Justice Irregularities In Alabama Continue Disgrace

By Andrew Kreig

George BeckThe U.S. Senate approved by voice vote June 30 a new U.S. attorney for Alabama, thereby extending a series of disgraces blighting the federal justice system in that state and nationally. The Senate voted to approve George Beck, 69, to run the Middle District office in Alabama’s capital city of Montgomery. The Senate failed to require that Beck, right, appear at a hearing to answer questions about a host of pending issues.

The most important question is how he could supervise personnel in that office who framed former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman after Beck himself represented the main witness who helped secure convictions. It remains as the nation’s most notorious political prosecution of the past decade. In 200Mark Fuller8, CBS 60 Minutes reported that DOJ’s prosecutors coached and threatened Beck’s client Nick Bailey in up to 70 interrogations without required disclosure to the defense. Our Justice Integrity Project's four-part investigative series cited below explains further why Beck’s role is especially disturbing.

Confirmation hearings and trials are two of the rare moments when the public has a chance to learn the secrets of powerful figures in law enforcement via cross-examination. But the Senate shirked that process and rubber-stamped Beck. Siegelman’s 2006 conviction on corruption charges was enabled by the flagrant bias of a partisan Republican trial judge, Mark E. Fuller, the chief federal judge in the district. He is portrayed at left in a rare photo of him. The photo is by freelance photographer Phil Fleming in chambers at the judge's invitation to help commemorate the Siegeman jury verdict a few minutes before.

As the trial and appeal moved forward, Fuller secretly obtained $300 million in Bush contracts for Doss Aviation, Inc., a closely held company the judge controls as by far its largest shareholder. The company primarily refuels Air Force planes and trains Air Force pilots, but also makes uniforms for military and civilian federal personnel.

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CIA Torture Investigator Plays Powerful But Mysterious Role

John Durham, a career federal prosecutor who made news June 30 when the Justice Department acted on his recommendation to narrow a probe of CIA mistreatment of detainees, has a mixed and mysterious record in high-profile internal probes.

U.S. Attorney Gen. Eric Holder, left, said the Eric H. HolderDOJ opened a full criminal investigation of the deaths in CIA custody of two detainees on Durham’s recommendation but closed inquiries into 99 other cases in which agency officers and contractors interrogated suspected terrorists.

Durham is a Connecticut-based assistant U.S. attorney and former interim U.S. attorney. Our Justice Integrity Project revealed last July that a federal appeals court found in 2008 such serious misconduct by a team of federal prosecutors supervised by Durham that the court vacated seven of eight corruption convictions against Connecticut businessman Charles Spadoni.

Thus, the 2008 Bush and then Obama administration appointments of Durham and his prominent Connecticut colleague, Nora Dannehy, to lead major national investigations of misconduct by other federal officials smacked of politics and whitewash. In coverage of the high-profile probes initiated by Durham and Dannehy, no one in authority or in the mainstream news media was willing to reveal to the public that a federal appeals court had rebuked the investigators themselves.

CIA and civil liberties groups differ on whether Durham’s report and Holder’s decision represent too much or too little accountability for post 9/11 CIA activities with contractors. CIA defenders similarly call the topic of his probe “enhanced interrogation” of detainees. That is the predominate usage in the mainstream media, which defers to authorities on this kind of newly created language for sensitive matters. Opponents call it “torture” in keeping with longtime usage in the United States and worldwide before the Bush administration implemented on a large scale harsh new methods, including waterboarding, for suspects after 9/11.  I use the historic terminology, and quote analysis today by Salon legal commentator Glenn Greenwald:

The two token cases to be investigated involve the most grotesque brutality imaginable: they apparently are (1) a detainee who froze to death in an American secret prison in Afghanistan in 2002 after being ordered stripped and chained to a concrete floor, and (2) the 2003 death of a detainee at Abu Ghraib whose body was infamously photographed by guards giving a thumbs-up sign.  All other crimes in the Bush torture era will be fully protected.  Lest there be any Leon Panettadoubt about what a profound victory this is for those responsible for the torture regime, consider the reaction of the CIA:

"On this, my last day as director, I welcome the news that the broader inquiries are behind us," said a statement from CIA Director Leon Panetta, right, who will take over as defense secretary on Friday. "We are now finally about to close this chapter of our agency's history."

