jump to navigation

Bolivia’s Former President and Defense Minister Face Florida Trial for Civilian Deaths March 12, 2018

Posted by rogerhollander in Bolivia, Criminal Justice, Human Rights, Imperialism, Latin America, Uncategorized.
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

Roger’s note: there’s a familiar pattern here.  A Latin American head of state is supported, propped up or whatever by the United States government in order to protect U.S. corporate, military and geopolitical interests.  When his murderous policies become so untenable that popular uprisings (and in a few cases democratic elections) succeed in overthrowing said caudillo, he finds refuge in a playboy’s lifestyle in the United States or elsewhere.  Batista, Jiminez, Duvalier, Somosa… There is a long list.  Chile’s brutal dictator, Pinochet, got caught in England, but a British court let him slip away.  Ecuador’s Mahuad, responsible for millions losing their life savings, was last seen teaching Economics at Harvard.

Now we see, perhaps for the first time,  a possibility for justice for U.S. supported high crimes in Bolivia.

 | MARCH 5, 2018, Miami New Times

Mamani plantiffs

In 2003, Bolivian President Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada and Defense Minister Carlos Sánchez Berzaín fled to Miami amid roiling protests in La Paz. The two had enraged indigenous Bolivians by trying to sell off the country’s natural gas reserves to private corporations and then had responded to peaceful protests by ordering out the army, which killed 58 civilians and wounded more than 400 people.

The two figured they would find safe haven in South Florida, as so many other deposed strongmen have done. But they didn’t count on the extraordinary resolve of Eloy and Etelvina Mamani, whose 8-year-old daughter, Marlene, bled to death in their home near Lake Titicaca after a government sniper shot her through the chest.

Along with several other victims of the massacre, the Mamanis sued the two Bolivian leaders in federal court with the help of the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard. Today, after more than a decade of legal battles, the Mamanis will get to face Sánchez de Lozada and Berzaín in court.


Lawyers for the families say the trial, set to begin in Fort Lauderdale’s federal courthouse, will be the first time a former head of state faces a human rights trial in U.S. civil court.

“The former president and his minister of defense must now listen as we testify about what happened,” Teófilo Baltazar Cerro, a member of the indigenous Aymara community of Bolivia, said in a news release. “We look forward to this historic opportunity to have our day in court.”

The roots of the case date back to the early 2000s, when Sánchez de Lozada — a U.S.-educated, corporation-friendly leader — took power and tried to begin privatizing state resources, with the hearty backing of the Clinton administration. (James Carville even ran his successful 2002 campaign in Bolivia.)

As New Times wrote in a 2008 feature about the case, that move quickly ran into strong opposition from the impoverished Aymaras and Quechuas in the western highlands:

By 2003, a long-simmering feud over what to do with Bolivia’s natural gas deposits had reached a boil. Goni wanted to bring in foreign companies to pipe the gas through neighboring Chile, to the sea, and eventually to California, but indigenous protesters — who despised foreign companies and Chile with equal aplomb — vowed to stop him. In early 2003, a young, charismatic Aymara coca farmer named Evo Morales (who had come in second to Goni in the election a year before) began gathering indigenous groups to block the plans, pushing instead for nationalization. With little political clout, Morales turned to civil disobedience: Protesters destroyed roads and barricaded towns in the highlands around La Paz, seeking to choke the economy until their demands were met.

Sánchez de Lozada ordered Berzaín and the military to respond — and they did, with violent force. As protests intensified amid the dozens of deaths and hundreds of injuries, Sánchez de Lozada and his defense minister resigned October 17, 2003, and jetted to Miami. They lived here in comfort in Key Biscayne, but the Mamani family wanted justice for their daughter.

“I want them all in jail,” Etelvina told New Times in 2010. “But that doesn’t seem possible.”

With the help of Harvard’s lawyers, they found one angle for justice in Miami’s federal courts. Lawyers for the former leaders have spent years arguing that U.S. courts have no jurisdiction over what happened in Bolivia in 2003.

“All evidence shows the response of the Sánchez de Lozada government was constitutional, lawful, and appropriate,” Howard Gutman, an attorney for the Bolivian leaders, said in 2008.

But the Mamanis have won several major victories already. In 2016, a judge ruled they could continue fighting for their case under the U.S. Torture Victim Protection Act, and last month a motion for summary judgment by the former leaders was tossed out, clearing the way for today’s trial.

“The trial will offer indigenous Aymara people, who have historically been excluded from justice, a chance to testify about events that led to dozens of deaths and hundreds of injuries,” Beth Stephens, an attorney for for the victims, says in a statement.




Senator Calls Out Big Pharma For Opposing Legal Marijuana February 25, 2018

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Drugs, Health, Laols, Uncategorized.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Roger’s note: what a surprise, the pharmaceutical industry putting profit over human need.  I’m shocked.

Tom Angell, Forbes, February 23, 2018

A prominent Democratic U.S. senator is slamming pharmaceutical companies for opposing marijuana legalization.

“To them it’s competition for chronic pain, and that’s outrageous because we don’t have the crisis in people who take marijuana for chronic pain having overdose issues,” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York said. “It’s not the same thing. It’s not as highly addictive as opioids are.”


“On the federal level, we really need to say it is a legal drug you can access if you need it,” she said.

Gillibrand, in an appearance on Good Day New York on Friday morning, was responding to a question about whether marijuana is a “gateway drug” that leads people to try more dangerous substances.

“I don’t see it as a gateway to opioids,” she said. “What I see is the opioid industry and the drug companies that manufacture it, some of them in particular, are just trying to sell more drugs that addict patients and addict people across this country.”

Legalization advocates have long speculated that “Big Pharma” is working behind the scenes to maintain cannabis prohibition. And in 2016, Insys Therapeutics, which makes products containing fentanyl and other opioids, as well as a synthetic version of the cannabinoid THC, donated half a million dollars to help defeat a marijuana legalization measure that appeared on Arizona’s ballot that year.

Numerous studies have shown that legal marijuana access is associated with reduced opioid overdose rates.

Research published this month, for example, concluded that “legally protected and operating medical marijuana dispensaries reduce opioid-related harms,” suggesting that “some individuals may be substituting towards marijuana, reducing the quantity of opioids they consume or forgoing initiation of opiates altogether.”

Marijuana is a far less addictive substance than opioids and the potential for overdosing is nearly zero,” the researchers wrote in the Journal of Health Economics.

Last week, Gillibrand became the second cosponsor of far-reaching Senate legislation to remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act and withhold federal funding from states that have racially disproportionate enforcement of cannabis laws.

“Millions of Americans’ lives have been devastated because of our broken marijuana policies, especially in communities of color and low-income communities,” she said at the time. “Legalizing marijuana is a social justice issue and a moral issue that Congress needs to address.”

Gillibrand is also a sponsor of far-reaching medical cannabis legislation and recently signed a letter calling for new protections for state marijuana laws to be inserted into federal spending legislation.

“I think medical marijuana could be treatment for a lot of folks,” she said in the interview on Friday. “A lot of veterans have told us that this is the best treatment for them. I do not see it as a gateway drug.”

Many political observers have speculated that Gillibrand will run for her party’s presidential nomination in 2020. She and at least two other potential Democratic contenders have already endorsed marijuana legalization.


Tom Angell publishes Marijuana Moment news and founded the nonprofit Marijuana Majority. Follow Tom on Twitterfor breaking news and subscribe to his daily newsletter.

