[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----TEXAS, USA, WIS., VA.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Sun Mar 19 21:29:34 CST 2006
Full probe of Cantu's innocence hits snags----Trio who may exonerate the
executed man say prosecutors are intimidating
Nearly 4 months after Bexar County prosecutors promised to vigorously
reinvestigate the questionable execution of Ruben Cantu, they have yet to
obtain full statements from the 3 witnesses who claim he was innocent.
All 3 say they want to cooperate but prosecutors' tactics have intimidated
them. The lone eyewitness against Cantu, who has now recanted, has been
threatened with prosecution for Cantu's death. Another said he has been
subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury. And the 3rd says he balked after
being confronted with a lie detector test by investigators who refused to
"I think they're just trying to cover up for what happened 20 years ago,"
said David Garza, one of the three men who say Cantu was wrongly executed.
"They just don't want to admit that they messed up."
Cliff Herberg, first assistant district attorney for Bexar County, did not
return repeated calls from the Houston Chronicle about the status of the
investigation. In the past, Susan Reed, elected district attorney, has
repeatedly promised that her office would conduct a thorough and objective
But Robert Hoelscher, deputy director of the Texas Innocence Network, said
prosecutors have displayed an inappropriate bias since the investigation
began, both in private actions and public statements.
"The Ruben Cantu case is not about death penalty politics," Hoelscher
said. "It's about whether the state of Texas executed an innocent young
man. No other issue is relevant until you resolve that fundamental
Cantu was convicted and sentenced to death for the murder of Pedro Gomez
during a house robbery on Nov. 9, 1984. Cantu, 17 at the time of the
crime, and Garza, his 15-year-old co-defendant, were convicted after the
lone surviving eyewitness, Juan Moreno, identified them as his attackers.
Moreno, then an illegal immigrant from Mexico, says he was under intense
pressure from police officers to falsely identify Cantu. Co-defendant
Garza has provided a sworn statement that claims another teen, not Cantu,
was with him that night. The 3rd man, Eloy Gonzales, swears Cantu was with
him in Waco - about 180 miles from the crime scene.
'Pretty serious stuff'
Prosecutors reopened the case and began re-examining old files in late
November after the Chronicle published a story about claims that Cantu,
executed in 1993, was innocent.
As the investigation began, Reed announced she would consider building a
case of murder by perjury against Moreno, the eyewitness. At the time, she
told the Chronicle: "A man has been executed because of that lie. That is
pretty serious stuff."
Moreno, now a San Antonio contractor, was 19 at the time of the crime and
barely survived the shooting. His story provides the most compelling
evidence for the claim that Texas executed the wrong man.
But no one from the Bexar County prosecutors' office has heard it from
him. Cynthia Orr, a San Antonio lawyer who represents Moreno, has said
that Reed's statements make it difficult for her client to cooperate. She
said it looks like prosecutors would rather silence Moreno than hear him
Prosecutors recently subpoenaed Gonzales, the potential alibi witness, to
force him to testify before a grand jury, though he says he has offered to
cooperate. Gonzales, who has a criminal record, claims that Cantu was with
him in Waco stealing cars at the time of the murder. Gonzales' brother and
sister also told the Chronicle that Cantu was with them. Gonzales said he
thinks the subpoena was issued to shake him up.
"What (the D.A.) is trying to do is see if she can cover this up,"
Gonzales said. "But this is a serious offense. This is not something we'd
The subpoena issued to Gonzales is the first signal that the District
Attorney's office plans to use a grand jury as part of its investigation.
The investigation is being led by Tamara Butler Strauch, a senior
assistant district attorney.
Former District Attorney Sam Millsap, who oversaw the Cantu case as chief
prosecutor, said prosecutors may need a grand jury to obtain sworn
"It makes sense to do this to get what everyone is saying today under
oath," he said. Millsap, who now opposes the death penalty, told the
Chronicle last year that he never should have sought a capital sentence in
the Cantu case because it was based almost entirely on a single witness,
the man who has since recanted.
Fred Rodriguez, a criminal defense attorney who defended Garza and later
served as district attorney, said he thought prosecutors were more likely
to use a grand jury to consider criminal charges against a target such as
Moreno, which would be a tough sell. "You're looking at a guy who got shot
nine times and who barely survived being indicted by murder for perjury?"
Rodriguez laughed. "Wow."
An investigator and an attorney from the District Attorney's Office did
obtain in December a partial interview with Garza, who is in prison in
Beaumont for an unrelated burglary.
But in an interview with the Chronicle at the Stiles Unit, Garza said he
refused to cooperate after district attorney's officials refused to
identify themselves and immediately pressed him to take a lie detector
test. Garza also refused to give them a sworn statement he has provided to
the Chronicle about the crime, which names another person as the murderer.
Herberg, in a December interview, said investigators were unimpressed with
Garza. He emphasized that Garza initially said he saw Cantu near the crime
scene, according to an old police report. Meanwhile, the man Garza accuses
now has denied involvement and passed a lie detector test, Herberg said.
'Beyond the extra mile'
The Cantu case has gained national attention because the acknowledged
execution of an innocent man could cast serious doubt on the capital
punishment system itself.
With such high stakes, Hoelscher, of the Texas Innocent Network said the
Bexar County officials should do everything they can to avoid the
impression they have made up their minds against Cantu - especially since
Reed had a small role in the case years ago.
As judge, Reed rejected Cantu's state appeal and later set his execution
date, though she has said those actions don't affect her ability to serve
as an impartial fact-finder now.
"This review is being conducted by the office that prosecuted Ruben
Cantu," Hoelscher said. "It must go well beyond the extra mile to show the
public that it is conducting a fair, thorough and impartial assessment."
DA's conflict of interest
SUSAN Reed, the Bexar County district attorney whose office is
investigating whether a San Antonio man was put to death 13 years ago for
a crime he didn't commit, has a conflict of interest.
I say this as a strong admirer of Reed. In more than 20 years of covering
the justice system in San Antonio, I wrote many stories of incompetence
and corruption regarding three of her predecessors and applauded voters as
they tossed the incumbents, two Democrats and a Republican.
Elected in 1998, she is an avid Republican (she flew to Florida in the
wake of the 2000 election to help seal the victory for Bush), but she
hired as her top assistant a liberal Democrat, a gifted criminal defense
attorney who had never been a prosecutor.
The result is an office that aggressively and competently has gone after
criminals of all sorts - not just thieves and convenience-store murders
but white-collar miscreants and politicians as well.
She encourages creativity. When a swindler got elderly people to turn over
certificates of deposit to him, her office decided the banks should have
refused (as some did) to cooperate. She used money-laundering laws to
seize the money from the banks, and the elderly targets got 90 cents on
the dollar back.
The Texas banking commissioner and the banks were outraged.
Another case involved a young man and his teenage wife living with his
parents while he regularly abused her.
Charging the mother
When the wife decided to take their child and leave, the mother called her
son at work. He came back and killed both his wife and a police officer
who responded to a call.
Reed not only won a death penalty for the killer but an indictment of his
mother for reckless endangerment. She knew her son was violent and
shouldn't have called him.
Reed agreed to a plea with probation but made her point. Parents, like
bankers, bear responsibility for their actions.
Now Reed is faced with the task of investigating serious allegations that
13 years ago, under a DA she didn't respect, Bexar County may have sent a
man to his death for a shooting crime he didn't commit.
The sole eyewitness, a 19-year-old illegal immigrant named Juan Moreno,
who survived multiple gunshot wounds while a companion died, has since
become a citizen and lived a quiet life as a contractor.
He now says he felt pressured into falsely identifying as the assailant,
Ruben Cantu, a 17-year-old with a record. He says he has carried the guilt
of Cantu's execution for all these years.
In an interview shortly after the Chronicle reported on his quiet
recantation, Reed said if she determined Moreno is telling the truth she
would consider charging him with a crime.
