Monday, January 11, 2010

"The Wronged Man"

"THE WRONGED MAN' (World Television Premiere)
Airs Sunday, January 17th at 8:00 PM ET/ 5:00 PM PT on Lifetime Movie Network

Janet Gregory (Ormond), a single mother with a haunting past, is a paralegal struggling to overcome doubts about Calvin Willis (Ali), an African-American husband and father wrongfully accused of raping a neighborhood girl. Eventually convinced of his innocence, Janet takes Calvin’s pro bono case and wages a dramatic and stormy 22-year battle with the justice system that ultimately redeems an unjustly accused man and cements a life-long friendship.

Watch a Preview on YouTube.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Liberty Has Been Lost by Paul Craig Roberts

The following opinion was originally published by OpEd News on January 5, 2010.

Liberty Has Been Lost

By Paul Craig Roberts

I had just finished reading the uncensored edition of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's book, In The First Circle (Harper Perennial, 2009), when I came across Chris Hedges' article, "One Day We'll All Be Terrorists" (Truthdig, Dec. 28, 2009). In Hedges' description of the US government's treatment of American citizen Syed Fahad Hashmi, I recognized the Stalinist legal system as portrayed by Solzhenitsyn.

Hashmi has been held in solitary confinement going on three years. Guantanamo's practices have migrated to the Metropolitan Correction Center in Manhattan where Hashmi is held in the Special Housing Unit. His access to attorneys, family, and other prisoners is prevented or severely curtailed. He must clean himself and use toilet facilities on camera. He is let out of solitary for one hour every 24 hours to exercise in a cage.

Hashmi is a US citizen but his government has violated every right guaranteed to him by the Constitution. The US government, in violation of US law, is also subjecting Hashmi to psychological torture known as extreme sensory deprivation. The bogus "evidence" against him is classified and denied to him. Like Joseph K. in Kafka's The Trial, Hashmi is under arrest on secret evidence. As the case against him is unknown or non-existent, defense is impossible.

Hashmi's rights have been abrogated by his government with the allegation that he is a potential terrorist or perhaps just a terrorist sympathizer. Another American citizen, Junaid Babar stayed with Hashmi for two weeks and allegedly delivered ponchos and socks to al Qaeda in Pakistan. Allegedly Babar used Hashmi's cell phone to reach others aiding terrorists. The US government says that this suffices to implicate Hashmi in Babar's activities.

Babar made a plea bargain to five counts of "material support" for terrorism, but is working off his prison sentence by testifying as a government witness in other terror trials, including in Canada and the UK, and as the US government's only evidence against Hashmi.

Hashmi's real offense is that he is a Muslim activist defending Muslim civil liberties and making provocative statements about the US. As Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, has pointed out, federal courts have given the US government wide latitude to use Hashmi's exercise of his constitutionally protected rights to free speech and association as evidence of a terrorist frame of mind and, thereby, of intent to commit terrorism.

Brooklyn College professor Jeanne Theoharis warns us that an American citizen can now be tried on secret evidence. "You can spend years in solitary confinement before you are convicted of anything. There has been attention paid to extraordinary rendition, Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib with this false idea that if people are tried in the United States things will be fair. But what allowed Guantanamo to happen was the devolution of the rule of law here at home, and this is not only happening to Hashmi."

Indeed, Hedges reports that "radical activists in the environmental, [anti]-globalization, anti-nuclear, sustainable agriculture and anarchist movements are already being placed by the state in special detention facilities with Muslims charged with terrorism." Hedges warns: "This corruption of our legal system will not be reserved by the state for suspected terrorists or even Muslim Americans. In the coming turmoil and economic collapse, it will be used to silence all who are branded as disruptive or subversive. Hashmi endures what many others, who are not Muslim, will endure later."

The silence of bar associations and law schools indicates an astounding insouciance to Thomas Paine's warning: "He that would make his own liberty secure must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself." Some of my Republican and conservative acquaintances are even gleeful that, finally, we are going to get tough and deal forcibly with "these people." They naively believe that they themselves will remain safe when law ceases to be a shield of the people and becomes a weapon in the hands of government.

