Justice Integrity Project
The return to solitary confinement of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman for 57 days this fall underscores President Obama's duty to provide clemency to a victim of America's most disgraceful recent political prosecution.
At a minimum, Obama (shown in a White House file photo) should commute the remainder of Siegelman's sentence, now scheduled to extend until mid-2017.
Far better, the president should issue a full pardon to the former governor and his co-defendant Richard Scrushy, the founder and former CEO of HealthSouth Inc. Update: High court won't hear appeal from former Alabama governor, Jan. 11, 2016.
Scrushy and Siegelmen were convicted of corruption charges in a 2006 federal trial. Scrushy has completed his sentence but is at least as much of a civil rights victim as Siegelman, Alabama's governor from 1999 to 2003 and its last Democrat in that office.
Scrushy, a Republican, has consistently argued that his company's donation to defray costs of a 1998 state referendum proposal was a routine expense for his billion-dollar company and that he was imprisoned only because he refused to take a prosecutors' plea deal to perjure himself to implicate Siegelman.
Alabama Attorney Gen. William Pryor, a Republican, began investigating Siegelman immediately upon the Democrat's assumption of office in 1999. Pryor's crusade was joined by the Bush administration after it took office in 2001. Their massive investigation ultimately ended Siegelman's viability as a statewide candidate or potential presidential contender. For nearly a decade, Pryor has been a federal judge on the Atlanta-based appellate court hearing Siegelman and Scrushy appeals.
Beginning immediately after Siegelman's sentencing in June 2007, he has been a repeated victim of solitary confinement for no apparent reason aside from the demonstrated animosity from his presiding trial trial judge Mark Fuller, Bureau of Prisons personnel with unknown motives, and indifference at best by a politically timid Obama White House.
Siegelman is shown in prison Dec. 11 at left with a fellow inmate, Charles Cloud, just after the former governor's release from "The Hole" at Oakdale's federal prison in Louisiana.
Siegelman's family members said they tried unsuccessfully to contact him during that period and could not learn from authorities why he was being held incommunicado as punishment. It is suspected, however, that Siegelman's response to a question on a phone call with radio personality Thom Hartmann triggered the reaction. Siegelman was discussing prison conditions generally in America but Hartmann asked how he was doing.
Last year at this time, Siegelman also was kept in solitary confinement for more than a month and shunted around the prison system, part of a pattern that first occurred when he and Scrushy were hauled away in chains at their 2007 sentencing by order of their judge, then Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller of Montgomery, even though most white collar defendants are granted bond during appeals.
Vast numbers of legal experts, whistleblowers, journalists and members of the public have denounced the many irregularities of the Siegelman-Scrushy prosecution, as summarized below.
Fuller (shown in his 2013 mug shot after an evening of drinking), had to resign his lifetime appointment to the bench in disgrace this summer.
Although the most public reason was a wife-beating arrest in 2013 not linked to the Siegelman-Scrushy case in obvious ways, little-reported aspects of the judicial scandal involve a longstanding pattern of Fuller's abusive supervision of the court system. That is directly relevant to the trumped up charges and kangaroo court procedures that convicted Siegelman and Scrushy and financially ruined the families of those two other co-defendants, who were falsely charged but acquitted at the trial.
Thousands of columns, including dozens by this editor, have documented prosecution irregularities and illustrated why the prosecution has become a notorious human rights scandal.
A system that mistreats Siegelman so often so badly with only whitewash oversight by the courts, congress and Justice Department underscores the problems facing 2.3 million other American prisoners and their families. The United States has the highest rate of incarceration in the world and one of the largest prison populations. The systems cost taxpayers vast amounts of money for overcrowded facilities and unaccountable procedures that help keep many inmates, especially street criminals, angry and difficult to reform prior to release.
For such reasons, every American who values the Constitution and a rule of law would benefit from presidential leadership in rectifying the injustice in the Siegelman case, as such prominent commentators as George Will of the Washington Post and Jeffrey Toobin of the New Yorker have written, along with many others.
So, the president and his legal advisors face a tainted legacy on human rights grounds, whatever their efforts and political posturing on other rights issues. Below, we examine the facts, including recent developments in Alabama and at the White House.