Perjury? No, the statute of limitations ran a decade ago.
The charge would be felony murder by perjury. There is no statute of
limitations for murder.
As noted in an earlier column, Texas law allows a murder charge if, in the
act of committing a felony, someone acts in such a way as to cause a
The law was originally meant for such things as reckless behavior during a
bank robbery, but George Dix, a respected expert on criminal law at the
University of Texas Law School, says Reed's interpretation is valid.
Though Cantu wasn't executed for 3 years, the law refers to the act, not
the result, as being committed during the felony.
The Texas definition of "causation" is a bit murky but seems to boil down
to this: If Cantu would not have been executed but for Moreno's false
testimony, Moreno caused his death.
It would be hard to argue that, as the only eyewitness, Moreno wasn't key
to the conviction and sentence.
But because he faces such prosecution, Moreno's lawyer can't let him talk
to Reed's investigators without immunity.
That's the conflict. Reed, however, does not seem conflicted by it.
"Life is full of conundrums," she says, and adds, "On the horns of a
dilemma, do you make a deal with the devil?"
Some of her critics have accused Reed of threatening Moreno to intimidate
him and others like him in the future.
Knowing Reed, I disagree.
She is a passionate prosecutor and, like most prosecutors, she's more
comfortable focusing on the weakness of individuals than on the weakness
of the system.
That doesn't make her a bad DA. It does, however, argue that a district
attorney should not have the sole responsibility for investigating the
(source for both: Houston Chronicle (Rick Casey for this item) )
Defense Attorneys For Death Row Inmate To Continue Appeal Process
The defense attorneys for 27-year-old Robert Salazar, Jr. says they're
going to file a new appeal on Tuesday.
An earlier appeal was rejected.
According to Salazar's attorneys, there is new evidence, an IQ test in
particular, that proves Salazar is mentally retarded.
Salazar was convicted of the 1997 murder of 3-year-old Adriana Gomez.
His execution date is set for March 22nd.
(source: KLBK News)
THE US GULAG PRISON SYSTEM - THE SHAME OF THE NATION AND CRIME AGAINST
No, not the one you think, outrageous as it is. I'm referring to the US
prison system that's with no exaggeration about as shockingly abusive as
the gulag abroad. It qualifies for that label by its size alone - more
than 2.1 million as of June, 2004 and growing larger by about 900 new
inmates every week. Blacks (mostly poor and disadvantaged) especially are
affected. While they make up just 12.3% of the population, they account
for 1/2 the prison population, and their numbers there have grown 5-fold
in the last 25 years. Hispanics (also poor) account for another 15%.
About half of those incarcerated are there for non-violent offenses, and
half of those (500,000) are drug related. But while blacks make up 15% of
ilicit drug users, they account for 37% of drug arrests, 42% of drug
offenders in federal prison and 62% in state prisons. And Human Rights
Watch reported in 2000 that in one third of the states 75% of all
prisoners for drug-related offenses are black. In my home state of
Illinois they reported the number to be an astonishing 89%, a total exceed
by only one other state. Further, in a so-called free society, below the
radar are hundreds of political prisoners, mostly people of color, there
only because they represent a threat to the state from their pursuit of
justice for their people if they were free.
Today the US shamelessly has more people behind bars than any other nation
including China with over 4 times our population. And things have become
especially repressive against those in society least able to defend
themselves including immigrants of color and our newest head of the queue
demon - Muslims. The Bush administration has made a bad situation far
worse taking full advantage of their fear-induced "permanent state of war"
and sham "global war on terrorism" to target all those seen as a potential
threat to their plan for global dominance and full control at home.
Taken as a whole, this is a national disgrace and outrage, but the effect
on those targeted is pretty much below the radar, unreported and
undiscussed in the mainstream. Who cares about a couple of million mostly
poor, mostly people of color (including immigrants, many of whom are
undocumented and have no legal rights at all) languishing behind bars out
of sight and out of mind. When any of this is discussed, it's to let the
(voter eligible) public know our political leaders are "tough on crime"
and working to keep us safe. Safe from whom or what? In the words of a
great world class journalist, that kind of talk is "what comes out of the
rear end of a bull." What's really going on has little to do with public
safety but lots to do with controlling a justifiably restive population of
poor and desperate people, the inability of those people to afford a
proper defense in our so-called criminal justice system stacked against
them, and a growing opportunity for big business to profit on human
misery. It's a kind of modern day slavery - a growing state and privately
run criminal injustice and prison industry using human beings as their
product. In this land of opportunity and the "free market", all things
(and people) are commodities to be exploited for profit.
A GROWTH MARKET OF POOR AND DESPERATE PEOPLE, MOSTLY BLACK AND HISPANIC -
A READY RESOURCE FOR THE PRISON GROWTH INDUSTRY
The way this country has always treated its least advantaged throughout
its history is shameful. British historian Arnold J. Toynbee perceptively
understood this in his quote made 46 years ago when he said: "America is
today the leader of a world-wide anti-revolutionary movement in the
defence of vested interests. She now stands for what Rome stood for: Rome
consistently supported the rich against the poor.........and since the
poor, so far, have always and everywhere been far more numerous than the
rich, Rome's policy made for inequality, for injustice, and for the least
happiness of the greatest number." Imagine what Toynbee might say today if
he were still living.
Toynbee didn't say it but he might have added that none in America have
fared worse than people of color - American Indians, Hispanics, Asians and
especially Blacks first brought here as chattel and who remained that way
for over 300 years. Even when they were freed by the Thirteenth Amendment
to the Constitution and guaranteed the right of life, liberty and
property, due process and equal protection under the law by the 14th
Amendment they still seldom got it. Throughout the 100 years of Jim Crow
justice and even after the civil rights gains in the 1960s, most blacks
and other people of color have always been on the bottom rung of society
(along with our native people) and denied most of its benefits including
equal justice under the law.
There are those today in the US, even from the progressive community, who
like to say this country has come a long way from its racist past, and
while there are still far too many inequities we're making progress. Are
these people living in the same country and on the same planet as I am? In
the US the statistics on blacks alone in the criminal justice system make
a mockery of any notion of a nation no longer racist. When it comes to the
issue of justice, we've never been more racist since the days of legal
slavery. The numbers are truly shocking and in a country claiming to be a
democracy and a model for the rest of the world. I hope that world makes
another choice. There are far better ones than ours, and our imperial
adventures abroad and policies at home toward our least advantaged prove
THE SHAMEFUL FACTS PAINT AN UGLY PICTURE OF ANOTHER (LOCKED UP) AMERICA,
OUT OF SIGHT AND OUT OF MIND
Here are some key facts. Nationwide black males over 18 are incarcerated
at 9 times the rate of comparable white males, and in 11 states those
rates range from 12 to 26 times the rate for whites. In my home state of
Illinois the rate is 15 times, and in the nation's capital the rate is an
astonishing 49 times. The most current data on incarceration for blacks in
the US was 1,815 per 100,000 vs. 609 per 100,000 for Latinos, 235 for
whites and 99 for Asians. For adult black males the rate was 4,630 per
100,000, 1,668 for Latinos and 482 for whites. In 1999, 11% of black males
in their 20s and early 30s were in prison including one third of black
male high school dropouts. Even worse, the statistical model used by the
Bureau of Justice Statistics at the turn of the century to determine
racial and ethnic differences in their chances for incarceration at
sometime in their lifetime predicts a 29% chance of serving prison time
for a black male aged 16 in 1996. The comparable chance for a white male
in the same age group was 4%. In 2002 the Justice Policy Institute
reported there were more black men behind bars than in colleges or
universities. It also reported that 30% of black males between 20 and 29
are either in prison or on probation or parole.
