Friday, March 28, 2014

The Todashev Files: The Questions Keep Coming

Conor Friedersdorf, who's done a decent job of covering the Todashev killing all along, asks some good questions at the Atlantic.  I'd like to ask a few of my own, starting with one that Friedersdorf doesn't go far enough on: What's up with the text that Trooper One sent to Trooper Two and FBI Agent right before Todashev allegedly attacked?
Here's a text sent from inside the apartment. "Be on guard. He is in vulnerable position to do something bad. Be on guard now. I see him looking around at times ..." Isn't that a weird text? So needlessly long and repetitive. Who texts like that? Especially when you're nervous about the guy you're supposed to be paying attention to?
Who texts like that, indeed. Well, not the guy sending the text, for one. Check out the other texts sent by this same trooper that same evening (pp. 2-3). "He signed his Miranda. About to tell his involvement." "He will be in custody after interviews." "whos your daddy." (Ewww.) Not one to mince words, this one. Why did he suddenly get so verbose at the very time he was extremely worried about Todashev doing "something bad"?  And then there's the fact that the text had no effect on what happened next -- except that it took Trooper One's eyes of Todashev at an absolutely critical moment -- because no one read the text when it was sent. Trooper Two was on the phone and didn't see it until after Todashev was dead. FBI Agent never looked up from his questioning of Todashev to read it. In fact, Trooper One claims FBI Agent's phone never "dinged" to indicate he had a new text, which is why Trooper One looked down at his own phone to see if the text actually sent, which is why his eyes were off Todashev when he launched the coffee table.

A uncharacteristically long, awkward text written at a moment when it was crucial to have eyes on Todashev  Since I'm a troll and not a Serious Journalist, I'll ask instead of tiptoeing around.

1. Was the infamous "Be on guard" text sent after Todashev was dead?

This question thing is fun. Here's some more:

2. Why did they interview Todashev in his home? 

According to the sworn statements of both Troopers and the FBI Agent (pages 26-48 and 55-57), they wanted to conduct the interview at the police station and were very wary of questioning Todashev in his home. They knew Todashev was prone to violence -- the FBI had watched him beat a man up badly in a parking lot just a few weeks before. (And didn't intervene - cool agency, that FBI.) They'd also spent a lot of time of watching Todashev's MMA YouTube videos so they knew he was really strong and tough.

And yet, when Todashev refused to come to the police station, they agreed to meet at this apartment. Why? Because Todashev was scheduled to fly to Russia two days later and they needed to talk to him before he left the country. So they decided the risk of putting themselves in a dangerous situation was worth it.

Did they not have any way of preventing Todashev from leaving the country? He was supposedly a suspect in a triple homicide. He had outstanding assault charges. Could they not have held him on some pretext? And we haven't even gotten to the fact that Todashev was a Muslim and a friend of Tamerlan Tsarnaev -- at the time Scary Terrorist # 1.  Do you really believe the FBI -- an agency that systemically surveills, harasses, and entraps Muslims -- was helpless to stop Todashev from flying out of the country?

If you don't -- and you shouldn't -- then it's really worth asking the reason the interview didn't take place in a secure (for law enforcement, anyway) police station.

3. Why didn't the Troopers or FBI Agent mention their video and audio recordings of that night when they gave their sworn statements the next day?

The day after Todashev was killed, both Troopers and FBI Agents gave sworn statements (pages 29-48 and 55-57) about the events in Todashev's apartment. Their accounts are pretty detailed, with the FBI Agent devoting about a 1/2 page to describing Todashev's final piss (p.46). But one pretty major detail gets left out of all 3 accounts: the fact that they had made video and audio recordings of substantial parts of the evening.

These omissions (or the attendant PR nightmare if discovered) were apparently very concerning to the FBI, which limited its only on-the-record followup interviews (pages 78-94) with the Troopers and FBI Agent to the subject of the recordings. (Guess there wasn't anything else to ask about).  Here's what each man said, with my annotations/questions interspersed.:

Trooper One:
I did not mention the recordings in the initial interview because I was concentrating on the actual shooting incident itself. [Not true. His account is of the entire evening, not just the shooting incident.]Furthermore, I was never asked. The recordings were made known to other people involved in the handling of this case. [Who? When? There is no evidence that anyone outside of FBI Agent and the two Troopers was told about the recordings for days.]. Also, the recordings were provided to District Attorney’s Office the day after we arrived back in Massachusetts. [When was this?] Nothing was out of the ordinary, as MSP tends to record subject interviews. [Ha! And more Ha! coming.] Had I known the Shooting Incident Review Team was not aware of the recordings, I would have told them. [The very non-threatening FBI's team responsible for investigating the incident -- the one responsible for clearing agents in 150 consecutive shootings -- didn't learn about the recordings for 2 weeks.]