- An oped in the Montgomery Advertiser by columnist Josh Moon Dec. 16 directed at President Obama: End the Embarrassment and Pardon Don Siegelman;
- A rebuttal Dec. 24 by former Siegelman prosecutor Stephen Feaga justifying his treatment, Siegelman column riddled with 'inaccuracies; and
- A recap Dec. 28 by blogger Roger Shuler, who has published hundreds of columns about irregularities in the Siegelman case, Prosecutor Steve Feaga reportedly once pushed for false testimony in the Siegelman case, and now he tries to convince public that convictions were legitimate
The Obama administration last week ramped up military actions against Islamic State terrorists — and also sharply downgraded its failing campaign to overthrow Syria’s government and to demonize Russia’s.
A key juncture occurred when Secretary of State John Kerry (shown a week ago with President Obama in the Oval Office) traveled to Moscow for meetings Dec. 15. Before the trip, Kerry, Obama and their staffers had been issuing their usual denunciations of Russia and Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad.
By week’s end, the United States and Russia joined forces in a 15-0 UN Security Council vote Dec. 18 creating a peace process for Syria over the next 18 months.
A sense of the devastation is illustrated by an exclusive RT video report Dec. 23 drawing on drone viewpoints of the Damascus suburb of the Jobar neighborhood, once home to some 300,000 and now a virtually empty wasteland of destroyed buildings aside from holdout rebels hiding in an elaborate network of tunnels.
Meanwhile, President Obama chided Republicans in an NPR interview aired Monday, Dec. 21, for what he called a lack of realistic alternatives to his anti-ISIS policies, as reported here.
Important changes are occurring at a rapid clip, as indicated by a major new analysis by famed investigative reporter Seymour Hersh that seemed outdated in part when it first became available electronically Dec. 21 or so, with a print date of Jan. 7, 2015 for publication by the London Review of Books. In the 6,831-word Military to Military, Seymour M. Hersh on US intelligence sharing in the Syrian war, Hersh reported concerns by top Pentagon brass that Obama seemed unduly wedded to a "Cold War" view emphasizing Assad's ouster, trust in Turkey, and opposition to Russia instead of a priority focus on defeating ISIS.
Hersh's deep contacts within the intelligence and military communities lend authority to his arguments (and also support much of the analysis below) even if the Obama administration appears to have adjusted course rapidly in advance of the column's publication.
With this introduction, we sketch the remainder of this column beginning on the runover:
- Alleged U.S. Empire-Building, Complicity With Terror Groups
- Turkey's Ambush, Russia's Escalation
- Obama's Background, Current Crisis
- New U.S. Pressure On Turkey
- Neocon Pressure On Obama
- The 2016 Presidential Candidates
- Obama, not Clinton, Makes 'Hard Choices'
- Appendix of Sources, Hotlinks
At the outset, it's useful to understand that the UN process is likely to prove unworkable because it does not require Assad’s resignation, as demanded by American war hawks and Islamic rebels who are backed by Turkish and Gulf State supporters.
Also, most GOP presidential contenders and Democratic front runner Hillary Clinton continued to call during presidential debates last week for Assad’s ouster and a U.S.-enforced no fly zone preventing Syria's government and Russia from flying over a zone protecting rebels (and arguably smuggling routes).
The UN plan also fails to specify which rebel groups are excluded as terrorists from the peace process. That confusion portends continuing stalemate during next year in a pattern that has doomed previous UN efforts to resolve the Syrian war.
Despite the dim outlook for a UN peace plan, it serves as a face-saver for Obama during the last year of his presidency. Obama can side-step the consequences of his years of covert warmongering in Syria, which has primarily advanced the empire-building agenda of special interests under the rhetoric of humanitarian and democratic values. Middle East Eye's Dr. Gareth Porter amplified the reasons in Why the US pushes the illusory Syrian peace process.
Most importantly for the American public, the UN agreement could contain pressures from political demagogues risking another war. Warmongering is popular with candidates so they can win 2016 presidential support from special interests and low-information voters fooled into thinking ISIS can be eliminated by bombing. But ISIS is just one of the many scores of jihadist groups in Syria and Iraq that readily swap arms and allegiances when pressure mounts.
Fortunately, Obama backed off from the brink of a fight with Russia that could have become extremely serious. The public may not know how serious for years because, as in the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, it's not in the interests of either Russia or the United States to discuss specifics.
Kerry met behind closed doors with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (shown at left in a photo from their meeting). They emerged with an agreement that omitted any mention of Assad's departure.
The most likely reasons for the U.S. shift?
The Obama administration is under increasing pressure to become more effective against ISIS following the Paris and San Bernardino attacks, as Obama acknowledged in his Dec. 21 NPR interview.