>From the numbers above we know that one in every 20 black men over 18 is
now in a state or federal prison compared to one in every 180 whites. And
in some states like Oklahoma, Iowa, Rhode Island, Texas and Wisconsin, the
black male incarceration rate incredibly is between 13 -14% of all black
men in those states - a devastating blow to the black families and
communities there. It's also true that the best predictor of a state's
incarceration rate and its total prison population is the size of its
By almost all measure the state of what can only be called the US criminal
injustice system is shocking and outrageous. In the last 35 years the
total number incarcerated has exploded from less than 300,000 in 1970 to
more than 7 times that number now. Today the US is number one not only in
its total prison population but in the highest number per 100,000
population imprisoned - 690. Only Russia is a close second with 675 while
in South Africa it's 400, England - 125, France - 90, Sweden - 60 and
Italy - 40. Would anyone suggest the US is 17 times more non-law-abiding
than Italy, or is there a simpler explanation?
It's also true that race is the most prominent reason why states deny
voting rights to convicted felons and ex-felons. The greater the
percentage of blacks in a state, the more likely it is for that state to
disenfranchise its residents who've served time in jail. A prison record
in those states means a loss of a citizen's most fundamental democratic
right. The laws vary by state, but The Sentencing Project estimates 4.7
million Americans, or 1 in 43 adults, have currently or permanently lost
their right to vote because of a felony conviction. And 1.4 million black
men, or 13% of all black men, are so disenfranchised, a rate 7 times the
national average. Even more shocking, the same report estimates that given
the current rates of incarceration, 30% of the next generation of black
men will be disenfranchised at some time in their life. And in states that
disenfranchise ex-offenders, as many as 40% of black men may permanently
lose their right to vote.
Let's be very clear. Based on the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution
it can, and I believe should, be argued that all state disenfranchisement
laws are unconstitutional. Section 1 of that amendment reads: "The right
of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged
by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or
previous servitude." It remains for a future Congress and/or the courts to
address this issue and decide whether we're to be a democracy for all our
citizens or just for those we decide are eligible and for the reasons we
choose. And this doesn't address the more basic question of whether our
right to vote really matters. The public has virtually no voice in
choosing the 2 major parties' candidates, and when we cast our votes the
new electronic voting machines can easily be programmed or manipulated to
ignore our choice and count it for another candidate and even do it
multiple times. This is why half the eligible voting public opt out. They
don't believe the system is free and fair so why bother. That thought
never leaves my mind, and I wonder why I bother. But that consideration
awaits another commentary and analysis, a pretty fundamental and important
THE BIG AND GROWING BUCKS SPENT ON LOCKING PEOPLE UP IN CAGES
Since the 1970s the prison-industrial complex has exploded in size and
continues to grow exponentially. It now exceeds $40 billion annually and
rising. On average states now spend 60 cents on prisons for every dollar
spent on higher education, up from 28 cents in 1980. And several large
states are so hell-bent to lock people up their annual budget for prisons
exceed that for education. Also, the overall rate of prison spending
growth has greatly exceeded that for education for the past 25 years. It's
shocking that the annual per prisoner cost today almost equals a year's
tuition at Harvard. And what's all this spending buying us. Not a damn
thing except a nation growing more repressive, more racist and more likely
to target anyone if they ever run short of their current favorites. But
since 9/11 they've tapped a new vein of 1.5 million Muslims. And if they
throw in Hindus, Buddhists and a few other easy to demonize miscellaneous
sects out of the mainstream they can easily triple that number. Now that's
a "strike" that may be too "rich" to ignore. Think of all the new prisons
they'll need to lock up a load of them, get them off the streets and help
keep a new growth industry growing and prosperous.
Contrary to the "law and order" baloney from our politicians, there's no
evidence of a rising trend of criminality, including the violent kinds.
Since 1980, the data on the national crime rate has trended slightly up,
then down, without any significant change. Still the incarceration rate
has skyrocketed reflecting a crime wave that doesn't exist. In the 1990s,
thanks to a good economy, crime rates actually fell, but incarceration
rates rose dramatically nonetheless. Smell fishy? It sure does to me. And
my own view, shared by others, is that this is all part of a sinister
effort to control dissent by a combination of a state-induced climate of
fear and hard line national security police state tactics to keep a
restive population in line. Those most likely to be restive are the ones
most deprived, the ones left out over the last 25 years when the wealth
gap widened exponentially between rich and poor and continues to unabated.
At the same time the social safety net has been and continues to be
shredded making conditions intolerable for the poor and also impacting
lower and middle income earners and families. Of course, the ones always
hurt most are people of color and that means mostly black people. But
Hispanics are gaining ground in this race to the bottom as that segment of
our population (including undocumented immigrants) is growing the fastest
along with those from Asia.
THE SO-CALLED "WAR ON DRUGS" - IT'S A HOAX AND A NATIONAL DISGRACE
We should have caught on by now. When our political leaders want to scare
hell out of us about something, real or imagined (you can bet it's the
latter), they declare war on it. It gets the juices flowing and the flags
waving. We had the phony "cold war", and now, with "the evil empire" gone
and desperate to find new imagined and contrived enemies, we have a "war
on terrorism" and a "war on drugs." We also have an unmentioned "war on
the climate" as witnessed by the alarming rate of melting of the polar and
Greenland ice caps. Maybe one day they'll declare dandruff public enemy
number one and declare war on it. Might as well. It would make as much
sense as all the others, except for the one real one they never mention
caused by global warming.
And, oh yes, there's one other war never mentioned, and it's the most
important and dangerous one of all - it's the ongoing and growing war on
the Constitution and our sacred Bill of Rights. They're being taken from
us right before our eyes, and in our blindness and mental fog we don't
even see it happening. Most of us know the Ben Franklin quote about those
who would sacrifice their freedom for security deserve neither and will
lose both. He also said that "distrust and caution are the parents of
security" and reportedly said at the signing of the Declaration of
Independence "we must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang
separately." Franklin's contemporary, the great German philosopher and
writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, just as wisely said that "None are more
hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free."
Franklin, Goethe and many others aren't considered iconic and venerable
historic figures for nothing. And if we take the trouble to read them, we
have the benefit of their great wisdom. They've warned us with it, and we
damn well better be listening and heeding them. If not, we'll awaken one
day, find our precious freedoms gone, finally understand what happened,
and it'll be too late.
Except for the 2 unmentioned real wars, the others are surreal ones.
They're contrived and concocted by devious politicians for their own
interests like trying to get reelected or needing a reason to raise
defense or homeland security spending. They're also to benefit their
corporate allies who profit from them. The more they can scare us the
greater the amount of our tax dollars they can divert from vital societal
needs to put in the pockets of their corporate friends and fight wars of
imperial conquest for their benefit. And the more repressive laws they can
pass to destroy our civil liberties, and as discussed above, lock up in
cages those most in need and most likely to be restive about it.
The current catchy phrase in the "drug war" was first used during the
supposed crack epidemic in the 80s, but we can pin one more rap on Richard
Nixon who first declared a "war on drugs" over 30 years ago. But the idea
of making some "drugs" illegal goes back much further than that, to the
1930s (and earlier) when prohibition ended and alcohol producing companies
may have decided to eliminate the threat of a competing "drug." You'd
think we might have learned something from 13 years of violence and
corruption under Prohibition that made criminals out of otherwise
law-abiding people who may have just wanted a cold beer and also created a
new revenue source for organized crime.
But all that was chicken feed compared to today as the UN now estimates
the annual take from trafficking elicit drugs is around $400-500 billion.
That's double the sales revenue from US legal prescription drugs Big
Pharma reported in 2005. Those profiting big time from the illegal ones
include more than the "kingpins" and organized crime. The market is so big
everyone wants in on it. For many banks, including the major international
money center ones, "laundering" drug money is one of their important
profit centers. And it's well-known that the CIA was been involved in
drug-trafficking (directly or indirectly) throughout its half century
existence and then began to profit from it in earnest during the Contra
wars of the 1980s to fund their operations. Today the CIA is part of the
elicit drug trade in places like Afghanistan working with major criminal
syndicates in the huge business of trafficking heroin. The take from this
one operation alone is so lucrative it's hard to imagine they'd ever give
it up or not want in on all other major parts of the drug trade worldwide.