Trooper Two's did not give a sworn statement, but his follow-up interviewe is summarized by FBI investigators:

[Trooper Two] returned to his department in Boston he checked his audio recorder and found it had recorded a large portion of the interview with Todashev. [Again, when was this? How long were recordings of that night only in the hands of those involved in the shooting? And really, Trooper Two? You weren't at all tempted to check what was on that recorder until you got back to Boston "and found it had recorded a large portion of the interview with Todashev.] He submitted the recorder to his department for retrieval and dissemination to the FBI.”
And the shooter himself? He didn't even know that anything was being recorded! 
During most of the interview of Todashev, I was sitting on the stairs and Trooper One was standing to my left and behind me. I did not see any recording devices or video cameras at the time we interviewed Todashev.
… I first learned the interview was recorded on Friday, May 24, 2013 [3 days after shooting!], when I received a message from Trooper One who advised videos were uploaded to the Google cloud. [FBI Agent's claim that he did not know the interview was recorded is contradicted by the fact that both FBI Agent admits -- and Troopers confirm (pages 78-94) -- that he was present for a conversation during the ride to Todashev's whether Florida was a one-party state (meaning they could record without Todashev's consent). They called someone at the Orlando Police Department, who confirmed it was a one-party state. So FBI was involved in a fairly detailed conversation about whether there would be a recording. He also knew that Trooper One had a video camera. And he also acknowledges that he heard Todashev say "Don't do that" to Trooper One when  Todashev noticed Trooper One was recording, but FBI Agent claims he didn't know what Todashev was referring to.] Once I located the recordings on the computer I found there were both audio and video recordings of the interview of Todashev. [He "located" the recordings. He doesn't say if he looked at them. But he sure didn't tell anyone!] I found out after the fact, Trooper One had used a high definition recorder which he had placed on the kitchen counter which eventually ran out of battery life, at which point Trooper One switched to his telephone to continue recording. I also found out after returning to Boston that Trooper Two had a recorder in his pocket during the interview. At the time of the interview, I did not know the interview was being recorded by anyone.
Trooper One advised he had passed the videos to other individuals who had a need to know in his department. After this had happened, I did not think about the recording. When I returned to work after being off for the injury I received as a result of the assault on my person by Todashev, I was contacted by REDACTED with some additional questions regarding my initial signed sworn statement. I mentioned to REDACTED something to the effect of, it would be nice if we released the video because it would refute many of the press’ allegations. [What a great idea. I wonder why the FBI didn't do this!] REDACTED was very surprised by this because he did not know about the video’s existence. [It's a couple of weeks into the FBI's most important internal investigation and the internal investigator at the agency doesn't know about the videos.] He advised he would need a copy. I mentioned to REDACTED that I had only learned of the videos after the incident. …”
These accounts seem very implausible and lead to more questions:

3a) How long were the three law enforcement involved in questioning the only people in the world that knew of the existence of these recordings. Did Trooper One or Two watch/listen to the recordings after the shooting before they turned the recordings over?

3b) Did the FBI or any law enforcement agency examine the camcorder or phones that were used to record for signs that any video or audio recordings had  been deleted? There's no evidence that they did.

3c) Why were only portions of the evening recorded?

Here's a summary of what Trooper One told the  FBI (pages 84-87):

He retrieved his video camera and began recording about 20 minutes in. A while later he noticed the camera had stopped because the video card was full. He deleted some family videos stored on the camera and began recording again. Again the recorder stop because of lack of space. He deleted some more family videos, along with the first part of the Todashev meeting which he deemed unimportant. A while later he noticed his camera battery died, so he began recording on his phone. He recorded on his phone until he needed to use it to text. Drat! He missed Todashev's attack and the shooting.

Here's what Trooper Two told the Florida Investigator about his partial recording:
When asked why an audio recording was not collected for the entire length of the interview Trooper Two informed, “The um, my recorder died. It ah, shut off and I, I think there was another part, I may have went to pause it, inside my pocket and then restart it when he came down from the bathroom, I think is maybe when I paused it. Ah, I don’t recall, but ah, I tried to turn it back on and it died again. I didn’t realize it was not working, until after everything was said and done and realized it had…”
Double drat! He missed the attack and shooting too.

