Sunday, October 19, 2014

Wrongful Conviction Robbed William Lopez of His Freedom, and Then His Life

On a snowy evening in late March, just over a year after walking out of prison, where he had spent 23 years for a crime he didn’t commit, William Lopez entered a CVS in the Bronx and did something inexplicable. After paying for a prescription at the pharmacy counter, he paused to grab some other things—two sticks of Old Spice deodorant and some allergy medicine. Then, without paying, and in full view of a security guard, he walked out. Police were called and Lopez was arrested.

Lopez told his lawyer he had been preoccupied and took the items by accident. This actually made sense; navigating his new-found freedom posed a daily challenge for the 55-year-old Lopez, and he was often distracted. “His mind was not all there,” his lawyer recalls. “He was anxious about a lot of things.” But Jeff Deskovic, Lopez’s closest friend, heard a different explanation, one that disturbed him. To him, Lopez confessed, “he committed a petty theft to get reincarcerated.”

Deskovic was stunned. Just a few weeks earlier, The New York Times had published a long profile featuring both of them, showing Lopez moving on with his life—singing karaoke and bonding with other former New York inmates who had been released after wrongful convictions. “It’s kind of like we get together for treatment or something,” he told the Times, “like we have the same disease.” If casting himself as sick might have been a signal that Lopez was struggling more, not less, as time passed, no one read it that way. No one could have guessed he would sabotage his freedom by shoplifting thirty dollars’ worth of stuff.


FBI Director’s Evidence Against Encryption Is Pathetic

FBI Director James Comey gave a speech Thursday about how cell-phone encryption could lead law enforcement to a “very dark place” where it “misses out” on crucial evidence to nail criminals. To make his case, he cited four real-life examples — examples that would be laughable if they weren’t so tragic.

In the three cases The Intercept was able to examine, cell-phone evidence had nothing to do with the identification or capture of the culprits, and encryption would not remotely have been a factor.

In the most dramatic case that Comey invoked — the death of a 2-year-old Los Angeles girl — not only was cellphone data a non-issue, but records show the girl’s death could actually have been avoided had government agencies involved in overseeing her and her parents acted on the extensive record they already had before them.

In another case, of a Lousiana sex offender who enticed and then killed a 12-year-old boy, the big break had nothing to do with a phone: The murderer left behind his keys and a trail of muddy footprints, and was stopped nearby after his car ran out of gas.
And in the case of a Sacramento hit-and-run that killed a man and his girlfriend’s four dogs, the driver was arrested in a traffic stop because his car was smashed up, and immediately confessed to involvement in the incident.


Blowing the Whistle on CIA Torture from Beyond the Grave

In the fall of 2006, Nathaniel Raymond, a researcher with the advocacy group Physicians for Human Rights, got a call from a man professing to be a CIA contractor. Scott Gerwehr was a behavioral science researcher who specialized in “deception detection,” or figuring out when someone was lying.  Gerwehr told Raymond “practically in the first five minutes” that he had been at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo in the summer of 2006, but had left after his suggestion to install video-recording equipment in detainee interrogation rooms was rejected. “He said, ‘I wouldn’t operate at a facility that didn’t tape. It protects the interrogators and it protects the detainees,’” Raymond recalls.

Gerwehr also told Raymond that that he had read the CIA inspector general’s report on detainee abuse, which at the time had not been made public. But “he didn’t behave like a traditional white knight,” Raymond told The Intercept. Though he had reached out to Raymond and perhaps others, he didn’t seem like a prototypical whistleblower. He didn’t say what he was trying to do or ask for help; he just dropped the information. Raymond put him in touch with a handful of reporters, and their contact ended in 2007.

In 2008, at the age of 40, Gerwehr died in a motorcycle accident on Sunset Boulevard. Years after Gerwehr died, New York Times reporter James Risen obtained a cache of Gerwehr’s files, including emails that identify him as part of a group of psychologists and researchers with close ties to the national security establishment. Risen’s new book, Pay Any Price, uses Gerwehr’s emails to show close collaboration between staffers at the American Psychological Association (APA) and government officials, collaboration that offered a fig leaf of health-professional legitimacy to the CIA and military’s brutal interrogations of terror suspects.


Obama’s Dumb War

If Barack Obama owes his presidency to one thing, it was the good sense he had back in 2002 to call the Iraq War what it was: “dumb.”

Now, with scarcely a whisper of debate, Obama has become the fourth consecutive U.S. president to bomb Iraq — and in fact has outdone his predecessors by spreading the war to Islamic State targets in Syria as well. With the Pentagon predicting that this latest conflict could rage for three years or longer, Obama is now poised to leave behind a Middle East quagmire that closely resembles the one he was elected to end.
Obama says the plan is to hammer Islamic State targets from the air while bolstering partners on the ground. There are two big problems with this.

