The Vindication of Edward Snowden May 12, 2015Posted by rogerhollander in Constitution, Criminal Justice, Democracy, Surveillance, Surveillance State, Whistle-blowing.
Tags: aclu, bulk surveillance, conor friedersdorf, constitution, edward snowden, nsa, nsa secrets, patriot act, phone dragnet, roger hollander, state secrets, surveillance state, whistle blower, whistleblower
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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.)
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, 2015Posted by rogerhollander in Art, Literature and Culture, Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Torture, War on Terror.
Tags: ccr, constitutional rights, Criminal Justice, ghaleb al bihani, Guantanamo, mohammed al hamiri, pardiss kebriaei, republicans, roger hollander, torture
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, 2015Posted by rogerhollander in Baltimore, Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Police, Race, Racism.
Tags: baltimore, eric draitser, freddie gray, freddie grey, looting, marilyn mosby, no justice no peace, police, police killing, Race, racism, rioting, roger hollander
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Truth About Police Action Fatalities in America April 14, 2015Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Police.
Tags: killed by police, police, police brutality, police coverup, police fatalities, police great britain, police killings, police statistics, roger hollander, us police
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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.”
Tags: amazon watch, chevron, chevron ecuador, chevron oil spill, Ecuador, ecuadorian amazon, environment, lauren mccauley, oil spill, roger hollander, whistleblower
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Roger’s note: who is more likely to face legal consequences: Chevron or the whistleblower? And how does this relate to our capitalist political/economic reality where the distinction between corporate wealth and government becomes smaller by the day?
Videos sent to Amazon Watch described as ‘a true treasure trove of Chevron misdeeds and corporate malfeasance’
In what is being described as “smoking gun evidence” of Chevron’s complete guilt and corruption in the case of an oil spill in the Ecuadorian Amazon, internal videos leaked to an environmental watchdog show company technicians finding and then mocking the extensive oil contamination in areas that the oil giant told courts had been restored.
A Chevron whistleblower reportedly sent “dozens of DVDs” to U.S.-based Amazon Watch with a handwritten note stating: “I hope this is useful for you in your trial against Texaco/Chevron. [signed] A Friend from Chevron.”
The videos were all titled “pre-inspection” with dates and places of the former oil production sites where judicially-supervised inspections were set to take place. The footage was recorded by Chevron during an earlier visit to the site to determine where clean samples could be taken.
According to Amazon Watch’s description of the tapes:
Chevron employees and consultants can be heard joking about clearly visible pollution in soil samples being pulled out of the ground from waste pits that Chevron testified before both U.S. and Ecuadorian courts had been remediated in the mid-1990s.
In a March 2005 video, a Chevron employee, named Rene, taunts a company consultant, named Dave, at well site Shushufindi 21: “… you keep finding oil in places where it shouldn’t have been…. Nice job, Dave. Give you one simple task: Don’t find petroleum.”
“This is smoking gun evidence that shows Chevron hands are dirty—first for contaminating the region, and then for manipulating and hiding critical evidence,” said Paul Paz y Miño, Amazon Watch’s director of outreach.
In February 2011, an Ecuadorian court found the oil giant guilty and ordered Chevron to pay $8 billion in environmental damages, a ruling the company called “illegitimate” and vowed to fight. In 2014, a U.S. federal court judge sided with Chevron and threw out that ruling, arguing that it was obtained through “corrupt means.” On April 20, a federal appellate court in Manhattan will hear oral argument in the appeal of those charges.
“While its technicians were engaging in fraud in the field, Chevron’s management team was launching a campaign to demonize the Ecuadorians and their lawyers as a way to distract attention from the company’s reckless misconduct,” Paz y Miño added.
Chevron never turned over any of the secret videos to the Ecuador court conducting the trial. Nor did the company submit its pre-inspection sampling results to the court.
In a blog post on Wednesday, Amazon Watch Ecuador program coordinator Kevin Koenig explains how, after receiving the tapes, his organization turned them over to the legal team representing the affected Indigenous and farmer communities.
“The videos are a true treasure trove of Chevron misdeeds and corporate malfeasance,” he writes. “And, ironically, Chevron itself proved their authenticity.”
When the plaintiffs’ lawyers tried to use the videos in court to cross-examine a Chevron “scientist”, the company objected.
A letter sent by Chevron’s legal firm Gibson Dunn to counsel for the communities states, “These videos are Chevron’s property, and are confidential documents and/or protected litigation work product. Chevron demands that you provide detailed information about how your firm acquired these videos and your actions with respect to them… In addition to providing this information, Chevron demands that you promptly return the improperly obtained videos and all copies of them by sending them to my attention at the above address.”
Chevron is now free to view them on YouTube.
“These explosive videos confirm what the Ecuadorian Supreme Court has found after reviewing the evidence: that Chevron has lied for years about its pollution problem in Ecuador,” Koenig added.
Chevron has admitted to dumping nearly 16 billion gallons of toxic oil drilling wastewater into rivers and streams relied upon by thousands of people for drinking, bathing, and fishing. The company also abandoned hundreds of unlined, open waste pits filled with crude, sludge, and oil drilling chemicals throughout the Ecuadorian Amazon.
General David Petraeus: Too Big To Jail March 8, 2015Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Economic Crisis, Whistle-blowing.
Tags: afghanistan surge, chelsea manning, Criminal Justice, David Petraeus, edward snowden, eric holder, General Petraeus, iraq surge, john kiriakou, paula broadwell, ray mcgovern, subprime, whistle-blowing
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Roger’s note: recently I have been posting articles about despicable human beings (Churchill, General Patton) who have become heroes in the public domain as a result of a phenomenon I refer to as “in the capitalist world for the most part the shit rises to the top.” This theory can be demonstrated in a single word: “Bush.” In our time such cretinous creatures as Henry Kissinger and Dick Cheney have wielded enormous power over long periods of time and live lives of luxurious comfort while literally millions suffer from their actions. Welcome to the Hall of Shame, General Petraeus.
While lesser Americans face years in jail for leaking secrets – even to inform fellow citizens of government abuses – retired Gen. David Petraeus gets a misdemeanor wrist-slap for exposing covert officers and lying about it
The leniency shown former CIA Director (and retired General) David Petraeus by the Justice Department in sparing him prison time for the serious crimes that he has committed puts him in the same preferential, immune-from-incarceration category as those running the financial institutions of Wall Street, where, incidentally, Petraeus now makes millions. By contrast, “lesser” folks – and particularly the brave men and women who disclose government crimes – get to serve time, even decades, in jail.
Petraeus is now a partner at KKR, a firm specializing in large leveraged buyouts, and his hand-slap guilty plea to a misdemeanor for mishandling government secrets should not interfere with his continued service at the firm. KKR’s founders originally worked at Bear Stearns, the institution that failed in early 2008 at the beginning of the meltdown of the investment banking industry later that year.
Despite manifestly corrupt practices like those of subprime mortgage lenders, none of those responsible went to jail after the 2008-09 financial collapse which cost millions of Americans their jobs and homes. The bailed-out banks were judged “too big to fail” and the bankers “too big to jail.”
Two years ago, in a highly revealing slip of the tongue, Attorney General Eric Holder explained to Congress that it can “become difficult” to prosecute major financial institutions because they are so large that a criminal charge could pose a threat to the economy – or perhaps what he meant was an even bigger threat to the economy.
Holder tried to walk back his unintended slip into honesty a year later, claiming, “There is no such thing as ‘too big to jail.’” And this bromide was dutifully echoed by Holder’s likely successor, Loretta Lynch, at her confirmation hearing in late January.
Words, though, are cheap. The proof is in the pudding. It remains true that not one of the crooked bankers or investment advisers who inflicted untold misery on ordinary people, gambling away much of their life savings, has been jailed. Not one.
And now Petraeus, who gave his biographer/mistress access to some of the nation’s most sensitive secrets and then lied about it to the FBI, has also been shown to be too big to jail. Perhaps Holder decided it would be a gentlemanly thing to do on his way out of office – to take this awkward issue off Lynch’s initial to-do list and spare her the embarrassment of demonstrating once again that equality under the law has become a mirage; that not only big banks, but also big shots like Petraeus – who was Official Washington’s most beloved general before becoming CIA director – are, in fact, too big to jail.
It strikes me, in a way, as fitting that even on his way out the door, Eric Holder would not miss the opportunity to demonstrate his propensity for giving hypocrisy a bad name.
