Friday, July 22, 2005


Update on "Why did the London police shoot a bomber suspect?"

This story gets more incredible by the minute. Don't miss this follow-up!

Mayor of London commits truth; Britain and Israel aghast

From Luther to Ellsberg and beyond, the insider who speaks out ... is ... not merely deviant but heretical, i.e. a challenge to the prevailing symbolic order and through it to the social order itself. The unclothed emperor may be deviant, but it is heretical to say as much in public.
—Nick Perry, writing in "Indecent exposures: theorizing whistleblowing"

The "controversial" mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, has uttered remarks that have left Downing Street "taken aback" and the Israeli ambassador to Britain "furious." What could cause such a ruckus? Well, he told the truth.

Fraser Nelson of the Scotsman reports that—

When asked what he thought had motivated the four suicide bombers who struck in London on 7 July, Mr Livingstone traced it back to Britain's historic role in the Middle East.

"You've just had 80 years of western intervention into predominantly Arab lands because of the western need for oil. We've propped up unsavoury governments, we've overthrown ones we didn't consider sympathetic," he told Radio 4.

"In the 1980s, Americans recruited and trained Osama bin Laden, taught him how to kill, to make bombs, and set him off to kill the Russians and drive them out of Afghanistan."

The United States, he said, was reaping its own harvest as "they didn't give any thought to the fact that, once he'd done that, [bin Laden] might turn on his creators".

He was careful to say that his criticism of British and US foreign policy did not amount to sympathy for the bombers. "I do not support any suicide bombings. I don't ever recall supporting an act of violence," he said. But he made it clear that he regarded suicide attacks as the natural result of political decisions. "Under foreign occupation and denied the right to vote, denied the right to run your own affairs, often denied the right to work for three generations, I suspect that if it had happened here in England, we would have produced a lot of suicide bombers ourselves.

"A lot of young people see the double standards; they see what happens in Guantanamo Bay, and they just think that there isn't a just foreign policy."

The rise of Islamic extremism across the world was, he said, the product of British policy to maintain a presence in the Arab world after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.

"I have not the slightest doubt that if, at the end of the First World War, we had done what we promised the Arabs, which was to let them be free and have their own governments, and kept out of Arab affairs, and just bought their oil, rather than feeling we had to control the flow of oil, I suspect this wouldn't have arisen," he said.

They only allowed Mr. Livingstone back into the Labor Party last year. Now look what they've got on their hands—another George Galloway.

The Israeli ambassador can't tell the difference between a "defense" and an "explanation"—or a Briton from an Israeli, for that matter—

Zvi Heifetz, Israeli's ambassador to London issued a furious statement. "It is outrageous that the same mayor who rightfully condemned the suicide bombing in London as 'perverted faith', defends those who, under the same extremist banner, kill Israelis," he said.

Despite all the high-level shock, Labor Party back-benchers are said to be sympathetic—

... the mayor's comments reflected the views of some Labour rebels, who have so far refrained from using the bombings to attack the Prime Minister in the House of Commons.

"After a few weeks, it will be hard to conclude that Britain is not at more risk because of the war the Prime Minister led Britain into," one MP said yesterday. "And it will be hard not to conclude that he bears some of the blame."

And that's the primary reason that the British will be withdrawing from Iraq shortly.


British Conservatives remove a little bit of democracy

Wednesday night Tory Members of Parliament (MPs) changed the rules for electing party leaders, which had previously been through election by party members. The rule change required a 2/3 vote of the MPs.

According to Fraser Nelson of the Scotsman,

Party members will be consulted about the leadership by their constituency party chairman, who will express their choice formally. A list will then be prepared, telling MPs which candidate is the most popular among the party's 300,000 members.

Armed with this information [which they're free to ignore], MPs will start voting on the candidates. Anyone with the support of ten MPs can go forward, and the least popular would be knocked out at each round of voting until only two remain.

It is as if the Republicans were to announce that they would no longer hold primaries or caucuses but would instead return to the good old days of the smoke-filled room.

Well, the Conservatives have never thought much of democracy anyway. And if they ever regain power, this should serve the plutocrats well.


Joke of the day

In an April 7 interview with The Blade, [Ohio Republican] Governor Taft vehemently defended Mr. Noe and the state’s rare-coin investment: “He’s probably been the most effective advocate for this part of the state in Columbus that you’ve got and you’re going after this guy. You’re trying to kill him for some reason.”

After yesterday’s news [that Mr. Noe had stolen millions], Mark Rickel, a spokesman for the governor said: “When evidence of Noe’s mishandling of state money first began to surface, the governor acted to dissolve Noe’s investment with the bureau and to expedite the inventory of his assets.” —as reported by James Drew and Steve Eder in the Toledo Blade


Poem of the day

Said the bird in search of a cage,
This world is even large for wings;
The mindless seasons drive me down
Tormenting me with changing things.

A cage is not escape, but need,
And though once in, all travel's done,
I'll sing so every bird will know
My wanderings in moon and sun.

And all the crickets shall be stilled,
And stilled the summer air and grass,
And hushed the secrets of the wind
For when my final callings pass.

And if a friend should stop to talk,
Reminding me of what is past,
And ask the meaning of my song,
I'll say that only cages last.