Who'll stop or prosecute them? And what criminal enterprise wouldn't want
them as a partner to guarantee them ease of access to the US and other
major markets. That's a marriage joined together none of the parties would
ever want to put asunder.
And now in this modern Age of (contrived) Anxiety, we have 2 new
"super-spook" agencies established to take full surveillance advantage of
the Bush administration's unjustifiable "wartime" powers and fear-induced
concocted "war on terror" to last for "generations" - The Office of
Homeland Security and Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
Wanna bet they're also in the elicit drug biz big time. How could they
resist it. They both need every buck they can get to watch all of us,
everywhere, all the time - which is what they're now doing. And it's an
indisputable fact that all the spy agencies are above the law and can do
whatever they please - spy legally and illegally, traffic elicit drugs,
torture detainees they control and murder anyone they target including
heads of state.
But it's the purpose of this essay to focus on how the so-called drug war
has led to a burgeoning prison-industrial complex that adversely affects
the lives of millions of society's most disadvantaged who happen to be
mostly people of color and most of them black. Just like during
Prohibition, otherwise law-abiding people have become criminals and are
being locked away for long sentences. The repressive "mandatory minimum"
sentences are especially harsh and outrageous. Supposedly established to
target "kingpins" and big time dealers, it hasn't turned out that way and
likely was never intended to. The US Sentencing Commission reports that
only 5.5% of all federal crack cocaine defendants and 11% of all federal
drug defendants are "high-level" dealers. The rest are low-level
operatives and those caught "possessing." In most cases they're from
society's least advantaged and poor, and most of them are black. These
convenient targets create a ready supply of bodies to fill prison cells as
part of the plan to remove the unwanted from the streets and create a new
growth industry at the same time.
SOME QUICK FACTS ABOUT COCAINE AND ITS DERIVATIVE "CRACK" AND HOW ITS USE
First off, coca leaf cultivation in South America has been the cornerstone
of the Andean region for 4 thousand years, and its consumption has been
part of the culture since before the Incas. It's commonly used by millions
of people there including the cocaleros, or coca farmers, as we in this
country use coffee, tea, a glass of wine or just a cold beer. Besides
drinking coca tea, the leaf is chewed to relieve fatigue, suppress
appetite, as a communal activity and to offset altitude sickness. The US
Embassy in Peru even recommends it for the latter purpose.
Use of cocaine in the US didn't first begin in the 60s. It's been around
recreationally for nearly 150 years for "whatever ailed you" tonics, in
cigarettes, ointments and nasal sprays. Its use was perfectly legal until
the federal government classified it as a narcotic (which it is not) in
1914. After that it could only be gotten legally by prescription or
illegally from a "street dealer."
Cocaine is a powder which in "cooked" form is called "crack." The law
treats each very differently. The racist "mandatory minimum" sentencing
laws established by Congress in 1986 penalize crack users especially
harshly. Defendants convicted of selling 500 grams of powder cocaine vs. 5
grams of crack each receive 5 year sentences. For 5 kilos of powder and 50
grams of crack it's a 10 year sentence. That's a 100:1 ratio. Why? Hold
on, there's more.
Simple possession of any amount of powder by a first-time offender is a
misdemeanor punishable by a max 1 year sentence. For crack, simple
possession is a felony carrying a 5 year sentence. Now to the why. Blacks
accounted for 84% of convicted crack offenders in 2000, Hispanics 9% and
whites 6%. For powder it was Hispanics - 50%, blacks - 30% and whites -
18%. Now you know. The federal crack laws established 20 years ago were
part of the "Reagan revolution" and its racist war against the poor,
mainly blacks. It was also intended as a defense against those least
advantaged poor and mainly blacks as the "Reagan revolution" began
dismantling the social safety net and transferring wealth to the rich and
well-off. That transfer has now been ongoing for 25 years with no end in
sight. The "war on drugs" and its harsh laws, mainly targeting blacks,
were intended to defuse the inevitable pressure that would build among the
poor and black community and likely explode again in the streets as it did
in the 60s. 2.1+ million people locked in cages is how this nation's
leaders address the gross social inequity problem it deliberately created.
It's their solution, and it's a national disgrace and outrage.
TORTURE IN US PRISONS - IT'S NOT JUST AT GUANTANAMO AND ABU GHRAIB - IT'S
RIGHT HERE IN THE USA
Surprised? The few who even think about this may be, but even many of them
shamefully believe all those locked up deserve the harsh treatment they
get. Aren't they sent there to be punished for committing crimes? Did they
expect a "country club?" Punishment is what they get big time because
prisons everywhere are brutal places, and those sent to them have no
rights and it shows in how they're treated - routinely. And let's be
perfectly clear about the way it is at all US domestic and foreign based
prisons (and most all other countries' as well): No, it doesn't just
happen at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and Bagram near Kandahar, Afghanistan;
and no, it's not just by a few "rogue elements" or "bad apples." What goes
on is policy, and it comes right from the top sanctioned and approved. And
let's be very clear about one other thing. The real criminals sit in
corporate suites and boardrooms or in capitol hill offices while their
victims are locked in cages and subjected to unspeakable abuse and brutal
torture with no chance to stop it or receive redress.
Prisons, with few exceptions, are not intended for rehabilitation. They
are institutions societies use for vengeance and punishment. There are the
most gruesome hellholes around the world the US takes full advantage of
just in the prisoners it "renditions" for attempted information extraction
by some of the worst physical and psychological tortures the human mind
can conceive. But this essay is about what goes on in US prisons within
our borders, and what you'll read below will sound like reports about
Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. Get ready to feel your skin crawl.
Everything we saw on TV months ago about prisoner torture at Abu Ghraib
(and heard goes on at Guantanamo) happens in our state and federal prison
system right here at home and lots more we didn't see or hear about. These
are the lessons and techniques first devised and used in US based
torture-prisons and then exported for use in our comparable
torture-prisons around the world. That's the way things are in all our
prisons, and in the language of author Gertrude Stein when she referred to
roses: a prison is a prison is a prison. The main difference between San
Quentin and Abu Ghraib is their location. What goes on at both and all
others includes savage beatings by prison guards; attacks by fierce dogs
that inflict real bites; severe shocking with cattle prods and 50,000 volt
emitting Taser electro-shock guns often used multiple times that make the
victim shake for hours after being struck and can also kill and often do;
assaults by toxic chemicals like pepper spray strong enough to inflict
severe pain, 2nd degree burns, temporary blindness, and even death in a
vulnerable victim; and all this happening at times with prisoners stripped
naked including brutal rapes by guards, other prisoners and much more.
A courageous woman activist imprisoned for several months for her actions
told me the case of a woman she saw stripped naked in her cell and then
bound suspended in spread-eagle form on her prison bars and left there for
hours to suffer. The experience devastated her and nearly killed her. And
she was another activist being punished for her courageous acts. Hard to
believe? You'd better believe it because it goes on every day in all
prisons routinely throughout the country - acts of deliberate barbarity
and sadism, so severe they can and do kill and often leave their victims
an emotional shell when they don't. Whenever you hear reports about
prisoners committing suicide, you'd better think hard about it. It's most
likely they were murdered by prison guards and reported as suicide. It may
be from repeated Taser shocks, from being beaten to death so savagely
every rib in their body was broken or just from a body giving out from
repeated and brutal maltreatment over a long period with nothing more to
look forward to but more of the same. How many can endure the worst of
that? No one in a civilized country should ever have to. And no civilized
person should believe they had it coming.
