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Archives for April, 2011

Law and Disorder April 25, 2011



Court Vindicates Prisoners in Right to Challenge Federal Experimental Isolation Units Restricting Communication

Last month, the Center for Constitutional Rights won the right for prisoners to challenge a violation of their constitutional rights. Prisoners in 2 experimental federal prison units called “Communications Management Units” or CMUs, will have their claims heard in court.  About 70 percent of CMU prisoners are Muslim men.  Judge Urbina agreed that the prisoners raised serious constitutional questions about CMUs.  The Center for Constitutional Rights filed Aref v. Holder in the D.C. District Court on behalf of current and former prisoners of the units in Terre Haute, IN and Marion, IL; two other plaintiffs are the spouses of those prisoners.

As many listeners may know, these CMUs were secretly opened under the Bush administration in 2006 and 2007. They were designed to monitor and control the communications of certain prisoners and to isolate them from other prisoners and the outside world.  The five plaintiffs in Aref were designated to the two CMUs despite having relatively or totally clean disciplinary histories, and none of the plaintiffs have received any communications-related disciplinary infractions in the last decade.

In addition to heavily restricted telephone and visitation access, CMU prisoners are categorically denied any physical contact with family members and are forbidden from hugging, touching or embracing their children or spouses during visits.

Attorney Alexis Agathocleous:

  • We’re very troubled about policies and conditions at these units. A number of the restrictions imposed at the CMUs are severe. They are truly cutting people off from their loved ones, they’re community and the outside world
  • Blanket ban on physical contact, unparalleled to any other single unit anywhere, including Supermax.
  • We feel this needlessly impinges on their right to family integrity and their need to maintain these ties to the outside world.
  • What we’re challenging is that there is no due process attached to designation to these (CMU) units.
  • Without a disclosure of factual allegations that were used to designate them, without a demonstration of past abuse of communication devices, without a hearing, without an appeal. Once you’re there, no one is told how to earn their transfer to get out. Our clients have benign or in some cases perfectly clean histories.
  • What is happening is that Muslim prisoners are being designated there, based on the discriminatory belief that as Muslims they inherently pose a great danger to institutional security, than do other prisoners.
  • We’re very concerned also about a pattern of designation of political prisoners and specifically includes environmental and animal rights activists.
  • We do believe these are acts of retaliation for protected First Amendment activity, such as speaking out on social justice issues.
  • What we’ve asked for in the case is a thorough review of polices and practices in the CMUs.
  • What’s next is we’re going into discovery, which is our opportunity to learn a lot more about the CMUs, about their inception, who was involved in designing them and why and about how designations are made.
  • CMUs were opened quietly.

Guest – Alexis Agathocleous, staff Attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights and works on CCR’s Government Misconduct and Racial Justice docket.  He is lead counsel in Aref v. Holder, challenging policies and conditions at the federal Bureau of Prisons’ Communications Management Units, and Doe v. Jindal, challenging a Louisiana law that requires individuals convicted of Crime Against Nature to register as sex offenders.


Financial Regulators Failed: Crooks Go Unpunished

Last week, the Securities and Exchange Commission Friday charged Goldman Sachs & Co. and one of its executives with fraud in a risky offshore deal backed by subprime mortgages that cost investors more than $1 billion. The SEC also contends that Goldman allowed a client, Wall Street hedge fund Paulson & Co., to help select the securities to be sold. Paulson in turn bought insurance against the deal and when the securities sank, losing nearly all value, Paulson then made a $1 billion profit.

While these are not criminal charges, the recently released 650-page report of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, Wall Street and the Financial Crisis (PDF) had exposed the deceptive and risky practices within major financial institutions, that deceived clients and the public.  New Economics Perspective Blog

Professor William K. Black:

