Torturing Obama’s Legacy

Excellent article urging Obama not to compromise on torture as the Bush/ Cheney crowd did:

Torture Statue of Liberty in Hightower article (image by (Mario Piperni / Flickr))

By Jim Hightower Is the president wavering on his opposition to "enhanced interrogation"?

An old bumper sticker offered a stinging response to the Bush-Cheney regime's enthusiasm for waterboarding: "Impeach Bush," it urged. "Torture Cheney."

Bush and Cheney escaped unscathed. The Senate has just released an astonishing report detailing the depths of their depravity, but neither is likely to end up before a judge.

Yet stunningly, there's a new debate -- this time within the Obama administration -- about whether anti-torture treaties apply to U.S. troops and intelligence agents overseas.

Once upon a time, Barack Obama himself took a firm stand against torture. As a U.S. senator in 2005, he strongly supported a bill by his Republican colleague John McCain to prohibit American officials from engaging in cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment of detainees -- not just on U.S. soil, but anywhere in the world.

Then, on his second day as president in 2009, Obama proudly signed an executive order banning torture.

Well done.

But now, military and spy agency lawyers are pushing the administration to embrace a loophole that Bush created after Congress passed the McCain bill.

Goaded by his snarling, autocratic vice president, George W. claimed that as commander in chief, he could override the torture ban if the cruelty took place in detention camps and other "black site" facilities on foreign soil.

Even though Obama's 2009 executive order directly refuted the Bush "overseas" loophole, hawkish forces now want the White House to refute its own refutation, leaving wiggle room for torture in U.S. foreign policy.

Unfortunately, the Obamacans are wobbling, with some aides calling this change a "technical" issue.

Hardly! A ban is a ban -- not a matter of fleeting policy, but of settled moral principle. It's a statement to the world of who we Americans are.

Please call the White House comment line to tell Obama to stick to moral principle over the imagined convenience of torture tactics. The number is 202-456-1111.

Jim Hightower is an American populist, spreading his message of democratic hope via national radio commentaries, columns, books, his award-winning monthly newsletter (The Hightower Lowdown) and barnstorming tours all across America.

Police Enabled by Prosecutors

Hello Friends: Here is an excellent article discussing how prosecutors enable police engaged in brutality and excessive force around the country from a knowledgeable civil rights lawyer and even a judge who remarked that this system is not what the founding fathers envisioned. Furthermore, our jails are filled with thousands of innocent people who the criminal "justice" system placed there and continues to do so regularly: police misconduct we can't Breathe poster 121014

By Barry Sussman (about the author)

The American criminal-justice system currently holds the world's largest population of incarcerated people, approximately 2.3 million at last count. It is a system that has people serving life sentences for non-violent offenses and, despite celebrated anecdotal instances of occasional leniency, tends to punish even the most trivial of offenders to the nth degree.

The stunning ease with which indictments and convictions are often obtained has resulted in a flood of false imprisonments. Stories of people spending decades in prison for crimes they did not commit are reported with sickening regularity, begging the question of how prosecutors can be allowed to wield such unchecked power. Incredibly, even when prosecutors are found to have engaged in deliberate withholding of exculpatory evidence, subornation of perjury, and other acts that subvert justice, meaningful accountability is absent. Numerous courts have held that prosecutors are immune from civil liability for such acts.

This unbridled and unchecked power has caused more than one prosecutor to brag about possessing the ability to "indict a ham sandwich." Being before anything else an extension of the prosecutor, the entire grand-jury process in America is ripe for whimsical outcomes and prosecutorial abuse. To obtain an indictment, all a prosecutor must do is present their best examples of inculpatory evidence, explain to the grand jurors how this evidence satisfies the elements of the charges being sought, and let the jury vote. The burden for indictment is nowhere near "proof beyond a reasonable doubt." A prosecutor must only show that it is more likely than not that a crime has been committed.

"If the prosecutor wants an indictment and doesn't get one, something has gone horribly wrong," said Andrew D. Leipold, a University of Illinois law professor who has written critically about grand juries. "It just doesn't happen."

The ease with which prosecutors obtain indictments allows for an overall indictment rate of about 98 to 99 percent. The rate of indictment is even higher in federal court where in 2010, the most recent year for which statistics are available, approximately 162,000 criminal cases were brought before grand juries with indictments being returned in all but 11 of them.