A few things stand out. One, even if you accept the Troopers' explanation, the bumbling and fumbling and casualness with which the evening was recorded certainly doesn't read like a critical interrogation of someone who is suspected of committing three murders with the Boston Bomber. Two, the starting and stopping of the video camera would make it easier to delete selected files/moments, were one inclined to so. And, of course, all that on and off action begs the question:

3d) Were the recording devices delibrately shut off at various times because the law enforcement present did not want those moments recorded?

In addition to the questions raised in this post, there's also The Mystery of the Flying Coffee Table.

I'm not claiming that every single one of these questions has a nefarious answer, but I think they are all reasonable questions to ask and ask aggressively. And one gets the impression that the investigator for the Florida AG's office didn't ask any of these questions. Which, of course, isn't surprising because investigations of killer cops and FBI agents are almost always just for show.

Which is all the more reason we shouldn't accept their answers. 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Todashev Files: The Mystery of the Flying Coffee Table

Given my propensity to write fake reports, I'm probably not the best one to break down the Florida AG's report on Todashev's killing. But I've spent a couple of hours with it, and there's a lot that doesn't come close to making sense. Let's start with the coffee table.

According to the official version of events,  Massachusetts State Trooper Number Two is outside the apartment, while Trooper One and FBI Agent are inside with Todashev. Trooper One is sitting on the stairs to the apartment's second floor. FBI Agent is sitting in a folding chair across from Todashev, who is sitting on a mattress. In between the FBI Agent and Todashev is a large white coffee table. Todashev is writing his confession on the table.  Here's a picture of Todashev sitting in front of the table without the FBI agent.


Trooper One is getting concerned that Todashev is getting more and more agitated after confessing to Waltham murders. So he texts Trooper Two and FBI Agent, “Be on guard. He is in vulnerable position to do something bad. Be on guard now. I see him looking around at times.” But Trooper Two is on the phone so he doesn't see the text and stays outside the apartment. Meanwhile, Trooper One does not hear a "ding" indicating that FBI Agent received his text so he looks down at his phone to make sure his message went through. At that moment, FBI Agent looks down at his notepad.

With no eyes on him, Todashev leaps into action. He flips the coffee table into the air, striking FBI Agent. He then runs into the kitchen and starts rummaging around. Todashev then picks up a red broom stick and charges Trooper One. FBI Agent, thinking both his own and Trooper One's lives are in danger, shoots Todashev 3 times. When that doesn't stop Todashev, he fire four more bullets and kills him.

OK. Back to the table. According to the official version: 1) Both Troopers and FBI Agent were very concerned about interviewing Todashev in his home because they knew he was violent; after all the FBI had witnessed Todashev beat up a man badly in a parking lot (without intervening) and also watched Todashev's MMA videos on YouTube. 2) Both Trooper One and FBI Agent were very concerned Todashev becoming increasingly agitated and going to try something. 3)Despite these concerns, one Trooper left the room while both FBI Agent and Trooper One took their eyes off Todashev. 4) Todashev attacked at the very instant he was unwatched.  (This version of events is found in both the State AG's report and his letter summarizing his findings.

But it gets much weirder. Here's a picture of FBI agent's head where he was supposedly hit by flying table.



Notice the gash is on on the back on his head. Now remember, he's sitting facing Todashev looking down at his note pad. How did the coffee table cause this wound? Go back and look at the coffee table. It's big. Granted, Todashev is one strong dude. But he threw the coffee high enough in the air to come down and land on FBI Agent's head from above?

And then there's this: When Trooper One submitted written testimony (p.34) the day after the incident, he wrote "I was sitting on the stairs across from SA (FBI Agent) , who was sitting in a chair directly across from Todaschev, who was sitting on the bed.  A small table (emphasis added) separated SA and Todaschev." 

But the real kicker is this:  The FBI Agent's description of what happened to his head (p. 46), also taken from written testimony the next day.
I was reading my notepad when I heard a loud noise and suddenly felt a blow to the back of my head. I was knocked partially off my chair, but  caught myself. I saw Todashev running past me and I tried to grab him. I removed my weapon from the holster and aimed the gun at Todashev who had run towards the kitchen.
To recap: In testimony the next day, FBI Agent doesn't even mention being hit with a flying table, just that he "felt a blow to the back of my head." Now I understand that he was looking down at his notepad, but he didn't happen to notice that the blow to his head was caused by that big (small?) coffee table flying through the air?

