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Progress on New Bill Re: Kids in Solitary…..How School Suspensions Backfire….Despair and Hunger Strikes at Git’mo….

April 25th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


SB 61, a bill that defines and limits the use of solitary confinement for kids locked up in state and county juvenile facilities passed out of the Senate Public Safety Committee on Wednesday. The bill, authored by Senator Leland Yee, (D-San Francisco/San Mateo) is something that youth advocates have been pushing.

A statement from Yee’s office outlined the following points:

**Nationally, over half of the youth who committed suicide while in a correctional facility were in solitary confinement and 62 percent had a history of being placed in solitary confinement.

***Research also shows that individuals who were forced into solitary confinement had much higher rates of recidivism as well as developing psychopathologies.

**“The use of solitary confinement on a child is wrong and should be used only in the most extreme situations,” said Yee, who is a child psychologist. “The studies are clear – holding juveniles in solitary increases recidivism rates, exacerbates existing mental illness, and makes youth more likely to attempt suicide. The overuse of solitary confinement with children destroys young lives.”

“Solitary confinement is an archaic way of dealing with incarcerated children” said Yee. “Clearly, solitary confinement does not benefit society in the long run and actually makes our communities more dangerous. If we embrace scientific evidence over the status quo, we can work to rebuild broken lives and keep California safer.”

Dr. Laura Abrams of UCLA testified on behalf of SB 61, saying, “The mission of the juvenile justice system is to offer youth an opportunity for rehabilitation while also promoting public safety. The use of solitary confinement is counter to these goals. Not only does solitary confinement undermine rehabilitation efforts, but also as the potential to return a young person to society with exacerbated trauma and mental illness that can manifest in violence toward self or others.”

We’re watching this bill and are heartened by this first step toward passage!


This run-of-the-mill yet heartbreaking story of the everyday manner in which the use of a school suspension fairls to serve either the student or the safety of the school, is all too common. It is by Sally Lee writing for the Huffington Post. Here’s a representative clip:

Working in the Bronx, as she writes in the Suspensions Stories blog, E.E.M. is a history teacher who helped develop a “Moot Court” project that has become one of the seminal academic experiences of upperclassmen at her school. Student teams research real First and Fourth Amendment Supreme Court cases and then develop arguments and present in front of guest “justices.” Each year students are highly engaged in this project, and one year four of them, a crew of friends who had known each other since childhood, were working hard to prepare for their presentation. But just weeks before the case presentations, three of the young men were involved in an altercation (involving many people from multiple schools in the building) that was the result of an out-of-school turf tension related to the two sets of housing projects near the school. The three young men were given a 60-day out-of-school suspension. The effect? The students never got to stand tall and present their cases in front of peers and impressed guests. Instead, one student transferred to a school that didn’t match his needs or interests, another moved out of state, one returned to the school with little trust for faculty, and the fourth, who wasn’t involved in the fights, grew listless after the destruction of what had been a positive and supportive team for him: his friends. What could have been for these young men had the school system intervened earlier and responded differently? For E.E.M. and her colleagues, stories like these are common, and they are heartbreaking. Educators see so much promise in their students, but what is their fate when time and again they are demoralized and alienated by schools without adequate and supportive resources?


We don’t usually stray into issues that relate to national security, but for those of us concerned about humane and constitutional incarceration policies, this situation is of grave concern. The New York Times’ Charlie Savage has written a painful and shameful story about the dispair that has spread among the prisoners at Guantanamo, resulting in a mass hunger strike that is now threatening lives.

Here’s a clip from Savage’s excellent and disturbing story:

In the early afternoon quiet, guards in camouflage fatigues walked the two-tiered cellblocks of Camp Six, where the most cooperative of the 166 terrorism suspects held in the military prison here are housed. From a darkened control room, other guards watched banks of surveillance monitors showing prisoners in white clothing — pacing, sleeping or reading — in their cells.

But the relative calm on display to visiting reporters last week was deceiving. Days earlier, guards had raided Camp Six and locked down protesting prisoners who had blocked security cameras, forbidding them to congregate in a communal area. A hunger strike is now in its third month, with 93 prisoners considered to be participating — more than half the inmates and twice the number before the raid.

“They are not done yet, and they will not be done until there is more than one death,” said a Muslim adviser to the military, identified as “Zak” for security reasons, who fears there may be suicides. Only one thing, he predicted, will satisfy the detainees: if someone is allowed to leave.

The spark for the protest is disputed. Detainees, through their lawyers, say that when guards conducted a search of their cells on Feb. 6, they handled their Korans in a disrespectful way. Prison officials dispute that.

But both military officials and lawyers for the detainees agree about the underlying cause of the turmoil: a growing sense among many prisoners, some of whom have been held without trial for more than 11 years, that they will never go home.