HOW INTERNATIONAL LAW TREATS TORTURE
International law is explicit and long-standing forbidding the use of any
form of torture and inhumane or degrading treatment under any
circumstances. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights outlawed it in
1948. The Fourth Geneva Convention then did it in 1949 banning any form of
"physical or mental coercion" and affirming detainees must at all time be
treated humanely. The European Convention followed in 1950. Then in 1984
the UN Convention Against Torture became the first binding international
instrument dealing exclusively with the issue of banning torture in any
form for any reason. And let's be clear on what's meant by torture and
inhumane treatment. It includes punching a prisoner or detainee in the
mouth or kicking him or her in the stomach or butt.
Except for the non-binding "Universal Declaration", all the others are
binding international law, and the US is a signatory to the 4th Geneva
Convention and the UN Convention. And hold on, there's more. The US War
Crimes Act of 1996 makes it a criminal offense for US military personnel
and US nationals to commit war crimes to include cruel treatment and
torture covered under the 4th Geneva Convention. And virtually every human
rights organization is on the record banning all kinds of torture anywhere
for any reason.
A BRIEF DIVERSION ON TORTURE OVERSEAS
I must include some important information about one type of torture that
may be only going on overseas - for now. Although the US is a signatory to
the Geneva Conventions and the UN Convention Against Torture, it's
routinely ignored and violated them with impunity in US prisons and
abroad. Further, the CIA's use of psychological torture was exempted in
the UN Convention.
With cover from that exemption, Professor Alfred McCoy's new book - A
Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation From the Cold War to the War of
Terror - exposes the CIA's secret efforts to develop new forms of torture
over that period. He explained how they conducted intensive research to
crack the code of human consciousness and through much trial and error
came up with human devastating psychological and self-inflicting torture
techniques - from sensory disorientation or the severe pain from tortures
like forced continuous standing for 24 - 48 hours.
The CIA experiments continue now at Guantanamo and other overseas hellhole
torture-prisons. But 2 new techniques have been added - cultural
sensitivity and individual fears and phobias. This 4-fold assault on the
human psyche is now being used against prisoners held in overseas prisons,
and the detainees affected (most picked up randomly and guilty of no
offense) are being used as human "lab rats" in a gruesome, vile and
clearly illegal and immoral experiment to devise the most effective
psychological techniques to break down a human subject - to break a human
being so totally it's near impossible to recover.
I could find no information on if these experiments are now being
conducted in US domestic prisons. But that doesn't mean they're not. They
may be happening here, but we don't know about them. But the key point is
this. Once the use of torture in all forms gains currency, it's inevitable
it will spread everywhere. And let's be very clear on one other point. The
Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 (the so-called McCain Anti-Torture
amendment) passed in December last year is so full of loopholes and
offsets by other legislation that it's worthless and will do nothing to
stop the tortures explained above.
THE DEATH PENALTY - THE "HEART OF DARKNESS" OF OUR CRIMINAL-INJUSTICE
Life in prison is a living hell for all those in one as all the victims
know who've been there or those of us who've read about it in detail as I
have. Being there is like being in one of the 5 levels of Dante's hell
where those consigned to spend eternity are doomed to eternal punishment.
All prisons are hellholes. But for those prisoners with any hope of
release one day, the second lowest level of Dante's hell is any of the
so-called "supermax" prisons. They're supposedly intended to house
society's most dangerous, incorrigibly violent inmates, but many sent
there aren't that at all like the many political prisoners consigned that
fate because the state wishes to bury them alive and keep them isolated.
The number in these "special" hellholes are a small but growing percent of
the total prison population, and those in them spend their waking and
sleeping hours locked in small, often windowless, cells for long sentences
of many years. They're deprived of all contact with other inmates and only
allowed out for brief periods a few times a week for showers and some
solitary exercise in a small, enclosed space. They're deprived of all
mental stimulation from human contact, recreation or education, and are
nearly always shackled hands and feet and escorted by armed guards
whenever they leave their cells. Prisoners who've endured this torture,
come out, and spoken publicly about it have described it to be like living
in a tomb. And the state inflicted misery they've been subjected to often
results in a host of severe emotional problems including insanity. Try
locking yourself in your bathroom with a little plain food and water for
24 hours (if you can stand it) and see how you feel. Then multiply that by
20 or more years.
The state and federally sponsored murder factories known as "death rows"
are, without a doubt, the lowest and worst level of Dante's hell. Dante
might have written his words "Abandon every hope, all ye who enter" for
the abandoned souls sent to these barbaric death factories. They only look
different than Auschwitz. Those entering never come out (except the few
lucky ones DNA evidence exonerate). As of April, 2005 there were 3452 on
"death row" in the 37 states with the death penalty including 36 in
federal prisons and 7 held by the US military. The vast majority of them
are poor or disadvantaged and their racial breakdown is as follows: 45.5%
white, 41.7% black, 10.4% Hispanic, 1.2% Asian, 1.2% American Indian and
.5% unknown. Nearly all of them, 98.5%, are male.
Most civilized countries have no death penalty, and in the Global North
only the US and Japan still do. Japan is very selective in who it
executes, unlike the US with its assembly line-like killing operations.
The Japanese have executed about 50 inmates in the last dozen years and
about an equal number now await execution. Many opponents of the death
penalty call these "final solution" acts institutionalized,
state-sponsored, ritualistic acts of torture-murder. They say "torture"
because often the prisoner is so hated that their executioners
"deliberately" try to inflict pain during the process of killing them. And
while that alone is inhumane and barbaric enough, all too often the
accused is innocent, often the state knows it, and they're still put to
death. Most often these are people of color, most likely black, poor and
unable to afford a proper defense. They become victims of a system not
based on justice but on vengeance along with the belief by elected
officials that being "tough on crime" is a good vote getter.
The case of Stan "Tookie" Williams, as much as anyone, stands out for its
barbarity and gross injustice. Stan was a co-founder of the Crips street
gang as a teenager in South Central Los Angeles in 1969. He was convicted
and sentenced to death for multiple murders he said he never committed (I
believe him), but never got a proper defense to prove it. Even later when
evidence became known that might have exonerated him, he was never given a
chance to prove his innocence.
Over a dozen years before his execution in California, Stan changed his
life, became an anti-gang activist while on death row, and renounced his
former gang affiliation. He co-wrote children's books, worked to convince
youths not to join gangs and wrote one of the most compelling books on
prison life I ever read called Life in Prison. He did it to show readers
what prison life is really like in plain, stark language. He pulled no
punches. Anyone reading it will know that prison is no place any human
being wants to be.
For his work in prison, Stan received multiple Nobel Peace Prize
nominations, in 2004 a feature film called Redemption: The Stan Tookie
Williams Story was made about his life, and as his execution date
approached, a mass effort I was part of was launched to urge an uncaring
and hostile Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to grant clemency. Fat chance.
Thousands joined the effort including celebrities, politicians, Nobel
laureates and Pacifica Radio, especially on its very special bold and
courageous KPFA weekday news and information program Flashpoints Radio
(the best program of its kind anywhere). It was all in vein, clemency was
denied and Stan was put to death by lethal injection on December 13, 2005
as thousands protested outside the infamous San Quentin State Prison.
Stan's death was not easy or painless. It took repeated needle insertions
in a process that took nearly 30 minutes of great inflicted pain to
complete. Stan's suffering at the end was not an exception. It's common
practice, and as mentioned above, is deliberately inflicted by a sadistic
staff. As such, even for a prisoner being executed, this is a flagrant
violation of the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution that prohibits
"cruel and unusual punishment." But who cares and who will act to prevent
it when it's inflicted on a condemned black man and on the day the state
THE PROFITABLE BUSINESS OF RUNNING A GULAG
The for-profit side of running a gulag began to explode during the Reagan
years when incarceration rates began increasing dramatically. Along with a
growing private prisons industry (a small slice of the prison pie still
largely a public enterprise), a vast array of private businesses wanted a
piece of the action and got it. These include architectural and
construction companies; food service contractors; all sorts of equipment,
hardware and other suppliers of steel doors, razor wire, communications
systems, and health care and medical supplies. There's also a big need for
uniforms and assorted weapons including dangerous products to restrain
like clemical sprays that can injure, cause severe pain, second degree
burns, temporary blindness or worse and taser electro-shock guns that emit
50,000 volts of electricity (enough to flatten an all-pro NFL lineman in
peak form) that can and have killed as many as 167 victims from it's use
through January, 2006. And there's loads more. The (mal) care and feeding
of a couple of million humans takes a lot of supplying to keep the system
Add it all up and it's big business, and it gets bigger with every new
prison and the inmates to fill them. Not to worry. Unlike oil, there's no
chance of running out bodies.
