You are hereTorture
There are probably more innocent men and women in prison in the United States now than there were people in prison here total -- innocent and guilty -- 30 years ago, or than there are total people in prison (proportionately or as an absolute number) in most nations on earth.
I don't mean that people are locked up for actions that shouldn't be considered crimes, although they are. I don't mean that people are policed and indicted and prosecuted by a racist system that makes some people far more likely to end up in prison than other people guilty of the same actions, although that is true, just as it's also true that the justice system works better for the wealthy than for the poor. I am referring rather to men (it's mostly men) who have been wrongly convicted of crimes they simply did not commit. I'm not even counting Guantanamo or Bagram or immigrants' prisons. I'm talking about the prisons just up the road, full of people from just down the road.
I don't know whether wrongful convictions have increased as a percentage of convictions. What has indisputably increased is the number of convictions and the lengths of sentences. The prison population has skyrocketed. It's multiplied several fold. And it's done so during a political climate that has rewarded legislators, judges, prosecutors, and police for locking people up -- and not for preventing the conviction of innocents. This growth does not correlate in any way with an underlying growth in crime.
At the same time, evidence has emerged of a pattern of wrongful convictions. This emerging evidence is largely the result of prosecutions during the 1980s, primarily for rape but also for murder, before DNA testing had come into its own, but when evidence (including semen and blood) was sometimes preserved. Other factors have contributed: messy murderers, rapists who didn't use condoms, advances in DNA science that helps to convict the guilty as well as to free the innocent, avenues for appeal that were in some ways wider before the 1996 Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, and the heroic work of a relative handful of people.
An examination of the plea bargains and trials that put people behind bars ought to make clear to anyone that many of those convicted are innocent. But DNA exonerations have opened a lot of eyes to that fact. The trouble is that most convicts do not have anything that can be tested for DNA to prove their guilt or innocence. Here are 1,138 documented exonerations out of that tiny fraction of the overall prison population for which there was evidence to test. One study found that 6% of these prisoners are innocent. If you could extrapolate that to the whole population you'd be talking about 136,000 innocent people in U.S. prisons today. In the 1990s, a federal inquiry found that DNA testing, then new, was clearing 25% of primary suspects. You do the math.
Of course you can't simply do the math, because wrongful convictions could be higher or lower for the available sample than for all prisoners. What we can be sure of is that we are talking about a large number of people whose lives (and the lives of their loved ones) have been ruined -- not to mention the lives of additional victims of actual criminals left free.
One way to be fairly sure that the rate of wrongful conviction carries over, at least very roughly, to a variety of criminal prosecutions is to examine how those convictions came about. Brandon Garrett's Convicting the Innocent: Where Criminal Prosecutions Go Wrong examines the prosecutions of the first 250 people exonerated by DNA testing. Garrett finds broad systemic problems that could be remedied but largely have not been.
Of the 250, 76% were misidentified by an eyewitness -- most of the witnesses having been led to that act by police and/or prosecutor, some of them badgered and threatened, others merely manipulated. Invalid forensic science expertise contributed to 61% of the convictions, much of it willfully manipulated, some fraction perhaps attributable to well-intentioned but negligent incompetence. Informants, mostly jailhouse informants, and most of them manipulated and bribed by police or prosecutor, helped out in 21% of the trials. In 16% of the cases, the accused supposedly confessed to the crime, but these "confessions" tended to be the result of police intimidation, manipulation, brutality, and simple lying. Garrett fears that similar problems infect the U.S. justice system as a whole.
Garrett focuses on problems in policy and perspective. People who believe all eyewitnesses are correct and truthful can mean well and nonetheless get an important point wrong. People who aren't aware that false confessions exist won't look for them. But people unaware of such things are not typically part of the criminal justice system, where awareness of these problems is built in but steamrolled over. Judges ask whether witnesses were improperly led to misidentify a witness, but care little for the answers they receive. While Garrett begins and ends his book by claiming that pretty much everyone means well, the intervening pages grown under the weight of endless malevolence. In reading the book, I found myself over and over again scribbling "Did this guy mean well?" in the margin.