Jail guards as inmates’ babymamas plus a thriving drug biz behind bars and more. Rochelle Ritchie of CBS reports this story (and so has nearly everyone else). Here’s a clip in case you missed the sad and jaw-dropping saga of one of Baltimore’s jail:

Twenty-five people, 13 of those female correction officers, are now behind bars facing federal charges of racketeering, money laundering and possession of drugs with the intent to distribute. Investigators say the women helped White and other gang members smuggle cell phones, marijuana, prescription pills and cigarettes into the Baltimore City Detention Center.

“It’s pretty much its own city. The guards aren’t running the jail; prisoners really run the jail,” said one former inmate.

The illegal operation isn’t surprising to former inmates.

“I was in there before. Everywhere you look, people lighting up marijuana joints, tobacco…we even get alcohol in there,” said a former inmate.

And here’s a clip from a story by Dan Rodricks for the Baltimore Sun:

I have lots of questions about the Black Guerrilla Family case, starting with this: Was the warden of the Baltimore City Detention Center asked to approve maternity leave for any of the female correctional officers allegedly impregnated by inmate Tavon “Bulldog” White?

I thought it was a pretty good question.

A taxpayer’s question.

According to the U.S. attorney’s office, White got four of his jailers pregnant. (Do you think these women knew what was going on before the indictment came down? Do you think they all got along and attended Lamaze class together?)

If the indictment is correct, if female prison guards fraternized with an inmate to the point of pregnancy — a couple of them had White’s name tattooed on their bodies, the feds say — then I don’t want to hear that they asked for paid maternity leave.

Don’t tell us that.

Bad enough that White pretty much ran the jail, according to the indictment.

If his baby mamas — excuse me, his alleged baby mamas — had the chutzpah to ask for paid maternity leave, that would add insult to injury….

Posted in Guantanamo, jail, juvenile justice, Los Angeles County, Probation, solitary | No Comments »

Last Call for Gov. to Sign Juvie LWOP Bill SB9, a Death at Guantanamo Bay, and Progress on Safe-Guarding LGBT Prisoners

September 21st, 2012 by Taylor Walker


SB9 advocates are making one last push to urge Governor Brown to sign the bill into law. This piece of legislation would allow some of those sentenced to life without parole as juveniles a chance to request parole. (For WitnessLA’s most recent posts on SB9, go here and here.)

Vicky Lindsey, director of a support system for families of murder victims called Project Cry No More, has this to say about SB9:

On behalf of hundreds of families I work with who grieve every day for our murdered children, we believe that justice in our courts will contribute to the building of peace and justice in our streets. All youth deserve a chance to prove that they have changed and an opportunity to earn their release.

Giving youth a Life Without Parole sentence does not relieve my suffering as a victim. In fact, it contributes to the feelings of hopelessness in our neighborhoods. The violence will end when we look beyond revenge, to love all youth and have faith in their ability to give back to their families and communities.

It would be easy for me to be trapped in the anger immediately following my son’s murder. But, I choose instead to embrace youth and families, and urge them to stop the violence, to get involved while their loved ones are still alive – as I often say, to “get involved by choice not by force.”

Today, I hope that everyone will have the same ability to forgive, and to build a better future for California’s youth. All youth are better than their worst day. If we throw youth away, then we are also throwing away our own opportunity to heal and to end the violence that has caused so many families a lifetime of pain.

The Youth Justice Coalition has info and resources for those who want to encourage the governor to sign SB9. The same advocates are urging the governor to sign AB1270 which would lift the media ban in prisons. That contact information can be found here.


Gitmo detainee Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif died on September 8th after ten years of incarceration and legal battles during which the U.S. government provided no concrete evidence of Adnan’s association with enemy forces. Marc Falkoff, one of Adnan’s habeas corpus attorneys since 2004, stresses the need for the U.S. to discontinue use of Guantanamo Bay, asserting that the unjust detention killed Adnan in the end. Here’s a clip from Falkoff’s Op-Ed for the LA Times:

On Sept. 8, one of my nightmares came true. Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif, a client of mine who had been held at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba for more than 10 years, died alone in his cell. His tragic death will surely be greeted with a shrug by some, but it should prompt all of us to reconsider our decision to continue the operation of our infamous offshore prison camp.

Adnan was brought to Guantanamo in January 2002 on suspicion of being associated in some manner with enemy forces in Afghanistan. It’s hard to say exactly what the U.S. military thought Adnan had done. Over the years, the government made allegations and then abandoned them.


We don’t yet know how Adnan died, but I wouldn’t be surprised to learn it was by his own hand. He had sought release from Guantanamo by attempting suicide several times before.

