Ben Buchwalter

“Patriot” Hero Charles Dyer Goes Down
February 17, 2010, 8:03 pm
Filed under: Crime and Justice, Mother Jones, Scandals | Tags: , ,

The Tea Party movement has produced its share of interesting characters. Chief among them is Charles Dyer, who’s YouTube videos (codename: july4patriot) have made the ex-Marine a hero of the anti-government extremists who say they will fight back against the US government if it threatens the right to bear arms or declares Martial law. Dyer’s die hard supporters were shocked last month when he was arrested on child rape and illegal weapons charges. So shocked, in fact, that they have said that he was set up by the US government. They call him “the 1st POW of the 2nd American revolution” due to his flagrant statements against the Department of Homeland Security and American leadership:

Dyer was already a notorious figure. As an active-duty sergeant in the Marine Corps, he posted incendiary videos on YouTube under the handle July4Patriot. Clad in a skull mask, he warned of grave threats to the republic and called for armed resistance against the American government. In one clip, referring to an April 2009 Department of Homeland Security report (pdf) on domestic extremism, Dyer exclaimed, “With DHS blatantly calling patriots, veterans, and constitutionalists a threat, all that I have to say is you’’re damn right we’re a threat. We’re a threat to anyone that endangers our rights and the Constitution of this republic.” He invited viewers to join him at his makeshift training area—”I’m sure the DHS will call it a terrorist training camp.”

Dyer will face trial in April, and depending on the outcome, this could be yet another call to arms for the increasingly militant Tea Party movement.


Bush Legacy Lives On Through State Secrets

A large part of Barack Obama’s campaign message of change was his promise to reverse Bush administration policies regarding torture and state secrets. Since he was inaugurated a year ago, we’ve seen Obama dial back those promises one by one. In December, the American Civil Liberties Union and the US Government faced off before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco regarding five civilians who were detained illegally and transported overseas with the help of Boeing subsidiary Jeppesen Dataplan and subjected to harsh interrogation tactics. I attended the hearing and wrote this report for MoJo:

At the Mohamed et al v. Jeppesen Dataplan hearing, both sides were equally dramatic. Arguing on behalf of the plaintiffs, the ACLU’s Ben Wizner warned that if the court endorses the government’s sweeping claim to secrecy, “it will do tremendous harm to our democratic principles.” Representing the United States, Douglas Letter doubled down on the government’s assertion that simply allowing the case to be heard would result in the disclosure of classified information that could harm national security….

Under US law, the executive branch can request that a lawsuit be thrown out if it would make public information that could endanger US interests or personnel. In a declaration of support for the government, former CIA director Michael Hayden said [pdf] that the case would expose information that “could be expected to cause serious—and in some instances, exceptionally grave—damage to the national security of the United States, and therefore, the information should be excluded from any use.” Letter argued that courts should defer to such leaders’ judgments about national security. Wizner disagreed, maintaining that the lawsuit could proceed with guidelines to keep truly sensitive information secret. If the judiciary “just went with the executive branch,” he said, “there is no role for this court.”

Wizner argued that the government has not been consistent in its treatment of these matters. Though the CIA claims that it cannot confirm nor deny its contracts, “they do so routinely when it suits their interests,” he pointed out. Earlier this week, for example, CIA spokesman George Little gave specific information about the infamous military contractor Blackwater Worldwide. “At this time, Blackwater is not involved in any CIA operations other than in a security or support role,” he told the New York Times.

Commission to Review Racially Tinged Mandatory Minimums

Mandatory minimum laws apply to an array of crimes, the most controversial of which is drug sentencing. Essentially, thanks to mandatory minimum laws, which were implemented in 1986 after basketball star Len Bias overdosed on crack cocaine, require judges to determine a defendant’s sentence without considering outside mitigating factors. In the most controversial example, crack cocaine users (who are predominantly black) receive a punishment 100 times more harsh than powder cocaine users (typically white). Back in October, the Obama administration asked the US Sentencing Commission to review the minimums. I called the leadership of Families Against Mandatory Minimums about the story:

Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) argues that the requirements have not achieved their intended purpose of reducing crime and scaring minor criminals into giving information about the most flagrant offenders in return for lighter sentences. As any self-respecting fan of The Wire knows, those at the bottom of the drug pyramid don’t get details about what goes on up top. So while the drug kingpins have an avenue through which to reduce their sentences, says Jennifer Seltzer-Stitt, FAMM’s federal legislative affairs director, “[minor users] who don’t have anyone to trade get longer sentences.”

