Sunday, December 28, 2014

What Police Accountability Is and Is Not

There are many harsh critics of Mayor deBlasio of New York City. You can see them on TV, hear them on talk radio, read them on social media. The unfortunate truth is that deBlasio never stated any hatred of police. What deBlasio said to his son is what all people have to teach their sons and daughters, especially black sons, that when dealing with police you have to be careful.

You have to be careful when dealing with police . . . that's just simple logic . . . the police can kill you and can get away with it by saying their life was threatened in some way or by creating a situation where they say you were resisting arrest. The police have all the authority and the power to do anything. And, even though we all have civil rights, that doesn’t really matter if you get riddled with bullets. That doesn’t really matter if it’s your word against their words.
There is not one statement I have ever read by deBlasio that said that you should distrust police or that police are all corrupt or bad people. It's people like Giuliani and Ray Kelly who are wanting to use this Eric Garner tragedy for some political advantage to avoid any police accountability moving forward when police have to be held accountable for their actions.

Currently, the poor, minorities and those with mental illness are the people that are mostly held accountable for their actions . . . sometimes with their lives at the hands of police and fearful citizens. The rich, mostly white privileged people, and cops, can get away with many crimes without any accountability or responsibility for their actions.

Just look for those responsible for the economic collapse in prison. Just look for the rich drunk drivers in jail or with a record. Just look for the cops pulling random people over in rich neighborhoods.

Those are of course general statements that are indicative of the overall systemic problems within the American judicial and criminal justice system. The majority of police are good Americans doing a great public service and duty to citizens and communities across the country.

By the police and the staunch defenders of the police resorting to lies, taking statements out of context by officials, by behaving like fools making childish, public tantrums at funerals for assassinated cops; they belittle themselves as a whole.

Stop defending bad cops. Just because the American people want cops to be accountable for their actions does not mean that Americans think cops are all bad. It means we should all be held to the same standards.

Cops should not be a protected class of people simply because they wear a uniform. They should be held to the highest of standards. If they cannot, they should not wear the uniform.

Maybe, we, as an American people, should pay more in taxes to pay them more for them to have a better salary, to have more training and to have more experience and education to before becoming police officers.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Torture Apologists Take it to the People


I have had a lot of respect for Vice President Dick Cheney over the years. I actually thought he did what he thought was necessary post-9/11 to safeguard America and Americans. I actually thought he stood for principles regardless of protecting his own ass or political future in the process. I actually thought he was reasonable and rational and well-informed and simply had a much more harsh and pragmatic approach to governing than I did.

That changed today. 

After watching his interview with Chuck Todd on Meet the Press regarding the Select Committee Executive Summary Report on the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program, I realize that he is certainly not well-informed, absolutely not rational, nor reasonable.

His intentions may have been to safeguard America and Americans but at a great cost to our American values. To think that one out of four or five of those detained during war operations were found to be innocent or not to even qualify to be in the program and that some of those detainees were subjected to these Enhanced Interrogation Techniques (EITs) is all the proof Americans should require to realize that torture is never an acceptable practice: one out of four or five. And, no apology, no admitting wrongdoing, no regret.

His motivating principles after making decisions were for political self-interest and certainly to protect his own ass and the collective asses of any of his close friends and colleagues. He was definitely more willing to throw anyone else under the bus that dare to talk against him or expose the truth and consequences of his decisions and actions. I do wonder if those that were making these decisions believed that no one would jeopardize exposing their actions at a later date as it may jeopardize Americans’ lives.

I don’t believe Cheney actually knew the true extent of the EITs that were used in the CIA’s torture program. He seemed genuinely shocked about the actual contents of the Executive Summary. I don’t believe the colleagues and close friends Cheney trusted initially knew the true extent either. They all potentially lived in the darkness of plausible deniability. In the interview, Cheney could not even admit that these EITs occurred within the program, even though there is concrete evidence.  Cheney, when pressed, drilled in his talking point that water boarding is not torture despite this list of other EITs listed in the report. 

Cheney was even prepared with names, book titles and even a couple pages in his coat pocket as a defense. However, Chuck Todd, in contrast, had on the desk the nearly 600 page Executive Summary report and respectfully did not mention that this Executive Summary was a small excerpt from a 6000 page classified report created from an investigation using quotes from over 6 million CIA documents, Inspector General interviews as well as other communications.

In watching the Chris Wallace FOX News Sunday interview with Jose Rodriquez, who oversaw this CIA clandestine program, there was a striking difference between Cheney’s and Rodriquez’s awareness and knowledge of the facts within the report, of the program and of the alleged cover-up. There are actually cables between Rodriquez and interrogators in the program troubled by their actions toward detainees. “Strongly urge that any speculative language to the legality of given activities . . . be refrained from in written traffic. Such language is not helpful.” It was the preference of Rodriquez and CIA officials to not have written reports or any evidence that challenges the programs legality or morality.

Despite the existence of a written record of video evidence of these EITs in the CIA detention and interrogation program, Rodriquez oversaw the destruction of all video evidence. This, he says, is to protect the lives of the interrogators and their families, not to safeguard his own reputation and that of the American government. Of course, we only have his word for it, and, he is the one that would know what evidence that no longer exists since he oversaw its destruction. He even goes so far as to explain the destruction of evidence was to protect the survivability of the CIA clandestine service.

Cheney, Rodriquez and others that defend the EITs and the CIA Interrogation and Detention Program seem so outraged and defensive. How could anyone ever question the use of these techniques or examine 6 million documents to determine if the program was successful or not? They seem equally appalled and self-righteous that any American public official would endanger other Americans by exposing to what extent and what extreme methods were used in the aftermath of 9/11. All of this self-righteousness wrapped around the gauze of deep wounds inflicted on us by terrorists. 

