Monthly Archives: March 2012

Child witnesses to Afghan massacre say Robert Bales was not alone


U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, pictured here at the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, California in August 2011, has been charged with 17 counts of murder in the deaths of 17 Afghan villagers. Spc. Ryan Hallock/Dvids/ Handout / EPA

Village residents told reporters and Afghan government officials that after the roadside bomb attack, U.S. troops lined up men from the village against a wall and told them they would pay a price.

msnbc.com | Mar 31, 2012

Here are two versions of what happened the night of March 11, when 17 Afghan villagers were shot to death.

First, the Army version: Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, troubled by marriage woes, drunkenly left Camp Belambai, 12 miles from Kandahar, with a pistol and an automatic rifle and killed six people as they slept. Bales then returned to the base and left again for another village, this time killing 11. He acted alone and he admitted to the killings, according to the Army.

Then there is the account that child witnesses provided Yalda Hakim, a journalist for SBS Dateline in Australia. Hakim, who was born in Afghanistan and immigrated to Australia as a child, is the first international journalist to interview the surviving witnesses. She said American investigators tried to prevent her from interviewing the children, saying her questions could traumatize them. She said she appealed to village leaders, who arranged for her to interview the witnesses.

In the video, the children told Hakim that other Americans were present during the rampage, holding flashlights in the yard.

Bales’ attorney claims ‘information blackout’ from government

Noorbinak, 8, told Hakim that the shooter first shot her father’s dog. Then, Noorbinak said in the video, he shot her father in the foot and dragged her mother by the hair. When her father started screaming, he shot her father, the child says. Then he turned the gun on Noorbinak and shot her in the leg.

“One man entered the room and the others were standing in the yard, holding lights,” Noorbinak said in the video.

A brother of one victim told Hakim that his brother’s children mentioned more than one soldier wearing a headlamp. They also had lights at the end of their guns, he said.

“They don’t know whether there were 15 or 20, however many there were,” he said in the video.

Army officials have repeatedly denied that others were involved in the massacre, emphasizing that Bales acted alone.

Bales, who was flown to a maximum-security military prison in Fort Leavenworth, Kan., was charged last week with 17 counts of murder and six attempts of attempted murder.

The massacre came several days after a roadside bomb attack that cost one soldier his leg. Village residents told reporters and Afghan government officials that after the roadside bomb attack, U.S. troops lined up men from the village against a wall and told them they would pay a price. The Pentagon has denied those allegations.

Gen. Karimi, assigned by Afghan President Hamid Karzai to investigate the murders, told Hakim that he, too, wonders whether Bales acted alone and how he could left the base without notice.

“Village elders said several soldiers took part and that there is boot prints in the area,” Karimi told Hakim. He said villagers told him that they saw three or four individuals kneeling and that helicopters were overhead during the rampage.

“To search for him?” Karimi said he asked them.

“No,” he said they told him. “They were there from the very beginning.”

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Governor demands report on state trooper tickets quota competition


An e-mail from police Lieutenant Anthony Schirillo urging troopers to hand out more tickets. Photo: Contributed / CT

ctpost.com | Mar 30, 2012

by Ken Dixon

HARTFORD — State Police said Friday that a barracks commander’s attempt to inspire his troopers to catch more speeders by offering a pizza prize was misconstrued as a requirement for enforcement quotas.

But troopers believe that it might be part of an illegal effort on the part of the high-ranking officials.

The Thursday incident at Troop I in Bethany, whose patrol area includes Interstate 84, became the focus of criticism Friday from Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and the president of the troopers union.

“Quotas are not appropriate and are illegal,” Malloy told reporters after the monthly meeting of the State Bond Commission, adding that he has given Public Safety Commissioner Reuben F. Bradford until Monday to submit a full report.

Memo: Pizza For Troopers Who Issue Most Tickets

“Apparently they do step up enforcement in the spring,” Malloy said, adding that last week a DOT worker was killed by a motorist on Route 8 in Waterbury. “It’s probably an appropriate step to take in the spring.”

Just before noon on Thursday, Lt. Anthony Schirillo III, Troop I’s commander, issued an “all hands on deck” email for Friday. “We have to issue 60 infractions/misdemeanors each shift for a total of 180 infractions, in order to outperform Troop F and Troop G,” he wrote.