In contrast to a go-slow approach by the United States under Obama's anti-ISIS envoy John Allen, Russia began a bombing campaign Sept. 30 at Syria’s invitation. Since then, Russia has made hundreds of bombing runs providing devastating air cover for Syrian army advances regaining territory from rebels.
Russia also has been exposing fighter, arms, and oil smuggling connections between ISIS and allied forces. The major smuggling routes have been via Turkey, a NATO member whose President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan increasingly focuses on supporting Islamist causes and suppressing dissent. Turkey has viciously targeted those in the media and ethnic Kurds whose compatriots in Syria are the main U.S. allies on the ground fighting ISIS.
An inspiring ceremony Dec. 11 at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts memorialized the life of financial journalist and philanthropist Austin H. Kiplinger, who died Nov. 20 at age 97.
Three days earlier, Dr. David J. Skorton, the new secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, delivered a speech outlining his vision for the world's largest museum.
The scenes symbolized a succession in American public life by two of the nation's great civic leaders of recent times.
They have embodied a passion for learning, culture, and a just society by fostering enduring institutions. Such leadership — which included Cornell University posts for each man — is possible only from success in problem solving.
Kiplinger's remarkably varied and important civic endeavors brought forth admirers who nearly filled the vast ground floor of the Kennedy Center for his memorial.
Former Cornell President Frank H.T. Rhodes (1977 to 1995) delivered a powerful tribute to Kiplinger, a 1939 graduate of the university who served 55 years on the university's board. The university, founded in 1865 with a number of innovations, is located on a hill overlooking Ithaca in central New York's Finger Lakes region.
Skorton (shown in a file photo) spoke separately at the nearby National Press Club on Dec. 8 to describe his plans for the Smithsonian after serving as Cornell's president from 2006 until earlier this year. The Smithsonian complex operates 19 museums and galleries, the National Zoological Park, and various research facilities.
I benefited from a scholarship-assisted education at Cornell, where I studied history and prepared for a reporting and legal career by writing for the Cornell Daily Sun student newspaper. I've lived and worked for nearly a quarter century a short distance from the Smithsonian's most famous museums and the National Press Club, where I've met both men.
Their careers prompt me to reflect also upon the continuing relevance of a 60-page monograph, "The Use and Abuse of History," by the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) that was taught at Cornell nearly fifty years ago by Prof. Allan Bloom, later a best-selling author.
From these experiences are suggested tools for problem-solving during the troubled times that the nation currently faces.
While most Americans were enjoying a Thanksgiving holiday last week, dramatic developments unfolded in the Middle East that affect the region's long term future.
Even so, the mainstream media have failed to report the most significant implications, including reaction of leading 2016 U.S. presidential candidates to vitally important issues involving terrorism.
That should not be surprising. Media outlets work in tandem with U.S. policymakers for the most part to put a rosy glow on initiatives supported by the bipartisan foreign establishment that generally advocates war in the Middle East and increased military spending elsewhere, ostensibly to fight "terrorists" like ISIS and Al Qaeda.
So, the most influential media readily side-step developments that do not match official narratives. In contrast, the analysis below draws heavily from the facts unfolding.
The possibility of hostilities between Russia and NATO members gave new prominence last week to Western commentators who argue that rogue elements within the United States government and its allies — including Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Israel — are secretly supporting the Islamic State (also known as ISIS, ISIL and Daesh) and its Al Qaeda affiliates. Today's column explores this topic and Russia's reaction to the deaths of two of its military personnel at the hands of Turkey and U.S.-supported rebels last week.
On Nov. 24, two U.S.-supplied F-16 Turkish fighter planes shot down a Russian Su-24 supersonic bomber (of the type shown in the adjoining Russian military photo) that, at most, crossed a narrow peninsula of Turkish territory in Hatay province for a few seconds in the kind of incident that does not normally prompt a fatal response.
In an apparent war crime forbidden under international law, Turkmen Brigade rebels on the ground then fatally shot the Russian pilot while he was parachuting to earth as a helpless target. The rebels used U.S.-supplied weaponry also to kill a Russian marine attempting a helicopter rescue of the pilot and his navigator.
Russia reacted in part by deploying an advanced weapons system in Syria that may be creating, in effect, a Russian-controlled No Fly Zone. This would preempt an allied-controlled buffer and/or No Fly Zone that many Turkish and American politicians have previously advocated to protect rebels seeking to overthrow Syria's government.
As reported in Russia “Violated” Turkish Airspace Because Turkey “Moved” Its Border, Turkey had declared that it has already extended its border unilaterally eight kilometers into Syria to, in effect, create a protected zone for rebels. Other nations do not recognize this informal extension.
