Comey’s Blindside: You’re Just a Cop

Originally published in Counterpunch October 31, 2016

Comey’s Blindside: You’re Just a Cop
by STANLEY L. COHEN

Every day, it seems, we talk about Prison America; the profitable high growth industry that entombs millions of our people… stealing years, often decades, of their lives while destroying families and communities along the way… as we continue to subsidize a vicious, sagging economy built upon death… not life. Though the debate centers largely on the question of why we continue to prosecute and bury mostly young people of color and poverty for drug crimes and other non-violent offenses, the equation often misses a core component of the challenge concerning how to control willful cops… those in uniform and out… who cross the line with mostly unbridled power to dictate who goes to prison and who does not, whose reputation remains solid and whose becomes soiled, and then set about to do whatever it takes to see their view of justice be had.

In the US, result oriented justice is not new or even creative; it’s as old as the frontier sheriff with boundless power to rule with a firm hand to control who got to walk down the streets of Dodge and who did not. Of course, cops plant evidence, coerce statements and entrap folks… that’s a given. Torture, rendition and agent stings are very much now the norm. No breaking news here. Ultimately, when all else fails, it’s the modern day version of the old school way to ensure “case closed”… another “victory” for those who not only relish their power but see its arbitrary application as just fine as long as they get their man… or woman.

It seems most cops, from those directing traffic on the boulevard to the guy in the designer suit before Congress, lose sight along the way that their power is but power on loan… not owned by them to use and do with as they please when their own social, political or “security ends” justifies their means… or where they seek to lay the groundwork for future employment.

Once again, this past week, FBI Director James Comey proved that point.

Although finely polished and experienced, this lifelong Republican cop seems to feel that there’s one set of rules for all those he’s helped to send to prison and a completely different one for him… one blue book of conduct for all others in the Department of Justice but, apparently, not a volume to be found among the personal library of he who now occupies the Director’s desk of the FBI.

Time and time again, throughout the Clinton email scandal, Comey has proven himself to be not much more than an old fashioned ward healer… but with a badge… desperate for the feel of flesh or to see the flash of bulbs or, perhaps, a novice candidate for political office looking for a hook to, some day, launch his own career.

FBI Directors do not hold press conferences to discuss or explain why charges have not been pursued against a potential subject of interest or a target of an investigation. They just don’t. Inexplicably, he did.

As a matter of long settled policy, these matters are simply not offered up to the public for Monday morning debate or talking head analysis which can not only tarnish the reputation of persons cleared of criminal wrongdoing but expose investigative sources or techniques that can endanger the reliability of future investigations or the safety of agents. Indeed, legend is the cases where the door to on-going or post hoc litigation leads has been slammed shut, without hesitation, by federal judges for this very reason.

As well, the all too convenient mass publication by the FBI in this matter of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of its sensitive 302 reports (official FBI case progress memoranda) are simply unprecedented. Indeed, prisoners (and journalists) often spend years litigating access to this material which is challenged by the FBI, every step along the way, with endless technical statutory excuses for keeping it secret; even in cases, long closed, where its release might offer a ray of hope to those perhaps wrongfully convicted or overcharged.

Most stunning of all however was the cheap political ploy by Comey where but 11 days prior to the election he suggested, in a public writing to Congress, that he had uncovered newly discovered, potentially damning evidence with regard to the Clinton email scandal. The tenor and tone of the Director’s insinuation is remarkable, indeed astonishing, given the fact that apparently neither he nor any of his agents had, as of the time of the written press conference, reviewed the material itself. Can anyone say deceitful?

Even more disingenuous was the timing of this claim which not only rubbed up against firmly rooted and sound DOJ policy but, in fact, swallowed it whole as the Director slobbered away from the political dining table with a scheming smile on his face.

Although periodically ruptured, by design the mandate of federal law enforcement necessarily excludes witting participation in the political process, let alone becoming ensnarled in it, as an ostensible partisan or one consciously seeking to impact upon it one way or another. That’s the job of politicians not cops.