The big players in this growing industry are the private companies that
run the hellholes. And the ones they run are even more hellish than the
public ones. Private, publicly owned corporations with shareholders and
Wall Street to please always need a growing revenue and profit stream and
strict cost control to maximize the bottom line part of it. That means
understaffing, low pay for poorly trained staff, poor and unsafe
conditions, little or no life-enhancing or self-help programs like
educational opportunities or counseling services to rehabilitate those in
need like ilicit drug users, and even worse medical care than the third
world kind in the publicly run system. Why bother, they all cost money,
reduce profits and constrain shareholder equity. Private contractors can
also exploit prisoners as de facto chattel. They're not obliged to pay
wages or benefits and can take full advantage of all those bodies free of
charge. Why would they ever pass that up. It's one more revenue and profit
The private side of running prisons is still a small part of the total.
But it's growing, and as it does, it's darker side may just get darker.
Unlike most businesses, quality control is not one of their concerns. If
humans suffer to enhance the bottom line, who will care. In running a
gulag, you just gotta keep 'em under control locked in cages, and if you
use, abuse and lose some along the way, there's plenty more supply to fill
the available beds. That's how it works in a nation that commodifies its
masses and exploits them. It's what happens in this modern era when social
conditions deteriorate enough to produce what Franklin Roosevelt spoke
about in the Great Depression years of the 1930s when he said "I see
one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished." It's not that
bad yet, but we're heading in that direction. As discussed above, it
produces a restive population the state chooses to lock up in lieu of
providing vital social services to satisfy essential needs. The result is
the US gulag, the shame of the nation. Future historians and others will
judge us by the character of our social conscience, especially how we
treat our least advantaged and most needy. They'll also judge us by our
system of justice and the prisons within it which reflect that conscience.
The honest ones won't be kind. The great Russian 19th century novelist,
Fyodor Dostoevsky, once remarked that he measured the quality of a society
by the quality of its prisons. He might have added by its quantity as
THE EVIDENCE SHOWS A NATION MOVING FROM A REPUBLIC TO TYRANNY
The evidence on our criminal injustice system and prisons within it alone
shows a nation moving from a republic to tyranny. It's not much different
from what happened in ancient Rome when it passed from a republic to an
empire under the rule of its emperor Augustus Caesar after Julius ignored
his "Ides of March" warning and ended his reign the hard way in the Roman
Our prison system alone is a stark symbol and reminder of a society based
on militarism and imperial conquest abroad, the shredding of our civil
liberties at home, and the dismantling of our social contract obligation
along with the transfer of wealth to the privileged and powerful. It
reflects a nation descending into the hell of tyranny and despotism that
threatens to become worse and affect us all except those at the top. We've
created the monster of a national security police state (run by the new
Department of Homeland Security and Office of the Director of National
Intelligence) to control a growing restive population that will likely
grow larger. It will include many more of us as those in need grow in
numbers and new demons are easily found, targeted and moved to prison
cells to maintain absolute control. That's how it works in all tyrannical
states, even ones claiming to be democracies like ours but which, in fact,
It happened in ancient Rome and in more modern times in Nazi Germany after
Hitler was appointed Chancellor and ended the Weimar Republic. He called
his party the National Socialist German Workers Party (the term Nazi is
the short form for National Socialist with a "zi" on the end), but his
constituents were the German industrialists and militarists and his
ideology was fascist and racist. It wasn't long before he removed his many
enemies and tried to create a state for the privileged and Aryian pure.
The immortal words of Pastor Martin Niemoller explained it and warns us
now when he said they first came for the Jews, then the Communists, then
the trade unionists and each time he didn't speak out because he wasn't
one of them - until there was no one left and they came for him, and there
was no one to speak out to help him.
This essay only addresses the mass incarceration of the most vulnerable
among us. I've discussed the other issues in other writings and intend to
write solely about our war on immigrants in a future article. But unless
we heed Pastor Niemoller's warning, one day, sooner than we think, they'll
come for us and who'll be left to help. Based on the evidence I've
presented we already have a society out of control with a reckless rogue
administration, a "go-along" Congress and "friendly" courts leading us
along the road to hell.
The US prison system is its metaphor and clear warning and reflects a
repressive state based on harsh and unjust Patriot Act laws that are close
to being supplemented by a racist, fascist-style immigration bill passed
by the House (the so-called Sensenbrenner anti-immigration bill) and now
being considered in the Senate. Its provisions that criminalize
undocumented immigrants (targeted at those of color) and all those
compassionate enough who help them are right out of the bowels of Nazi
hell. It may pass and likely be followed by even more repressive laws that
target you and me unless we're one of the privileged. So far, the targets
are mostly those on the bottom rungs of society - people of color
including immigrants and Muslims. But also in the line of fire is anyone
of influence (including Muslim academics falsely labeled terrorists)
daring to speak out and oppose state policy. How long will it be before it
gets even worse and no one is safe?
Few people know the president has now given himself the sole power to
designate anyone he chooses for any reason he decides a "bad guy" -
incredibly in that language. Going even further, in January, 2006, George
Bush claimed the right to govern as a "Unitary Executive" with the power
to abrogate the separation of powers doctrine, bypass the Congress and
courts and act as he chooses to "protect national security." This simply
means if he decides to ignore the law he'll govern by presidential edict
usurping the right of dictatorial power with no constraint. If he's ever
brazen enough to do it (and don't believe he won't be) and isn't stopped,
he'll have "crossed the Rubicon" and turned the country into a full-blown
totalitarian state and the ball game is over for all of us. We're already
all in the queue as potential prey, and we'd better understand we're
moving up in it fast. Unless Bush-Cheney and those around them are
stopped, they'll come for us one day, and then it'll be too late. It makes
a shameless mockery of any notion that all citizens, rich and poor, are
entitled to the sacred rights and protections guaranteed us by the
Constitution. Only the privileged and powerful get that right today, not
the rest of us. And if you're black and poor, an undocumented immigrant or
a Muslim of color (our latest public enemy No. 1), you have no rights at
all. Step right up, they've assigned you a number too, and you'd better
keep a bag packed.
We've come a long way in our 230 year history but, except for brief
periods of relief and redress, it's been pretty much downhill. If that's
"the American way", it's time we retool and find a new path to follow, one
based on social, political and economic justice, of caring about all
others instead of using and abusing them for the benefit of a privileged
few. We may not have much time left, so we better wake up and move fast.
If we keep watching Fox News, read the New York Times, listen to NPR and
then run to the mall, we're doomed to meet the same fate as all other
nations who followed the road we now travel. It's the road to hell, and
ours isn't even paved with good intentions.
(source: Uruknet - Stephen Lendman)
Death penalty up for debate
Local Republican legislators agree the state should end a 150-year
prohibition on the death penalty, though others aren't so sure.
Last week, the Wisconsin Senate passed a resolution calling for an
advisory vote during the September primary on whether the state should
have the death penalty. The referendum language specifies death as an
option in cases of vicious, 1st-degree murders in which conviction
includes DNA evidence, according to the Associated Press. Wisconsin has
not had the death penalty since it was prohibited in 1853.