The grand jury is essentially a rubber stamp for prosecutors. This ability to completely control the grand jury's outcome is an invitation for endemic abuse.

Packing prisons with outright innocent and largely over-sentenced, over-prosecuted prisoners is one type of prosecutorial abuse. The statistical certainty of indictment virtually assures defendants that they will be subjected to trial, where conviction rates run as high as 99.5%. This leaves many who fall victim to an overzealous prosecutor with no choice but to plead guilty, regardless of their level of culpability. The problem has become so prevalent in federal court that a federal judge, USDJ Jed Rakoff, recently penned an article entitled "Why Innocent People Plead Guilty."

Rakoff's piece begins with an interesting observation. "The criminal justice system in the United States today bears little relationship to what the Founding Fathers contemplated, what the movies and television portray, or what the average American believes." It goes on to describe how a prosecutor "has all the advantages."

Recent events in Ferguson, MO, and Staten Island, NY, highlight another type of unchecked prosecutorial abuse. Two grand juries, one in New York where Eric Garner was choked to death by officer Daniel Pantaleo, the other in Missouri, where Michael Brown was fatally shot by officer Darren Wilson, defied the statistical certainty of indictment and failed to return criminal indictments against offending police officers. These were both highly anticipated grand-jury results with their respective decisions coming a little more than a week apart. Indictments failed to be returned despite a wealth of inculpatory evidence, including in the Garner matter videotape of the offending officer applying an illegal chokehold while the victim states 11 times that he could not breathe. The tape later shows police officers and EMT personnel failing to make any attempt at resuscitation.

The aforementioned ease with which an indictment can be obtained, coupled with the abundance of inculpatory evidence against the offending officers, strongly suggests that a competent first-year law student vested with ordinary prosecutorial power could have succeeded in securing indictments in these cases. The failure to indict signals this was the goal of the respective prosecutors from the beginning.

While the Garner and Brown killings have brought national attention to the issue, the failure of prosecutors to properly prosecute police is not a new phenomenon and may be more widespread than earlier believed. For example, according to a study by the Houston Chronicle, grand juries in Harris County, Texas, have not indicted a police officer in a decade. Grand juries in Dallas looked at 81 possible cases of police criminality between 2008 and 2012 and indicted only one police officer.

Despite the documented reticence of prosecutors to indict police, their law-enforcement counterparts in various media accounts wrote of the recent results as if they were objective, albeit inexplicable, outcomes.

"The reality of what we saw and what the grand jury's decision is, is really what people are clamoring to understand better," New York state Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins told USA Today.

"Daily Show" comedian Jon Stewart said of the Garner grand-jury decision, "I don't know. I honestly don't know what to say."

Ekow N. Yankah, a professor at Cardozo School of Law, said, "It is hard to understand how a jury doesn't see any probable cause that a crime has been committed or is being committed when looking at that video, especially." Conservative Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer called the outcome in the Garner matter "totally incomprehensible."

These observers, as well as others, spoke of the grand-jury process as if it was independent of prosecutorial predetermination. When viewed against the backdrop of total prosecutorial control, the decisions not to indict in the Brown and Garner killings are rather easy to understand and point directly to prosecutorial misconduct.

One observer who seemed to have a firmer grasp on how prosecutors run grand juries when police are defendants is retired NYPD detective Frank Serpico. In a column published by the New York Daily News, Serpico wrote, "Was I surprised by the Staten Island grand jury? Of course not. When was the last time a police officer was indicted?" Serpico's piece continued, "Today, we have cops crying wolf all the time. They testify 'I was in fear of my life,' the grand jury buys it, the DA winks and nods, and there's no indictment."

Exculpating the guilty is just another type of prosecutorial abuse and misconduct that can be viewed as the flip side of convicting the innocent. It is another way for prosecutors to project their will with no meaningful oversight or accountability. The prosecutors conducting the theatrical productions posing as the grand juries examining the Brown and Garner killings should admit as much and stop pushing responsibility for the results on grand jurors. Prosecutors' failure to truthfully acknowledge their singular control of the process is not only misleading but offensive to even marginally informed observers.