—Robert Pack as quoted at


Weirdness of the day

Sky News TV reported that police were searching for a man with a blue shirt with wires protruding. Officers asked employees to look for a black or Asian male, 6 feet 2 inches tall, wearing a blue top with a hole in the back and wires protruding.
—Robert Barr, reporting for the AP

French prisons follow the American model—downhill

An article in Le monde diplomatique by Jean-Marc Rouillan reviews the downward slide of the French prison system as it adopts many of the inhumane practices of the U.S. Thanks to the American Right and the acquiescence of the Democrats, the U.S. has become the primary exporter, along with its armaments, of disrespect for law, justice and humanity and a love for totalitarian social control.1
Conditions in France’s prisons have severely deteriorated in the past decade. The recommendations of parliamentary committees and well-meaning statements by charities have done nothing to slow, let alone halt, the downward trend. Recent government measures to tighten discipline are worsening an intolerable situation. The current policy is based on the beliefs that prison is the cure for all ills and that authority must be restored.

Despite the different language, it is easy to identify the simplistic ideas of United States conservatives at work. With increasing use of casual labour in the workplace and zero tolerance in the courts, prisons are again a crucial mechanism for protecting society from the “dangerous classes”, which particularly means those in the most vulnerable circumstances. Never, since the bad old days of deportation, has prison policy played so essential a role in social segregation.

As the French emulate American legal and prison policies they quickly find themselves with American problems: first overcrowding and its attendant abuses—

Physical and mental violence now play a bigger part in the running of prisons, to keep a potentially explosive situation under control and quell thoughts of resistance....

Since autumn 2004 there has been an atmosphere of physical confrontation. At Lannemezan more and more guards go on duty in combat gear. Use of handcuffs (a symptomatic gesture) is widespread. In the solitary wing at Fleury-Mérogis, a huge prison south of Paris, prisoners are cuffed US-style for any movements inside or outside buildings. Handcuffs seem to have become standard equipment. In the prison hospital the senior supervisor for each floor wears handcuffs and riot gloves on his belt, although 90% of patients cannot get out of bed unassisted.

In December 2003 the story of a woman at Fleury-Mérogis kept handcuffed while she gave birth prompted an outcry. But there was much less response a year later when the ministry issued instructions that all patients should not only be restrained, but handcuffed behind their backs. Whenever they go to court, or anywhere else outside, detainees spend several hours cuffed in prison vans. You can only understand the pain if you have experienced this treatment. So prisoners are refusing to leave their cells for medical treatment.

Slave labor, anyone?

It seems to have become deliberate prison policy to cut the standard of living of inmates and reduce the range of services available to them. This operates together with a drive to extort as much money as possible from those serving sentences; the official reason is the need to boost the finances of criminal injuries compensation schemes.

Contrary to recommendations by parliamentary committees, pay for work in prison has not improved. The worst abuses involve piecework reminiscent of the 19th century, often done under health and safety conditions that disregard current regulations.

The French have a unique feature in their system whereby the parole board considers the amount of compensation that a prisoner pays in return for cutting the length of the sentence.

.... The courts, prison service and ministry criminologists believe that if a prisoner voluntarily pays money he or she has accomplished an act of expiation signifying acceptance of the sentence. In the past believers washed away their sins by paying for a mass to be celebrated. In our world prisoners demonstrate their redemption by paying hard-earned cash. In its correspondence with prisoners the parole board puts a clear price on more favourable terms. A €15 contribution to a compensation scheme buys an extra day on temporary release. An undertaking to pay €30 a month knocks a month off the sentence.

Sounds good, right?—a policy to "encourage" prisoners to make restitution? Well, not as the French do it—

French prisons have always brought out the baser instincts in humanity, in relations between prisoners, and between them and the prison service and courts. Hypocrisy is the prime quality. Treachery and lies are always rewarded. Here is a story that shows how these may be used to pay fines and compensate injuries. Two inmates of a prison in the south of France, whose sentences were due to come up for review, began to refuse to work in the prison workshop. Under no illusions about the attitude of the parole board, they dealt drugs from their cells to raise funds for the compensation scheme. Their trade was highly profitable and they were able to negotiate a reduction in sentence and early release. A few months later a non-French prisoner ran into financial difficulties. Besides endless working, he had been voluntarily repaying €100 a month in compensation. But problems at home suddenly prevented further repayments. The board refused to allow for his difficulties and docked a month from his early release package for failing to comply with the compensation contract.


1Dan Buckley of the Irish Examiner has just revealed an astonishing treaty between the U.S. and Ireland that is awaiting approval by the Irish legislature—

US investigators, including CIA agents, will be allowed interrogate Irish citizens on Irish soil in total secrecy, under an agreement signed between Ireland and the US last week.

Suspects will also have to give testimony and allow property to be searched and seized even if what the suspect is accused of is not a crime in Ireland.

Under 'instruments of agreement' signed last week by Justice Minister Michael McDowell, Ireland and the US pledged mutual co-operation in the investigation of criminal activity. It is primarily designed to assist America's so-called 'war on terror' in the wake of the September 11 atrocities.

The deal was condemned yesterday by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) as "an appalling signal of how the rights of Irish citizens are considered by the minister when engaging in international relations". The ICCL said it appeared to go far beyond even what has been agreed between EU countries.