Inside The Immigrant-Prosecuting Machine That Transformed America’s Deportation Policy April 28, 2017

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Grenada, Immigration, Latin America, Mexico, Racism, Refugees, Uncategorized.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

Roger’s note: Democrats.  Republicans.  A pox on both their houses.  When it comes to the inhumane treatment of those who cross our borders in flight from conditions in their countries that US policy has helped to create, both parties are equally corrupt.  The spike in prosecutions and deportations began under Clinton and made a dramatic upturn under Obama.  The nations’s first Black president turned out to be a master oppressor of Latinos seeking refuge in the United States.

Democratic and Republican presidents spent two decades building Donald Trump’s most powerful tool against undocumented immigrants.



TUCSON, Ariz. ― One morning last October, Irlando sat hunched over a table in the back of a federal courthouse, looking to a court-appointed lawyer for help. Border Patrol agents had found him the day before, wandering through the desert 150 miles away outside Lukeville, Arizona, and he still hadn’t showered. His hands were black with grime and he smelled of dried sweat after spending almost a week trekking in the hot sun.


Irlando had worked as a commercial truck driver in a town north of Guatemala City and fled his homeland after a local gang started extorting his company. First, they killed drivers when the company didn’t pay up. Then gang members killed his boss, and Irlando decided he had to escape.


A friend suggested he try to make it through Mexico and into the United States, where he could earn enough money to help support his wife and four children he was leaving behind. His youngest daughter was just two months old. When Border Patrol picked him up crossing into Arizona, he’d been thankful just to have a sip of water. But now the reality was sinking in: He was going to be deported back to Guatemala.


Irlando’s lawyer, Eréndira Castillo, said she was sorry, but none of his backstory would matter to the judge. He wasn’t in immigration court. He was facing a criminal prosecution for crossing the border illegally, and this judge had no authority to decide whether he should stay in the country. All the judge would see is that he was arrested while trying to jump the border and that he had a prior conviction for attempting to do the same thing in Texas in 2013.


(Castillo talked to Irlando privately about his right to confidentiality and he decided to waive that right so his story could be told, on the condition that only his first name be used.)


Irlando could accept the plea agreement in front of him, which came with a 75-day jail sentence, or he could take his case to trial, where virtually all defendants lose, and then face two years in prison. Either way, he’d almost certainly be deported after his release.

It was about 9:30 a.m., and Irlando needed to make up his mind before the proceedings started that afternoon. After a few minutes of discussion, he took the plea deal, which was typed in English. Castillo verbally translated the document for him before he signed it.


“There’s no one to tell that I’m here trying to save my life?” Irlando asked his lawyer. “My baby girl needs three bottles of milk every week. Who’s going to give them to her?”

“It’s very sad, but that’s the way it is,” Castillo replied, patting him on the knee. “The law doesn’t have a heart.”

Improvising An Immigrant-Prosecuting Machine

58ffac711400002000a9bce2CHIP SOMODEVILLA/GETTY IMAGES President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Jan. 25, 2017, to crack down on so-called “sanctuary” jurisdictions that take steps to shield immigrants from deportation. The order contained a provision calling for more prosecutions for immigration violations. 

When President Donald Trump took control of the immigration enforcement system, he inherited a well-oiled machine for prosecuting immigration violations that has continued to grow even as illegal border crossings decline. When Trump talks about imposing a “deportation force,” most observers interpret that as a  to Immigration and Customs Enforcement or Border Patrol. But the most powerful tool he wields against unauthorized immigrants may well be the criminal courts.


While residing in the U.S. without authorization is a civil offense, the act of crossing the border illegally is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail. Those who get caught again face the felony charge of “illegal re-entry,” with a prison sentence of up to two years that can expand to two decades if the offender has a criminal record.


Today, roughly one-quarter of immigrants expelled from the U.S. face criminal prosecution for crossing the border illegally and serve jail time before they are deported. Immigration prosecutions topped 91,000 in 2013 ― 28 times the number of prosecutions in 1993.


This marks a fundamental transformation of both deportation policy and the federal courts. While less than 5 percent of federal prosecutions involved immigration in 1993, the first year of Bill Clinton’s presidency, illegal entry and re-entry prosecutions now account for roughly half the federal criminal docket, sapping limited resources to prosecute violent or white-collar crimes.


Immigration authorities have had the power to refer migrants caught making illegal crossings to the criminal courts since the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act in 1952. But the Justice Department’s priorities didn’t begin their steady shift until the Clinton era.


Entering office during one of the largest mass migrations from Mexico in U.S. history and nearly a decade after President Ronald Reagan extended a pathway to U.S. citizenship for some 3 million people, Clinton faced major public backlash against illegal immigration and bipartisan hostility toward incoming migrants. Prior benevolence, Democrats and Republicans largely agreed, had only encouraged more illegal crossings.


Clinton signed immigration reform laws that fast-tracked deportations and helped lay the foundation for the sprawling immigrant detention system that now reserves space to lock up 34,000 immigrants at a time. In a less-publicized development of his presidency, the number of immigration prosecutions ― particularly felony cases ― also steadily crept up, although the process was haphazard and no formal policies governed whether the migrants arrested should face criminal or civil penalties.


That changed dramatically during George W. Bush’s presidency. Seeking a way to deter unauthorized immigrants more effectively, Customs and Border Protection began formalizing a whole host of previously informal policies.


In one of the most sweeping changes, CBP teamed up with the Justice Department to funnel more people who jump the border into criminal court. The model program, called Operation Streamline, was implemented in southern Texas in 2005, when a sudden influx of Central American migrants left immigration authorities with a shortage of bed space in immigrant detention facilities.


“We were taking a look at what consequences were available to us within existing law,” David Aguilar, a top Border Patrol official in the 1990s and CBP commissioner from 2011 to 2013, told HuffPost. “Prosecution was in fact one of those consequences.”


Because the laws were already on the books, neither CBP nor the Justice Department needed to ask Congress for approval. The new system spread over the next decade, immigration violations swallowed up an ever-larger chunk of the federal criminal docket. The number of criminal immigration prosecutions doubled over Barack Obama’s two terms in office, despite the fact that illegal crossings plummeted by roughly half between 2009 and 2016.


The continued criminal prosecution of illegal border crossings meant America’s first black president jailed more people of color on federal charges than any president in modern U.S. history. But because the Justice Department classifies almost all Hispanics as “white” in official statistics, that fact has largely been obscured.


The immigrant-prosecuting machine improvised under Clinton, formalized under Bush and institutionalized by Obama barely merited a mention during last year’s immigration-obsessed presidential election. But Trump noticed.


On the campaign trail, he pledged to raise the mandatory minimum sentence for illegal re-entry to five years. Within a week of taking office, he issued an executive order cracking down on sanctuary cities that contained a provision calling for more immigration prosecutions.


On April 11, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced plans to consider criminal charges for any person caught in the U.S. who has been deported before, regardless of where they’re arrested ― a massive expansion of a constitutionally questionable process that routinely sucks in asylum-seekers and people with long histories in the United States.


“It’s going to break the bank in terms of paying for the jail and prison beds that these people are going to occupy if they are prosecuted,” said Judy Greene, the author of the book Indefensible: A Decade of Mass Incarceration of Migrants Prosecuted for Crossing the Border.


But that’s only one way to look at the cost,” she added. “The other way to look at it is to realize there is a huge cost in human misery for the people who are prosecuted ― their families, their neighbors ― if this happens the way Trump and Sessions have envisioned.”