It’s also possible his death was caused by the cumulative effect of a decade’s worth of intermittent hunger strikes, which were his only way to protest the injustice of his indefinite detention and the harshness of his treatment at Guantanamo.

Either way, his death was caused by his detention.


A small group of correctional institutions are taking a lead in protecting the gay and transgender incarcerated population from rape and discrimination. A nationwide broadcast from the National Institute of Corrections will air November 7th presenting effective practices to protect LGBT incarcerated and the institutions that are successfully implementing them. (You should be able to view the broadcast here.)

The Crime Report’s Katti Gray has the story. Here’s how it opens:

With jails and prisons federally mandated to curb sexual assaults against homosexual and transgender inmates, a handful of correctional facilities have emerged at the forefront of innovative practices designed to protect what is one of the most vulnerable groups behind bars.

The National Institute of Corrections (NIC), citing studies that show lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender inmates are 13 to 20 times more likely to be raped than incarcerated heterosexuals, plans to spotlight those practices Nov. 7 in a nationwide broadcast that corrections officials can view live. The public eventually can access the broadcast on the institute’s website.

One of the institutions leading those efforts is the Denver Sheriff Department, whose director, Gary Wilson, began raising the issue when he took the job two years ago, around the time federal officials began seeking public comment on what then were proposed safeguards for gay and transgender inmates.

“We wanted a policy that [would] ensure that transgender people who came into our custody were treated fairly with the equal amount of [protections] as other inmates,” said Capt. Paul Oliva, who began developing the program in February 2011 with the help of experts and advocates from the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities and civil rights lawyers.

(Make sure you read the rest, as there’s lots of good information and links!)

PHOTO BY Youth Justice Coalition

Posted in Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), Guantanamo, LGBT, LWOP Kids, prison policy | 2 Comments »

Boy Scouts Ban Gays, New Immigration Bill…and More

July 18th, 2012 by Taylor Walker


The Boy Scouts of America reconfirmed their policy banning both gay leaders and scouts on Tuesday. The story was covered widely, but WitnessLA thought that LA Times’ Steve Lopez made some excellent points. Here’s how he opens his column:

“The Boy Scouts of America is one of the nation’s largest and most prominent values-based youth developed organizations,” says the organization’s website. The BSA is about character and responsibility, and the group “has helped build the future leaders of this country by combining educational activities and lifelong values with fun.”

What kind of values?

Bigotry, for one.

On Tuesday, Boy Scouts of America has reaffirmed its policy of excluding gays as scouts or leaders.

“Scouting believes that good people can personally disagree on this topic and still work together to achieve the life-changing benefits to youth through scouting,” said a statement.

Pardon me, but I don’t get it. How can “good people” work together if some of them aren’t allowed in the door? Just because the U.S. Supreme Court in 2000 let the BSA policy stand doesn’t make it any less odious.

Be sure to read on, as the rest of Steve’s article is worthwhile.


CA Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard proposed a bill Friday that would protect the rights of immigrant families caught up in the foster care system–keeping child service organizations from removing children born in America from their immigrant parents in deportation or immigrant detention situations.

KPCC’s Leslie Berestein Rojas has the story. Here’s how it opens:

A measure voted on last spring by the California Senate that could allow some immigrants in deportation to hold onto their children, avoiding the foster care system, has been joined at the federal level by a similar federal House bill.

Introduced by Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Los Angeles), HR 6128 proposes amending federal law to make it easier for the relatives of children whose parents are in deportation to act as legal guardians, and making it more difficult for state and local governments to terminate the parental rights of immigrants in removal proceedings. From the new bill:

H.R.6128 – To amend part E of title IV of the Social Security Act to ensure that immigration status alone does not disqualify a parent, legal guardian, or relative from being a placement for a foster child, to prohibit a State, country, or other political subdivision of a State from filing for termination of parental rights in foster care cases in which an otherwise fit and willing parent or legal guardian has been deported or is involved in (including detention pursuant to) an immigration proceeding, unless certain conditions have been met, and for other purposes.


A new government order declares that anything that Guantanamo detainees say to their lawyers or in trial is presumed classified. The ACLU, one of the detainees’ lawyers, and various news sources are not thrilled, and have filed multiple objections.

ProPublica’s Cora Currier has the story. Here’s how it opens:

Can the government declare anything a Guantanamo detainee does or says automatically classified?

That’s the question posed by two challenges to a government order declaring “any and all statements” by the five detainees allegedly behind the 9/11 attacks “presumptively classified.” That includes their own accounts of their treatment, and even torture, at the hands of the U.S. government.

The government made that argument this spring at the start of the military commission trials of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four others. The government says the defendants’ accounts, if made public without review by a government authority, could reveal details of the CIA’s detention and interrogation efforts.