Indeed, the Department of Justice has, for decades, avoided taking actions that might be viewed as an attempt to influence an election. As noted in a 2012 Justice Department memo “… all employees have the responsibility to enforce the law in a neutral and impartial manner…which is ‘particularly important’ in an election year.” According to Matthew Miller, former Director of the Justice Department’s Public Affairs Office, this becomes all the more sensitive, nay, critical as Election Day draws near:

“Justice traditionally bends over backward to avoid taking any action that might be seen by the public as influencing an election, often declining to even take private steps that might become public in the 60 days leading up to an election.”

This rule finds firm footing in the position of a host of former and current Attorneys General and senior prosecutors. For example, it has been reported that former AG Janet Reno was “adamant… anything that could influence the election had to go dark,” as she suspended a politically sensitive investigation… one much further removed in time from Election Day than the most recent blindside, by the FBI Director, just 11 days before the vote to see who will lead this country for the next four years.

Remarkably, it appears Comey completely ignored the “preference” of current Attorney General Lynch… his boss… as well as her deputies that he adhere to a well established DOJ policy of remaining silent about on-going investigations and refrain from taking any steps that could influence the outcome of an election. This view has been shared by Republican prosecutors as well. As noted by George J. Terwilliger III, a deputy attorney general under President George Bush, “There’s a longstanding policy of not doing anything that could influence an election.” He added “Those guidelines exist for a reason. Sometimes, that makes for hard decisions. But bypassing them has consequences.”

Sadly, Comey’s palpable decision to charge full steam ahead and place his own view and reputation before that of the electoral process as so much the ultimate arbiter of what he believes the public should know and not… real or otherwise… on the eve of this election is not sui generis. Although different in approach, and context, he now follows a long and time tested tradition of corrupt and venal FBI directors who have not hesitated to implement personal political agendas ranging from the Palmer raids upon anarchists of the early 20th century, to the blacklisting and perjury traps of McCarthy, to the murder of black activists under COINTELPRO.

Comey is many things. He is not however stupid or brash. He had to know that what essentially constituted a vaguely worded personal press release, in the final desperate days of a very ugly campaign, would be seized upon, by an opposing candidate, media pundits and the public, as newly discovered evidence of criminality, even without verification, that might very well alter the course of US history.

To him, it mattered not that the “new” emails were as yet unparsed. Nor did he care that their timed release would almost certainly have the consequence, if not the intended effect, to mislead the American people already battered and tired by unprecedented levels of empty rhetoric and unfounded accusations by both sides.

One can only wonder whether Comey’s blindside was simply breathtaking in its carelessness or… like the beat cop who has decided who goes to jail and who goes home… a calculated decision to place his own personal stamp of approval on who he wants to see as his next uber boss.

The path from street corners or, at times, even Board Rooms to prison cells is not a complicated walk at all. It seems these days the road to the White House is pretty much the same march… just a bit longer and nastier.

Advertisements

November 8, 2016 Offers No Relief For Palestine

STANLEY L. COHEN New York, 9 September 2016

As Hillary Clinton approaches the final weeks of her climb to the apex of American public life and power, the breadth and scope of her many years operating at the highest levels of our ideological system cannot be denied. Unlike her clownish, “reality-television”opponent—who has never served in government, and on his best days, appears to possess less maturity and intelligence than a three-year old child—Ms. Clinton, the former Secretary of State and U.S. Senator, has an ample record of positions, official acts and personal opinions, for better or worse. Trump’s autocratic personal style and retro “strong-man” orientation—flouting his deep ignorance on any topic, and avowed intention to “bomb to hell” every problem—suggests the real estate blowhard will be a great friend to Israeli militarism and the ever-expanding occupation of Palestine. Yet, in fact, keen observers with more memory than perhaps the current Selfie Age requires, know well that it is Ms. Clinton who has proven herself for over two decades to be among the most hawkish, pro-Israel figures in modern official US history.

Truly, have the Palestinians ever faced a worse pair of prospects in the American electoral season? A psychopathic, New York real estate narcissist vs. a hardline, party Zionist: whoever wins (and anything can happen in this unlikely election), we know it won’t be good for Palestine.

