Florida sheriff’s deputies, under the guise of checking professional licenses, raided an Orlando-area barbershop using SWAT-like tactics back in 2010 and now a federal appeals court has ruled that the search was illegal.
In a ruling that allows a lawsuit against the department to proceed, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals strongly criticized the Orange County Sheriff’s Office for storming the Strictly Skillz barbershop four years ago. “With some team members dressed in ballistic vests and masks, and with guns drawn, the deputies rushed into their target destinations, handcuffed the stunned occupants—and demanded to see their barbers’ licenses,” the court wrote. The raid was one of several deputies carried out against minority-owned barbershops and salons in 2010.
The justices said the deputies went too far in using a SWAT-like approach just to check whether barbers were licensed. In fact, inspectors from Florida’s Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) had inspected Strictly Skillz only two days prior to the raid and found everything in order.
Describing the raid as a “scene right out of a Hollywood movie,” the panel of judges wrote: “Unlike previous inspections of Strictly Skillz…the August 21  search was executed with a tremendous and disproportionate show of force, and no evidence exists that such force was justified.” The Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel reported that “no illegal or unlicensed activity was found” at the Pine Hills barbershop.
Working with DBPR, the deputy sheriffs claimed they suspected unlawful activity had taken place at the shop, which caters to minority customers, and others like it.
Tuesday’s ruling was a result of two deputies, Keith Vidler and Travis Leslie, petitioning that they should be immune from any civil litigation brought against them for doing their jobs. But the judges rejected their position, noting that they had twice before ruled in other cases that those participating in a warrantless criminal raid were not entitled to immunity. “Today, we repeat that same message once again,” the court wrote. “We hope that the third time will be the charm.”
Both the DBPR and the Sheriff’s Office launched internal investigations following a report by the Orlando Sentinel exposing the raids.
The DBPR terminated several employees and settled out of court with barbers. But the Sheriff’s Office concluded deputies did nothing wrong.
To Learn More:
Excessive Force Used in 2010 Barbershop Raid, Appeal Court Says (by Jeff Weiner, Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel)
SWAT-Style Barbershop Raid Nets Harsh Rebuke (by Lorraine Bailey, Courthouse News Service)
Brian Berry v. Travis Leslie (Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals) (pdf)
The militarization of American police forces hasn’t been paid for by just the federal government. Pro-Israel groups in the U.S. have also played a role by financing trips for hundreds of law enforcement officers to travel to the Middle East for counterterrorism training, according to Ali Winston, a contributor to the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR).
Monies provided by such groups as the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee’s Project Interchange and the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs have made it possible for “at least 300 high-ranking sheriffs and police from agencies large and small – from New York and Maine to Orange County and Oakland, California” to attend privately funded seminars in Israel since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Winston discovered.
There, they have learned how Israeli security forces deal with demonstrators and armed threats by terrorists. The seminars include field trips to such sites as military installations, surveillance outposts, and checkpoints at the West Bank and the Israeli-Egyptian border. The training includes spending time observing operations conducted by Israel’s Border Patrol, Defense Forces, national police and intelligence services.
U.S. police officials who have undergone such training have come from the Los Angeles and New York police departments, the New York and New Jersey Port Authority Police Department, the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority Police, and the Major County Sheriffs’ Association. The fact that the former chief of Missouri’s St. Louis County Police Department trained in Israel in 2011 recently came to light following the well-armed police response to protestors in St. Louis-based Ferguson.
Israeli training of U.S. police has also influenced the type of equipment being used. Security forces from both countries are now using some identical gear, including stun and tear gas grenades manufactured by the same U.S. companies—Combined Systems Inc. and Defense Technology Corp. A long-range “sound rifle” that emits ear-shattering noise to disperse crowds, which was used against 2005 West Bank protestors, was also used in the recent police action against protestors in Ferguson.
Shakeel Syed, executive director of the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California, told CIR that American police are often copying what Israel does in terms of crowd control and other techniques.
“Whether it is in Ferguson or L.A., we see a similar response all the time in the form of a disproportionate number of combat-ready police with military gear who are ready to use tear gas at short notice,” Syed said. “Whenever you find 50 people at a demonstration, there is always a SWAT team in sight or right around the corner.”
