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Criminal Prosecution and Accountability


US Military Leadership Says "Zero Tolerance for Murder, Assault and Hazing," But Marine Corps Courts Rule Differently

By Colonel Ann Wright, US Army Reserves (Retired)

Despite US military leadership stating there is zero tolerance for murder, assault and hazing, recent Marine Corps court-martial plea bargains and court-martial panel decisions in manslaughter and assault trials indicate strong institutional “tolerance” for those crimes.

None of 8 Marines Charged in the notorious 2005 Haditha Murder of 24 Unarmed Civilian Iraqis is Convicted

Six years after a horrific attack in 2005 on unarmed Iraqi civilians in the town of Haditha, Iraq, in which 24 persons, including seven children, a toddler, three women and a 76-year-old man in a wheelchair, were killed by US Marines in retaliation for an IED blowing up a Marine vehicle in which one Marine died, no Marines have been found guilty of murder or manslaughter. 

On January 24, 2012, the last of 8 Marines accused in the murder of 12 of the 24 unarmed civilian Iraqis, had nine counts of manslaughter dropped for a plea of guilty to a single count of negligent dereliction of duty. Staff Sergeant Frank Wuterich admitted to the court that he had told his squad to “shoot first, ask questions later.”

Of the seven other Marines charged for the deaths of the civilians, one Marine was acquitted and the six others in his squad had their cases dropped by Marine prosecutors in exchange for their cooperation and testimony against the other two Marines.

However,  when Wuterich’s case finally came to trial, the prosecution agreed to a plea bargain after Wuterich’s squad members began giving contradictory testimony to what they told investigators during the initial investigation six years before. The changed testimony precipitated the prosecution’s plea deal for Wuterich for the Haditha murders. 

 Lt. Col. Joseph Kloppel, a Marine Corps spokesman, said the plea deal was the result of mutual negotiations and does not reflect how the case was going for the prosecution. He said the government investigated and prosecuted the case as it should have.

After the Marine prosecutors’ decision to offer Wuterich a plea bargain and dropped the nine manslaughter charges, military judge, Lt. Col. David Jones, recommended a maximum sentence of three months for Wuterich.  Jones said, “It’s for difficult the court to fathom negligent dereliction of duty worse than the facts of this case.”  However, after seeing the prosecution and defense terms of agreement for the plea bargain, Jones said that the deal agreed to by the prosecution prevented any jail time for Wuterich.  

Jones recommended that Wuterich be reduced in rank to Private, which would have docked his pay, but he decided not apply this punishment as Wuterich is a divorced father with the sole custody of three children.

Wuterich read a statement apologizing to the families of the victims stating that he never fired on or intended to harm innocent women and children, but that his plea should not be seen as a statement that he believed his squad had dishonored their country.

Outrage and Anger in Iraq for No Marines Held Accountable for Murder of 24 Unarmed Civilians

As a reminder of the protest and outrage in Iraq with the plea bargain to drop nine manslaughter counts for the Marine brought to a court martial in the deaths of 24 unarmed civilians in Haditha six years ago, these are the names of the unarmed children, women and men killed by the Marines in the village of Haditha:

House #1—7 killed, 2 injured (but survived), 2 escaped

1. Abdul Hamid Hassan Ali, 76—grandfather, father and husband. Died with nine rounds in the chest and abdomen.

2. Khamisa Tuma Ali, 66—wife of Abdul Hamid Hassan Ali

 3. Rashid Abdul Hamid, 30.

4. Walid Abdul Hamid Hassan, 35.

5. Jahid Abdul Hamid Hassan, middle-aged man.

6. Asma Salman Rasif, 32.

7. Abdullah Walid, 4.

Injured: Iman, 8, and Abdul Rahman, 5.

Escaped: Daughter-in-law, Hiba, escaped with 2-month-old Asia

House #2—8 killed, 1 survivor: Shot at close range and attacked with grenades

 8. Younis Salim Khafif, 43—husband of Aida Yasin Ahmed, father.

 9. Aida Yasin Ahmed, 41—wife of Younis Salim Khafif, killed trying to shield her youngest daughter Aisha.

10. Muhammad Younis Salim, 8—son.

11. Noor Younis Salim, 14—daughter.

12. Sabaa Younis Salim, 10—daughter.

13. Zainab Younis Salim, 5—daughter.

14. Aisha Younis Salim, 3—daughter.

15. A 1-year-old girl staying with the family.

Survived: Safa Younis Salim, 13.

House #3—4 brothers killed

16. Jamal Ahmed, 41.

17. Marwan Ahmed, 28.

18. Qahtan Ahmed, 24.

19. Chasib Ahmed, 27.

Taxi—5 killed: Passengers were students at the Technical Institute in Saqlawiyah

 20. Ahmed Khidher, taxi driver.

21. Akram Hamid Flayeh.

22. Khalid Ayada al-Zawi.

23. Wajdi Ayada al-Zawi.

24. Mohammed Battal Mahmoud.

Consistency in Military "Justice" -- No Punishment for Massacres

The Haditha murders and the results of the court-martials of those accused of conducting the murders have been compared to the My Lai massacre of the Vietnam War.  On March 16, 1968, somewhere between 347 and 504 unarmed civilians were murdered in the village called My Lai by soldiers of “Charlie” Company of the US Army’s Americal Division.  Most of the victims were women, children (including babies), and elderly people. Some of the bodies were later found to be mutilated. 26 US soldiers were initially charged with criminal offenses, but only Second Lieutenant William Calley, a platoon leader in Charlie Company, was convicted. Calley was found guilty of killing 22 villagers and was originally given a life sentence, but he received a sentence of three and a half years, not in prison, but under house arrest on a military base.

Marine Assaults lead to Suicide

In the past two weeks at the US Marine Base in Kaneohe, Hawaii, the two of three Marines assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment have been court-martialed for their part in assault of a fellow Marine Lance Corporal Harry Lew who ended up committing suicide in Afghanistan 20 minutes after the assault.   Lance Corporal Jacob Jacoby, 21, pleaded guilty to three charges of assault on Lew including kicking Lew in the head and back and punching Lew on his helmet for 3 and ½ hours. 