Two Decades Defending Immigrants 

58ffa5082600004500c47ad6ROQUE PLANAS/HUFFPOST  Eréndira Castillo, who has defended immigrants facing criminal deportation charges for the last two decades, stands in front of the federal courthouse in Tucson, Arizona. 

After meeting with Irlando that morning last fall, his lawyer, Castillo, walked to a nearby restaurant where she half-heartedly picked at a pair of tacos. A first-generation Mexican immigrant who speaks Spanish with native fluency, Castillo wears her black hair in a ponytail and an indigenous embroidered shirt called a huipil beneath her dark blue blazer. She loves practicing law, but hates cases like Irlando’s.


“It’s so upsetting, because I feel complicit,” she told HuffPost.


Castillo has worked these cases since 1998, when she joined the Federal Public Defender’s Office in Tucson to help expand its immigration unit. The job initially excited her: She’d already begun to specialize in immigration before going to law school, processing legalization applications for undocumented immigrants who became eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship under Reagan’s 1986 reform law.


But Castillo’s enthusiasm faded as she faced uncomfortable situations that seemed to flout basic protections for criminal defendants, like the right to due process or the right to keep communications with your attorney confidential. The process from initial hearing to conviction and sentencing ― which routinely takes months, even years, in felony criminal cases ― was collapsed into a few hours for dozens of people at a time. She only got a few minutes to speak with each client, and they spoke in an open room where others could hear their conversations.


“I was a brand-new lawyer,” Castillo said. “[Our bosses] never said, ‘This is the right way, this is the wrong way, this is what we expect from you.’ We just did what they said. I think, in retrospect, I would say, ‘No, the federal public defenders office shouldn’t be doing it this way. This is unconstitutional.’”


Many legal experts agree. But their objections haven’t kept the system from growing. Within five years of joining the public defender’s office, the immigration unit Castillo helped pioneer had grown larger than the office’s entire criminal defense unit ― a reflection of the Justice Department’s shifting priorities.


Castillo left the public defender’s office for private practice three years ago, but still defends immigrants accused of illegal crossings once a week. She takes pride in making small gestures to make the process less painful: offering her clients a glass of water, or calling their family members so she can tell them what’s happening. (The clients aren’t allowed to use the phone in court, so she calls on speakerphone while they listen in silence.)


“I have to explain it’s not my fault,” Castillo said. “I’m a lawyer, I was appointed by the court.”

‘This Process Does Get Somewhat Repetitive’ 

Illegal migrants from Guatemala, deported from Phoenix, Arizona in the U.S., arrive at an air force base in Guatemala CityJORGE LOPEZ/REUTERS  Immigrants deported from Arizona arrive at an air force base in Guatemala City on July 22, 2014.

Irlando’s hearing started at 1:30 p.m. A row of five microphones stood in front of Judge Bruce Macdonald. Each of the 41 defendants, lined up on benches before the judge, was a brown-skinned national of Mexico or Central America. They’d already signed plea agreements like Irlando’s, differing only in the length of their sentences.


Macdonald took the bench and explained the process. Everyone would acknowledge their guilt in groups of five. He asked the 14 defense attorneys if their clients were competent to go forward with their hearings. They affirmed in unison. “You’ll quickly notice that I’m asking the same series of questions,” Macdonald told the defendants. “This process does get somewhat repetitive.”


When Irlando’s turn came to plead guilty, Castillo mentioned his fear of returning to Guatemala. The judge said Irlando would be able to raise the issue once he was transferred to immigration court for deportation proceedings after his jail sentence.

At least three other defendants said they feared for their safety if deported. Border Patrol policy dictates that they should have been channeled to an asylum officer or a civil immigration court to hear those claims, but the judge gave them the same reply he gave Irlando.


Several people seemed only hazily aware they faced criminal prosecution at all. One woman, asked how she pleaded, said “yes.”


Three defendants, all of them Guatemalan and all represented by the same attorney, said they didn’t speak Spanish as a first language. (A foreign government official, who declined to be identified because he was not authorized to speak with the media, later told HuffPost there were seven indigenous defendants that day who didn’t speak fluent Spanish.) Macdonald quickly moved on after the lawyer insisted the indigenous language speakers understood the agreement.


The lawyer representing the three indigenous Guatemalans declined to comment about their cases, but acknowledged he wasn’t well qualified to handle their claims. “I don’t really know about immigration,” he said. “I usually call up a friend if there’s an asylum issue to get advice.”

The Consequence Delivery System

A U.S. border patrol agent patrols the U.S. border with Mexico in NogalesLUCY NICHOLSON/REUTERS A view of the U.S.-Mexico border from Nogales, Arizona, on Jan. 31, 2017.

About the same time Castillo first went to work defending immigrants facing prosecution in Tucson, John Lawson arrived in the Arizona town of Douglas as a newly minted Border Patrol agent. The town is roughly 260 miles east of where Irlando was picked up crossing.


In 1997, Lawson found only about 100 yards of fencing separating the United States from Mexico. That was a year authorities caught 1.4 million people crossing the border illegally ― almost four times the rate of apprehension in 2016. At that time, Border Patrol had half as many agents trying to stop those migrants, and the barrier between the U.S. and Mexico in that area was an opaque wall, so agents couldn’t see people throwing rocks and or lobbing cinder blocks at passing patrol cars.


“It was kind of Wild West out here,” Lawson said as he led a tour of the border at Nogales in October. “It was insanity, everyone trying to catch who they could.”


In the 1990s, Border Patrol agents usually escorted people they apprehended back to the other side ― a procedure known as “voluntary return.” Unlike a formal deportation, a voluntary return has no legal consequences and returnees can apply for a U.S. immigration visa a minute after returning to Mexico. It wasn’t uncommon for Lawson to catch the same person crossing illegally three times in a single day.


Border Patrol agents struggled to deter people from simply crossing again. Mexico was limping through an economic crisis in the mid-1990s, just as the country’s 1970s baby boom generation reached working age. The 1994 North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement made matters worse, compelling some 2 million Mexicans to flee the country’s farms when they couldn’t compete with subsidized agricultural imports from the United States. Foreign-owned assembly plants sprouted in border towns to take advantage of the cheap labor and lower import taxes NAFTA offered, which pulled out-of-work Mexicans to cities within walking distance of the United States like magnets.


Border Patrol couldn’t control the underlying reasons for the immigration explosion, so the agency worked to make deterrents more effective. Rather than returning the migrants they arrested to the same cities where they crossed, agents might bus them hours away, making the crossing more expensive and breaking the link between migrants and their smugglers. Instead of voluntary removals, Border Patrol increasingly sent unauthorized immigrants to get fingerprinted and face formal deportation proceedings.


“Now everyone gets an alien registration number,” Lawson said. “That’s as permanent as it gets. It stays with you for the rest of your life.”


By the mid-2000s, CBP had institutionalized these policies into a list of penalties the agency calls the “consequence delivery system.” The harshest of those consequences is criminal prosecution.


Lawson is proud of CBP’s work. The sporadic links of opaque fencing have stretched into hundreds of miles of steel beams, which are reinforced with cameras and underground sensors. People scale the barrier so often that the rust has scraped off some of the beams, but Lawson is confident that agents catch most of the people who make it over.


When they do, the migrants’ fingerprints tell them everything they need to know. If a person has tried to cross illegally within the last two decades, a record of the deportation appears. If he or she has ever committed a crime in the United States, that’s there too. Though there are some exceptions ― children, asylum-seekers or people who appear sick ― agents are supposed to deal out a consequence to every unauthorized migrant they apprehend.