Among the senators voting for the resolution were Luther S. Olsen, R of
Ripon, and Dale Schultz, R of Richland Center, who represent the
Baraboo/Sauk County area. Efforts to reach the two for comment were
The Senate resolution must also be passed by the State Assembly before it
goes to the voters. Rep. J. A. "Doc" Hines, R-Oxford, said he would
support a statewide referendum on the death penalty. In heinous cases
involving the murder of children and killing of police officers, Wisconsin
should not keep convicted criminals in prison for life, he said.
"Those people don't deserve to live," Hines said.
Hines said with very strict limitations on what crimes would be subject to
the death penalty and modern techniques like DNA evidence, the chance of
convicting the wrong person is low.
"I don't believe everybody who is convicted of a very serious crime should
be put to death," he said.
Republican Assemblywoman Sheryl Albers of Reedsburg said she could support
a limited, carefully-defined death penalty.
"It's a pretty harsh penalty, I think it should be limited in scope to
some crimes," she said. "I think for some crimes it is the way to go."
The state crime laboratory is two years behind in actually testing DNA
evidence from crime scenes, said Albers. State officials and the state
Legislature have not provided the resources the lab needs to conduct
testing in a timely manner.
"Until such time as the DNA backlog has been adequately addressed, I don't
think it's appropriate to put the death penalty out there to the public,"
she said. "If the evidence can't be tested, it's unfair to put them on
In response to a written set of questions, Sauk County Sheriff Randy
Stammen said the public should be able to make a statement on the death
penalty issue, but he hopes they reject it.
Stammen said he has met people with little or no regard for the lives of
others, and the threat of the death penalty is not going to prevent them
from killing. Execution can only stop them from killing again, which can
also be accomplished with life in prison.
Evidence like DNA testing can help make an investigation credible, but it
is not infallible, he said. Wisconsin should not take the chance of
executing an innocent person and the state would not be made better by
capital punishment, said Stammen.
"Executing an innocent person is the ultimate wrong that government could
do to society," Stammen said.
Efforts to reach Sauk County District Attorney Patricia Barrett and
Baraboo Police Chief Dennis Kluge for comment were also unsuccessful.
Hines said he believes there will be strong debate and a close vote if the
death penalty referendum comes before the public next fall.
(source: Baraboo News Republic)
Judge Rules That Prosecutors Can Seek Death for Moussaoui----Improperly
Coached Witnesses Won't Be Permitted to Testify
The federal judge hearing the death penalty trial of Zacarias Moussaoui
ruled today that federal prosecutors could go forward with their case for
capital punishment, but without crucial testimony from aviation officials
who were improperly coached by a government lawyer.
After a hearing in which the aviation officials appeared in the absence of
the jury, U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema said Federal Aviation
Administration and Transportation Security Administration witnesses who
had been coached would not be allowed to testify before the jury and that
she would bar evidence from them.
Although she allowed the trial to continue, the ruling dealt a serious
blow to the prosecution, which considered the aviation officials'
testimony crucial to its case.
The ruling came after Brinkema heard from a succession of aviation
officials who denied that coaching by Carla J. Martin, a Transportation
Security Administration lawyer, would affect their testimony.
Earlier, Martin took the witness stand and, faced with possible legal
sanctions herself, told the judge she wanted an attorny.
Martin and half a dozen aviation officials appeared at the hearing called
by Brinkema to determine whether she should throw out the death penalty
for Moussaoui because of improper coaching of 7 witnesses by Martin.
Martin, the 1st to take the stand today, asked permission to address the
court and was immediately cut off by an irritated Brinkema, who told her,
"No, you're a witness."
When prosecutor David J. Novak suggested that Martin be advised of her
rights, Brinkema told her that she has the right not to testify, that her
testimony could be used against her because she is in jeopardy for the
alleged violation of a court order and that she has the right to be
represented by counsel.
Martin said she was in "an adversarial proceeding" and wanted a lawyer.
She said she spoke to an attorney last night, but that he was unable to
come to the court this morning. At that point, Brinkema directed her to
contact the lawyer and see if he could come in later today or, if not, at
8:30 a.m. Wednesday.
The delay was the latest twist in the case of Moussaoui, an avowed
al-Qaeda member who is the only person charged in the United States with
involvement in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. He has pleaded
guilty to 6 counts related to the attacks, and federal prosecutors are
trying to persuade a jury in Northern Virginia is to sentence him to
Yesterday, Brinkema halted the trial and threatened to remove the death
penalty as a possible sentence on grounds that Martin, a veteran
government aviation lawyer, improperly shared testimony and communicated
After Martin's brief appearance this morning, four senior officials of the
Federal Aviation Administration and the Transportation Security
Administration told Brinkema that if they are allowed to testify during
the penalty trial, their testimony would not be affected by their
communications with Martin.
Both Lynne A. Osmus, assistant FAA administrator for security and
hazardous materials, and her deputy, Claudio Manno, told the court that
they were unaware of Brinkema's order that witnesses should not discuss
their testimony with anyone. Manno said he had been reading about the
trial in The Washington Post and watching reports about it on television.
Asked what impact e-mails from Martin would have on his testimony, Manno,
a former director of the FAA's office of intelligence, said, "In my
opinion, none at all, because I can only testify about what I know and
Manno said he and Osmus asked to be assigned another lawyer about a week
and a half before Martin sent them the e-mails at issue, because they felt
Martin had a tendency to go off on tangents and was taking up a lot of
Matthew Kormann, an official in the TSA intelligence service, and Patrick
McDonnell, a former FAA intelligence director, also said Martin's coaching
would not alter their testimony.
Today's witnesses testified in the absence of the jury, which was excused
by Brinkema while she considered what to do about Martin's actions.
Brinkema, clearly exasperated by the new problems in the oft-delayed case,
yesterday called Martin's conduct "the most egregious violation of the
court's rules on witnesses" she had seen "in all the years I've been on
Even prosecutors were stunned by Martin's actions, calling them
"reprehensible" in court papers and adding, "We frankly cannot fathom why
she engaged in such conduct."
Martin violated a court order by e-mailing trial transcripts to 7
witnesses -- all current and former federal aviation employees -- and
coaching them on their upcoming testimony, court papers say. She also
shared the e-mails among the witnesses.
Brinkema had ruled earlier that most witnesses could not attend or follow
the trial and could not read transcripts. She told jurors yesterday that
the ruling was "meant to prevent witnesses from comparing their testimony
or listening to what other witnesses said and changing their own
The judge ordered a hearing today to find out how the incident happened.
To sanction the government for the error, she could remove the death
penalty, forbid the witnesses from testifying or declare a mistrial. The
government could appeal either of the first 2 sanctions.
Further embarrassing the government, Martin's e-mails sharply criticized
prosecutors' case, saying, among other things, that their opening
statement "has created a credibility gap that the defense can drive a
Martin did not return calls to her home or office yesterday and did not
answer the door at her apartment.
Moussaoui, 37, has pleaded guilty for conspiring with al-Qaeda in the
Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. If Brinkema were
to forbid the death penalty, the case would end and Moussaoui would be
sentenced to life in prison. It would be a huge setback for the
"This is the only opportunity for the government to make a Sept. 11 case.
This is it. There isn't another," said Juliette Kayyem, a terrorism expert
at Harvard University. "The government has to cross every t and dot every
i to ensure that the Sept. 11 families finally have their day in court. If
it gets messed up over a technicality . . . there is no excuse."
Duke University law professor Robert P. Mosteller said ethical
restrictions against speaking with witnesses are drilled into every
attorney. "Lawyers don't do things like this," he said. "The federal rule
on witnesses is elegant in its simplicity, and it's usually not something
people get wrong."
TSA officials referred calls to the Justice Department. Justice Department
officials declined to comment.
Martin, an aviation security expert, had served as a liaison between
prosecutors and witnesses expected to testify about airport security. She
was working with government and defense witnesses and was not a member of
the prosecution team. Brinkema told jurors yesterday before dismissing
them for the day that prosecutors deserved "great credit" for reporting
the error to her.
