The Intercept

Rio de Janeiro toma conhecimento da guerra na Cidade Alta após cinco meses de confronto

2 May 2017 - 6:57pm

O Rio de Janeiro começou o dia pegando fogo – literalmente. Foram oito ônibus e dois caminhões queimados. As principais vias expressas da cidade foram interditadas, causando quilômetros de congestionamento e deixando 3 mil crianças sem aula, além de saques e arrastões. A cidade entrou em estágio de atenção às 10h50 da manhã por conta das complicações no trânsito.

O clima tenso retratado ao vivo hoje faz parte do cotidiano dos moradores da comunidade da Cidade Alta, em Cordovil, Zona Norte do Rio de Janeiro – a origem de todo o conflito –, mas só hoje a situação chegou ao conhecimento de todos. Desde novembro do ano passado, as facções Terceiro Comando Puro e Comando Vermelho disputam o controle da região.

Relatos de moradores dão conta de que o confronto que parou parte da cidade teve início por volta das 2h da manhã, quando, com a ajuda de traficantes de outras comunidades, homens do Comando Vermelho tentaram retomar seu antigo território. O reforço teria partido de pelo menos outras sete comunidades dominadas pela facção, afirmou segundo o Secretário de Segurança do Estado do Rio de Janeiro, Roberto Sá, em coletiva de imprensa às 16h – cinco horas depois de a cidade entrar em estágio de atenção.

Foto: Reprodução Whatsapp

A ação, segundo o Chefe da Polícia Civil, Carlos Leba, na mesma coletiva,foi orquestrada da cadeia por chefes do Comando Vermelho e executada por homens que estiveram presos recentemente.

“Em dois fins de semana, o TCP ocupou a Cidade Alta perto das festas de fim de ano. Desde então, o CV vem tentando voltar. Com a ajuda de outras favelas, hoje foi o confronto mais pesado até agora. Foram muitas bombas e tiros de diferentes calibres. O tiroteio aconteceu a madrugada toda. A gente está trancado dentro de casa”, conta um dos moradores entrevistados por The Intercept Brasil que, por segurança, não serão identificados..

Várias pessoas não conseguiram sair para o trabalho. “Eram muitas bombas e tiros. Começamos a receber mensagens de amigos que estavam deitados no chão, se escondendo na cozinha, para tentar se proteger. De manhã, já fui falando com outras pessoas que saem cedo que nem, eu e ninguém tinha ido pro trabalho”, contou outro morador.

Ao longo do dia, vários outros moradores se manifestaram a respeito do confronto nas redes sociais.

O peso do confronto se reflete nos números da operação policial que aconteceu nesta manhã para tentar controlar a guerra na comunidade. Segundo o divulgado pela PMERJ, 45 pessoas foram presas, 32 fuzis apreendidos– todos do CV –, 11 granadas e 4 pistolas. Números que que só se comparam aos de países em guerra e demonstram o poder de fogo do tráfico carioca.

Atualização do saldo parcial da Operação da #PMERJ na Cidade Alta.#ServireProteger pic.twitter.com/kwSQqBAaU9

— PMERJ (@PMERJ) May 2, 2017

Na coletiva da cúpula do Estado, o secretário de segurança afirmou que “foi evitado um banho de sangue”. E, ao ser questionado sobre uma possível falha na inteligência, ressaltou os números da operação. De acordo com Sá, nunca houve uma apreensão tão grande de armas em uma operação. E, segundo ele, não há como evitar a comunicação entre os traficantes.

Cidade Alta

A Cidade Alta  fica entre rodovias que ligam o Rio a outros estados, como a Washington Luiz (Minas Gerais) e a Via Dutra (São Paulo),  além das principais vias de ligação da cidade: a Avenida Brasil, que liga o centro a Zona Oeste e corta a Zona Norte da cidade, e a Linha Vermelha, principal via de acesso ao Aeroporto internacional Tom Jobim. A localização estratégica é uma das principais razões de disputa pela Cidade Alta.

A cidade saiu do estágio de atenção no início da noite. O dia terminou com dois traficantes mortos e três policiais feridos. Moradores entrevistados por The Intercept Brasil acreditam que as prisões de hoje não serão suficientes para dar fim à disputa. “Ficamos um tempo sem confrontos, mas sempre com medo de algo acontecer. Eles não vão parar”, relata moradora.

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Private Prison Corporation Wrote Texas Bill Extending How Long Immigrant Children Can Be Detained

2 May 2017 - 3:52pm

A bill written by a private prison operator to assist their immigration detention business could advance through the Texas state Senate this week, despite vocal protest from civil rights groups. The legislation would allow family detention centers to be classified as childcare facilities, enabling Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to detain women and children for longer periods.

The bill aligns with the Trump administration’s punitive immigration policies, and helps them navigate a challenge to federal detention policy.

During the migrant influx of 2014, the Obama administration contracted the construction of two giant family detention centers in south Texas — one for each of America’s biggest private prison companies – to hold women and children seeking asylum. CoreCivic runs the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, and the Geo Group manages the Karnes County Residential Center.

However, because of multiple judicial rulings dating back to 1997, no undocumented child can be held for over 20 days in anything but a licensed “non-secure” childcare facility.

Almost nothing about these detention centers meets that definition. Grassroots groups have given them the grim nickname “baby jails,” and a survivor of a WWII-era Japanese internment camps said the facilities “triggered distressing associations of my own experience as a child.” Reports of inadequate medical care, sexual abuse, improper solitary confinement, and permanently stunted child development proliferate. Most of all, the presence of locks on the doors contradicts the idea of a non-secure facility. “They’re not allowed to leave. That’s jail,” said Mary Small of the Detention Watch Network, a national coalition working on immigration issues.

The Texas Department of Family Protective Services granted the facilities childcare licenses, but last year a state judge blocked the designation. So Geo Group, the nation’s second-largest private prison operator, went to work assembling legislation that would countermand the judicial ruling. The bill would lower state childcare standards for family detention centers, excluding the facilities from regulations such as ones that prohibit housing children and unrelated adults in the same room.

Republican State Rep. John Raney admitted to the Associated Press that Geo Group officials wrote the legislation. “I’ve known the lady who’s their lobbyist for a long time … That’s where the legislation came from,” said Raney. “We don’t make things up. People bring things to us and ask us to help.” There’s companion legislation in the state House and Senate.

A new temporary detention center for immigrants awaits new arrivals on Jan. 3, 2017 in Donna, Texas.

Photo: John Moore/Getty Images

If the bill, which cleared a Senate subcommittee last week, passes, women and children could be held at Karnes or Dilley indefinitely while awaiting deportation. Without the bill, the facilities would likely have to shut down, said the bill’s Senate sponsor, Bryan Hughes. The Karnes facility earns about $55 million per year for the Geo Group. But in part because of the standing judicial order, the population is only about 100 in an 830-bed facility.

Grassroots Leadership, the immigrant rights group whose lawsuit successfully blocked the childcare order last year, is urging Texas legislators to vote down the bill. It was initially supposed to come up in the Senate yesterday, but has been delayed.

Because Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly has promised that families caught in border crossings would not be separated, keeping these detention centers open and available for long stays is crucial to the Trump administration’s deportation strategy. Advocates would rather asylum seekers be released while they await trial, rather than be forced into confinement.