Israel’s security forces have also trained police in Mexico since 1994, originally in response to the Zapatista uprising in Chiapas.
Last Wednesday Israeli Police filed an indictment against an officer who was filmed beating Tariq Abu Khdeir, a 15 year old Palestinian-American teenager from Florida. He was beaten and arrested during a demonstration to protest the brutal murder of his cousin Mohammed Abu Khdeir. On 2nd July 16 year old Mohammed was abducted and burned alive by Israeli extremists in supposed revenge for the killing of three Israeli teenagers.
Tariq’s bruised face caused outrage in the United States and the State Department called for a “speedy, transparent and credible investigation and full accountability for any excessive use of force” used against the American teen. As a result of mounting pressure from the US, Tariq was released and able to fly home just under two weeks after the ordeal.
Speaking at a press conference following the news of the charges filed, Abu Khdeir and his mother called it “groundbreaking.” Suha Abu Khdeir, the boy’s mother, said it was “a shame that in order for [Israeli authorities] to take action it had to be an American citizen that this happened to.” They believe that the charges were only filed because the incident was recorded and because Tariq is a citizen of the United States.
In sharp contrast, at the time US pressure was mounting for the soldiers behind Tariq’s beating to be held accountable, Israeli General Danny Efrni, closed the investigation into the killing of Yousef Sami Shawamreh.
In March, Yousef and his two friends had gone to pick the thistle like plant gundelia which farmers from his village in the South of Hebron harvest at the same time every year, when he was fatally shot in the hip by an Israeli soldier.
According to the army, three Palestinians approached the fence and started cutting it. The guards performed the standard procedure for stopping a suspect, shooting first in the air and then toward the Palestinian. According to local residents, the separation wall annexed some of the villages land, including the land of Shawamreh family, and so the boys had crossed over to harvest the crop on the other side of it, a routine that the soldiers were aware of.
The two boys who were with Yousef claim they heard three shots, causing them to get down on the floor. Yousef then reportedly got up to cross back over into the village, when another shot was fired causing him to fall. One of the boys, Muntaser, attempted to carry him to safety, but was told by 6 soldiers who arrived at the scene to put Yousef down, threatening to shoot him if he did not obey.
The prosecution, however, found that, “the force prepared for the operation professionally and acted in line with rules for opening fire”- concluding there was no suspicion of a criminal act on their part.
Yousef’s case joins the hundreds of cases that fail to end in an indictment. An Amnesty International report found that 41 Palestinians had been killed by live ammunition in the West Bank between 2011 and 2013 alone. The same report found that between September 2000 and June 2013, only 16 investigations ended in indictment of Israeli soldiers.
According to statistics released last week rights group Yesh Din, in 2013, out of the 239 notifications submitted to the Military Police Criminal Investigations Division (MPCID), the body which deals with complaints regarding offenses committed by Israeli Defence Force (IDF) soldiers, only six resulted in indictments.
Neta Patrick, Executive Director of Yesh Din said: “Every year, we caution against the sorry state of the investigation system. However, it appears that Israel refuses to deal with these structural failings or take minimal steps to correct them, despite harsh criticism voiced by public commissions and by civil society organizations.”
She added: “The inescapable conclusion is that the Government of Israel is not willing to investigate harm caused to Palestinians.”
Speaking of McCarthyism, 43 veterans of an elite Israeli intelligence unit have not only come out against Israel’s treatment of Palestinians but declared that they will no longer “take part in the state’s actions against Palestinians.” The intelligence on Palestinians that they gathered, they claim, “is used for political persecution,” which “does not allow for people to lead normal lives, and fuels more violence, further distancing us from the end of the conflict.” According to the Times:
In the testimony and in interviews, though, the Unit 8200 veterans described exploitative activities focused on innocents whom Israel hoped to enlist as collaborators. They said information about medical conditions and sexual orientation were among the tidbits collected. They said that Palestinians lacked legal protections from harassment, extortion and injury.