Consider what's being permanently shielded from legal accountability.  The Bush torture regime extended to numerous prisons around the world, in which tens of thousands of mostly Muslim men were indefinitely imprisoned without a whiff of due process, and included a network of secret prisons -- "black sites" -- purposely placed beyond the monitoring reach of even international human rights groups, such as the International Red Cross.

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Radio: Author Campbell Debunks Phony ‘News’ Stories

By Andrew Kreig

W. Joseph CampbellOur June 30 guest on MTL Washington Update radio was be journalism professor W. Joseph Campbell, left, author of Getting it Wrong: Ten of the Greatest Misreported Stories in American Journalism. His well-received recent book brings to the surface some of the most important and misrepresented stories of the past century.  Getting It Wrong

He joined me and my co-host Scott Draughon, founder of the My Technology Lawyer radio network that distributes the hour-long show nationwide as we discussed the book's findings and their implications for public policy. That part of our discussion begins at 17 minutes past the hour. It follows our weekly commentary on Washington-generated  news. We discussed also the 40-year Justice Department battle against organized crime that culminated in lst week's arrest on 19 murder charges of Boston mobster Whitey Bulger. I described also how the research for my Mafia articles this month represented a personal journey of discovery as I realized more fully what it was like for my mother to work as an undercover operative researchng the Mafia in the 1960s. She published a 1967 book about it, Black Market Medicine, and became the lead witness in one of the nation's first congressional hearings on the Mafia. One of the lessons for me is that children of all ages should better appreciate their parents while they are alive! Click here to listen to the show's audio archive.

Campbell's book addresses and dismantles prominent media-driven myths. These are stories about or by the news media that are widely believed but which, on close examination, prove apocryphal. In an intriguing exploration, Campbell describes how such myths feed stereotypes, deflect blame from policymakers, and overstate the power of the news media. Among these “myths” is the supposedly key role of CBS broadcaster Edward R. Murrow in thwarting right-wing Senator Joe McCarthy. Another chapter similarly downplays the clout of Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein in ending the Nixon Presidency.

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FBI Confronts Its Demons By Busting Mobster Whitey Bulger

Andrew KreigThe FBI’s capture of Boston mobster James “Whitey” Bulger in California last week on 19 murder charges shows impressive commitment. Agents used a $2 million reward and an innovative publicity campaign to locate the former FBI informant even though his prosecution could bring the FBI new embarrassment. Two top FBI agents have already been accused of murder in the shocking tale of Bulger’s reign as a stone-cold killer protected both by law enforcement and his brother, William “Billy” Bulger, the longtime president of the Massachusetts senate and a powerbroker with national-level clout.

Whitey BulgerEdward “Eddie Mac” MacKenzie, an ex-con, coke-dealer who authored, Street Soldier: My Life as an Enforcer for Whitey Bulger and the Boston Irish Mob, speculated during a June 25 interview on CBS-TV that Whitey Bulger, right, portayed in one of many FBI photos, will name “a lot of dirty public officials and maybe some dirty law enforcement officials” as part of his bargaining strategy.

MacKenzie declined to discuss names. “I'm afraid,” said the former martial arts competitor, “because if there's law enforcement people out there, any public official out there that knows that they're dirty, and I throw their name out there, you know, I'm going to get myself in trouble.”

Update on Bulger conviction Aug. 12, 2013: Bulger verdict brings closure for some victims’ families and eternal angst for others.

This column is about the fear, shame and simmering anger that many in Boston have long felt about this case, which has grown to implicate top government, university and even religious leaders of national stature.