The official FBI and Massachusetts State Police version of the coffee table -- faithfully regurgitated by Florida DA -- is crap. And that's just the coffee table. There's so much more blatant and obvious bullshit in these here 500 pages.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Praise Jesus: An Exclusive Look at the FBI's Todashev Investigation

It’s been ten months since Ibragim Todashev was killed in his apartment while being interrogated by an FBI agent and two Massachusetts State Police officers. During that time, wild-eyed conspiracy theorists have engaged in irresponsible speculation based on the most minor of details. Some tinfoil hats have even gone so far as to suggest that the FBI agent who killed Todashev might have wanted him dead, simply because: 1) Todashev was interrogated in his own home and shot seven times, including once in the top of the head; 2) the FBI keeps changing its story and has claimed at different times that Todashev charged the agent with a knife, a pole, a pipe, a broom and a ceremonial sword; and 3) since his death, Todashev’s friends have been systematically harassed, arrested, and deported

Fortunately, the FBI has conducted its own internal investigation of the shooting with the thoroughness we’ve come to expect from the agency that has left no stone unturned in clearing its agents of 150 consecutive shootings. And while the FBI has not yet announced its findings with regards to Todashev’s unfortunate death, Fire Tom Friedman was able to obtain a copy of the still-classified report, a portion of which is produced below. At the FBI’s request, FTF has changed the names of the law enforcement personnel involved to appropriate pseudonyms.

On May 21, 2013, Special Agent Jesus of the Boston FBI Office and Officers Stellar and Awesome of the Massachusetts State Police traveled to Orlando for their annual trip escorting blind kids to Disney World. The following day, after tucking in the exhausted, smiling children, the three men decided to hit a local animal shelter to see if they could score some puppies for the kids. On the way there, their vehicle was cut off by a weaving Ibragim Todashev, who taunted them before speeding off. Concerned, they decided to forgo the animal shelter and began following Mr. Todashev’s vehicle. When Mr. Todashev pulled into an apartment complex and got out of his car, Special Agent Jesus approached him.

Todashev began cursing and gesticulating wildly but his demeanor changed as soon as Special Agent Jesus identified himself. “FBI? Oh man. Do I have some shit to tell you,” remarked Mr. Todashev. Special Agent Jesus urged him not to speak to law enforcement without a lawyer present but Mr Todashev insisted that the men come into his apartment. 

As soon as they were inside, Mr. Todashev broke down crying and said, “I miss my best friend Tamarlan Tsarnaev so much. You know the guy I mean? He bombed the Boston Marathon. We were very close – we did everything together.”

Special Agent Jesus consoled Mr. Todashev and gave him a big hug. While Mr. Todashev cried on Jesus’ shoulder, he sobbed, “When I say we did everything together, I really mean it. One time we killed 3 pot dealers in Waltham, Massachusetts.”
“Whoa, slow down,” said Special Agent Jesus. “You really need to stop right now and call a lawyer. Anything you tell me can be used against you in a court of law!” But Mr. Todashev insisted on describing in great detail how he and Mr. Tsarnaev committed the Waltham murders.  

Editors note: At the FBI’s request, we are not publishing Todashev’s description of the Waltham murders because doing so would undermine an ongoing investigation and also probably help terrorists kill some people. All you need to know is that Todashev and Tamarlan Tsarnaev are guilty of triple homicide.

Special Agent Jesus noticed that Mr. Todashev was looking dehydrated after his confession so he asked Officer Awesome to go the store and buy some PowerAde. A short time later, Special Agent Jesus noticed Mr. Todashev looked hungry so he sent Officer Stellar out for sandwiches. When Mr. Todashev was alone with Special Agent Jesus, he said, “I feel a special bond with you. I want to show you my most prized possession.

Mr. Todashev walked to a closet and pulled out a long metal pole. Attached to one end was a sharp blade. “This is a ceremonial Chechen weapon. We call it a knife-pipe. My grandmother made it for me. Isn’t it beautiful? It also comes with a broom attachment.”

After the men admired the knife-pipe’s craftsmanship, they resumed their conversation. Mr. Todashev continued to hold the knife-pipe.