Do police feeding a false confession to their victim mean well? When they falsely report on that procedure to a court do they mean well? When they use tape recorders but shut them off each time they feed the prisoner new facts, do they mean well? When they hide evidence? When they destroy evidence? When they stack lineups and pressure witnesses to make identifications? When they hypnotize witnesses? When the prosecutor employs junk science and knowingly makes false claims about it? When simple procedures to avoid bias are known but avoided? When expert witnesses lie for a living? When crime labs alter reports to coverup exculpatory evidence? When police or prosecutors bribe other convicts or codefendants to testify and tell them what to say, but lie about that procedure? When the defense is denied competent counsel or the ability to call witnesses? When the judge effectively acts as part of the prosecution? When jurors pressure and threaten a fellow juror to vote "guilty"?
"It is almost unheard of for prosecutors to be disciplined or sanctioned for misconduct," writes Garrett, who is no doubt also familiar with this saying: "Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." Garrett believes that serious reforms are needed, and points to North Carolina where a commission has been set up to aid in freeing and not convicting the innocent. If you imagine that that's what appeals courts are for, read how they handled these 250 cases. In 23 cases, the victim was tried more than once for the same crime. One in a blue moon the system works and frees an innocent -- just often enough to keep hope floating out there like a lottery ticket in the distance. Even when DNA clears a prisoner, a prosecutor may propose to try him again, and then do nothing for years while he rots in prison waiting. North Carolina has passed legislation reforming procedures for eyewitnesses, requiring the recording of interrogations, enhancing the preservation of evidence and access to DNA testing, etc.
But one of the major reforms needed is clearly a reform of attitude. And that probably will come more quickly if we recognize what current attitudes are. Jurors and judges should be aware of how often many prosecutors and police officers pursue conviction at the expense of the truth. They should not prejudge in that direction any more than in the other, but they should be aware of what they are up against. If, as a society, we valued the freedom of innocents as much as the punishment of the guilty, we would treat judges and prosecutors and defense attorneys and police differently. We would reward protection of the innocent as much as convictions. A "successful" prosecution would be redefined as one that, first, did no harm. The police officer who found an alibi for a suspect would be praised and promoted just like the officer who found evidence of his guilt. A defendant might even someday find it possible to gain representation from an attorney who at least pretended to believe in at least the possibility of his innocence, and who behaved accordingly.
In the meantime, we are generating and compounding tragedies by the thousands. When James O'Donnell was wrongly convicted, he exploded with anger and cursed the judge and jury. Then he composed himself and said, "I am really sorry for my outburst. I tried to be as civil as possible. I would never do a crime like this. And my life is over now as I know it, my wife and kids' life. I don't understand how the jury did this to me. It's really not right, what they did. I was home in bed. I was sleeping. I would never hit a woman. I have a wife. I never hit my kids, ever. I never forced a woman to do anything in my whole life. That's the God's honest truth . . . It's just -- I'm very sorry for my outburst. Don't take my life away, please."
By Dave Lindorff
I hate to do this, but I feel obligated to share, as the story unfolds, my creeping concern that the writer Naomi Wolf is not whom she purports to be, and that her motive in writing an article on her public Facebook page speculating about whether National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden might actually be still working for the NSA, could be to support the government’s effort to destroy him.
A report on June 11, 2013 from Reuters calls Richard Falk, the United Nations human rights investigator for Palestine, ‘embattled’, apparently because he has once again refused to dance to the U.S.-Israel tune. At a forum of the U.N. Human Rights Council, he called for an inquiry into what he sees as the torture of Palestinians in Israeli custody. The U.S., of course, with its own shocking record of torturing its political prisoners in Guantanamo, Iraq, and who knows where else, boycotted the debate. Israel did the same, accusing the forum of anti-Israel bias.
You’re invited to mark Torture Awareness Month.
Healing a Culture of Torture - 6/25/2013
Lutheran Church of the Reformation - 212 E. Capitol St.
Washington DC 20003
Reception: 6:30 pm Presentation: 7:00 - 9:00 pm
• Juan Mendez, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture
REVIEWS: ZERO DARK THIRTY (Movie)
by Karen Malpede
TORTURE: ASIAN AND GLOBAL PERSPECTIVES | FEB-APR 2013 VOLUME 02 NUMBER 01
‘Zero Dark Thirty’. Director, Kathryn Bigelow. Screenwriter, Mark Boal. Sony Pictures, December 2012; & ‘Shadow Lives: The Forgotten Women of the War on Terror’. By, Victoria Brittain. Pluto Press, February 2013.
Whenever the long arm of state-sponsored violence reaches into the lives of ordinary people, the artist, the writer, face choices, moral and esthetic. They can look away. Most do so, turning attention strictly to domestic or historical matters. Or, like film director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal, they can take the story power tells and retell it as it has been told to them, in this case by the CIA, which provided the filmmakers special access to the archives on the hunt for, and slaying of, Usama bin Laden.