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News Media & War Issues Issues

News Media:

Romanesko / Poynter Institute, Gannett lays off 700 newspaper division employees, Jim Romenesko, June 21, 2011.  That’s about 2 percent of the workforce, according to Gannett US Community Publishing division president Bob Dickey. “The economic recovery is not happening as quickly or favorably as we had hoped and continues to impact our U.S. community media organizations,” he says in a memo that’s posted below. “Publishers will notify people today and we will make every effort to reach everyone by end of day.” In March it was disclosed that Gannett CEO Craig Dubow received a $1.25 million cash bonus and had his salary doubled.

Nieman Watchdog, In Des Moines, Gannett’s cuts are devastating, Michael Gartner, June 25, 2011. The latest round of layoffs at The Register is devastating. The layoffs are devastating for those involved, of course – for those whose lives have been jolted by sudden joblessness, for those who survived but now have new uncertainties about their own futures, and for those who had to make the excruciating decisions about who would stay and who would go. Editor’s Note: For those who depend on the Register to tell them what is going on in Iowa, writes former editor and NBC News president Michael Gartner, 'what matters is all the news that we won't know. And, of course, we don't know what we won't know.'

War Legality:

Salon / Unclaimed Territory, Congress v. the President on war powers, Glenn Greenwald, June 25, 2011.  Yesterday's strange House vote -- rejecting an authorization for the war in Libya but then also rejecting a bill to partially de-fund the war -- has produced substantial commentary, much of it misguided.  The so-called "de-funding" bill the House rejected yesterday was not really a de-funding bill.  It would have barred the spending of money for some war purposes, but explicitly authorized it for others.  That's why dozens of anti-Libya-war members in both parties voted NO on the de-funding bill. They they were worried (appropriately so) that had that "de-funding" bill passed, Obama lawyers would have exploited it to argue that Congress, by appropriating some money for the war, had implicitly authorized Obama to wage it. The vote failed 180-238 - but, in fact, there were more than enough lawmakers to pass the measure. Of the 149 Democrats who stuck with the president, up to 70 of them are totally opposed to the Libya intervention and want to see it completely defunded as soon as possible.

War on Terror:

Salon /Unclaimed Territory, Climate of Fear: Jim Risen v. the Obama administration, Glenn Greenwald, June 23, 2011. The Obama DOJ's effort to force New York Times investigative journalist Jim Risen to testify in a whistleblower prosecution and reveal his source is really remarkable and revealing in several ways; it should be receiving much more attention than it is.  On its own, the whistleblower prosecution and accompanying targeting of Risen are pernicious, but more importantly, it underscores the menacing attempt by the Obama administration -- as Risen yesterday pointed out -- to threaten and intimidate whistleblowers, journalists and activists who meaningfully challenge what the government does in secret.

New York Times, Free to Search and Seize, David K. Shipler, June 22, 2011 This spring was a rough season for the Fourth Amendment. The Obama administration petitioned the Supreme Court to allow GPS tracking of vehicles without judicial permission. The Supreme Court ruled that the police could break into a house without a search warrant if, after knocking and announcing themselves, they heard what sounded like evidence being destroyed. Then it refused to see a Fourth Amendment violation where a citizen was jailed for 16 days on the false pretext that he was being held as a material witness to a crime. The Fourth Amendment is weaker than it was 50 years ago, and this should worry everyone. "Uncontrolled search and seizure is one of the first and most effective weapons in the arsenal of every arbitrary government," Justice Robert H. Jackson, the former chief United States prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials, wrote in 1949. "Among deprivations of rights, none is so effective in cowing a population, crushing the spirit of the individual and putting terror in every heart."Harvey Silverglate