The ironies run deep with the Democratic candidate. Ms. Clinton holds the unprecedented distinction of being the first major party nominee for U.S. president, man or woman, ever to have actually visited the Gaza Strip and the occupied West Bank—a trip she made at her husband’s side in the final weeks of 1998, when President Bill Clinton faced impeachment at home over his marital infidelities. Together, they attended the ribbon-cutting on the new Gaza airport, observed a signing of a new Palestine National Charter, and met frantically to shore up the Wye River Accords among its signatories, signed earlier that fall. Ms. Clinton’s meeting and embrace of Suha Arafat, of course, became the stuff of New York City tabloid newspaper legend, with the New York Post and the Daily News screaming in Zionist unison as if the First Lady had, by touching a Muslim woman, given herself and the White House ideological leprosy.

I recall a pleasant day, months after her visit, walking around the new $83 million airport in the summer of 1999, with local Rafah friends—not a single commercial flight had been permitted, and the complex stood shimmering and empty in the blazing midday heat, almost a mirage. The paint on the walls still smelled new, and for kicks, we rode fast in a civil defense jeep down one of the empty runways, past the control tower and the main terminal. The next year, the whole place would be blown to bits by Israeli warplanes, the tower a smoking ruin, the runways full of bomb craters. The Clintons were long-gone by then, of course, and no one in the U.S. government raised a bit of objection to what was both the symbolic and the practical demolition of Palestinian’s aspirations to fly free of the occupation—after all, it was Gulf State and German money that built the place, who cared if the Israelis wanted it destroyed?

But I remember just as well, that very same year, how Ms. Clinton traveled again to Israel in her effort to win the US senate seat for New York held by Daniel Moynihan—himself a staunch protector of Zionism. It needs explaining, for foreign readers, that Israel is like the “sixth borough” of New York City—a required campaign stop for any politician hoping to win election in this town, and every congressman makes a necessary pilgrimage there to genuflect before the power of the Israel lobby, and to assure New Yorkers that they love Israel more than the next candidate. It is a sloppy mess—US politicians competing for AIPAC help in getting elected, kneeling to kiss the ring of a foreign power every two years—but an enduring, illustrative spectacle of our ideological truth.

Yet that summer, Hillary Clinton out-did any other Democratic politician in her craven fawning, when she gratuitously included the Zionist formula for subjugating Jerusalem in an official letter to an Orthodox Jewish union, writing that she believed the city to be “the eternal and indivisible capital” of Israel, and promising to move the U.S. embassy there from Tel Aviv. The verbal formula, of course, has long been a shibboleth of hard-core Zionist plans, and her adoption of it was deliberate and not accidental. A few years prior, Republican Zionists in the Congress passed a bill (the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995) ordering President Clinton to move the embassy, or face consequences—however, the language of the law contained a presidential waiver, and Clinton invoked his waiver to get out of complying, preserving the status quo. This grotesque pantomime has continued every year for the last twenty years, as Congress renews the law, and each president opts out on the implementation, and the embassy remains in Tel Aviv.

At the time, many of us in the anti-Zionist cause wondered if the First Lady had been naïve, or manipulated, in her clumsy ploy to pick up AIPAC support—after all, her adoption of the outrageous language of Israeli conquest and annexation stood in sharp contrast to both her party and her husband’s official position (not to mention international law), and contradicted the U.S. State Department’s policy. If she did not understand the dangerous implications of the language, then her competency was in question; if she did, then her politics represented a shift for the party. There was simply no version of the fabled “two-state solution” that did not include half of Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine. Thus, any politician advocating the language of the Zionists on an “indivisible” Jerusalem essentially says, “the Palestinians don’t matter,” and their national aspirations will not be honored. As it happened, even George W. Bush’s White House kept invoking the waiver on the renewed law, and Senator Clinton never had to account for her earlier campaign trail Zionism.

But from her years toiling in the White House, the Senate, and the State Department— a rigorous education unmatched by few in our political history—we might wonder, without irony, if Ms. Clinton has undergone any transformation since that summer, and where that process has brought her today.

