This represents the first time in American history that a drone (wheels for now, maybe wings later) was used to kill an American citizen on American soil.
I get it, I get it.
The Dallas sniper had killed five cops. He was prepared to kill as many more as he could. He was in a standoff with police, and negotiations had broken down. The Supreme Court has made it clear that in cases such as this, the due process clause (i.e., a trial before execution in this instance) does not apply. If not for the robot bomb, the Dallas police would have eventually shot the sniper anyway. They were fully in their legal rights to kill him. None of those issues are in contention. I am not suggesting in any way the cops should have invited the sniper out for tea.
I am suggesting we stop and realize that in 2016 the police used a robot to send in an explosive to blow a person up. I am unaware that such a thing has happened in Russia, North Korea, China, Iran or other places where the rule of law is held by the few in power.
Weapons of War
The robot represents a significant escalation in the tools law enforcement use on the streets of America. Another weapon of war has come home from the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. In the isolated case of the sniper, dead may be dead, whether by explosive or rifle shot. But in the precedent set on the streets of Dallas, a very important line has been crossed.
Here’s why this is very bad.
As in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is clear that an escalation in force by the police can only serve to inflame a situation, and trigger a subsequent escalation among those who will then seek to defend themselves against robots sent against them. In America’s wars, the pattern of you use a drone, I plant an IED is all to familiar. Will person being blown up by the cops likely soothe community tensions, or exacerbate them? Did the use of other military weaponry calm things in Ferguson, or encourage the anger there to metastasize into other locations?
More Force Sooner?
And will robots increase or decrease the likelihood cops will employ more force sooner in a situation?
“The further we remove the officer from the use of force and the consequences that come with it, the easier it becomes to use that tactic,” said Rick Nelson, a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a former counterterrorism official. “It’s what we have done with drones in warfare. Yet in war, your object is always to kill. Law enforcement has a different mission.”
Who is Responsible?
With a drone, it becomes easier to select the easier wrong of killing over the harder right of complex negotiations and methodical police work. Police officers sign up accepting in some ways a higher level of risk than soldiers, in that cops should be exercising a much more complex level of judgement in when and how to use force. Simply because they can use deadly force — or can get away with it — does not make it right. A robot removes risk, and dilutes personal responsibility.
For example, if an individual officer makes a decision to use his/her personal weapon, s/he takes on full responsibility for the outcome. In the case of a robot, the decision is the product of a long chain of command extending far from whomever has a finger on the switch. The same is true for America’s drone army abroad. The shooter and the decider are far removed from one another.
Who is responsible? What if we start to believe no one is?
Copyright © 2015. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
This week marks the fourth anniversary of the beating death of American Citizen Kelly Thomas at the hands of the Fullerton Police. All three cops seen in the video were found not guilty. The victim, Kelly, is shown in the hospital just before his death.
I’m sorry if the image offended you, or if you are thinking of clicking away and unfollowing me on Twitter, but I am offended by what is happening in our country.
Who the Cops Work For
Kelly Thomas was a homeless man diagnosed with schizophrenia who lived on the streets of Fullerton, California. He was known to frequent an alleyway near a swanky restaurant. The owner didn’t like that, and allegedly phoned in a fake 911 report that Thomas was vandalizing cars to get the Fullerton Police on the scene to “take care” of the problem.
The cops did their job. The really cleaned up the stain of a homeless guy getting in the way of someone making money.
Kelly Thomas was beaten and killed by cops Jay Cicinelli, Manuel Ramos, and Joseph Wolfe on July 5, 2011. Thomas was comatose on arrival at the hospital, where he was taken after the three cops had had their fill of beating him. He never regained consciousness, and died on July 10, 2011.
For nine minutes and 40 seconds, the officers pummeled Thomas to the ground, with Ramos delivering volleys of punches and beating Thomas with his baton and Cicinelli tasing the homeless man twice in the face.
Choked on His Own Blood
Medical records show that bones in Thomas’ face were broken and he choked on his own blood. The coroner concluded that compression of the thorax made it impossible for Thomas to breathe normally and deprived his brain of oxygen. The cops who beat him into that condition did not render any first aid on the scene, which may have saved their victim’s life.
Officer Manuel Ramos (the cop at the beginning of the video who asks “See my fists?”) was charged with one count of second-degree murder and one count of involuntary manslaughter; Corporal Jay Cicinelli and Officer Joseph Wolfe were each charged with one count of felony involuntary manslaughter and one count of excessive force.
All three pleaded not guilty.
Justice, American Style
A judge declined to dismiss the charges against the officers in January 2013, finding that “a reasonable person could infer that the use of force was excessive and unreasonable.” The case went to trial and Ramos and Cicinelli were found not guilty of all charges. Following the verdict for the two officers, the district attorney’s office announced it would not pursue the case against Officer Wolfe.
The defense argued cops must protect themselves when they believe they are in danger, without fear of prosecution for handling the incident with force.
If this wasn’t wrong, then nothing can ever be wrong.
Copyright © 2015. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
It comes down to things like this as citizens fight to preserve their basic rights in the face of militaristic police encounters. So let us use technology to fight back.