By Dan DeWalt
This week, the government began their assault against private Bradley Manning. Even though he has already plead guilty to misusing classified documents and faces twenty years in prison, prosecutors want him branded as having aided the enemy, with a life sentence to go along.
By Dave Lindorff
Anyone who was a fan of the old ABC TV series “The Untouchables” or of the later series, also on ABC, called “The FBI,” would know something is terribly fishy about the FBI slaying of Ibragim Todashev.
With U.S. approval of Congress holding steady at a whopping 15%, one wonders just who it is the elected representatives are representing. Perhaps we can answer that question, by looking at some of their recent activities, and considering some of the things currently left undone.
The Deepening Shame of Guantanamo
Editor Note: For more than a decade, the Guantanamo Bay prison has been a blot on America’s conscience. President Obama vowed to close it but acceded to congressional demands to keep it open. Now, an emerging humanitarian crisis – a mass hunger strike – is drawing only scant attention.
By Ray McGovern
There have been nine congressional hearings on the Benghazi controversy – with more to come – but almost no one in Congress dares put the spotlight on the unfolding scandal surrounding the Guantanamo Bay prison where most of the remaining 166 inmates have opted to “escape” from indefinite detention via the only way open to them – starving themselves to death.
By Dave Lindorff
The Boston Marathon bombing has already demonstrated the best and the worst of America for all the world to see.
Protest Actions Demand End to Indefinite Detention, Closure of Prison
What: Rallies, Protests, Visual Photo-ops
Where: 16 U.S. Cities including SF Bay Area (more to be announced)
When: Thursday April 11, 2013
San Francisco protest:
4:30 PM rally NEW Federal Building, San Francisco (7th/Mission);
“Prisoners’ Processional” march to Powell/Market
5:30 vigil at Powell/Market
Across the U.S. on Thursday, street protests will support prisoners detained at the U.S. prison in Guantánamo who are engaged in a large-scale hunger strike which began in early February. Some prisoners are now in critical condition.
“The vast majority of the 166 men have been held for more than eleven years without any charge or fair trial, with no end to their detention in sight. The Obama administration must take swift measures to humanely address the immediate causes of the hunger strike and fulfill its promise to close Guantánamo” says a statement from World Can’t Wait andWitness Against Torture.
The prisoners’ action, described by a U.S. military spokesman as an “orchestrated event intended to garner media attention,” has begun to achieve “just that, and we intend to magnify their voices,” say the protesters. The Boston Globehas urged President Obama to close the prison because keeping Guantánamo open is “a challenge to our reputation around the world.” The New York Times said the prisoners’ action is “exposing the lawlessness of the system that marooned them there,” describing the indefinite detention of men long cleared for release as the “essence of what has been wrong with Guantánamo from the start.”
Protesters demand that action be taken by the U.S. government in time to save the lives of the prisoners, with the aim of closing the prison. In Chicago and San Francisco, nine protesters will wear orange jumpsuits to represent the nine men who have already died in Guantánamo waiting for justice.
At noon in Washington, D.C. protesters will gather at the White House to focus on the president’s 2009 promise to close Guantánamo.
Full information on the protests nationwide.
By Dave Lindorff
Thanks to the courageous action of Private Bradley Manning, the young soldier who has been held for over two years by the US military on trumped-up charges including espionage and aiding the enemy, we now have solid evidence that the country’s two leading news organizations, the Washington Post and the New York Times, are not interesting in serious reporting critical of the government.
Debra Sweet, Director, The World Can't Wait It happened on The Hollywood Walk of Shame. World Can't Wait joined with ICUJP and other groups in a march and vigil that took over the intersection at Hollywood Blvd. and Highland Ave for about 45 minutes on Sunday, Feb 17. This is the famous scene where Oscars will be awarded in one week. Actor David Clennon spoke at a nearby church and then led the group of about 40 people, all ages, down to the Avenue of the Stars.
Yale University to Train U.S. Special Forces in Interrogation Techniques by Practicing on Immigrants
The Department of Defense and Yale University have partnered up to train U.S. soldiers in the art of interrogation techniques with the local immigrant community acting as test subjects, reports the Yale Daily News.
As early as this April, Yale plans to welcome a training center for interrogators to its campus.