In plea bargain, Benjamin was allowed to plea bargain for 30 days confinement and a reduction in rank to private first class and the Marine prosecutor agreed to drop the remaining two charges of wrongfully abusing, humiliating, demeaning and threatening Lew.

The court martial judge, US Navy Captain Carrie Stephens, said that there was “no evidence that there was a direct link between the assault on Lew and his suicide” that occurred 20 minutes later.  The judge did not honor the prosecution’s request for a bad conduct discharge and instead reduced Jacoby in rank to Private First Class and allowed him to stay in the Marine Corps.  

Lew committed suicide on April 3, 2011, after he was assaulted by the three Marines because he had fallen asleep for the fourth time in less than two weeks while on sentry duty.  Besides being beaten up, Lew had been ordered to do push-ups and leg lifts with a sandbag.  The accused had poured sand into his Lew’s face and had put their boots in his back.

Lew had been ordered to dig a foxhole as further punishment and while crouched in the foxhole, he put his weapon in his mouth and pulled the trigger. 

Congresswoman Calls Verdict a "Slap in the Face of a Young Man Who Wanted to Serve His Country"

Lew’s aunt, US Congresswoman Judy Chu, called the verdict “a slap in the face to the life of a young man who only wanted to serve his country.”  Chu said the 30 day sentence for one of the assailants sends the message that “hazing will continue unabated.  There has to be reform.  There has to be actual enforcement instead of looking the other way.”  Chu attended the January 30, 2012 court-martial at Kaneohe Marine Base, Hawaii.  

Second Marine charged in Lew’s assault found not guilty

On February 10, 2012, Sergeant Benjamin Johns, the second Marine charged in the assault that led to Lew’s suicide, was found not guilty of “violating a lawful order by wrongfully humiliating and demeaning” Lew.  Prosecutors alleged that Johns “hazed: Lew by ordering him to dig a foxhole as punishment for falling asleep on guard duty at their patrol base in Afghanistan.  They also charged Johns with failure to intervene when another Marine, Lance Corporal Carlos Orozco, punished Lew by making him carry a sandbag around the base.

Court-martial jurors were not told of Lew’s suicide.  The military presiding judge Marine Colonel Michael Richardson ruled that there was no evidence to prove that Lew killed himself because of how he was treated.  Jurors were told only that Lew had died. 

The court-martial of the third Marine to be tried in Lew’s “hazing” assault is still pending.  Lance Corporal Carlos Orozco allegedly put his foot on Lew’s back, ordered Lew to do push-ups and side planks and poured sand into Lew’s face.  He is charged with assault, humiliating Lew and cruelty and maltreatment.

Another Asian-American soldier commits suicide after assaults

In another case of assault and hazing of an Asian-American, 8 US Army soldiers have been charged in the death 19 year old Private Danny Chen, who shot himself in Afghanistan on October 3, 2011 after weeks of  physical abuse, humiliation and racial slurs. The soldiers, including one First Lieutenant,  face charges ranging from ranging from dereliction of duty, assault, negligent homicide and involuntary manslaughter in Chen’s death.  The eight soldiers are assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, Schofield Barracks, Hawaii.

It is ironic that two Asian American service members have committed suicide in units that are based in Hawaii, the state that has probably the greatest proportion of Asian Americans in the United States.

Congresswoman Chu calls for Congressional hearings on assaults and suicides

Upon her return to Washington, DC from the court-martial in Hawaii of her nephew’s assailants, Congresswoman Chu sent a letter to the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee requesting a hearing on assaults on military members by fellow military members.  Rep. Adam Smith, the minority head of the Armed Services committee, said that the issue is a “cultural problem within the military, and it needs to be examined.”  

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs says assaults are “isolated”

General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of staff, condemned “hazing” as intolerable in the military stating it “undermines the service’s values, tarnishes its reputation and erodes the trust that bonds us.”  He added that the assault and hazing incidents appear to be “isolated.” 

8 Sailors Thrown out of the Navy for “Hazing” Assault of fellow sailor

However, despite what the Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff said, assaults and hazing in the military are not isolated.  But, in contrast to the Marine protection of those who assault and haze, on February 4, 2012, the US Navy announced that it had  thrown out of the Navy, eight sailors identified in a hazing incident aboard the USS Bonhomme Richard.  The Navy quickly acted on the criminal incident and punished the eight sailors with general discharges from the Navy after they choked and punched another sailor during a “hazing” incident.  The injured sailor sought medical attention from the ship's doctor.

The ship's captain investigated the hazing  "initiation" after the ship’s doctor reported the sailor’s injuries. The eight assailants were discharged under the Navy's zero-tolerance hazing policy.  "Pretty cut and dry," from the Navy's perspective, according to the senior U.S. Navy official.  "When an incident like this happens, it's got to be taken care of," McKinney said. "It goes contrary to our core values."   

Marines Urinating on Dead Taliban and Marine Unit Creates SS Flags

US Marine culture and environment has come under additional scrutiny due to a video of Marines urinating on dead Taliban and a unit posing with a flag with a Nazi SS logo. 

In January, 2012, a video surfaced of 4 Marines from a sniper team assigned to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, urinating on the bodies of dead Taliban.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta called the video “utterly deplorable” and promised a full investigation.

“This conduct is entirely inappropriate for members of the United States military and does not reflect the standards or values our armed forces are sworn to uphold,” he said. “Those found to have engaged in such conduct will be held accountable to the fullest extent.”

The Marine Corps is investigating the video.  

In another incident in Afghanistan coming into public view in February, 2012,  a Marine sniper unit posted to its blog in September, 2010, a photo of members of the unit posing in front of a flag with a logo resembling a logo resembling that of the  Nazi SS. The Marines who posed the photo are no longer with the unit. A Marine spokesperson said that the use of the SS symbol is not acceptable and that the Marine Corps had addressed the issue, but did not specify what action has been taken.  