A new smartphone app from the ACLU (available in iPhone and Android versions) does two very good things. It allows citizens to exercise their right to video police encounters in the public space, and it guards against the cops unlawfully destroying that video to cover up their own crimes. The ACLU app accomplishes this by allowing people to auto-upload cellphone videos of police encounters to the ACLU. The ACLU will then review and preserve the video footage, even if the cops seize the phone and delete the video or destroy the phone.
In addition, once the video is uploaded, the user can delete the information from his/her phone, lessening the chance of retaliation by the cops if they discover the “evidence” during a post-arrest search.
The app features a large red “Record” button in the middle of the screen. When it’s pressed, the video is recorded on the phone and a duplicate copy is transmitted simultaneously to the ACLU server. When the “stop” button is pressed, a “Report” screen appears, where information about the location of the incident and the people involved can also be transmitted to the ACLU. The video and the information are treated as a request for legal assistance and reviewed by staff members. No action is taken by the ACLU, however, unless an explicit request is made, and the reports are treated as confidential and privileged legal communications. The videos, however, may be shared by the ACLU with the news media, community organizations or the general public to help call attention to police abuse.
The app is available in English and Spanish. It includes a “Know Your Rights” page, a library of ACLU materials in your pocket.
“People who historically have had very little power in the face of law enforcement now have this tool to reclaim their power and dignity,” said the director of the Truth and Reinvestment Campaign at the Ella Baker Center, which is working with the ACLU of California to support the launch of the app.
Who will guard the guards? We will.
Copyright © 2015. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
— African-American teen killed by a white cop;
— Grand jury won’t indict, cop walks free;
— Family wins wrongful death lawsuit;
— Taxpayers lay out $3.9 million to pay for their killer cops on the loose.
And now, the details.
The family of slain Bronx teen Ramarley Graham accepted $3.9 million in taxpayer money from the city to settle their wrongful death lawsuit.
Police had claimed that Graham was suspected of purchasing an amount of marijuana small enough that its possession is now decriminalized in New York.
Cops chased him into his home without a warrant. The cop who shot the teen, Officer Richard Haste, claimed that he had heard over the police radio that Graham was armed. No gun was found.
After Graham was gunned down in his own bathroom, the cops threatened to shoot his grieving grandmother, according to the suit.
“Why did you shoot him? Why you killed him?” the grandmother allegedly asked the officer who had just fired a fatal bullet into her grandson’s chest.
“Get the f*ck away before I have to shoot you, too,” the suit said Haste shouted after pushing the 58-year-old grandmother backward.
The elderly woman was detained at the local precinct for seven hours and forced to give a statement against her will.
Officer Richard Haste, who fired the fatal shot, was initially indicted for manslaughter, but a judge threw out the case on a legal technicality.
A second grand jury declined to indict the cop.
“This was a tragic case,” said a spokesman for New York City.
An ongoing federal investigation into possible civil rights violations by the NYPD moves into the third year since the killing. The lawsuit itself took two years after the teen’s death to reach settlement.
As best I can tell Officer Haste, below, is still patrolling the streets as I write this.
Examples of police abuse of power are not hard to locate, typically involving deadly force where none is needed.
Many of these examples appear to involve racism, white cops misusing their authority over African-Americans. Examples are often dismissed by police supporters over some ambiguity or another. What makes the following example so compelling is not the extremes of violence (none take place) but the clarity of the power dynamic, and the clarity of how easy it is for cops to misuse the power granted to them.
Arrested for Having a Golf Club
We learn that 70-year-old Air Force veteran (twenty years of service) and retired Seattle bus driver William Wingate had a daily habit of walking and using a golf club like a cane. He typically took a walk to pick a newspaper. Wingate was not unknown in the neighborhood. He had no arrest record. He was not using drugs. He wasn’t even wearing a hoodie. The day was sunny and clear, the video in focus and the audio clear.
But Seattle Police Department (SPD) officer Cynthia Whitlatch pulled over her patrol car, got out, and yelled at Wingate to drop his golf club. The incident was caught on her vehicle’s dash-cam video recording system. Unlike some recorded incidents, where what happened before the encounter was not recorded, in this case we have a full 1:40 on tape of nothing happening.
Officer Whitlatch insists that the recording instead would show Wingate swinging his golf club at her and hitting a stop sign with it. According to the Seattle Police Department, there exists no video to back up this claim.
Nonetheless, Whitlatch, standing behind her car, shouts at Wingate to drop his golf club 17 times, and claims that “it is a weapon.”
“You just swung that golf club at me,” Whitlatch yells.
“No, I did not!” exclaims Wingate.
“Right back there,” Whitlatch says back. “It was on audio and video tape.”
(The action begins at 1:40 on the video, but the fact that nothing happens prior to that is important to understanding how wrong this all is)
If you don’t see the embedded video, it is also online here.
Welcome to the Judicial System
Eventually, she tells him he’s going to be arrested and charged with obstruction. She calls for backup. A second officer arrives and Wingate promptly hands over the golf club. Nonetheless, the officers went on to handcuff him. Police walked him down the street to the East Precinct, where the desk sergeant approved the decision to book Wingate into jail on harassment and obstruction charges.
While still handcuffed, Wingate had difficulty stepping up and into the back of the paddy wagon. On video, an officer can be seen sliding a stool toward the back of the vehicle, using his foot. Wingate spent the night in jail.