The Russian government and the rescued plane navigator, Capt. Konstantin Murakhtin, said the Russian plane never crossed into Turkish territory at all.
Middle East Eye editor Gareth Porter wrote in The real reason for Turkey's shoot-down of the Russian jet that the Turks' true motive in a pre-planned strike against the Russians was to protect foreign fighters in Syria affiliated with Turk-backed rebels fighting Syria's government via the Al Qaeda affiliate Al Nusra Front. Dr. Porter, an independent journalist, wrote also that the Obama administration is well aware of Turkey's dubious claims, "But the administration is far too committed to its policy of working with Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar to force regime change to reveal the truth about the incident."
Whatever the case, Russia reacted to the brutal Syrian rebel shootings by deploying the S-400 advanced anti-aircraft system that Israel, in particular, has long feared as a military “game changer” in the region. The system (shown below at right) could endanger Israeli and allied military flights.
For years, Israel had successfully persuaded Russia to delay delivery to Syria and Iran of the predecessor S-300 missile systems developed in 1979 and contracted for sale to those countries. The much more advanced S-400 entered limited service in 2004.
Russia said it has now deployed the systems. The S-400 deployment in Syrian and concurrent deployment of the S-300 to Iran coincided last week with Russia’s increased bombing runs against the land-based Syrian rebels who are allied with Turkey, NATO and other Middle Eastern governments seeking the overthrow of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Russia, invited into the fray by Assad, is allied with Iran and Hezbollah fighters from Lebanon in defending Syria against rebels that include jihadists reportedly drawn from more than 70 nations, including Russia, Britain, France and the United States. It has recently been disclosed that the CIA for four years has been supporting rebels secretly against Assad.
Russia also deployed a cruiser with anti-aircraft missiles in the nearby Mediterranean Sea and stated that future bombing runs against terrorists in Syria would be accompanied by advanced fighters that could destroy attackers from the air. Further, it announced economic sanctions against its trading partner Turkey, including a potential hold on a major pipeline project through Turkey to Europe. Additionally, commentator Paul Craig Roberts reports that a former U.S. Air Force expert has informed him that Russia has twice shown recently that it has a new stealth technology that can disable all radar and satellite communications by allies in the most important regions of Western Syria.
But Russia vowed no tit-for-tat military reprisal against Turkey for what Russian President Vladimir Putin called "a stab in the back." But Putin did announce economic reprisals putting at risk $30 billion in trade ties between the two countries.
American Critics Speak Out
In the wake of the shootdown, American critics of government policy are reminding their audiences that American political, military and intelligence leaders at the highest levels have secretly hidden basic facts from the Western public about government complicity with jihadists — and that the threat is so dangerous that true patriots must bypass the complicit mainstream media and warn the public.
Our own research indicates that those American officials hiding such secrets clearly include the Obama White House, 2016 Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton, her major GOP opponents, congressional leaders of both parties, and top CIA and military leaders.
They have repeatedly deceived the American public about foreign assistance that the United States and its allies have used in their so-far unsuccessful effort to overthrow Syria’s president beginning four years ago in a covert operation supervised by then-CIA Director David Petraeus, shown in an official photo before his forced resignation in November 2012.
The result of the U.S.-concocted rebellion in Syria has been an estimated 300,000 Syrian lives lost, with many millions more now refugees from their destroyed or unsafe homes and workplaces.
Refugees include hundreds of thousands from Syria roaming through Europe, many of them shipped out by Turkey from relief camps. The migration is causing chaos in Europe. Legitimate Syrian refugees are mixed in with equally forlorn economic refugees from Libya and other nations that NATO destabilized in Africa and the Middle East.
Angry jihadists and other cultural warriors are undoubtedly a major part of the mix also. They are not likely to be detected for the most part, however, until they become more rooted and active in new communities. As a result, European popular fury is growing against the Turk, U.S. and other NATO leaders for their Middle Eastern war-mongering that created the Syrian refugee crisis and such threats as the Paris terrorist bombing earlier this month.
Impoverished refugees are en route to also to North America. Many Americans fear that a deceptive and divided federal leadership in Washington, DC cannot cope with complex security and financial issues, especially given the government's track record of repeated failures and false promises, especially on immigration policy.
Those following such issues know also that Petraeus, his successor John Brennan, and Obama’s special anti-ISIS Syran Special Envoy John Allen, a former general and close ally of Petraeus, have an especially dangerous record of advancing sinister agendas under the guise of fighting terrorism.