Defense attorneys accused Martin of trying to shape the testimony of key
witnesses. "This is not going to be a fair trial anymore . . . because of
what a lawyer did in an absolute abrogation of your rules," defense
attorney Edward B. MacMahon Jr. said as he urged Brinkema to strike the
Brinkema has removed the death penalty once, in 2003, after the government
disobeyed her order to allow Moussaoui's attorneys to interview captured
al-Qaeda leaders who they said could clear him. Eventually, she was
overruled by a higher court.
Fordham Law School professor James Cohen, an expert in witness tampering,
said dismissing the death penalty this time "might be too harsh a
penalty." Other legal specialists said Brinkema might strike the testimony
of the witnesses with whom Martin communicated. Those witnesses, three for
the government and four for the defense, are expected to testify about
what the government might have done to boost airport security if Moussaoui
had confessed his knowledge of the Sept. 11 plot when he was arrested in
Even that would be a severe blow to the government because that is the
crux of its argument for execution: If Moussaoui had not lied to the FBI,
the attacks could have been prevented. Assistant U.S. Attorney Novak said
in court yesterday that the testimony of the contacted witnesses
constituted "half the evidence in this case."
Prosecutors urged Brinkema last night to throw out neither the death
penalty nor the testimony of the seven witnesses, saying defense attorneys
can address any problems caused by Martin's e-mails during direct or
cross-examination. "Dismissal of the death notice is simply too extreme a
sanction and the public should not be deprived of its right to see this
trial proceed to verdict," the prosecution filing said. The filing,
however, acknowledged that Martin had intended "to better prepare the
witnesses for questions by the defense."
Court papers said the government learned of Martin's e-mails when Osmus
approached prosecutors Friday night. Novak then learned that Martin had
also e-mailed the other witnesses. Court documents say they include Robert
White, a former FAA liaison to the CIA's Counterterrorism Center who works
at the TSA, and Pat McDonnell, the FAA's retired director of aviation
security and intelligence.
Martin's e-mails were highly critical of the government's case, especially
an assertion by prosecutors that the government could have stopped the
Sept. 11 terror attacks if Moussaoui had not lied to the FBI by, among
other things, having the FAA focus airport security on short-bladed
knives. The Sept. 11 hijackers used such knives to take over 4 airplanes.
"There is no way anyone could say that the carriers could have prevented
all short bladed knives from going through -- Dave [Novak] MUST elicit
that from you and the airline witnesses on direct, and not allow the
defense to cut your credibility on cross," Martin wrote.
Defense attorneys noted that Martin has been present from the beginning at
almost every proceeding in the Moussaoui case, including sensitive
She was a career FAA attorney who moved to the new Transportation Security
Administration in 2002, largely because of her work on the case of the
1988 explosion of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, officials
familiar with her work said. Martin represented the government at a civil
trial in which victims' families sued the airline. She was there to make
sure that sensitive information was not discussed in open court.
Several officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the
sensitivity of the case, said Martin often served as a liaison with
Justice Department lawyers in aviation security cases.
(source: Washington Post)
Death Penalty Phase: Consider justice
Prosecutors must feel they dodged a bullet when a judge allowed the death
penalty trial of Zacarias Moussaoui to continue. But federal authorities
ought to consider life in prison for the strange, troubled conspirator.
U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema showed restraint Monday in letting the
federal case continue. But she still forbade the government from
presenting a whole line of evidence about aviation security measures, an
argument that was expected to make up half the case for convincing a jury
to authorize Moussaoui's execution.
Moussaoui already has pleaded guilty to conspiracy in connection with the
Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Brinkema's decision has the merit of
preserving the jury's right to have a say.
But almost everything else raises questions about whether justice,
American ideals and America's standing in the world can truly be served by
executing Moussaoui. Testimony already has brought fresh reminders about
uncoordinated handling of intelligence before the attacks. In a world
where only a few countries use the death penalty, Moussaoui's case stands
out for targeting a deeply troubled individual. He may not be insane, but
he fits no definition of normal, here or anywhere else.
It was outrageous for a government attorney to ignore judicial orders
about trial transcripts and witnesses following the trial for the purpose
of shaping trial testimony. The Bush administration should ask itself
whether Americans place vengeance over respect for the rule of law.
(source: Opinion, Seattle Post Intelligencer)
GRIEVING 9/11 MA EASES AGONY OF TERROR MOM
The mother of a 9/11 victim tearfully embraced the mother of Zacarias
Moussaoui, who came to a moving service at a Westchester church to ask for
understanding of her son.
"She is just a very sweet, humble person," grieving mom Connie Taylor told
The Post. "You'd love to know this person."
Aicha el-Wafi was "just like any other mother. She loves her son like any
mother does," she said.
Taylor, whose son Brad Vadas, a 37-year-old securities trader, died in the
Sept. 11 attacks, said Sunday's meeting of the two mothers was "very
Taylor, of Connecticut, was at the Memorial United Methodist Church in
White Plains on Saturday night, where her choral group was meeting, when
the Rev. Joseph Agne passed on a surprising request.
"The pastor told us [el-Wafi] was going to be there Sunday and was
interested in meeting the mothers of 9/11 victims," she said.
El-Wafi had been in the United States since March 4 to attend her son's
death-penalty sentencing trial. She was staying at the home of a woman
from the church, who offered her a place to stay before she flew home to
France yesterday, Taylor said.
On Sunday, el-Wafi, with the help of her interpreter, told a "welcoming
gathering" of about 40 people her side of her son's tragedy.
"She just sat there and gave a little talk and answered some questions,"
Taylor recalled. "She has no words to explain or express how terrible she
feels," the interpreter said. "She never asked for any of this. She would
love to be just a mother."
El-Wafi, who was married at 14 and divorced at 24, brought up four
children alone while working as a cleaning woman. She said she lost her
son to a militant group the way another parent might lose a child to drugs
or a religious cult.
"She talked about his upbringing and how difficult it was," Taylor said.
Taylor added it was a very different life from her own son's.
"I've always been grateful that my son never experienced the kind of
terror that other people have been living with their entire lives," she
El-Wafi said, in French, "The hardest suffering in the world today is that
of parents who lose their children."
"There will never be an explanation to justify this. The suffering will
last forever," she added, according to The Journal News.
When she looked into Taylor's eyes, she began to weep.
Taylor embraced her, as others attending the service gathered around them
in tears. "As sad as it is, I think there was a certain amount of
understanding," Taylor said.
Her son was a securities trader, working on the 89th floor of the World
Trade Center's south tower, when the first hijacked plane struck. Taylor
said that right after Sept. 11, she was asked to speak at a gathering of
peace activists near the United Nations.
"I told them how grateful I was my son never had been afraid to walk down
the street or get into an airplane," she said. "We can't say the same
After she spoke she was touched when "a boy from Palestine came up to me
and said, 'There's never been a day in my life when I wasn't afraid.'"
El-Wafi, who had met other relatives of 9/11 victims in 2002, was
apprehensive when she arrived in the United States to attend the
sentencing trial in Alexandria, Va., Taylor said.
"The minister said when she came over she was very leery, as I would be,"
she said. But after meeting members of the church, "she became very
comfortable with the congregation."
During Sunday's meeting, El-Wafi passed around photos from her wallet of
her son and of a grandson, the way doting parents do.
She said she was pained by knowing her son will never walk free.
"A part of me is inside him. I can't help it," The Journal News quoted her
as saying. She said she feels the pain when she sees her son's boyhood
friends, now happy adults, walk the streets of her neighborhood.
"Why is it I am being deprived of that pleasure?" she asked.
El-Wafi added that she had another son who had joined an Islamist movement
"In these movements, they look for the little cracks to get into people's
minds and control them," she said.
Taylor said Sunday's meeting provided some comfort.
"I felt it was good. And I hope it was good for her," she said.
(source: New York Post)
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