Geo Group has a lot riding on expanding immigration detention. They run the federal case management system for family detention, and have committed significant resources to adult detention facilities, which don’t house women or children. The Trump administration just granted Geo Group a $110 million contract to build a 1,000-bed detention facility in Conroe, a small town outside of Houston. The mayor of Conroe, already home to a 1,500-bed Geo Group facility, didn’t know about the new contract until he read about it in press reports.

Geo Group made what appears to be an illegal $225,000 donation to a Trump-supporting Super PAC during the 2016 presidential election. Government contractors are barred from political donations of this type. The company also spends heavily in Texas, including $320,000 to lobby the state legislature in the first four months of this year.

Immigrant rights demonstrators in Texas also occupied the state capitol on May Day, opposing a separate bill that would bar so-called “sanctuary cities” in the state.

Top photo: Detained immigrant children line up in the cafeteria at the Karnes County Residential Center, a temporary home for immigrant women and children detained at the border, in Karnes City, Texas, on Sept. 10, 2014.

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NYPD Refuses to Disclose Information About Its Face Recognition Program, So Privacy Researchers Are Suing

2 May 2017 - 1:36pm

Researchers at Georgetown University law school filed a Freedom of Information lawsuit against the New York City Police Department today for the agency’s refusal to disclose documents about its longstanding use of face recognition technology. The NYPD’s face recognition system, which has operated in the department’s Real Time Crime Center since at least 2011, allows officers to identify a suspect by searching against databases of stored facial photos.

Records pertaining to the NYPD’s program were requested in January 2016 by researchers at Georgetown Law’s Center on Privacy and Technology as part of The Perpetual Line-Up, a year-long study on law enforcement uses of facial recognition technology. After receiving public records from more than 90 agencies across the country, the study found that one in every two American adults is enrolled in a criminal face recognition network and that “few agencies have instituted meaningful protections to prevent the misuse of the technology.”

Despite the fact that numerous agencies disclosed similar information about policies, procedures, training, audits, contracts, and agreements relating to their use of facial recognition technology, the NYPD determined in January 2017 that it was unable to find any records responsive to the Center’s detailed records requests.

Instead, the NYPD sent the researchers a single memo outlining how officers should use the results of a facial recognition search, which confirms that the department has a specific unit, staffed with analysts, actively conducting facial recognition searches. The department also acknowledged that it located records relating to the purchase of facial recognition technology, but it denied access to those records in their entirety, according to the lawsuit filed today.

Clare Garvie, one of the co-authors of Georgetown’s report and an expert on face recognition technology, described the NYPD’s lack of transparency as a “very worrying prospect” given the technology’s potential for invasive surveillance, including in real time. Georgetown’s research, among others, has shown that the technology can make mistakes, meaning that innocent people may be investigated and charged for crimes they did not commit. In 2015, a spokesperson for the NYPD that the technology had “misidentified” five people.

No federal laws currently regulate law enforcement’s use of face recognition systems. Because the NYPD’s own policies, manuals, and documents are “the only controls” on its own system, their disclosure is in the public interest, Garvie explained.

“If no records exist, that means that there are no controls on the use of face recognition technology and we ought to worry about that. If there are records, then why did the Police Department say that it couldn’t find them?” said David Vladeck, a member of Georgetown’s law faculty, in a press release.

Publicly available information has repeatedly indicated not only that the department’s program exists, but that corresponding documentation exists as well. The department’s own personnel have boasted of the program’s specific statistics to media, international experts have published on the department’s practices, LinkedIn profiles explicitly describe employee training protocols, and two of the agency’s vendors have revealed that they supply the NYPD. For instance, a document disclosed to Georgetown researchers by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department revealed that the vendor DataWorks Plus also provides “a fully integrated facial recognition solution for the New York City Police Department … for over 2 million records and 12,000 web users.” All of these descriptions, the lawsuit contends, suggest the presence of records responsive to the Georgetown Center’s request.

“We have no idea whether a certain legal standard is required prior to a face recognition search, or if it is used to investigate certain crimes,” Garvie said. “We similarly have no idea what databases are searched — who is in the NYPD’s perpetual lineup; what level of training the analysts conducting the searches receive; whether there are any quality controls on the images submitted for search.”

The NYPD’s secrecy is especially concerning given that the department is currently in the process of expanding its face recognition program. In October, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced plans to use face recognition technology to identify up to 80,000 drivers traveling in and out of New York City daily: “At structurally sensitive points on bridges and tunnels, advanced cameras and sensors will be installed to read license plates and test emerging facial recognition software and equipment.”

While experts like Garvie concede that the technology can greatly benefit police investigations, they are concerned that New York City’s latest expansion is being rolled out, like the rest of the department’s face recognition system without oversight, accuracy testing, or public debate.

The NYPD did not respond to a request for comment.

Top photo: A security camera is mounted on the side of a building overlooking an intersection in midtown Manhattan, on July 31, 2013.

The post NYPD Refuses to Disclose Information About Its Face Recognition Program, So Privacy Researchers Are Suing appeared first on The Intercept.

Trump’s Support and Praise of Despots is Central to the U.S. Tradition, Not a Deviation From it

2 May 2017 - 1:13pm

Since at least the end of World War II, supporting the world’s worst despots has been a central plank of U.S. foreign policy, arguably its defining attribute. The list of U.S.-supported tyrants is too long to count, but the strategic rationale has been consistent: in a world where anti-American sentiment is prevalent, democracy often produces leaders who impede rather than serve U.S. interests.

Imposing or propping up dictators subservient to the U.S. has long been, and continues to be, the preferred means for U.S. policy makers to ensure that those inconvenient popular beliefs are suppressed. None of this is remotely controversial or even debatable. U.S. support for tyrants has largely been conducted out in the open, and has been expressly defended and affirmed for decades by the most mainstream and influential U.S. policy experts and media outlets.

The foreign policy guru most beloved and respected in Washington, Henry Kissinger, built his career on embracing and propping up the most savage tyrants because of their obeisance to U.S. objectives. Among the statesman’s highlights, as Greg Grandin documented, he “pumped up Pakistan’s ISI, and encouraged it to use political Islam to destabilize Afghanistan”; “began the U.S.’s arms-for-petrodollars dependency with Saudi Arabia and pre-revolutionary Iran”; and “supported coups and death squads throughout Latin America.” Kissinger congratulated Argentina’s military junta for the mass killings it carried out, and aggressively enabled the genocide by one of the 20th Century’s worst monsters, the Indonesian dictator and close U.S. ally Suharto.

Jeane Kirkpatrick, the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. under President Reagan, was regarded as a top-flight conservative intellectual because of her explicit defense of pro-western, right-wing dictators, heaping praise on U.S.-supported savage oppressors such as the Shah of Iran and Nicaragua’s military dictator Anastasio Somoza on the ground that “they were positively friendly to the U.S., sending their sons and others to be educated in our universities, voting with us in the United Nations, and regularly supporting American interests and positions even when these entailed personal and political cost.” Unsurprisingly, U.S. foreign policy in the Reagan years, like the decades that preceded and followed it, was defined by economic, military and diplomatic support for pro-U.S. dictators, death squads, and even terrorists.

