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Judge: ATF Agents Encourage People to Commit Crimes They Otherwise Wouldn’t Commit & Protect Stash Houses

By: Friday November 21, 2014 2:41 pm

Judge William A. Fletcher

In a case involving a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives (ATF) “reverse sting” on an imaginary cocaine stash house, federal prosecutors have requested that an appeals court reinstate charges against two men who had drug conspiracy and robbery conspiracy charges dropped after a district judge ruled the government engaged in outrageous misconduct.

However, Judge William A. Fletcher, who was appointed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals by President Bill Clinton, expressed his disgust with the government’s conduct. “I think the government is wasting resources. I think it is encouraging them to commit crimes they otherwise wouldn’t commit.”

“And you are protecting the stash houses and then, after we imprison these guys, we’ve got to pay for their imprisonment. I think it’s a totally misguided policy. Now, the law is the law and I’m going to follow it. But I think you guys are making a mistake.”

Judge Otis Wright ruled on March 10 of this year [PDF], “The government’s extensive involvement in dreaming up this fanciful scheme—including the arbitrary amount of drugs and illusory need for weapons and extra associates—transcends the bounds of due process and renders the government’s actions outrageous.”

Cedrick Marquet Hudson, Joseph Cornell Whitfield and Antuan Duane Dunlap were arrested while they were waiting in a fake safe house provided by the government with weapons and just before they were to go rob an imaginary stash house that an ATF special agent had claimed had kilograms of cocaine of “pure ass coca” and “no bullshit cocaine.”

Fletcher asked Assistant US Attorney Mark Yohalem, “If the defendant here were able to prove that he had no propensity to commit this crime, would that amount to outrageous conduct on the part of the government?”

“Absolutely not, your honor,” Yohalem replied.

“Would you please turn your attention to United States v. Yuman-Hernandez where the panel wrote, “The act of inducing a defendant to commit a crime he or she is not predisposed to commit is necessarily outrageous.” So, what do you say to that?”

Yohalem replied that Yuman-Hernandez was a sentencing case. Fletcher interrupted him and countered that it was a sentencing case where “deliberate outrageous conduct” had been addressed, which was part of this discussion.

Perhaps, shockingly, Yohalem proceeded to insist that predisposition would not matter in making a finding of “outrageous conduct” in this case. Fletcher reminded Yohalem, “Outrageous conduct doesn’t mean that a crime wasn’t committed. It means the government is foreclosed from prosecuting the crime.”

Additionally, this remarkable exchange took place at the beginning of oral argument between Yohalem, Fletcher and Judge A. Wallace Tashima as Yohalem tried to defend “reverse stings” involving made-up stash houses as “sensible.”

FLETCHER: Judge Posner says that the operators of stash houses should be willing to pay the United States government for what they have done in order to protect stash houses. Why is this sensible?”

YOHALEM: The United States is not merely fighting a war on drugs. It is fighting a war on violent crime…

FLETCHER: It is also trying to protect stash houses.

YOHALEM: No, your honor. It’s trying to protect communities in which stash houses are hidden, which are in residential communities that are often prone to violence.

TASHIMA: There’s no showing here that this was a neighborhood where stash houses were held in, were there?

YOHALEM: To begin with, it’s a fictitious stash house…

TASHIMA: So how can you say they’re trying to protect neighborhoods where stash houses are hidden when all they’re after are imaginary stash houses? That would be an imaginary neighborhood, right?

YOHALEM: It’s protecting an imaginary stash house house from a real robbery crew. That real robbery crew…

TASHIMA: Which in this case, it’s a crew that’s put together by the government…

Movie Review: “Braddock America”

By: Friday November 21, 2014 8:08 am

If I’d made a documentary film about the scars left on America through industrialization, instead of writing Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99 Percent about it, what I would have likely ended up with is “Braddock, America.”

History

“Braddock, America” is a feature length documentary now in limited release set in Braddock, Pennsylvania, a former steel town now left to literally rust away to hell. Like so, so many other towns in Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and throughout the Midwest, Braddock began life in the 19th century as just a place along a mighty river, surrounded by coal. Then Andrew Carnegie built a state-of-the-art steel mill. George Westinghouse followed suit and constructed his first plant in a valley adjacent to the Monongahela River. For the decades that followed, the Monongahela valley was the industrial pulse of a growing America. Most of the steel that made the United States the world’s leading industrial nation, steel for train tracks, cars, the girders of the then world’s tallest skyscrapers, was made in places like Braddock.

Workers were granted some share of the profits, protected by the strong unions they had fought for. There was once a rough kind of social contract: work hard for the mill, and in return you’d make enough to raise a family, have health care, retire on a decent pension. The system was not perfect, but it fueled the greatest economic boom and consumer society known.