The next day, city prosecutors filed misdemeanor charges of unlawful use of a weapon against Wingate based solely on the arresting officer’s incident report. In that report, the officer stated she was “fearful of being assaulted by him.”
Wingate agreed to a plea agreement after being told by a public defender “If you sign this stipulated order of continuance, it will all be over, basically.”
Finally, a rational head entered the story. Two months after the arrest a municipal judge dismissed the case following public outcry that attracted both social media and a private lawyer.
Maybe It Was All Just a Mistake?
So maybe Officer Whitlatch just made a mistake. You know, pressure of the moment. Maybe on a bright sunny day she thought she saw an elderly African-American man swing a golf club at her, when no such thing happened. Maybe. But, as prosecutors say when they bring up a suspect’s past history in court, let’s look at the record.
Officer Whitlatch was one of 126 police officers who sued the government last year, at both the federal and city level, to block the Department of Justice–ordered use of force policies. The SPD is under a federal consent decree and is being forced to address the DOJ’s concerns over racial bias and its finding that Seattle police routinely and unconstitutionally use excessive force. Officer Whitlatch and the others claimed in their suit that the new policy will result in citizens and officers being “killed.” They said the regulations require cops to “under-react to threats of harm until we have no choice but to overreact.”
Whitlatch’s ex-girlfriend, who claims she spoke up because both she and her father were police officers, claims Whitlatch made racist comments about black people she’d encountered while on patrol and, in the spring of 2005, stole marijuana from police evidence that the couple then smoked together.
About one month after she arrested Wingate for his golf club, Officer Whitlatch took to Facebook to share some thoughts. While protests raged in Ferguson, Missouri over the police shooting death of African-American Michael Brown, Whitlatch wrote she was tired of “black peoples paranoia” and wrote of “chronic black racism that far exceeds any white racism in this country.”
The Next Steps
The next part is as predictable as day following night.
— Officer Whitlatch remains employed by the police department, albeit on desk duty. Whitlatch was not disciplined. She received counseling from her supervisor, a course of action that the department believes to be “an appropriate resolution.”
— The Seattle Police Department insists racial bias played no role in the incident.
— Wingate is suing the city for $750,000 claiming violations of his civil rights. Should he prevail, the taxpayers will foot the bill for the settlement.
A grand jury will bring no charges against a white New York City cop who strangled an unarmed African-American man to death. Watch him die in the video.
Watch Him Die
Daniel Pantaelo, the NYPD officer who killed Eric Garner with a chokehold on Staten Island on July 17, will not face charges for the killing, a grand jury decided yesterday. You can hear Garner, who was asthmatic, plead with police about his inability to breathe several times during the struggle that led to his death. Watch him die in the video.
The grand jury did not bring charges against Officer Pantaelo despite the fact that the NYPD’s own patrol guide explicitly prohibits the chokehold used to kill Garner.
The grand jury did not bring charges against Officer Pantaleo despite Garner’s death being ruled a homicide by the New York City medical examiner in August.
The cause of Garner’s death was “compression of neck (chokehold), compression of chest and prone positioning during physical restraint by police,” the medical examiner’s office said.
Eric Garner was a 43-year-old father of six. Police said they approached Garner because he was selling unlicensed cigarettes — known as loosies — and that he resisted arrest.
Watch him die in the video:
In preparation for the Garner decision today, the NYPD sent detectives to Ferguson during recent demonstrations to gather intelligence on so-called professional protesters. In New York, cops will be looking for outside agitators and vowed to arrest demonstrators interfering with traffic. There will be a heavy presence of cops on foot, in the air and on horseback throughout the city.
We are left at this point only to wonder under what circumstances a cop may actually be indicted after killing someone on the street. In the Garner case, there is no doubt that he was unarmed. He did raise his hands. He did not endanger the police, and they had no clear reason to fear for their safety or the safety of anyone around them. There is no question about the events that unfolded, as the entire scene was filmed at close range. The police office who did the killing used a chokehold, a technique specifically outlawed by the NYPD. The medical examiner ruled Garner’s death a homicide.
This is not Michael Brown. There are no conflicting witnesses, no ambiguous testimony, no need to decide who to believe. Believe your eyes.
If under such conditions a grand jury comes to the conclusion that no crime was committed, it is hard to imagine what conditions could cause a grand jury to conclude a crime was committed.
No amount of police body cameras, or blue ribbon panels, or meetings or additional training will help. This is just a slaughter and the people who can stop it won’t. Watch him die in the video.
The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution guarantees your right against an illegal search by the police. Basically, you can only be searched under two conditions: a “lawful” search as defined by decades of Supreme Court decisions and with a warrant.
(Of course none of this is legal advice and I am not a lawyer. Never make decisions without the advice of a lawyer.)
Lawful vs. Warranted Search
What is and is not a “lawful” search can get complicated, and has been the subject of much case law. A really basic example is after you have been properly arrested and are on the way to jail, the cops can search you for weapons without your permission. A warranted search is everything else; the police need to go to court and get permission from a judge to search you. The latter especially applies to enclosed spaces such as your home and car.