Leading U.S. media outlets have long openly celebrated this pro-dictator stance. Upon the 2006 death of Augusto Pinochet – the military dictator imposed on Chile by the U.S. after it overthrew that country’s democratically elected left-wing president – the Washington Post Editorial Page heaped praise on both Kirkpatrick and Pinochet. While conceding that the Chilean tyrant was “brutal: More than 3,000 people were killed by his government and tens of thousands tortured,” the Post hailed “the free-market policies that produced the Chilean economic miracle,” concluding that like Pinochet, “Kirkpatrick, too, was vilified by the left. Yet by now it should be obvious: She was right.”

When a right-wing coup in 2002 temporarily succeeded in removing Venezuela’s elected left-wing President, Hugo Chávez, the New York Times editorial page cast it as a victory for democracy: “With yesterday’s resignation of President Hugo Chávez, Venezuelan democracy is no longer threatened by a would-be dictator. Mr. Chávez, a ruinous demagogue, stepped down after the military intervened and handed power to a respected business leader.”

[As I documented several years ago: In the same editorial, the Times announced that Chávez’s “removal was a purely Venezuelan affair,” even though it was quickly and predictably thereafter revealed that neocon officials in the Bush administration played a vital role. Eleven years later, upon Chávez’s death, the Times editors admitted that “the Bush administration badly damaged Washington’s reputation throughout Latin America when it unwisely blessed a failed 2002 military coup attempt against Mr. Chávez,” though the paper failed to note that it had not only denied that this happened but had itself celebrated that coup].

In 1977, Jimmy Carter attended a State Dinner in Tehran for the Shah of Iran, the savage U.S.-supported despot that ruled that country for decades after the CIA overthrew its democratically elected leader. It took place shortly after Carter hosted the Shah at the White House. The U.S. President hailed the Iranian tyrant with a long toast, that began this way:

THE PRESIDENT. Your Majesties and distinguished leaders of Iran from all walks of life:

I would like to say just a few words tonight in appreciation for your hospitality and the delightful evening that we’ve already experienced with you. Some have asked why we came to Iran so close behind the delightful visit that we received from the Shah and Empress Farah just a month or so ago. After they left our country, I asked my wife, “With whom would you like to spend New Year’s Eve?” And she said, “Above all others, I think, with the Shah and Empress Farah.” So we arranged the trip accordingly and came to be with you.

As Carter spoke, his praise for the homicidal Iranian despot became more flowery and obsequious: “Iran, because of the great leadership of the Shah, is an island of stability in one of the more troubled areas of the world. This is a great tribute to you, Your Majesty, and to your leadership and to the respect and the admiration and love which your people give to you.” Two years later, those same people whom Carter claimed revered the Shah overthrew him and, to this day, loathe the U.S. because of the decades of support and praise they heaped on their dictator.

U.S. devotion to the world’s worst dictators did not end, or even recede, upon the end of the Cold War. Both the Bush and Obama administrations continually armed, funded, supported and praised the world’s worst dictators.

In 2009, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton actually said of the murderous Egyptian dictator supported by the U.S.: “I really consider President and Mrs. Mubarak to be friends of my family.” When Egypt’s defense minister, Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi, overthrew that country’s first elected government, Clinton’s successor, John Kerry, hailed him for “restoring democracy,” and as Sisi became more brutal and repressive, the Obama administration lavished him with more weapons and money. The U.S. Government did the same for the human-rights abusing dictators in Bahrain.

The U.S. gave at least tacit approval, if not outright encouragement, to the 2009 military coup against Honduras’ elected left-wing government. The Clinton-led State Department then repeatedly denied abundant evidence that the coup government it was supporting was engaging in an assassination program of critics and anti-government activists. Last year, the Washington Post’s Karen Attiah examined “how [Clinton’s] State Department’s role in undemocratic regime changes has contributed to violence and political instability in Honduras and Haiti today,” particularly documenting the various steps Secretary Clinton took to protect the military leaders who engineered the Honduran coup.

And then there is Saudi Arabia, long one of the most repressive regimes on the planet and one of the U.S.’s most cherished allies. U.S. devotion to the Saudi tyrants by itself negates virtually every plank of U.S. propaganda about spreading freedom and democracy, given that one administration after the next has worked tirelessly to maintain and strengthen that regime.

Obama, like Bush before him, repeatedly hosted Saudi despots at the White House. When the monstrous Saudi King died in 2015, Obama terminated his state visit to India in order to fly to Ryaidh to pay homage to the close U.S. partner, where he was joined by a bipartisan cast of U.S. political stars. As the Guardian put it: “Obama has been forced to defend his unwillingness to challenge Saudi Arabia’s autocratic rulers as he led a US delegation to shore up relations with its new king, just hours after lecturing India on religious tolerance and women’s rights.”

Upon the Saudi King’s death, Obama said of a despot who killed and imprisoned dissidents: “At home, King Abdullah’s vision was dedicated to the education of his people and to greater engagement with the world.” Obama’s gestures of admiration were mild when compared to those of the U.K. Government, which ordered all flags be flown at half-mast to honor the deceased monarch, but Obama was not remotely shy about publicly lavishing the Saudi regime with praise.

In sum, the post-World-War-II foreign policy of the U.S. – independent of its own massive human rights violations committed over and over around the world – has been predicated on overthrowing democratically elected governments and, even more so, supporting, aligning with and propping up brutal dictators. This policy has been applied all over the world, on multiple continents and by every administration. It is impossible to understand even the most basic aspects of the U.S. role in the world without knowing that.

 

All of this history is now being erased and whitewashed, replaced with jingoistic fairy tales, by the U.S. media and leading political officials. Despite these decades of flagrant pro-dictatorship policies, the U.S. media and leading political officials have spent months manufacturing and disseminating a propagandistic fairy tale that casts Donald Trump’s embrace of dictators as some sort of new, aberrational departure from the noble American tradition.

They have repeatedly claimed that the pre-Trump U.S. was devoted to supporting and spreading democracy around the world, while condemning and opposing tyranny. This is rank revisionism of the worst kind: jingoistic propaganda that should shame anyone endorsing it.

Like U.S. support for dictators, these recent bouts of propaganda are too numerous to comprehensively chronicle. Some of the more influential instances will have to suffice.

In February, the New York Times editorial page – writing under the phrase used by Jeane Kirkpatrick to demonize 1984 Democrats as unpatriotic: “Blame America First” – attacked Trump with this propagandistic garbage: “Since taking office, Mr. Trump has shown little support for America’s traditional roles as a champion of universal values like freedom of the press and tolerance.” Imagine what a shock it would be to the people of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Chile, Bahrain, Iran, Argentina, Brazil and the countless other countries which lived under a U.S.-supported dictator to hear about “America’s traditional roles as a champion of universal values like freedom of the press and tolerance.”

Perhaps the worst example yet came yesterday in a Washington Post article by its White House Bureau Chief Philip Rucker, who made this claim: “Every American president since at least the 1970s has used his office to champion human rights and democratic values around the world.” He added: “In an undeniable shift in American foreign policy, Trump is cultivating authoritarian leaders.”