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About the Author:  Ann Wright served 29 years in the US Army and Army Reserve and retired as a Colonel.  She is also a former US diplomat who resigned in 2003 in opposition to the Iraq War.

Imagine If Corporations Could Not Commit Crimes

“Corporate Accountability Now” Website Launched As Supreme

Court Prepares to Consider Whether Corporations Can Be Held Liable

for Crimes Against Humanity, Torture

 

As the U.S Supreme Court prepares to consider whether corporations are immune from liability for human rights violations, a coalition of leading human rights groups has launched a campaign and website called Corporate Accountability Now. The campaign is dedicated to the proposition that if corporations have the same rights as people when it comes to free speech, then they should be responsible for their actions when they commit grave crimes.

The Corporate Accountability Now website includes information about the law and cases at issue, why these issues matter, and how to get involved.

The upcoming Supreme Court argument coincides with widespread popular discontent over the impact of the Court’s controversial 2010 decision in Citizens United, which found that corporations have broad rights that enable them to affect public policy. In the two cases before the Court on Feb. 28, the Justices will be asked to determine whether corporations can be sued for their complicity in torture, crimes against humanity and other human rights abuses.

The Court’s decision will have profound implications for the future of corporate accountability in the United States. The Supreme Court has decided that corporations have rights just like human beings — now the Court must decide whether corporations also have the same responsibilities, or whether a corporation is only a ‘person’ when it benefits the company.

One of the cases is Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, which alleges that Royal Dutch/Shell was complicit in crimes against humanity in Nigeria in the 1990s, when numerous Nigerians from the Ogoni region were killed and tortured for their opposition to oil activities in their territory and criticism of Shell. The second case, Mohamad v. Palestinian Authority, charges that agents of the Palestinian Authority tortured and killed a U.S. citizen in the West Bank. Kiobel involves the Alien Tort Statute and Mohamad involves the Torture Victim Protection Act.

For more information, visit www.corporateaccountabilitynow.org.

 

Corporate Accountability Now is a joint project of EarthRights International, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and the Human Rights Litigation and International Legal Advocacy Clinic at the University of Minnesota Law School. Corporate Accountability Now does not represent the plaintiffs in either Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum or Mohamad v. Palestinian Authority, but the sponsoring organizations have filed amicus briefs in these cases.

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The Top Twelve Reasons Why You Should Hate the Mortgage Settlement

From Naked Capitalism:

As readers may know by now, 49 of 50 states have agreed to join the so-called mortgage settlement, with Oklahoma the lone refusenik. Although the fine points are still being hammered out, various news outlets (New York Times, Financial Times, Wall Street Journal) have details, with Dave Dayen’s overview at Firedoglake the best thus far.

The Wall Street Journal is also reporting that the SEC is about to launch some securities litigation against major banks. Since the statute of limitations has already run out on securities filings more than five years old, this means they’ll clip the banks for some of the very last (and dreckiest) deals they shoved out the door before the subprime market gave up the ghost.

The various news services are touting this pact at the biggest multi-state settlement since the tobacco deal in 1998. While narrowly accurate, this deal is bush league by comparison even though the underlying abuses in both cases have had devastating consequences.

The tobacco agreement was pegged as being worth nearly $250 billion over the first 25 years. Adjust that for inflation, and the disparity is even bigger. That shows you the difference in outcomes between a case where the prosecutors have solid evidence backing their charges, versus one where everyone know a lot of bad stuff happened, but no one has come close to marshaling the evidence.

The mortgage settlement terms have not been released, but more of the details have been leaked:

1. The total for the top five servicers is now touted as $26 billion (annoyingly, the FT is calling it “nearly $40 billion”), but of that, roughly $17 billion is credits for principal modifications, which as we pointed out earlier, can and almost assuredly will come largely from mortgages owned by investors. $3 billion is for refis, and only $5 billion will be in the form of hard cash payments, including $1500 to $2000 per borrower foreclosed on between September 2008 and December 2011.

Banks will be required to modify second liens that sit behind firsts “at least” pari passu, which in practice will mean at most pari passu. So this guarantees banks will also focus on borrowers where they do not have second lien exposure, and this also makes the settlement less helpful to struggling homeowners, since borrowers with both second and first liens default at much higher rates than those without second mortgages. Per the Journal:

“It’s not new money. It’s all soft dollars to the banks,” said Paul Miller, a bank analyst at FBR Capital Markets.

The Times is also subdued:

Despite the billions earmarked in the accord, the aid will help a relatively small portion of the millions of borrowers who are delinquent and facing foreclosure. The success could depend in part on how effectively the program is carried out because earlier efforts by Washington aimed at troubled borrowers helped far fewer than had been expected.

2. Schneiderman’s MERS suit survives, and he can add more banks as defendants. It isn’t clear what became of the Biden and Coakley MERS suits, but Biden sounded pretty adamant in past media presentations on preserving that.

3. Nevada’s and Arizona’s suits against Countrywide for violating its past consent decree on mortgage servicing has, in a new Orwellianism, been “folded into” the settlement.

4. The five big players in the settlement have already set aside reserves sufficient for this deal.

Here are the top twelve reasons why this deal stinks:

READ THE REST AT NAKED CAPITALISM.

Rights Group Submits Declaration Detailing Torture to Spanish Court after Judge Issues Order to Proceed with Guantánamo Torture Investigation

Document Highlights Treatment of Acknowledged Torture Victim

Mohammed al Qahtani, Helps Set Stage for Prosecution of Bush Administration Officials

February 8, 2012, New York and Madrid – Today, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) submitted a declaration to a Spanish court detailing the torture of Mohammed al Qahtani, who has been detained without charge or trial at Guantánamo since 2002. The submission follows Spanish Investigating Judge Pablo Ruz Gutierrez’s recent order to proceed with the probe into the U.S. torture program.