Mr. Todashev said he wanted to sign a confession. Special Agent Jesus said he wouldn’t allow Mr. Todashev to do that without talking to a lawyer first. Mr. Todashev was furious. “I don’t deserve a lawyer. I’m a triple murderer,” he screamed as he charged Special Agent Jesus with the knife-pipe.

“Every American has a right to an attorney,” said Special Agent Jesus. “Please stop hitting me with the knife-pipe or I’ll have to shoot you, Ibby.

When Mr. Todashev didn’t stop, Special Agent Jesus reluctantly pulled his gun and shot him 6 times. Each bullet was expertly placed so as to slow Mr. Todashev without delivering a fatal blow. Mr. Todashev fell to the floor.

But as Special Agent Jesus called for medical assistance, Mr. Todashev rose to his feet. “I don’t want to live with what I’ve done. That’s why I’m committing suicide-by-FBI agent,” he screamed as he lowered his head and charged Special Agent Jesus once again. Mr. Todashev head-butted Special Agent Jesus’ gun, causing it to discharge in the top of his head. Special Agent Jesus burst into tears as he realized the man he’d come to regard as his flawed-brother was now dead.

Editor’s note. Hopefully this obviously true account will put all the conspiracy theories to rest. Tune in next week for another Fire Tom Friedman exclusive, when Special Agent Jesus travels to Chechnya to return the knife-pipe to Todashev’s grandmother and ask her forgiveness even though he did nothing wrong.  (If you’re wondering why the FBI hasn’t been able to produce the knife-pipe, this is the story for you!)

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Mismatch of the Century: Barrett Brown vs. Tom Friedman


Confession: I’m burnt out on Tom Friedman. I hardly ever read him any more, having digested the five columns he lazily recycles over and over far more times than is necessary to get the point or mock. I’m also tired of Friedman jokes, which also suffer from the same problem of being really repetitive -- cabdriver! Even worse, by focusing on his mangled metaphors and stupidity, Friedman’s critics tend to reduce Tommy to a harmless, bumbling caricature, which obscures the fact that, while he is most certainly a bumbler and a caricature, he’s actually been a very effective evangelist for imperialism.

Nevertheless! When I was asked to review Barrett Brown’s chapter on Friedman from his new book Keep Rootin' for Putin: EstablishmentPundits and the Twilight of American Competence, I leapt at the chance. For one, I’m a huge admirer of Brown, the investigative journalist and founder of Project PM, who has been imprisoned for 18 months and faces up to 70 years for the most ludicrous charges. If this review makes my 4 readers more aware of Brown’s plight or gets them to buy a book, the proceeds of which go to his defense fund, great! But the main reason I was so excited was that I would literally read Brown on anything, even boring old Tom Friedman. (If you haven’t been reading the series “The Barrett Brown Review of Arts and Letters and Jail,” put this “review” on hold and go do so.)

Brown doesn’t disappoint. His chapter belongs in the pantheon of great Friedman takedowns, alongside Matt Tiabbi, Belen Fernandez, and the Greenwash Guerrillas who pied The Stache. As always, Brown is a pleasure to read – his unique voice, comic detours, and impeccable timing had me laughing throughout the chapter. It also helps that many of the columns Brown skewers are not the usual ones we’ve come to associate with Friedman’s horribleness.

Take the 2001 column from which Brown gets the book’s title, a cringe-inducing paean to Vladimir Putin written after Friedman flies to Moscow and is blown away by the fact that one can get sushi there (“yes, from borscht to Big Macs to California-Kremlin rolls in one decade!”) He concludes -- based on this observation, another meal at “a combination art gallery-restaurant” and a conversation with his “Russian friend Viktor” -- that Putinism is a good thing. The column ends – seriously – with an exhortation to “keep rootin’ for Putin.”

Putin, Brown points out, was the former head of the FSB when agents were caught red-handed planting explosives in Moscow which they planned to blame on Chechen terrorists. Brown details how questionable attribution of other attacks in Russia was used as the pretext to invade Chechnya and how those who questioned whether the FSB might actually be the terrorists were strong-armed and undermined with dirty tricks. The war on Chechnya proved so popular with Russians that Putin, its champion and architect, easily won the presidency. All of this might have been cause for alarm for Friedman in 2001, but what’s war and manufactured terror attacks compared to the novelty of a “California-Kremlin roll.”