Although the Department of Justice insists that the arrangement merely updates existing agreements, it goes much further. The US may ask Irish authorities:

To track down people in Ireland.

Transfer prisoners in Irish custody to the US.

Carry out searches and seize evidence on behalf of the US Government.

It also allows US authorities access to an Irish suspect's confidential bank information. The Irish authorities must keep all these activities secret if asked to do so by the US.

The person who will request co-operation is US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, the man who, as White House counsel, instigated the notorious 'torture memo' to US President George W Bush which advised how far CIA agents could go in torturing prisoners. The person to whom the request is sent is the Minister for Justice.

ICCL director Aisling Reidy said: "An extraordinary aspect to this treaty is, despite its scope and its potential to violate basic constitutional and human rights, that all this happened without debate or transparency.

"To agree to give such powers to a government which has allowed detention of its own citizens without access to a lawyer for over a year, which has legitimised Guantanamo Bay and the interrogation techniques there, without public debate, is an appalling signal of how highly or not the rights of Irish citizens are considered by the minister when engaging in international relations."

No word whether the treaty grants equivalent rights to the Irish government for U.S. citizens. If I lived in Boston, I would be worried. [back]

Why did the London police shoot a bomber suspect?

(Via Information Clearinghouse) This story, as reported, is incredible. According to This is Kent
Police shot dead a suspected suicide bomber at Stockwell tube station in South London today, Scotland Yard has confirmed.

There were unconfirmed reports that police believe the man who was shot was one of the attackers involved in yesterday's incidents.

Eyewitnesses said a group of 10-15 police officers chased the young Asian man onto a train and then drilled five shots into him at pointblank range.

Tube passenger Mark Whitby said: "I saw the man shot dead. The police fired about five shots into him.

"The man looked like a cornered rabbit. They can only have been two or three feet behind him.

"He was pushed onto the floor and held down and the nearest police officer unloaded five shots into him."

Was this due to "loss of self-control"? If the man was indeed one of yesterday's would-be suicide bombers, the police have just destroyed an important source of information. Expect the revised accounts from Scotland Yard shortly.

Thames Valley Police are stating that someone has attempted to burn down the home of one of the suicide bombers from the first attack. Was this an attempt to destroy evidence or merely revenge?

6:35 pm

All right. I warned you to expect a revised account from Scotland Yard. It was immediately clear that shooting a man in cold blood was spectacularly stupid, illegal, loathsome and anything else you care to call it, but reality has once again exceeded my strained imagination.

From Reuters—

A man shot dead by police at a London Underground station on Friday was not one of the four bombers who tried to attack the city's transport system on Thursday, Sky Television reported citing security sources.

"This is what I am picking up from security sources that the man who was shot this (Friday) morning at Stockwell tube wasn't one of those four bombers that police are hunting," Sky reporter Martin Brunt said.

A spokesman for London's Metropolitan Police said only: "the gentleman shot at Stockwell today has yet to be identified, so it would be impossible to link him to anything at this stage."

Police said the shooting was part of an operation directly linked to an "anti-terrorist" probe.

Earlier we had this from the police—

The man shot was "directly linked to the ongoing and expanding anti-terrorist operation," Metropolitan Police chief Ian Blair told a news conference. "The man was challenged and refused to obey police instructions."

The cover-up and excuses begin.

And if that's not enough, there's this from the Scotsman

The driver of the London Underground train involved in the latest terrorist scare was chased by armed police and had a gun held to his head as he tried to escape the scene of today's shooting, union officials have claimed.

The driver started running along an underground tunnel as passengers were fleeing from Stockwell Tube station following the shooting of a suspect.

He was followed by police who briefly held a gun to his head, according to officials from the train drivers' union Aslef.

The tube driver is lucky he made it out alive.

Advice: If you're dark-skinned, cancel your travel plans to Britain.

Follow-up post
A law professor comments on the murder by London police (7/26/05)

Related post
Don't stop, get shot: Best to just stay home (7/25/05)


"Due to loss of self-control..."

Syria has for the first time made public that its border patrols have been fired on by Iraqi and American soldiers. According to Aljazeera, the Syrian Foreign Ministry has told heads of diplomatic missions that—
The border clashes amounted to about 100 armed clashes, some of which were carried out by American soldiers who opened fire arbitrarily at those present behind the dirt rampart due to loss of self control.

Syria is on a tightrope and must be extremely guarded in any statements made concerning the United States. If their troops are being attacked, they need to make it known to the international community. On the other hand they must not provoke le grand provocateur. This is my reading of the Ministry's odd assertion of a motive (or lack thereof) for the attacks.

Or maybe the U.S. forces are just f**king out of control.

As usual officials at the Pentagon know nothing about it.1

Syria has beefed up its border patrols to try to satisfy the incessant demands and accusations by the U.S.

US officials accuse Syria of not doing enough to stop the fighters from crossing into Iraq to fight US and Iraqi forces and often say that they are using Syria as a conduit for the transfer of funds to fuel the armed opposition.

With some half million people coming across the U.S. border illegally each year, the American accusations are indeed remarkable. They are also remarkable in that they fail to make the same accusation of Saudi Arabia, which appears to be contributing far more to the non-Iraqi insurgency than Syria.