There’s only enough slots at the federal courthouse in Tucson to prosecute 70 border-crossers per day. If agents find more unauthorized migrants near that jurisdiction, they’ll face deportation instead. But these days, there are far fewer illegal crossings, so the courthouse rarely fills to capacity for its daily three hours of illegal entry and re-entry cases.


“There’s a bunch of reasons why that could be happening,” Lawson said. “But we’re fairly certain that a lot of it has to do with these consequences.”

Prosecuted Far From The Border

The Sandra Day O'Connor United States Courthouse is seen in Phoenix, ArizonaERIC THAYER/REUTERS The Sandra Day O’Connor U.S. Courthouse in Phoenix routinely tries illegal re-entry cases against immigrants apprehended far from the border.

These prosecutions aren’t just happening to migrants picked up along the border. Felony illegal re-entry charges were filed in all but four of the 94 U.S. district courts last year.

Around the time Irlando was convicted, a gray-haired woman stood before a judge in a federal courtroom in Phoenix in a red jumpsuit, shackled at the wrists and ankles. Two of her daughters, both born in the United States, watched from the benches.


The woman, whom HuffPost is not identifying because her family fears she’ll be deported, was born in the Mexican state of Michoacán but came to the U.S. when she was 9 years old. In 2003, she spent two months in jail for heroin possession and distribution charges, and was then deported. She returned illegally soon after, as unauthorized immigrants with U.S.-born children often do.


She found work cleaning houses and avoided trouble with the law, but ICE arrested her last year. Her daughters are unsure why their mother was targeted, but suspect someone may have reported her.


Given her 13-year-old drug charges, the woman had little choice but to take a plea agreement. To secure a conviction, the only evidence prosecutors needed was a prior order of deportation. Each conviction on a person’s record can enhance their jail sentence. She faced the possibility of 10 years in prison, but was released on time served ― seven months ― in February after taking the deal.


It’s very sad, but that’s the way it is. The law doesn’t have a heart.Attorney Eréndira Castillo

It’s unclear whether she was deported. The woman’s attorney, Kaitlin Verdura, declined to discuss the specifics of her client’s case, but said her situation is not uncommon. “There are people in the United States that have been here for a very long time, who have assimilated into the country, and get prosecuted for the crime of illegal re-entry,” she said.


When Sessions announced on April 11 the Justice Department’s plans to consider prosecution for anyone who enters the country illegally, he likely wasn’t directing his attention at border-crossers like Irlando. People like the woman in Phoenix will probably bear the brunt of the Trump administration’s changes. The Justice Department did not reply to HuffPost’s request for comment.


It’s unclear how many of the 11 million undocumented immigrants who live in the United States have deportations on their records. But the number is likely high, given Border Patrol’s efforts to make sure most people the agency apprehends pass through formal deportation proceedings.


Since prosecutors can easily secure convictions for illegal re-entry, Sessions’ order could fundamentally transform the federal justice system in a way CBP never imagined when it recommended systematically hauling border-crossers into criminal court with Operation Streamline in 2005. People nowhere near the border who would’ve previously been deported could further swell the court system and federal prisons.

‘Legalized Racism’

Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks at the Ethics and Compliance InitiativeYURI GRIPAS/REUTERS Attorney General Jeff Sessions has ordered U.S. attorneys across the country to consider prosecuting undocumented immigrants with deportations on their records for felony illegal re-entry, regardless of where they’re arrested.

Castillo sees the direction the Justice Department is moving under Trump and it unsettles her. Even after two decades of serving agreements to people pleading guilty of immigration violations, she rarely thinks of her clients as criminals. She sees parents trying to return to their children, jobless people looking for work, and people like Irlando who are scared for their lives.


She’s fought losing battles to convince judges that the weight of the law falls too heavily on her clients. She’s represented people who grew up in Phoenix and wound up with criminal records at a time when former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio famously targeted Hispanics for traffic stops to identify undocumented immigrants.


A federal court ruled in 2013 that those tactics amounted to racial profiling and ordered him to stop. But some of the people who got profiled and wound up with convictions and deportations showed up later in federal court for illegal re-entry charges. They face enhanced penalties that can boost their sentences up to 20 years.


“It’s legalized racism,” Castillo said. “That’s the whole problem with the criminal justice system ― we’re not allowed to talk about racism as a factor of a person’s story. But their criminal records are overrepresented … I’ve brought this up in court and the judges just sort of look at me with this blank stare.”


Like most of Castillo’s clients with immigration convictions, Irlando served his 75 days in the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service, then faced a swift deportation back to Guatemala. Despite Judge Macdonald’s assurances, the immigration court never heard his appeals about how he feared for his safety back home. “They didn’t listen to anything I had to say,” Irlando said on a phone call from Guatemala last month.


Unable to return to his old job, he now works planting corn. He said he feels safe for the moment, but is unsure about his future in Guatemala. “Who knows,” he said. “I might try to cross again.”

Urgent: Chelsea Manning is running out of time. We have just days left to get 100,000 signatures calling for President Obama to commute her sentence to time served. December 9, 2016

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Criminal Justice, Uncategorized, Whistle-blowing.
Tags: , , , , , ,

Transparency activist Chelsea Manning has already spent more time behind bars than any other whistleblower in U.S. history. [1] She’s been systematically mistreated, subjected to torture, and denied access to desperately needed health care while serving a 35 year sentence in an all-male military prison.

And if we don’t do something right now, Chelsea’s life is literally in danger. Sign this urgent petition calling for Chelsea’s release. The deadline is next week!KT Mcfarland, the incoming administration’s pick for Deputy National Security Advisor, has repeatedly called for Chelsea to be executed. [2] Her situation is about to go from bad to worse.

Chelsea has already attempted to commit suicide twice as a direct result of years of psychological torture she’s endured and the inhumane conditions of her captivity. [3]

The Obama Administration is directly responsible for Chelsea’s unnecessary suffering. Now the President has one last chance to do the right thing, but he’ll only do it if we generate a massive outcry, right now.

Chelsea risked everything to do what she felt was right. Click here to sign the petition calling for President Obama to commute her sentence before he leaves office.

We’ve already got nearly 50,000 signatures on a “WhiteHouse.gov” petition calling supporting Chelsea’s request that President Obama grant her clemency and reduce her sentence to “Time Served.”

Our allies in Washington, DC suggest that this is much more likely than Obama offering a pardon, and if we get enough people to sign, there’s a chance we can get Chelsea free, and possibly save her life in the process.

If we get more than 100,000 signatures by December 14th, President Obama will have to respond. This could be our last chance. Chelsea is depending on us.

Time is running out! Click here to sign the petition now.

I talked to Chelsea on the phone just last week. She is always so humble, brave, and grateful for all of your support.

Please forward this email to everyone you know. If all of us act now, it could make all the difference for Chelsea’s future.