A Slap on Wrist for Serious Crimes
The Justice Department let David Petraeus cop a plea after requiring him to admit that he had shared with his biographer/mistress eight black notebooks containing highly classified information and then lied about it to FBI investigators. Serious crimes? The following quotes are excerpted from “U.S. v. David Howell Petraeus: Factual Basis in support of the Plea Agreement” offered by the U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina, Charlotte Division:
“17. During his tenure as Commander of ISAF in Afghanistan, defendant DAVID HOWELL PETRAEUS maintained bound, five-by-eight-inch notebooks that contained his daily schedule and classified and unclassified notes he took during official meetings, conferences, and briefings. … A total of eight such books (hereinafter the “Black Books”) encompassed the period of defendant DAVID HOWELL PETRAEUS’S ISAF [Afghanistan] command and collectively contained classified information regarding the identities of covert officers, war strategy, intelligence capabilities and mechanisms, diplomatic discussions, quotes and deliberative discussions from high-level National Security Council meetings, and defendant DAVID HOWELL PETRAEUS’s discussions with the President of the United States of America. [emphasis added]
“18. The Black Books contained national defense information, including Top Secret//SCI and code word information.”
Despite the sensitivity of the notebooks and existing law and regulations, Petraeus did not surrender them to proper custody when he returned to the U.S. after being nominated to become the Director of the CIA. According to the Court’s “Factual Basis,” Petraeus’s biographer/mistress recorded a conversation of Aug. 4, 2011, in which she asks about the “Black Books.” The Court statement continues:
“ [Petraeus] ‘Umm, well, they’re really – I mean they are highly classified, some of them. … I mean there’s code word stuff in there.’ … On or about August 27, 2011, defendant DAVID HOWELL PETRAEUS sent an email to his biographer in which he agreed to provide the Black Books to his biographer. … On or about August 28, 2011, defendant DAVID HOWEL PETRAEUS delivered the Black Books to a private residence in Washington, D.C. where his biographer was staying. … On or about September 1, 2011, defendant DAVID HOWELL PETRAEUS retrieved the Black Books from the D.C. private residence and returned them to his own Arlington, Virginia home.” [emphasis added]
I would think it a safe guess that Petraeus’s timing can be attributed to his awareness that his privacy and freedom of movement was about to be greatly diminished, once his CIA personal security detail started keeping close track of him from his first day on the job as CIA Director, Sept. 6, 2011.
“32. On or about October 26, 2012, defendant DAVID HOWELL PETRAEUS was interviewed by two FBI special agents. … [He] was advised that the special agents were conducting a criminal investigation. … PETRAEUS stated that (a) he had never provided any classified information to his biographer, and (b) he had never facilitated the provision of classified information to his biographer. These statements were false. Defendant DAVID HOWELL PETRAEUS then and there knew that he previously shared the Black Books with his biographer.” [emphasis added]
Lying to the FBI? No problem. As “Expose Facts” blogger Marcy Wheeler immediately commented: “For lying to the FBI – a crime that others go to prison for for months and years – Petraeus will just get a two point enhancement on his sentencing guidelines. The Department of Justice basically completely wiped out the crime of covering up his crime of leaking some of the country’s most sensitive secrets to his mistress.” [emphasis added]
Talk about “prosecutorial discretion” or, in this case, indiscretion – giving Petraeus a fine and probation but no felony conviction or prison time for what he did! Lesser lights are not so fortunate. Just ask Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning who is serving a 35-year prison sentence for disclosing information to the public about U.S. war crimes and other abuses. Or Edward Snowden, who is stuck in Russia facing a U.S. indictment on espionage charges for informing the people about pervasive and unconstitutional U.S. government surveillance of common citizens.
Or former CIA officer John Kiriakou who was sent to prison for inadvertently revealing the name of one Agency official cognizant of CIA torture. Here’s what Neil MacBride, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, said then: “The government has a vital interest in protecting the identities of those involved in covert operations. Leaks of highly sensitive, closely held and classified information compromise national security and can put individual lives in danger.”
When, on Oct. 23, 2012, Kiriakou acquiesced to a plea deal requiring two-and-a-half years in federal prison, then CIA Director Petraeus sent a sanctimonious Memorandum to Agency employees applauding Kiriakou’s conviction and noting, “It marks an important victory for our agency … there are indeed consequences for those who believe they are above the laws that protect our fellow officers and enable American intelligence agencies to operate with the requisite degree of secrecy.” [emphasis added]
Consequences for Kiriakou but not, as we now know, for Petraeus.
If you feel no discomfort at this selective application of the law, you might wish to scroll or page back to the “Factual Basis” for Petraeus’s Plea Agreement and be reminded that it was just three days after his lecture to CIA employees about the sanctity of protecting the identity of covert agents that Petraeus lied to FBI investigators – on Oct. 26, 2012 – about his sharing such details with his mistress.
Why Did Petraeus Do It?
Old soldiers like Petraeus (indeed, most aging but still ambitious men) have been known to end up doing self-destructive things by letting themselves be flattered by the attentions of younger women. This may offer a partial explanation – human weakness even in a self-styled larger-than-life super-Mensch. But I see the motivation as mostly vainglory. (The two are not mutually exclusive, of course.)
Looking back at Petraeus’s record of overweening ambition, it seems likely he was motivated first and foremost by a desire to ensure that his biographer would be able to extract from the notebooks some juicy morsels he may not have remembered to tell her about. This might enhance his profile as Warrior-Scholar-“King David,” the image that he has assiduously cultivated and promoted, with the help of an adulating neocon-dominated media.
Petraeus’s presidential ambitions have been an open secret. And with his copping a plea to a misdemeanor, his “rehabilitation” seems to have already begun. He has told friends that he would like to serve again in government and they immediately relayed that bright hope to the media.
Sen. John McCain was quick to call the whole matter “closed.” A strong supporter of Petraeus, McCain added this fulsome praise: “At a time of grave security challenges around the world, I hope that General Petraeus will continue to provide his outstanding service and leadership to our nation, as he has throughout his distinguished career.”
And Michael O’Hanlon, Brookings’ neocon military specialist who rarely gets anything right, spoke true to form to the New York Times: “The broader nation needs his advice, and I think it’s been evident that people still want to hear from him. … People are forgiving and I know he made a mistake. But he’s also a national hero and a national treasure.”
The “mainstream media” is trapped in its undeserved adulation for Petraeus’s “heroism.” It is virtually impossible, for example, for them to acknowledge that his ballyhooed, official-handout-based “success” in training and equipping tens of thousands of crack Iraqi troops was given the lie when those same troops ran away (the officers took helicopters) and left their weapons behind at the first sight of ISIL fighters a year ago.
Equally sham were media claims of the “success” for the “surges” of 30,000 troops sent into Iraq (2007) and 33,000 into Afghanistan (2009). Each “surge” squandered the lives of about 1,000 U.S. troops for nothing – yes, nothing – except in the case of Iraq buying time for President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney to get out of town without a clear-cut defeat hanging around their necks.
Many of the supposed successes of Petraeus’s Iraqi “surge” also predated the “surge,” including a high-tech program for killing top militants such as Al-Qaeda-in-Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and the formation of the so-called Sunni Awakening, both occurring in 2006 under the previous field commanders. And, Bush’s principal goal of the “surge” – to create political space for a fuller Sunni-Shiite reconciliation – was never accomplished. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The Surge Myth’s Deadly Result.”]
And last, it is important to note that David Petraeus does not have a corner on the above-the-law attitudes and behavior of previous directors of the CIA. The kid-gloves treatment he has been accorded, however, will increase chances that future directors will feel they can misbehave seriously and suffer no serious personal consequence.
The virtual immunity enjoyed by the well connected – even when they lie to the FBI or tell whoppers in sworn testimony to Congress (as Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has done) – feeds the propensity to prioritize one’s own personal ambition and to delegate a back seat to legitimate national security concerns – even basic things like giving required protection to properly classified information, including the identity of covert officers.
One might call this all-too-common syndrome Self-Aggrandizing Dismissiveness (SAD). Sadly, Petraeus is merely the latest exemplar of the SAD syndrome. The unbridled ambitions of some of his predecessors at CIA – the arrogant John Deutch, for example – have been equally noxious and destructive. But we’ll leave that for the next chapter.
Full Disclosure: Petraeus has not yet answered McGovern’s letter of Feb. 3 regarding why McGovern was barred from a public speaking event by Petraeus in New York City on Oct. 30, 2014, and then was roughly arrested by police and jailed for the night. McGovern wonders if Petraeus failed to respond because he was pre-occupied working out his Plea Agreement.
Why Does the FBI Have to Manufacture its Own Plots if Terrorism and ISIS Are Such Grave Threats? February 28, 2015Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, War on Terror.
Tags: counterterrorism, entrapment, fbi, fbi informant, glenn greenwald, isil, isis, islamic state, roger hollander, terror plot, terrorism, war on terror
Roger’s note: some of us remember the days when it was joked that the American Communist Party would go broke if the undercover FBI agent members failed to pay their dues. We also remember Herb Philbrick, the intrepid hero of the television series “I Led Three Lives,” who in each episode as a double agent uncovered one Russian Commie plot after another to sabotage American industry or security. The Imperial rulers need an enemy in order for it to pose as a victim and justify its aggressions. This phenomenon goes back at least as far as the Roman Empire. Today we have “terrorists” hiding under every bed. You’d better check yours before you go to sleep tonight (although it may be as likely an FBI agent there as an actual fully fledged time bomb toting terrorist).