Mr. al Qahtani was the victim of the “First Special Interrogation Plan,” a regime of aggressive interrogation techniques amounting to torture personally authorized by former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.  Mr. al Qahtani is the only prisoner held at Guantánamo Bay the U.S. has officially admitted to torturing. Mr. al Qahtani’s treatment, much of which is described in detail in the declaration through his own words, includes 48 days of sleep deprivation, 20-hour interrogations, forced nudity, sexual humiliation, religious humiliation, physical force, prolonged stress positions, and prolonged sensory overstimulation. In addition, the document details the effects of the interrogation, which included Mr. al Qahtani’s severe emotional distress, inability to control his bladder, and visual and auditory hallucinations. Time Magazine obtained and published a detailed log of his interrogations in 2005.

Katherine Gallagher, a Senior Staff Attorney at the Center for Constitution Rights, said, “This declaration details the severe psychological and physical trauma suffered by Mr. al Qahtani as a result of the brutal treatment he was subjected to at Guantánamo through techniques that are in direct violation of the Geneva Convention and the Convention Against Torture. That the high-level U.S. officials alleged to be responsible for this criminal conduct, including Donald Rumsfeld and Geoffrey Miller, continue to enjoy impunity domestically is a stain on the U.S. system of justice.  We hope that this declaration will provide valuable evidence for use in holding these officials accountable in Spain, a venue that is willing to investigate torture.”

The declaration, compiled from Mr. al Qahtani’s own accounts by his attorney at CCR, provides a thorough description of his treatment in response to Judge Ruz’s request for more information about the program. Former CCR attorney Gitanjali Gutierrez conducted client interviews with Mr. al Qahtani during 27 trips to Guantánamo between December 2005 and November 2009.  The declaration identifies Major General Geoffrey Miller as responsible for both authorizing and implementing the interrogation techniques used on Mr. al Qahtani that led to his torture.  Miller was the commander of Guantánamo and was later implicated in the Abu Ghraib torture scandal after being appointed Deputy Commanding General of Detention Operations in Iraq.

Wolfgang Kaleck, Secretary General of the Berlin-based European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), which joined CCR in providing a dossier outlining Geoffrey Miller’s liability for torture to Judge Ruz last year, said  “The way the United States has dealt with established torture claims has been appalling. Those claims are now in the hands of the Spanish judiciary. Today’s submission before Judge Ruz greatly adds to the evidence previously presented against Geoffrey Miller and we hope the judge will act on it.”  

The case, which Judge Ruz inherited from Judge Baltasar Garzón, has been ongoing since April 2009, when Garzón opened a preliminary investigation into what he termed “an authorized and systematic plan of torture and ill-treatment on persons deprived of their freedom without any charge and without the basic rights of any detainee…” The investigation stemmed from a previous court case in which four former Guantánamo detainees at the center of the case were found to have been tortured. That investigation concluded that facts of the case related to violations under the Spanish Penal Code, the Third and Fourth Geneva Conventions, the Convention Against Torture, the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and the Organic Law of the Judicial Power (article 23.4.) Judge Ruz’s recent order was precipitated, in part, by a decision to proceed with the investigation after the U.S. and U.K. governments failed to respond to letters rogatory issued by the Spanish court that requested information about any domestic investigations in those countries.

Details about the ongoing case in Spain and the full declaration are available here and here, respectively. Information about on-going litigation in U.S. courts related to Mr. al Qahtani is available here: http://www.ccrjustice.org/ourcases/current-cases/al-qahtani-v.-bush%2C-al-qahtani-v.-gates.

CCR filed cases against Donald Rumsfeld in Germany and France, and released a Bush Torture Indictment, under the Convention Against Torture, ready to be tailored to the specific laws of any of the 147 signatory countries to the Convention Against Torture where he may travel.  CCR has led the legal battle over Guantanamo in the U.S. for the last 10 years – representing clients in two Supreme Court cases and organizing and coordinating hundreds of pro bono lawyers across the country to represent the men at Guantanamo, ensuring that nearly all have the option of legal representation. Among other Guantánamo cases, the Center represents the families of men who died at Guantánamo, and men who have been released and are seeking justice in international courts.

The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change. Visit www.ccrjustice.org and follow @theCCR.

CIA Rendition Case Heads to Europe's Top Human Rights Judges

Open Society

A botched CIA anti-terrorism operation in Macedonia that led to a German citizen being mistakenly shipped to Afghanistan for secret interrogation for four months is to come under the scrutiny of Europe’s most senior human rights judges.

The case, El-Masri v Macedonia, was brought before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg on behalf of Khaled El-Masri by the Open Society Justice Initiative in 2009.

It has now become one of only 29 cases before the 17 judges of the European Court’s Grand Chamber, which focuses on exceptional cases of human rights law.

Macedonian agents seized El-Masri on December 31, 2003 and held him incommunicado for 23 days, accusing him of being a member of Al-Qaida. They subsequently handed him over to a team from the US Central Intelligence who flew him to Kabul. He was secretly detained and interrogated for four months in Afghanistan, before being flown back to Europe and left on the side of a road in Albania.

El-Masri is seeking an investigation by Macedonia.

Macedonia continues to deny the facts of El-Masri’s detention and rendition. US courts have rejected attempts by El-Masri to seek compensation. US diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks website show that US diplomats put pressure on Germany not to seek the extradition of several Americans allegedly involved in the case, while also encouraging Macedonia to maintain its silence on what happened.

James A. Goldston, executive director of the Open Society Justice Initiative, welcomed the decision to elevate the case from the Trial Chamber where it was initially filed. “This move underscores the importance the European Court properly attaches to the issues under examination,” he said.

Goldston added: “It is time for both the US and Macedonia to acknowledge the facts of this case and compensate El-Masri appropriately.”

While the US has declined to pursue investigations into abuses linked to the Bush era “extraordinary rendition” program, both the UK and Spain announced new inquiries into alleged abuses last month. A third inquiry is continuing in Poland.

In contrast, the Obama administration has stuck to its position not to investigate whether Bush administration officials acted illegally by authorizing the use of harsh interrogation techniques.