Of course, much information about the programs—including torture of detainees—has long been public. The CIA’s so-called black-site prisons were acknowledged nearly six years ago by then-President Bush. More details about the program were released by President Obama in 2009.

The “presumptive classification” order extends to both detainees’ testimony and their discussions with their lawyers. In other words, anything said by a detainee, whether in court or to their counsel, will first need censors’ stamp of approval before it can become public.


An LASD deputy was caught on tape Friday appearing to stomp on a resisting suspect’s head. The LASD has relieved the deputy of duty with pay pending their investigation.

LA Times’ Robert Faturechi has the story. Here’s a clip:

It occurred Friday morning when deputies approached a man in downtown Los Angeles suspected of groping a woman’s chest. Authorities said the suspect, Alexis Husmario Torres, was uncooperative, initially refusing to take his hands out of his pockets and then fighting with deputies as they tried to restrain him.

A news crew from Telemundo caught much of the take-down on video. In parts of the footage, aired by NBC Los Angeles, the suspect is elbowed several times in the head while on the ground and stomped at least once in the head by a black-booted deputy.

Sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore said department officials were aware the arrest was caught on tape when they decided to launch the criminal probe but had not yet seen the footage. He said Telemundo has agreed to turn over its raw footage.

Posted in ACLU, Courts, Foster Care, Guantanamo, immigration, LASD | 1 Comment »

Friday Must Reads

August 13th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon


Thursday was the day that the LA County Office of Independent Review delivered a report that the release of likely mentally ill Mitrice Richardson from the Lost Hills/Malibu Sheriff’s station in the early morning hours of with no purse, no cash or credit cards, no cell phone, and no one in evidence meeting her—was not improper, according to department regulations.

The deputies’ actions may have been legal. But no one who puts themselves in the emotional shoes of Mitrice’s family and friends could ever imagine that the sheriffs’ choices that night were wise or right.

The truth of that fact also became clear on Thursday when skeletal remains found in the Malibu Hills a few miles from the the Lost Hill’s station, in and old marijuana grove, were identified as the pretty young troubled woman whom we all hoped so much would one day be found alive.

At the press conference yesterday, Sheriff Baca acknowledged in so many back-handed words that the handling of Mitrice’s case was tragically flawed. “Life is fragile. The circumstances of this case are tragic……..’Properly’ doesn’t mean we couldn’t have done something more. The soul searching in the sheriff’s department is certainly being done….I’m very, very disappointed that he’s not alive.” he said grimly. (Here’s a link to audio of the press conference.)

The LA Times makes the point in a Friday editorial.

Mitrice’s father is pressing for Baca plus the deputies who were involved in his daughter’s unwise and tragic arrest and middle-of-the-night release, to take a lie detector test.

The LA Times’ Andrew Blankstein and Carla Hall have done an excellent job in pulling together the whole deeply saddening story.

One of the weird and troubling things that emerged at Thursday’s press conference is that, according to the sheriff’s department, there is no trail in to the place that Mitrice was found. Law enforcement had to be choppered in. So how is it possible that a confused young woman got there on her own?


Nothing about this trial of Omar Kadr seems to be going smoothly. Here’s the news update on the military-appointed attorney being airlifted out of Guantanamo.

In the meantime, the Toronto Globe and Mail (Kadr is a Canadian citizen) has a interesting article titled: Khadr jury to decide: jihadist or scared teen

Jess Bravin of the Wall Street Journal is also covering the trial and has a report here.


Time Magazine has dubbed Johnathan Franzen a the Great American Novelist and put him on its cover. Seriously???? I mean, I lovedThe Corrections too, but…..

I guess they really, really, REALLY liked his new novel, Freedom, that’s coming out at the end of this month.

(And, yes, I will be reading it right away, now that I’ve motored through nearly everything else on my summer reading list. And speaking of summer reading, or the record, David Mitchell is probably a genius. His summer book, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, is nearly Tolstoy-ish in it’s breathtaking narrative inventiveness. But, for pure summer delight, it was lots more fun to read the latest James Lee Burke.)

What books have you loved this summer? (I’ve got more. Let’s talk.)


In the meantime, have a de-lightful weekend. And thanks to those of you who sent me empathetic dog-related notes (or posted dog-related comments). All were very much appreciated.

Now off to check on the progress of some terrific Annenberg grad students who are working on a gang story downtown.


Drawing of Darwin reading is from Origin Graphics

Posted in crime and punishment, Guantanamo, LASD, Must Reads | 4 Comments »

Military Veterans, the Supremes & Collateral Damage

April 6th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon


A June 2007 Supreme Court case called Bowles v. Russell,
had to do with a Mr. Bowles who missed his opportunity to file a Habeas appeal in a murder case. (Mr. Bowles was the alleged murderer.) It seems the court in question told him that the deadline was on the 26th of the month; he got his filing in a day early, on the 25th. However, the court had told him wrong. The actual deadline was two days earlier on the 24th. Ooops.