New York Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, right, speaks during a news conference at police headquarters, Wednesday, Feb. 25, 2015, in New York, regarding three men who were arrested on charges of plotting to travel to Syria to join the Islamic State group and wage war against the U.S. Bratton is joined by assistant director in charge of the FBI’s New York field office Diego Rodriguez, second from right, NYPD chief of counterterrorism James Waters, second from left, and Bill Sweeney special agent in charge of the counterterrorism division of the New York field office. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
The FBI and major media outlets yesterday trumpeted the agency’s latest counterterrorism triumph: the arrest of three Brooklyn men, ages 19 to 30, on charges of conspiring to travel to Syria to fight for ISIS (photo of joint FBI/NYPD press conference, above). As my colleague Murtaza Hussain ably documents, “it appears that none of the three men was in any condition to travel or support the Islamic State, without help from the FBI informant.” One of the frightening terrorist villains told the FBI informant that, beyond having no money, he had encountered a significant problem in following through on the FBI’s plot: his mom had taken away his passport. Noting the bizarre and unhinged ranting of one of the suspects, Hussain noted on Twitter that this case “sounds like another victory for the FBI over the mentally ill.”
In this regard, this latest arrest appears to be quite similar to the overwhelming majority of terrorism arrests the FBI has proudly touted over the last decade. As my colleague Andrew Fishman and I wrote last month — after the FBI manipulated a 20-year-old loner who lived with his parents into allegedly agreeing to join an FBI-created plot to attack the Capitol — these cases follow a very clear pattern:
The known facts from this latest case seem to fit well within a now-familiar FBI pattern whereby the agency does not disrupt planned domestic terror attacks but rather creates them, then publicly praises itself for stopping its own plots.
First, they target a Muslim: not due to any evidence of intent or capability to engage in terrorism, but rather for the “radical” political views he expresses. In most cases, the Muslim targeted by the FBI is a very young (late teens, early 20s), adrift, unemployed loner who has shown no signs of mastering basic life functions, let alone carrying out a serious terror attack, and has no known involvement with actual terrorist groups.
They then find another Muslim who is highly motivated to help disrupt a “terror plot”: either because they’re being paid substantial sums of money by the FBI or because (as appears to be the case here) they are charged with some unrelated crime and are desperate to please the FBI in exchange for leniency (or both). The FBI then gives the informant a detailed attack plan, and sometimes even the money and other instruments to carry it out, and the informant then shares all of that with the target. Typically, the informant also induces, lures, cajoles, and persuades the target to agree to carry out the FBI-designed plot. In some instances where the target refuses to go along, they have their informant offer huge cash inducements to the impoverished target.
Once they finally get the target to agree, the FBI swoops in at the last minute, arrests the target, issues a press release praising themselves for disrupting a dangerous attack (which it conceived of, funded, and recruited the operatives for), and the DOJ and federal judges send their target to prison for years or even decades (where they are kept in special GITMO-like units). Subservient U.S. courts uphold the charges by applying such a broad and permissive interpretation of “entrapment” that it could almost never be successfully invoked.
One can, if one really wishes, debate whether the FBI should be engaging in such behavior. For reasons I and many others have repeatedly argued, these cases are unjust in the extreme: a form of pre-emptory prosecution where vulnerable individuals are targeted and manipulated not for any criminal acts they have committed but rather for the bad political views they have expressed. They end up sending young people to prison for decades for “crimes” which even their sentencing judges acknowledge they never would have seriously considered, let alone committed, in the absence of FBI trickery. It’s hard to imagine anyone thinking this is a justifiable tactic, but I’m certain there are people who believe that. Let’s leave that question to the side for the moment in favor of a different issue.
We’re constantly bombarded with dire warnings about the grave threat of home-grown terrorists, “lone wolf” extremists and ISIS. So intensified are these official warnings that The New York Times earlier this month cited anonymous U.S. intelligence officials to warn of the growing ISIS threat and announce “the prospect of a new global war on terror.”
But how serious of a threat can all of this be, at least domestically, if the FBI continually has to resort to manufacturing its own plots by trolling the Internet in search of young drifters and/or the mentally ill whom they target, recruit and then manipulate into joining? Does that not, by itself, demonstrate how over-hyped and insubstantial this “threat” actually is? Shouldn’t there be actual plots, ones that are created and fueled without the help of the FBI, that the agency should devote its massive resources to stopping?
This FBI tactic would be akin to having the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) constantly warn of the severe threat posed by drug addiction while it simultaneously uses pushers on its payroll to deliberately get people hooked on drugs so that they can arrest the addicts they’ve created and thus justify their own warnings and budgets (and that kind of threat-creation, just by the way, is not all that far off from what the other federal law enforcement agencies, like the FBI, are actually doing). As we noted the last time we wrote about this, the Justice Department is aggressively pressuring U.S. allies to employ these same entrapment tactics in order to create their own terrorists, who can then be paraded around as proof of the grave threat.
Threats that are real, and substantial, do not need to be manufactured and concocted. Indeed, as the blogger Digby, citing Juan Cole, recently showed, run-of-the-mill “lone wolf” gun violence is so much of a greater threat to Americans than “domestic terror” by every statistical metric that it’s almost impossible to overstate the disparity:
In that regard, it is not difficult to understand why “domestic terror” and “homegrown extremism” are things the FBI is desperately determined to create. But this FBI terror-plot concoction should, by itself, suffice to demonstrate how wildly exaggerated this threat actually is.
Photo: Mary Altaffer/AP
UPDATE: The ACLU of Massachusetts’s Kade Crockford notes this extraordinarily revealing quote from former FBI assistant director Thomas Fuentes, as he defends one of the worst FBI terror “sting” operations of all (the Cromitie prosecution we describe at length here):
If you’re submitting budget proposals for a law enforcement agency, for an intelligence agency, you’re not going to submit the proposal that “We won the war on terror and everything’s great,” cuz the first thing that’s gonna happen is your budget’s gonna be cut in half. You know, it’s my opposite of Jesse Jackson’s ‘Keep Hope Alive’—it’s ‘Keep Fear Alive.’ Keep it alive.
That is the FBI’s terrorism strategy — keep fear alive — and it drives everything they do.
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Jeb ‘Put Me Through Hell’ February 27, 2015Posted by rogerhollander in Constitution, Criminal Justice, Jeb Bush, Right Wing.
Tags: 2016 election, bob schindler, jeb bush, jeff nguyen, michael kruse, michael schiavo, right to life, right wing, roger hollander, roman catholic, terri schiavo, terri's law
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Roger’s note: I post this article so that you can get an idea of what kind of man is the very possible next US president. This is a well researched piece of investigative journalism, and the apparent reason for this labor is to warn of us of a possible future president who is an uncompromising ideologue who puts himself above the law. Now, I have no love for Jeb Bush, but I find something ironic in this.
Most presidents do in fact put themselves above the law and usually get away with it. Poor Dick Nixon put himself so far above the law that he ended up hoisted on his own petard. He is the exception. The current and penultimate president have taken this putting themselves above the law to new heights (including but not limited to brutal torture, drone missile mass murder and presidential kill lists). Tricky Dick would be envious. Irony number one, you can warn us all you want about Jeb Bush, but you can bet on the fact that whomever becomes the next president — from super-hawk Democrat Hillary Clinton to the wackiest of the Republican menagerie — will continue in this honored tradition.
Irony number two: as you will see, in the end Bush did in fact respect the law when all political channels had been exhausted, and, as you will also see, the nut case murderous pro-lifers (sic) saw him thus as a traitor to the cause.
Finally, thanks to Jeff Nguyen for posting this on his excellent Blog (www.deconstructingmyths.com).
Posted on January 19, 2015by Jeff Nguyen
Once in a while I come across an article that, in my not-so-humble opinion, is so outstanding, I want to share it with anyone who will listen. I especially enjoy long-form articles which can provide a venue for deep dives into genres such as creative nonfiction or narrative journalism. I would now like to present the Longform series…
Jeb ‘Put Me Through Hell’
By Michael Kruse
CLEARWATER, Fla.—Sitting recently on his brick back patio here, Michael Schiavo called Jeb Bush a vindictive, untrustworthy coward.
For years, the self-described “average Joe” felt harassed, targeted and tormented by the most important person in the state.
“It was a living hell,” he said, “and I blame him.”
Michael Schiavo was the husband of Terri Schiavo, the brain-dead woman from the Tampa Bay area who ended up at the center of one of the most contentious, drawn-out conflicts in the history of America’s culture wars. The fight over her death lasted almost a decade. It started as a private legal back-and-forth between her husband and her parents. Before it ended, it moved from circuit courts to district courts to state courts to federal courts, to the U.S. Supreme Court, from the state legislature in Tallahassee to Congress in Washington. The president got involved. So did the pope.