Here’s the link: https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/commute-chelsea-mannings-sentence-time-served-1

More soon,

-Evan at Fight for the Future

[1] Learn more at https://www.freechelsea.com

[2] CNN: http://www.cnn.com/2016/12/02/politics/kfile-kt-mcfarland-manning-assange/

[3] The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/nov/04/chelsea-manning-second-suicide-attempt-attorneys-prison-sentence


Thank you, Barack Obama November 10, 2016

Posted by rogerhollander in 2016 election, Barack Obama, Civil Liberties, Climate Change, Criminal Justice, donald trump, Immigration, Media, Nazi / Fascist, Racism, Surveillance, Surveillance State, Trump, War.
Tags: , , , , , , , ,
add a comment


Roger’s note: the Obama presidency has been lethal to so many social movements, perhaps none more so than the anti-war movement.  Because he is a Democrat, and because the Democrats are the good guys (that’s a joke), he was to be trusted and supported.  Shit, they gave him the Nobel Peace Prize!  Like the Clintons, Obama has been and is little more than a mildly sugar-coated shill for the military industrial complex.  Because of the institutions of “security” and oppression that his presidency has strengthened and emboldened, the cost in life and liberty of the police-state violence against the massive resistance the is bound to erupt against Trump will be that much greater.

Good people have no reason to be thankful for Obama, but the Trump abominations certainly do.

Daniel J. Berrigan, Defiant Priest Who Preached Pacifism, Dies at 94 May 1, 2016

Posted by rogerhollander in Capitalism, Criminal Justice, History, Nuclear weapons/power, Religion, Uncategorized, Vietnam, War.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment


Roger’s note: I just want to comment on the headline for this article.  The New York Times chooses to describe Berrigan as a Pacifist. The Times, along with the rest of the corporate media and political establishment, love the word Pacifist.  Resistance and Revolution not so much.  Howard Zinn famously said, when accused of disturbing the peace, that there is no peace, what he really was doing was disturbing the war.  The reference to his philosophy of non-violence is an attempt to sanitize his radical actions.  We need more Daniel Berrigans; may he rest in power.

By DANIEL LEWIS APRIL 30, 2016, New York Times

01berrigan-master768Rev. Daniel J. Berrigan gave an anti-war sermon at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York, 1972. Credit William E. Sauro/The New York Times

The Rev. Daniel J. Berrigan, a Jesuit priest and poet whose defiant protests helped shape the tactics of opposition to the Vietnam War and landed him in prison, died on Saturday in the Bronx. He was 94.

His death, at Murray-Weigel Hall, the Jesuit infirmary at Fordham University, was confirmed by the Rev. James Martin, editor at large at America magazine, a national Catholic magazine published by the Jesuits.

The United States was tearing itself apart over civil rights and the war in Southeast Asia when Father Berrigan emerged in the 1960s as an intellectual star of the Roman Catholic “new left,” articulating a view that racism and poverty, militarism and capitalist greed were interconnected pieces of the same big problem: an unjust society.

It was an essentially religious position, based on a stringent reading of the Scriptures that some called pure and others radical. But it would have explosive political consequences as Father Berrigan; his brother Philip, a Josephite priest; and their allies took their case to the streets with rising disregard for the law or their personal fortunes.

A defining point was the burning of Selective Service draft records in Catonsville, Md., and the subsequent trial of the so-called Catonsville Nine, a sequence of events that inspired an escalation of protests across the country; there were marches, sit-ins, the public burning of draft cards and other acts of civil disobedience.

Father Berrigan, right and his brother Philip Berrigan seized hundreds of draft records and set them on fire with homemade napalm in 1968. Credit United Press International

The catalyzing episode occurred on May 17, 1968, six weeks after the murder of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the outbreak of new riots in dozens of cities. Nine Catholic activists, led by Daniel and Philip Berrigan, entered a Knights of Columbus building in Catonsville and went up to the second floor, where the local draft board had offices. In front of astonished clerks, they seized hundreds of draft records, carried them down to the parking lot and set them on fire with homemade napalm.

Some reporters had been told of the raid in advance. They were given a statement that said in part, “We destroy these draft records not only because they exploit our young men but because they represent misplaced power concentrated in the ruling class of America.” It added, “We confront the Catholic Church, other Christian bodies and the synagogues of America with their silence and cowardice in the face of our country’s crimes.”

In a year sick with images of destruction, from the Tet offensive in Vietnam to the murder of Dr. King, a scene was recorded that had been contrived to shock people to attention, and did so. When the police came, the trespassers were praying in the parking lot, led by two middle-aged men in clerical collars: the big, craggy Philip, a decorated hero of World War II, and the ascetic Daniel, waiting peacefully to be led into the van.
Protests and Arrests

In the years to come, well into his 80s, Daniel Berrigan was arrested time and again, for greater or lesser offenses: in 1980, for taking part in the Plowshares raid on a General Electric missile plant in King of Prussia, Pa., where the Berrigan brothers and others rained hammer blows on missile warheads; in 2006, for blocking the entrance to the Intrepid naval museum in Manhattan.

“The day after I’m embalmed,” he said in 2001, on his 80th birthday, “that’s when I’ll give it up.”

01BERRIGAN4-obit-blog427eFather Berrigan being handcuffed in 2001 after he and others blocked an entrance to the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in Manhattan. Credit Richard Drew/Associated Press

It was not for lack of other things to do. In his long career of writing and teaching at Fordham and other universities, Father Berrigan published a torrent of essays and broadsides and, on average, a book a year.

Among the more than 50 books were 15 volumes of poetry — the first of which, “Time Without Number,” won the prestigious Lamont Poetry Prize (now known as the James Laughlin Award), given by the Academy of American Poets, in 1957 — as well as autobiography, social criticism, commentaries on the Old Testament prophets and indictments of the established order, both secular and ecclesiastic.

While he was known for his wry wit, there was a darkness in much of what Father Berrigan wrote and said, the burden of which was that one had to keep trying to do the right thing regardless of the near certainty that it would make no difference. In the withering of the pacifist movement and the country’s general support for the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, he saw proof that it was folly to expect lasting results.

“This is the worst time of my long life,” he said in an interview with The Nation in 2008. “I have never had such meager expectations of the system.”

What made it bearable, he wrote elsewhere, was a disciplined, implicitly difficult belief in God as the key to sanity and survival.

Many books by and about Father Berrigan remain in print, and a collection of his work over half a century, “Daniel Berrigan: Essential Writings,” was published in 2009.

He also had a way of popping up in the wider culture: as the “radical priest” in Paul Simon’s song “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard”; as inspiration for the character Father Corrigan in Colum McCann’s 2009 novel, “Let the Great World Spin.” He even had a small movie role, appearing as a Jesuit priest in “The Mission” in 1989.

But his place in the public imagination was pretty much fixed at the time of the Catonsville raid, as the impish-looking half of the Berrigan brothers — traitors and anarchists in the minds of a great many Americans, exemplars to those who formed what some called the ultra-resistance.

After a trial that served as a platform for their antiwar message, the Berrigans were convicted of destroying government property and sentenced to three years each in the federal prison in Danbury, Conn. Having exhausted their appeals, they were to begin serving their terms on April 10, 1970.

01BERRIGAN3-obit-master675rFather Berrigan, right, and a defense lawyer, William M. Kunstler, center, after he was sentenced to three years in federal prison in Danbury, Conn. Credit Associated Press

Instead, they raised the stakes by going underground. The men who had been on the cover of Time were now on the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s most-wanted list. As Daniel explained in a letter to the French magazine Africasia, he was not buying the “mythology” fostered by American liberals that there was a “moral necessity of joining illegal action to legal consequences.” In any case, both brothers were tracked down and sent to prison.