If the cop thinks he has a clear lawful search that will stand up in court, he’ll just go ahead and do it. He does not need your permission. If the cop thinks he would otherwise need a warrant, he will ask your consent to search. If you grant such permission, the search automatically becomes “lawful.” You do not have to consent, and many lawyers will tell you never to do so without legal advice. The cops can be tricky, saying things like “Hey, you don’t mind if I just take a look?” or “So it’s cool if I just check inside, right?” If you nod, shrug or in some cases say nothing in response, that is often seen as granting permission. Some courts have held if you even open a door, or leave one unlocked, or allow the cops into your home “just to talk out of the rain,” that is “permission.” The clearest thing is to say “NO, I do not consent to a search” if that is your intent.
But the cops don’t always play by the rules. The video shows what happens when they don’t, and now, in America, what happens when you simply exercise your Constitutional rights.
What Really Happens
In yet another example of how police officers act today if they don’t know there’s a camera on, a New York sheriff’s deputy was suspended without pay after a video that appears to show him slapping a young man went online. The cop is seen quickly losing patience with a man who did not want his car searched, as is his right under the Fourth Amendment. The cop was suspicious of the two men when he saw a .22-caliber rifle on the back seat of the car. Note that the right to lawfully possess a firearm is also protected by the Second Amendment to the Constitution. The men involved stated they had parked their car at a local business and were walking to a nearby party when confronted by the cop. The man stated his friend had purchased the .22-caliber rifle earlier that day, had a receipt for the weapon.
“We’ll get a f*cking search warrant,” the cop says, apparently as a response to the man’s insistence that he did not consent to a search. “I wasn’t in my car when all this was happening,” the man says. “Why don’t you want to search my house or something?” The cops then replies “Let me see your f*cking keys.” When the man asks why, the cop is direct: “I’m going to search your f*cking car, that’s why… You wanna f*cking resist?” And that’s when the slap can be heard, although not seen.
The second man, who was filming, tells the officer what just happened was “intense,” and the cop answers: “You like that, huh? I can get a lot more intense, believe me.” The man replies “Slap me around?” The cop’s answer: “Yeah, I’ll rip your f*cking head off and sh*t down your neck.”
The cop was unapologetic when contacted by the media. He insisted he “was concerned [about] a public safety issue” and that if he “had to it all over again… I’d probably do the same thing.”
So there you go, simply another story of what life is like for citizens in Post-Constitutional America. Your rights? You’ll get them when the cops are darn well ready to let you have them.
Learn more about your right to video the police at Photography is Not a Crime.
This is not satire, and a cop did get convicted for a killing. Only it is not what you think, and it shows the reality of how we value life, and the law, now in America.
A Boulder, Colorado police officer convicted of killing a beloved, semi-tame bull elk in an upscale residential neighborhood was sentenced for the death.
The officer, Sam Carter, 37, was on duty when he killed the elk, known as Big Boy, while it grazed under a tree. He did not report firing his weapon to the police department, and then said the animal had been injured before he arrived on the scene and needed to be put down. Prosecutors said text messages between Carter and another police officer showed that the shooting was planned. The elk was a fixture in the neighborhood, and its killing inspired marches, vigils, a tribute song and plans for a memorial.
Carter was convicted of nine charges, including three felonies: forgery, tampering with evidence and trying to influence a public official, all of which carried a sentence of up to six years in jail. Instead, despite the premeditated killing, the lying and the evidence tampering, Carter received only probation, and no jail time. His accomplice copped a plea for the same crimes, resulting in all of sixty days of home detention and probation. Even those convictions took twenty months to take place. Both cops did lose their jobs over it all.
Meanwhile, in places like the spotlighted Ferguson, Missouri, but actually across the United States, cops are killing citizens. Marches, vigils, tribute songs and plans for a memorial are a regular occurrence among the largely African-American communities where the killings take place. Sadly, the whole thing has taken on the appearance of a set-piece: a young African-American man is stopped by police for a minor offense (or no apparent offense.) In the course of the stop, he either “resists,” tries to “flee,” “appeared to have a weapon (when there was none), or “went for the officer’s weapon.”
In one recent case, the cops claim a young African-American man shot himself while handcuffed, all inside a police car. The cops responding to reports of a fight had stopped the victim, age 22, who was walking with a friend. Deputies found marijuana in the man’s pocket and that was that. The investigation into that death is ongoing, now several months in. The autopsy showed the fatal bullet entered the young man from the front, though his hands were cuffed behind him.
It is not just violence against African-American males; an Oklahoma cop has been charged with sixteen counts including first-degree rape and sexual battery after being accused of assaulting at least eight African-American women while on patrol.
In the generic cases, once detained, the young African-American man loses the status of human and becomes a dangerous suspect. He then is eligible to be beaten, tased or more and more often, just killed in the street. If no one was around to videotape the incident, it usually goes away, played for shock value that night on the local news, with a perfunctory police denial and an empty promise to investigate.
After a video surfaces, the media may pick up the story again for awhile (can’t pass up a lede that includes a violent video) and that long-delayed investigation is again mentioned. It tends to take a long, long time to complete, typically about as long as the public’s attention span, and the officer is usually found to have acted “appropriately.” The community is urged to move on, and it does, more cynical, more full of hate, but more on the road to reluctant acceptance that cops these days can pretty much do what they want, as long as the victim is a young African-American and not a beloved elk for God’s sake.