1For an interesting account illustrating the veracity of Pentagon officials there's the story about Gen. Tommy Franks related by James Dobbins, director of international programs at the Rand Corporation and first envoy sent by Bush to Afghanistan, as told to Julian Borger—

On the day of President Hamid Karzai's inauguration in Afghanistan, in December 2001, Dobbins met General Tommy Franks, the Centcom commander, at the airport. As they drove to the ceremony, Dobbins informed Franks of press reports that US planes had mistakenly bombed a delegation of tribal leaders and killed perhaps several dozen. "It was the first time he heard about it. When he got out of the car, reporters asked him about it. He denied it happened. And he denied it happened for several days. It was classic deny first, investigate later. It turned out to be true. It was a normal reflex."

Thursday, July 21, 2005



Given my rule of avoiding topics that are already receiving almost universal coverage, I really hadn't expected to be writing about the Valerie Plame Affair. But the fast-moving breakout of information over the past week requires some sort of compilation, so here are some highlights and links.

First, Greg Mitchell of Editor & Publisher announced that Monday, July 15, was the day that we could cease to speak of the "Valerie Plame Affair" and instead use its proper name—Plamegate. Basing his observation on reports in the NY Times and Washington Post, Mitchell wrote that "we are suddenly into 'what-did-the-president-know-and-when-did-he-know-it' territory," which, let me hasten to add, is not the same as "out-of-the-woods" territory. But Mitchell is so optimistic that he even dares to ask that famous Watergate question: "Is there a cancer on the presidency?" And in case the President's associates turn out to be "cancerous," there's the remaining question: "What did Bush know and when did he know it?"

Mitchell has also composed a list of questions for press, prosecutors and those of us in the peanut gallery who just enjoy a good show—

Did Rove fill him [Bush] in on his conversations with Novak and Cooper (and possibly others) a long time back? If he did and the president did nothing, should that be taken as a sign of approval, and what would that mean? If Rove didn't tell him, and this is all news to Bush, does that deserve a prompt dismissal? Or is it possible the entire smear-Wilson campaign originated in the Oval House, or the veep's chambers?

Will Alberto Gonzales get embroiled in this even before he makes it to the Supreme Court? Is former spokesman/chief spinner Ari Fleischer endangered? Will Rove still have his job when the Washington Nationals play in the World Series this autumn?

Who is the source for all the press revelations today? Likely not a new "Deep Throat." The New York Times opened by calling him someone who had been briefed on all of this, the AP raised that to someone in the "legal profession," while the Washington Post went all the way and called him a "lawyer." Speculation focuses on Rove's attorney, who if this is true, probably thinks most of this helps his client's cause. But then, such things took dramatic turns back in the Watergate days when documentary evidence, in the form of tapes, documents and testimony came out.

And as a sidelight: If Rove is telling the truth, and he heard about Plame first from another journalist before talking to Novak, who was that reporter? Rove apparently claimed amnesia on that matter before the grand jury. I can think of one or two prominent candidates, and probably you can too.

Then there's this amusing (if plausible) comment by Congressional Quarterly's Craig Crawford today: "So, now we have leakers leaking the leak investigation. Fitzgerald might have to put the whole press corps in jail before it's over with...."

In a follow-up today, Mitchell notes that the White House effort to get Karl Rove out of the public eye by naming its Supreme Court nominee earlier than planned has failed miserably—The Washington Post today featured Walter Pincus and Jim Vanderhei in a Page-1 story "Plame's Identity Marked As Secret." The Post headline, of course, refers to the 3-page document of June 10, 2003, which clearly establishes that anyone reading the memo knew that information about Valerie Plame was "secret."

Pincus and Vanderhei write,

The memo may be important to answering three central questions in the Plame case: Who in the Bush administration knew about Plame's CIA role? Did they know the agency was trying to protect her identity? And, who leaked it to the media?

The memo was delivered to Secretary of State Colin L. Powell on July 7, 2003, as he headed to Africa for a trip with President Bush aboard Air Force One. Plame was unmasked in a syndicated column by Robert D. Novak seven days later.

Equally damning of the administration (and of Colin Powell in particular) as to having knowingly lied to the Congress and the U.N. is this—

It [the memo] records that the INR [State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research] analyst at the meeting opposed Wilson's trip to Niger because the State Department, through other inquiries, already had disproved the allegation that Iraq was seeking uranium from Niger. Attached to the INR memo were the notes taken by the senior INR analyst who attended the 2002 meeting at the CIA.

On July 6, 2003, shortly after Wilson went public on NBC's "Meet the Press" and in The Post and the New York Times discussing his trip to Niger, the INR director at the time, Carl W. Ford Jr., was asked to explain Wilson's statements for Powell, according to sources familiar with the events. He went back and reprinted the June 10 memo but changed the addressee from Grossman to Powell.

Where may this tale be leading?