Sadly, her years of experience have made her more canny about the workings of power, but do not appear to have changed her mind—she remains the greatest Israel hawk on the Democrat side. While she backed away from the language of the embassy move as Secretary of State—an idea in contravention of State Department policy—her Zionist ethos has remained strong. As a senator, she has visited the illegal wall destroying Palestinian life, and praised it for its guarantee of Israeli security; she has at times visited Jerusalem, and called it “Israel;” and as a presidential candidate, her campaign took up the hated formula again, extolling Israel’s “right” to an “undivided Jerusalem as its capital” in a position paper (“Standing with Israel Against Terrorism”) available on the Hillary website as late as 2010, but now apparently scrubbed away.

Just as alarming for Palestinians is the candidate’s language today, on her official campaign site. A quick perusal of her current Israel page, “Hillary Clinton and Israel: a 30-Year Record of Friendship, Leadership and Strength,” gives the general drift of her Zionism—record-breaking military budget increases for the Israeli war-making machine; opposing the Goldstone Report; criticizing the U.N. for its bias against Israel; intelligence sharing initiatives with the Mossad; and so on. In her promises for the future, when she is president, she vows to “defend Israel on the world stage,” by opposing “anti-Israel bias” in international forums (by this, we understand, the International Criminal Court and human rights venues); and to “stand up against” the BDS movement, while cutting off efforts to recognize Palestinian statehood.

The past years of Democratic rule have not been kind to the Palestinians—while President Obama’s pronounced personal dislike for the racist Netanyahu has at least dialed-back the most egregious Israelophilia, the fact remains that this president has presided over the biggest run-up in Israeli military aid in American history. Despite what Likud hawks think about Obama, he has been their best friend ever, accounting strictly by the dollar. And a Hillary Clinton presidency promises more of the same—but with the added concern that in her past record, she has shown a shocking disregard for, and fundamental disinterest in the Palestinians, their hopes and aspirations. Ms. Clinton will not—as Obama did upon election—be visiting any Arab capital with a proffered fig leaf. If, as Shakespeare warns us, “What’s past is prologue,” Ms. Clinton can be expected as president to mount the ramparts of Fortress Israel, and vigorously wave the flag—perhaps more aggressively than Bush or Reagan, or any president before her, portending grave trouble ahead for Palestine.

hill-bibi-abbas

“Partners in Crime”

We Feared Witches. We Hung Women

So the campaign is winding down and, barring what’s been described as a minor miracle in waiting, ultimately it will end up as a coronation of one degree of evil or another- be it Trump or Clinton. I hope that in its final days, Sanders’ supporters will allow the campaign to run its course without engaging in media vilification or trial by ambush. I do so not in the spirit of building a united front to challenge Trump in the general election- quite frankly, I could care less. More important, I raise the concern that to roll in the gutter can leave a stench that follows activists the rest of their political lives whether they continue the good fight or ultimately surrender to the mainstream body politic.

It’s no secret I don’t support Sanders; in point of fact, I’ve challenged him for years over what I view to be his well documented record of poor priorities and failed policies and votes. Before you turn away, this is not an attack on him but a bow to you. Since leaving prison, I’ve said time and time again that the involvement in this campaign of large numbers of experienced and newly minted activists has been inspirational indeed. I am sure that our collective future is that much the brighter because of your hard work, and drive for truth, justice and peace.

Yours is the next generation in a long and storied line of activists who have sacrificed much, often all, in speaking truth to power and confronting it in evolving creative ways in the streets and courts and now very much so in the world of cyber space. Though our community of resistance has been diverse in makeup and tactics, clearly we have been united in our determined refusal to embrace a strategy of disinformation or hate built on the back of character assassination, rumor and innuendo- each a proud trademark of the forces of greed and exploitation that we have challenged since the first days of the Republic.

Recently we’ve seen increasing almost desperate attacks on Clinton not just for her dreadful policies, but her alleged status of felon in waiting soon to be indicted for a host of crimes. In support of this public true bill, documentary “evidence” and boilerplate statutes are thrown about by lay litigators as little more than the tools of a modern day star chamber chaired not by jurists but the howl of a vindictive mob erecting the gallows long before the verdict.