Philip Berrigan had been the main force behind Catonsville, but it was mostly Daniel who mined the incident and its aftermath for literary meaning — a process already underway when the F.B.I. caught up with him on Block Island, off the Rhode Island coast, on Aug. 11, 1970. There was “The Trial of the Catonsville Nine,” a one-act play in free verse drawn directly from the court transcripts, and “Prison Poems,” written during his incarceration in Danbury.

Father Berrigan served time for acts of civil disobedience.

In “My Father,” he wrote:

I sit here in the prison ward
nervously dickering with my ulcer
a half-tamed animal
raising hell in its living space

But in 500 lines the poem talks as well about the politics of resistance, memories of childhood terror and, most of all, the overbearing weight of his dead father:

I wonder if I ever loved him
if he ever loved us
if he ever loved me.

The father was Thomas William Berrigan, a man full of words and grievances who got by as a railroad engineer, labor union officer and farmer. He married Frida Fromhart and had six sons with her. Daniel, the fourth, was born on May 9, 1921, in Virginia, Minn.

When he was a young boy, the family moved to a farm near Syracuse to be close to his father’s family.

In his autobiography, “To Dwell in Peace,” Daniel Berrigan described his father as “an incendiary without a cause,” a subscriber to Catholic liberal periodicals and the frustrated writer of poems of no distinction.

“Early on,” he wrote, “we grew inured, as the price of survival, to violence as a norm of existence. I remember, my eyes open to the lives of neighbors, my astonishment at seeing that wives and husbands were not natural enemies.”
Battles With the Church

Born with weak ankles, Daniel could not walk until he was 4. His frailty spared him the heavy lifting demanded of his brothers; instead he helped his mother around the house. Thus he seemed to absorb not only his father’s sense of life’s unfairness but also an intimate knowledge of how a man’s rage can play out in the victimization of women.

At an early age, he wrote, he believed that the church condoned his father’s treatment of his mother. Yet he wanted to be a priest. After high school he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1946 from St. Andrew-on-Hudson, a Jesuit seminary in Hyde Park, N.Y., and a master’s from Woodstock College in Baltimore in 1952. He was ordained that year.

Sent for a year of study and ministerial work in France, he met some worker-priests who gave him “a practical vision of the Church as she should be,” he wrote. Afterward he spent three years at the Jesuits’ Brooklyn Preparatory School, teaching theology and French, while absorbing the poetry of Robert Frost, E. E. Cummings and the 19th-century Jesuit Gerard Manley Hopkins. His own early work often combined elements of nature with religious symbols.

But he was not to become a pastoral poet or live the retiring life he had imagined. His ideas were simply turning too hot, sometimes even for friends and mentors like Dorothy Day, the co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, and the Trappist intellectual Thomas Merton.

At Le Moyne College in Syracuse, where he was a popular professor of New Testament studies from 1957 to 1963, Father Berrigan formed friendships with his students that other faculty members disapproved of, inculcating in them his ideas about pacifism and civil rights. (One student, David Miller, became the first draft-card burner to be convicted under a 1965 law.)

Father Berrigan was effectively exiled in 1965, after angering the hawkish Cardinal Francis Spellman in New York. Besides Father Berrigan’s work in organizing antiwar groups like the interdenominational Clergy and Laymen Concerned About Vietnam, there was the matter of the death of Roger La Porte, a young man with whom Father Berrigan said he was slightly acquainted. To protest American involvement in Southeast Asia, Mr. La Porte set himself on fire outside the United Nations building in November 1965.

Soon, according to Father Berrigan, “the most atrocious rumors were linking his death to his friendship with me.” He spoke at a service for Mr. La Porte, and soon thereafter the Jesuits, widely believed to have been pressured by Cardinal Spellman, sent him on a “fact finding” mission among poor workers in South America. An outcry from Catholic liberals brought him back after only three months, enough time for him to have been radicalized even further by the facts he had found.

For the Jesuits, Father Berrigan was both a magnet to bright young seminarians and a troublemaker who could not be kept in any one faculty job too long.

At one time or another he held faculty positions or ran programs at Union Seminary, Loyola University New Orleans, Columbia, Cornell and Yale. Eventually he settled into a long tenure at Fordham, the Jesuit university in the Bronx, where for a time he had the title of poet in residence.

Father Berrigan was released from the Danbury penitentiary in 1972; the Jesuits, alarmed at his failing health, managed to get him out early. He then resumed his travels.

After visiting the Middle East, he bluntly accused Israel of “militarism” and the “domestic repressions” of Palestinians. His remarks angered many American Jews. “Let us call this by its right name,” wrote Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg, himself a contentious figure among religious scholars: “old-fashioned theological anti-Semitism.”

Nor was Father Berrigan universally admired by Catholics. Many faulted him for not singling out repressive Communist states in his diatribes against the world order, and later for not lending his voice to the outcry over sexual abuse by priests. There was also a sense that his notoriety was a distraction from the religious work that needed to be done.

Not the least of his long-running battles was with the church hierarchy. He was scathing about the shift to conservatism under Pope John Paul II and the “company men” he appointed to high positions.

Much of Father Berrigan’s later work was concentrated on helping AIDS patients in New York City. In 2012, he appeared in Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan to support the Occupy Wall Street protest.

He also devoted himself to writing biblical studies. He felt a special affinity for the Hebrew prophets, especially Jeremiah, who was chosen by God to warn of impending disaster and commanded to keep at it, even though no one would listen for 40 years.

A brother, Jerry, died in July at 95, and another brother, Philip, died in 2002 at 79.

Father Berrigan seemed to reach a poet’s awareness of his place in the scheme of things, and that of his brother Philip, who left the priesthood for a married life of service to the poor and spent a total of 11 years in prison for disturbing the peace in one way or another before his death. While they both still lived, Daniel Berrigan wrote:

My brother and I stand like the fences
of abandoned farms, changed times
too loosely webbed against
deicide homicide
A really powerful blow
would bring us down like scarecrows.
Nature, knowing this, finding us mildly useful
indulging also
her backhanded love of freakishness
allows us to stand.

Christopher Mele contributed reporting.

A version of this article appears in print on May 1, 2016, on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: Daniel J. Berrigan, Defiant Priest Who Preached Pacifism, Dies at 94. Order Reprints| Today’s Paper|Subscribe

The Vindication of Edward Snowden May 12, 2015

Posted by rogerhollander in Constitution, Criminal Justice, Democracy, Surveillance, Surveillance State, Whistle-blowing.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

Roger’s note: I suppose, at least in theory, there may be a justification for a “state secrets” doctrine.  I could picture an extreme circumstance where the democratic right of the people and their representatives to know could be trumped because making information public could aid and abet an enemy in an imminently dangerous way.  Nevertheless, that doctrine has been used and abused over and over again to evade accountability; and I am not aware of a single case where it was used to avoid an actual danger.

But with respect to “legality,” I have often referred to a speech given many years ago by the notable civil liberties lawyer William Kunstler, which showed how some of the most noteworthy crimes in history — from the executions of Socrates and Jesus to the Nazi Holocaust — have been perpetrated under the color of “the Law.”  My point is that men (sic) make the laws and the victors write the history.  Take the issue under consideration in the following article, Snowden’s uncovering of NSA bulk surveillance.  A federal appeals court says it is illegal.  This will be appealed to the Supreme Court, which could well reverse with the result that was illegal one day becomes legal the next.

The Law and the judicial system are sacred and not to be taken lightly.  But in the final analysis, it comes down who holds political and economic and military power.  And in our world today those who own and operate monopoly capitalism are in the driver’s seat.  Justice will not come about until they are dislodged.