One of the hallmarks of a repressive state, particularly in the twentieth century, is the use of blackmail against gays and lesbians in order to get them to collaborate and inform on their friends, colleagues, acquaintances, and other potential or actual dissidents. The Stasi was notorious for turning gays and lesbians into collaborators (see pp. 567ff); one of the key figures in Timothy Garton Ash’s The File—Schuldt—is just such an informant. So pervasive was the use of this type of blackmail during the Cold War that it also figured prominently on the US side: one of the main justifications proffered for drumming out gays and lesbians from the federal government during the McCarthy era was that they were susceptible to being blackmailed by the Soviets. Though no one ever found a single instance of that.
Now here comes news that the Israeli state is doing the same thing among Palestinians. It will be interesting to see how the people who were so rightly appalled by the Stasi’s recruitment of gays and lesbians to a repressive state apparatus—including Israel defenders like James Kirchick—and who routinely hold up Israel’s record on gays and lesbians as a measure of its freedom and democracy (critics of Israel call that “pinkwashing”) will rationalize this away.
Via Amy Alkon, we learn of yet another bizarre moment in the world of security theater known as the TSA. It involves a young man from Orono, Minnesota, named Kahler Nygard, who for reasons no one will ever explain, happens to be on a “selectee” list for flying. It’s not quite the no fly list, but it’s the list where you get four S’s on your boarding pass (“SSSS”), and the TSA is then supposed to give you and your bags that extra level of privacy-destroying attention, including a full gropedown. Nygard claims he got the full groping in Minnesota, but the TSA (or potentially a Spirit airlines employee) apparently believed it was overlooked — though, they didn’t “realize” this until the flight was halfway to Denver. Frantic calls were made and the TSA was eagerly waiting for Nygard when he landed in Denver, leading him to be pulled off the plane first (that’s a self-recorded video where he cheerfully announces to those on board, “No, I have not committed a crime!”), at which point the TSA demands to grope him again:
Yes, after he’s already flown from Minneapolis (where he claims he was groped, though the TSA claims it was missed) to Denver, the TSA wishes to grope him (and search through his bags again). Apparently, they believe that he might magically reverse time and go back in time to blow up the plane or something.
The TSA agent, Andrew Grossman, first demands Nygard’s boarding pass. Nygard points out that he no longer has it (you don’t need it after you board), which stumps Grossman, leading him to have to make a phone call — where he helpfully tells whoever he’s talking to at the other end that Nygard is “pretty objectionable, filming me.” Nygard keeps asking why they need to search him, and the TSA has no good answer, other than saying they need to do so. Nygard asks if he’s being detained, and they don’t answer. He asks if it’s an order or a request, and the TSA’s Grossman again doesn’t really answer (other than to say that he’s following orders). Finally, Nygard just walks away, saying that if he’s not being detained, he’s leaving. The TSA claims it’s calling the Denver police, who apparently did not do anything to stop Nygard, who walked out of the airport without any further problems.
I’m curious if the TSA’s Blogger Bob will step up with an explanation for why a passenger should be groped post-flight.
JERUSALEM (AFP) — Forty-three reservists and former members of an elite Israeli army intelligence unit condemned alleged “abuses” of Palestinians in the occupied territories, in an open letter published on Friday.
The letter, addressed to Israel’s prime minister, armed forces chief and head of military intelligence and distributed to media, said information gathered by Unit 8200 was used by civilian intelligence agencies to coerce Palestinians uninvolved in militant activity.
The signatories of the letter said they would refuse to be party to such acts in future.
“There’s no distinction between Palestinians who are, and are not, involved in violence,” an English language copy of the letter says.
“Information that is collected and stored harms innocent people. It is used for political persecution and to create divisions within Palestinian society by recruiting collaborators and driving parts of Palestinian society against itself.”
The soldiers also said that they had spied on the sexual “preferences” of Palestinians in order to use them as blackmail against individuals they wanted to “turn into collaborators” for the Israeli occupation forces.
The admission verifies long-standing Palestinian claims that the Israeli military has pressured gay Palestinians into working with them by using their sexuality against them.
“We cannot continue to serve this system in good conscience, denying the rights of millions of people,” the 43 soldiers and officers wrote.
The signatories gave just their ranks and first names or first initials.
“Those among us who are reservists, refuse to take part in the state’s actions against Palestinians,” the letter, seen by AFP said.