By Dave Lindorff
If the Constitution is to have any relevance, and if America is to remain a free society, then there is really no alternative: there must be a bill of impeachment drawn up and submitted in the House, and there must at least be a hearing on that bill in the House Judiciary Committee.
British man who 'vanished' after being stripped of citizenship says he was tortured and forced to sign a confession by the CIA
A British man who disappeared after being stripped of his citizenship claims he was tortured in an African prison before being handed over to the CIA and forced to sign a confession.
Mahdi Hashi, who vanished last summer in Somalia, has described for the first time his 'horrific' ordeal at the hands of the secret police in the neighbouring state of Djibouti, who he claims worked closely with US interrogators.
The 23-year-old, who lived in London, alleges that he was stripped and repeatedly slapped before being threatened with electrocution and sexual abuse by officers who were attached to Djibouti's intelligence service.
Speaking from a top security prison in New York, where his family tracked him down just before Christmas, Mr Hashi claims he was so frightened by the threats of torture that he signed the confession demanded by his American interrogators.
In a 35-minute conversation with his British lawyers last week, Mr Hashi also told how he was made to watch as a Swedish detainee was beaten in front of him: '[The man was] stripped to his underwear and hung upside down.
Does every American girl who'd like to be a princess know what that means?
A Bahraini princess is facing charges of torturing pro-democracy activists in the Gulf island kingdom.
Noura Bint Ebrahim al-Khalifa, who serves in Bahrain's Drugs Control Unit, is accused along with another officer of torturing three people in detention.
Hundreds of protesters were detained as Bahrain struggled to put down a popular uprising that began in February 2011.
The uprising, which began peacefully with calls for democratic reform, was crushed by the ruling al-Khalifas.
Noura al-Khalifa, 29, who denies the charges, appeared in court on Sunday and Monday to hear the allegations.
By Ann Wright, OpEdNews
Despite his January 22, 2009 executive order closing Guantanamo Prison in one year, President Obama ensured the continued operation of Guantanamo for another year by signing the National Defense Authorization Act of 2013, and refused to challenge the Congressional mandated ban on transfers from Guantánamo to the federal court and prison system in the United States.
There are 166 out of 779 still imprisoned, including 87 cleared for release, but still held at Guantanamo
The Grilling that Brennan Deserves
Editor Note: When President Obama’s national security nominees reach the Senate, the toughest challenge is expected against Chuck Hagel for Defense, but CIA Director-designee John Brennan has more to explain about his work over the past decade on the terror war’s “dark side,” says ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern.
By Ray McGovern
As Washington’s pundit class sees it, Defense Secretary-designee Chuck Hagel deserves a tough grilling over his hesitancy to go to war with Iran and his controversial detection of a pro-Israel lobby operating in the U.S. capital, but prospective CIA Director John Brennan should get only a few polite queries about his role helping to create and sustain Dick Cheney’s “dark side.”
Ironies of living in the post-Bush world: by Debra Sweet Director World Can't Wait
1. The only CIA operative connected to waterboarding and torture during the Bush regime to be jailed, John Kiriakou, will go to prison for giving an agent's name to reporters in connection with an investigation aimed at exposing enhanced interrogation techniques. The agents who did the torture face no sanctions at all, and in fact are glorified in popular culture, like the new film Zero Dark Thirty.
From the Bradley Manning Support Network
Only giving 112 days credit off any future prison sentence does little to keep the military from torturing any future soldiers awaiting controversial trials. Write Maj. General Horst, tell him the persecution of Bradley Manning is unnaceptable!
Judge Denise Lind. Sketch by Clark Stoeckley, Bradley Manning Support Network.
After two weeks of intense litigation by Bradley Manning's defense, and hearing how Quantico brig staff blatantly disregarded Navy Rules in their mistreatment of Bradley, military Judge Denise Lind acknowledged that Bradley was punished unlawfully before trial and she has awarded him 118 days sentencing credit.
For nine months in Quantico, VA, Bradley was held isolated in a 6x8 ft cell, and denied access to sunlight and meaningful exercise, conditions called "cruel, inhuman and degrading" by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture. It was only after considerable public outcry and coordinated action that Bradley's conditions improved. The 112 days sentencing credit that Bradley has been awarded for being tortured is still vastly overshadowed by the outrageous 150 years in prison Bradley still faces.