“We Feared Witches.  We Hung Women”

I don’t like Clinton, nor do I trust her; not now, not twenty five years ago. If I were to vote, there is no chance that I would cast it for her. But to see her tried in public without the benefit of her entitled full day in court with an opportunity to confront and challenge her accusers is so much the core hallmark of the power brokers that have sold our collective past, and would our future, to the winds of the highest bidder. Several days ago I saw two posts by Sanders’ supporters about Clinton that are false –namely that a top Clinton “advisor” and super delegate – former NY State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver had been sentenced to prison for twelve years for corruption related charges. Although reports of the sentence are correct-the claims about his current alleged relationship with Clinton or her campaign are patently desperate and false. In any event, even if they were true- so what? Indeed millions still adore Obama despite nagging allegations of a one-time close relationship with former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich now serving fourteen years in federal prison for corruption charges himself.

And what of the allegations in the Free Beacon, that Sanders has, on multiple occasions, steered campaign and nonprofit money to friends and family. Thus, the conservative news service claimed that Sanders’ wife—Jane O’Meara Sanders—and his stepdaughter, Carina Driscoll, both received salaries from his early political campaigns. (Sanders’ House campaign reportedly paid O’Meara Sanders $90,000 for “consulting and ad placement services from 2002 to 2004.”) Driscoll, too, got paid $65,000 between 2000 and 2004. And at Burlington College, where O’Meara Sanders served as president until 2011, at least two contracts yielded six-figure payouts for companies run by Driscoll and a close friend of the Sanders family.

Given the source of the story I have great questions about its accuracy or reliability. Nevertheless it is a classic example of the manipulative cross examination in which the witness is asked “so when did you stop beating your wife.” The denial is meaningless once the allegation is published to the jury, as it takes on a life of its own whether true or not.

Several days ago another Sander’s fan announced on twitter that a top advisor to Clinton had been “taken in” by the FBI assumedly to be questioned with regard to what he may have known about what’s now simply called the server “case”. Not only did the post do a great disservice to the advisor by implying that he himself had broken the law, but it showed a complete ignorance about federal procedure. It’s well settled that the FBI cannot “take someone in” unless there is a warrant or probable cause for his or her arrest. Only in the world of movies can law enforcement take someone in to be questioned. So grab your seat and get your popcorn – “Kool-Aid” is now showing in your favorite theater.

Yesterday I was accused of “splitting hairs” by the author of one of these patently false posts who went on to justify his campaign “hyperbole” by simply saying that Clinton and Silver were “two peas in the pod . . . on the same pay league.” Joe McCarthy would have smiled in agreement. Indeed, collective and class guilt has a long and sordid history in this country. Thousands were rounded up and jailed early in the twentieth century, many deported, including our icon Emma Goldman during the Palmer Raids; their crime- speech and association.

Most shocking of all, for months now we’ve seen Clinton convicted by more than a few journalists on the left and their adoring readers because the vaunted FBI is investigating her under the lead of the Department of Justice- who, we know, always get their “man” or, in this case, their woman.

DOJ and the FBI have been at war with political opponents and dissidents, truth tellers and whistle blowers since literally the first day that their doors opened. While we know all about their collective efforts in COINTELPRO to destroy the Black Panther Party, it was but one of many federal law enforcement campaigns in which they spared no effort to vilify, or even murder, those perceived as enemies of the status quo, indeed the state.

I’ve spent decades unraveling political and criminal cases put together by DOJ and the FBI in their insatiable drive to destroy lives, and to bury the truth. Legion are the cases in which helpful witnesses or documents arguably under the reach, if not control, of the government have simply disappeared, unavailable to testify or to be used at trials. At other times critical forensic evidence was prepared with negligence or falsified to support overarching theories of guilt. So, too exculpatory scientific evidence has been suppressed by those who see convictions no matter what the evidence, or lack thereof, as desired justice, and acquittals as impediments to the security of the state, and personal failures.