But it never would have become what it became if not for the dogged intervention of the governor of Florida at the time, the second son of the 41st president, the younger brother of the 43rd, the man who sits near the top of the extended early list of likely 2016 Republican presidential candidates. On sustained, concentrated display, seen in thousands of pages of court records and hundreds of emails he sent, was Jeb the converted Catholic, Jeb the pro-life conservative, Jeb the hands-on workaholic, Jeb the all-hours emailer—confident, competitive, powerful, obstinate Jeb. Longtime watchers of John Ellis Bush say what he did throughout the Terri Schiavo case demonstrates how he would operate in the Oval Office. They say it’s the Jebbest thing Jeb’s ever done.
The case showed he “will pursue whatever he thinks is right, virtually forever,” said Aubrey Jewett, a political science professor at the University of Central Florida. “It’s a theme of Jeb’s governorship: He really pushed executive power to the limits.”
“If you want to understand Jeb Bush, he’s guided by principle over convenience,” said Dennis Baxley, a Republican member of the Florida House of Representatives during Bush’s governorship and still. “He may be wrong about something, but he knows what he believes.”
And what he believed in this case, and what he did, said Miami’s Dan Gelber, a Democratic member of the state House during Bush’s governorship, “probably was more defining than I suspect Jeb would like.”
For Michael Schiavo, though, the importance of the episode—Bush’s involvement from 2003 to 2005, and what it might mean now for his almost certain candidacy—is even more viscerally obvious.
Jeb Bush speaks to reporters during a news conference about Terri Schiavo on March 18, 2005. | AP Photo
“He should be ashamed,” he said. “And I think people really need to know what type of person he is. To bring as much pain as he did, to me and my family, that should be an issue.”
November 10, 1984, is when they got married; February 25, 1990, is when she collapsed, early in the morning, in their apartment in St. Petersburg, for reasons that never were determined with specificity but had something to do with a potassium imbalance probably caused by aggressive dieting. Michael Schiavo woke up when he heard her fall. She was facedown, feet in the bathroom, head in the hall. He called 911. Police noted in their report “no signs of trauma to her head or face.” The ambulance raced to the closest hospital, but her heart had stopped, robbing her brain of oxygen, and the damage was catastrophic. A court named her husband her guardian that June. Her parents didn’t object. All of this was before Bush was elected. And after years of rehabilitation, of waiting for any sign of improvement and seeing none, Michael Schiavo decided to remove the feeding tube that kept his wife alive, saying she had told him and others she never would’ve wanted to be this way.
To this, Terri Schiavo’s parents objected. Bob and Mary Schindler, Catholics, argued that their daughter, also Catholic, would want to live, even so debilitated.
She had left no will. No written instructions. She was 26. To try to determine what she would have wanted, there was a trial, in the Pinellas County courtroom of circuit judge George Greer, in which Michael Schiavo relayed what she had told him in passing about what her wishes would be in this sort of scenario. Others did, too. She also had next to no chance of recovery, according to doctors’ testimony. Greer cited “overwhelming credible evidence” that Terri Schiavo was “totally unresponsive” with “severe structural brain damage” and that “to a large extent her brain has been replaced by spinal fluid.” His judgment was that she would not have wanted to live in her “persistent vegetative state” and that Michael Schiavo, her husband and her legal guardian, was allowed to remove her feeding tube.
“DONE AND ORDERED,” he wrote on February 11, 2000.
The St. Petersburg Times had covered the trial. Bush, a year and a month into his first term, started hearing about it almost immediately. Staffers replied at first with a variety of form responses.
“The Florida Constitution prohibits the Governor’s intervention in matters that should be resolved through the court system,” read one. But here’s what else it said: “As a concerned citizen, you have the opportunity to influence legislation pertaining to guardianship matters in cases similar to Terri’s. By contacting your local legislative delegation, such as your senator or representative, new legislation can be introduced. If such a bill ever comes before the Governor for signature, he will certainly remember your views.”
Bush couldn’t do anything. Laws didn’t let him. But that didn’t mean he didn’t want to. He did.
He heard from Terri Schiavo’s father in April 2001. “Allow me to introduce myself,” Bob Schindler wrote in an email. He told the governor his daughter had been “falsely depicted” as a “hopeless vegetable.” He told the governor she was indeed “responsive to family and friends.” “I desperately need your help,” he said, adding that “Terri’s case may be beyond your realm of authority”—Schindler knew it, too—“but I sincerely believe you could be helpful.”
Staffers didn’t respond to Bob Schindler’s email. The governor did.
Mr. Schindler, thank you for writing. I am asking that Charles Canady look into your daughter’s case.
Canady had been a Republican member of the United States House of Representatives. He later would be an appellate judge in Florida. He is now a state Supreme Court judge. At the time, though, he was Bush’s top staff attorney.
Meanwhile, the Schindlers appealed, asking for new trials, asking for delays, asking for Greer to recuse himself, asking to remove Michael Schiavo as her guardian based on unproven allegations of abuse and neglect and because he now was living with another woman with whom he had children, asking for new doctors who might make new diagnoses—and they were sufficiently successful to stretch the case into the summer of 2003. Media coverage had intensified, especially on conservative talk radio and websites, and activists convinced the Schindlers to violate a court order and post on the Internet snippets of videos of their daughter appearing to respond to what was going on around her. They also continued their zealous email campaign to attempt to prevent what they saw as imminent court-dictated murder. The top target of their efforts? Bush.
“I’m really limited on what I can do,” the governor reiterated to the conservative online publication World Net Daily in August. A judge had made a decision. Other judges had upheld the decision.
The emails flooded the governor’s inbox.
Bush responded by sending a letter to Greer. He acknowledged it was out of the ordinary. “I normally would not address a letter to the judge in a pending legal proceeding,” Bush wrote. “However, my office has received over 27,000 emails reflecting understandable concern for the well-being of Terri Schiavo.”
Greer said he respected the governor’s position. Then he put the letter with everything else in the already massive file.
“This isn’t his concern,” Michael Schiavo told reporters, “and he should stay out of it.”
He didn’t. Bush filed a federal court brief on October 7 supporting the Schindlers’ efforts. A judge said his court lacked the jurisdiction to do anything.
The feeding tube was to come out on October 15.
Bush met with the Schindlers. He told them his staff attorneys were conferring with experts on the Florida Constitution to see if he could intervene. “He does not have the authority to overrule a court order,” his spokesman told reporters.
The emails didn’t stop.
They came from all over the country. They begged him. They used capital letters. They used exclamation points. They told him to talk to God. They told him there were laws higher than man’s laws and that he, as a Catholic like Terri Schiavo, like her parents, should know that and should act on it and that he had to. “DO NOT LET HER DIE!!!” said a man from Michigan. “Let’s see what kind of compassionate conservative you really are,” said a man from Jacksonville. “If you have any aspirations for a higher office,” said a man from California, “don’t let this be the rallying cry for those who would oppose you.”
To most of them, he didn’t respond—to many, though, he did.
“It is very sad,” he wrote.
“I cannot issue an executive order when there is a court order upheld at every level in the judiciary. … I wish I could but I have no legal authority to do so,” he wrote.
“I am sickened by this situation and pray for her family. We have looked at every angle, every legal possibility, and will continue to do so,” he wrote.
The emails kept coming.
“I hope George W. Bush is president some day,” former Republican Party chairman Rich Bond told the late Marjorie Williams, writing for Talk magazine in September 2000. “I know Jeb will be.”
“I want to be able to look my father in the eye and say, ‘I continued the legacy,’” he told the Miami Herald in 1994.
That year, he ran for governor of Florida—as an ultra-conservative, a “head-banging conservative,” as he put it—and lost. In 1998, he ran again, sanding those hard-right edges—and won.
But one constant from the first campaign to the next and beyond: what Bush said he believed was the right role of government. “Government needs to be constrained,” he said in speeches in 1994. “We should be finding practical solutions where we provide incentives for people to take care of themselves.” “Our lack of self-governance is the single biggest reason we’ve seen the growth of government,” he said in 1995. “Good government,” he wrote that year in his book Profiles in Character, “is grounded in its limitations.”
In 1999, in his first inaugural address, he said, “let state government give families and individuals greater freedom”—also, though, “let state government touch the spiritual face of Florida.” In the speech, he mentioned “our Creator” and “the Divine Giver” and said “state government can draw much from these reservoirs of faith.” He was raised as an Episcopalian but became a Catholic because that’s how his Mexican wife grew up. It also suited his disposition. He wrote in Profiles in Character that he believed in the need for a “renewal of virtue” and “passing moral judgments.” He once said “the conservative side” of an issue is “the correct one” because “it just is.”