“We call for all soldiers serving in the Intelligence Corps, present and future, along with all the citizens of Israel, to speak out against these injustices and to take action to bring them to an end.”
The letter, published less than three weeks after the Israeli military’s fierce military offensive against Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip, slammed the “collective punishment of inhabitants” of the coastal territory.
Army questions their motive
It did not specifically mention the July-August war which took the lives of more than 2,100 Palestinians, most of them civilians, and 73 people on the Israeli side, 67 of them soldiers.
The army on Friday questioned the accuracy and motivation of the protesters’ accusations.
“The Intelligence Corps has no record that the … violations in the letter ever took place,” it said in a statement.
“Immediately turning to the press instead of their officers or relevant authorities is suspicious and raises doubts as to the seriousness of their claim.”
Members of Unit 8200, considered among Israel’s best and brightest, carry out electronic communications monitoring and surveillance, similar to work performed by the US National Security Agency and Britain’s GCHQ.
The unit is one component of the broader military intelligence corps and shares information with Israel’s civilian intelligence agencies.
A former commander of the unit, reserve Brigadier General Hanan Gefen, accused the letter’s authors of a grave breach of trust.
“If this is true and if I were the current unit commander, I would put them all on trial and would demand prison sentences for them, and I would remove them from the unit,” he was quoted as saying by Maariv newspaper on Friday.
“They are using information that reached them in the course of their duties to promote their political position.”
One of the signatories, speaking on condition of anonymity, told top-selling Yediot Aharonot newspaper: “I think that all of us who signed the letter did so because we understood that we are unable to sleep well at night.”
Most Israeli men perform three years of compulsory military service after school, and women two years, followed by regular spells of reserve duty for years afterwards.
Ma’an staff contributed to this report.
Issa Qaraqe, former minister of prisoner affairs, said in a news conference that the results of an autopsy showed that internal bleeding and a concussion were the cause of death.
Israeli Prisons spokeswoman Sivan Weizman told AFP Tuesday that he had hanged himself in a bathroom at Eshel prison.
She said a medical team had tried to revive him but that he was pronounced dead on arrival at Soroka hospital in the city.
Qaraqe said the autopsy did not find any signs of bruising around al-Jabari’s neck and that the main cause of death was bleeding and concussion likely to have been caused by blows to the head.
The victim also had bruising on his face and lips.
Dr. Saber al-Alul took part in the autopsy on Thursday at the Israeli forensic science institute but was prevented from revealing the autopsy results.
Another committee then conducted an autopsy on the body at the Palestinian Institute of Forensic Medicine in Abu Dis.
Being a black person in the United States comes with much greater risk than being white when involved in police incidents, federal health reporting statistics show.
Using data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Sunlight Foundation examined non-fatal injuries stemming from law enforcement encounters and found a significant gap in how whites and blacks are treated.
From 2001 to 2012, “black people suffered over five times as many nonfatal injuries per capita from law enforcement as white people did cumulatively,” Damian Ortellado wrote for the Sunlight Foundation. For black men, the injury rate per 100,000 people came out to 117, while for white men it was 21 per 100,000. In fact, white men had fewer total injuries than black men despite being involved in five times as many police incidents.
The numbers also showed that the same racial disparity existed among women as well as men, Ortellado found. “Using the same injury estimate to population count methodology yields nearly identical comparisons between black women and white women, where black women receive five times the rate of nonfatal injuries caused by law enforcement when compared to white women,” he wrote.
According to Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, Henry Lee McCollum deserved to die for the brutal rape and murder of 11-year-old Sabrina Buie. There’s just one problem, and a frequent one in death penalty cases: Henry Lee McCollum didn’t do it.
Instead of tracking down the true killer, police and prosecutors went after Henry Lee McCollum and his half-brother Leon Brown, two intellectually disabled and innocent teenagers. While his mother wept in the hallway, not allowed to see her son, officers interrogated McCollum for five hours, ultimately coercing him to sign a confession they had written. In a trial without forensic evidence and plagued by racial bias, these two half-brothers with IQs in the 50s and 60s were sent to death row. Henry Lee McCollum and Leon Brown, whose sentence was later reduced to life in prison, have been behind bars for the last 30 years.