First, bombs kill and injure civilians, potentially radicalizing their friends and families.
Look no further than the drone war battlegrounds of Yemen and Pakistan, where terrorist recruiters have exploited the severe trauma inflicted on civilians there to sign up new members. A similar dynamic could play out in Iraq and Syria, where the White House has suspended the already paltry rules meant to limit civilian casualties from drone strikes.

Second, those partners on the ground come with a lot of baggage.

Despite outnumbering Islamic State forces 40 to 1, the Iraqi Army turned over Mosul — Iraq’s second-largest city — without firing a shot, leaving behind millions of dollars worth of advanced U.S. military equipment. And when the Iraqi Army does fight, it has a nasty penchant for dropping indiscriminate (and illegal) barrel bombs on civilian neighborhoods, as it did in Islamist-held Fallujah earlier this year.


Coal and Corruption

Juan Pablo Perez Alfonso, one of the founders of OPEC, once compared the world’s fossil-fuel use to “drowning in the devil’s excrement.” There is certainly plenty of evidence supporting his prediction that the fossil-fuel industry, with its powerful corrupting influence, will “bring us ruin.” Indeed, coal-related corruption stories are breaking worldwide, shining a light on the murky space between “illegal” and “improper” where the extractive industries work.
Last year, in the Australian state of New South Wales, the Independent Commission Against Corruption investigated former Labor ministers Eddie Obeid and Ian Macdonald for conspiring to defraud the state over the issuance of multi-million-dollar licenses for coal exploration and mining. Today, the ICAC is conducting an even more far-reaching and complex investigation into a number of figures from the Australian Labor Party and the Liberal/Nationals Coalition, including for favoring the interests of Australian Water Holdings, a major infrastructure company.
Last month, India’s Supreme Court found that all 218 coal-mining licenses allocated by the government in 1993-2009 had been granted in an “illegal and arbitrary” manner, with the committee responsible for the process lacking transparency and rife with corruption. Following the landmark decision, the government has canceled 214 of the coal block allocations – and has fined several companies that have already begun production.
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For its part, Indonesia is set to revoke the contracts of 17 coal producers that failed to pay government royalties. And, since the beginning of this year, the country’s corruption commission has been focusing on the extractive industry, including the state officials who facilitate mining companies’ illegal activities.

Truth Commission on U.S. Indian Boarding Schools


You’re invited to attend our forum focused on the experiences of Native children who were forced at early ages to attend Indian boarding schools.  This Tribunal is scheduled for October 22 through the 25th, 2014, at the Radisson Hotel and Conference Center, in Oneida, Wisconsin.
A panel of qualified Native judges will be listening to the witnesses as they provide first hand testimony of the abuse and mistreatment they suffered at the hands of the federal government and religious institutions while being forced to live away from their families and Nations.  At the conclusion of the Tribunal, the Judges will issue an executive summary with their findings and recommendations.  The executive summary will be shared with Native communities.


Media Advisory
12 September 2014
Contact: Blue Skies Foundation, Inc., N5679 Skylark Drive, DePere, WI 54115. Dorothy Ninham at (920) 869-2641 or Gina Buenrostro at (920) 366-0939. Email:

Forum to document the boarding school experiences of Native Americans

The Blue Skies Foundation will host a forum for and about Indian boarding school survivors – the first event of its kind in the United States – on 22-25 October at the Radisson Hotel and Conference Center, Oneida, Wisconsin. The event is open to the public and admission is free.
“Our purpose is to raise awareness of the treatment of Native children while in boarding schools and further our understanding of the effects of this treatment. By bringing this issue into the open, healing can begin. And while we have the ability to capture the first hand accounts from our people, it is vitally important that we do so,” said Dorothy Ninham, Director.
American Indian boarding schools were established in the U.S. during the late 19th and early 20th centuries to educate Native American children and youths according to mainstream standards. They were first established by Christian missionaries of various denominations, who often started schools on reservations and founded boarding schools for children who did not have schools nearby, especially in the lightly populated areas of the West. Eventually, the U.S. government paid religious societies to provide education to Native American children on reservations. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Bureau of Indian Affairs founded additional boarding schools based on the assimilation model of the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania. The number of Native American children in the boarding schools reached a peak in the 1970s, with an estimated enrollment of 60,000 in 1973.
The boarding schools caused untold damage to the fabric of Native American families and communities. In numerous ways, the children were forced to abandon their Native American identities and cultures. Children were forced to change their appearance, forbidden to speak their native languages, and given names to replace their traditional names.  In recent years, investigations have revealed the occurrence of sexual, physical, and mental abuse at the schools.
Co-sponsored by the University of Minnesota Human Rights Center; Human Rights Action Center, Washington, DC; and others the forum will examine the government’s residential school program and provide to survivors the opportunity to share their stories with the public, as well as a panel of distinguished judges who will provide conclusions and recommendations. Testimony also will be filmed to create a permanent record of survivors’ accounts. The Foundation will host a live stream of the forum from its Web site.
Those interested in attending and/or providing testimony may register at

Not Your Mascot Minnesota to Protest 'Redskins' During Vikings Game

Minneapolis (Press Release) -- #NotYourMascot has announced a march and rally to protest the Washington NFL team at their scheduled game with the Minnesota Vikings at TCF Stadium on November 2.