Cultivating authoritarian leaders is everything except a “shift in American foreign policy.” Nonetheless, this propagandistic lie has now become commonplace among über-patriotic journalists eager to tell the world that the U.S., before Trump, has been devoted to liberating the oppressed peoples of the world from tyranny. Here’s the New York Times’ political reporter Maggie Haberman – in a widely shared tweet – endorsing these jingoistic falsehoods from Rucker:

Trump, fundamentally uninterested in spreading small-d democracy in dramatic break w predecessors. @PhilipRucker https://t.co/5jqHwJiBBz

— Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) May 1, 2017

How can someone possibly be a journalist and believe that Trump’s being “uninterested in spreading small-d democracy” is a “dramatic break” from his predecessors? Yet this is now standard fare for the U.S. media, as evidenced by this segment from CNN this morning pronouncing Trump’s praise of rogue leaders to be “a sharp U.S. policy shift.”

CNN took a policy that has been standard U.S. posture for decades and told its viewers that it represented “a sharp U.S. policy shift.”

One would be remiss to omit this blatantly false propaganda from one of the Democrats’ most beloved members of Congress, Rep. Adam Schiff, who – in a predictably viral tweet – yesterday chided Trump for inviting to the White House the mass murdering ruler of the Philippines and thus defacing noble U.S. traditions:

There was a time when the U.S. condemned extrajudicial killings, not rewarded them with WH visit. That time was 103 days ago. https://t.co/gCa0BL6kNx

— Adam Schiff (@RepAdamSchiff) May 1, 2017

Aside from the fact that the U.S. has spent decades supporting tyrants and despots whose calling card is “extrajudicial killings” – including many who were feted at the White House – the central War on Terror approach of the Obama presidency was exactly that. For years, Obama bombed multiple Muslim countries in order to kill people – including his own citizens – who his administration suspected, but never proved, had connections to terrorism. In other words, he killed thousands of people extrajudicially. It takes a special kind of propagandist to claim that this is a new Trumpian innovation.

 

What’s really going on here is self-evident. Nobody remotely rational, nobody with even a fleeting understanding of U.S. history, believes that the U.S. only began supporting and heaping praise on dictators upon Trump’s inauguration. Responding to criticisms, the Post yesterday edited Rucker’s patriotic tribute to the U.S. by adding the italicized words: “Every American president since at least the 1970s has used his office at least occasionally to champion human rights and democratic values around the world.”

But that claim is still false. Can anyone possibly believe that – even when U.S. leaders paid lip service to human rights improvements – there was anything remotely genuine about it? Condemning human rights abuses is an instrument that the U.S. cynically uses to punish adversaries. And they admit this when being candid, as this extraordinary passage from a 2013 Washington Post article revealed:

Human-rights groups have also accused the U.S. government of holding its tongue about political repression in Ethiopia, another key security partner in East Africa.

“The countries that cooperate with us get at least a free pass,” acknowledged a senior U.S. official who specializes in Africa but spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid retribution. “Whereas other countries that don’t cooperate, we ream them as best we can.”

The Post article went on to note that the Bush administration “took the same approach,” and that while “many U.S. diplomats and human-rights groups had hoped Obama would shift his emphasis in Africa from security to democracy … that has not happened.” In fact, “’There’s pretty much been no change at all,’ the official said. ‘In the end, it was an almost seamless transition from Bush to Obama.’”

That’s how the U.S. uses human rights advocacy: as a weapon to “ream” uncooperative countries to punish them for their disobedience. For regimes that “cooperate” with U.S. dictates, they get “at least a free pass” to abuse human rights as extensively as they want, if not outright support and funding for doing so.

What’s really infuriating those attacking Trump for doing what the U.S. government has been doing for decades – supporting and praising heinous tyrants – is that he’s denying them the ability to maintain the myths they desperately tell themselves about their own country. Being able to claim that the U.S. is devoted to spreading freedom and democracy in the world is central to their internal monologue. From the Washington Post newsroom to the corridors of the State Department, this is the fairy tale that they tell themselves every day in order to justify their position as global arbiters of the behavior of other countries.

Once that veneer is removed, once that fairy tale is dispensed with, then the harsh reality stands nakedly exposed: what they are defending is nothing more than the illegitimate and arbitrary exercise of imperial power. The loss of this fiction imperils their entire moral framework. They aren’t angry that Trump is hugging dictators, obviously. All the other presidents whom they revere did the same. It goes without saying that a political culture that admires Henry Kissinger has no objection whatsoever to embracing tyrants.

They are furious that Trump isn’t as effective or as willing to pretend that he’s not doing this. That means they can no longer pretend that the violence, the wars, the coercion, the interference, the dictator-support that they routinely condone has a moral purpose to it.

The reality is that even the fiction, the pretense, of the U.S. as some sort of defender of human rights and democracy is being wildly overstated. As the above examples (and so many others) demonstrate, U.S. officials, including U.S. Presidents, have openly feted and praised despots at least as monstrous as Duterte.

Just as it’s comforting to believe that Trump is the by-product of a foreign villain rather than an American phenomenon, it’s also comforting to believe that his embrace of despots is some sort of novelty. But, especially for journalists, the fact that it feels good to believe a myth does not justify disseminating it.

Watching the U.S. media tell everyone that Trump’s predecessors were devoted to spreading democracy, and that supporting tyrants is a “dramatic break” from the U.S. tradition, is such an obvious break from reality that it is staggering to see, even for those who already view the U.S. media as principally devoted to spreading patriotic state propaganda about the U.S. Government.

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Le Pen Aides Claim Lifting Words From Defeated Rival’s Speech Is Not Plagiarism

2 May 2017 - 11:13am

The morning after Marine Le Pen was caught using stirring language in an address to supporters that was copied straight from a speech given two weeks ago by François Fillon, a defeated rival, her campaign aides claimed that the uncredited “reprise” was not plagiarism but a form of tribute to the eliminated candidate’s ideas about French identity.

Florian Philippot, the deputy leader of Le Pen’s National Front, said in a radio interview that the candidate had recited whole passages, copied word for word from Fillon’s April 15 speech, at her May Day rally in Paris because she wanted to “launch a real debate” about what it means to be French.

The lifted passages — including poetic references to the borders of France that both the center-right Fillon and the far-right Le Pen pledged to reclaim from the European Union and fortify against Muslim immigrants — were edited into a side-by-side comparison by Ridicule TV, which is run by Fillon supporters. (It is not necessary to understand French to hear how precise the copying was.)

Pour parler de la France, Marine Le Pen est obligée de plagier MOT POUR MOT un discours de Fillon … ? #Imposture pic.twitter.com/BasTJsgLWf

— Ridicule TV (@RidiculeTV) May 1, 2017

In a series of interviews on Tuesday morning, Le Pen aides echoed the words of her campaign manager, David Rachline, who said that the “borrowed” language was a way of nodding in the direction of Fillon’s voters, who “appreciated” and understood the reference.

That was certainly true for the nationalist writer Paul-Marie Coûteaux, who told the French newspaper Le Monde that the original speech was based on notes he had provided to Fillon. Coûteaux pronounced himself thrilled to hear his words used again by Le Pen, whose candidacy he now supports.

Following his elimination in the first round of France’s presidential elections last month, Fillon had urged his supporters to vote against Le Pen and for Emmanuel Macron, the former economy minister, in order to block the extreme right from power.

Le Pen’s attempt to rally supporters of the defeated mainstream conservative candidate around her comes as her aides are also doing their utmost to suppress turnout in the run-off among the 7 million French leftists who voted for Jean-Luc Mélenchon, a candidate of the far left who was also narrowly eliminated in the first round.