Bush, 6-foot-4 and stout, quickly established himself as the most powerful governor in Florida history, according to University of North Florida political science professor Matthew Corrigan and others. His ascension coincided with both houses of the state legislature being Republican majorities for the first time since Reconstruction. Voters also opted to alter the state constitution to shrink the size of the cabinet, leaving the governor, the position itself, with more executive power. Bush did a lot with it. He was reelected in 2002, easily, winning 61 of the state’s 67 counties. By this time, of course, his brother was the president.
“He didn’t get told no very often,” Corrigan said.
“My gift, perhaps,” Bush would say toward the end of his two-term tenure, in an interview with the Tampa Tribune, “is that with this office now, we’ve shown that governors can be activist …”
So on October 15, 2003, Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube came out. Judge’s orders. She would die within two weeks. This stage of the case looks in retrospect like the start of a test. Just how much power did Jeb Bush have?
HB 35E was filed after 8 at night on October 20. Many lawmakers already were gone for the day. Gelber, the state representative from Miami, put his suit back on at his apartment in Tallahassee and hustled back to the Capitol. Fellow Democrats gathered around as the attorney and former prosecutor began to read the bill one of Bush’s staff attorneys had helped to write.
“Authority for the Governor to Issue a One-time Stay …”
Gelber looked up.
“I don’t have to read anymore,” he said. “It’s clearly unconstitutional.”
“The governor can’t just change an order of the court,” Gelber explained this month. “It’s one of the most elemental concepts of democracy: The governor is not a king.”
The rest of the language described a situation involving a patient with no written will, in a persistent vegetative state, with a family conflict, whose feeding tube had been removed. Terri Schiavo. It gave the governor a 15-day window to step in.
“The courts have listened to sworn testimony and they have determined, court after court, one way,” said state Senator Alex Villalobos, a Republican from Miami.
But it passed in the House, and it passed in the Senate.
Bush signed it, and Chapter No. 2003-418, “Terri’s Law,” as it came to be known, was official less than 22 hours after it had been introduced. He then issued Executive Order 03-201. “The Florida Department of Law Enforcement shall serve a copy of this Executive Order upon the medical facility currently providing care for Theresa Schiavo,” it stated. A police-escorted ambulance whisked her from her hospice in Pinellas Park to a nearby hospital to have her feeding tube put back in.
“The citizens of Florida should be alarmed by what is happening,” George Felos, one of Michael Schiavo’s attorneys, told reporters. “This is not the former Soviet Bloc, where you don’t have the liberty to control your own body.”
Even one of the law’s architects up in Tallahassee expressed unease.
“I hope, I really do hope, we’ve done the right thing,” Republican state Senate president Jim King said. “I keep thinking, ‘What if Terri Schiavo really didn’t want this at all?’ May God have mercy on us all.”
Bush had no such qualms.
“I honestly believe we did the right thing,” the governor wrote to one emailer.
The emails poured in. Some chided him. More praised him.
One arrived with the subject line “Oh Great One!!” Another woman wondered: “How does it feel to be not only a child of God’s, but to actually feel His Hand guiding you and using you as an instrument to do His work on earth?” A husband and wife wrote to him from near Philadelphia: “I wish we lived in Florida and could support you directly—maybe you’ll run for President one day??”
“Yes,” said President George W. Bush, in late October, at a news conference in the Rose Garden, “I believe my brother made the right decision.”
“Terri’s Law” had mandated the appointment of a guardian ad litem, and Jay Wolfson, a respected lawyer and professor of public health at the Stetson University College of Law and the University of South Florida, issued his report in December. Wolfson had spent a month reading the court records, observing Terri Schiavo, meeting with Michael Schiavo and the Schindlers and their attorneys, and also the governor, who struck him as “a very intense, highly committed, very informed, faith-driven person who believed in doing the right thing, and doing so through the governor’s office.”
Left: A supporter of Terri Schiavo keeps vigil outside the hospice where she was being held in Pinellas Park, Florida. Right: Mary Porta prays for Terri Schiavo in Pinellas Park, Florida. | Getty Images
None of this was “easy stuff,” Wolfson noted in his report, “and should not be.” Nonetheless, he wrote, Terri Schiavo was in “a persistent vegetative state with no likelihood of improvement” and “cannot take oral nutrition or hydration and cannot consciously interact with her environment.” He wrote that the practically unprecedented amount of litigation consisted of “competent, well-documented information” and was “firmly grounded within Florida statutory and case law.”
In parts, too, Wolfson was prescient: “The Governor’s involvement has added a new and unexpected dimension to the litigation. It is reasonable to expect that the exquisite lawyering will continue, and the greatly enhanced public visibility of the case may increase the probability of more litigation, more parties entering as interveners, and efforts to expand the case into federal jurisdiction.”
Soon after that, the pope weighed in.
Without using the name Terri Schiavo, but clearly referring to her, John Paul II said “the administration of water and food, even when provided by artificial means, always represents a natural means of preserving life, not a medical act. Its use, furthermore, should be considered in principle, ordinary and proportionate, and as such morally obligatory …”
Back in Florida, though, the courts were focused not so much on what was “morally obligatory” but more on what was legally mandatory.
A circuit judge ruled Bush’s “Terri’s Law” unconstitutional.
“The court must assume that this extraordinary legislation was enacted with the best intentions and prompted by sincere motives,” W. Douglas Baird wrote in his ruling. He then quoted Daniel Webster, a lawyer and senator, who died in 1852: “It is hardly too strong to say that the Constitution was made to guard the people against the dangers of good intentions. There are men in all ages who mean to govern well, but they mean to govern. They promise to be good masters, but they mean to be masters.”
The Schindlers’ attorneys appealed. The Florida Supreme Court was up next.
Bob Destro, an attorney and professor at the law school at the Catholic University of America in Washington, joined Bush’s legal team and emerged from meetings with the governor thinking “this was something he felt very deeply about … that this was a decision that he made, personally, and that he saw this as a question of an injustice being done.”
The state supreme court judges listened to arguments the last day of August.
After the hearing was over, outside the courthouse in Tallahassee, Michael Schiavo angrily asked reporters about the whereabouts of Bush.
“If this was so important to the governor, where is he?” he said. He then got personal, referring to Bush’s daughter, Noelle, who had been arrested in 2002 after trying to buy Xanax with a forged prescription and then relapsed in rehab. “I can remember you sitting here in front of every one of these reporters with tears in your eyes when your daughter had problems,” he raged, “and you asked for privacy and you got it. Why aren’t you giving me my privacy and Terri her privacy?”
The seven state supreme court judges took less than a month to dismiss unanimously “Terri’s Law.”
“If the Legislature with the assent of the Governor can do what was attempted here,” chief justice Barbara Pariente wrote in her ruling, “the judicial branch would be subordinated to the final directive of the other branches. Also subordinated would be the rights of individuals, including the well-established privacy right to self-determination. No court judgment could ever be considered truly final and no constitutional right truly secure, because the precedent of this case would hold to the contrary. Vested rights could be stripped away based on popular clamor. The essential core of what the Founding Fathers sought to change from their experience with English rule would be lost …”
Bush told reporters he was “disappointed, not for any political reasons, but for the moral reasons.” He said he didn’t think it had been “a full hearing.” Legal analysts disagreed. They called the ruling a categorical rebuke of what Bush had done.
The governor responded by petitioning the U.S. Supreme Court to review the decision.
The words at the top of the docket of the country’s highest court were black-and-white blunt about what this had become: JEB BUSH, Governor of the State of Florida, v. MICHAEL SCHIAVO, Guardian: Theresa Schiavo.
The U.S. Supreme Court refused to review it.
“It means that the governor’s interference in this case has ended,” said Felos, Michael Schiavo’s attorney.
“This matter is now at an end for the governor,” said Ken Connor, another one of Bush’s attorneys.
It did not. It was not.
That week, Connor, the Bush attorney, sent an email to two of Bush’s staff attorneys. “Here is an op-ed I drafted for Dan Webster,” Connor wrote. Connor was active in social conservative causes and organizations. Webster was a Florida state senator, and this Dan Webster, not the lawyer and senator from the 1800s, had beliefs that couldn’t have been more different than those of his namesake.
The op-ed Connor had written ran under Webster’s name on Page 10A of USA Today on January 27, 2005. “By any definition, Terri Schiavo is alive,” the op-ed said. “She has now been issued a death sentence by the courts.” Serial killers, like Ted Bundy, it said, had more rights on death row than Terri Schiavo did at her hospice.
Connor talked on the phone with Dave Weldon, a Republican Congressman from Florida who also was a doctor. Weldon says Connor called him; Connor says it was the other way around—either way, it led to Weldon meeting with the Schindlers in Washington.
