[Ppnews] American Justice is Blind, But the Scales are Rigged

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Tue Jan 5 14:29:04 EST 2010


January 5, 2010

American Justice is Blind, But the Scales are Rigged

By Dave Lindorff

y Dave Lindorff

When it comes to justice in America, the scales definitely badly need 
a visit by an inspector from the Department of Weights and Standards.

Consider the recent decision by Federal Judge Ricardo Urbina tossing 
out the federal indictment of five Blackwater (Now Xe) mercenaries 
for the 2007 slaughter of 14 innocent Iraqis in Baghdad.

The judge found that federal prosecutors had improperly used 
incriminating statements which he said had been "compelled" from the 
Blackwater personnel under "threat of job loss."

Let's compare that to how the courts have handled other cases. We 
might start with John Walker Lindh, the young American captured in 
the first days of the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. Indicted on 
charges of conspiring to kill Americans, Lindh, currently serving a 
20 year sentence after a plea agreement reached with the government, 
never had his case thrown out, though the government's main evidence 
was a statement allegedly made by him (this on the word of an FBI 
agent) that he had been a member of the Taliban and Al Qaeda--a 
statement that even if actually made, had come at a time that Lindh 
was being kept duct-taped to a gurney and held in an unheated, unlit 
metal shipping container, with an untreated bullet wound in his leg, 
and denied access to an attorney. Surely the coercion behind this 
"confession"--Lindh's military captors allegedly were threatening him 
that he would die in Afghanistan--was at least as severe as the 
threat to Blackwater guards that they could lose their jobs if they 
didn't tell what had happened at the bloody shooting in Baghdad. Yet 
Lindh's charges were allowed to stand.

Or compare the Blackwater case to the case of Philadelphia journalist 
Mumia Abu-Jamal, who has been on Pennsylvania's death row now for 27 
years for the 1981 killing of a white Philadelphia police officer, 
Daniel Faulkner. Abu-Jamal was convicted largely on the basis of 
testimony by two alleged "eye-witnesses": an African-American 
prostitute named Cynthia White and a white taxi driver named Robert 
Chobert. White gave wildly different accounts of what she had "seen" 
from her position on the sidewalk several car lengths away from the 
shooting. In her first statement to police, on Dec. 9, 1981, the day 
of the shooting, she claimed the shooter of officer Faulkner had 
"fired the gun at the police officer four or five times" after which 
"the police officer fell to the ground, started screaming." But after 
that initial interview, White kept being picked up again and again by 
police, who would bring her to homicide where she would be 
re-interviewed. Each time, her version of what she had seen would 
change, and the number of shots fired at the officer while he was 
standing would get lower, from "four or five shots" on Dec. 12, to 
"one or two shots" on Dec. 17, to just one shot on Jan. 8. Asked at 
trial by Abu-Jamal's attorney why her account of what she had seen 
kept changing, White replied, "They were asking me questions, and 
they asked me in a different way to explain it." Was White being 
coerced by police investigators into making perjured testimony? White 
was a prostitute. Police kept arresting her on the street and asking 
her the same questions over and over. At least one fellow prostitute, 
Veronica Jones, later testified that she had been similarly pressured 
by police, with the offer allegedly being made that if she said what 
police investigators wanted, she would be left alone and would even 
be protected in her street-walking activity.

Chobert, meanwhile, the taxi driver, claimed to have been parked in 
his taxi behind Officer Faulkner's squad car, when he witnessed the 
shooting two cars ahead of him. There has always been a question as 
to whether Chobert was really parked where he said he was. White, in 
two drawings of the scene done for police investigators, showed 
Faulkner's car, Abu-Jamal's brother's car, and a Ford that was not 
involved in the incident at all, but she did not show any taxi. Nor 
did any other witness report seeing Chobert or his cab. In any event, 
while Joseph McGill, the assistant DA prosecuting the case, assured 
the jury of Chobert's integrity ("Do you think anybody could get him 
to say anything that wasn't the truth?" he asked them rhetorically in 
his summation.), in fact, he had worked assiduously to prevent them 
from knowing that this witness actually was a convicted arsonist (he 
had thrown a molotov cocktail into an elementary school for money and 
was currently on out on probation for a five year sentence). McGill 
also convinced the judge to keep from the jury the information that 
Chobert was driving his cab on a license that had been suspended for 
a DWI conviction--something that could have been used to revoke his 
probation and send him to jail to serve his term. Further, McGill 
failed to tell either the jury or the judge or the defense that 
Chobert had asked him if the prosecutor could help him "fix" his 
license problem. Clearly, Chobert was also testifying in this 
controversial case under considerable coercion.

Yet through years of appeals, though the evidence of coerced 
testimony is clear in this case, no judge has seen fit to toss out 
Abu-Jamal's conviction and order a new trial.

Although it is clearly anathema to any kind of fair trial, coercion 
is commonplace in American "justice." Whether a judge will decide 
that the coercion of confessions or of witnesses requires the tossing 
out of an indictment, or the overturning of a conviction, though, 
appears to have more to do with the political connections of the 
defendant than with the merits of the case.

John Walker Lindh was portrayed in the months before his trial as 
"the American Taliban" by no less than the Attorney General of the 
United States, John Ashcroft. He was widely portrayed in the media at 
the time as a traitor to America, though he had actually joined up 
with Taliban fighters in August of 2001, a monthbeforethe 9-11 
attacks at a time that the US had no troops in Afghanistan, and was 
actually holding governmental meetings with the Taliban government 
over a pipeline deal, and over efforts to attack opium growing in the country.

Abu-Jamal, since the shooting of Officer Faulkner, has been the 
target of a nationwide campaign by the police union, the Fraternal 
Order of Police, to have him convicted and executed.

There is really no doubt that Blackwater "security guards" working 
for the US military and State Department, perhaps fearing they were 
under attack, went on a shooting rampage in a Baghdad intersection, 
mowing down 14 civilians, including women and children, and wounding 
many more. One of the group initially charged even confessed and is 
currently serving jail time for his actions. But in the view of a 
federal judge, the fear on the part of his colleagues that they might 
lose their jobs if they didn't tell investigators what had happened 
makes their initial confessions "coerced," and since those statements 
were used by federal prosecutors as a basis for their indictment of 
the men, the indictment was flawed and had to be tossed out.

American justice at work.

The scales are not balanced.


DAVE LINDORFF, a Philadelphia-area journalist, is the author of 
"Killing Time: An Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia 
Abu-Jamal" (Common Courage Press, 2003). His latest book is "The Case 
for Impeachment" (St. Martin's Press, 2006). His work is available 

Author's Website: www.thiscantbehappening.net

Author's Bio: Dave Lindorff's writing is available at 
<http://www.thiscantbehappening.net>www.thiscantbehappening.net. He 
is a columnist for Counterpunch, is author of several recent books 
("This Can't Be Happening! Resisting the Disintegration of American 
Democracy" and "Killing Time: An Investigation into the Death Penalty 
Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal"). His latest book, coauthored with Barbara 
Olshanshky, is "The Case for Impeachment: The Legal Argument for 
Removing President George W. Bush from Office (St. Martin's Press, May 2006).


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