Their top priorities have been to please their neoconservative supporters by conducting a secret war against Assad while they quietly coddle Al Qaeda and ISIS elements that function at times as bogeyman generating public fear and bigger budgets for counterterrorism.
Petraeus, now CEO of a Wall Street firm and also a thought-leader in national security circles, advocated this month that the United States ally with al Qaeda groups in Syria (Petraeus: Use Al Qaeda Fighters to Beat ISIS) — as if the public could so easily forget that the Bush-era "War on Terror" was to target Al Qaeda. The successors to the U.S.-sponsored rebels fighting the Soviet Union in Afghanistan during the early 1980s are radical jihadists by most definitions, not "moderate" rebels.
At this point, much more scrutiny is merited for the supposed experts and allies who guide our foreign policy while coddling the barbaric practices of radical Islam's killers, rapists, sex slave traffickers, and torturers.
As the 52nd anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's death approaches this weekend, the murder and cover up hold great lessons for understanding current events.
The following are points this editor discusses Nov. 21 at the Annual JFK Assassination Conference Nov. 20-22 at the Crowne Plaza Downtown Hotel in Dallas.
- JFK was one of the last leaders to fight Wall Street’s war complex. Most leaders are talented puppets who are highly beholden — but not completely — to behind-the-scenes controllers whose true loyalties sometimes are not known even to the office holders;
- Puppet masters, provocateurs, foreign agents, assassins, moles, cutouts, cover-up artists and career-minded opportunists have beguiled a distracted public into letting our watchdog institutions in Congress, the courts, bureaucracies, universities, and media shirk their duty to provide effective remedies;
- Grassroots action by those armed with true facts and effective strategies can and must rescue the country.
President Obama is struggling now in Syria to withstand strong escalation pressures from the bipartisan military-intelligence complex. This is similar to the pressures President Kennedy faced from the war establishment to escalate against Cuba, the Soviet Union and in Vietnam in 1962 and 1963.
Author Peter Dale Scott of the University of California at Berkeley and shown in a photo is a confirmed speaker also. Scott, shown in a file photo, popularized the terms "Deep Politics" and "Deep State" beginning with his books on the JFK assassination.
A dramatic boycott by tens of thousands of grocery store employees and their customers to preserve store traditions in New England provides the story line for the compelling new documentary We the People: The Market Basket Effect, which was screened with expert commentators this week at a special showing in Washington, DC.
The movie effectively conveyed the passion and drama of a regional battle last year that energized employees and customers of the family-run Market Basket chain in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine.
Discussing the film's importance Nov. 9 were New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan, Director Nick Buzzell, and Producer Ted Leonsis, a major high tech and entertainment executive (shown blow, from left to right).
Also speaking were Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and event host Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress, which described the film as a "vivid and thorough portrayal of the most memorable labor protest in recent American history." Photos of the event are via the Facebook pages of Buzzell's NBTV Studios.
Our report here on the film provides what we hope is an entertaining break from our normal fare, which focuses heavily on grim realities from around the world unearthed by investigative reporting. But readers interested in solving problems can learn from the reform techniques illustrated by the movie. The gist: If you care about something get involved, using one of the ways that are proven effective and need not be difficult.
The Market Basket Effect sympathetically traces the early success of two immigrant brothers who started a butcher/grocery business nearly a century ago, beginning in the factory community of Lowell, northwest of Boston. The stores operated for many years under the family name DeMoulas Supermarkets.
In recent years, the family evolved the trade name to "Market Basket" and expanded to 75 locations serving some two million customers via a company valued at nearly three billion dollars.
The film portrays recent success as occurring in part from the passionate commitment by longtime CEO Arthur T. DeMoulas to his family's tradition of good wages for employees, low prices for customers, and celebration of the grocery business as, in effect, a civic activity and not simply a business or chore.
A subtext is a the Greek-American community's traditional expertise in food, originally developed in many small stores and restaurants, and celebrated more privately in family and church circles.
The result of the high-wage and low customer price policy? Strong worker and community loyalty.
Perhaps predictable also was that some heirs — ultimately constituting a majority of shares — resented CEO decisions that failed to keep shareholder income as high as industry norms that follow a different retail store formula, such as Walmart's relatively low wages and benefits. In 1990, some family members also filed suit accusing the CEO of fraud.
Most of the movie vividly portrays how the vast majority of Market Basket's 25,000 employees and then customers boycotted the stores after the board fired “Arthur T.” during the summer of 2014. This created a financial crisis for the company owners as well as a ripple effect threatening other parts of the regional business supply chain.