Gov. Rick Perry’s Death Penalty Dilemma

For Texas, the nation’s leader in legal killing, abolishing the death penalty would be an economic slam dunk. Perry, who once suggested that his state should secede from the Union, showed he was a fiscal conservative when he refused to take bailout funds for unemployment benefits. Of course, barely a month later,  he had to ask the government for a $170 million loan to cover (you guessed it) unemployment. The Death Penalty Information Center released a report in October that found that Texas could save a bundle by scaling back its execution program. Perry missed the memo:

But the swashbuckling politician—who in April suggested that Texas could secede from the Union—has only reaffirmed his embrace of the death penalty. “Our process works, and I don’t see anything out there that would merit calling for a moratorium on the Texas death penalty,” he said on Tuesday. As Zack Roth notes, Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, Perry’s top challenger for governor in 2010 and a strong supporter of the death penalty, has criticized Perry on the issue. Still, she hasn’t commented on the death penalty’s economic or ethical dimensions, instead charging that Perry’s handling of the Willingham case is “giving liberals an argument to discredit the death penalty.”

Is Joe Arpaio the New George Wallace?
January 30, 2010, 2:16 pm
Filed under: Civil Rights, Crime and Justice, Mother Jones | Tags: , , , ,

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio continues to show the US government who’s boss. In October, the justice department tried, however ineffectively, to rein in the controversial law enforcer by barring his office from making immigration arrests in the field. Of course, Arpaio vowed to disobey. This reminds me of another American hooligan George Wallace, the governor who famously blocked African American students from entering a school in Alabama. Arpaio certainly seems to fit that mold:

The statute currently in question is section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, which enables local officials to enforce immigration laws with the approval of the Department of Homeland Security. Jennifer Allen of the Tucson-based Border Action Network explains that either party can opt out of the agreement, as DHS did partially earlier this week. So, she said, it is now illegal for Arpaio to continue his immigration raids without the approval of DHS. “There are no state-level laws that say you can set up a check point in a predominantly low-income Latino neighborhood and start pulling people over left and right for insignificant pretenses.”

Fixing Lethal Injections Leads to ‘Hippocratic Paradox’
January 10, 2010, 9:18 pm
Filed under: Crime and Justice, Mother Jones | Tags: , , ,

October 6, 2009

October saw a set of botched state execution that drew the institution of lethal injection into serious question. The most famous victim was Romell Broom, who was punctured 18 times over two hours as guards struggled to find a suitable vein for the poison. Finally, a judge intervened to stop the execution. Critics have said that such cases amount to cruel and unusual punishment at the hands of guards who are not qualified to perform medical procedures. But involving doctors brings up what one expert calls a “hippocratic paradox.” Instead of “do no harm” doctors are reportedly being asked to help end lives. Ohio State University professor of surgery Jonathan I. Groner broke it down for me:

Citing the “Hippocratic paradox” of state-sponsored executions, Groner notes that the guards administering Broom’s lethal injection were picked because they serve as volunteer emergency medical technicians. However, they do not have nearly as much experience with IVs as fully-trained medical personnel, he says. “Part of the Hippocratic paradox problem is matching the least experienced people with the most difficult patients,” he told Mother Jones. “You risk torturing the patient.”

This adds to the troubling shift toward the “medicalization of killing,” says Groner. And he worries that Strickland’s decision to determine alternative modes of lethal injection could blur the lines between medicine and execution even further. “The trap is that to get it done right, you need more expertise. And that means more medical involvement,” he said.

Holder’s Proposed Torture Probe: Worse Than Doing Nothing?

August 10, 2009

One of the reasons Democrats were so excited to see Obama in the Oval Office was that he has pledged to demand some accountability for government officials who participated in torture under the Bush administration. But even after Obama’s first few months, it became deafeningly clear that his torture initiatives would be even more toothless than expected. In August, Attorney General Eric Holder caught fire when he proposed a torture probe would not target the authors of the so-called torture memos or Bush administration officials who knew what was going on. Instead, the probe would only hold accountable those soldiers who went beyond the interrogation tactics approved by the Bush administration. I reported the response of the human rights community for MoJo. Here’s an excerpt:

Opinions were divded among human rights and civil liberties groups about the merits of this approach. On the one hand, Tom Malinowski, the Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, thinks that a probe that lets the authors of the interrogation policies off the hook would be more destructive than constructive.  “An investigation that focuses only on low-ranking operators would be, I think, worse than doing nothing at all,” he told the Los Angeles Times….

But Gabor Rona, the international legal director of Human Rights First, is more optimistic about the proposed inquiry. He agrees that the investigation should not be confined to low-level interrogators because “if we end up having scapegoats as responsible people instead of those who authorized and solicited torture, then it would be an abdication of our international legal responsibility.” But he thinks it would be possible to start with those who overstepped the rules of interrogation and cast a wider net later—that is, if federal investigators follow where the evidence leads and investigate accordingly.