A federal appeals court has ruled that one of the NSA programs he exposed was illegal.
Mark Blinch / Reuters


Conor Friedersdorf  May 11, 2015  http://www.theatlantic.com

Edward Snowden’s most famous leak has just been vindicated. Since June 2013, when he revealed that the telephone calls of Americans are being logged en masse, his critics have charged that he took it upon himself to expose a lawful secret. They insisted that Congress authorized the phone dragnet when it passed the U.S.A. Patriot Act, citing Section 215, a part of the law that pertains to business records.

That claim was always suspect. The text of the law does not seem to authorize mass surveillance. A primary author and longtime champion of the law avows that Congress never intended to authorize the phone dragnet. And nothing like it was ever discussed during an extensive, controversy-filled debate about its provisions.

Now the wrongheadedness of the national-security state’s position has been confirmed.

A panel of judges on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last week that the program Snowden exposed was never legal. The Patriot Act does not authorize it, contrary to the claims of George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Michael Hayden, Keith Alexander, and James Clapper. “Statutes to which the government points have never been interpreted to authorize anything approaching the breadth of the sweeping surveillance at issue here,” Judge Gerard E. Lynch declared. “The sheer volume of information sought is staggering.”

Other conclusions reached by the three-judge panel include the following:

“The interpretation that the government asks us to adopt defies any limiting principle.”
“We would expect such a momentous decision to be preceded by substantial debate, and expressed in unmistakable language.There is no evidence of such a debate …”
“Congress cannot reasonably be said to have ratified a program of which many members of Congress—and all members of the public—were not aware … only a limited subset of members of Congress had a comprehensive understanding of the program…”
“Finding the government’s interpretation of the statute to have been ‘legislatively ratified’ under these circumstances would ignore reality.”

Consider what this means.

Telling the public about the phone dragnet didn’t expose a legitimate state secret. It exposed a violation of the constitutional order. For many years, the executive branch carried out a hugely consequential policy change that the legislature never approved. Tens of millions of innocent U.S. citizens were thus subject to invasions of privacy that no law authorized. And the NSA’s unlawful behavior would’ve continued, unknown to the public and unreviewed by Article III courts, but for Snowden’s leak, which caused the ACLU to challenge the illegal NSA program.

Snowden undeniably violated his promise to keep the NSA’s secrets.

But doing so was the only way to fulfill his higher obligation to protect and defend the Constitution, which was being violated by an executive branch exceeding its rightful authority and usurping the lawmaking function that belongs to the legislature. This analysis pertains only to the leaked documents that exposed the phone dragnet, not the whole trove of Snowden leaks, but with respect to that one set of documents there ought to be unanimous support for pardoning his disclosure.

Any punishment for revealing the phone dragnet would be unjust.

Now that a federal appeals court has found that Section 215 of the Patriot Act did not in fact authorize the policy, punishing a man for exposing the program would set this precedent: Whistleblowers will be punished for revealing illegal surveillance. That’s the position anyone who still wants Snowden prosecuted for that leak must take, if the ruling stands. (Other federal courts have issued rulings pointing in contrary directions, and this latest ruling will likely be appealed.)
Related Story

Does the PATRIOT Act Allow Bulk Surveillance?

Consider how this federal court ruling informs the debate over state secrets generally. Civil libertarians have long warned that secret national-security policies undermine both representative democracy and our system of checks and balances.

And that is exactly what happened with respect to the phone dragnet!

Let My People Go May 11, 2015

Posted by rogerhollander in Art, Literature and Culture, Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Torture, War on Terror.
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Roger’s note: I wish I knew a way to enlarge this picture.  Its bright colors and brilliant sunshine suggest the mind of an artist filled with optimism and hope.  Would you believe that it was painted by a Guantánamo detainee who has been cleared for release after years of illegal imprisonment yet languors in this hellhole because mean spirited American Republicans have the power to continue his torturous confinement?



On Thursday, CCR (Center for Constitutional Rights) Senior Staff Attorney Pardiss Kebriaei will be heading down to Guantánamo to visit several of CCR’s clients, including Ghaleb Al Bihani and Mohammed Al Hamiri. For men like Ghaleb and Mohammed, who have been cleared for release and yet remain trapped in Guantánamo because of politics, these visits are a lifeline and a way to hold onto a tenuous and fragile hope that they will someday be free again. “I’m working hard to recover that sense of being a human being which was stripped away from me,” Ghaleb told us in a recent letter. He was cleared for release a year ago after a Period Review Board (PRB) hearing at which he, Pardiss, and his team made the case for his release. His hopes raised then, he is fighting hard to keep them alive now. “I will not allow these conditions and circumstances to become a stumbling block into my unknown destiny. He who has will and determination has also strength.” Ghaleb’s case is playing out against the backdrop of debate in Washington around the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). House Republicans are hellbent on including new restrictions on Guantánamo transfers in the NDAA, dedicated to the seemingly sole purpose of ruining President Obama’s legacy. This week the Senate will mark up its bill, with a vote expected later this month. Politicians play games for cheap political gain while men like Ghaleb wonder if they will leave GITMO alive.

The Politics of ‘Looting’ and ‘Violence’ May 3, 2015

Posted by rogerhollander in Baltimore, Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Police, Race, Racism.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

Roger’s note: white middle class Americans cannot see anything at all legitimate in rioting and looting.  The black mother who chased down and assaulted her teen age son on the streets of Baltimore became and instant hero with white America and a favorite with the mass media.  The black middle and professional class also by and large eschews and condemns the kind of things that happen when anger gets “out of control.”  What came to pass in Baltimore this week is nothing new.  In my time there have been revolts in Watts (Los Angeles), Newark, Detroit, Miami, Cincinnati, New Orleans and probably a few that don’t come to mind at the moment.  In context, I consider breaking into a store and running off with a television a genuine revolutionary act, regardless of the conscious mindset of the perpetrator at the moment.  Well, this article says it better than I can.

Just let me add that there is not the slightest doubt in my mind that the so-called rioting and looting in Baltimore brought about immediate charges against the police officers responsible for Freddy Grey’s death in a way that no peaceful protesting could have done.  Am I advocating violence?  Absolutely not.  I am only underscoring the profound and inescapable wisdom of four simple words: “No Justice, No Peace.”




Baltimore and Beyond



Television screens throughout the US, and around the world, have broadcast in recent days images of Baltimore in crisis: young people of color on the streets clashing with police, protesters marching peacefully shoulder to shoulder, and a relatively small number of city residents taking food, toiletries, and consumer goods from stores. Naturally, the forces of political reaction both in the media and society at large have attempted to isolate these incidents – ‘looting’ they call it – in order to demonstrate the purported savagery and lawlessness of people and communities of color.

“You see?” the racist narrative goes, “They have no respect for property or the law,” or some such variation on this theme. However, as should be expected, the political and media establishment demonstrate an incredible degree of hypocrisy in portraying the events in such a manner. For while in 2015 media outlets such as the allegedly center-left MSNBC and CNN, and the unabashedly right wing FOX News, propagate a shamelessly racist narrative of “thugs” and “criminals” on the streets of Baltimore or Ferguson, these same media outlets almost without exception worked hand in hand with the Bush administration to justify similar actions in Iraq. So too have the media been complicit in presenting biased narratives of US wars in places like Libya and Syria where the media parroted Washington’s talking points to justify and/or condemn whichever actions were politically expedient at the time.

