Saturday, May 2, 2015

From Roger Fitch and our Friends Down Under at Justinian

Being droned to death

Show us the kill-list criteria ... New US attorney general needs to fix the FBI ... $4 million investment in judicial election paid off handsomely for litigant ... CIA whistleblower convicted ... Carrying a concealed gun is a "lifestyle" ... Fitch fails to snag a seat at crowded US Supremes same sex marriage hearing 
"It turns out I'm pretty good at killing people."– Barack Obama, in a light-hearted aside
NY Times headline, "First Evidence of a Blunder in Drone Strike", is old news.
The announcement was unsurprising, as thePentagon admits it doesn't always know who it's killing. 
More here.  
President Obama's death-by-drone policy continues to attract critics, e.g. Germans unhappy to hear it's coordinated through Ramstein AFB, one of many American enclaves still embedded in Germany 70 years after the war ended. 
Drone assassinations can still be averted by capture, as a lucky Texan discovered.  
Muhanad al Farekh was fortunate to be kidnapped in Pakistan and (irregularly) extradited to the US - he's been nominated for drone-death since 2013.
 More here and here
Meanwhile, there's a new ACLU lawsuit seeking "kill-list" criteria.
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Three Blackwater mercenaries involved in an unprovoked 2007 massacre in Baghdad's Nisour Square have each been given 30-year manslaughter sentences in the US; the man who started it all got life in prison for murder.
The NY Times has more on the sentencing of the unrepentant men plus a back-story about the Bush Justice Department's prior efforts to botch the case against employees of a generous Republican contributor.  
Fitch previously detailed the State Department's suspicious 2007 intervention (Oct. 10, 2007). 
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US attorney general Loretta Lynch: needs to fix FBI's forensic hair analysis
There's a new US attorney general, Loretta Lynch, and one of the first things she will need to address is the poor performance of her department's investigatory arm, the FBI.
A new report finds that the FBI's forensic hair analysis was "flawed" in hundreds of cases before 2000, some involving death penalties subsequently carried out.  
Thousands of state cases also used the discredited FBI pseudo-science.
In one case, a single hair sent an innocent man to jail for 30 years; in another, a man spent 28 years in jail when a dog hair was identified as his
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In US states – where 100 million cases are filed each year compared to 400,000 in federal courts – elected judges are increasingly for sale, according to a new study in Mother Jones.  
In one case, a mere $4 million investment in the election of a successful Illinois Supreme Court candidate led to a gratifying reversal of a $1.19 billion judgment against State Farm Insurance, and in Texas and Alabama, Republicans have apparently succeeded in bulk purchases of the supreme courts. 
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Craig Murray, former British ambassador to Uzbekistan: CIA prisoner drop off
Poland, like Macedonia, has had to pay for CIA crimes in Europe.  
After a judgment against it in the European Court of Human Rights, Poland has now done the right thing and asked the US not to execute men at Gitmo who were tortured in Poland, e.g. Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri.  
Now the question is being asked, did the CIA drop off some of its ex-Poland prisoners in Uzbekistan for a coup de graceCraig Murray thinks it's possible, and he was the British ambassador there. 
Lithuania, also under pressure from the ECHR, is reopening its investigation of CIA torture in that country.
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At last, an ex-official of the CIA - a director, no less - has been convicted of a crime in a US court.
In a departure from the plea bargain of retired four-star General David Petraeus, the judge imposed two years' probation and the maximum fine of $100,000 - still less than Petraeus's usual speaking fee.
The misdemeanour sentence for unauthorised possession of classified information – given to Petraeus's mistress - is light compared to that of whistleblowers, and reveals a deepdouble-standard in Justice Department prosecutions.  
Jeffrey Sterling, a black CIA officer, is facing prison after a recent conviction on nine felony counts involving the alleged (and only circumstantially proved) leaking of secrets to NY Times' James Risen, considerably less "espionage" then the acts alleged against Petraeus.
Jeffrey Stirling, CIA lawyer: guilty of leaking
Sterling has now asked that his sentence be set aside, claiming DoJ considered race and rank in its disparate handling of the two cases.
Secrecy News has more and the NYT comments here
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For those considering a visit to the US, be warned: there are states where it's legal to carry a concealed weapon without any permit whatever. The latest victims of NRA insanity live in Kansas.
As one Republican state politician explained, "Carrying a gun is a lifestyle ... government should trust its citizens". And anyway, "Kansans already have two documents granting them the right to concealed carry: the Constitution of the United States and the Kansas Constitution ... That should be all they need." At least he didn't mention the bible.
Of course, guns or not, this may not be a good time to visit the US. The Transport Safety Administration has a new guide for spotting arriving tourists suitable for no-fly lists.
According to the Intercept, it includes telltale signs of terrorist proclivities such as yawning - not unusual after a 15 hour flight from Sydney - and other giveaways such as complaints about screening; throat-clearing; staring; "improper" attire; "excessive" grooming; whistling; and that old favourite from Shakespeare, rubbing and wringing hands.
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US Supremes: cogitating on marriage equality
The history of gay marriage in the US is not yet complete: so far, 37 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico and 22 Indian Nations have accepted it, while the Navaho are still resisting.
On April 28, in what could be the most important civil rights case in a generation, the Supreme Court heard the argument in Obergefell v Hodgesa case that will finally settle the issue of same-sex marriage laws throughout the US.   
The party briefs are here and about 150 amicus briefs (a record) are listed here.
There's a handy guide here.
Fitch failed to snag a courtroom seat, but here's a program for those who did.
Initial reports of the oral argument suggest it won't be plain sailing for the plaintiffs. 
Harvard law prof Michael Klarman has written a fascinating two-part history of the US marriage equality movement thus far, here and here, and shows why the court's decision, to be announced in late June, should be a foregone conclusion, given the change in public attitudes.
In 1996, 25 percent of Americans supported marriage equality, and now polls find that 63 percent favour it.
If only Americans could change their views on, say, the wisdom of arming everyone; the utility of foreign wars; or the efficacy of the death penalty; as quickly as they altered their attitude towards same-sex relationships.  

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