Schirillo’s email indicated that Troop F, on Interstate 95 in Westbrook, and Bridgeport-based Troop G recently reported writing 301 tickets and 345 tickets on consecutive days, respectively.

“We can do better,” wrote Schirillo, the former commander of Troop G. “I am asking that everyone, myself included, contribute to this effort. Based on the number of on-duty personnel, 60 infractions a shift would proportionately put us above both troops. Note, if we happen to issue 350 tickets in one day that would be stellar.”

A follow-up email offered pizza to the trooper writing the most tickets.

Matthew Andrews, president of the Connecticut State Police Union, said state law prohibits quotas, and he’s concerned.

“Our members won’t comply with an illegal order or a ticket quota and will always use discretion as allowed by our department policy and the law,” Andrews told reporters in the Capitol complex.

Andrews said that major holidays usually prompt extra enforcement efforts, but he’s concerned that this is a divisionwide effort to require more ticket production.

“This wasn’t just specifically Troop I,” Andrews said. “It’s going on around the state that there’s an increased desire to issue more tickets and we don’t think it’s proper. Troopers will always do their job. Tickets are there to correct that behavior.”

Andrews said he was withholding judgment on Schirillo until the commissioner’s report is issued. “We don’t believe it’s the lieutenants or the captains,” he said. “We believe it could be from a higher command that’s asking for this.”

There are 12 barracks throughout the state and currently 1,080 troopers. A 1991 law prohibits the imposition of quotas on troopers.

Lt. J. Paul Vance, spokesman for the state’s Division of State Police, said Schirillo was merely cheerleading in attempt to outperform the two other barracks.

“There’s no way there were any required quotas,” Vance said in a phone interview. “Lt. Schirillo was saying, `Let’s go and work and give a little bit more, work a little bit harder, there are speeders out there.’ It was motivational and maybe he needed a little polish on it.”

Trucker With Traveling Torture Chamber Admits to More Murders


Serial killer Robert B. Rhoades pleaded guilty this week to murdering Patricia Candace Walsh and her newlywed husband, Scott Zyskowski, in 1990. Illinois Department of Corrections

courant.com | Mar 30, 2012

By CHRISTINA NG

A Texas trucker who kept a traveling torture chamber in the cab of his rig pleaded guilty to murdering a newlywed couple more than 20 years ago.

Robert Ben Rhoades, 66, is already serving a life sentence without parole for the 1990 murder of 14-year-old runaway Regina Walters in Illinois.

Prosecutors say the trucker kept a mobile torture chamber in the cab of his long-haul rig.

“There’s this compartment that’s hidden completely from view other than between the seats,” Steve Smith, first assistant for the 112th District Attorney’s office in Texas, told ABCNews.com.

The dungeon-like compartment was described in “Roadside Prey” by Alva Busch, a book written about Rhoades. The rig was equipped with handcuffs on the ceiling, which enabled Rhoades to chain his female victims so that he could torture them before killing them.

Prosecutors believe Rhoades may have put many other women through the cycle of “kidnap, torture, and kill,” but Smith said they do not know how many women he may have hurt, since he traveled so much.

“That was the problem with him,” Smith said. “He was on the interstate everywhere.”

Department of Defense outlines Skynet and Terminator development

geek.com | Mar 30, 2012

By: Matthew Humphries

Technology is taking an ever larger role in the systems we rely on every day. The military is not immune to this, and in fact helps push forward innovation if it benefits them. Multiple projects funded by DARPA prove this.

However, we have seen a fictional take on where too much reliance on machines and automation can lead. Yes, I’m referring to Skynet as depicted in the Terminator movies. Now it seems the US Department of Defense is heading in exactly that direction with its research projects and investment.

Zachary J. Lemnios holds the position of Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering in the US Government. Yesterday he released a letter entitled, “The Department of Defense Is Placing a Big Bet on Big Data.” through a new government site called the Defense Innovation Marketplace. It broadly outlines how new systems are being developed and brought online to “understand and interpret” the growing amount of data being gathered by military sensors.