US Iran Policy in 'Lockstep' with Israel?: President Obama Risks Becoming a Major-League War Criminal

 

By Dave Lindorff

 

It’s a relief to know that President Obama’s “preferred” solution to dealing with disagreements with Iran is diplomacy, as he said yesterday in an interview on NBC TV, but at the same time, it’s profoundly disturbing that he is simultaneously saying that, as an AP report on the interview put it: he would “not take options off the table to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons.”

 

They Hate Us for This Guy's Freedom

Charges dropped against U.S. soldier in Afghan murder

SEATTLE (Reuters) - The U.S. Army has dismissed all charges against the last of five soldiers to face a court-martial in the slaying of unarmed Afghan civilians, officials from their home base near Tacoma, Washington, said on Friday.

Army Specialist Michael Wagnon had been charged with premediated murder in the death of a villager in Afghanistan during a tour of duty in February 2010.

"As of right now, he's pretty much a free man," said Lieutenant Colonel Gary Dangerfield, a spokesman for Joint Base Lewis-McChord. "He is still in the Army but a free man."

NY Attorney General Sues BofA, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo

A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN ANNOUNCES MAJOR LAWSUIT AGAINST NATION’S LARGEST BANKS FOR DECEPTIVE & FRAUDULENT USE OF ELECTRONIC MORTGAGE REGISTRY
http://www.ag.ny.gov/media_center/2012/feb/feb03a_12.html

Complaint Charges Use Of MERS By Bank Of America, J.P. Morgan Chase, And Wells Fargo Resulted In Fraudulent Foreclosure Filings  

Servicers And MERS Filed Improper Foreclosure Actions Where Authority To Sue Was Questionable

Schneiderman: MERS And Servicers Engaged In Deceptive and Fraudulent Practices That Harmed Homeowners And Undermined Judicial Foreclosure Process

NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today filed a lawsuit against several of the nation’s largest banks charging that the creation and use of a private national mortgage electronic registry system known as MERS has resulted in a wide range of deceptive and fraudulent foreclosure filings in New York state and federal courts, harming homeowners and undermining the integrity of the judicial foreclosure process. The lawsuit asserts that employees and agents of Bank of America, J.P. Morgan Chase, and Wells Fargo, acting as "MERS certifying officers," have repeatedly submitted court documents containing false and misleading information that made it appear that the foreclosing party had the authority to bring a case when in fact it may not have. The lawsuit names JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A., Bank of America, N.A., Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., as well as Virginia-based MERSCORP, Inc. and its subsidiary, Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, Inc.

The lawsuit further asserts that the MERS System has effectively eliminated homeowners' and the public's ability to track property transfers through the traditional public records system. Instead, this information is now stored only in a private database – which is plagued with inaccuracies and errors – over which MERS and its financial institution members exercise sole control. Additional defendants include BAC Home Loans Servicing, LP, Chase Home Finance LLC, EMC Mortgage Corporation, and Wells Fargo Home Mortgage, Inc.

“The banks created the MERS system as an end-run around the property recording system, to facilitate the rapid securitization and sale of mortgages. Once the mortgages went sour, these same banks brought foreclosure proceedings en masse based on deceptive and fraudulent court submissions, seeking to take homes away from people with little regard for basic legal requirements or the rule of law,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “Our action demonstrates that there is one set of rules for all – no matter how big or powerful the institution may be – and that those rules will be enforced vigorously. Only through real accountability for the illegal and deceptive conduct in the foreclosure crisis will there be justice for New York’s homeowners.”

The financial industry created MERS in 1995 to allow financial institutions to evade local county recording fees, avoid the hassle and paperwork of publicly recording mortgage transfers, and facilitate the rapid sale and securitization of mortgages. MERS operates as a membership organization, and most large companies that participate in the mortgage industry – by originating loans, buying or investing in loans, or servicing loans – are members, including JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac. Over 70 million loans nationally have been registered in MERS System, including about 30 million currently active loans.

Through their membership in MERS, these companies avoided publicly recording the purchase and sale of mortgages by designating MERS Inc. – a shell company with no economic interest in any mortgage loan – as the "nominal" mortgagee of the loan in the public records. Instead, MERS members were supposed to log mortgage transfers in the MERS private electronic registry. The basic theory behind MERS is that, because MERS Inc. serves as a "nominee" (or agent) for most major lenders, it remains the "mortgagee" in the public records regardless of how often the loan is sold or transferred among MERS members. Thus, although MERSCORP has only about 70 employees, MERS Inc. serves as the mortgagee of record for tens of millions of loans registered in the MERS System.

MERS has granted over 20,000 “certifying officers” the authority to act on its behalf, including the authority to assign mortgages, to execute paperwork necessary to foreclose, and to submit filings on behalf of MERS in bankruptcy proceedings. These certifying officers are not MERS employees, but instead are employed by MERS members, including JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, and Wells Fargo.

MERS' conduct, as well as the servicers’ use of the MERS System, has resulted in the filing of improper New York foreclosure proceedings, undermined the integrity of the judicial process, created confusion and uncertainty concerning property ownership interests, and potentially clouded titles on properties throughout the State of New York. In fact, several New York judges have questioned the standing of the foreclosing party in cases involving MERS loans and the validity of mortgage assignments executed by MERS certifying officers.