At left, Bobby Schindler attends a special session in Congress to express his sentiments before a right-to-die debate among senators and representatives. At right, activists pray in front of the U.S. Supreme Court for Terri Schiavo on March 24, 2005. | Getty Images
“They showed me some videos of them walking into her room and calling her name and her face lit up and she smiled,” Weldon, no longer in Congress, said this month. “They said, ‘She does that all the time, she’s not a vegetable,’ and they said a bunch of stuff about the husband and were very critical of him, that he had a new girlfriend or something like that. And I felt very compelled.” That, he said, is when he “got Mel Martinez involved.”
Martinez, then a Republican from Florida in the U.S. Senate, talked with Bush. “He’s been saying, ‘I’m not sure we can get it done here in Florida,’” Martinez told the Palm Beach Post. Martinez told Bush he and Bill Frist, at the time the Senate majority leader, were ready to do what they could in Washington but that it wouldn’t be easy.
On March 14, a woman from Clearwater named Pamela Hennessy, who had helped stoke the email onslaught that spurred “Terri’s Law,” emailed Bush, too. She attached a letter she had addressed to the hospice saying she intended to “file formal complaints” to the state Department of Children and Families. The hope was that the agency charged with protecting mainly kids and the elderly might intervene in this case.
Bush wrote back: “thank you Pamela.”
On March 18, in Pinellas Park, Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube was removed again.
“If she dies, I will kill Michael Schiavo and the judge,” a woman in California wrote on an AOL message board. “This is real!” She was arrested.
On a different message board, at blogsforterri.com, an anonymous poster called The Coming Conflict declared, “FL gun owners, it’s in your hands.”
Michael Schiavo and the mother of his two kids got letters addressed to their “Illegitimate Bastard Children” talking about how sometimes kids disappear.
Up in Washington, Congress debated the case of Terri Schiavo, searching for possible methods of federal intervention—with Frist and Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, both of whom now say they don’t want to talk about it, vowing to work together through the weekend of Palm Sunday if necessary. A memo that came from Martinez’s office called it “a great political issue” for Republicans. Frist, a surgeon from Tennessee, said on the Senate floor that Schiavo didn’t seem to him to be in a vegetative state, based on his viewing of the Schindlers’ video snippets. Senator Rick Santorum from Pennsylvania called the removal of the feeding tube “a sentence that would not be placed on the worst criminal.” Majority Leader Tom DeLay led the way in the House. Santorum and Frist did in the Senate. Few members of Congress spoke against it. South Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz was one. “There is no room for the federal government in this most personal of private angst-ridden family members,” she said. Republican John Warner from Virginia was the only senator to speak against it. Hillary Clinton from New York didn’t. Neither did Barack Obama from Illinois. A bill emerged from the Senate after midnight on March 21 that would let the Schindlers ask the federal courts to take another look at the decision made by the state courts.
President Bush flew on Air Force One from vacation in Crawford, Texas, back to Washington to sign it into law just after 1 in the morning.
“Our society, our laws and our courts should have a presumption in favor of life,” he said in a statement.
His brother issued a statement of his own: “I thank the Congress for its swift action allowing Terri’s parents to seek a federal review of the case.” He echoed the op-ed that had run in USA Today. “Certainly, an incapacitated person deserves at least the same protection afforded criminals sentenced to death.”
Michael Schiavo called the federal legislation “outrageous.” If politicians are allowed to meddle with him like this, he said, “they’ll do it to every person in this country.”
A federal judge in Tampa heard attorneys’ arguments for the justification of the relitigation of a case that had been up and down the judicial ladder for the better part of a decade. He said no. The federal legislation had failed. The feeding tube stayed out, and Terri Schiavo neared death.
Bush’s last-ditch effort involved the Department of Children and Families. Attorneys for the state agency made motions to intervene based on thousands of anonymous allegations of abuse against Terri Schiavo. Bush ordered the mobilization of officers from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement—in essence his own police force—and they readied to seize Terri Schiavo if a court order allowed it. “I requested that FDLE in concert with the Department of Children and Families be prepared to enter,” Bush told reporters, “if that was going to be the option available to us”—which it wasn’t, because judges said no. “We were ready to go,” a Bush spokesman told the Miami Herald. “We didn’t want to break the law.”
“I cannot violate a court order,” Bush told CNN on March 27.
People in his email inbox continued to plead with him to do exactly that.
“I do not have the authority that you suggest I have,” Bush responded to one of them. “Under your thesis of executive authority, should I shut down abortion clinics since I abhor abortion?”
On March 30, meanwhile, Bush called a woman in Tampa named Dawn Armstrong, whose husband, Staff Sgt. Robert Armstrong, had died of a heart attack two days before in Camp Shelby, Mississippi, while readying for deployment to Afghanistan. She emailed him later that night, thanking him for “the time you took out of your busy day to express your sorrow for the loss of my husband.”
On March 31, at 6:29 a.m., Bush responded. “Bless you Dawn,” he wrote. “Please let me know if I can be of assistance to you.”
Two and a half hours later, across the bay from Tampa, at the hospice in Pinellas Park, Terri Schiavo died.
Shortly after 12:30, Bush got another email from Dawn Armstrong. “I will be deriving strength from many sources—one source of strength is from you, Governor,” she wrote. “We have witnessed your steadfastness in the face of many challenges for a very long time now …” She continued: “May God grant us all the peace we so long for, in His perfect timing. Take care. I’ll be praying for you and your administration.”
Later that night, just before 9, Bush wrote back.
you are making me cry. Maybe it is the day with Terri’s death. I don’t know but the fact that you would write what you did given your loss, makes me thank God Almighty that there are people like yourself. I am nothing.
Let me know how I can ever be of help to you and your family.
Terri Schiavo’s death did not spell the end of the governor’s intervention in her case.
One email suggested the firing of Greer.
“I will look into this,” the governor responded.
In an email to one of his staff attorneys, less than 48 hours after the death, Bush asked about her autopsy. “We need to get the details of the autopsy,” he wrote, “meaning what was done if possible.”
The staff attorney responded: “I got an update this morning from FDLE. Six board certified examiners participated. They were attuned to the issues involved. Are working on their reports.” She added: “Santorum’s office called me yesterday …”
In early May, Bush gave a speech in Savannah, Georgia, at the state’s Republican convention, in which he stressed that the party had to be uncompromising in what he saw as “a time of moral ambivalence.”
“There is such a thing as right and wrong,” he said. “Republicans cannot continue to win unless we talk with compassion and passion about absolute truth.”
Saxby Chambliss, then a senator from Georgia, followed by telling the crowd he wanted this Bush to be the next Bush in the White House. He asked the people what they thought. They hollered their approval.
In June, the medical examiner released Terri Schiavo’s autopsy, which confirmed what the judges had ruled for years based on the testimony from doctors concerning her prognosis. Her limbs had atrophied, and her hands had clenched into claws, and her brain had started to disappear. It weighed barely more than a pound and a third, less than half the size it would have been under normal circumstances. “No remaining discernible neurons,” the autopsy said. She couldn’t see. She couldn’t feel, not even pain. Forty-one years after her birth, 15 years after her collapse, Terri Schiavo was literally a shell of who she had been.
Bush read the autopsy—then wrote a letter to the top prosecutor in Pinellas County. He raised questions about Michael Schiavo’s involvement in her collapse and about the quickness of his response calling 911. “I urge you,” the governor wrote to Bernie McCabe, “to take a fresh look at this case without any preconceptions as to the outcome.”
McCabe, a Republican, responded less than two weeks later, saying he and his staff “have attempted to follow this sound advice”—without any preconceptions—“unlike some pundits, some ‘experts,’ some email and Web-based correspondents, and even some institutions of government that have, in my view, reached conclusions regarding the controversy …” McCabe’s assessment: “all available records” were “not indicative of criminal activity.”
Bush relented. “I will follow your recommendation,” he wrote to McCabe, “that the inquiry by the state be closed.”
Michael Schiavo buried the ashes of his wife in a cemetery not far from his house.
Today, looking back, what makes Felos, the attorney for Michael Schiavo, angriest about the case is Bush’s letter to McCabe. Even after 18 months of legal wrangling, even after her death, even after the autopsy—after all that—the governor asked a prosecutor to initiate a retroactive criminal investigation of his client. It struck Felos as “odd,” “bizarre”—“personal.”
Michael Schiavo at home. “He should be ashamed,” Schiavo said of Jeb Bush. “To bring as much pain as he did, to me and my family, that should be an issue.” | Maggie Steber/Redux for POLITICO Magazine
“It was such an abuse of authority,” Felos said. “I think that really raises red flags about his character and his fitness to be president. Jeb didn’t get his way in the Schiavo case. I think he tried to take it out on Michael.”
That, Michael Schiavo said this month, is what makes Jeb Bush “vindictive.” “Knowing that he had no standing in this, he made it worse for everybody,” he said. “He made life, for a lot of people—the nursing home people, the local police, lawyers—he made everybody miserable.”