You might have been mislead by the constant “Blue on Green” attacks, where people in “Afghan Army Uniforms” kill their American comrades. Or that the Taliban still controls whole provinces. Or that drug exports are up since the war started. Or that Kabul is regularly attacked. Or that Afghanistan’s leaders, led by Hamid “Da’ Fresh Prince” Karzai have funneled billions of U.S. dollars into their own accounts in Dubai while flipping off ol’ Uncle Sam. Or whatever is on in Pakistan. Or that after 13 years, trillions of dollars and uncountable loss of life Afghanistan is pretty much still a dangerous, awful place unlikely to host a Spring Break parteeeee anytime prior to the Sun imploding into a black hole (namecheck: Neil Freakin’ Degrassee Tyson!)
Why We Fight
Anyway, forget all that because the ever-reliable Fiscal Times says we won. OK, that’s sorted. Here are some highlights from their recent victory lap article (emphasis and laugh-track added).
First, some Fiscal Times background on the war. Forget 9/11, or bin Laden, or bases. The real reason we have been at war in Afghanistan is revealed to be:
We are fighting an insurgency based in the Pashtuns, a majority ethnic group that has always ruled modern Afghanistan. If the Taliban regained enough support among that base, their overthrow of the Kabul would be very possible.
Not sure how much of that insurgency was there before we arrived, or how much was born because we arrived, but at least it is not 9/11 again.
Afghanistan Doesn’t Really Need a Strong Government
But don’t worry, because we have an ace in the hole:
The saving grace for us is that Afghanistan doesn’t have to have a strong central government.
Good. Despite another recent round of “purple fingers” photos that mean Democracy! the State Department has been right all along. Their total failure to build a strong central government has been part of the plan. Crazy yes, but like a fox.
The Afghan Local Police will Save the Day
It gets better. Fiscal Times:
There are recent reasons for optimism, however. One is the growth of the Afghan Local Police (ALP), which began in 2010 as a program that recruited rural Afghans to protect their own villages. The ALP has been so strategically successful that their authorization has expanded from 10,000 to 30,000 fighters (My Note: That authorization takes the form of the U.S. Congress agreeing to pay for more.) The most recent Pentagon report on the war said that the ALP was “one of the most resilient institutions in the ANSF,” or Afghan National Security Forces, with the ANSF’s highest casualty rate.
I got nothing. If anyone believes a high casualty rate means winning, I can’t top that. Also, here’s a neat argument that the police are just another brand of lawless militia plaguing Afghanistan. Another on when the U.S. suspended training for the ALP because of too many insider attacks. Here’s one about how the ALP engages in human rights abuses such as “rape, arbitrary detentions, forcible land grabs, and other criminal acts” and how the ALP favors warlordism. Anyway, that’s all in the past now.
Key to Victory: Use U.S. Money to Pay Off Warlords. Or Kill Them
The second necessity for victory is a responsible-looking central government with which foreign countries can interact. To be a sustainable recipient of Western aid, Afghanistan simply must have a more sympathetic government than Hamid Karzai or somewhat thuggish local power brokers. Only with a regular supply of Western aid will the Kabul government be able to bribe the regional powerbrokers to tilt towards it, and stay within our commandments. And if they don’t – if they really don’t, and flaunt it – then eventually they may have to die. An American high-end special operations capability in Afghanistan is critical not for Al-Qaeda and other transnational terrorists, but also to drop the hammer if local warlords step too far out of line.
Leaving aside the obvious contradiction that Afghanistan doesn’t need a strong central government and Afghanistan does need a strong central government only a few paragraphs apart, Fiscal Times does get a gold star for turning the use of U.S. money to bribe warlords into paid-for cooperation into a positive thing. In most instances paying protection money to thugs is sort a dead end street (they usually keep demanding more and more money.)
The kill them all idea is just rich. Hasn’t that sort of been the failed policy for the past 13 years? What kind of unmedicated mind can even write that stuff? I’m sure our elite special forces community is also now proud of their role as Mafia enforcers.
Time to Declare Victory and Leave
It is time. Thirteen years of a war that no one can even agree anymore what it is about is enough. If it helps you sleep better, sure, we won. Is that enough? Can we just stick a U.S.-funded knife into this and slink away? Syria is calling.
In the final minutes of a March Madness basketball game, University of Arizona students gathered on University Boulevard as they had after previous NCAA Tournament games prepared to celebrate a win, or commiserate a loss. A local bar owner noted that the students didn’t cause any trouble or property damage, and there was no violence until police began trying to clear the streets. “The kids,” said the owner, “I want to say they weren’t unruly, it was drunk college kids partying after a loss. I think more were hanging out in the street rather than trying to cause problems.”
None the less, Tucson police showed up in Darth Vader-style riot gear, armed with nightstick and non-lethal bullets, pepper spray and gas masks. They quickly declared that the students were now an “unlawful assembly,” ordered them to disperse and when they did not immediately do so, attacked the crowd.
One student said “It seemed like cops were asking for trouble. Wearing gas masks and lining University Boulevard before the game even ended seemed excessive.”
What happened next is shocking. A video showed a cop blindsiding a young woman with his nightstick. Another video showed police firing non-lethal rounds into a male student and then roughly tackling him to the ground when he did not go down.