(Via What Really Happened) On Tuesday Bernard Weiner of the Crisis Papers launched his review of Plamegate not from the State Department memo but from the secret information presented to the judges overseeing the Judith Miller–Matthew Cooper contempt hearings. Weiner writes,

One of the ruling judges on the case of the two reporters who refused to divulge their Plame-outing source was about to go easy on them when he read Fitzgerald's new information -- eight pages of which were redacted from the public -- and said that the national-security seriousness of what he read changed his mind. The court then ordered Time's Matthew Cooper and the New York Times' Judith Miller to testify or else; Cooper finally did, and Miller is in jail for contempt of court.

We don't know what is in those eight blacked-out pages.... But apparently they provide the locus around which Fitzgerald is building a case that could result in perjury indictments, at the least, for a number of Administration officials and perhaps journalists as well.

(Another judge said that the prosecutor's classified filing -- those missing eight pages -- "decides the case." In other words, to quote Lawrence O'Donnell: "All the judges who have seen the prosecutors secret evidence firmly believe he is pursuing a very serious crime, and they have done everything they can to help him get an indictment.")

Further, depending on what Bush and Cheney knew and when they knew it -- and what they did or covered-up in the possible light of such knowledge -- there may be plenty of ammunition for likely impeachment hearings. (Note: Bush hired a private attorney last summer for this CIA-leak case. )

Here's where Weiner thinks the case is leading—

... from what Fitzgerald has suggested, he and the grand jury long ago determined who the leakers were. That's not what is at issue now. The investigation is all tied in with the national-security matters talked about on those blacked-out eight pages.

And, a reasonable guess is that those pages deal in some fashion with the actions -- legal or illegal, overt or covert, actual or covered-up -- of the members of an inner council of Administration heavies called the White House Iraq Group [WHIG].

The WHIG consisted of

As Weiner puts it,

WHIG included the key decision makers (Rove, Rice, Card, Cheney-via Libby), and the key propaganda specialists (Hughes, Matalin, et al.).

Weiner concludes with a warning that I made recently in a different context—WOUNDED, CORNERED ANIMALS ARE DANGEROUS—

If and when the above scenarios start to unfold, it's not outside the realm of possibility that Rove would get desperate enough to try to question the motives and character of the Special Counsel himself, as BuzzFlash puts it, "to try to sink the investigation through an ad hominem attack. This is Rove's pathological gutter tactic. He doesn't know how NOT to use it when backed into a corner." Or Rove/Bush conceivably could do a Nixon and order Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to fire Fitzgerald.

Anything is possible as the Bush Administration paints itself further into the scandal corner, and, desperate to avoid criminal proceedings and/or impeachment, lashes out at its perceived enemies.

Weiner's article contains much more than I have summarized and bears a full reading. Please check it out.

And civil lawsuits too?

Lawyer Andrew Sebok has begun a two-part series exploring the question "Could Valerie Plame Sue Karl Rove?" Sebok notes that—

One of the greatest features of the American civil justice system--especially its tort law--is that it gives average citizens the power to force anyone, even Presidents, to answer them in court.1 Could Valerie Plame, the CIA agent whose identity was leaked to the press, take matters into her own hands and use the civil justice system to get Karl Rove - who may, it seems, have been the leaker -- to answer her in court?

If Weiner is correct in his speculation that Special Prosecutor Fitzgerald's investigations are leading him to the WHIG, Sebok may need to expand his series to consider possible targets for civil suits other than just Rove.

Related posts
Mud-wrestling: Dyncorp vs. Aegis (Updated) (7/22/04)
White House planning a pardon-fest (3/19/2005)
In their last throes (updated) (6/11/05)


1I touched upon this in "Dyncorp vs. Aegis"—

In America the secrets of government and business have three main routes of egress.

The third route ... is the most important. It is the only route in which the participants are actually constrained to reveal the truth. And the lovely part of it is that it is woven into the very fabric of capitalism. It is more reliable than whistleblowing because it does not depend upon individual courage. And it is more constant than official ineptitude because it depends upon greed. I am referring, of course, to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit is an instrument of the ruling classes, and because it’s their system, they want it to work. They rely on it because otherwise they might have to start killing each other, in which case they would not be able to enjoy the “fruits of their labor.” They would become essentially indistinguishable from the groups we refer to as “organized crime.” Of course, even in the best of society you have your occasional bad apple, but with regard to the courts, most of them “go along to get along.”


Wednesday, July 20, 2005


Quote of the Day

At the Bonn conference establishing international legitimacy for the Kabul government, "the word 'democracy' was introduced at the insistence of the Iranian delegation" —James Dobbins, first Bush envoy to Afghanistan, as quoted by Sidney Blumenthal

The Taser: A shocking toy for the police

We can be thankful, at least, that the Fresno police didn't use a Taser on Maribel Cuevas. Perhaps the Fresno police department hasn't yet provided its officers with what is quickly becoming a favorite police toy. In any case, it was a good thing, because Tasers can be lethal, especially when used on children.

Now a class-action suit has been filed against the manufacturer Taser International of Scottsdale, Arizona, on behalf of police departments. According to Dan Lynch of Daily Business Review,

The suit alleges breach of contract, breach of warranty and unjust enrichment by the defendant based on bogus safety claims and false and deceptive representation of material facts concerning the product's safety.

The complaint says that "the true extent of the harmful effects of Tasers are unknown, in direct contrast to the company's marketing. Thus, despite touting its potentially deadly product as harmless, Taser International has no idea of how Tasers impact, among others, pregnant women, the elderly, young adults and children, individuals with heart conditions and individuals with implantable cardiac devices."