Despite Bradley Manning's honorable intentions to blow the whistle on unpunished war crimes, torture and government corruption and the military's failure to show any harm done to the US as a result of his releases, Bradley is facing harsher prosecution (and persecution) than US soldiers who are guilty of murdering civilians in the Middle East. The extremely aggressive charges against him are no accident. They are intended to put a chill on military whistle-blowing. The man who set these charges? Maj. Gen. Karl Horst. Write to tell him that this persecution of an American patriot is unacceptable!
Maj. General Horst
7115 South Boundary Boulevard
MacDill AFB, FL
The hearing continues through Friday, January 11. Bradley Manning’s court-martial trial is scheduled to start March 6, 2013.
Shahid Buttar is the executive director the Bill of Rights Defense Committee and the People’s Campaign for the Constitution which works to defend civil liberties, constitutional rights, and rule of law principles threatened within the United States by law enforcement and intelligence agencies. He is a constitutional lawyer, grassroots organizer, independent columnist, musician, and poet. He discusses President Obama's signing of two new pieces of legislation permitting warrantless spying and indefinite detention. He also discusses rendition, torture, and the new film "Zero Dark Thirty."
Total run time: 29:00
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Producer: David Swanson.
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WAT 2013 – “HUNGERING FOR JUSTICE”
DAY 1 – JANUARY 6th
January 11, 2013 marks the eleventh anniversary of the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, the seventh anniversary of Witness Against Torture’s January 11 presence in D.C., and our fifth liquids fast. Here we are again, pilgrims from across the country, gathering in D.C. Though it is not to pay homage to the nation’s capital that we come, but to honor a common cause, a divine mandate in fact, “love one another.” Even enemies, even strangers, undoubtedly those unjustly detained.
First Trinity has once again graciously allowed us their space and at a modest rate, though we are still looking to raise funds to cover the cost of rent, as well as liquid sustenance of juice and tea. The fast began this afternoon after a farewell-to-eating feast of pizza. Though it is a somber cause for which we gather, the atmosphere was paradoxically celebratory as many friends who haven’t seen each other for months, or even since last year, are reunited. As this struggle continues, we find joy in community. And it is a community that is continually growing. “We are a large circle,” Matt D. said at our first meeting of fasters, “but our circle is larger than faces you see.” We know many of you across the country (and farther) are joining us, and very much feel your presence here.
These updates are a way of welcoming those of you who are with us, though not among us, into the circle. We will include reflections from fasters present and apart, reports on actions and events, and links to relevant articles. In addition to these updates we intend to connect with those who are interested via “fasters phone calls,” stay tuned for the call-in number!
The public "controversy" whipped up by release of the new torture movie Zero Dark Thirty is actually a re-hash of an argument that had largely been put to bed, that torture works to extract reliable intelligence from suspected terrorists (and even if it did, would that make the practice morally acceptable?) But torture IS effective in getting subjects to say what you want them to say, to fabricate rationale for government venture, such as the ultimate war crime of aggression on sovereign nations that pose no imminent threat.
Film director Kathryn Bigelow's reputation alone promises to draw a sizable audience; her pornographic depictions of CIA brutality may provide the titillation for many additional viewers, including the video game junkies that play Medal of Honor Warfighter. But this may very well not be the blockbuster that the film industry anticipates. Indeed, critical reviews of the movie, and the history of its making, may prove to be its undoing. Hollywood's hard sell might not be able to overcome revulsion to this kind of "entertainment."
I refuse to buy the lie that the Central Intelligence Agency has ever been a force for good, that extra-legal assassination is ever justified, that American lives are worth more than others. So no, I will not be screening this dangerous piece of CIA-friendly propaganda. I will however be outside theaters to protest this movie, of course, but also use this opportunity to promote the truth about the crimes of our government. I encourage readers to do the same. World Can't Wait will be out in orange jumpsuits to represent the Guantanamo prisoners that Obama has failed to release, flyering (download here), holding signs and banners, and loudly proclaiming that NO! Torture is always illegal, immoral, and unacceptable.
Join us for the first of what we hope to be many protests in the Bay Area:
Friday, January 4th
AMC Bay Street 16 Theater
5614 Shellmound Street
11:00 AM to Noon and 6:00 - 7:00 PM
See you there. And plan one for your own neighborhood.
By Charles M. Young
A 21st century psychotherapist steps into a time machine and comes out in Atlanta in 1855. Having no other marketable skills, he hangs out a shingle and promises new remedies for mental illness. A well-dressed gentleman knocks on the door and inquires if the psychotherapist might come to his plantation to examine the slaves.