They Messed with Texas September 10, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Human Rights, Texas.
Tags: capital punishment, Criminal Justice, death penalty, death row, dna evidence, Election 2012, glenn greenwald, innocence project, peter catapano, presidential debates, republicans, rick perry, sept. 11, texas, texas executions, wrongful convictions
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A funny thing happened at the Republican debate at the Reagan
Library in California on Wednesday night, when the evening’s co-moderator Brian
Williams asked a question of Gov. Rick Perry of Texas. (Not funny ha-ha, funny
For the text oriented among us, here’s what transpired.
WILLIAMS: Governor Perry, a question about Texas. Your state has executed 234
death row inmates, more than any other governor in modern times. Have you…
Have you struggled to sleep at night with the idea that any one of those
might have been innocent?
PERRY: No, sir. I’ve never struggled with that at all. The state of Texas has
a very thoughtful, a very clear process in place of which — when someone commits
the most heinous of crimes against our citizens, they get a fair hearing, they
go through an appellate process, they go up to the Supreme Court of the United
States, if that’s required.
But in the state of Texas, if you come into our state and you kill one of our
children, you kill a police officer, you’re involved with another crime and you
kill one of our citizens, you will face the ultimate justice in the state of
Texas, and that is, you will be executed.
WILLIAMS: What do you make of…
What do you make of that dynamic that just happened here, the mention of the
execution of 234 people drew applause?
PERRY: I think Americans understand justice. I think Americans are clearly,
in the vast majority of — of cases, supportive of capital punishment. When you
have committed heinous crimes against our citizens — and it’s a state-by-state
issue, but in the state of Texas, our citizens have made that decision, and they
made it clear, and they don’t want you to commit those crimes against our
citizens. And if you do, you will face the ultimate justice.
For some — in this case, opponents of the death penalty — this was sort of a
double whiplash moment, a gasp within a gasp that may have been more confusing
than mobilizing. Because which was more disturbing (or heartening, depending on
your political view)? Perry’s unbowed defense of the “thoughtful” trial process
in Texas and the clear expression of his untroubled mind in the face of possible
moral doubt and complexity (i.e., Have I facilitated the death of an innocent
human?)? Or the audience applause that bracketed the exchange, the rousing
audience cheers for an aggressively applied death penalty? In California, mind
you, not Texas.
Let’s look at the applause, the “execution cheer,” if you will. Because any
number of analysts might have expected Perry to say what he said, but the cheer
was a surprise — a welcome sort for some, but unwelcome for others.
This is the digital age, so let’s begin with an immediate outburst from
Andrew Sullivan, who during his live blogging of the debate, wrote:
9.48 pm. A spontaneous round of applause for executing people! And Perry
shows no remorse, not even a tiny smidgen of reflection, especially when we know
for certain that he signed the death warrant for an innocent man. Here’s why I
find it impossible to be a Republican: any crowd that instantly cheers the
execution of 234 individuals is a crowd I want to flee, not join. This is the
crowd that believes in torture and executions. Can you imagine the torture that
Perry would authorize? Thank God he’s doing so poorly tonight.
The next morning, Sullivan’s former colleague, The Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi
Coates, seemed somewhat less rattled, though hardly
cheerier. “Apparently people were shocked by the applause here,” he wrote.
“The only thing that shocked me was that they didn’t form a rumba line. It’s a
Republican debate. And it’s America.” He continued:
Perry’s right — most people support the death penalty. It’s the job of those
of us who oppose the death penalty to change that.
It’s worth remembering that no Democratic nominee for the presidency in some
twenty years, has been against the death penalty. This is still the country
where we took kids to see men lynched, and then posed for photos.
We are a lot of things. This is one of them.
Glenn Greenwald at Salon found it unwelcome, too. Actually he found it “creepy
and disgusting.” (Greenwald, like Perry, is direct.). In a link-laden
broadside, he wrote:
[I]t’s hardly surprising for a country which long considered public hangings
a form of entertainment and in which support for the death penalty is mandated
orthodoxy for national politicians in both parties. Still, even for those who
believe in the death penalty, it should be a very somber and sober affair for
the state, with regimented premeditation, to end the life of a human being no
matter the crimes committed. Wildly cheering the execution of human beings as
though one’s favorite football team just scored a touchdown is primitive,
twisted and base.