  • Many people still call it the subprime crisis, it would be far better to call it, the liar’s loan crisis.
  • Roughly half of all subprime loans by 2006.
  • Somewhere between a quarter and 49 percent of new home loans, were in the form of liar’s loans.
  • The incidence of fraud when there have been independent studies has ranged from 90 to 100 percent.
  • A liar’s loan is when there is no underwriting, no verification of what’s put into the loan application.
  • Overwhelmingly, it was the lenders who put the lie is liar’s loans.
  • You can sell these loans in the secondary market if they appeared to have 2 characteristics that finance has told us you can’t have simultaneously.
  • A premium interest rate and low risk. You could have the best of both worlds. The way to do that was to gimmick two ratios. Debt to income ratio and loan to value ratio.
  • Inflating the value of homes, covered up by industry. An honest secure lender would never inflate value.
  • It makes perfect sense for a fraudulent company to inflate the value of the house so they can sell the loan on the secondary market for a higher profit.
  • Then Attorney General Cuomo, now governor found this as a common practice at Washington Mutual, the biggest bank failure.  WAMU had a blacklist of appraisers, you were blacklisted if you refused to inflate value of property. None of these people are being prosecuted.
  • In 2004, the FBI testified there was an epidemic of mortgage fraud and predicted that it would cause a financial crisis.
  • The Savings and Loans debacle cost 150 billion, the current crisis is costing over 10 trillion.
  • The Office of Thrift Supervision, Chainsaw James Gilleran
  • Instead of being embarrassed that they were working hand in glove with the lobbyists, they were proud of this and put this in their annual report.
  • Geithner and Cuomo urged there not be investigations much less prosecutions of the elite financial frauds because he thought the financial system was too fragile.
  • The Justice Department ruined an FBI initiative to try and investigate the elite frauds.
  • If you are powerful enough, if you have enough ties, after citizens united, and make enough political contributions, you will not be prosecuted.
  • You can’t have crony-capitalism and democracy either.
  • Big finance is only supposed to be a middle man, it’s supposed to help the real economy, by simply allocating most efficiently capital to the most productive uses.
  • Like any middle man you want absolutely minimal profits going to the middle man.
  • Under some measures, finance has 40 percent of the total profits of all American businesses.
  • This is the worst group of people you can possibly imagine having power.
  • We’ve turned too many of our schools into fraud factories, where we train people how to gimmick accounting.
  • Citizen’s United is a fragile case, it doesn’t make much sense in terms of the law.
  • What these people are, engines for destroying wealth
  • They only get 10 billion, they destroy 10 trillion dollars in wealth. They cost 10 million Americans their jobs.

Guest –  William K. Black, a professor of law at University of Missouri, Kansas City who has criticized the absence of any criminal referrals or national task force to effectively punish the elite fraudsters.  Professor Black teaches White-Collar Crime, Public Finance, Antitrust, Law & Economics.


Law and Disorder April 18, 2011


The Muslim Peace Coalition and the United National Antiwar Coalition

Last week, activists took to the streets in a mass anti-war demonstration in the streets of New York and around the country. We talk with one of the organizers. Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid, founder of the Muslim Peace Coalition who joins us to discuss his work as executive producer of Chicago’s Radio Islam.  He’s among the most well-known Muslim activists in the country and has recently completed a 3 state tour having addressed dozens of mosques demanding an end to the ongoing attacks and spying on Muslim communities.

Malik Mujahid:

  • 700 thousand Muslims have been interviewed by the FBI. Most of the mosques have been checked out for atomic bombs.  What they think is a Muslim could be a brown skinned guy, who is Hindu, or could be Latino.
  • Once you start doing injustice in one group, it doesn’t stay in one group. At this moment there’s quite a bit of inhumanity toward undocumented workers which are in larger numbers.
  • The personal cost is very high. A Yale University research, says that 50 percent of Arab Americans have clinical signs of depression. Muslims are last to hired and first to be fired.
  • People can get out of this when they realize there’s a criminalization in the inner city.
  • Latinos the largest minority in this country lives in a state of fear, becaust they may be mistaken for undocumented and green card holder.
  • 75 Pecent of Latinos stopped or arrested for suspect of documentation actually are quite legal citizens from several generations.
  • The whole thing is based on a myth that Muslims were responsible for 911 and the continued terrorist attacks.
  • War and terrorism are connected through occupation. We say that the hate in the country is rising, we’re becoming an unwelcoming nation. I visited the 1199 in New York and I was surprised how welcoming they were.
  • 2.5 million Americans became new gun owners last year.