Reason, What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You: The peril of vague criminal statutes, Harvey Silverglate, July 2011. The Soviet Union enacted an infamous law in 1922 that criminalized “hooliganism.” The crime was in the eye of the beholder, the beholder of consequence being the Soviet secret police. Because it was impossible for dissidents to know in advance whether they were violating this prohibition, they were always subject to arrest and imprisonment, all ostensibly according to law. One of the gravest threats to liberty today is the federal government’s ability to prosecute the innocent under hopelessly vague statutes and laws. Far too many federal laws leave citizens unsure about the line between legal and illegal conduct, punishing incorrect guesses with imprisonment. The average working American adult, going about his or her normal life, commits several arguable federal felonies a day without even realizing it. Entire lives can change based on the attention of a creative federal prosecutor interpreting vague criminal laws.

Forbes, Revolving Door at the Department of Justice, Harvey A. Silverglate, June 24, 2011. It is not unusual for a prosecutor to call a company he or she is prosecuting evil, unseemly, or some other moralistic epithet. But what happens when that prosecutor turns around and begins to defend the very company he disparaged? And what is the impact, more generally, of the current revolving door syndrome by which so many former federal prosecutors become “white collar defense lawyers” immediately after leaving the Department of Justice?

NJ Court Weighs Arrest of Star DOJ Anti-Corruption Witness

By Andrew Kreig

A New Jersey judge interrupted a corruption trial June 28 in Newark to hold a bond hearing for the Justice Department’s now-disgraced former star witness, Solomon Dwek, who was recently arrested in Maryland on stolen car charges. More important than the bond conditions, U.S. District Judge José Linares is separately considering whether to permit former Secaucus Mayor Thomas Elwell to call Dwek as defense witness. The judge told Elwell June 27 that he must have substantive questions for Dwek, and not simply call him to discredit him and the government.

Update: The judge revoked Dwek's bond, according to a report by Stephanie Akin of the Bergen Record, which she amplified as follows:

Linares said house arrest could not protect the general public from Dwek, who had shown through his theft of a rental car and subsequent lies to investigators that he would not comply with the agreements he made during his bail hearings and when he agreed to cooperate with the government.  “There is no condition for accommodations that would show that this defendant would not continue in some way shape or form to be a danger to the community and a risk of flight,” Linares said. “He has proven to be a consummate defrauder and an exceedingly cunning liar.” Dwek, who repeatedly puckered his lips in a fish-like expression and examined his fingernails throughout the hearing, simply took off his suit jacket and left the courtroom with the U.S. Marshal. Linares also said he would take Dwek’s arrest and subsequent behaviour into account when he sentences Dwek for charges that he attempt to pass $50 million in bad checks at PNC bank. He said Dwek’s failure to abide by the conditions of his bail and his cooperation agreement with the government—both of which stipulated that he could not be convicted of another crime—would make it “less likely” that Dwek’s hopes of a lighter sentence or even probation for that conviction would come to pass.

Chris Christie

The Justice Department initially listed Dwek as a witness to describe why Dwek’s $10,000 payment to Elwell was a bribe and not a campaign contribution from Dwek, who was working with the government to pretend to be a developer interested in supporting candidates who would help him. But the DOJ has since indicated it will not be calling Dwek, who admitted to a $50 million bank fraud and running a brothel. Those crimes encouraged him to work out a leniency deal with Republican U.S. Attorney Chris Christie, left, and his successors. They used Dwek as an undercover operative earning a five-figure monthly stipend paid from a fund created for his victims. Using taxpayer funds for bribes, Dwek then helped prosecutors create a 46-defendant “Big Rig III” corruption case announced in July 2009. Nearly all the political defendants were Democrats, including Elwell. The massive favorable publicity generated by the corruption indictments helped propel Chris Christie to a fall victory in the governor’s race on a reform platform.

The Justice Integrity Project has published many columns documenting irregularities in the Christie-initiated Dwek relationship. Samples are below. The round-up of recent developments includes other cases we have followed or new material by legal commentators that involve official misconduct. The regional news stories are arranged by state:

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