As Nicholas Vinocur reports for Politico, Le Pen campaign strategists no longer hope to win over many Mélenchon supporters after the defeated candidate explicitly urged his voters not to support the National Front. “Do not make the terrible mistake of putting a vote for the National Front into the ballot box,” Mélenchon said in a television interview on Sunday, “because you will be pushing the country toward an inferno that could lead anywhere.”

Still, inspired by efforts from the Trump campaign to drive down turnout among disaffected Bernie Sanders supporters, Le Pen aides told Vinocur that they are going all out to encourage Mélenchon’s anti-capitalist supporters to abstain or cast a blank protest ballot instead of voting for Macron, a former banker.

To counter that effort, Macron has taken every opportunity to remind voters that Le Pen, whose campaign posters do not feature her last name, is the leader of an extremist party founded by her anti-Semitic father that still harbors neo-Nazis. Further evidence of that emerged on Tuesday in the form of an investigation by the French news site Rue 89, which revealed that a young National Front photographer who often accompanies Le Pen on the campaign trail is an active member of Facebook groups dedicated to praising Nazi ideology and sharing images of “Aryan beauty” and anti-Semitic jokes.

Décidément, on aime beaucoup le 3e Reich autour de Marine Le Pen… Belle enquête de @nleblevennec @juliettemntlly https://t.co/aZNoGtZJLB

— pierre haski (@pierrehaski) May 2, 2017

As Nabil Wakim of Le Monde noted, Le Pen’s rally was enthusiastically covered by one visiting Trump supporter, the alt-right video blogger Lauren Southern, who also made it clear she shares the candidate’s antipathy for immigrants.

.@MLP_officiel in Paris ?? pic.twitter.com/or8mOb9kB9

— Lauren Southern (@Lauren_Southern) May 1, 2017

I'm playing spot the European in Paris right now. ?? pic.twitter.com/2RQTvsX5jt

— Lauren Southern (@Lauren_Southern) May 1, 2017

Following the rally, Southern filmed clashes between far-left protesters and the police and complained about having been harassed by the demonstrators. “It’s so weird here in Europe — why do they hate the press so much?” Southern asked later in a YouTube account of the unrest. “Why are they after us and not just the police?”

It was left to another video blogger on the scene, Luke Rudkowski, to explain to Southern that she might just have telegraphed her own political views to the protesters by showing up to film them wearing a helmet with a giant “Make America Great Again” sticker on it.

The post Le Pen Aides Claim Lifting Words From Defeated Rival’s Speech Is Not Plagiarism appeared first on The Intercept.

Ensaio: Novo gasoduto invade o frágil ecossistema de Everglades, na Flórida

2 May 2017 - 10:49am

Enquanto a construção do gasoduto Sabal Trail, que vai transportar gás natural para a Flórida, entra em sua etapa final, o governo Trump ameaça acabar com os programas federais de restauração e proteção das águas de Everglades. A nova rede vai levar o gás de uma estação coletora no Alabama para outra na região central da Flórida. De lá, o gasoduto Southeast Connection, que deve ficar pronto em 2019, vai transportar o gás até novas usinas elétricas do sul da Flórida. A região de Everglades será, portanto, o ponto final do longo caminho a ser percorrido pelo gás extraído por fraturamento hidráulico na Pensilvânia.

“Nas horas difíceis, ela era nosso refúgio, nos dava abrigo e comida, nos protegia”, conta a The Intercept Betty Osceola, membro da tribo Miccosukee. “Ela” é a região de Everglades. “Agora é nossa vez de protegê-la. É por isso que nossa tribo está fazendo tudo isso”.

A fotógrafa Rose Marie Cromwell, de Miami, se interessa pelo que chama de “linha tênue entre o político e o espiritual”. Ela fotografou Osceola na reserva indígena de Tamiami Trail, durante o trabalho de levantamento da qualidade da água, que a tribo realiza duas vezes por ano. Cromwell também acompanhou um protesto contra o gasoduto Sabal Trail ao lado de Bobby C. Billie, membro do Council of the Original Miccosukee Simanolee Nation Aboriginal People, grupo indígena que rejeita a apelação federal de tribo.

Betty Osceola participa do levantamento semestral da qualidade das águas de Everglades na reserva de Tamiami Trail, Condado de Miami-Dade, Flórida (12/10/2016).

Foto: Rose Marie Cromwell

No início do século XX, a parte sul da Flórida, que começa logo abaixo de Orlando, ainda era uma região tomada por pântanos tropicais, que a população Miccosukee costumava percorrer de canoa, de uma margem a outra. Após várias invasões por parte do exército americano, muitos membros da tribo Seminole, que, na época, ainda incluía os Miccosukee, foram forçados a se mudar para Oklahoma. Mas um grupo resistiu e se instalou mais ao sul, nas profundezas de Everglades, onde o exército não poderia alcançá-los.

Área de Everglades mais preservada, porém ainda bastante poluída, dentro da reserva indígena de Tamiami Trail.

Foto: Rose Marie Cromwell

Área de Everglades muito devastada.

Foto: Rose Marie Cromwell

No fim das contas, os colonizadores acabaram se instalando na região – e seus descendentes continuam o movimento até hoje. Só no ano passado, a população da Flórida teve um aumento de 367 mil habitantes, ou seja, mais de mil novos moradores por dia. O Corpo de Engenheiros do exército americano construiu um complexo sistema de canais e barragens para drenar o terreno e abrir caminho para a produção de cana-de-açúcar e o loteamento de terras. O Parque Nacional de Everglades foi instituído para preservar uma parcela do ecossistema. Só que a configuração da rede de canais fez com que todo o resíduo fosforoso acabasse sendo escoado para o território Miccosukee, que fica nas imediações do parque. Com isso, ervas daninhas e outras espécies invasoras proliferaram nas águas da tribo, e partes do território se tornaram inabitáveis por conta das frequentes inundações.

Barcos usados por voluntários para realizar o levantamento da qualidade das águas.

Foto: Rose Marie Cromwell

Estudante colhe uma flor durante o levantamento realizado pela tribo Miccosukee.

Foto: Rose Marie Cromwell

Frustrada com a atuação dos governos estadual e federal, a tribo de Osceola decidiu tomar as rédeas da proteção de Everglades. Anos atrás, conseguiram convencer a Agência de Proteção Ambiental (EPA) a atribuir um padrão de qualidade mais alto para as águas dos pântanos. Duas vezes por ano, Osceola põe sua frota de aerobarcos à disposição para o controle de qualidade. Os dados obtidos servem muitas vezes de argumento para combater as persistentes tentativas do governo de reduzir os esforços de restauração hídrica.

No riacho Fort Drum, a margem por onde o gasoduto não vai passar tem a vegetação preservada.

Foto: Rose Marie Cromwell

Trecho do riacho Fort Drum preparado para receber o gasoduto Sabal Trail.