The upshot? Bye-bye appeal.

In a 5-4 decision the Supremes agreed with the lower court that while Bowles may have gotten a sucky deal, that was just the breaks. Deadlines were deadlines.

Mr. Bowles, it should be noted, was a convicted murderer and nobody’s idea of a sympathetic character.

Yet now the decision that bears his name is reaping unexpected and awful consequences-–not so much for convicted felons, but for injured military veterans.

Adam Liptak has the story in Tuesday’s NY Times.

Three years ago, the Supreme Court said there are some filing deadlines so rigid that no excuse for missing them counts, even if the tardiness was caused by erroneous instructions from a federal judge.

The vote was 5 to 4, and Justice David H. Souter wrote a furious dissent. “It is intolerable for the judicial system to treat people this way,” he said, adding that he feared the decision would have pernicious consequences.

He had no idea.

The court’s decision concerned a convicted murderer who had beaten a man to death. But now it is being applied to bar claims from disabled veterans who fumble filing procedures and miss deadlines in seeking help from the government. The upshot, according to a dissent in December from three judges on a federal appeals court in Washington, is “a Kafkaesque adjudicatory process in which those veterans who are most deserving of service-connected benefits will frequently be those least likely to obtain them.”

The Supreme Court will soon consider whether to hear an appeal from David L. Henderson, who was discharged from the military in 1952 after receiving a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia. He sought additional government help for his condition in 2001, and he was turned down in 2004.

Mr. Henderson, who served on the front lines in the Korean War, had 120 days to file an appeal, but it took him 135 days. He had a pretty good excuse.

His psychiatrist has said under oath that he is “incapable of rational thought or deliberate decision-making.” As a consequence, the psychiatrist added, “Mr. Henderson has been incapable of understanding and meeting deadlines.”

The courts acknowledge this. On the other hand, they say, deadlines are deadlines.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, in Washington, ruled against Mr. Henderson in December, saying the Supreme Court’s decision from three years ago, Bowles v. Russell, left it no choice.

In a dissent, Judge Haldane R. Mayer, writing for himself and two colleagues, called the majority’s approach “both ironic and inhumane.”

Since the summer of 2008, writes Liptak, there have been more than 225 similar dismissals.

Read the whole thing. It’s very eloquent and very sad.

Transmissions,—the wonderful blog run by Diane Winston, USC’s Knight Chair in Media and Religion—frequently features smart and provocative essays.

The latest essay by Specialized Journalism grad student, Tom Pfingsten, talks about the lousy way the media covered the health care reform abortion controversy. It is particularly worth your time.

Here’s how it opens:

Politicized or not, most Christians have deeply religious reasons for opposing abortion, and that’s why it’s a shame that the U.S. media’s coverage of the issue at the most crucial moment of the recent congressional health-care debate was reduced to two lone words: “Baby Killer!”

They were shouted by Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-Texas) and they instantly displaced any thoughtful coverage that might have helped nonreligious Americans understand why abortion was such a sticking point for conservative legislators.

Neugebauer claimed he was referring to the health care bill, not Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), who had opposed the bill because of its funding for abortions, but changed his mind and was speaking when “Baby Killer!” was heard throughout the room. Either way, Neugebauer’s outburst immediately became the most newsworthy thing to come from the health care debate that day, judging by the flood of coverage devoted solely to Neugebauer’s poorly timed exclamation.

Within hours, news sites and TV stations were knee deep in a whodunit-style investigation to uncover whose voice had sent the words flying across the floor of the legislature. Never mind why they were shouted. USA Today headlined its story with the revelation that Neugebauer was behind the unfolding scandal. The Associated Press and the Houston Chronicle both dissected the political consequences. And Diana Butler Bass, writing for the Huffington Post, focused on the morality of using the words “Baby Killer” as a personal insult. (Bass did, however, include an insightful paragraph about mainstream Christian beliefs regarding “any sort of intentional violence against human beings”—including abortion.)

Even before Neugebauer’s infamous flare-up on March 21, news outlets were doing a poor job of explaining why abortion was being viewed as a deal-breaker. On the previous day, the Washington Post astutely declared that the health-care vote “may hinge on abortion issues,” but did not explain why.

Read on.

NOTE: I regret to say that the comments are closed for the next few days.

Posted in crime and punishment, Guantanamo, Supreme Court, US Government, War | No Comments »

Poisonous Legacy: The Gitmo Suicides & the Uighurs

February 18th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon


Barack Obama pledged to close Guantanamo within a year of his inauguration.
But Gitmo is still open and too many of the dark and toxic stories that characterized Gitmo under Bush are still in evidence.