All of that would be true even if the death penalty were perfectly applied
and only clearly guilty people were killed. But in the U.S., the exact opposite
is true; see here to read about (and act to stop) a horrific though typical
example of a very likely innocent person about to be executed by the State
of Georgia. That Perry in particular likely enabled the execution of an innocent man — as well as
numerous other highly disturbing killings, of the young and
mentally infirm — makes the cheering all the more repellent. That the death
penalty in America has long been plagued by a serious racial bias makes it worse
still. That this death-cheering comes from a party that relentlessly touts
itself as ”pro-life” and derides the other as The Party of Death — and loves to
condemn Islam (in contrast to its war-loving self) as a death-glorifying cult — only adds a layer of dark
That whole “perfectly applied” thing — the goal of which requires the person
being put to death to actually be guilty — also troubled others. Marie Diamond
at Think Progress Justice undertakes
a thorough debunking of the idea that everyone executed in Texas in the past
decade or so was guilty:
[D]uring Perry’s tenure as governor, DNA evidence has exonerated at least
41 people convicted in Texas, Scott Horton writes in Harper’s. According to
Project, “more people have been freed through DNA testing in Texas than in
any other state in the country, and these exonerations have revealed deep flaws
in the state’s criminal justice system.” Some 85
percent of wrongful convictions in Texas, or 35
of the 41 cases, are due to mistaken eyewitness identifications.
Those exonerations include Cornelius Dupree, who had already spent 30 years in
prison for rape, robbery, and abduction when DNA evidence proved
unequivocally that he was not the man who had committed those crime. Tim
Cole, the brother of Texas Sen. Rodney Ellis (D), was posthumously pardoned
a decade after he died in prison when DNA evidence proved his innocence. The
total failure of the Texas courts to protect these innocent individuals reveal a
system plagued by racial injustices, procedural flaws, and
a clemency review process that’s nothing but a rubber stamp on executions.
Leading the country in wrongful convictions probably should give Perry a
moment’s pause about the reliability of a criminal justice process he described
last night as “thoughtful.” …
And he may well have already executed an innocent man. The case of Cameron
Todd Willingham, who was executed in 2004 for the arson deaths of his three
daughters and maintained his innocence until his dying day, will likely continue to haunt
Perry throughout the campaign. Several scientists and forensics experts have
questioned the evidence that led to Willingham’s conviction, but Perry “squashed”
an official probe into his execution.
(Here is an interactive graphic of executions under Governor Perry, from the Texas Tribune.)
Taking another tack, political animal Steve Benen at Washington Monthly notes
the apparent inconsistency in Perry’s much-discussed attitude towards
[W]e’re learning quite a bit about how Rick Perry thinks. Scientists tell
him, after rigorous, peer-reviewed, international research that global warming
is real, and Perry responds, “I don’t care.” A deeply flawed judicial process
puts potentially-innocent Americans on death row, and Perry responds, “Let’s get
the killin’ started.”
The governor balks when presented with evidence on evolution, abstinence
education, and climate change, but embraces without question the notion that
everyone he’s killed in Texas was 100 percent guilty. The scientific process, he
apparently believes, is unreliable, while the state criminal justice system is
Intellectually, morally, and politically, this isn’t just wrong; it’s scary.
The fact that Republicans in the audience found this worthy of hearty applause
points to a party that’s bankrupt in more ways than one.
Of course, as Coates pointed out, this is America, and thus Perry’s stance
was praised by some as proof (not scientific) that the governor was truly
sympatico with the average American death penalty supporter.
An interesting opinion of this sort was aired by James Taranto at The Wall
Street Journal. Taranto reaches way back to the year 2000 to a New Republic
piece by Josh Marshall, which explained every other civilized country’s ban on
the death penalty as political “elitism” — the populous in most countries
support the death penalty, but their politicians forbid it. In other words, the
political systems in these other countries are “morally superior” but “less
democratic,” Marshall wrote. “[I]n Europe and Canada elites have exercised a
kind of noblesse oblige. They’ve chosen a more civilized and humane political
order over a fully popular and participatory one. It’s a perfectly defensible
position — but it might not go over that well on ‘Crossfire.’ ”
(“Crossfire” was cancelled in 2005, but you get the picture, right?)
Eleven years on, Taranto elaborates, explaining the audience applause as rooted in a sort of patriotism:
It seems to us that the crowd’s enthusiasm last night was less sanguinary
than defiant. The applause and the responses to it reflect a generations-old
mutual contempt between the liberal elite and the large majority of the
population, which supports the death penalty.