Other suits filed against Taser International have been filed by the next of kin of people who died after being shot by Tasers. This is the first known class action and the first known suit by a police department alleging that the company damaged the department by misleading it concerning the safety of the product, Geller said.

Suits against the police will eventually force them to look for cover—

Earl Johnson Jr., a Jacksonville plaintiff lawyer ... said Geller's suit is the first such action he's heard of filed by law enforcement agencies. But he expects many more because, in his view, because the company has "fundamentally misrepresented" its product to police agencies.

"After these agencies find themselves defendants in these wrongful death and unreasonable force claims, they'll turn their attention to Taser, which coaxed them into believing that regardless of how the product was used, it was nonlethal," said Johnson, who has asked a federal judge to enjoin Taser International from selling its products in Florida. Taser "hung law enforcement out to dry."


Wherever Tasers are used, they kill. Statistics are at least a year behind. But Florida police are bumping people off like flies in an electric bug trap—

Since Tasers were developed in 1999, there have been about 105 reported deaths of suspects in confrontations with law enforcement officers using Tasers, according to a 2004 study by the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Amnesty International cites 74 such deaths.

Florida leads the nation in Taser-related deaths with more than 30. The Palm Beach Post reported 29 in May, and there have been several deaths since then.

Abusive use

Why talk when you can tase? Besides, it's only a toy, right?

The lawsuit also raises the issue of police using Tasers in situations where they otherwise would not use deadly force. It cited a Denver Post study that reported that 90 percent of persons shot with Tasers by the Denver Police Department were unarmed and two-thirds faced only a misdemeanor charge of citation.

The suit also cited a Palm Beach Post study of Taser use in Palm Beach County that showed that police had used the devices on three pregnant women, an 86-year-old man, children as young as 13 and in at least 237 incidents to get compliance from "passively resisting or fleeing suspects."

In an interview, Fort Lauderdale lawyer Bruce Rogow, who's not involved in the new class action suit, said that with Tasers, "what you see is that police are less restrained because they feel they're not using deadly force when they might have been more restrained about using a gun or club. There's kind of an emotional disconnect that leads to more use than might be appropriate."

The preliminary safety study

When you've got a product to get to market, every businessman understands that sometimes you have to take shortcuts—

The New York Times reported last year that Taser International's research on the gun's safety is "spotty and inconclusive. The company's primary safety studies on its most powerful weapon consist of shocks administered to one pig and five dogs." The suit described these and other Taser safety studies as "severely inadequate."

The article fails to report whether the animals lived.


Free Maribel!

On Monday I wrote about the appalling case of 11-year-old Maribel Cuevas, manhandled by the police and charged with felony assault for throwing a rock in self-defense. Since then a website has gone up in support of her, and a commenter asked that I help spread the word.

Happy to do it.

The Free Maribel Cuevas site gives the names, email and addresses of the Fresno chief of police, district attorney, mayor and California governor, whoever that is. There is also an online petition.

Just say No to child abuse!

Previous post
What this country has become: He-men in action (7/18/05)

Tuesday, July 19, 2005


Turning tail on sexual harrassment

If you haven't been sleeping with the boss, you may be the victim of sexual harrassment —at least in California if someone else in your department has been courting his or her favors. Yesterday the California Supreme Court ruled that "any worker, male or female, could suffer sexual harassment even if his or her boss never asked for sexual favors or made inappropriate advances."

According to Maura Dolan of the LA Times,

"Widespread favoritism based upon consensual sexual affairs may imbue the workplace with an atmosphere that is demeaning to women because a message is conveyed that managers view women as 'sexual playthings,' " Chief Justice Ronald M. George wrote for the court.

In such a situation, other employees may believe "that the way required to secure advancement is to engage in sexual conduct with managers," he added.

The case

The chief deputy warden at the Central California Women's Facility was apparently having a grand old time and competition for his favors was fierce—

The ruling is the result of a sexual harassment lawsuit, which has not yet been tried, against the state's Department of Corrections. Edna Miller and Frances Mackey charged that a prison warden, Lewis Kuykendall, who was married, had sexual affairs with three other employees and gave them preferential job treatment. The two women said they suffered retaliation when they complained.

The affairs occurred from 1991 to 1998, when Kuykendall was the chief deputy warden of the Central California Women's Facility and later the warden of the Valley State Prison for Women, both in Chowchilla. The court said the affairs were concurrent.

Mackey, who has since died, and Miller presented evidence that Kuykendall's favoritism to his girlfriends impeded their job advancement. They also said his behavior opened them to harassment by one of the girlfriends. Employees often had to endure jealous and emotional squabbling among the girlfriends over Kuykendall, the court said.

Two of the girlfriends bragged to others about their power over Kuykendall, and he displayed "indiscreet behavior" at a number of work-related gatherings, the court said.

In one incident, Miller competed with Cagie Brown, one of the girlfriends, for a promotion, the court said. Brown told Miller that Kuykendall would have to give her the job or she would "take him down" by naming "every scar on his body," the court said.

Brown received the promotion even though Miller had a higher rank, superior education and more experience, according to the court.