What makes him “untrustworthy,” he said, is that he fought the courts as long as he did just because he didn’t like the decisions they kept making. “I wouldn’t trust him in any type of political office,” he said.
But for the now former governor of Florida, the second son of the 41st president, the younger brother of the 43rd, the man who sits near the top of the extended early list of likely 2016 Republican presidential candidates — what makes him a “coward,” Michael Schiavo said, sitting on his brick back patio, is that they’ve still never talked.
Bush has never said he’s sorry. He wasn’t. What he was sorry about is how it turned out. “I wish I could have done more,” he told reporters the day of the death.
Other politicians have said they’re sorry, though, Michael Schiavo said. “I’ve had politicians come to my home and apologize to me for what they did to me.” Names? “No names.” But he mentioned Barack Obama and something he said during a debate in Cleveland with Hillary Clinton during the Democratic presidential primaries in early 2008. The question was about what he’d like to have back.
“Well, you know, when I first arrived in the Senate that first year,” Obama said, “we had a situation surrounding Terri Schiavo. And I remember how we adjourned with a unanimous agreement that eventually allowed Congress to interject itself into that decision-making process of the families.
“It wasn’t something I was comfortable with, but it was not something I stood on the floor and stopped. And I think that was a mistake, and I think the American people understood that was a mistake. And as a constitutional law professor, I knew better.”
Did Obama apologize to Michael Schiavo? In a call? At his house? “I can’t comment on that,” Schiavo said with a smile.
“But I never heard from Jeb,” he said.
What would Jeb Bush say to Michael Schiavo now? Nothing. He didn’t want to talk about the Schiavo case for this story.
What would Michael Schiavo, though, say to Jeb Bush?
“Bring it on,” he said. “Come visit me. I’m asking you. Almost 10 years later and I still haven’t heard from you.
“Was he afraid to meet with me? To see me? Why? That’s what burns me. You got so much to say—but where are you? You lost against this little ordinary man from Philadelphia. You lost. And then to continue on? Unspeakable.
“Why? Give me an answer. Why? Why? What was Terri Schiavo to you? Why? Tell me why. Why do you think you had the right to be involved? Why would you put me and my family through hell? And what did you gain from that? And after you lost, why did you pursue it? What did you gain from that?”
The emails didn’t stop.
“Please do not run for President of the United States,” a man from Goshen, Connecticut, wrote. “If you cannot protect the life of an innocent woman in Florida, how can I expect you to protect the United States of America as Commander in Chief?”
The governor also heard from people like Rick Warren. “On behalf of everyone who truly understood the issues, thank you for doing all you could for Terri Schiavo,” the evangelical megachurch pastor and author of the bestselling book The Purpose Driven Life wrote to Bush in an email. “It’s a sad ending but you lead the right side with courage and conviction. I’m proud to call you my friend.”
“Thank you so much,” Bush responded. “You have lifted my spirits.”
Bobby Schindler, Terri Schiavo’s brother, emailed to say that “in time everyone in my family will understand your situation and that you were doing your best …” “I think he probably did as much as possible within his jurisdiction at the time,” he added this month.
“I found him to be a person of principles, and I hold his actions in the Schiavo case in esteem,” said David Gibbs III, one of the Schindlers’ attorneys. Gibbs said that as “a devout Catholic,” Bush was “very personally bothered” by the case and that the governor felt what he did “was the right thing to do.”
Polls showed majorities of people in Florida and around the country disagreed. They objected to his intervention as well as the ensuing flurry of federal involvement. Some of the most fervent believers in what he had done turned on him because of what he had not. They said he “blinked.” “He failed us miserably with Terri Schiavo,” Troy Newman, president of the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, said this month. “If Jeb had acted, Terri Schiavo would be alive today.”
Still, said Connor, the Bush attorney, “I never, ever heard Jeb Bush waver in the midst of the political fallout. He was steadfast.”
That’s what bothers his critics.
Maggie Steber/Redux for POLITICO Magazine
“He doesn’t accept loss. He doesn’t accept that the answer is no. He couldn’t possibly consider that he may be wrong,” Wasserman Schultz said this month. “If he had the chance to be president, he’ll do what he’s always done—he’ll do everything he can to implement his very rigid, ideological view of how the world should be. Voters are going to have to ask: Do you want a president who thinks the executive, the president, is supreme, above all else? It’s frightening to think about what he could do with that kind of power as president.”
“Trying to write laws that clearly are outside the constitutionality of his state, trying to override the entire judicial system, that’s very, very dangerous,” said Arthur Caplan, a New York University bioethicist who edited a book about the Schiavo case. “When you’re willing to do that, you’re willing to break the back of the country.”
“It was appalling,” said Jon Eisenberg, one of Michael Schiavo’s attorneys and the author of The Right vs. the Right to Die. “And I think it’s important for people to understand what Jeb Bush is willing to do. It’s important for people to know who Jeb Bush is, and the Terri Schiavo case tells us a great deal about who Jeb Bush is.”
The Jebbest thing Jeb’s ever done hasn’t been an issue so far in Bush’s pre-campaign because it won’t help his potential opponents in the primaries. They’re trying to paint him as a moderate. This demonstrates the opposite.
“People who agree he’s a conservative point to the Schiavo case,” Florida International University political science professor Dario Moreno said this month.
So most of the talk has touched on his more measured stances on immigration and Common Core. He’s been portrayed as a cerebral policy wonk in contrast to his father, the solicitous writer of thank you notes, and his brother, the clownin’-around worker of rooms. This bloodless depiction, though, ignores the intensity, the vehemence, the practically gladiatorial certitude with which he pursued what he wanted in the Schiavo case, and more generally the fervid way in which he believes in what he believes—that “absolute truth” he talked about in his speech in Savannah, two months after the death of Terri Schiavo, and one month before he asked the prosecutor to investigate her husband.
(Source: POLITICO Magazine)
Eric Holder, Patron Saint of Killer Cops February 25, 2015Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Police.
Tags: eric holder, james bovard, police brutality, police killings, police shootings
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Roger’s note: the Uruguayan journalist and historian, Eduardo Galeano, coined the phrase “upsidedown world” to characterize the reverse moral reality that governs our capitalist world. I find myself constantly outraged by the way in which men (well, almost always men) in high positions gain wealth, fame, and honor, having committed grievous crimes. Henry Kissinger and Dick Cheney are surely poster boys for this “charity” in our day. Recently I have posted stories about George Washington, Winston Churchill and General George Patton, men held in high esteem who deserve the opposite. Today I bring you news about the United States’ first Afro American Attorney General, who is about to retire after an apparently illustrious career in law enforcement. This is news you will not find in the main stream media. This is a man who deserves condemnation, not praise, a man who after a life time of work in government retires with a net worth of 11.5 million dollars (I looked it up).
Putting Police Above the Law
Attorney General Eric Holder is collecting buckets of accolades in his final weeks in office. Newspapers are especially praising Holder’s suggestion that the feds begin keeping tabs on shootings by police across the nation. But Holder’s own career shows his devotion to ignoring or covering up law enforcement killings unless a bonanza of profitable publicity awaited him.
As the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia from 1993 to 1997, Holder was in charge of policing the local police. When police violence spiraled out of control, he did little or nothing to protect D.C. residents from rampaging lawmen.
The number of killings by D.C. police quadrupled between 1989 and 1995, when 16 civilians died owing to police gunfire. D.C. police shot and killed people at a higher rate than any other major city police department, as a Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post investigation revealed in late 1998. But Holder had no problem with D.C.’s quick-trigger force: “I can’t honestly say I saw anything that was excessive.” He never noticed that the D.C. police department failed to count almost half the people killed by its officers between 1994 and 1997.
Even when police-review boards ruled that shootings were unjustified or found contradictions in officers’ testimony, police were not prosecuted. In one case an officer shot a suspect four times in the back when he was unarmed and lying on the ground. But Holder’s office never bothered interviewing the shooter.
Holder is now being portrayed as a champion of minorities victimized by police but he did not play that role in the 1990s. The Post noted that “none of the police shootings of civilians has occurred in the more affluent areas west of Rock Creek Park.” Because most victims of the police were from the lower-income parts of the city, their plight went largely unnoticed.
Holder is now trumpeting the need for openness, but in the 1990s he acceded to pervasive secrecy on lawmen’s killings. The Post noted, “The extent and pattern of police shootings have been obscured from public view. Police officials investigate incidents in secret, producing reports that become public only when a judge intercedes.”
Shortly after Holder became U.S. attorney, a local judge slammed the D.C. government for its “deliberate indifference” to police-brutality complaints. In 1995 the Civilian Complaint Review Board, which supposedly investigated alleged police abuses, was shut down because it was overwhelmed by a backlog of accusations from aggrieved citizens. Despite the collapse of the system’s safeguards, Holder’s office remained asleep at the switch. Even D.C.’s assistant police chief Terrance Gainer admitted, “We shoot too often, and we shoot too much when we do shoot.”