Foto: Rose Marie Cromwell

A desconfiança dos Miccosukee não é à toa. Sob o comando do governador Rick Scott, o estado da Flórida tem reduzido a fiscalização da qualidade da água, mas acelerado a emissão de licenças para empreendimentos. Agora, o governo Trump está propondo diminuir ainda mais o apoio federal a Everglades, acabando, por exemplo, com a South Florida Geographic Initiative, um projeto da EPA para coletar dados sobre os níveis de contaminação por fósforo e mercúrio na região. Em 2012, esses dados embasaram uma grande ação judicial contra o estado da Flórida, que ficou obrigado a pagar 880 milhões de dólares para limitar o escoamento de resíduos agrícolas.

Bobby C. Billie e Shannon Larson guardam o bastão sagrado usado em cerimônias tradicionais no Flager Park, na cidade de Okeechobee.

Foto: Rose Marie Cromwell

Canteiro de obras do gasoduto Sabal Trail, às margens do riacho Fort Drum (15/10/16). 15, 2016.

Foto: Rose Marie Cromwell

Enquanto Osceola e muitos outros continuam o longo trabalho de restauração dos cursos d’água, um movimento itinerante contra o gasoduto de Sabal Trail vem tentando parar o projeto à base de ações jurídicas, acampamentos e manifestações organizadas. O combate ao oleoduto da Dakota Acess deu fôlego à batalha da Flórida. Para abrir caminho para a obra, que está quase pronta, trechos inteiros de florestas exuberantes foram derrubados e muitos cursos d’água, interrompidos.

Para Bobby C. Billie, lutar contra o gasoduto está profundamente ligado à identidade. “Ele entende a destruição do meio-ambiente como uma forma de autodestruição”, explica Cromwell.

À esquerda: Bobby C. Billie nas imediações das obras do gasoduto Sabal Trail. À direita: Betty Osceola participa do controle de qualidade das águas de Everglade na reserva indígena de Tamiami Trail.

Foto: Rose Marie Cromwell

Para Osceola, a batalha para impedir que os resíduos destruam Everglades e a luta contra o gasoduto de Sabal Trail são uma coisa só. No fim das contas, o projeto vai fornecer energia para sustentar as incríveis taxas de crescimento e desenvolvimento do estado, o que, por sua vez, significa mais destruição da região pantanosa. Significa também mais anos de dependência do gás natural, em vez de uma transição para uma política energética sustentável, com alternativas solares e renováveis.

O metano que se desprende da combustão do gás vai piorar o aquecimento e, consequentemente, a elevação do nível do mar na costa da Flórida. A água salgada, que já se infiltra pela terra porosa dos pântanos drenados, vai avançar ainda mais. É a mais nova invasora da ponta sudeste dos Estados Unidos.

Antigo posto avançado de pesca em Tree Islands, na reserva indígena de Tamiami Trail, que se tornou poluído demais para o uso.

Foto: Rose Marie Cromwell

O reverendo Houston R. Cypress, do Otter Clan, colaborou com esta reportagem fotográfica.

Tradução: Carla Camargo Fanha

The post Ensaio: Novo gasoduto invade o frágil ecossistema de Everglades, na Flórida appeared first on The Intercept.

Former Texas Prosecutor Probably Sent Innocent Man to His Death. Now He’s on Trial for Misconduct.

2 May 2017 - 9:57am

The courthouse in Corsicana, Texas, roughly 60 miles southeast of Dallas, has been meticulously restored to its original 1905 glory, a time when the county was awash in oil money. Its main courtroom has soaring, two-story pink walls and gold-flecked architectural details that frame the judge’s bench, witness stand, and jury box. For more than three decades, John Jackson worked this room (though during those years it was a far more utilitarian space), first as a prosecutor with the Navarro County district attorney’s office and later as an elected judge, until his retirement in 2012.

Last week he returned, this time as a defendant, facing charges brought by the State Bar of Texas, whose lawyers argue that Jackson violated basic legal ethics in connection with his conduct in prosecuting the county’s most notorious case, the death penalty trial of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was convicted and ultimately executed for what the state insists was the December 1991 arson-murder of his three young children in the home they shared just over a mile away.

Specifically, the state’s lawyers contend that Jackson made a deal with a jailhouse snitch who agreed to testify against Willingham and then hid that deal from Willingham’s defense attorneys — a clear violation of both law and ethics. They say that Jackson took extraordinary measures over the next two decades to conceal his deceitful actions.

“It is a duty of the prosecution — an ethical obligation — to turn over that evidence,” state bar lawyer Kristin Brady told jurors in her opening arguments last Wednesday afternoon. “For years he protected this snitch; for years. It wasn’t for [the snitch’s] protection, it was for his own protection.”

The prosecution of Willingham has been widely reported and litigated, in part because his conviction was secured on twin pillars of evidence known to wreak havoc in the criminal justice system: junk science and incentivized snitch testimony.

Where the junk science is concerned, there is now little question that the fire that killed Willingham’s children was not arson — caused, as the state claimed, by Willingham spreading lighter fluid around his house and setting it ablaze. Leading fire scientists have weighed in to say that the evidence the Corsicana Fire Department and Texas fire marshal investigator relied upon in fingering Willingham as the cause of the deadly blaze was based on outdated, discredited fire-science folklore.

It is the second basis of the prosecution, however, that underlies Jackson’s current civil disciplinary trial.

In short, lead prosecutor Jackson called a man named Johnny Webb to testify at Willingham’s 1992 trial to say that while he was locked up in the county jail on an aggravated robbery charge, his fellow inmate, Willingham, randomly, and in detail, confessed to Webb his alleged crime. Under questioning by Jackson, Webb asserted that he did not expect any benefit in exchange for his incriminating testimony.

In the years since Willingham’s 2004 execution, significant evidence has come to light indicating that was untrue. Records amassed by the bar association and the Innocence Project — including lengthy correspondence between Jackson and Webb spanning roughly a decade — strongly suggest not only that it was at least implied to Webb that he would receive a reduced sentence for his testimony, but also that Jackson went to great lengths to make that happen. Moreover, Webb now insists that his trial testimony was false and compelled by Jackson.

On the witness stand on April 27, Jackson vehemently denied the allegations.

Lawyers for the bar’s Office of the Chief Disciplinary Counsel have tried to make clear that they are not here to re-litigate the question of Willingham’s guilt or innocence, which they say is irrelevant. The sole issue at hand, they argue, is whether Jackson’s actions as they relate to his dealings with Webb violated legal ethics — so far to seemingly thin effect.

Indeed, where the bar attorneys have toed that straight-line, Joseph Byrne, Jackson’s attorney, has done his best to conflate the issue of Willingham’s guilt with Jackson’s innocence: The bar, he has suggested, is motivated only by an interest in tarring Jackson in order to demonstrate that his client — and the state of Texas — hastened the execution of an innocent man.

John Jackson, the prosecutor in the 1992 trial of Cameron Todd Willingham, poses for a photo in Austin, Texas.

Photo: W. Gardner Selby/AP

The Shoulders of a Jailhouse Snitch

It was roughly 10:30 a.m. on December 23, 1991, when the fire broke out in the five-room wood frame house on West 11th Ave. in Corsicana that Willingham shared with his wife, Stacy, and their three young daughters. The bodies of Willingham’s twin 1-year-old girls were found amid the charred remains of the house. They had perished in the fire. First responders later carried out the 2-year-old, who was still alive. She died at the hospital shortly thereafter, of smoke inhalation.

