Monday, August 12, 2013

Three powerful op-eds in the New York Times (UPDATED)

All three are really worth your time.

The first is John Grisham's piece on Guantanamo, highlighting a horrible injustice to a person named Nabil Hadjarab:

For reasons that had nothing to do with terror, war or criminal behavior, Nabil was living peacefully in an Algerian guesthouse in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Sept. 11, 2001. Following the United States invasion, word spread among the Arab communities that the Afghan Northern Alliance was rounding up and killing foreign Arabs. Nabil and many others headed for Pakistan in a desperate effort to escape the danger. En route, he said, he was wounded in a bombing raid and woke up in a hospital in Jalalabad.

At that time, the United States was throwing money at anyone who could deliver an out-of-town Arab found in the region. Nabil was sold to the United States for a bounty of $5,000 and taken to an underground prison in Kabul. There he experienced torture for the first time. To house the prisoners of its war on terror, the United States military put up a makeshift prison at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. Bagram would quickly become notorious, and make Guantánamo look like a church camp. When Nabil arrived there in January 2002, as one of the first prisoners, there were no walls, only razor-wire cages. In the bitter cold, Nabil was forced to sleep on concrete floors without cover. Food and water were scarce. To and from his frequent interrogations, Nabil was beaten by United States soldiers and dragged up and down concrete stairs. Other prisoners died. After a month in Bagram, Nabil was transferred to a prison at Kandahar, where the abuse continued.

Throughout his incarceration in Afghanistan, Nabil strenuously denied any connection to Al Qaeda, the Taliban or anyone or any organization remotely linked to the 9/11 attacks. And the Americans had no proof of his involvement, save for bogus claims implicating him from other prisoners extracted in a Kabul torture chamber. Several United States interrogators told him his was a case of mistaken identity. Nonetheless, the United States had adopted strict rules for Arabs in custody — all were to be sent to Guantánamo. On Feb. 15, 2002, Nabil was flown to Cuba; shackled, bound and hooded.

Since then, Nabil has been subjected to all the horrors of the Gitmo handbook: sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation, temperature extremes, prolonged isolation, lack of access to sunlight, almost no recreation and limited medical care. In 11 years, he has never been permitted a visit from a family member. For reasons known only to the men who run the prison, Nabil has never been waterboarded. His lawyer believes this is because he knows nothing and has nothing to give.

Next up is the editorial board condemning BOP for transferring 1100 women inmates:

The decision by the Federal Bureau of Prisons to transfer more than 1,100 women from a federal prison in Danbury, Conn., to other locations, including a remote facility in Aliceville, Ala., was rightly denounced as bad policy when it became widely known earlier this summer.
Now, 11 senators from Northeastern states have sent a letter to the bureau’s director, Charles Samuels Jr., asking him to reconsider the plan to send prisoners to Aliceville. The senators, led by Chris Murphy of Connecticut and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, argue that the transfers would make it difficult if not impossible for families to sustain the visits that make it more likely that inmates will re-enter society successfully once they complete their sentences. The move would leave the Northeastern corridor with no federal beds for female inmates.

Finally is Nicholas D. Kristof's column on "all that is wrong with America’s criminal justice system," exploring "the nightmare experienced by Edward Young."

Young, now 43, was convicted of several burglaries as a young man but then resolved that he would turn his life around. Released from prison in 1996, he married, worked six days a week, and raised four children in Hixson, Tenn.

Then a neighbor died, and his widow, Neva Mumpower, asked Young to help sell her husband’s belongings. He later found, mixed in among them, seven shotgun shells, and he put them aside so that his children wouldn’t find them.

“He was trying to help me out,” Mumpower told me. “My husband was a pack rat, and I was trying to clear things out.”

Then Young became a suspect in burglaries at storage facilities and vehicles in the area, and the police searched his home and found the forgotten shotgun shells as well as some stolen goods. The United States attorney in Chattanooga prosecuted Young under a federal law that bars ex-felons from possessing guns or ammunition. In this case, under the Armed Career Criminal Act, that meant a 15-year minimum sentence.

The United States attorney, William Killian, went after Young — even though none of Young’s past crimes involved a gun, even though Young had no shotgun or other weapon to go with the seven shells, and even though, by all accounts, he had no idea that he was violating the law when he helped Mrs. Mumpower sell her husband’s belongings.

In May, a federal judge, acknowledging that the case was Dickensian but saying that he had no leeway under the law, sentenced Young to serve a minimum of 15 years in federal prison. It didn’t matter that the local authorities eventually dismissed the burglary charges.

Horrific. All three.

Updated -- Some good news this morning via the NY Times. Eric Holder is announcing a new policy on drug cases to ease some of the crazy high sentences in drug cases:
Mr. Holder’s speech on Monday deplores the moral impact of the United States’ high incarceration rate: although it has only 5 percent of the world’s population, it has 25 percent of its prisoners, he notes. But he also attempts to pre-empt political controversy by painting his effort as following the lead of prison reform efforts in primarily conservative-led Southern states.

Under a policy memorandum being sent to all United States attorney offices on Monday, according to an administration official, prosecutors will be told that they may not write the specific quantity of drugs when drafting indictments for drug defendants who meet the following four criteria: their conduct did not involve violence, the use of a weapon or sales to minors; they are not leaders of a criminal organization; they have no significant ties to large-scale gangs or cartels; and they have no significant criminal history.

For example, in the case of a defendant accused of conspiring to sell five kilograms of cocaine — an amount that would set off a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence — the prosecutor would write that “the defendant conspired to distribute cocaine” without saying how much. The quantity would still factor in when prosecutors and judges consult sentencing guidelines, but depending on the circumstances, the result could be a sentence of less than the 10 years called for by the mandatory minimum law, the official said.

It is not clear whether current cases that have not yet been adjudicated would be recharged because of the new policy.


Anonymous said...

It is waay too early for presidential politics, but the democratic female senator from New York who might be the best candidiate in 2016 might end up being Gillibrand and not Clinton.

Anonymous said...

Holder's/DOJ's new policy in drug cases is a good one. I can guarantee you though that the DEA (as a agency) is probably not happy about it.

MC Waste Services, Inc said... just a coinkadinct

MC Waste Services, Inc said... the truth debunks ol' alibi once again

Rumpole said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rumpole said...

Here's what I see happening:

AUSA: "Your client can plead to the indictment without a minimum mandatory, courtesy of your enlightened attorney general and the new feel good DOJ"

Def Atty: "But he didn't do it."

AUSA (frowning) "Then I will go back to the grand jury and indict him with the full amounts of the entire conspiracy's drug amounts in the indictment and he will face as many minimum mandatory sentences as I can jam into one indictment and I will ask the judge to stack them consecutively."

Def Atty: "Nothing feel good about that."

Anonymous said...

So, once again, the Holder DOJ will attempt to circumvent legislation by deciding not to prosecute under statutes it finds politically objectionable.

Don't get me wrong. I, too, find minimum mandatories objectionable. But when they have been written into the statutes (as have the criteria for the "escape valve") aren't we supposed to seek a legislative solution? Once upon a time, we counted on DOJ to ignore the political winds. It was good while it lasted.

P.S. My sources, which are pretty good, indicate that all pre-conviction cases are to be re-indicted, even if that means severing defendants who were originally joined (where some meet the new criteria and some do not).