Miller also said she ran into problems with a female deputy warden who she believed was engaged in a relationship with Brown "that was more than platonic," the court said. The deputy warden, Vicky Yamamoto, and Brown frequently countermanded Miller's orders, undermined her authority, imposed additional duties and threatened reprisals if she reported problems, the court said.

When she complained to Brown about her affair with Kuykendall and about the mistreatment by Brown and Yamamoto, Brown assaulted Miller and held her captive in her office for two hours, the court said.

"Kuykendall failed to investigate the assault after Miller complained to him," the court said.

"The evidence of such favoritism in the present case includes admissions by the participants concerning the nature of the relationships, boasting by the favored women, eyewitness accounts of incidents of public fondling, repeated promotion despite lack of qualifications and Kuykendall's admission he could not control Brown because of his sexual relationship with her," George wrote.

An internal affairs investigation by the Department of Corrections confirmed that Kuykendall, who retired under fire, engaged in sexual favoritism and that it was widely known and resented by other employees, the court said.

The impact on employers

Shannon B. Nakabayashi, who represented California employers in the case, said the decision would result in employers monitoring office romances, even those between employees of the same rank, for fear of being sued for tolerating a sexually charged work environment.

"Unfortunately, employers will have to pay a lot more attention to these things," said Nakabayashi, who represented the Employers Group.

A spokesman for Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer said that the ruling marked a significant change and noted that California employers will now be more vulnerable to employment suits.

Well, it's really not as tough as it first appears—

Despite employers' fears, California companies will not be vulnerable under the ruling because of "mere office gossip," the court said. Evidence of widespread sexual favoritism will be required to prevail in a suit, the court said.

"An isolated instance of favoritism on the part of a supervisor toward a female employee with whom the supervisor is conducting a consensual sexual affair ordinarily would not constitute sexual harassment," George wrote.

To put it another way—if you're the boss, you're allowed one affair at the office, but two might be too many.

Related post
Corporate affairs (5/10/05)


A note on rail tickets and timers

According to James Kirkup in the Scotsman, the latest from London is that—

the four bombers who attacked trains and a bus in London almost certainly triggered their explosives by hand, knowing their deaths were certain.

More than a week of painstaking forensic reconstruction of the blast sites has failed to yield any evidence of timing devices being attached to the four bombs that killed 56 people.

The finding has left detectives all but certain that the men were suicide bombers and fully intended to take their own lives in the course of murdering as many members of the public as possible.

There had been suggestions that the bombers could have been tricked into carrying the backpack bombs without realising they would explode.

Among the evidence put forward for this theory is the fact that when they travelled to London they bought return tickets and made sure their rented car was properly parked and ticketed.

But in the apparent absence of any sort of automatic detonators, the "working assumption" among detectives and intelligence officials is that the four men knew they were on a suicide mission.

I have seen this theory promoted on a number of sites and have never thought it was very compelling.

If your intent is to deliver a bomb undetected, the first thing you must do is to arrive without being stopped or checked for any reason. A well-planned operation would certainly take that into account.

So why would you buy a round-trip ticket if you knew you weren't coming back? Because to do otherwise might raise a flag.1 Why would you properly park and ticket a rented car? Because there's always the offhand chance that a policeman (or car-lot attendant) might be in the vicinity and call you over.

The last paragraph, however, of Kirkup's account leaves me puzzled—

"What no-one can explain is how three bombs could go off within 50 seconds of each other unless the people carrying them triggered them intentionally," said a source close to the investigation.

Are timers that imprecise? Perhaps so. But if so, it's rather amazing in this day and age.

I would think it would be a great deal easier to achieve this level of precision by means of a timer rather than by having each member of the group check his watch. I would also think it would be less psychologically troubling to the would-be suicide-bomber.


1I don't know what level of security the British are enforcing on their rail system, and I assume that they have not released to the public a listing of all the factors they consider in their surveillance. But it is certainly possible that one-way tickets may be considered a flag, as with air travel in the U.S.

George McClure writes for the IEEE that—

One-way air tickets are considered suspect and carry an “SSSS” code on boarding passes, requiring a full-body wanding of the hapless passenger. This also applies for round trips, using different carriers for the two legs, and even to code-share flights where one carrier issues the ticket, but a shared carrier is used for one one-way segment. The second carrier must issue a “SSSS” boarding pass. The logic seems to be that a terrorist planning a suicide mission would not buy a round-trip ticket if he did not plan to use the return part, in the interest of economy.

Even terrorists must understand the meaning of "false economy." [back]

Monday, July 18, 2005


What this country has become: He-men in action

From Juliana Barbassa writing for the AP—
An 11-year-old girl who threw a rock to defend herself as neighborhood boys pelted her with water balloons is being prosecuted on a felony charge of assault with a deadly weapon.

Maribel Cuevas says she didn't mean to hurt the 9-year-old boy _ who acknowledged to officers that he started the fight in late April. He was released from the hospital after getting his head stitched up.

Maribel already has spent five days in juvenile hall with one half-hour visit from her parents. She then spent 30 days under house arrest, wearing a GPS ankle bracelet to monitor her whereabouts and is now due back in court early next month.