There are, of course, reasonable arguments against the death penalty. But
opponents are too resentful at their inability to steamroll over public opinion
as if this were Europe or Canada to argue their case effectively. One of their
most ludicrous tropes is to liken the U.S. to authoritarian regimes that also
practice capital punishment. In reality, as Marshall showed, America still has
the death penalty because it is less authoritarian than Europe. Thus whenever
someone makes that argument, we feel a tinge of patriotic pride. We believe a
similar sentiment lay behind last night’s applause.
(Weirdly, the caption beneath the photo of Perry read simply, “Rick Perry has
executive experience.” Italics mine.)
Another oddity of this dust-up was the digital shrapnel that hit Brian
Williams for asking the obvious question. Matthew Sheffield at Newsbusters.org
(devoted, in the site’s own words, to “exposure of liberal media bias,
insightful analysis, constructive criticism and timely corrections to news media
reporting.”) argued that Williams showed a lot of liberal elitist gall for
even going there:
As someone who makes his living by trying to appeal, at least in some
fashion, to the emotions of crowds, Williams’s inability to understand the
audience’s spontaneous outbreak of applause response to his declaration that
Texas “has executed 234 death row inmates, more than any other governor in
modern times” is a classic case of a liberal elitist being unable to compute
that his smugly held opinions are not shared by others. It was the media analog
of 1988 Democratic presidential nominee’s Michael Dukakis’s anodyne response
when asked in a debate about whether he would want a hypothetical murderer of
his wife executed.
But perhaps I’m selling Williams’s perspicacity short. One suspects he would
likely have understood a similar audience reaction were it to applaud
enthusiastically a Democratic candidate’s firm support for abortion
legalization. Such a response could equally be perceived as grisly but it seems
unlikely that Williams would entertain such a thought.
Ann Althouse also accused Williams of baiting,
not unlike a certain CNN anchor at a 1988 Democratic presidential debate:
Williams —skillfully — lures Perry into the realm of emotion. Perhaps he’s
looking for a big moment, perhaps something like what happened to Michael
Dukakis in the second presidential debate in 1988. Dukakis was against the death
penalty, and the question asked by Bernard Shaw invited him to show some passion
and fire about crime — what if your wife were raped and murdered? — and Dukakis
stayed doggedly on his track, expressing coolly rational rejection of the death
In last night’s debate, Perry declined the invitation to show passion about
death — the death of the convicted murderer — and, like Dukakis, he stayed
coolly rational. In Sullivan’s words, he “shows no remorse” or “reflection” —
but he did show reflection, reflection about the soundness of the system of
justice. He didn’t show remorse. Remorse is what you ask a criminal to show. It
was fine for Perry not to be lured into displaying angst over executions. But
then I thought it was fine for Dukakis to keep from getting sidetracked by
Shaw’s melodramatic hypothetical. All we’re talking about is the public’s
response to the candidate and the journalist’s effort to create excitement. The
difference is, most Americans support the death penalty, and they don’t need
elaborate expressions about the deep significance of death when it’s the death
of a convicted murderer.
Certainly, as Sept. 11 approaches, the idea of revenge is in the air, as are
questions about it. Is vengeance the way of nations? Was it worth it? What is
the difference between revenge and justice? Does violence merely beget violence?
Greenwald, in the same post cited above makes the connection to the American
cheering that followed the killing of Osama bin Laden. (“In all cases,
performing giddy dances over state-produced corpses is odious and wrong.”)
Greenwald also cites Will Bunch at the Philadelphia Daily News, who believes
he saw the national sentiment that Perry tapped into. Bunch calls the death
penalty cheer “a shocking new low” in American politics. On Thursday he wrote:
“[W]ith the 10th anniversary of 9/11 just four days away, everyone’s been
looking for a window into America’s post-attack psyche. I think that, sadly,
that window just opened wide in Simi Valley last night. I’ve never forgiven my
own newspaper, the Daily News, for leading the Sept. 12, 2001, paper with an
editorial headlined ‘Blood for blood’ that started out: ‘Revenge. Hold that
thought.’ Obviously, we have — for coming up on a decade. The cheering of
executions is the hallmark of a sick society one that’s incapable of tackling
its real demons and looking for vengeance on whomever happens to be
Given the tension in the air, and the 2012 election hovering, it’s not likely
that the warring parties will come together on this or any other issue. But who
knows? Maybe we’ll all wake up one morning and see the world differently. It’s
WikiLeaks and 9/11: What if? December 14, 2010Posted by rogerhollander in 9/11, Media.