Here are two of them.


Seven Chinese ethnic-minority Uighurs being held on Guantanamo contend that they are being held illegally by the U.S, government. Their case has come to Supreme court.

In yesterday’s Slate, Rebecca Crootof and Oona A. Hathaway have an analysis. Here’s a clip

The Uighurs’ story is by now depressingly familiar. Having fled first to Afghanistan to avoid persecution in China and then to Pakistan to avoid U.S. bombing in the wake of 9/11, the Uighurs were turned over to the U.S. military by local inhabitants in exchange for $5,000 per person. The United States suspected them of being enemy combatants (wrongly, our government now admits) and sent them to Guantanamo Bay, where they have been imprisoned for the past seven years.

After the Uighurs’ detention was challenged in court, the U.S. government determined that there was no legal reason to continue to hold them. But repatriation to China was not an option. The United States concluded that the Uighurs might well face persecution and perhaps even torture as suspected members of the East Turkistan Islamic Movement, which China regards as a terrorist organization.

Switzerland has finally agreed to take the Uighurs, thus suggesting they should be released. So why hasn’t it happened? Perhaps the Surpemes will answer that question.


While the Uighurs’ limbo is deeply disturbing, the story of the three prisoners whom, we are told, committed a coordinated suicide on the same night chills in a whole different way.

A law professor with his students, plus a reporter from Harper’s magazine named Scott Horton, all got drawn into investigating the issue.

The stories below tell what these investigations found. .

First, the journey taken by the law professor and his students as told this week on Dick Gordon’s The Story.

Here’s a clip of the text. (And there are links to the investigation.) But listening to this story is the thing.

When three prisoners at Guantanamo Bay died on the same night in June 2006, the official report said they had committed coordinated suicides by hanging themselves in their cells. Years later, a Seton Hall University professor named Mark Denbeaux asked a group of his law students take another look based on newly-released documents from multiple investigations. Adam Deutsch and Kelli Stout were part of that group. They were shocked to learn the three men had been dead at least two hours before they were found, when they were supposedly under constant supervision. And that was just the beginning.

And now there ‘s Scott Horton’s investigation that will appear in the March issue of Harper’s Magazine.

The opening makes a sobering accusation:

When President Barack Obama took office last year, he promised to “restore the standards of due process and the core constitutional values that have made this country great.” Toward that end, the president issued an executive order declaring that the extra-constitutional prison camp at Guantánamo Naval Base “shall be closed as soon as practicable, and no later than one year from the date of this order.” Obama has failed to fulfill his promise. Some prisoners there are being charged with crimes, others released, but the date for closing the camp seems to recede steadily into the future. Furthermore, new evidence now emerging may entangle Obama’s young administration with crimes that occurred during the George W. Bush presidency, evidence that suggests the current administration failed to investigate seriously—and may even have continued—a cover-up of the possible homicides of three prisoners at Guantánamo in 2006.

Late on the evening of June 9 that year, three prisoners at Guantánamo died suddenly and violently. Salah Ahmed Al-Salami, from Yemen, was thirty-seven. Mani Shaman Al-Utaybi, from Saudi Arabia, was thirty. Yasser Talal Al-Zahrani, also from Saudi Arabia, was twenty-two, and had been imprisoned at Guantánamo since he was captured at the age of seventeen. None of the men had been charged with a crime, though all three had been engaged in hunger strikes to protest the conditions of their imprisonment. They were being held in a cell block, known as Alpha Block, reserved for particularly troublesome or high-value prisoners…..

Although a number of others have criticized Horton’s story, While others have criticized the story’s critics.

For me, it was Horton’s work in combination with that of the law prof and his students that made this a case that demands investigation.

Listen and … See what you think.

Posted in crime and punishment, Guantanamo | 2 Comments »

Hamdan: Justice Will Not Be Tolerated

August 8th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon


These are very, very dark times
for American justice….and yet Wednesday there was a small shard of light from an unexpected source.

As nearly everyone by now knows, in was on Wedesday that the verdict was announced in the case of Osama bin Laden’s driver, Salim Hamdan. It was the very first of the post 9/11 war crimes trials.

Here are clips the New York Times editorial on the subject:

Now that was a real nail-biter. The court designed by the White House and its Congressional enablers to guarantee convictions of high-profile detainees in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba — using evidence obtained by torture and secret evidence as desired — has held its first trial. It produced … a guilty verdict.


The rules of justice on Guantánamo are so stacked against defendants that the only surprise was that Mr. Hamdan was actually acquitted on the more serious count of conspiring (it was unclear with whom) to kill Americans during the invasion of Afghanistan after Sept. 11, 2001.

