be but a vague memory.

Another indicator.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 October 2017 at 2:55 pm

America’s criminal-justice system really is criminal: Miami-Dade prison guards who allegedly laughed as they scalded a man to death in a hot shower won’t face criminal charges.

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Via Radley Balko’s links, Jerry Ianneli’s report in the Miami New Times:

On June 23, 2012, Darren Rainey, a schizophrenic man serving time for cocaine possession, was thrown into a prison shower at the Dade Correctional Institution. The water was turned up to 180 degrees — hot enough to steep tea or cook ramen noodles.

As his punishment, four corrections officers — John Fan Fan, Cornelius Thompson, Ronald Clarke, and Edwina Williams — kept Rainey in that shower for two full hours. Rainey was heard screaming, “Please take me out! I can’t take it anymore!” and kicking the shower door. Inmates said prison guards laughed at Rainey and shouted, “Is it hot enough?”

Rainey died inside that shower. He was found crumpled on the floor. When his body was pulled out, nurses said burns covered 90 percent of his body. A nurse said his body temperature was too high to register with a thermometer. And his skin fell off at the touch.

But in an unconscionable decision, Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle’s office announced Friday that the four guards who oversaw what amounted to a medieval-era boiling will not be charged with a crime.

“The shower was itself neither dangerous nor unsafe,’’ the report says. “The evidence does not show that Rainey’s well-being was grossly disregarded by the correctional staff.’’

Rundle’s office announced the results of its investigation in a Friday-afternoon news dump, the kind that public officials typically use to bury unflattering news or information. Rundle’s office would clearly like this case to vanish over the weekend — but the facts are so inhumanely grotesque that the decision should haunt the office for eternity.

Rundle took over as Miami-Dade’s top prosecutor in the 1990s after Janet Reno left to join the Bill Clinton administration. Rundle has remained the state attorney since then. In that time, she has never charged a Miami police officer for an on-duty shooting.

It’s important to note that all Rundle had to do to show she cared was to charge the prison guards with a crime. It’s up to a jury to assess guilt. Despite the fact that a man died in a shower and that multiple witnesses said they saw burns on his body and heard screaming, Rundle didn’t think there was enough evidence to bring criminal charges. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

22 March 2017 at 12:40 pm

Trump’s DOJ to Assert State Secrets Privilege in Salim v. Mitchell

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An interesting development is reported in Lawfare by Robert Loeb and Emma Kohse:

It looks like the DOJ is going to invoke the state secrets privilege after all in the latest CIA torture suit brought by former detainees, marking the first time that the Trump administration will use this powerful legal tool. But in an interesting variation on the typical post-9/11 state secrets cases, this time it is the defendants rather than the plaintiffs who seek to introduce information that the government alleges may harm national security. In a response filed Wednesday to the defendants’ motion to compel depositions of “two purported CIA witnesses,” the DOJ indicated its intention to assert the privilege in opposition to this motion and one other motion to compel the testimony of a CIA witness. The DOJ states that to either confirm or deny the three alleged witnesses’ roles in the detention and interrogation program “would itself disclose classified information.” The formal claim of privilege, which will be filed by March 8, must come from the head of the department that has control over the matter—likely CIA director Mike Pompeo.

The defendants in this case are former CIA contractors James Mitchell and John “Bruce” Jessen, whose role in designing the now-infamous enhanced interrogation program used in black site CIA prisons overseas was detailed in the declassified Executive Summary of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program (SSCI Report). In 2015, the ACLU brought suit under the Alien Tort Statute against Mitchell and Jessen on behalf of Suleiman Abdullah Salim, Mohamed Ahmed Ben Soud, and Gul Rahman (who died in CIA custody), alleging that the two contractors are “directly liable” for acts of torture, non-consensual human experimentation, and war crimes perpetrated against the three men during their time in custody. (For a more complete picture, see our earlier case coverage here and here.)

Under the state secrets doctrine, the U.S. government can seek to exclude evidence from any civil trial by asserting that legal proceedings on the topic risk disclosing sensitive information and pose a threat to national security. Judges may attempt to verify the legitimacy of such assertions through in camera proceedings, but many defer to the executive branch’s judgment on what constitutes a national security secret. Though the exclusion of evidence on national security grounds does not necessarily mandate outright dismissal, in practice, claims focused on sensitive topics like counterterrorism or surveillance frequently don’t survive the invocation of state secrets.

Notably, prior challenges to the legality of CIA interrogation techniques have been thrown out after the government asserted its state secrets privilege, even when the United States was not itself a defendant in the case. This time, the DOJ did not seek to dismiss the case in its initial stages, likely in recognition of the sheer volume of relevant information already in the public domain: In addition to the SSCI Report, other CIA documents on the interrogation and rendition program were released in response to a FOIA suit brought by the ACLU in 2016. Instead, the government joined the suit as an interested party to protect classified information, opposing many of Mitchell and Jessen’s attempts to access additional CIA documents and depose CIA personnel.

Mitchell calls the SSRI Report “misleading,” and claims that he needs additional classified information to prepare a defense. If the court agrees that the excluded information is essential to trying the case, it’s possible that the state secrets privilege could prove fatal to the suit. However, that outcome seems unlikely at this point, particularly in light of the fact that the DOJ is not asking for dismissal.