Then, during the late 1970s and into the 1980s, everything changed. Steel was imported, manufacturing across the U.S. declined, and the unions were broken. Soon enough, the mills went away, leaving the people. The Rust Belt lost a manufacturing empire but never found a new role. Braddock is a place that capitalism discarded, a victim of America’s apartheid of dollars.

A Well-Made Documentary

“Braddock, America” is a well-made documentary that weaves together the past (the film begins with archive footage of the glory days), the present, and pokes at an uncertain future that haunts the whole town. There is no narrator or off-screen voice; the people left in Braddock (90 percent of the population has escaped over the years since the mills shut down) tell their stories alongside images of the near-ghost town in which they live. It is a gentle, touching portrait of good people trying to pick up the pieces, after their livelihoods were taken away by larger processes they do not even now fully understand. They display a sad stubbornness, and you watch the film both admiring them and wanting to shout at them to get out.

One scene shows a city official walking down a deserted street designating empty homes for demolition. Another one shows kids playing in a deserted school building. The town can no longer support a grocery store. A worker looks back at the mill, and calls what he and his father did there “sacramentel.” Town officials discuss their hope that additional money will come from the state to help them demolish more derelict buildings. An outside job/career coach’s presentation falls apart when none of the people in the room have any previous work experience to cite; one asks if his labor in prison counts. Abandoned homes can be bought for $3000, unless they have already been stripped by thieves of their aluminum siding and copper wiring, in which case they are worthless.

A Few Issues

The film suffers from a few things. Persons being interviewed are not identified, leading to some confusion. The historical clips are used in many places as filler, and disrupt the flow of the film. The film lacks a clear narrative arc; people talk– and they are interesting– and then the film ends. A touching scene in a bar where local musicians play the song “American Pie” is cut short. One key historical event discussed, a violent labor strike, appears to have taken place in nearby Homestead and not in Braddock.

Hope is Not a Strategy

The people of Braddock still express hope, or perhaps are left only with hope, as the only strategy for a way out. But like nearly every town in the Rust Belt that has tried to dig itself out, the optimism often seems misplaced and misguided over time. “Things got broken here,” says a two-year old ad for Levi’s also filmed in the town, “maybe on purpose, so we could get to work.” That did not happen. A New York Times video features Braddock’s then-mayor explaining how the town will “rise from the ashes.” He said that in 2009, and it did not happen. By the time this film was shot in 2012, that mayor was already gone himself.

The filmmakers have created a sensitive memoir to a place and time that once described America to the world, and, with some irony, now, ironically, again describes America to the world.

You can watch trailer for “Braddock, America” online.

BRADDOCK AMERICA – TRAILER from Program33 on Vimeo.

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Peter Van Buren writes about current events at blog. His book,Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99Percent, is available now from Amazon

Obama Administration Releases First Yemeni Prisoners from Guantanamo Bay in Years

By: Thursday November 20, 2014 11:39 pm

There are now 143 prisoners still being held in indefinite detention. Seventy-four are cleared for release, 53 of these are Yemeni..

Five prisoners detained at Guantanamo Bay prison were released and resettled in Georgia and Slovakia. The released prisoners included four Yemenis, marking the first time since 2010 that Yemenis cleared for release were set free.

Salah Muhammad Salih Al Dhabi, Abdul Khaled al Baidani, and Abd Al Hakim Ghalib Ahmad Alhag, who are each Yemeni, were resettled in Georgia. Hussain Almerfedi, a Yemeni, and Hisham Sliti, a Tunisian, were resettled in Slovakia.

Alhag had been represented by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) as he pursued a lawsuit in United States courts arguing he had been unlawfully detained. But, according to Wells Dixon, an attorney for CCR, Alhag decided to “stay the case” after he was approved for transfer in 2009 by President Obama’s review task force.

He was the subject of a “failed resettlement effort a couple years ago,” even though he posed absolutely no threat. The problem he had was that he was Yemeni.

CCR planned to sue the federal government for keeping Alhag in detention.

“Today’s transfer is in large part an effort by the administration to avoid that litigation,” Dixon stated. He added that CCR had been working with the government of Yemen to prepare a lawsuit and the Yemen government was “very supportive of Alhag’s transfer and resettlement.”

“We are grateful to the Republic of Georgia for offering our client a new home where he can begin to rebuild his life after more than a decade in Guantánamo without charge or trial,” Dixon added.

The Obama administration imposed a moratorium on transfers of Guantanamo Bay prisoners to Yemen. This effectively meant that no Yemeni could return to his country, even if cleared for release.

However, in May 2013, Obama stated that the moratorium would be lifted so his administration could decide whether to release each prisoner on a “case-by-case basis.”

One year and a half passed before the lifting the moratorium led to any Yemeni prisoner’s release. Perhaps, more importantly, a midterm election took place before Guantanamo Bay prisoner transfers resumed.