Examining the issue further, the questions of power and “otherness” are also unavoidable. When the powerless and marginalized – those who are not deemed worthy by the establishment – engage in such actions, they are described as violent thugs. When the powerful engage in far worse actions, they are deemed righteous. Whether it is the looting of cultural artifacts by British and French imperialists in Africa, the wholesale slaughter of indigenous peoples by American settlers, or the wholesale plunder and exploitation of entire continents, such actions are somehow justified by their historical context and role in modern social and cultural formation.

From Baltimore to Baghdad

Were one to examine the events of the last week in Baltimore purely through the lens of the corporate media and political class, one would get the sense that the actions of a small minority of the black community constitute egregious and criminal acts of savagery and barbarism, acts that could have no possible justification. Indeed, one could be forgiven for thinking so, as even President Obama (you know, “the First Black President”) had nothing but words of condemnation and contempt. As Obama explained to the media:

There’s no excuse for the kind of violence we saw yesterday. It is counterproductive…When individuals get crowbars and start prying open doors to loot, they’re not protesting. They’re not making a statement. They’re stealing. When they burn down a building, they’re committing arson… A handful of people [are] taking advantage of the situation for their own purposes, and they need to be treated as criminals.

Here Obama reveals not only an ignorance of the nature of these actions, but also a complete disregard for the systemic and institutionalized social and economic violence perpetrated against these communities for decades. While Obama waxes poetic about “property owners” being “stolen from” he has little to nothing to say about the fact that the people who live in those communities are almost entirely shut out from property ownership themselves; that the true owners are the real estate developers, speculators, financiers, and economic elites from the affluent communities. This is the class that perpetrates the true violence by exploiting the economic blight left by unequal wealth distribution, the elimination of employment opportunities, the breakdown of communities thanks to police violence, drug abuse, and countless other preventable phenomena that are the symptom, not the cause, of poverty and desperation. And make no mistake, it is poverty, desperation, and frustration that is transmogrified into violence.

But of course, Obama knows these things, he simply cannot address them as they are the fruits of the financial and political elites he serves. Make no mistake: the establishment understands perfectly the phenomenon of looting. As former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld articulated in the immediate aftermath of the US war on Iraq:

While no one condones looting, on the other hand, one can understand the pent-up feelings that may result from decades of repression and people who have had members of their family killed by that regime, for them to be taking their feelings out on that regime. And I don’t think there’s anyone in any of those pictures … (who wouldn’t) accept it as part of the price of getting from a repressed regime to freedom.

Reading such a statement devoid of context, one could be forgiven for thinking that it was made by activists in Baltimore, and not the Secretary of Defense in justification for the illegal war he and his cronies had just waged in Iraq. Do communities of color not have pent-up feelings resulting from decades of repression? Have not countless members of those communities had members of their families killed by the “Law and Order” regime that acts as an occupying force on their streets?

In its landmark report, the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement concluded through extensive research that a Black person is killed extra-judicially every 28 hours by law enforcement or quasi-law enforcement. Such brutal repression would certainly qualify as eliciting pent-up feelings of anger. And yet, Black youth in Baltimore are nothing but criminals according to Obama, the corporate media, and White America. Is it because of the objective value of their actions? Or is it because the sort of repression that they experience every day simply does not count because, rather than serving to legitimize the political and economic agenda of the ruling class, it challenges it, exposing it as fundamentally racist?

Indeed, it is power, not objective reality, which determines what is and is not acceptable violence. To take by force in Baghdad in 2003 is liberating and justified; to take by force in Baltimore in 2015 is violent “thuggery” and unjustifiable. The relation of any group to the agenda of power is the only determinant of righteousness and sin according to the morality of the Empire.

Hypocrisy: America’s Top Export

Sadly it is no surprise that the corporate media would spin a narrative of mindless violence and race riots, barbarism and chaos. The media exists not to inform, but to reflect the values and objectives of the forces that own and control it. It is interesting though to compare the portrayal of the events in Baltimore and Ferguson with other violent actions around the world.

When the US and its NATO allies were bombing in support of Al-Qaeda terrorists – affectionately referred to as rebels and freedom fighters – in Libya, there was little mention of the brutal trail of violence and bloodshed they left in their wake. The brutal lynchings and ethnic cleansing of black Libyans, and anyone else who opposed the foreign-backed aggression, was almost completely suppressed from the media narrative of the neat and tidy “war for democracy and freedom.” Such violence served Washington’s interests, therefore it was deemed to be unworthy of reportage.

Similarly in Syria, the US and its NATO-GCC-Turkey-Israel allies have been arming and financing terrorist forces infiltrating the country to wage war against the legitimate government. These terrorists have directly caused the deaths of tens of thousands (if not more) of innocent Syrians, to say nothing of the refugees and internally displaced whose lives have been forever shattered by the US-backed war on their country. However, this extreme violence is somehow acceptable in the service of the war against a “brutal regime” which, conveniently enough, presents a political obstacle to the Empire.

In Gaza however, a people living under a vicious and illegal occupation and inhuman siege are denied even the right to resist by the US and Israel. The Palestinians are portrayed as barbaric terrorists whose inhumanity is manifested by their each and every action. Never mind the fact that they have been robbed of their basic rights, had their homes destroyed, and their land stolen. Never mind the fact that their economy is suppressed by a military occupation, their employment opportunities almost non-existent, and their children made to live as second class citizens, racial inferiors to the Israeli settlers. Objectively speaking, a Palestinian is in many ways in a similar socio-economic position to many Black Americans in the poorest communities of color.

One could point to countless other examples, from the demonization of rebels in Eastern Ukraine fighting against a US-backed fascist-oligarch government that calls them “terrorists,” to the Sandinistas of Nicaragua, to the Serbs of the former Yugoslavia – all groups that have been crudely characterized as violent thugs because of their opposition to Washington’s favored groups. Conversely, the death squads of Central America, mujahideen of Afghanistan, Chechen extremists, and countless other terror groups, they are kindly referred to as “freedom fighters,” primarily because they fight for the freedom of the Empire to continue to make war and dictate the fate of peoples and nations.

It is power – political, economic, military – that draws the line between good and bad violence, between rebels and terrorists. It is the establishment that wields the power that determines when a rebellion in Baltimore is a violent riot, and when “taking” becomes “looting.” But of course, we’re not forced to accept these crude, bigoted, racist generalizations as truths to be held self-evident. We know what we’ve seen in Baltimore and Ferguson, just as what we see in Gaza, is not simply violence…it is resistance!

Eric Draitser is the founder of StopImperialism.org. He is an independent geopolitical analyst based in New York City. You can reach him at ericdraitser@gmail.com.


The Truth About Police Action Fatalities in America April 14, 2015

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Police.
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment


Roger’s note: I read a fascinating analysis of police killings in the United States (http://www.opednews.com/articles/The-Truth-About-Police-Act-by-Brian-Lynch-Armed-Police-Killing-People_Police-Coverup_Police-Culture_Police-Response-Tactics-150412-925.html) which used data from from a project that does intensive research to uncover the statistics that are largely not reported by police jurisdictions (KilledByPolice.net). This is the basic finding: “Between May 1, 2013 and April 4th, 2015 there were 2,181 people killed by police officers in the United States. That works out to around 95 per month or 3 police action fatalities per day.”

You can go to these sites and see for yourself the various breakdowns with respect to gender, race, age etc.  But here I just want to share with you this amazing statistic:

“To help put these numbers in an international context, there were only 70 civilians killed by the police in Great Britain in the last 90 years.”