The Obama administration’s forbearance on asserting the state secrets privilege in Salim v. Mitchell has been the subject of much discussion. After President Bush had been roundly criticized for what some called abuse of the privilege, President Obama’s Attorney General Eric Holder instituted new policy to limit its use in litigation, but critics saw more of the same until this case.

Even before Donald Trump took office, some speculated that his administration might change the legal strategy by invoking the state secrets privilege either to avoid releasing requested information in discovery, or to avoid the litigation altogether. This first use by the Trump administration appears to be relatively narrow, and may represent nothing more than a response to the specific depositions requested by Mitchell and Jessen. In other words, the Obama (or Clinton) administration may have responded identically to these specific motions to compel testimony, using privilege to prevent the release of critical national security information.

Still, it’s worth underscoring that . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

24 February 2017 at 7:07 pm

Trump’s tough-guy talk on torture risks real lives

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Jane Mayer writes in the New Yorker:

In an interview with his biographer Michael D’Antonio, Donald Trump explained that although he received a medical deferment rather than serving in the war in Vietnam, “I always felt that I was in the military.” This was, as D’Antonio reported in “Never Enough: Donald Trump and the Pursuit of Success,” because he spent his high-school years at a military-themed boarding school, not far from West Point.

Last Saturday, President Trump trumpeted his military expertise during a visit to the C.I.A.’s headquarters, in Langley, Virginia, where he praised his nominee to direct the C.I.A., Michael Pompeo, for being first in his class at West Point. Then he digressed, noting, “I know a lot about West Point. . . . Trust me, I’m, like, a smart person.”

One difference between serving in the military and being a pretend soldier at the New York Military Academy, where Trump proudly led mock drills in snappy faux military uniforms, is that, in the real thing, officers are drilled not just in marching formations but also in the laws of war. These include the Geneva Conventions and the Convention Against Torture, which impose absolute, unconditional bans on torture and other forms of cruel and inhumane treatment of enemy combatants, categorizing such conduct, under any and all circumstances, as a war crime.

In an interview with ABC’s David Muir, made available on Wednesday, Trump gave a cursory nod to those laws. Asked if he wanted U.S. forces to use waterboarding, the President said that he would listen to his advisers, but that he wanted to do everything “within the bounds of what you’re allowed to do legally” to “fight fire with fire.” He told Muir, “I have spoken, as recently as twenty-four hours ago, with people at the highest level of intelligence, and I asked them the question: Does it work? Does torture work? And the answer was yes, absolutely.” He added, with emphasis, “Do I feel it works? Absolutely I feel it works.”

The interview came on the same day that several news organizations published a draft executive order that, if signed, would command the Trump Administration to review the possibility of reintroducing C.I.A.-run “black site” detention campsfor terror suspects and the use of brutal interrogation techniques. These practices were used during the early years of the War on Terror, but were shut down after the Supreme Court declared them subject to prosecution. At the daily White House press briefing on Wednesday, Trump’s press secretary, Sean Spicer, described the draft as “not a White House document.” Still, it was circulating through high levels of the government, and President Trump’s sentiments were clear.

As any military expert could tell Trump, torture only increases the danger that soldiers face. It produces false intelligence, increases the risk that captured soldiers will themselves be tortured, and undermines discipline and moral authority. This is a lesson that George Washington knew well. As a general in the Revolutionary War, he vowed that, unlike the British, who tortured their captives, this new country would distinguish itself by its humanity toward enemy combatants. Washington’s order proved not just moral but also practical. As David Hackett Fischer wrote in “Washington’s Crossing,” his Pulitzer Prize-winning history, Washington’s superior treatment of enemy captives fomented desertion among British and Hessian soldiers, and bolstered the American soldiers’ morale.

Washington’s enlightened orders formed the backbone of U.S. military policy until the War on Terror. America didn’t always live up to these ideals, but it nonetheless valued them, and enshrined them in law. The original copies of the Geneva Conventions are kept in a safe at the State Department, signed by, among others, Winston Churchill, whose bust Trump reportedly has chosen to give a place of honor in his Oval Office.

The horrifying consequences of abandoning the high road are catalogued in the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s 2014 report on the C.I.A.’s use of torture during the Bush era. Daniel J. Jones, the congressional staff member who was the lead author of the Senate report, told me that, should Trump choose to read it, he would see that “it clearly details how the C.I.A. internally came to the conclusion that their interrogation program was ineffective—and that the C.I.A. should not be operating detention sites.”

As Trump readily admits, he doesn’t feel he has time to read anything lengthy, which would seem to preclude his absorption of the five-hundred-page declassified summary of the Senate report, not to mention the six-thousand-seven-hundred-page classified original. It doesn’t help, either, that the Obama Administration, in deference to the wishes of the C.I.A., declined to hold anyone in the intelligence community accountable for the Bush-era torture program. Obama instead chose to, as he put it, “turn the page.” Unfortunately, that has made it all too easy for a new Administration to look to the old playbook. These missteps, Jones said, “are just dumbfounding.”

Luckily, if Trump were to sign the draft executive order, the decision on whether to return to the brutal detention and interrogation techniques that former Vice-President Cheney called “the dark side” would not be made by the President alone. . .

Continue reading.

Torture does not work. In addition, it’s cruel and inhumane, illegal, immoral, unethical, and degrading to the torturer who is also harmed and shamed, developing a defensive numbness for life or PTSD. What sensible person would want to bring torture back?

Written by LeisureGuy

15 February 2017 at 11:46 am

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