Kuwaiti prisoner Fawzi Al Odah was cleared for release by a periodic review board in July and was transferred to Kuwait just hours after Election Day wrapped.

In spite of Republican fear mongering, the Obama administration has resumed transfers. In fact, according to the Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg, “more transfers are in the pipeline, including perhaps another six captives, who can’t go home to Middle East trouble spots, to resettlement in Uruguay in December.”

Slovakia has previously accepted six Guantanamo prisoners for resettlement.

There are now 143 prisoners still being held in indefinite detention. Seventy-four are cleared for release.

The release of four Yemenis brings the number of Yemeni prisoners, who are cleared for release, to 53.

For much of Obama’s presidency, the US government has essentially been punishing Yemenis because they are from a country with an ongoing conflict on the basis that if returned they would like join up with militant groups and fight against the US.

Republicans like to argue the president should not be releasing “terrorist detainees” and that there should be worry about recidivism. However, in recent years, according to the Director of National Intelligence’s (DNI) recent review, the rate of alleged recidivism has dropped dramatically.

That may be due to the fact that the DNI has changed the criteria for what constitutes recidivism. But the DNI still maintains that “transfers to countries with ongoing conflicts and internal instability as well as active recruitment and terrorist organizations pose a particular problem.”

Much of the information is based on classified government reports, which the public does not get to read.

“We don’t have all the details to be able to actually check who the government is talking about, what those acts of recidivism are. We have no way of being able to meaningfully evaluate those conclusions,” CCR staff attorney Pardiss Kebriaei stated in a previous interview.

What is clear is that there is a period of opportunity from now until the new Congress is sworn in. The Obama administration can release any cleared prisoners to any country as long as the president notifies Congress ahead of time. And Congress cannot block or interfere with a transfer without passing a new law to stop certain transfers.

Photo by Paul Keller under Creative Commons license

Congressman Criticizes ‘Selective Prosecution’ of CIA Whistleblower John Kiriakou, Calls for Pardon

By: Thursday November 20, 2014 3:07 pm

On the floor of House of Representatives on November 17, Virginia Democratic Representative Jim Moran put forward a stinging rebuke of the “selective prosecution” of former CIA officer and whistleblower John Kiriakou. He asked President Barack Obama to pardon Kiriakou and called the fifteen-year CIA veteran “an American hero.” Kiriakou was the first member of [...]

ISIS Has Enough Weapons for Up to Two Years

By: Thursday November 20, 2014 7:44 am

And guess where the weapons came from A new report prepared for the United Nations Security Council warns ISIS possesses sufficient reserves of small arms, ammunition and vehicles to wage its war in Syria and Iraq for up to two years. And that is assuming they do not capture more weapons, including heavy weapons, from [...]

US Navy Considering Discharge of Nurse Who Followed Ethics & Refused to Force-Feed Guantanamo Prisoner

By: Wednesday November 19, 2014 6:20 pm

An attorney for a United States Navy nurse facing potentially severe repercussions for refusing to force-feed a Guantanamo Bay prisoner has indicated that the nurse, who has served nearly 18 years in the Navy, may be discharged. He is one of the only known conscientious objectors to force-feeding of prisoners. Ron Meister stated in a [...]

High Court Judge Rules UK Government Not Entitled to Immunity from Claims Brought by Torture & Rendition Victim

By: Wednesday November 19, 2014 1:19 pm

A high court judge in the United Kingdom has ruled that a Pakistani detained by British forces in Iraq in February 2004 may proceed with claims against the UK government related to his rendition, torture and detention. Yunus Rahmatullah, a Pakistani, is not barred by the doctrine of state immunity or the doctrine of foreign [...]

I’ll Be at the Army Heritage Center at the War College

By: Wednesday November 19, 2014 6:52 am

The Army has a renewed interest in Iraq, to include what went wrong in Iraq War 2.0 as Iraq War 3.0 metastasizes. Who knew, right? Unlike many other parts of government involved in the Iraq swamp, the Army is a learning institution. Unlike my former employer, the Department of State, who prefers to stay warmly [...]

Burying My Father Who Was One of My Biggest Fans

By: Tuesday November 18, 2014 9:22 am

My dad is being buried today in a cemetery in Mishawaka, Indiana. He died from a heart attack in the middle of the night while he was sleeping on November 14. He was fifty-six years-old. I’ll take a moment to celebrate him, Thomas Gosztola. He was one of my biggest fans and a few weeks [...]

Voiceprints: Time to Be Afraid Again

By: Tuesday November 18, 2014 8:15 am

The end of privacy in the United States was brought about as much by technology as intention. Those who claim there is little new here — the government read the mail of and wiretapped the calls and conversations of Americans under COINTELPRO from 1956 to at least 1971, for example – do not fully understand [...]

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