The lawsuit specifically charges that the defendants have engaged in the following fraudulent and deceptive practices:

  • MERS has filed over 13,000 foreclosure actions against New York homeowners listing itself as the plaintiff, but in many instances, MERS lacked the legal authority to foreclose and did not own or hold the promissory note, despite saying otherwise in court submissions.
  • MERS certifying officers, including employees and agents of JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, and Wells Fargo, have repeatedly executed and submitted in court legal documents purporting to assign the mortgage and/or note to the foreclosing party. These documents contain numerous defects, including affirmative misrepresentations of fact, which render them false, deceptive, and/or invalid. These assignments were often automatically generated and "robosigned" by individuals who did not review the underlying property ownership records, confirm the documents’ accuracy, or even read the documents. These false and defective assignments often masked gaps in the chain of title and the foreclosing party's inability to establish its authority to foreclose, and as a result have misled homeowners and the courts.
  • MERS' indiscriminate use of non-employee "certifying officers" to execute vital legal documents has confused, misled, and deceived homeowners and the courts and made it difficult to ascertain whether a party actually has the right to foreclose. MERS certifying officers have regularly executed and submitted in court mortgage assignments and other legal documents on behalf of MERS without disclosing that they are not MERS employees, but instead are employed by other entities, such as the mortgage servicer filing the case or its counsel. The signature line just indicates that the individual is an "Assistant Secretary," "Vice President," or other officer of MERS. Indeed, these documents often purport to assign the mortgage to the certifying officer's own employer. Moreover, as a result of the defendants' failure to track the designation of certifying officers and the scope of their authority to act, individuals have executed legal documents on behalf of MERS, such as mortgage assignments and loan modifications, when they were either not designated as a MERS certifying officer at the time or were not authorized to execute documents on behalf of MERS with respect to the subject loan.
  • MERS and its members have deceived and misled borrowers about the importance and ramifications of MERS' role with respect to their loan by providing inadequate disclosures.
  • The MERS System is riddled with inaccuracies which make it difficult to verify the chain of title for a loan or the current note-holder, and creates confusion among stakeholders who rely on the information. In addition, as a result of these inaccuracies, MERS has filed mortgage satisfactions against the wrong property.

The lawsuit seeks a declaration that the alleged practices violate the law, as well as injunctive relief, damages for harmed homeowners, and civil penalties. The lawsuit also seeks a court order requiring defendants to take all actions necessary to cure any title defects and clear any improper liens resulting from their fraudulent and deceptive acts and practices.

The matter is being handled by Deputy Bureau Chief of the Bureau of Consumer Frauds & Protection Jeffrey K. Powell, Assistant Attorney General Clare Norins, and Assistant Solicitor General Steven C. Wu, under the supervision of First Deputy Attorney General Harlan Levy.

ACLU sues to force release of drone attack records

From WaPo:

The American Civil Liberties Union asked a federal court Wednesday to force the Obama administration to release legal and intelligence records related to the killing of three U.S. citizens in drone attacks in Yemen last year.

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, charged the Justice and Defense departments and the CIA with illegally failing to respond to requests made in October under the Freedom of Information Act. It cited public comments made by President Obama, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and other officials in arguing that the government cannot credibly claim a secrecy defense.

“The government’s self-serving attitude toward transparency and disclosure is unacceptable,” the ACLU said in a statement. “Officials cannot be allowed to release bits of information about the targeted killing program when they think it will bolster their position, but refuse even to confirm [its] existence” when asked for information “in the service of real transparency and accountability.”

In addition to statements by Obama and Panetta, the lawsuit notes that “media reports about the targeted killing program routinely quote anonymous government officials describing details of the program.”

Background:

With no independent outside access to Pakistan’s tribal zones, the disconnect is near-absolute between those who charge the administration with unjustified killings and those in the administration who deny the allegations. On Dec. 2, a Pakistani lawyer backed by the British-based charity Reprieve notified Munter of plans to file murder charges in the deaths of Tariq Aziz, 16, and his cousin Waheed Rehman, 12, allegedly killed in an Oct. 31 drone strike on a vehicle in their home region of North Waziristan. According to Reprieve, its representatives had met with Tariq just days earlier in Islamabad to give him a camera to document drone deaths.

Can This Be for Real? A Prosecution of Banksters Being Launched! What's the Catch?

From WSJ:

Federal prosecutors are preparing to file criminal charges against former Wall Street traders alleging they misstated the value of mortgage bonds, an issue central to the 2008 financial crisis, according to people familiar with the matter.

The Manhattan U.S. Attorney's office is planning to allege in a criminal complaint that several former traders at Credit Suisse Group AG, a major global investment bank, misled the bank's investors by booking inflated prices of mortgage bonds to boost their bonuses, despite knowing the values of those securities had dropped, according to the people familiar with the matter.

Center for Constitutional Rights Condemns Obama for Admitting Yemeni Interim President to the U.S.

In response to the Obama administration’s decision to admit  interim Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh to the U.S. on Saturday night, purportedly to receive medical treatment, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) issued the following statement:

The Haditha Massacre: No Justice for Iraqis

By Marjorie Cohn

They ranged from little babies to adult males and females.

I'll never be able to get that out of my head. I can still smell the blood.

This left something in my head and heart.

            -Lance Cpl. Roel Ryan Briones

Last week, Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich was sentenced to a reduction in rank but no jail time for leading his squad in a rampage known as “The Haditha Massacre.” Wuterich, who was charged with nine counts of manslaughter, pled guilty to dereliction of duty. Six other Marines have had their charges dismissed and another was acquitted for his part in the massacre.

Renowned Spanish Judge Goes on Trial, Accused of Abusing Power

From NYTimes:

MADRID — Baltasar Garzón, a high-profile Spanish judge who garnered international renown by pursuing political leaders, including Gen. Augusto Pinochet of Chile, was himself on trial on Tuesday over accusations that he had abused his powers to investigate atrocities committed during the Spanish Civil War.

The case is one of three trials focusing on Judge Garzón, who had spearheaded Spain’s fight against political corruption and against terrorism by ETA, the Basque separatist group.

Last week, a separate trial began over whether Judge Garzón had ordered illegal eavesdropping as part of a corruption investigation. The case that opened on Tuesday follows Judge Garzón’s indictment by a fellow judge in early 2010 on charges that he overreached his authority in pursuit of civil war abuses.

The case, which on Tuesday focused on procedural issues, has drawn international resonance and criticism. Amnesty International has called the proceeding against the judge “a threat to human rights and judicial independence.”