Us and Them
Police are empowered to use appropriate force, primarily when needed to protect themselves or others. The inappropriate use of escalating violence is more akin to what happens in war zone, not among partying college students. Tuscon on a spring evening shouldn’t look like Kiev, Istanbul or Caracas, but it did. One is left to wonder if the cops see these students as “their people,” the ones they are sworn to protect and serve. Watching the videos, more and more one feels cops have the same Us and Them attitudes soldiers adopt in war zones.
The actions of an increasingly militarized police are reinforced by billions of dollars’ worth of military weapons and equipment available to local police departments through grant programs administered by federal agencies such as the Departments of Defense, Justice, and Homeland Security. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) warns:
The police officers on our streets and in our neighborhoods are not soldiers fighting a war. Yet many have been armed with tactics and weapons designed for battle overseas. The result: people – disproportionately those in poor communities and communities of color – have become targets for violent SWAT raids, often because the police suspect they have small amounts of drugs in their homes.
In his book, Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces, author Radley Balko shows how politicians’ relentless declarations of war against vague enemies like crime, drugs, and terror have blurred the distinction between cop and soldier. He shows how over a generation, a creeping battlefield mentality has isolated and alienated American police officers and put them on a collision course with the values of a free society.
The evidence accumulates. Have we have become the enemy? We have become the enemy.
As the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) shuts down in what can only be thought of as a mercy killing, the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR) continues its dreary work. They send out regular press releases that all look like this most recent one:
Today, SIGAR released an inspection of the Imam Sahib Border Police company headquarters in Kunduz province, Afghanistan. The $7.3 million facility was built to hold 175 people, yet only 12 were on site and no one was aware of any plans to move additional personnel to the facility. The personnel did not have keys to many of the buildings and most the facility appeared to be unused. Additionally, there is no contract or plan to train personnel in the operations and maintenance of the facility raising questions about its sustainability.
Photo of Facility (shown above)
Should you have any questions or need any additional information please do not hesitate to contact our Director of Public Affairs, Phil LaVelle at (703) 545-5974 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Friends, do a little search and replace exercise and that SIGAR report could have been right out of Iraq circa 2006. It strongly suggests we have learned nothing, that the reconstruction of Afghanistan is simply another foreign policy feel-good farce. It means no… one… cares.
After all I went through personally to bring the abuses, waste and fraud of Iraq reconstruction to light, well, that makes me sad.
The US is prepared to spend up to five billion dollars to create more jobs for police officers, paying $100-$150k a year. The Government can’t find enough people to take the jobs, and is looking for recruits, no experience necessary, all training provided, right in your hometown.
One catch: the jobs are for Iraqis, in Iraq. No Americans need apply.
The secret mantra of the Iraq war has always been “training,” specifically the always-just-out-of-reach goal of training the Iraq security forces to take over from the US. The cry has been heard for years: George W. Bush even made “we’ll stand down as they stand up” a campaign slogan in 2008.
Now, as the war in Iraq proceeds through its eighth year, the State Department was on Capitol Hill October 12 in front of the Subcommittee on National Security, Homeland Defense and Foreign Operations begging a skeptical Congress for more money. “Training” is again being cited as the cure-all for America’s apparently insatiable desire to throw money away in Mesopotamia. The latest tranche of taxpayer cash is for one billion dollars a year, every year for five years, to pay police instructors and cop salaries in Iraq.
A Long Train
The US has been training Iraqi cops for years, under the auspices of Army and State contractors. In fact, the US government has spent $7.3 billion for Iraqi police training since 2003. Now, with the Army shifting to teaching Iraqis how to operate the hi-tech weapons they will be buying from the US, the State Department is picking up the cop training gig full-time. A job announcement last year hired contract police instructors to go to Iraq, where, under the watchful eye of State’s own internal Stasi, Diplomatic Security, they are preparing to start teaching at thirty locations around the country.
Given that the Army and State have been teaching police work in Iraq now for several years, the student cops must either be the world’s slowest learners, or have the world’s highest job turnover. Sadly, it looks like the latter. Iraqi cops tend to have very short life expectancies and that is why, even with the healthy salary offer of $150,000 a year (the average per capita income in Iraq is only $3800; cops in the US make concededly less than what State is willing to pay in Iraq. Starting salaries run $40-65k a year), State can’t find enough, um, bodies, to fill up the recruit classes.
The Hard, Short Life of an Iraqi Cop
As an example of how life is for an Iraqi law officer, this week alone attacks included two suicide car bombs minutes apart at Baghdad police stations, killing at least 25 people in the capital’s deadliest day in a month. More than 70 people were wounded. In one instance, the street in front of a police station had been closed from 2004, but was reopened about four weeks ago, sadly allowing the suicide bomber to get close to the station house. In other attacks the same day, a bomb wounded a police brigadier general in north Baghdad, while two police were shot in south Baghdad.
These attacks took place in an Iraq still occupied by some 41,000 American soldiers. Come January 2012, the US Army posture will diminish to an as yet undetermined number, likely around 5000 troops. The State Department hopes to conduct its police training under these conditions, protected by its own mercenary army of 5000 security contractors, using hand-me-down Army gear.
Corruption, Mismanagement and Torture Play a Part
The killing of Iraqi cops is probably the main issue holding back recruitment. However, the lack of organized control by their parent organization, the Iraqi Ministry of Interior (MOI), is another impediment to a well-run police force, regardless of how much training they receive.