Last week, they were finally exonerated in another disturbing example of how deeply flawed the death penalty is, particularly for African-American men in the South.
Death penalty supporters have long cast Henry Lee McCollum as a mythic boogeyman. After North Carolinians passed the Racial Justice Act, a law outlawing racial bias in capital cases, opponents of the law mailed sensationalized fliers showing McCollum’s mug shot, claiming it would lead to the release of convicted killers like him. Justice Scalia depicted McCollum as a strong argument against death penalty abolition because of the gruesomeness of Sabrina Buie’s murder.
There is a perverse irony here. Henry McCollum, long invoked as an argument for the death penalty, is innocent. Instead of the ultimate threat, he represents the ultimate injustice: a government condemning an innocent man to die. McCollum is not a boogeyman. Rather he is a case study of everything wrong with a broken capital punishment system that has no place in this country.
In another cruel irony, McCollum’s boogeyman status was successfully used to thwart the Racial Justice Act, which proved racial bias in four cases before it was repealed last year. And that’s tragic because North Carolina and other southern states desperately need laws like these to protect the innocent from racial bias.
Southern states, like North Carolina, are the most likely to wrongfully convict and sentence innocent people to death. And in those states, black defendants bear the greatest burden of wrongful convictions. Of the nine men wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death in North Carolina, eight are men of color and seven – including McCollum and his half-brother – are black.
Race showed up in McCollum’s trial from the start. The trial prosecutors in McCollum’s case deliberately and unconstitutionally struck multiple qualified black jurors from jury service. This is a common practice: statewide, prosecutors were more than twice as likely to strike qualified black jurors as all other jurors.
For years now, North Carolina prosecutors have known about the statistical evidence showing widespread bias in the way they pursue capital convictions. Rather than addressing the findings and changing their practices, they have fought the Racial Justice Act and tried to keep statistical evidence of racial bias out of court. These misplaced priorities further erode the capital punishment system’s ability to produce accurate and just results, leading to errors that can never be erased.
North Carolina’s legislators now need to take a close look at Henry Lee McCollum and Leon Brown and see how racial bias distorts and undermines the state’s criminal justice system. Two innocent men are now middle aged, leaving prison after being locked up since they were teenage boys. Sabrina Buie’s loved ones have been strung along for three decades by police and prosecutors, believing two innocent men took their little girl from them in a rural North Carolina soybean field. And a community’s trust in the ability of its courts to produce a just outcome – accurate and untainted by racial bias – has been eroded.
After three decades of needless injustice, it is good to celebrate the fact that Henry McCollum and Leon Brown are going home. But the statistics tell us that there are many more like them, many who made it to death row only because of a broken and biased system. We need more protections, not fewer, to reduce the risk of wrongful convictions and eliminate racial bias. Ending the death penalty would be a good start.
New research shows how US Special Operations Command is outsourcing many of its most sensitive information activities, including interrogation, drone and psychological operations
Private military contractors are reaping billions of dollars in profitable rewards from the U.S. government’s global network of clandestine counter-terrorism and other overseas operations, according to a new report that examines the high-levels of integration between for-profit corporations and the Pentagon’s global military and surveillance apparatus.
The new report—titled US Special Operations Command Contracting: Data-Mining the Public Record—written by researcher Crofton Black and commissioned by the U.K.-based Remote Control Project, shows that “corporations are integrated into some of the most sensitive aspects” of operations conducted by the U.S. Special Operations Command (or USSOCOM). Those activities, according to the report include: flying drones and overseeing target acquisition, facilitating communications between forward operating locations and central command hubs, interrogating prisoners, translating captured material, and managing the flow of information between regional populations and the US military.
“[USSOCOM] is outsourcing many of its most sensitive information activities, including interrogation, drone and psychological operations,” explained Black in a statement. “Remote warfare is increasingly being shaped by the private sector.”
And Caroline Donnellan, manager of the Remote Control project, said, “This report is distinctive in that it mines data from the generally classified world of US special operations. It reveals the extent to which remote control activity is expanding in all its facets, with corporations becoming more and more integrated into very sensitive elements of warfare. The report’s findings are of concern given the challenges remote warfare poses for effective investigation, transparency, accountability and oversight. This highlights the difficulties in assessing the impact and consequences of remote control activity.”