White House ‘Big Data’ Push Means Big Bucks for Drone Brains

That’s not the worrying bit, though. These so-called Big Data projects have a $250 million budget to spend every year, and one of the projects underway could be named Skynet it’s so close to the artificial intelligence seen in the movies.

The project does not have a name yet, but it could be multiple projects as far as we know. The aim is clear, though. The DoD wants to create a system that combines sensing, perception, and the ability to make decisions to create a “truly autonomous system.” The end result? A system that will be “agile … maneuver and understand their environment … make decisions by themselves … know when to call upon a human.”

I think they should call it the T-100 as it’s a first attempt, don’t you?

To achieve this intelligent, autonomous system the DoD is investing heavily in tools and techniques to analyze large amounts of data, that offer the ability to understand and react to real-world conditions, and act dynamically without human intervention. So basically a network of machines acting on their own based on the situation and commands sent down from a central command system.

There is also a call for ideas to aid the project with 20 open solicitations available. Who is going to step up and offer to develop a foolproof kill switch?

Read more at Defense Innovation Marketplace (PDF)

Memo: FBI can “suspend the law to impinge on the freedom of others”, since “we are our own counsel”


wired.com | Mar 28, 2012

By Spencer Ackerman and Noah Shachtman

The FBI once taught its agents that they can “bend or suspend the law” as they wiretap suspects. But the bureau says it didn’t really mean it, and has now removed the document from its counterterrorism training curriculum, calling it an “imprecise” instruction. Which is a good thing, national security attorneys say, because the FBI’s contention that it can twist the law in pursuit of suspected terrorists is just wrong.

“Dismissing this statement as ‘imprecise’ is a rather unsatisfying response given the very precise lines Congress and the courts have repeatedly drawn between what is and is not permissible, even in counterterrorism cases, over the past decade,” Steve Vladeck, a national-security law professor at American University, says. “It might technically be true that the FBI has certain authorities when conducting counterterrorism investigations that the Constitution otherwise forbids, but that’s good only so far as it goes.”

The reference to law-bending was noted in a letter to FBI Director Robert Mueller from Sen. Richard Durbin that Danger Room obtained. When Danger Room asked for the original document, the FBI initially declined. On Wednesday, a Bureau spokesperson relented, but refused to say who prepared the document; how long it was in circulation; and how many FBI agents, analysts and officials received its instruction.

The undated piece of instructional material (.pdf) notes that “under certain circumstances, the FBI has the ability to bend or suspend the law to impinge on the freedom of others.” Those circumstances include “the ability to gather information on individuals which would normally be protected under the U.S. Constitution through the use of FISA [the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act], Title 3 monitoring [general law enforcement surveillance], NSL [National Security Letter] reports, etc.”

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Silence and self-rule: Brooklyn’s widespread Jewish Orthodox child abuse cover-up


Two years ago, Brooklyn rabbi Baruch Lebovits was sentenced to jail for his repeated abuse of a 16-year-old. Photograph: New York Daily News/Getty Images

Brooklyn’s ultra-Orthodox rabbis claim they are co-operating with authorities over child sex abuse. But victims say they are being persecuted – and that the DA is doing little to help.

Mordechai’s persecution is part of a widespread cover-up of child sexual abuse among Brooklyn’s ultra-Orthodox Jews.

guardian.co.uk | Mar 29, 2012

Zoë Blackler in New York

When Mordechai discovered his mentally disabled child was being molested, he reported the crime to the police. A local man was arrested and charged with repeatedly raping the boy in their synagogue’s ritual bath. When news of the arrest got back to their Brooklyn community, the neighbours launched a hate campaign. But the object of their anger wasn’t the alleged perpetrator, Meir Dascalowitz, it was the abused boy’s father.

For the last two years, Mordechai says he’s been hounded by his community. “The minute this guy got arrested I started a new life, a life of hell, terror, threat, you name it.” There were bogus calls to the fire department resulting in unwelcome late night visits, anonymous death threats, banishment from synagogue, even a plot to derail his move to a new apartment. “I lost my friends. I lost my family. Nobody in Williamsburg can talk to me. Nobody means nobody. We are so angry, so broken.”