“How dare they call us out?”

This is America. If we do something, even if it’s for the right reason, we deal with the consequences. At least that’s what being held accountable for our actions and being responsible for our behavior is supposed to be about. We require from our public officials to at least be honest to Congress, to at least be honest to the President and Administration staff and to at least be honest with themselves.

How else can this system of government work when those who run it destroy evidence?  How else can this system of government work when those who do the actual Enhanced Interrogation Techniques cannot even communicate with their superiors about their reservations of questionable techniques on moral, legal and ethical grounds?

If you stand behind what you have done for the good of the nation, stop the excuses and actually stand behind it. Don’t hide behind patriotism or the dead from terrorism or the heads rolling from ISIS. Stand behind the facts. A sheet of paper saying that intent of harm matters more legally than actual harm doesn’t do it for me. Some six million documents seem to weigh a bit more heavily than that piece of flimsy paper.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Common Ground in Policing, Community, and Civil Rights


With this policing issue, the common ground seems pretty broad, but difficult because it is such a highly charged issue. Everyone is highly defensive and becomes quickly offended and offensive.

Let's start with some fundamental American principles: 

Civil rights are critical to our freedom

Police are critical to our freedom.
Civil rights aren't about race.
Police protect our civil rights.
Civil rights are enshrined in the Constitution.

Civil rights are crucial to the survival of America.

Whenever there are incidents involving the intersection of police, civil rights and the lives of citizens are the most challenging of situations.

We need to create more transparency in these intersections:

In the collection of evidence

In the investigation

In the administration of justice.

We all have to be more accountable to each other. This is how we instill more trust where currently there is mistrust between police and community. We all have a role to play. 

Let us not forget . . . we are all Americans . . . we all have the right to the same pursuit of happiness.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Torture Report: Learning from a Mismanaged Past


The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released an executive summary of a study into the CIA’s detention and interrogation programs. Considering this is only 10% of an over 6,000 page document, I don't think it's a ploy or some political axe to grind by Senate Democrats. This might be one of the least damaging ways to expose the realities of mismanaging a war effort so that America never goes blindly into the night looking for pounds of flesh after national tragedy at the hands of terrorists ever again.

I think it is highly important to understand how this report was created. It was created through ‘documentary material’ that included ‘more than six million pages of CIA pages.’ Also, the Committee had access to all interviews completed by officials conducted by the CIA’s Inspector General as well as the CIA Oral History program and past testimony before Congress. (p.6, Committee Study of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Detention and Interrogation Program)

Anyone who completed these actions and who thought they were doing the just, right and humane thing should not feel any differently today than they did last week before the report was issued. It is just a report and does nothing to alter reality, past or present. If there are consequences for their actions, that is not up to this Senate Committee. If those that did these actions are ultimately held accountable, those that made the decisions that led to those actions should be held accountable as well.

Considering it took over six years for this report to be completed, I think it truly is a fairly comprehensive document, but only a report involving documents. That is an important caveat; it does not have the slant or bias of all those that want to cover their ass or wish to reason away what decisions others have made before or since.

I certainly don’t think President George W Bush should be prosecuted for torture. From this report, and the Chair of the Committee responsible for this report, he simply did not know this was happening.  If this was done to protect the President or for plausible deniability, I don’t know. I just feel as if President Bush simply did not know.

Also, it is highly important to realize the backdrop of these tactics that were used. That does not negate the consequences of using these tactics, but it does add context. Senator Feinstein makes this clear in the introduction to the 600 page Executive Summary as well. These tactics were utilized immediately following the terrorist attacks of 9/11. There was much done in the aftermath of those attacks that should be examined carefully and objectively. This process of examination should not be about blaming someone or some party. I think those questions of consequences, if any, should be left for other people to decide.

This is only a report. A report that involves over six million documents, that was condensed into over 6,000 pages which the public is only receiving 600 pages. To somehow make this into a political witch hunt would be a mistake. To somehow create the specter of a political witch hunt where there is none would be a mistake. Turning tragic mistakes from our recent past into political weapons to use against ourselves would be an even graver tragedy.

Let us learn from ourselves. Let us learn, and let us move forward, together. 

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Stop the Merry-Go Round of Blame and Inaction


Both sides just blaming the other is just so old and tired.  No one that's outraged is listening to logic or reason.

If you bring up any point, any fact, anything that challenges one of the fringe assumptions, they assume you're on the other side with the other side's array of assumptions.

Each fringe has a deep go to bag of tricks . . . anything to avoid opening their minds or loosening the firm grip their ideology has on their ability to listen and interact . . . anything to shutdown or intimidate others into not engaging, sharing or discussing ideas.

Then you have the two parties . . . which just pony up for money and for their own political self-interest, hardly ever for the best interest of the American people.

Instead of sitting through testimony or engage in real debate in Congress, many trot out in front of a camera whenever possible to push their agenda, which isn't about doing their job but anything they can to blame the other party or the President for everything in order to get more money and to create ads for their re-election.

"Let's regurgitate talking points today."

"How about blaming others this session?"

"We'll get around to real reform later."

Yep . . . the merry-go-round of blame and inaction . . . that's the two-party system and the Legislative Branch of the American government.

Instead of just being pissed off and outraged at everything and everyone, try finding some common ground. Regardless of our differences, we are actually in this together. If we don't work together, we will never move forward. Remember, it takes courage to do something when it is far easier to simply go on the attack with blame and outrage.