Guest – Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid is founding Chairman of Sound Vision Foundation, the leading producer of educational content on Islam and Muslims. He is also executive producer of the daily Radio Islam talk show on WCEV 1450 AM in Chicago. Imam Mujahid serves as Chair of the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions, the premiere interfaith organization in the world. He is former Chairperson of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago.


Queer (In)Justice: The Criminalization of LGBT People in the United States

We’re joined today by two of the three authors of book titled Queer (In)Justice: The Criminalization of LGBT People in the United States. Joey Mogul, director of the DePaul Civil Rights Clinic and partner with the People’s Law Office, and Andrea Ritchie, a Police Misconduct Attorney.  The criminalization of LGBT people is explained in the book with acute detail and historical research.  The book reveals that continual targeting of queers by law enforcement is not an accident  but part of a larger systemic issue.  The cases covered in this searing book show how the legal system routinely discriminates against those identified as queers.  But there’s more to it than that, other factors such as poverty, race and class also make them a target. We learn more about the book and how this discrimination is viewed within the mainstream gay community.

Attorneys Joey Mogul / Andrea Ritchie:

  • The term trans-gender is an umbrella term, that is inclusive of gender identities.  It encompasses people who are born with a particular genitalia, but whose gender expression or identity is different from their anatomy.
  • We use the term criminal legal system because the system has produced anything but justice for people who fall under the umbrella of LGB or T.
  • Sometimes its a cop writing you a ticket for disorderly conduct, because they perceive your expression in a public space to be disorderly.
  • Once they get to the police precinct and they don’t know which box to check, that can result in being searched. Not for any lawful purpose as contraband, weapons but to determine what your anatomy is because they feel like that’s relevant in which box to check for you.
  • What we’re seeing nationwide is police officers unsure of someone’s identity, police stations nationwide have no guidelines in determining someones gender. What we’re seeing is these genital checks.
  • There have been transgender women who’ve been searched in San Francisco, who’ve not only experienced these humiliating strip searches but then have been forced to dance or masterbate, in front of these officers.
  • They want to humiliate and punish based on their gender identity.
  • Really things are getting better for a small minority of LGTB and the vast majority end up facing these patterns of criminalization.  In the court systems, we’re seeing individuals whose sexual orientations or gender identity is being used against them.
  • Archetype of queers as a security threat.  We talk about prisons as queer spaces in that, we see prisons being used as a tool to say that gay people are the predators.
  • My home is the People’s Law Office. The work I do is police and government misconduct cases and I do death penalty cases. But I’m queer. I do hold myself out to the queer community and I do get these cases.
  • Walking While Trans. One encounter with a cop can change your whole life.
  • It’s really important for us to reach out to Guild Members, this is state sponsored homophobia and trans-phobia.

Guest – Attorney Andrea Ritchie,  is a police misconduct attorney and organizer in New York City.

Guest – Attorney Joey Mogul, a partner at the People’s Law Office in Chicago and director of the Civil Rights Clinic at DePaul University’s College of Law. She  focuses on civil rights cases involving police misconduct, criminal cases brought against individuals engaged in street demonstrations and other forms of First Amendment expression, and capital defense cases.


Law and Disorder April 11, 2011


New York City Rent Laws Set To Expire June 15, 2011

Rent and tenant protections for half of all New York City renter households plus thousands more are set to expire on June 15, 2011.  These laws have been the foundation for affordable rental housing for middle-class and low-income New Yorkers. If the rent laws are not renewed, it could lead to unprecedented evictions and homelessness could spiral even further out of control.   It’s explained in the above linked article by Patrick Markee Senior Policy Analyst at the Coalition for the Homeless,  titled Tell Albany: Renew and Strengthen Rent Laws.