#NotYourMascot is a coalition of grassroots organizations including Idle No More – Twin Cities, AIM – Twin Cities, AIM Patrol of Minneapolis, United Urban Warrior Society, Idle No More – Wisconsin, Protect Our Manoomin, Twin Cities Save the Kids, Minnesota Two Spirit Society and several other organizations.

The march and rally against the Washington team is a response to Dan Snyder’s refusal to change the team’s name and mascot. “Redskins” is an offensive racial slur and stereotype. The continued use of mascots and team names in sports has resulted in widespread racial, cultural, and spiritual stereotyping that promotes hatred and disrespect toward Native people.


Surprise 11th-Hour Native-Vote Agreements

This week, two more South Dakota counties have agreed to provide Indian-reservation polling places during the state’s pre-election early-voting period. Jackson County will open an office in Wanblee, on the part of Pine Ridge Indian Reservation it overlaps, and Dewey County will re-open the office it had in past elections in Eagle Butte, on the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation.

As a result, voters in those areas will be able to cast in-person absentee ballots during the last 11 days of South Dakota’s 46-day window for doing so. The state’s two other reservation satellite offices are in Pine Ridge village and in Mission, on the Rosebud reservation.

Dewey County had seemed poised not to open an office in 2014. “It required some pushing,” said Cheyenne River tribal member and voting-rights advocate Julie Garreau, who described negotiating issues with the state and county, including election-worker training and access to the voter database. “But it worked out.”

Importantly, both offices will open by October 20, South Dakotans’ last day to register for the 2014 election, said attorney Matthew Rappold, of Mission, South Dakota: “This is definitely on the radar of the get-out-the-vote folks.”

Rappold’s clients, including Ogala Nation Vice President Tom Poor Bear and additional Wanblee residents, had sued for their office under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. The matter was settled through mediation before Magistrate Judge Veronica Duffy, who published a notice on October 15 saying that “the parties succeeding in resolving the plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction.” The agreement applies to this year’s office.


Climate Marchers Converge With Local Fracking Activists

In Washington, D.C., next month, environmentalists who’ve made their way across the country are planning to pressure the Obama administration to stop using fossil fuels. They’re part of the Great March for Climate Action that started in March in Los Angeles.
One sunny Saturday afternoon this October, the marchers met with local fracking activists in Diamond Park, across from the Butler County Courthouse. The event was part of the Global Frackdown, one of many protests worldwide against fracking for oil and gas.
Lisa DeSantis, from Lawrence County, describes herself as an activist clown. She’s painted tears of oil dripping down her face for this protest. She thinks fracking should be banned because it can contaminate water.
“No one is listening to us. We just want to protect what is ours,” DeSantis says. “We’re mama bears standing with our claws out ready to attack back at this industry.”

'Not Drowning, Fighting': Pacific Climate Warriors Blockade Australian Coal Port

Declaring themselves “Pacific Climate Warriors,” representatives from a dozen Pacific Island nations—sitting atop traditional outrigger canoes, kayaks, and other small boats—staged a full-day blockade of the Newcastle Coal Port in Australia on Friday as they sent a message to the government of Prime Minister Tony Abbott and the world that they will not sit idly by as the activities of the fossil fuel industry and its backers continue to threaten the existence of their low-lying homes.
Scores of boats and hundreds of protesters participated in the blockade, paddling beyond buoys marking the shipping lanes and placing themselves between the port terminal and the coal tankers moving in and out of the harbor. Police on jetskis reportedly intervened by creating waves, stripping the boaters of their paddles, and then tugging boats back towards shore.
The international climate action group, which helped organize the blockade, maintained a live blog for the action, including updates and pictures, which can be viewed here.

And Twitter users were documenting the action under the hashtag #StandupforthePacific:

Though Australia environmentalists have staged similar protests in the past at the Newcastle Coal Port—the largest such facility in the world—this is the first time they’ve been joined by Pacific Islanders in such a way. The island nations represented in Friday’s flotilla include: Papua New Guinea, The Solomon Islands, Samoa, Fiji, The Marshall Islands, Tonga, Tokelau, Niue, Kiribati, Vanuatu, The Federated States of Micronesia and Tuvalu.