In a series of recent explosive admissions the FBI conceded:
• That it has discovered errors in data used by forensic scientists in thousands of cases to calculate the chances that DNA found at a crime scene matches a particular person;
• Of 28 examiners with the FBI Laboratory’s microscopic hair comparison unit, 26 overstated forensic matches in ways that favored prosecutors in more than 95 percent of the 268 trials reviewed so far;
• That nearly every examiner in an elite FBI forensic unit gave flawed testimony in almost all trials in which they offered evidence against criminal defendants over more than a two-decade period before 2000;
• That nearly every criminal case reviewed by it and the Justice Department has included flawed forensic testimony from the agency;
• That “errors” in evidence provided by its forensics laboratory to US courts to help secure convictions, including in death penalty cases, over more than 20 years;

Indeed in a damning highly detailed report issued by the FBI Inspector General numerous instances were cited of critical forensic errors even in some of its most high profile cases of the day including:
• Scientifically Flawed Testimony in the Psinakis, World Trade Center 1, Avianca, and Trepal cases;
• Inaccurate testimony by an EU examiner in the World Trade Center case, by a former Laboratory examiner (who is still an FBI agent) in a hearing conducted by the judicial committee of the Judicial Council of the Eleventh Circuit regarding then-Judge Alcee Hastings, and by the CTU Chief in the Trepal case;
• Testimony beyond the examiner’s expertise in the World Trade Center, Avianca, and Hastings cases;
• Improper preparation of laboratory reports by three EU examiners who altered, omitted, or improperly supplemented some internal scientific findings (dictations) as they were being compiled into an official report of the Laboratory. A former EU Chief failed to substantively review all of the reports in his unit, authorized EU examiners to modify forensic dictations when incorporating them into EU reports, and fostered a permissive attitude toward changes to such dictations;
• Insufficient documentation of test results by the examiner who had performed work on hundreds of cases, including Psinakis and the UNABOM investigation, and by the CTU Chief;
• Scientifically flawed reports in the VANPAC and Oklahoma City cases, and in numerous cases by the former MAU examiner who worked on Psinakis, and in a few instances by an EU examiner who altered science reports;
• Inadequate record management and retention system by the laboratory;
• Failures by management to resolve serious and credible allegations of incompetence lodged against the examiner who worked on the Psinakis case; to review properly the EU report in the Oklahoma City case; to resolve scientific disagreements among Laboratory examiners in three cases, including Avianca; to establish and enforce validated procedures and protocols that might have avoided problems in examiner reports in the Psinakis and VANPAC cases; and to making a commitment to pursuing accreditation by the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors/Laboratory Accreditation Board before 1994;
• A flawed staffing structure of the explosives unit that should be reconfigured so that examiners possess requisite scientific qualifications.

The list of intentional or negligent government missteps is literally endless by some federal prosecutors and many agents who see themselves as very much the sole repositories of truth and justice involved in a war with those who refuse to bend to their political will.

Yet the dark often evil history of these agencies is conveniently overlooked today by some Clinton opponents who in their thirst to get her, and at all costs, appear to embrace federal agencies and their tactics that have terrorized our community for time immemorial. This is particularly ironic since many who suggest law enforcement perfection here, are the same who quickly reject it when it comes to the events of 9/11.

In this country the howl of the mob has a dark and dangerous history. It has brought us the execution of hundreds of not guilty women and men, thrown a noose around the neck of thousands because of race or rumor or innuendo, and destroyed the lives of countless artists, musician and dissidents because their beliefs or association were suspect. Now it seems to target political opponents in an unbecoming effort to obtain a “victory” that it apparently could not acquire at the polls.

In the law of libel one who acquires a public persona has a diminished expectation of privacy- it comes with the turf, I get it. Nevertheless, lots of things that are lawful are still tasteless or unprincipled. Many of us know the sting of false public accusation and ridicule as so much the shrill cry of the desperate that cannot compete fairly in the open and robust market place of debate. It says less about the target than it does those who stoop so low.

Clinton represents much that is wrong and unhealthy about our society, indeed our world. However, activists should not lower themselves or our movement and its traditions to that level. Sadly, the next time you read of someone charged and convicted in the media it may just be you.  “We Feared Witches. We Hung Women”