What did it take to arrest Maribel? According to the BBC,

An ambulance was called, but arrived flanked by three police patrol vehicles. A helicopter meanwhile hovered overhead.

The 11-year-old was then read her rights twice in English before being detained.

Every act may be a crime, at the discretion of the police and prosecutors. Every crime requires maximum force by the police to ensure their safety. Are you feeling safer yet?

10:45 am

Another AP report contains more detail—

Her family says Maribel meant no harm when she accidentally hit Elijah Vang, the 9-year-old neighborhood boy, in the forehead with a rock. They say she was simply defending herself after Vang and several other boys pummeled her with water balloons outside her home in a poor Fresno neighborhood in April. Vang’s family isn’t pressing charges and has since moved away.

No matter the boy admitted to officers he started the fight and was quickly released from the hospital after getting his head stitched up. No matter the girl herself ran for help.

Officers said their response was not excessive, and was not motivated by the low-income, largely minority neighborhood.

Of course not. They would have treated a kid from the Hamptons just the same way.

Now what's all this talk about excessive use of force?

Maribel says she was playing on the sidewalk with her 6-year-old brother and other younger children on April 29, when the boys rode by on their bikes.

They started teasing her, calling her names and hitting her with water balloons, she said, holding her 1-year-old brother in her lap in her family’s modest living room, where a couch and dining table share space with a crib and a bed.

When the boys refused to leave, Maribel threw a rock at them, hitting Elijah.

The aunt of one of Maribel’s playmates saw the boy’s forehead was cut. She got him a towel to stop the bleeding, and called 911, the family said.

Maribel ran to the boy’s house, two blocks from her own, to tell his parents she was sorry, she said.

Police responded to the call ready to tackle a hardened criminal.

The officers "grabbed me from behind, by my shirt" the girl said in Spanish. "I was so scared. … I didn’t know what they were doing."

Maribel panicked. The officers had the slight girl down on the ground, and one of them put his knee to her back to restrain her, her mother said in Spanish.

Guadalupe Cuevas couldn’t communicate with the officers, because she doesn’t speak English, and was pushed away when she tried to reach her daughter.

Maribel was crying, the police report said, but Officer Christopher Green, who handcuffed her, wrote, "We were able to get Cuevas into the back of the patrol vehicle."

Her attorney (she needed an attorney, for God's sake?) said,

This is a case where the police department "overreacted and won’t back down," Beshwate said. "I don’t know if they don’t like Spanish speakers, if it’s racism, or if they were having a bad day. But how can you defend this kind of behavior?"

They don't need to.


The first of few charges against Saddam Hussein

The Iraqi Special Tribunal (IST), the judicial group set up by the Iraqi Governing Council during the "official" occupation, has brought its first charge against Saddam Hussein. According to the BBC, the charge "involves the killing of Shia Muslims in the village of Dujail, north of Baghdad, in 1982, after a failed assassination attempt against him."

The scope of the IST's mandate is broad—

The Tribunal shall have jurisdiction over any Iraqi national or resident of Iraq accused of the crimes listed in Articles 11 - 14, committed since July 17, 1968 and up and until May 1, 2003 , in the territory of Iraq or elsewhere, namely:
  1. The crime of genocide;
  2. Crimes against humanity;
  3. War crimes; or
  4. Violations of certain Iraqi laws listed in Article 14 below.

Those aforementioned Iraqi laws consist of—

  1. For those outside the judiciary, the attempt to manipulate the judiciary or involvement in the functions of the judiciary, in violation, inter alia, of the Iraqi interim constitution of 1970, as amended;
  2. The wastage of national resources and the squandering of public assets and funds, pursuant to, inter alia, Article 2(g) of Law Number 7 of 1958, as amended; and
  3. The abuse of position and the pursuit of policies that may lead to the threat of war or the use of the armed forces of Iraq against an Arab country, in accordance with Article 1 of Law Number 7 of 1958, as amended.

In short, the IST is investigating a span of 35 years for violations of both international and Iraqi law.

Many commentators have wondered, considering the American involvement with Saddam during that period, how embarrassment to the United States could be avoided once the trial of Saddam begins. Well, returning to the BBC report, this may be the answer—

"Hopefully, in the next few weeks, we look forward to concluding the investigation into other cases," he [Raed Juhi, the chief investigating judge] said, allowing other trials to go ahead. The Iraqi government has said Saddam Hussein will face only 12 charges when he goes on trial, despite a possible 500 cases against him.

Quote of the Day

We could be two or three aliens away from an epidemic that would sweep through our county and state.
—Tom Lowe, County Commissioner of Hamblen County, Tennessee, speaking of Hispanic immigrants, perhaps recalling the experience of the Native Americans

Sunday, July 17, 2005


Statistic of the Day

Sabrina Tavernisse of the New York Times managed to get the figures from the Iraqi Health Ministry on how many Iraqis are dying each month in violence related to the civil war. They estimate about 8,000 in the past 10 months, or 800 per month. This number appears not to include persons killed by US military action.

Even if the figure of 300,000 for the number of civilian victims of the Baath regime is not an exaggeration, that would be over 37 years, or 8,000 per year. That is, American Iraq is presiding over a civilian death rate greater than the highest estimates per month per capita for that of the Baath regime.
—Juan Cole, in his blog

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