Patrick Markee:

  • Two out of three households in New York City are renters. Half of all New York City renters are protected by rent and eviction protection laws that go back 60 years to the New Deal era.
  • Right now the stakes are as high as they could be and the political environment is as bad as it can be.
  • We have a governor who’s been strongly supported financially by the real estate industry.
  • Fortunately we have a state assembly there that is strongly pro-tenant.  Half of all New Yorkers are rent stabilized apartments which means rent increases are regulated each year.
  • The fundamental protection for tenants is they can’t be evicted except for just cause.
  • Those protections have been weakened by vacancy destabilization. Because of that we’ve lost 300 thousand rent stabilized apartments over the last decade and a half.
  • Right now we have 39 thousand people including 16 thousand children bedding down in the municipal shelter system.
  • Just this past month we’ve reached the highest census in the shelter system since the city has been keeping records.  Forty percent more people are cycling through the shelter system than when (mayor) Bloomberg took office in 2002
  • We’ve had a perfect storm, loss of affordable rental housing across the country, due to Bush Administration cut backs, at the same time, we get the economic recession, and unemployment, add on top of that the foreclosure crisis.  3 out of 4 homeless people are families with kids.
  • New Yorkers have a state constitutional right to shelter.
  • Contact Governor Cuomo, contact your state legislator.

Guest – Patrick Markee, Senior Policy Analyst at the Coalition for the Homeless and writer of many of the fine articles on the Coalition For the Homeless website.


The Goldstone Report Now Belongs to the World

Lead author of The Goldstone Report, detailing the 2008-2009 Israeli assault on Gaza has changed his position on the issue of targeting civilians.  In an editorial by the Washington Post, Judge Richard Goldstone said, “Civilians were not intentionally targeted [by Israel] as a matter of policy.” And then Israel has called on the United Nations to retract the report on Operation Cast Lead, the war that led to the death of about 1,400 Palestinians, including hundreds of civilians, and 13 Israelis. Earlier this year, Law and Disorder talked with co-editors of the book titled, The Goldstone Report: The Legacy of the Landmark Investigation of the Gaza Conflict.

Phil Weiss:

  • Our book came out 2 years after the Gaza conflict and people said why now, who cares about this? Now we see why.
  • This statement by him (Judge Goldstone) was immediately seized upon as a disavowal of the report by many supporters of Israel.
  • Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel immediately called on the UN to withdraw the report.
  • The US State Department came out and said this just shows there were no war crimes committed during the Gaza conflict.
  • What remains in the Goldstone Report? Geneva Convention: Principle of Distinction and Disproportional Attack
  • Other important crimes noted in the report: using white phosphorus, targeting infrastructure, destroying a water treatment facility, destroying a flour mill, destroying food production.
  • Even you have a military target, you have to attack that proportionately. One Israeli commander said, we don’t want a hair of our soldiers to fall here.
  • This (Gaza) is the size of the Bronx and Queens put together
  • The central case that Goldstone based his reconsideration was one of the most horrific cases during the war.
  • That took place on January 4, 2009 in a village outside of Gaza City.
  • The Israelis were trying to secure parts of Gaza City from the east. They seized this area as a strategic base. They had herded 120 members of an extended family into one house. They had forced them to stay there for a couple of days.
  • In the midst of this operation, on that morning, helicopter gun ships came  and shelled that house, killing 29 people. In the report Goldstone offered this as another case of targeting civilians.
  • I would say “because” this report came out, Israel has produced evidence that the helicopter gunship guys misread drone images. Showing men carrying firewood back to this house as being men carrying rocket launchers.
  • Goldstone is saying, I accept the Israeli version here, I think that it was out of negligence or a mistake.
  • This reconsideration has got more attention than the whole report.
  • This fall the UN General Assembly could vote to establish to make Palestine, a Palestinian state.

Guest – Philip Weiss founder of the blog Mondoweiss, longtime journalist and regular contributor to the Nation and a fellow at the Nation Institute  Philip is the author of two books a political novel, Cock-A-Doodle-Doo, and American Taboo, an investigative account of a 1976 murder in the Peace Corps in the Kingdom of Tonga.  Weiss is one of the editors of The Goldstone Report: The Legacy of the Landmark Investigation of the Gaza Conflict.


Law and Disorder April 4, 2011



In Memory of Attorney Leonard Weinglass

Hosts remember one of the great civil rights attorneys, Leonard Weinglass from his early years as a lawyer in the Air Force to his big cases.  Michael Smith shares a great anecdote. Len vigorously defended a black soldier and upset the Air Force brass. They sent him to Iceland for 2 years. Much later in the late fifties,  he moved to Newark, NJ, set up a one man office and represented black people in police abuse cases.