Reviewing its contents for The Intercept on Monday, journalist Ryan Gallagher observed how the unprecedented research documents troubling ways in which these private corporations have engaged in overseas operations. Describing it as a “corporate bonanza” for these contractor, Gallagher reports:
USSOCOM tendered a $1.5 billion contract that required support with “Psychological Operations related to intelligence and information operations.” Prospective contractors were told they would have to provide “military and civilian persuasive communications planning, produce commercial quality products for unlimited foreign public broadcast, and develop lines of persuasion, themes, and designs for multi-media products.” The contract suggested that aim of these “persuasion” operations was to “engage local populations and counter nefarious influences” in parts of Europe and Africa.
A separate document related to the same contract noted that one purpose of the effort was to conduct “market research” of al-Qaida and its affiliates in Libya, Tunisia, Mali, Northern Nigeria, and Somalia. Four American companies eventually won the $1.5 billion contract: Tennessee-based Jacobs Technology and Virginia-based Booz Allen Hamilton, CACI-WGI, and SRA International.
Notably, while some 3,000 contractors provided service in some capacity to USSOCOM, just eight of the contractors earned more than 50 percent of the $13 billion total identified in Black’s report. Those were: Lockheed Martin, L-3 Communications, Boeing, Harris Corporation, Jacobs Engineering Group, MA Federal, Raytheon, and ITT Corporation.
Israeli forces took at least 127 Palestinians across the occupied West Bank into custody, during the first week of September alone, according to recent statements by the Palestinian Prisoner’s Society (PPS).
PPS said, according to Ma’an news, that most detainees came from the Hebron district, where 28 Palestinians were taken by Israeli forces.
PPS further stated that 23 of the detainees were from the Jenin district, in the northern West Bank, 21 from Ramallah, 20 from Jerusalem, 12 from Bethlehem, eight from Tulkarem, six from Nablus, three from Qalqiliya, and six from the Tubas/Salfit district.
Israeli forces abducted 10 Palestinians overnight, on Saturday, seven of whom were taken from Hebron, with one from Bethlehem, and two from Beit Sira village, western Ramallah district.
More than 7,000 Palestinians are currently being held in Israeli prisons, including some 2,000 detained during the massive arrest campaigns which have taken place over the last three months.
See also — 08/31/14 PPS: 597 Palestinians Arrested During August
Efforts to expose videos and photos that documented torture at Guantánamo have been blocked by a federal appeals court in New York that sided with the Obama administration in its refusal to turn over the information.
The case centered on the treatment of Mohammed al-Qahtani, dubbed the 20th hijacker in the 9/11 attacks. Captured in 2001 and held at Guantánamo since then, al-Qahtani has been subjected to torture and other harsh treatment during his detention, according to his lawyers at the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR).
CCR filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit to force the administration to release photos and videos depicting its client’s abuse at the U.S. prison in Cuba.
There are reportedly 58 videos in the possession of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Kevin Gosztola wrote at Fire Dog Lake, which show Qahtani’s “activities in his cell and his interactions” with U.S. military personnel. Two videos allegedly depict “forced cell extractions” involving Qahtani that resulted in abusive or aggressive behavior on the part of his jailers.
But those recordings will not see the light of day anytime soon. The government successfully argued “with adequate specificity” that the footage and images “could logically and plausibly harm national security because these images are uniquely susceptible to use by anti-American extremists as propaganda to incite violence against United States interests domestically and abroad,” Judge José Cabranes wrote in the court’s opinion.
To Learn More:
Court: Releasing Images of Guantanamo Prisoner Would Incite Violence, Especially Since He Was Tortured (by Kevin Gosztola, Fire Dog Lake)
No Daylight for US Govt Photos, Video That May Show Gitmo Torture (by Nadia Prupis, Common Dreams)
Circuit Keeps Lid Closed on al-Qahtani Footage (by Adam Klasfeld, Courthouse News Service)
Center for Constitutional Rights v. Central Intelligence Agency (Second Circuit Court of Appeals)
Group Sues U.S. Government to Force Release of Only Known Remaining Torture Video (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)