According to the local newspaper, Willingham was distraught at the scene. Sitting on the back of a fire truck, he was sobbing and screaming, “I want to see my babies!” He was taken to the hospital as well, where he was treated for first- and second-degree burns on his face, back, and hands, according to the Corsicana Daily Sun. At the time of the fire, Stacy was picking out Christmas presents for the kids at the local Salvation Army.

The heartbreaking tragedy brought a groundswell of local support. Firefighters and cops pledged to help the family make it through the holiday season. But the goodwill quickly disappeared. On January 8, 1992, Willingham was arrested, booked into jail, and charged with three counts of murder.

In the 16 days between the fire and Willingham’s arrest, things had changed significantly, primarily because of the assessment of the fire marshal investigator, Manuel Vasquez. According to Vasquez, there were telltale signs — among them, burn marks on the floor and so-called crazed glass — telling him this was no innocent blaze.

Meanwhile, witnesses at the scene — and people who observed Willingham in the days just after the fire — concluded that he wasn’t appropriately distraught and was seemingly unconcerned about what had happened. The elected district attorney announced that his office would seek death for the 23-year-old father.

After a two-day trial led by Jackson that summer, Willingham was found guilty and sent to death row. He was executed in February 2004, despite serious questions about the validity of the fire science that sent him there. In the intervening years, a number of experts reviewed the case, concluding that there was no evidence of arson. Instead, experts suggest the fire was more likely caused by a space heater or faulty wiring. In the absence of evidence of arson, the integrity of Willingham’s conviction rested squarely on the shoulders of a jailhouse snitch.

In the spring of 1992, Johnny Webb had just pleaded guilty to a charge of aggravated robbery; according to the plea, Webb had tried to rob a woman of her purse at knifepoint.

While he was awaiting transfer to prison, Webb met Willingham, who had been arrested and charged with murder roughly two months before. Webb was a jail trusty at the time, meaning he was allowed more freedom than a typical inmate and was tasked with daily chores — in this case, keeping the floors in the common area of the cellblock clean. That put him in daily contact with any number of inmates, including Willingham.

According to Webb’s account at Willingham’s trial, for the first month that Webb was around him, Willingham didn’t say much — only that he was having a difficult time sleeping and that he did not kill his children. One day that changed: Out of nowhere, Webb said Willingham confessed that he had set the fire in order to kill the kids — or, rather, to ensure that the authorities wouldn’t find out that one of them had been grievously injured, presumably by his wife Stacy, earlier that morning. Webb said that Willingham came home to find one of the children injured and set the fire to cover the abuse.

There was immediate reason to be suspicious of Webb’s account: None of the children showed any signs of abuse and Stacy wasn’t even at home when the fire broke out. There was but one detail in Webb’s story that dovetailed with the state’s theory of the case, the notion that Willingham had used an accelerant to start the blaze.

Under Jackson’s questioning, Webb testified that he was not coaxed by anyone to provide this story about Willingham nor promised anything in return for his testimony in the case. “As a matter of fact, I told you there is nothing I can do for you,” Jackson followed up.

“You said there was nothing that no one can do for me,” Webb affirmed.

A letter from John Jackson to Johnny Webb.

Document: Jackson complaint appendices

The Pivotal Witness Recants

Sitting nervously on a wooden bench outside the courtroom on the opening day of Jackson’s trial was Webb, a slight 47-year-old man with piercing eyes and a thinning wash of light-colored hair. Decades of drug use and repeated incarceration have done little to curb his youthful appearance. Still, he looked wary, repeatedly working his hands together as if at any moment he might need to flee.

As it turns out, Houston District Judge David Farr, the visiting judge tasked with overseeing Jackson’s trial, had ordered Webb to check in with him at the courthouse every morning at 8:30 until he was called as a witness. The purpose, Farr noted to the lawyers before the trial started, was to ensure that if Webb did get a hankering to flee before testifying, he wouldn’t be more than 24 hours ahead of the law that would find him and bring him back.

Certainly, there are plenty of reasons for Webb to be nervous, not least of which is that he has told many stories over the years — and not only about what Willingham supposedly told him back in 1992.

On that point alone, Webb first said that Willingham confessed; then, shortly after allegedly relating that story to Jackson but before testifying at Willingham’s trial, he supposedly called the FBI from the jail to say that he was going to be forced by the state to testify about something — Willingham’s confession — that never happened. When the FBI showed up, Webb allegedly turned them away, saying he’d never made the call in question. He then testified at the August 1992 trial and said he was given no deal in exchange for doing so.

Once shipped off to prison, Webb engaged in extensive correspondence with Jackson, imploring the prosecutor — who took the bench as the county’s district judge in January 1997 — to do something to ease his time in prison. Beginning in October 1992 — less than two months after Willingham was convicted and just after Webb testified a second time, at a hearing where Willingham unsuccessfully sought a new trial — Jackson did just that, according to attorneys for the state bar.

Jackson wrote numerous letters — to prison officials, to the Board of Pardons and Paroles, and even to Gov. Rick Perry — where he lauded Webb’s role in the Willingham case. He told prison officials that Webb was a “pivotal” witness. In court last week, Jackson testified that he didn’t really think Webb was all that important but said otherwise in the hope that it would get favorable attention from authorities.

Eventually, Jackson tried to get Webb out of prison by retroactively changing his aggravated robbery charge to a charge of simple robbery, which would reduce Webb’s 15-year sentence and make him immediately eligible for parole. He was ultimately successful, availing himself of a legal process reserved for correcting purely clerical issues arising from a legal judgment.

According to Jackson, there was a legitimate issue in his mind about what charge Webb had actually pleaded guilty to back in 1992, and he was simply trying to resolve the discrepancy. Reducing Webb’s charge would be a matter of “justice,” Jackson intimated during testimony last week.

The problem, however, is that there’s no doubt Webb was charged with and pleaded guilty to aggravated robbery — something Jackson should know since he not only represented the state at Webb’s plea hearing back in 1992, but also questioned Webb about his conviction during Willingham’s trial — making his use of this particular process highly improper, according to the bar.

Ultimately, Jackson testified that he was trying to assist Webb and was “hoping I’d be able to find a way” to do it. But it wasn’t because he had any deal with Webb, he insisted, though he did say that “I guess it’s possible” that he had told Webb he would try to reduce his charge.

Jackson said his true motivation for helping Webb was to ensure his safety in prison. As a snitch, he would be a potential target of violence, and Jackson felt he was obligated to protect his witness. Letters from Webb described being abused by members of the Aryan Brotherhood prison gang, which particularly despised snitches and allegedly had ties to Willingham’s half-brother, who was serving a life sentence for murder. “It was a special case and I tried to do everything I could to prevent violence against Johnny Webb,” Jackson testified.

Importantly, though, Jackson never alerted Willingham’s attorneys to any of the actions he took over the years to aid the snitch.

The house in Corsicana, Texas, shown Sept. 9, 2009, where Cameron Todd Willingham’s three children died in a December 1991 fire.

Photo: Mike Graczyk/AP

Trial and Tribalism

By 8 a.m. on April 26, the day Jackson’s trial commenced, the Corsicana courthouse was crawling with security — including cops in army green flak jackets patrolling the exterior and interior of the building. One deputy said the extra show of force was deemed necessary simply because of the high-profile nature of the case. Others have intimated it was because of possible threats, presumably to Jackson and/or Webb, by members of the Aryan Brotherhood, allegedly hostile to the state’s case against Willingham.