The remarkable and heroic progressive lawyer Len Weinglass died on March 23.  Among his cases were the Chicago 8, the Ellsberg case and the Cuban 5.   He was our close comrade and will be missed by his friends and all those seeking a better world. – Michael Ratner.


A Poem for Len Weinglass by Linda Backiel

Almost Ready

“I have everything almost ready for the spring,”

you said. Brush cut, brambles cleared, new trees

planted. A lop-sided smile flit across your silver

stubble beard, a late winter field momentarily lit

by a break in a fleet of migrating clouds.

click for more


Universal Jurisdiction: Attorney Wolfgang Kaleck

Co-host Michael Ratner interviews attorney Wolfgang Kaleck, German civil rights attorney and General Secretary for the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights. They discuss the effectiveness of Universal Jurisdiction cases. The cases that helped international human rights prosecutions.  Specifically the cases in Argentina against corporations that profited from dictatorships and human rights abuses and how Argentina can be used as a model to bring cases against other powerful leaders or corporations.  Optimism overcomes cynicism, Wolfgang says its not easy, it’s work bringing cases against the powerful of the world.

Attorney Wolfgang Kaleck:

  • I have the privilege to work on behalf of Germans and Argentinian victims of the Dirty War between 1976 and 1983 in Argentina.
  • The Argentinian cases and the Chilean cases were the most important phase in universal jurisdiction.
  • We filed cases in Germany, Italy and France.
  • The idea to file Argentinian and Chilean cases in European courts was not to try Argentinians and Chileans in Europe but to impose accountability in Chile and Argentina.
  • That’s what people call the Pinochet Effect.
  • In 2005 and 2006 when the amnesty laws were abolished. If you go to Buenos Aries now you will observe military junta tribes from Monday to Friday and you will police officers, military leaders, torturers, guards.
  • At this point, special prosecutors and parts of the civil society are demanding an investigation and prosecution into crimes committed by corporations who aided and abetted the dictatorship, or who profited from the dictatorship.
  • The history in Argentina, 30 thousand people disappeared, 100 thousand were tortured.
  • The human rights movement in Argentina was so strong, that they maintained a certain presence, a certain public attention.
  • For us, Argentina is like the blue print. They inspired the human rights movement not only in Europe
  • I filed a case at Mercy Dispense because in Buenos Aires, 15 trade unionists were disappeared. We filed the criminal case in Germany against a German-Argentinian manager who had duel citizenship which allowed us to bring the case in Germany. Then we filed a case in the US, an alien tort claims which is still pending. We filed a case in Argentina which is still pending.
  • One line is to blame the torturers and the torturer leaders, we want to talk about why these human rights violations have been committed. Why the Argentinian military took the decision to oppress their populations and our explanation is that they wanted to install a political and economic system which needed the extermination of the trade unionists.
  • Actually to demand accountability and do these investigations is trauma work. Society that hasn’t dealt with its past has some problems in the present. Argentina is worth studying as an example.
  • Universal Jurisdiction is showing its limits. So far it was very difficult to bring cases against the powerful of the world.
  • The suspicion that the criminal justice system is just another tool of the powerful against the powerless,
  • We have to try to bring cases against the powerful, Russian, China, the US, or Sri Lanka or Israel, who all undertake actions to avoid prosecution.
  • We are very optimistic that some investigation will be carried out in Spain but some people are over-pessimistic, because even now, we achieved that several former US officials, or from the CIA or from the Army, or politicians can’t travel anymore, without running the risk to be arrested.
  • We achieved something, I’m also not satisfied from it but still its more than we thought possible.
  • President Bush wanted to go to Switzerland.
  • It’s always an argument against those cynical people who say nothing is possible. Yes there is, something is possible. We do have to struggle to maintain this, the whole international criminal justice system is at stake.

Guest – Attorney Wolfgang Kaleck, a German civil rights attorney. He is also the General Secretary for the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights. On November 14, 2006, Kaleck sought criminal prosecution charges in German court against a number of US officials and military personnel in connection with alleged human rights abuses at the prison facilities at Abu Gharib and Guantanamo Bay on behalf of eleven plaintiffs. Approximately 30 human rights activists and organizations participated as co-plaintiffs

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