Court Dismissed Case Seeking to Hold U.S. Officials Accountable for Torturing American Citizen

From ACLU:

NEW YORK – The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit today affirmed the dismissal of the American Civil Liberties Union’s lawsuit against current and former government officials for their roles in the unlawful detention and torture of U.S. citizen José Padilla. The U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina ruled in February that an American citizen designated an "enemy combatant" by the executive branch and tortured by government officials could not bring suit to vindicate his constitutional rights.
 
“Today is a sad day for the rule of law and for those who believe that the courts should protect American citizens from torture by their own government,” said ACLU National Security Project Litigation Director Ben Wizner, who argued the appeal in court. “By dismissing this lawsuit, the appeals court handed the government a blank check to commit any abuse in the name of national security, even the brutal torture of a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil. This impunity is not only anathema to a democracy governed by laws, but contrary to history’s lesson that in times of fear our values are a strength, not a hindrance.”

If You Want to Kill 24 People And Get Away With It, Make Sure They're Iraqis

From the Los Angeles Times:

Prosecutors and defense attorneys in the court-martial of Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich, accused in the killing of 24 unarmed Iraqis in 2005, announced an agreement Monday to settle the case.

Wuterich will plead guilty to a single count of negligent dereliction of duty. Other charges were dropped. No announcement was made on what kind of discharge Wuterich would receive.

The maximum sentence is three months in the brig. That decision will be made by the judge.

US Media Iraq Reporting: See No Evil

 

By Dave Lindorff

 

The Iraq war may be over, at least for US troops, but the cover-up of the atrocities committed there by American forces goes on, even in retrospectives about the war. A prime example is reporting on the destroyed city of Fallujah, where some of the heaviest fighting of the war took place.

 

On March 31, 2004, four armed mercenaries working for the firm then known as Blackwater (now Xe), were captured in Fallujah, Iraq’s third largest city and a hotbed of insurgent strength located in Anbar Province about 40 miles west of Baghdad. Reportedly killed in their vehicle, which was then torched, their charred bodies were strung up on a bridge over the Euphrates River. 

 

Protesting Torture Judges No Longer Permitted

By Susan Harman

I went to the 9th Circuit in San Francisco today to give Jay Bybee a piece of mind, as I've been doing for several years now. I watched him adjudicate a murder case, outraged at the innapropriateness of someone who's responsible for 100 (that we know of) men dying of torture, and indirectly for the million dead Iraqis and 5,000 dead American soldiers who were murdered because of lies wrung out of people by Bybee's torture, sitting in judgement over an 18 year-old kid who killed one person.

When the gavel came down, I stood and said, "Jay Bybee! Spain is coming after you for war crimes!" and four federal marshalls jumped on me. I was very surprised by their attack, because we negotiated an agreement after I was arrested in Seattle with the Chief Justice, Alex Kozinski, that we would not interrupt the cases, and the marshalls would let us be.

Complaint Filed with U.N. Special Rapporteur Alleges Interference with Spanish Judicial Process

CCR

U.S. and Spanish Authorities Attempted to Stop Cases Seeking Accountability of U.S. Officials for Torture and Unlawful Killing

press@ccrjustice.org

January 19, 2012, Madrid, New York, Berlin – Today, the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and the Berlin-based European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), filed a formal complaint to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Mrs. Gabriela Knaul. The groups submitted evidence from U.S.-Madrid embassy cables obtained through WikiLeaks that show that senior U.S. and Spanish officials sought to interfere with the Spanish judicial process in order to shield Americans from criminal prosecution for torture and unlawful killing.

N.C. Human Rights Group Report on Torture Flights

Human rights group calls on state to probe alleged 'torture flights'

19 January 2012 - A North Carolina human rights group is calling on state officials to investigate and stop alleged CIA missions originating in Johnston County that involve illegal torture.

North Carolina Stop Torture Now delivered a University of North Carolina School of Law report Wednesday to the governor, attorney general and others that claims the Central Intelligence Agency relies on Smithfield-based Aero Contractors Ltd. to provide planes and pilots to transport prisoners overseas from the Johnston County Airport for secret interrogation using torture techniques.

On the Trial of Judge Garzon

Today Lawyers Rights Watch Canada, along with eight other human rights organizations, released a joint statement regarding the upcoming trial against Judge Baltasar Garzón in Spain for criminal malfeasance.

In May 2010, Judge Garzón was suspended by the Supreme Court as a result of an investigation into the charge of criminal malfeasance.  Malfeasance concerns misconduct in the administration of justice and sanctions judges for making unjust judicial decisions.  Judge Garzón is the only judge to have challenged the lack of accountability relating to the crimes committed during the Spanish Civil war and the subsequent Franco Regime.  In October 2008, he applied the principle that crimes against humanity cannot be subject to statutes of limitation or amnesty and authorized the investigation into the alleged disappearance, torture and execution of 114,266 persons, identified as victims, between 17 July 1936 and December 1951.  The joint statement, which is available in English and Spanish, comes as the court prepares to hear what has been termed the ‘historic memory’ case against Judge Garzón next week.  The signatory organizations stress the need for any criminal offence, such as that against malfeasance by judicial officers, to be applied cautiously so as not to undermine the independence of the judiciary and or to sanction a judge for following an accepted interpretation of international law.  The statement calls on the Spanish Supreme Court to act in accordance with the duty to guarantee the constitutional and international laws that defines its jurisdictional function with regard to the international obligations taken on by Spain.

Sadism in the Cell: Thanks to a Vindictive Prison System, Abu-Jamal is Still in 'The Hole'

 

By Linn Washington, Jr.


Those intent on tormenting now ex-death-row inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal have done it again, this time perhaps even exceeding their past efforts to painfully harass this man widely perceived as a political prisoner. 

Why Sue Obama?

Chris Hedges on Why He Is Suing Obama

By Chris Hedges

Attorneys Carl J. Mayer and Bruce I. Afran filed a complaint Friday in the Southern U.S. District Court in New York City on my behalf as a plaintiff against Barack Obama and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta to challenge the legality of the Authorization for Use of Military Force as embedded in the latest version of the National Defense Authorization Act, signed by the president Dec. 31.