In December 2006, the Iraq Study Group reported that the Iraqi Interior Ministry was filled with corruption, infiltrated by militia and unable to control its own police. In July 2007, the Los Angeles Times reported that Iraq’s MOI had become a “federation of oligarchs” where various floors of the headquarters building were controlled by rival militia groups and organized criminal gangs. The report described the MOI as an eleven-story powder keg of factions where power struggles were settled by assassinations in the parking lot. In its September 2007 report, the congressionally-mandated Independent Commission on the Security Forces of Iraq described Iraq’s MOI as a ministry in name only, dysfunctional, sectarian and suffering from ineffective leadership. To make matters worse, the police have been implicated in multiple incidents of torture.
Who Will Guard the Guards?
There remain significant questions on if State will be able to oversee the huge police training program.
The State Department’s International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) bureau came under fire from the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) for its management of the contract with DynCorp to train police. A 2010 audit concluded that “INL lacks sufficient resources and controls to adequately manage the task orders with DynCorp. As a result, over $2.5 billion in US funds are vulnerable to waste and fraud.” Most of $1.2 billion State was given to train Iraqi police remains unaccounted for. Though not directly related to police training, State’s own Inspector General just found that INL mismanaged another Dynacorp contract in Afghanistan to the tune of $940,000, in large part because of lack of staff to oversee the project.
Following the negative report by SIGIR, State did the logical thing: they slammed the door on the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction auditors. State’s coordinator for Iraq transition, Patricia Haslach, told Congress that SIGIR has almost no jurisdiction over State Department spending in Iraq, including that five billion sought for police training. State’s reluctance to submit to the audits is understandable; SIGIR stated that 400,000 Iraqis received training and are on the force, but the “capabilities of these forces are unknown because no assessments of total force capabilities were made.”
The Bright Side
Undersecretary of State Pat Kennedy reminded Congress October 12 without irony that “We have a robust contracting oversight system firmly in place and being executed by our Bureau of Administration. The Bureau of Diplomatic Security is overseeing its competitively awarded security task orders using the enhanced oversight and management system put in place over the last several years.”
Pat Kennedy also said that providing assistance to the Iraqi police and security forces “will eventually reduce the cost of our presence as security in the country improves and we can rely on Iraqi security for our own protection.”
And it is not like State has just been sitting on its hands. In July 2011, out of Iraq’s 400,000 cops, the State Department invited nine of them to the US for three weeks with local police forces in Vermont, Pittsburgh and Denver, cities that no doubt offer a lot of points of commonality with policing in Iraq.
With plans like that, what could go wrong?
On Tuesday, at least 27 people, many of them police, were killedand more than 30 wounded when a pair of bombs exploded by the house of the provincial governor in the central Iraqi city of Diwaniyah.
The explosion in Diwaniyah followed the bombing of a French embassy convoy in Baghdad on Monday, wounding several Iraqis, and a blast Sunday targeting a western security company guarding a client in the southern oil region of Basra. That attack, on a route traveled by oil companies and western firms, left one Iraqi and one Westerner wounded.
Meanwhile, despite elections in March 2010, and forming a government in December, the cabinet has failed to date to name its security ministers.
Meanwhile, most Iraqis live with minimal services, intermittent power, murky water, nonexistent sewers. Lack stalks the country; this article delves into the lives of those in Iraq who make a living scavenging US-left behind trash, reminding that some 23% of Iraqis live in poverty.
Gunmen blasted their way into government offices in central Iraq on last week with two car bombs and suicide blasts that killed seven people. Militants involved in the attack in Diyala’s provincial capital of Baquba exchanged fire with Iraqi security forces, holding them at bay, in a siege that lasted nearly three hours.
The fight only ended after US military assistance, including troops, armored vehicles and helos, arrived and intervened.
But we sort of knew the Iraqi Army just isn’t all that it can be. The Washington Post tells us:
According to Iraqi politicians and military officers, the country’s armed forces remain dysfunctional, with power dangerously decentralized and wielded by regional fiefdoms controlled by Iraq’s top politician.
Ho, ho, it’s funny. We have spent billions training the Iraqi Army and there is not much to show for it; these guys must be the slowest learners on the planet (ED: No, that would be the Afghan Police). The Iraqi Army remains an almost gleefully silly Third World organization. US soldiers whose unrelished task it was to “train” the Iraqis would tell tales of rifles so dirty and rusty that they would not fire, and levels of discipline so poor that it was scary just to be around the troops and their weapons.
On joint bases, such as FOB Loyalty (Peter had more than a few sleepovers there) where five Americans lost their lives in early June, Iraqi vehicles with mounted machine guns, full belts of ammo in the weapon, would be left parked here and there, sometimes left running out of fear they would not start later. It was not odd to see a loaded AK leaning against the wall, its owner having run off to the toilet. One training trooper watched with some sense of entertainment as a company of Iraqi BMPs tried to start their engines, only to find that about one out of three would not even turn over.
It’ll be awhile before the Iraqi Army is ready for varsity play. Eight years after invading, decimating and then disbanding the Iraqi Army, let’s not make their ineptitude a reason to remain in Iraq, ‘Kay?