The charge on which Mr. Hamdan was convicted seemed logical since he did work as Mr. bin Laden’s driver. But it was still an odd prosecution. Drivers of even the most heinous people are generally not charged with war crimes.


Col. Morris Davis, the former chief prosecutor in Guantánamo, put the trial in a disturbing light. He testified that he was informed by his superiors that only guilty verdicts would be tolerated. He also said that he was told to bring high-profile cases quickly to help Republicans score a pre-election public relations coup.

Colonel Davis gave up his position on Oct. 4, 2007. That, he wrote in The Los Angeles Times in December, was “the day I concluded that full, fair and open trials were not possible under the current system.”

Let’s sit quietly and think about that last bit for a few minutes: “Only guilty verdicts would be tolerated.”

Yet, like the passengers on the two ferry boats in The Dark Knight, who refused to live up to the cynical expectations of the Joker, the six-member jury of military officers voted not to convict Hamdan of the bigger, badder charge of conspiring to attack civilians, but found him guilty only of the lesser charge of providing support to al-Qaeda. They then sentenced him to five-and-half years—although, when the prosecutors didn’t get the verdict they wanted, they asked for 30.

Because of time-served, this means Hamdan will be eligible for release in five months.

The Bush administration, however, made it clear before Wednesday’s verdict, that no matter what his sentence, Bush Co intends to hold Hamdan indefinitely as an “enemy combatant.”

Hamdan’s lawyers intend to file a Habeas Corpus petition. so that he might go home to his family once he has served his sentence.

The Bush Administration will natually fight the petition with everything it’s got.

Here is the Miami Herald’s description of what happened just after the trial ended:

After the jury’s verdict, the judge turned to the convicted terrorist and said:

“I wish you godspeed, Mr. Hamdan. I hope the day comes when you return to your wife and your daughters and your country.”

”God willing,” the man in traditional Yemeni robe and head scarf replied in Arabic, interrupting.

The judge continued: “And I hope that you are able to be a father, and a provider, and a husband in the best sense of the word.”

Then the detainee said it again: “Inshallah.”

There are those who are already trying to claim Hamdan outcome merely proves that the post-911 military tribunals can be fair.

Nice try. But, no. A trial in which no other verdict is permissable other than guilt is, by definition, a kangaroo court.

This principle also holds true for a trial in which one’s sentence doesn’t matter because the government intends keep the defendant as long as it pleases.

But, here’s the thing: What the Hamdan case really proves is that sometimes even inside kangaroo courts, people don’t want to behave like kangaroos anymore. They decide they’d rather be human. They’d rather be decent.


A SMALL SIDE NOTE: In an interview on the Tavis Smiley Show last night, Jane Mayer, author of the recently released book, The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals, said that she thought many of the real heroes of the torture/Guantanamo/civil liberties conflict were military people, folks who, in the face of often severe pressure, stood up and said, “No. I won’t. This isn’t right. It’s to what we do here in America.”

Posted in Civil Liberties, Courts, crime and punishment, criminal justice, Guantanamo | 6 Comments »

Truth and Gitmo

July 8th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon


If you believe the U.S. military is doing a dandy job figuring out exactly who is the enemy and who is not at Guantanamo,
Bloomberg colunmist Ann Wolner has a court ruling she’d like to tell you about. It was made last week by a conservative-leaning appeals court. For the details, here are some clips from yesterday’s column by Wolner:

The federal appeals court in Washington D.C., the first court to look into the facts behind a specific Gitmo detention, decided the military had no credible evidence to label a man an enemy combatant and keep him locked up for six and a half years.

“It is undisputed that he is not a member of al-Qaeda or the Taliban, and that he has never participated in any hostile action against the United States or its allies,” the court said.

Made public last week, the ruling found not a shred of credible evidence to support the government’s claim that Huzaifa Parhat had anything at all to do with America’s enemies, whether through combat or support or association with a group that may have associated with them.

Parhat is one of 13 Chinese Muslims held at Guantanamo who fled persecution in China, camped in Afghanistan and wound up in Pakistan, where authorities handed him over to the U.S. His case is essentially identical to the dozen other detainees who are all members of the Uighur ethnic group. (That’s pronounced WEE- gur.)

Beyond those 13 cases, the Parhat decision shows how little it takes to get labeled an enemy combatant and imprisoned for years on end……

Read the rest of the column here.

Posted in Courts, Guantanamo | 4 Comments »

Writing Guantanamo

March 31st, 2008 by Celeste Fremon


In the upcoming April 17 issue of the New York Review of Books,
veteran investigative reporter Raymond Bonner reviews four books that cover aspects of Guantanamo. But as is often the case for the best NY Review of Books stories, Bonner’s piece is less review than it is a comprehensive essay on the issue that the books generally cover—which is, in this instance, the ghastly moral and legal bungling that has characterized the Bush administration’s handling of terrorists suspects both at Guantanamo Bay and the various “black sites” that we, the lowly American public, have learned about only in disturbing dribs and drabs.