Related

Brooklyn DA accused of failing to tackle Orthodox Jews’ cover-up of sex abuse

Mordechai’s persecution is part of a widespread cover-up of child sexual abuse among Brooklyn’s ultra-Orthodox Jews. With echoes of the Catholic priest scandal, for decades rabbis have hushed up child sex crimes and fomented a culture in which victims are further victimised and abusers protected.

After the first claims of a cover-up surfaced in the mid 2000s, the rabbis’ stance was outright denial – not only that crimes were being concealed, but of the very existence of ultra-Orthodox child molesters. In the years since, victim advocates and whistle-blower blogs have forced open the issue. Today, the religious leadership claims to co-operate with law enforcement. The Brooklyn district attorney, Charles Hynes, long vilified by advocates for his inaction, now cares to be seen to be prosecuting – though how enthusiastically is in dispute. And attitudes within the community have shifted marginally.

But the essence of the problem has changed little. Brooklyn’s ultra-Orthodox enclaves remain close-knit and insular, suspicious of secular authority and contemptuous of the criminal justice system. Religious leaders command strict authority inside their communities and have the external political power to demand a degree of self-rule. Ideal conditions for a cover-up.

Lawyer and advocate Michael Lesher has campaigned for years to break the rabbis’ stronghold and get abusers into court. There is a misapprehension, he says, that every time a child sex crime reaches the media it disgraces the community. “In reality, it gets reported but only as part of the generally muck and mire of grease-blotter journalism.” But when cases are covered up, that really is a scandal. “That is a crime of a different order.”
‘The blood of all those victims is on their hands’

Unlike Mordechai, few victims inside the community will tell their stories publicly. But in recent years, a number of adult survivors, now living outside the religion and no longer bound by its taboos, have spoken out.

Joel Engelman says he was molested at the age of eight by his teacher, Rabbi Avrohom Reichman. Four years ago he sued his former school after it failed to dismiss Reichman. Engelman, by then in his early 20s, had gone to the school to report his abuser and seek redress. The religious leadership investigated, concluded that Reichman was guilty and did nothing, the suit said. Reichman is still teaching there today. (Engelman’s civil suit was dismissed on statute of limitations grounds.)

Luzer Twersky, 26, was abused for three years from the age of nine by his private tutor. It only ended when David Greenfeld – whose father was a respected member of the community ≠ was discovered abusing another boy in a ritual bath, a mikvah. Greenfeld continued teaching until his arrest in 2009 on fresh molestation charges. In January, the case against him collapsed because the victim’s family would not co-operate, the DA’s spokesperson said.

Both men say that when they were growing up – Engelman in Williamsburg, Twersky in Borough Park – the more rampant child molesters were well known to their group of friends.

During research for this article, I heard numerous stories like Twersky’s and Engelman’s. Though the details varied, the dynamics of the cover-up were always the same. Many were relayed secondhand, the victims themselves refused to speak. There was the boy molested by his teacher, a rabbi. When his mother found out, the teacher was temporarily suspended, only to be appointed principal a few years later. There was the childhood friend, condemned for accusing a respected family man, who later committed suicide. The abusive father, who pleaded with rabbis to hush up the crime, which they did, now works with children. And just a few months ago, a 14-year-old boy sent by his rabbi to apologise to his molester for seducing him.

As consistent as the tales of cover up are those of community intimidation, where victims are branded a moser – an informer – excluded from school, spat on in synagogue, their families threatened and harassed by supporters of the accused.

On the occasions the religious leaders have taken action, they’ve turned to their shadow justice system, the religious courts known as the beit din. But lacking investigative powers, forensic expertise or means of enforcement, the beit din are wholly ineffectual in trying molesters. At other times, they’ve shuffled offenders off for “treatment”, typically to unlicensed therapists.

“My story is one of hundreds they’ve covered up,” said one victim who asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals. “The blood of all those victims is on their hands.”

Of all the horror stories, the most notorious involves Rabbi Yehuda Kolko, for several decades a teacher at Yeshiva Torah Temimah in Brooklyn and a summer camp counsellor.