It is critical not to buy into the media vibe that these attacks are “bad guys versus the government.” They are not. The “government” in Iraq is a hodge-podge of militias, gangs and factions, each one controlling a part of the whole. An attack against the police in an area is one faction seeking turf or exacting revenge. We use the term “government” only a a convenience.
And please note that these attacks continue in a steady stream while the US still maintains a sizable combat force in Iraq. A smaller, hold-on force post-December 2011 will be even more limp. Even worse, since these are factional struggles, anytime the US intervenes the US is choosing a side, whether we do it willingly or (most often) out of ignorance. That can only weaken our overall position by setting up US forces for a revenge strike, or allowing us to wake up one morning on the losing side without even knowing it.
Really kids, time to come home.
Can’t have it both ways? Don’t tell the State Department, who wants several billion dollars to assume the role of occupier in Iraq while at the same time demanding little oversight into how it spends taxpayer money.
In a previous post, we wrote how State refused to allow the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) to audit their police training mission. The US has spent billions training Iraqi police since 2003, and little has been accomplished outside the hemorrhaging of US money into the hands of Dynacorp, the contractor designated by the USG to steal all that money. State says SIGIR jurisdiction is limited to “reconstruction” activities, as opposed to “technical assistance and capacity-building.” A fight before Congress will resolve the matter since the kids can’t settle it on their own.
But better move fast Congress– SIGIR is scheduled to shut down in 18 months, so all State has to do is s-t-a-l-l.
Last week the Commission on Wartime Contracting asked State to justify in writing any decision to overturn recommendations in favor of suspending or debarring a contractor by other State Department officials, and also for the establishment of a permanent, government-wide special Inspector General for contingency operations.
State said no. Give us the money, stuff your oversight.
The commissioners called State’s opposition to the first recommendation–that it would be overly burdensome–“logically dubious.” After State Department management droid Pat Kennedy could not answer how often recommendations for suspension or debarment are overturned, the commissioners asked how it could be so burdensome if State didn’t even know how frequently it occurred. We hope that gets entered into his next performance review but kinda doubt it.
The commissioners were also skeptical of State’s opposition to a permanent, government-wide Inspector General (IG) for contingency operations. They cited historical examples of State’s history with IGs to support their skepticism of State’s position. For instance, just a few days prior to the hearing, the Washington Times published a story about attempts by State to oppose an investigation by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) based on lack of jurisdiction.
Commissioner Charles Tiefer questioned State’s will to hold its contractors accountable, citing the example of First Kuwaiti General Contracting and Trading. Tiefer noted that a 2009 audit by the State Department IG recommended that State recover $132 million from the contractor for its exceptionally shoddy work constructing the Baghdad Embassy. It has now been almost two years since the release of that report and as Kennedy acknowledged in the hearing, State still has not asked the company to pay up. We hope that also gets entered into his next performance review but again kinda doubt it.
A full accounting of the problems found in the Baghdad Embassy is worth reading.
To make matters worse, despite First Kuwaiti’s sad performance in Baghdad, the company continued to get work building for State in Saudi Arabia and Gabon as a subcontractor through an American company called Aurora, LLC, which some State Department officials suspect was established to serve as a front company for First Kuwaiti.
So why worry, eh?
Read more about the need for aggressive IG oversight at State in POGO’s November 2010 letter to President Obama.
Entry into the Foreign Service requires, among other things, that you pass a tough written test, kind of like the SAT, but with less math. To help any readers thinking of joining State, here is a sample question. Let’s see how you do:
You are in charge of the State Department during a rough budget climate. Your organization has few friends on the Hill, and you are going to be asking for a lot more money for your new duties in Iraq. One project you need cash for– say a billion dollars– is training Iraqi police. The military has done the job for the past seven years, but it will soon be State’s problem to resolve. Do you:
a) Pick a turf fight with the well-regarded US government’s independent auditor for Iraqi reconstruction and force a showdown in front of an already angry Congress;
b) Expect you’ll lose that fight and go along with the inspection to avoid further damaging your cred on the Hill;
c) After pulling your head out of your own butt, try to get reassigned to the consular office in Bali and change your name.
I’m not sure what the correct answer is on the test, but in real life the State Department chose A, have a figth with Congress.
Someone at State, possibly still suffering from a bad batch of anti-malarials, has refused the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) permission to audit the police training mission. The US has spent billions training Iraqi police since 2003, hoping to change them from bribe taking street thugs into smiling law enforcement professionals. The Iraqis have proved, um, resistant to change and little has been accomplished outside the hemorrhaging of US money into the hands of Dynacorp, the contractor designated by the USG to steal all that money.
The US government has spent $7.3 billion for training Iraqi police since 2003. Some 400,000 Iraqis received training and are on the force, but the “capabilities of these forces are unknown because no assessments of total force capabilities were made.”
State says the Department regards SIGIR jurisdiction as limited to “reconstruction” activities, as opposed to “technical assistance and capacity-building” that the State Department will run after the military mission in Iraq ends on October 1.
SIGIR is not going away. Their boss said “We are going to try and engage with the State Department and make the case why our statute and past practice demonstrably supports our jurisdiction over the police-development program. I hope they will see the correctness of our position and allow this audit to go forward. If they don’t agree, then I think the Hill might intervene further.”
On March 31, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee wrote a letter urging Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to cooperate with SIGIR’s request for information.
State said no anyway. Oops, make that, Hell No.