Tags: 9/11, bogdan dzakovic, coleen rowley, fbi, journalism, roger hollander, sept. 11, terrorism, whitstle-blowers, wikileaks, wtc, zacarias moussaoui
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Frustrated investigators might have chosen to leak information that their superiors bottled up, perhaps averting the terrorism attacks.
The organization has drawn both high praise and searing criticism for its mission of publishing leaked documents without revealing their source, but we suspect the world hasn’t yet fully seen its potential. Let us explain.
There were a lot of us in the run-up to Sept. 11 who had seen warning signs that something devastating might be in the planning stages. But we worked for ossified bureaucracies incapable of acting quickly and decisively. Lately, the two of us have been wondering how things might have been different if there had been a quick, confidential way to get information out.
Following up on a tip from flight school instructors who had become suspicious of the French Moroccan who claimed to want to fly a jet as an “ego boost,” Special Agent Harry Samit and an INS colleague had detained Moussaoui. A foreign intelligence service promptly reported that he had connections with a foreign terrorist group, but FBI officials in Washington inexplicably turned down Samit’s request for authority to search Moussaoui’s laptop computer and personal effects.
Those same officials stonewalled Samit’s supervisor, who pleaded with them in late August 2001 that he was “trying to keep someone from taking a plane and crashing into the World Trade Center.” (Yes, he was that explicit.) Later, testifying at Moussaoui’s trial, Samit testified that he believed the behavior of his FBI superiors in Washington constituted “criminal negligence.”
The 9/11 Commission ultimately concluded that Moussaoui was most likely being primed as a Sept. 11 replacement pilot and that the hijackers probably would have postponed their strike if information about his arrest had been announced.
WikiLeaks might have provided a pressure valve for those agents who were terribly worried about what might happen and frustrated by their superiors’ seeming indifference. They were indeed stuck in a perplexing, no-win ethical dilemma as time ticked away. Their bosses issued continual warnings against “talking to the media” and frowned on whistle-blowing, yet the agents felt a strong need to protect the public.
The other one of us writing this piece, Federal Air Marshal Bogdan Dzakovic, once co-led the Federal Aviation Administration’s Red Team to probe for vulnerabilities in airport security. He also has a story of how warnings were ignored in the run-up to Sept. 11. In repeated tests of security, his team found weaknesses nine out of 10 times that would make it possible for hijackers to smuggle weapons aboard and seize control of airplanes. But the team’s reports were ignored and suppressed, and the team was shut down entirely after 9/11.
In testimony to the 9/11 Commission, Dzakovic summed up his experience this way: “The Red Team was extraordinarily successful in killing large numbers of innocent people in the simulated attacks …[and yet] we were ordered not to write up our reports and not to retest airports where we found particularly egregious vulnerabilities…. Finally, the FAA started providing advance notification of when we would be conducting our ‘undercover’ tests and what we would be checking.
The commission included none of Dzakovic’s testimony in its report.
Looking back, Dzakovic believes that if WikiLeaks had existed at the time, he would have gone to it as a last resort to highlight what he knew were serious vulnerabilities that were being ignored.
The 9/11 Commission concluded, correctly in our opinion, that the failure to share information within and between government agencies — and with the media and the public — led to an overall failure to “connect the dots.”
Many government careerists are risk-averse. They avoid making waves and, when calamity strikes, are more concerned with protecting themselves than with figuring out what went wrong and correcting it.
Decisions to speak out inside or outside one’s chain of command — let alone to be seen as a whistle-blower or leaker of information — is fraught with ethical and legal questions and can never be undertaken lightly. But there are times when it must be considered. Official channels for whistle-blower protections have long proved illusory. In the past, some government employees have gone to the media, but that can’t be done fully anonymously, and it also puts reporters at risk of being sent to jail for refusing to reveal their sources. For all of these reasons, WikiLeaks provides a crucial safety valve.
Coleen Rowley, a FBI special agent for more than 20 years, was legal counsel to the FBI field office in Minneapolis from 1990 to 2003. Bogdan Dzakovic was a special agent for the FAA’s security division. He filed a formal whistle-blower disclosure against the FAA for ignoring the vulnerabilities documented by the Red Team. For the past nine years he has been relegated to entry-level staff work for the Transportation Security Administration.