In 2006, two adult men publicly accused Kolko of molesting them as children, one in the late 1960s, another in the mid 1980s. In a civil suit, the men claimed that rabbis first learnt Kolko was a serial molester back in the 1980s. At that time, a beit din was convened. But Kolko enjoyed the protection of his school principal, Rabbi Lipa Margulies, whose intimidation of witnesses and concealment of information made victims drop their claims, the complaint said. The religious court proceedings came to nothing.

The men took their stories to the mainstream media and the revelations shook the ultra-Orthodox community. Their civil suit was thrown out on statute of limitations grounds but during the publicity two of Kolko’s current students, boys aged eight and nine, revealed that they too had been abused. Kolko was indicted on felony sexual abuse charges.

Ben Hirsch of victims support group Survivors for Justice was instrumental in getting their cases to court. “The two kids were prepared to take the stand. The families were supportive. Other victims, ranging in age from their 20s to mid 50s, including a lawyer, were prepared to testify that Kolko had molested them as children. There was solid evidence he’d been molesting boys for decades. We’d given the DA well over a dozen names of people willing to co-operate. It was a rock solid case.”

But instead of putting Kolko on trial, the DA gave him a deal. In April 2008, Kolko pled guilty to misdemeanor child endangerment (not a sex crime), was given three years probation, was not required to register as a sex offender, and returned to life as normal in Borough Park.

The DA said the families refused to let their children testify.

Ben Hirsch says that’s untrue. He says the parents were presented with a done deal. When the father of one boy signed a letter agreeing to the plea, he sent it back with another, written in his own words: “My son was ready to go to trial and we feel he would have done an excellent job and I am sorry to hear that [Yehuda] Kolko will not proceed further … I feel justice was not served,” he wrote. And he signed off: “I will end by saying I understand what the district attorney wants from me and I will sign the letter.”

Hirsch and the other advocates were incensed. “We don’t know the back story, but we think the DA was under great pressure from the community and he buckled,” Hirsch says.

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Drunk TSA officers charged with trashing hotel room, firing gun out the window

Miami Beach police say two Transportation Security Administration officers partied a little too hard Tuesday night, trashed their South Beach hotel room, then picked up a semi-automatic handgun and shot six rounds out the window.

Miami Herald | Mar 29, 2012

By David Smiley

A TSA officer pats down a little girl

One bullet pierced a $1,500 hurricane-resistant window at a nearby Barneys New York, penetrated a wall and tore into some jeans in the closed store’s stockroom, according to store manager Adelchi Mancusi.

No one was injured.

Jeffrey Piccolella, 27, and Nicholas Anthony Puccio, 25, were arrested just before midnight. The Palm Beach County men have been charged with criminal mischief and use of a firearm while under the influence.

TSA, police work together at Amtrak station

In a city known for wild, late-night behavior, merely tossing speakers, lamps, a phone, ice chest and vase out a second floor window at the Hotel Shelley, 844 Collins Ave., might not have drawn much attention.

But according to an incident report, a front desk clerk and security guard called police about 11:18 p.m. after they heard one gunshot, followed by three to five more a few seconds later. When the clerk went back inside the hotel, a guest told him someone was throwing things out the window of Room 217, where Piccolella and Puccio were staying.

Detective Vivian Hernandez, a police spokeswoman, said officers arrived and, after a shell casing was found on the ground amid broken room furnishings, the SWAT team was called out.

Investigators went to the men’s hotel room and took them to police headquarters.

In a recorded interview, Piccolella told a detective he and Puccio were drinking before returning to their hotel room, according to the incident report. He allegedly said they opened a window, tossed several objects out, then Piccolella grabbed a .380-calliber pistol from his luggage and they took turns shooting out the window.

Puccio said the story was untrue, according to the report.

Police impounded the gun.

Hotel management said $400 in furniture was destroyed.

The men were booked at the Pre-Trial Detention Center on $5,500 bond each.

TSA spokesman Jon Allen wrote in an email that Piccolella and Puccio are part-time officers who have worked one and two years, respectively, for the agency. They were not in Miami Beach on TSA business, according to Allen.

“TSA holds its employees to the highest professional and ethical standards,” Allen wrote. “We will review the facts and take appropriate action as necessary.”