The act authorizes the military in Title X, Subtitle D, entitled “Counter-Terrorism,” for the first time in more than 200 years, to carry out domestic policing. With this bill, which will take effect March 3, the military can indefinitely detain without trial any U.S. citizen deemed to be a terrorist or an accessory to terrorism. And suspects can be shipped by the military to our offshore penal colony in Guantanamo Bay and kept there until “the end of hostilities.” It is a catastrophic blow to civil liberties.

READ THE REST.

Spanish judge resumes probe into Guantanamo abuse, says US not answered information requests

By Associated Press

MADRID - A Spanish judge says he is proceeding with a probe into human rights abuses at the U.S. prison for terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay, after Washington failed to respond to requests for information.

The probe stems from torture complaints filed by four Muslims who are either citizens or residents of Spain and were once held at the prison.

The probe had been on hold while Judge Pablo Ruz awaited a response from the United States. Ruz said Friday he had received no answer from the U.S. and had thus decided to continue the case.

The judge asked prosecutors to report back to him with the names of U.S. officials who should be targeted in the probe.

Feds Sued For 'Torture Tape' Of So-Called 20th Hijacker

From WPIX:

Now, the Center for Constitutional Rights claims to have evidence of mistreatment of at least one detainee, Mohammed Al-Qahtani. He was believed to have been recruited by Al Qaeda to be one of the enforcers aboard the four hijacked planes on 9/11. He failed to join the 19 other terrorists because he was refused entry into the U.S. days earlier. He was subsequently hunted down, arrested in Afghanistan, and detained at the Guantanamo Bay compound. He has never gone to trial.

The human rights group claims Qahtani was tortured and subjected to "cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment" and that the Center's lawyers have seen videotape that proves it. The group has filed suit in federal court, demanding that the government release the tape for the public to see.

Killer Cops Aren't Heroes: We Need Police Who Think Like Firefighters, Not Like Soldiers in a War Zone

By Dave Lindorff

 

The sad slaying of troubled eighth-grader Jaime Gonzalez in Brownsville by trigger-happy local police illustrates the sad an dangerous state we have arrived at as we turn our local police forces into SWAT team soldiers up-armed with assault rifles, black facemasks and stun grenades.

The reason Gonzalez, who had no hostages and was just armed with a pellet gun, was killed by police bullets was because the primary concern of the officers confronting him was to eliminate the threat to themselves, not to rescue a troubled kid.

No Immunity for Torture

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This recently released report, Indefensible: A Reference for Prosecuting Torture and Other Felonies Committed by U.S. Officials Following September 11th, serves as a practitioner’s reference addressing the domestic and international laws implicated by the actions of certain former high-ranking government officials.  The report lays the groundwork for litigation against those responsible for approving and using illegal interrogation techniques that were the official policy of the Bush Administration.

More than a decade after the onset of the Bush Administration’s post-9/11 anti-terrorism policies, not a single torture survivor has succeeded in holding a top government official accountable in a U.S. court for the indefensible act of torture due in large part to legal maneuvering by both the Bush and Obama Administrations.  While certain actions taken by President Obama indicate his desire to break with the lawlessness characterized by the Bush Administration, he has failed to fulfill his international legal obligation to investigate these crimes of torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.  The report is a call for action.  If accountability cannot be achieved through the courts, it becomes even more critical that the U.S. government properly investigate acts of torture either through the appointment of a Special Counsel or alternatively by Congressional enactment of a Commission of Inquiry.

The report is the result of a multi-year collaborative effort between Human Rights USA and the International Human Rights Law Clinic at American University Washington College of Law.  

Read the full report, and view the press release.  In addition, you may request a hardcopy of the report by e-mailing info@humanrightsusa.org.  Please include “Accountability Report Request” in the subject line, as well as the appropriate return address listed in the body of the e-mail.  You may also make a request by calling (202) 296-5702.

Wiretap Suits OKd Against US, Not Telecoms

By Bob Egelko,

The nation's telecommunications companies can't be sued for cooperating with the Bush administration's secret surveillance program, but their customers can sue the government for allegedly intercepting their phone calls and e-mails without a warrant, a federal appeals court ruled Thursday.

The "secret room" in AT&T's Folsom Street office in San Francisco is believed to be one of several internet wiretapping facilities at AT&T offices around the country feeding data to the NSA. (Photo: Mark Klein) In a pair of decisions, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco upheld a 2008 law immunizing AT&T and other companies for their roles in wiretapping calls to alleged foreign terrorists, but revived a suit that accused the government of illegally intercepting millions of messages from U.S. residents.

That lawsuit was partly based on testimony in 2003 by former AT&T technician Mark Klein about equipment in the company's office on Folsom Street in San Francisco that allowed Internet traffic to be routed to the government.

'Dragnet' surveillance

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a privacy-rights organization representing AT&T customers, claimed the company had similar installations in other cities and used them for "dragnet" surveillance of everyday e-mails and phone calls, which the National Security Agency purportedly screened electronically for connections to terrorism.

"We look forward to proving the program is an unconstitutional and illegal violation of the rights of millions of ordinary Americans," said Cindy Cohn, the foundation's legal director.

Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd declined comment.

President George W. Bush acknowledged in 2005 that his administration had eavesdropped on calls to suspected foreign terrorists without the warrants required by federal law, but his Justice Department denied the existence of a dragnet surveillance program.

Dozens of suits challenging the surveillance were transferred to San Francisco. In one case, then-Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker ruled in March 2010 that federal agents had illegally wiretapped an Islamic organization, which was accidentally sent a copy of the surveillance documents. The Obama administration, which inherited the case, is appealing the ruling.

Stop Mass Incarceration by the United States, at Home and Abroad!

Across the country in the next two weeks, we will be marking the 10th anniversary of the U.S. prison at Guantánamo with protests, film showings, talks, and benefits.  We do this for:

171 prisoners still in Guantánamo, even though most were cleared for release by the Bush regime.  Read about one:
Holiday Thoughts for Omar Khadr, Still Held at Guantanamo by Andy Worthington.