Daily Archives: March 30, 2012

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.”

Russians outraged as more police officers charged with torturing, sodomizing detainees


A police officers looks at a woman who calls herself a relative of police abuse sufferer outside the headquarters of the Investigative Committee’s local department in Kazan, the capital of Tatarstan, on March 21, 2012, as she tries to lodge a complaint to investigators from Moscow. Russia’s Investigative Committee is looking into local police violence in Tatarstan, a mostly Muslim region on the Volga River, after the shocking death of Sergei Nazarov, in Kazan on March 10 focused attention on brutal methods used on suspects. Officers of Kazan’s police station allegedly raped 52-year-old Nazarov, a suspect in custody with a champagne bottle, leading to the man’s death. (Alexander Alexandrov/AFP/Getty Images)

Public outrage in Russia has grown over the reports of police brutality against detainees, as Russia’s top investigative agency filed new charges Thursday.

globalpost.com | Mar 29, 2012

by Talia Ralph

More Russian police officers have been charged with torturing detainees to death as public outrage over police brutality in the country grows.

The Associated Press reported that Russia’s top investigative agency charged four officers in the Siberian city of Novokuznetsk in the death of a prisoner on Thursday. The Investigative Committee also brought new accusations against an officer in the city of Kazan, who is already in custody on charges of torturing another man to death, according to the AP.

On March 28, authorities filed similar charges against two former police officers over the death of a different prisoner in Kemerovo, Radio Free Europe reported.

Sergei Nazarov, 52, died in Kazan City Hospital on March 10, after having been apparently beaten and sodomized with a champagne bottle by police officers at Kazan’s Dalny police station, according to the Kazan Herald.

Nine police officers were fired after the incident, including the four accused of torture and the head of the police station, the Herald reported. Nazarov’s death sparked protests in Kazan that attracted nationwide and federal attention, the AP reported.

The Russian and Tatarstan Ministries of Interior have both denounced the actions of the police force and launched an investigation into the procedures that allowed the abuse to occur, the Herald reported.

Police regulations in Russia require that officers report a certain quota of solved crimes, which encourages officers to make arbitrary arrests, the AP reported. Russian police often use torture as a means to extract false confessions from the people they round up, victims and human rights activists told the AP.

They said even President Dmitry Medvedev’s police reforms have failed to stop or even contain police crimes.

US anti-terrorism law curbs free speech, allows US military to arrest civilians anywhere in the world and detain them without trial


Icelandic MP Birgitta Jonsdottir said she fears she could be arrested for her association with WikiLeaks. Photograph: Halldor Kolbeins/AFP/Getty Images

Controversy over NDAA centres on loose definition of key words, such as who are ‘associated forces’ of named terrorist groups

guardian.co.uk | Mar 29, 2012

Paul Harris in New York

A group political activists and journalists has launched a legal challenge to stop an American law they say allows the US military to arrest civilians anywhere in the world and detain them without trial as accused supporters of terrorism.

The seven figures, who include ex-New York Times reporter Chris Hedges, professor Noam Chomsky and Icelandic politician and WikiLeaks campaigner Birgitta Jonsdottir, testified to a Manhattan judge that the law – dubbed the NDAA or Homeland Battlefield Bill – would cripple free speech around the world.

They said that various provisions written into the National Defense Authorization Bill, which was signed by President Barack Obama at the end of 2011, effectively broadened the definition of “supporter of terrorism” to include peaceful activists, authors, academics and even journalists interviewing members of radical groups.

Controversy centres on the loose definition of key words in the bill, in particular who might be “associated forces” of the law’s named terrorist groups al-Qaida and the Taliban and what “substantial support” to those groups might get defined as. Whereas White House officials have denied the wording extends any sort of blanket coverage to civilians, rather than active enemy combatants, or actions involved in free speech, some civil rights experts have said the lack of precise definition leaves it open to massive potential abuse.

Hedges, who is a Pulitzer Prize-winner and longtime writer on the Middle East, told New York judge Katherine Forrest on Thursday that he feared he might be subject to arrest under the terms of NDAA if interviewing or meeting Islamic radicals could constitute giving them “substantial support” under the terms of the law.

“I could be detained by the US military, held in a military facility – including offshore – denied due process and incarcerated until ‘the end of hostilities’ whenever that is,” Hedges said. He added that the law was already impacting his ability to work as he feared speaking to or meeting with sources who the US government could see as terrorists or advocates of violence.

“Any kind of language in my presence that countenances violence against the US … given the passage of the NDAA, really terrifies me,” he said.

Testifying alongside Hedges was Kai Wargalla, a German organiser behind Occupy London, and a supporter of WikiLeaks, which has extensively published secret US government documents.

Wargalla said that since British police had included Occupy London alongside al-Qaida on a terrorism warning notice, she was afraid of the implications of NDAA. She said that after NDAA was signed she was no longer willing to invite an Islamic group like Hamas to speak on discussion panels for fear of being implicated a supporter of terrorism. “We are on a terrorism list just under al-Qaida and this is what the section of the NDAA is talking about under ‘associated forces’,” she said.

Author and campaigner Naomi Wolf read testimony in court from Jonsdottir, who has been a prominent supporter of WikiLeaks and a proponent of free speech laws. Jonsdottir’s testimony said she was now afraid of arrest and detention because so many US political figures had labelled WikiLeaks as a terrorist group.

Despite receiving verbal assurance from US officials that she was not under threat, Jonsdottir testified she would not travel to the US despite being invited to give lectures in the country. “[The NDAA] provisions create a greater sense of fear since now the federal government will have a tool with which to incarcerate me outside of the normal requirements of the criminal law. Because of this change in the legal situation, I am now no longer able to travel to the US for fear of being taken into custody as as having ‘substantially supported’ groups that are considered as either terrorist groups or their associates,” said Jonsdottir in the statement read by Wolf, who is also a Guardian commentator.

In an opening argument, lawyers for the plaintiffs argued that they would try to show the definitions used in the NDAA provisions were so unclear that it would have a “chilling” effect on the work of journalists, activists and academics even if no one was actually detained.

Lawyers for Obama, and other named defendants in the case like the defence secretary, Leon Panetta, offered no opening statement nor did they currently plan to call any witnesses. However, in cross-examination of Hedges, Wargalla and another witness they repeatedly pointed out that at no stage had the US government ever been shown to have threatened any of them with detention under the terms of the new law.

Forrest will now seek to rule on whether any of the plaintiffs have shown enough convincing evidence that they have “standing” to move the case forwards. If that happens she will also then have to rule on a possible temporary injunction against the NDAA, which would undoubtedly trigger a high profile legal battle.