Here’s the opening of Bonner’s essay:

On February 11, 2008, the Pentagon announced that charges were being filed against six men in connection with the September 11 attacks, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, alleged mastermind of the attacks and one of al-Qaeda’s most senior members, and Ramzi bin al-Shibh, a leader of the Hamburg cell that included several of the September 11 pilots. It has taken nearly seven years for these men to be indicted—while more than 240 other prisoners continue to remain at Guantánamo in a state of indefinite detention without charge. In contrast, Britain, after one of the longest and most expensive trials in its history, has already convicted and sentenced four men for the failed attacks on the London subway on July 21, 2005.

Last year, British officials also arrested
three other men for involvement in the deadly attacks on three London subway lines and a bus on July 7, 2005, two weeks earlier; they are scheduled to go on trial at the end of March. Spain has convicted twenty-one of twenty-eight men charged in connection with the terrorist attacks on commuter trains in Madrid in March 2004; and Indonesia has held lengthy trials and convicted four men who were accused of the terrorist attacks in Bali in October 2002, two of whom have been sentenced to death, and two to life imprisonment.

“Justice delayed is justice denied” is a guiding principle of the American criminal justice system. The Bush administration has ignored this principle with impunity, and America’s image abroad has suffered greatly as a result.

The administration could have avoided much of the criticism
it has received for its handling of terrorism suspects. It didn’t have to listen to the civil libertarians and human rights lawyers. All it needed to do was heed the advice of the country’s military lawyers…..


As the Bush administration, in the weeks
after the September 11 attacks, began hurriedly drafting rules to try suspects, the most senior military lawyers, from all four services, were “appalled” at the lack of rights that the administration proposed granting the defendants….

Bonner’s essay goes a lot further, including references to what the three presidential candidates have been willing to say—and not say—about Guantanamo and torture. For example there’s this:

“Only Obama makes a point in his speeches
that he would restore habeas corpus for Guantánamo prisoners,,” writes Bonner. “It generally brings loud applause.”

Posted in Civil Liberties, crime and punishment, Guantanamo, National politics | 7 Comments »

Royal Government

March 30th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon


Three separate stories tonight—one on television, two on radio
—addressed the idea that the Bush Administration has created what many have called an Imperial Presidency—a presidency that believes itself above the US courts, above the necessity to honor long-standing government treaties, and above international law.

The first of the three stories was the much ballyhooed 60 Minutes segment
about Murat Kurnaz, a German traveling in Pakistan who was nabbed three months after 9/11 and transported to Afghanistan where he says he was tortured severely. It seemed to matter little that the FBI, U.S. intelligence and German intelligence had reportedly concluded that Kurnaz was innocent of the terrorism charges brought against him. He was subsequently transferred to Guantanamo where charges against him fell further apart. In 2002, German intelligence agents wrote their government, saying, “USA considers Murat Kurnaz’s innocence to be proven. He is to be released in approximately six to eight weeks.” Instead, Kurnaz was kept in Guantanamo for an additional three and a half years.

When contacted, the US Department of Defense
responded to 60 Minutes in letter form that called Kurnaz’ accusations outlandish and unsubstantiated.

The second two stories were on this week’s This American Life. In one episode, TAL tells about the more than a hundred foreign women who got married to Americans, then had their spouses die less than two years after the marriage. The US government responded to their grief and loss by curtly informed the widows “You’re no longer married to Americans. Your citizen application is denied. Now get out of the country.” The widows went to court over the matter, and the court told the government that it had to let the women stay. But the US government ignored the court and told them they have to leave anyway.

Story three was about an American couple who lived on the Canadian border and decided to build a retaining wall inside the ten-foot buffer zone that is on either side of the international boundary. The International Boundary Commission told the Americans that they couldn’t have the wall inside the buffer zone and would have to take it down. The Americans sued the Commission, the bi-national entity created by a 1925 treaty to inspect and oversee the US Canada border. And that’s when the Bush administration stepped in….

You can hear the rest on
This American Life here. (The promos up now, and podcasts will be available of the program in a few days)

In a way this is all an old issue. We have long been aware that in instances ranging from FISA to signing statements, when the Bush administration doesn’t like a law or a legal ruling it pretty much does what it pleases regardless of restrictions placed on it by Congress or courts.

But the real question is, what will happen next January
when we have a new president? Wll he or she keep the newly established Imperial presidency, or dismantle it.

Posted in Civil Liberties, Guantanamo, International politics | 11 Comments »

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