Prosecutors also need to end the bifurcated system of grand-jury empanelment where ordinary targets are quickly indicted by introducing only the most damning evidence for jurors to consider, while conducting grand juries for police that are replete with exculpatory evidence. Adding insult to injury, prosecutors typically point to a fictitious duty to "seek the truth" as the reason for allowing police defendants the benefit of exculpatory evidence at their grand-jury proceedings. If all defendants were afforded this right, grand-jury indictment rates would be well below their current level of de facto statistical certainty. Prosecutors must place a higher value on equal protection and stop affording their law-enforcement counterparts outrageously disparate preferred treatment.

Barry Scott Sussman- Born and raised in New Jersey. Graduated from Rutgers University with a BA in Sociology. Graduated with a JD from the Benjamin Cardozo School of Law specializing in Federal Criminal Procedure.

The Brown/Garner Killings are about a Larger State of Official Terror

Unarmed Black men killings by police demonstrate Official Police Brutality. Video Tape shows ticketing for Garner selling cigarettes or for Brown,  arrest for robbery, might have been proper, not killing in these disgusting  travesties of justice that seem to be escalating around America depriving all of us of our FREEDOM guaranteed by our Constitution:    Ferguson Protest 12714        

By Harvey Wasserman (about the author)

"These un-prosecuted killings of African-American men go way beyond racial prejudice. They are the calling card of an Orwellian state.

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out-- Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out-- Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out-- Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me--and there was no one left to speak for me

Pastor Martin Niemoller, speaking about Nazi Germany

First, they've come for the people of color.

America's police forces increasingly serve as a private corporate army, beyond the reach of the law.

But our nation is distracted by race. And millions of white Americans are under the illusion that what was done to Michael Brown and Eric Garner can't happen to them.

These un-prosecuted killings of African-American men go way beyond racial prejudice. Ferguson Protest, NYC 25th Nov 2014 (image by The All-Nite Images)


They are the calling card of an Orwellian state:

America's founders established grand juries to protect citizens from frivolous prosecution. But today's corporate state has twisted the system to protect killer police from public scrutiny, putting them above the law.

The ultimate message is clear: police can kill American citizens without cause and face no public trial. (Steven Rosenfeld lays out the details here.)

The current focus is on skin color. Thankfully, Americans throughout the US have risen up in protest, demanding social justice and an end to racism.

But the larger issue is a police apparatus now inflicting random terror in service of a corporate state that has mutated far beyond public control.

We are still being assaulted by a cynical 40-year drug war used to disenfranchise and violate the basic rights of millions of Americans with no real recourse.

In the name of that drug war, and the one on terror, police randomly confiscate (steal) billions in cash from citizens of all races, in direct violation of the Bill of Rights and any sense of a real legal system. Police departments use these officially sanctioned armed robberies to help fund heavy war-time weaponry also coming to them as "surplus" from the federal military. Citizens of color, the young, the poor and the elderly are being systematically stripped of the right to vote by a modern electronic Jim Crow. The dominance of a corporate one-party system is furthered by the use of privately-owed, easily-rigged electronic voting machines.

The NSA and other official agencies are spying on us without restraint.

Our ability to communicate through an open, neutral internet is also under attack. Meanwhile a San Diego rapper with no record of violence has been charged with multiple "crimes" based on his lyrics. As anger with America's billionaire elite spreads, we can certainly expect the counter-attacks on open speech to escalate.

That the victims of these latest police killings are most often men of color is tragic. It also gives the corporate media the perfect distraction behind which to hide the root problem.

Throughout our history, race has been the reliably lethal facade for all sorts of political repression. It's the hate-filled poison perfectly designed to divide and distract us.

That sickness is real enough. But the ultimate cancer we face is the rise of an all-powerful corporate state and its iron grip on a violent, unaccountable private army licensed to kill--no matter what the race or cause--while knowing that the once-sacred right to a public trial does not apply to them. Should the attacks on the internet succeed, we'll also be hearing less and less about them.

Thus we are all in the shoes of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. Those who think themselves somehow above it all by virtue of race or class are simply not paying attention.

Unless we rise up to secure social justice and our basic legal rights, we're all just a single cop away from being as dead as the very latest victim of official violence... at any time, for no reason, with no recourse.

Harvey Wasserman edits . His SOLARTOPIA! OUR GREEN-POWERED EARTH is at . The Solartopia Green Power & Wellness Show airs at .

HARVEY WASSERMAN'S HISTORY OF THE US is available at, as is A GLIMPSE OF THE BIG LIGHT and clues to the whereabouts of the Holy Grail.


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