The county’s law enforcement machine was ready for any eventuality — and regardless of whether the threats were legitimate, it made for a significant show of force for the jurors required to march in and out of the courtroom past the armed officers.

Byrne, Jackson’s attorney, played the security to good effect. In asking Jackson about other actions he took to help Webb — notably, issuing two bench warrants to bring Webb back to the county jail to serve out part of his sentence — he gestured to the deputies in the courtroom. Of course Jackson would want to bring the vulnerable Webb back to the county where he would be guarded by sheriff’s employees, people Jackson trusted, who worked every day to keep residents of the county safe — including, he noted, the jurors currently sitting in judgment. Jackson, now 66, who has slightly stooped shoulders, a lispy Texas drawl, and a face that rests in a half-smile, nodded knowingly.

Much of Byrne’s trial strategy seemed to be based in this kind of tribalism: Jackson worked to keep the county safe from child murderers such as Willingham and bent over backward to help a troubled young man, Johnny Webb, who helped to put a monster in prison. Why would such a man do anything unethical or illegal to make that happen?

Byrne spent much of his opening argument focused on the years of litigation in the Willingham case — at one point even suggesting that current fire science is actually unreliable, bought and paid for by out-of-state forces like the Innocence Project (which filed the initial ethics complaint with the bar in 2014 on behalf of Willingham’s relatives), whereas the investigation that fingered Willingham for murder was solid. The message was clear: Outside forces are using the state bar and its trumped-up ethics charge to try to bring down a good man.

Indeed, Byrne has worked hard to get Judge Farr to allow into evidence as much of the grisly detail of the children’s deaths and negative evidence regarding Willingham’s character as possible, much to the consternation of bar lawyer Kristin Brady, who was clearly exasperated by Byrne’s histrionics. Almost all of the trial’s third day was spent with the lawyers arguing this issue outside the presence of the jury, whose 15 members spent the day cooling their heels.

The details are necessary to show how strong a case Jackson had against Willingham, Byrne argued — so strong that he didn’t even need to call Webb as a witness, let alone make and then conceal a deal with him. But the case details aren’t “relevant to anything,” Brady argued, “because [Jackson] still used Webb.” The grim details would serve only to prejudice the jury.

Byrne later retorted, “I hope it’s prejudicial.”

But Byrne’s approach obfuscates one of the core missions of the Texas State Bar: to police its members, enforcing basic ethical principles that are key to safeguarding the public from deceitful attorneys.

Since 2011, the bar has sought sanctions — which range from public reprimand all the way up to disbarment — against more than 2,000 attorneys. Since 2013, it has had roughly 10 cases against prosecutors that ended in sanctions — including two notable examples.

In 2015, former District Attorney Charles Sebesta was disbarred for withholding evidence from attorneys working to defend a man named Anthony Graves, who spent 18 years in prison, 12 of them on death row, before finally being exonerated. (Graves was friends with Willingham during the years that both of them were on the row.) And in 2013, a former DA and elected judge, Ken Anderson, was forced to give up his law license after he agreed to plead guilty to prosecutorial misconduct for his role in the wrongful conviction of Michael Morton. (Anderson was also sentenced to 10 days in jail.) Morton spent 25 years in prison for the murder of his wife before DNA evidence linked her killing to another man. Anderson, like Sebesta, also hid exculpatory evidence from Morton’s attorneys — the action Jackson now stands accused of in the Willingham case.

That Jackson’s trial is happening in public, his fate in the hands of a common jury, is something of an anomaly. Lawyers charged with ethical infractions are given a choice of how they want to proceed. They can have their case heard in District Court, as Jackson has opted, or considered in private by a panel made up largely of other attorneys. Since 2013, just three prosecutors have chosen the public option.

There is clearly a calculus involved in the decision. “Getting in front of a panel is quicker, but if you feel like you’re not going to do well there, you take it to trial court,” Houston criminal defense attorney John Floyd told the Corsicana Daily Sun. It would seem Jackson chose wisely; Byrne’s attempts to retry the Willingham case are likely an easier lift in front of a jury than before a panel of lawyers.

Johnny Webb, posing in his mother’s back yard, on July 23, 2014, in Corsicana, Texas.

Photo: Michel du Cille/The Washington Post/Getty Images

“I Thought I Could Change Things”

On a breezy Tuesday morning before the trial began, I went in search of Johnny Webb. I’d read all about the various stories he’d offered regarding his testimony against Willingham, and about his alleged deal with Jackson, and I wanted to see if I could find the truth.

In some of his correspondence with Jackson, Webb complained that he was being bullied into recanting his trial testimony. In one letter, he wrote that members of the Aryan Brotherhood had put out a hit on him and the only way to save his life would be to recant his statements. In another letter, he wrote that he’d been “ambushed” in prison by two journalists. Webb wrote that the reporters said he and Jackson together had “murdered” Willingham. He said he told them only what Willingham had told him, “and I sure didn’t lie.”

Webb has also said that Jackson coerced him into concocting a false story about Willingham in order to secure a conviction. That narrative started in 1992 and has resurfaced over the years, including in two interviews that attorneys working with the Innocence Project conducted in 2014.

“He said, well, let’s go over [what] I think needs to happen,” Webb recalled of his conversation with Jackson. “He says I’ve got this guy Willingham who did this. We know he did it. We know he’s guilty. We just can’t prove it.” In exchange for his help, Webb said Jackson told him that his robbery case would disappear. “He says, even if you’re convicted now, I can get it off of you later. And a matter of fact, he did try.”

In depositions taken in anticipation of Jackson’s trial, Webb apparently reiterated his claim of coercion, admitting that he’d perjured himself at Willingham’s trial — a crime for which Webb could still be prosecuted.

It was late morning by the time I parked across the street from the house I would later find out belongs to Webb’s mom. The crumbing bungalow had seen better days. A broken windowpane was haphazardly covered from the inside. A sign on a screen door warned that because of the rise in the price of ammo, there would be no warning shot. Two cats slept on the porch next to a half-eaten bowl of kibble. No one answered the door. As I turned to walk back to the car, I spotted a man across the street smoking a cigarette and watching me. I recognized him. “Are you Johnny Webb?” I called out. “I don’t know,” he said. “Am I?”

Indeed, he was. I introduced myself as a reporter and he recoiled, looking at me suspiciously. “I can’t give any interviews,” he said. I understand, I replied. But then he began talking. I asked him if he was prepared to testify in court; yes, he said, but he planned to invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Did that mean that what he’d said about being coerced was untrue, I asked him. He said that talking to the Innocence Project, “trying to fix things,” had cost him. He’s lost work — the contractor he worked with had to let him go, he said, once his boss’s well-connected clients found out Webb was on the crew — and wants nothing more than to get this behind him, get out of Corsicana, and start his life anew. “I thought I could change things,” he lamented about his involvement in the Willingham case. “I’ve learned that one man can’t.”

Jackson’s trial continues this week.

Top photo: The scene outside the Navarro County Courthouse on July 23, 2014, in Corsicana, Texas.

The post Former Texas Prosecutor Probably Sent Innocent Man to His Death. Now He’s on Trial for Misconduct. appeared first on The Intercept.

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