Some of the most abusive cases involved police shooting unarmed drivers — a practice that is severely discouraged because of the high risk of collateral damage. Holder told the Post, “I do kind of remember more than a few in cars. I don’t know if that’s typical of what you find in police shootings outside D.C.” Actually, D.C. police were more than 20 times as likely to shoot at cars as were New York City police and “more than 50 officers over five years had shot at unarmed drivers in cars,” the Post noted.
When he visited Missouri last August, Holder made a heavily trumpeted visit to the parents of Michael Brown, the 18-year-old killed by a Ferguson policeman. But did Holder ever bother visiting the families of young people unjustifiably slain by the D.C. police? I called the Justice Department press office asking that question but never heard back. Press clips from the 1990s do not include any reports of Holder’s meeting with parents of children unjustifiably slain by the D.C. police.
At 9 a.m. on May 15, 1995, a D.C. policeman pursued a car that he claimed he had seen moving recklessly on Florida Avenue NW. The policeman walked up to the vehicle and shot 16-year-old Kedemah Dorsey in the chest. The car began pulling away, and the policeman hopped alongside and shot the boy again in the back, killing him. Lawyer Doug Sparks, sitting in a nearby car, told the Post, “It was basically at point-blank range. I thought it was some kind of drug shooting.” The policeman claimed that he fired because Dorsey, who was scheduled to start his shift at Burger King later that morning, was trying to run him down. Attorney Michael Morganstern, who sued the District government and collected $150,000 for the family, commented, “It’s somewhat difficult to use the car as a weapon when it is wedged in rush-hour traffic and the officer is standing to the side of it, not in front of it.” A police department investigation concluded that the shooting was unjustified, but Holder’s office refused to file charges against the policeman.
Holder was feckless even when a policeman confessed to lying about killing an unarmed teenager. After Roosevelt Askew killed a 19-year-old motorist during a 1994 traffic stop, he claimed he fired because the driver was trying to run over another policeman. But that story soon collapsed. In early 1995, Askew admitted to Holder’s office that he had lied and then claimed he shot the teenager accidentally. No charges were filed against Askew until a year and a half after his confession. The case lingered on the back burner until after Holder moved on to become deputy attorney general under Janet Reno. The U.S. attorney’s office eventually signed off on a deal that let Askew plead guilty merely to filing a false police report; he received two years probation and a $5,000 fine. Federal judge Harold Greene was appalled at the wrist slap: “This is a bizarre situation. Everybody, including the government and the probation office, suggests that probation is the appropriate remedy. Although I am not entirely satisfied we have the full story, I’m going to go along.”
The Post series sparked an uproar that resulted in the Justice Department Civil Rights Division’s investigating D.C. police shootings from the prior five years. And whom did Attorney General Janet Reno put in charge of that effort? Eric Holder. His office denied that any conflict of interest existed, instead insisting that Holder’s “oversight of the review signifies the importance of this endeavor to the Department of Justice.” But a 1999 Post article observed, “A closer look at the role of Holder and the U.S. attorney’s office shows the difficulty that arises when law enforcement investigates itself.” Holder’s review of D.C. police shootings was careful not to uncover anything that might impede Holder’s political career.
In a speech this past Martin Luther King day, Holder lamented “the troubling reality…that we lack the ability right now to comprehensively track” police shootings across the nation. But there was a law on the books that Congress enacted in 1994 to require the Attorney General to collect and publish annual data on “the use of excessive force by law enforcement officers.” Holder, like prior attorney generals, ignored the law. And Holder’s Justice Department continues covering up killings by federal agents, including a rash of fatal shootings by Border Patrol agents and the FBI killing of 27-year-old Ibragim Todashev during questioning at his Florida apartment in 2013 regarding the Boston Marathon bombing.
There is no reason to expect Holder’s closing public relations gestures to diminish government agents’ prerogative to kill other Americans. Nor is there any reason to expect the Justice Department to admit that the Bill of Rights prohibits placing the vast majority of police above the law.
James Bovard, a policy advisor to the Future of Freedom Foundation, is the author of Public Policy Hooligan, Attention Deficit Democracy, The Bush Betrayal, Terrorism and Tyranny, and other books. More info at www.jimbovard.com; on Twitter @jimbovard
28-Year Crime Sprees of a Peacenik and a Colonel February 25, 2015Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Peace, War.
Tags: bonnie urfer, jeffrey sinclair, john laforge, militarism, military justice, nukewatch, peace, peace activist, roger hollander, sexual assault
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Roger’s note: this story symbolizes for me not only what is wrong with the American judicial system, but what is essentially wrong with the country itself.
A former Army Brigadier General was busted two ranks and fined $20,000 this year after being charged with sexual assault of an Army Captain — a subordinate he reportedly threatened to kill if she revealed their affair. Jeffrey A. Sinclair’s multiple convictions should have gotten him thrown out of the military, sent to prison and registered as a sexual predator, but the judge in the case, Col. James L. Pohl, allowed him to retire as a Lt. Col. with full benefits and a $105,000 pension. Sinclair, 51, spent 28 years in the Army.
Meanwhile Nukewatch just celebrated the retirement of peace activist Bonnie Urfer, 62, who has stopped answering the Nukewatch phone after co-directing here for 28 years.
Bonnie won’t get a pension from our small, non-profit nuclear watchdog, just her $662.00-per-month Social Security check which amounts to about $8,000 a year (Col. Sinclair will get $8,750 every month). This is no hardship since Bonnie is a master of political economy and downward mobility. She lives rent-free and mortgage-free in a house she helped build with her own hands at the Plowshares Land Trust. She grows her own vegetables and has reduced her expenses to a fraction of what most North Americans mistakenly believe to be bare minimum. Property taxes, groceries, gas, dog food and vet’ bills, insurance, art supplies, sundries and an internet connection are about all she needs to cover.
Bonnie’s conscientiously self-limited income keeps her from supporting the war system which now gets about half of everyone’s federal income taxes. Living under the taxable limit has always been part of her life of resisting militarism in thought, word and deed.
Bonnie’s been focused and committed in her work for nuclear disarmament and has done every sort of action to shine some light on the weapons complex: from interrupting a Gulf War “victory” parade in Madison, and sitting-in at the Oak Ridge, Tenn. H-bomb factory, to shutting down Wisconsin’s former nuclear first-strike ELF antenna with peace activist Michael Sprong (using Swede saws). She’s served a total of over six and a half years in jail and prison for taking part in about 100 civil resistance actions. In addition to her Nukewatch work, she’s spent five decades using her art and direct action in defense of women’s rights and gender equality, and against any sort of bullying, sexual harassment or abuse. With Jane Simons she helped found the Women’s Jail Project in Madison, Wis.
Compare her record to that of Sinclair, which the Secretary of the Army, John McHugh, condemned as displaying “a pattern of … illegal behavior both while serving as a brigadier general and a colonel.” Sinclair was initially charged with forcible sodomy, wrongful sexual conduct, wrongful personal relationships with subordinates, misuse of gov’t charge cards (he arranged trysts with it), maltreatment of subordinates and conduct unbecoming an officer. The L.A. Times reported that the Army Captain who was his mistress accused Sinclair of threatening to kill her and her parents if she divulged their affair and of groping and fondling her against her will in public. The charges of sexual violence and assault carried a possible life sentence and registration as a sex offender.
But Sinclair’s more serious charges were dismissed. He pleaded guilty to “maltreatment,” adultery, soliciting explicit pictures from female officers, using derogatory and demeaning language toward female officers, impeding an investigation, disobeying an Order to stay away from the Captain, and Army travel card theft. Jamie Bartlett, a lawyer for the Captain, called the sentence “a travesty” and said, “Now the Army has to face the reality that this is likely to happen again, and victims will be less likely to come forward.”
In contrast, Bonnie wears her peace activism and years of incarceration almost anonymously as something of a badge of honor as she embarks on new adventures — although her “record” will keep her from landing conventional jobs for some pocket money. Conversely, Sinclair’s solid gold plea bargain and military record of warrior heroics and ambitious rank-climbing guarantee him a fat pension and decades in which to pursue a second income-doubling career — probably with weapons contractors.
Sinclair’s lawyer said after sentencing, “He is a highly decorated war hero who made great sacrifices for his country, and it’s right that he be permitted to retire honorably.” Now, thanks to the Army Captain who leveled the charges, Sinclair will be remembered mostly as a violent, abusive sexual predator.
Bonnie on the other hand, with decades of simple, sustainable living and 35 years of nonviolent resistance to sexism, militarism and nuclear madness, is simultaneously a humble (if impish) laughing Buddha and a luminous living example of how a person can enjoy life harmlessly, thrive while living below a taxable income and still shame the devil every day.
John LaForge works for Nukewatch and lives on the Plowshares Land Trust near Luck, Wisc.