In "A Man For All Seasons," Sir Thomas More cautions against cutting the law down in order to chase after devils, for with the law cut down, where do we stand when the devil turns on us?

Clearly, these fundamental questions are of no concern to the US Department of Justice (sic), to Congress or the White House, to the "mainstream media," to the American people, or even to very much of the federal judiciary.

Glenn Greenwald pointed out in Salon (Dec. 4, 2009) that the Convention Against Torture, championed and signed by President Ronald Reagan and ratified by the US Senate, states: "Each State Party is required either to prosecute torturers who are found in its territory or to extradite them to other countries for prosecution. No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency may be invoked as a justification of torture. Each State Party shall ensure that all acts of torture are offenses under its criminal law."

Two decades later the US government tortures at will. Justice (sic) Department officials write memos authorizing torture despite the ratified Convention Against Torture, US law, and the Geneva Conventions. The Pew Poll reports that 67 percent of Republicans and 47 percent of Democrats support the use of torture.

And Americans think they have freedom and democracy and live under the protection of the rule of law.

The law is lost, and with it American liberty.

Paul Craig Roberts, a former Assistant Secretary of the US Treasury and former associate editor of the Wall Street Journal, has held numerous academic appointments. He has been reporting shocking cases of prosecutorial abuse for two decades. A new edition of his book, The Tyranny of Good Intentions, co-authored with Lawrence Stratton, a documented account of how Americans lost the protection of law, was published by Random House in March, 2008.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Philadelphia Inquirer: Death Row Diminished

The following editorial was published in the Philadelphia Inquirer on January 4, 2010.

Editorial: Death row diminished

States are sentencing fewer defendants to death, a likely result of a system that is increasingly costly and unreliable.

Nationwide last year, the fewest death sentences were handed out - 106 - since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976. It is the seventh straight year of decline. Ten years ago, 284 defendants were sentenced to death.

Since the use of DNA evidence has become more prevalent, it is growing clearer with each passing year that the death penalty is unreliable. Since 1973, 139 people have been freed from death row, primarily due to to irrefutable scientific evidence of their innocence. Ninety-one of those condemned prisoners have been released since 1993.

Nine men were freed from death row last year alone, after spending a combined 121 years behind bars for crimes they did not commit.

A system that sentences 139 innocent people to death cannot be counted on to deliver justice fairly. Those 139 defendants avoided execution, but there's convincing evidence that at least one person, Cameron Todd Willingham of Texas, was put to death in 2004 for arson deaths that turned out not to be a case of arson at all. Undoubtedly there have been more like him.

Eleven states last year considered abolishing the death penalty; New Mexico was the only one of those states to outlaw capital punishment. New Jersey abolished it in 2007, after spending more than $200 million on a system that executed no prisoners.

Thirty-five states, including Pennsylvania and Delaware, still have the death penalty. But of those 35, only 11 carried out executions in 2009. Nearly half of them occurred in Texas.

The number of executions rose in 2009 to 52, from 37 the previous year. But that was largely due to an unofficial moratorium for several months in 2008 while the Supreme Court considered the constitutionality of lethal injections. The number of executions last year was 47 percent lower than 10 years ago.

Pennsylvania has executed three men since 1976, none since Gary Heidnick in 1999. Twice as many people, six, have been freed from death row during that time because they were innocent. Since 1983, 21 death-row inmates in the state died of natural causes or suicide.

Yet the state has the fourth-largest death row in the nation, with 225 inmates as of July 1. And the cost of maintaining the capital-punishment system is enormous. A study in Maryland in 2008 estimated that the average cost to taxpayers of each case in which a death sentence was imposed was $3 million.

The death penalty is costly and unreliable, but it is not a deterrent. Texas, which leads the nation in executions, had a murder rate in 2008 of 5.6 per 100,000 population - the same rate as Pennsylvania. New Jersey and New York, which no longer have the death penalty, have murder rates of 4.3 per 100,000. Massachusetts, also without capital punishment, has a murder rate of 2.6 per 100,000.

Of the states that don't have capital punishment, only Michigan had a murder rate higher than 5.0.

The death penalty is too costly, it jeopardizes innocent people, and it doesn't deter crime. Increasingly, judges and juries are coming to the same sensible conclusion.