Sept. 11: A Day Without War September 8, 2010Posted by rogerhollander in 9/11, History, Iraq and Afghanistan, Pakistan, Peace, War, War on Terror.
Tags: 9/11, Afghanistan War, amy goodman, Democracy Now, denis moynihan, history, intolerance, Iraq occupation, islam, pakistan, peace, roger hollander, sept. 11, terrorism, war, war on terror
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The ninth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States should serve as a moment to reflect on tolerance. It should be a day of peace. Yet the rising anti-Muslim fervor here, together with the continuing U.S. military occupation of Iraq and the escalating war in Afghanistan (and Pakistan), all fuel the belief that the U.S. really is at war with Islam.
Sept. 11, 2001, united the world against terrorism. Everyone, it seemed, was with the United States, standing in solidarity with the victims, with the families who lost loved ones. The day will be remembered for generations to come, for the notorious act of coordinated mass murder. But that was not the first Sept. 11 to be associated with terror:
Sept. 11, 1973, Chile: Democratically elected President Salvadore Allende died in a CIA-backed military coup that ushered in a reign of terror under dictator Augusto Pinochet, in which thousands of Chileans were killed.
Sept. 11, 1977, South Africa: Anti-apartheid leader Stephen Biko was being beaten in a police van. He died the next day.
Sept. 11, 1990, Guatemala: Guatemalan anthropologist Myrna Mack was murdered by the U.S.-backed military.
Sept. 9-13, 1971, New York: The Attica prison uprising occurred, during which New York state troopers killed 39 prisoners and guards and wounded hundreds of others.
Sept. 11, 1988, Haiti: During a mass led by Father Jean-Bertrand Aristide at the St. Jean Bosco Church in Port-au-Prince, right-wing militiamen attacked, killing at least 13 worshippers and injuring at least 77. Aristide would later be twice elected president, only to be ousted in U.S.-supported coup d’etats.
If anything, Sept. 11 is a day to remember the victims of terror, all victims of terror, and to work for peace, like the group September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows. Formed by those who lost loved ones on 9/11/2001, their mission could serve as a national call to action: “[T]o turn our grief into action for peace. By developing and advocating nonviolent options and actions in the pursuit of justice, we hope to break the cycles of violence engendered by war and terrorism. Acknowledging our common experience with all people affected by violence throughout the world, we work to create a safer and more peaceful world for everyone.”
Our “Democracy Now!” news studio was blocks from the twin towers in New York City. We were broadcasting live as they fell. In the days that followed, thousands of fliers went up everywhere, picturing the missing, with phone numbers of family members to call if you recognized someone. These reminded me of the placards carried by the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo in Argentina. Those are the women, wearing white headscarves, who courageously marched, week after week, carrying pictures of their missing children who disappeared during the military dictatorship there.
I am reminded, as well, by the steady stream of pictures of young people in the military killed in Iraq and in Afghanistan, and now, with increasing frequency (although pictured less in the news), who kill themselves after multiple combat deployments.
For each of the U.S. or NATO casualties, there are literally hundreds of victims in Iraq and Afghanistan whose pictures will never be shown, whose names we will never know.
While angry mobs continue attempts to thwart the building of an Islamic community center in lower Manhattan (in a vacant, long-ignored, damaged building more than two blocks away), an evangelical “minister” in Florida is organizing a Sept. 11 “International Burn the Koran Day.” Gen. David Petraeus has stated that the burning, which has sparked protests around the globe, “could endanger troops.” He is right. But so does blowing up innocent civilians and their homes.
As in Vietnam in the 1960s, Afghanistan has a dedicated, indigenous, armed resistance, and a deeply corrupt group in Kabul masquerading as a central government. The war is bleeding over into a neighboring country, Pakistan, just as the Vietnam War spread into Cambodia and Laos.
Right after Sept. 11, 2001, as thousands gathered in parks around New York City, holding impromptu candlelit vigils, a sticker appeared on signs, placards and benches. It read, “Our grief is not a cry for war.”
This Sept. 11, that message is still-painfully, regrettably-timely.
Let’s make Sept. 11 a day without war.
Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.
© 2010 Amy Goodman
Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on 800 stations in North America. She was awarded the 2008 Right Livelihood Award, dubbed the “Alternative Nobel” prize, and received the award in the Swedish Parliament in December.