In Friedman’s defense, it’s possible his praise for Putin wasn’t genuine and the entire column was just filler because he thought “rootin’ for Putin” was really clever. One of my favorite passages in Brown’s chapter is when he destroys a column that’s constructed entirely around the fact that Friedman decides to call Colin Powell's military service America OnDuty just so he can contrast it with America Online. This allows Friedman to muse:
He spent thirty-five years of his life with America Onduty, as a military officer. But for the past two years he’s been associated with America Online, as a member of the AOL corporate board. So which perspective will Mr. Powell bring to his job as Secretary of State—the perspective he gleaned with America Onduty during the cold war or the perspective he gleaned with America Online in the post-Cold War?
Suffice to say, Brown has fun with this idiocy.

But back to Russia. It’s now 2008, Russia has invaded Georgia, and Friedman is no longer a Putin man. In fact, he’s so disgusted by Vladimir that he calls out those – like the Bush and Clinton administrations – who were guilty of “short-sightedness” with regards to Putin. Of course, there’s no mention of Friedman’s own Putin vision problem. Being a pundit means never having to say your sorry, or even being aware or honest about what you once said. (One of Friedman’s most frequent lies about himself is that he called for $1/gallon gas tax on September 12, 2011. In fact, he called for Muslim heads. He didn’t float his gas tax idea until October 5, 2003 – when the two wars he cheerled were well under way.)

Brown is a joy to read as a media critic and he expertly fillets a number of other Friedman columns. But its not just talent that sets Brown apart from the other 4,303,301,087 people doing media criticism on the Internet and Twitter. Brown wants to level our pundits not because he wants to replace them with better pundits (there’s no throat-clearing and pointing to himself here), but because he wants to do away with pundits altogether. And pundits need to be slayed not just because their stupid and wrong and always on the side of power, but because the Internet, through things like access to direct material and crowd-sourcing, offers a real and better alternative to our pathetic punditocracy. There’s poignancy in reading Brown's book knowing that he faces life in prison for acting on these ideals.

And then, of course, there’s the fact that while Barrett Brown faces life in a cage, the man he utterly obliterates in Rootin' for Putin lives here:


Free Barrett Brown.

And Fire Tom Friedman.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Imagine


A few weeks ago, protestors at Brown University disrupted a speech by NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly and forced him from the stage.  It was a sad day for the great liberal values that make America and its elite universities great.  It didn’t have to be that way.

As the protestors shout down Kelly, a lone pale figure dressed in tweed stands quietly.  He approaches the loudest, angriest protestor and says, “I, too, abhor, police tactics that disproportionately target minorities. But you know what I abhor even more? Incivility! Have you just tried talking to Ray Kelly?”

The loud, angry protestor is taken aback. The man in tweed has touched something deep inside him. He gives one last shout, but this time it’s directed at his comrades, not the stage, “I think we should listen to what the Commissioner has to say.”

One by one, the protestors sit down. This time it’s Ray Kelly’s turn to be stunned. “You’ve taught me quite a lesson here today,” he says. “You had the power, but instead of using it to suppress me, you wielded it wisely and fairly.  I had a lecture prepared but you know what, I’d rather listen to you!”

Once again, the protestors rise to recite their grievances against Kelly and the NYPD. But this time, they do in an orderly fashion. They wait in line for the microphone. They address Kelly as “sir.” They hand him pamphlets with beautiful fonts.

As Kelly listens to people tell him calmly and so respectfully how his police department has terrorized minority neighborhoods, tears stream down his face. “I cannot believe how wrong I was,” he wails.

“But we were wrong too,” say the former-protestors. “We should have put our faith in rational discourse.”

There is much weeping and hugging. Kelly announces, “I must call Mayor Bloomberg and tell him the NYPD must change immediately.”

Suddenly, Mayor Mike steps out from behind a tall plant. “You don’t have to call me, Ray-Ray. I heard the whole thing.  We only have a few months left in office, but let’s reform the NYPD!”

Dedicated to Conor Friedersdorf, Katha "Weak Tea" Pollitt, and that dude who rightly reminded us that we're not Theodor Adorno.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Manning's "Struggles"

There's a pretty repulsive profile of Bradley Manning on the front page of the New York Times today, which declares, "the roots of Private Manning’s behavior may spring as much from his troubled youth as from his political views."  While it gives a nod to Manning's own statements that he was sickened by viewing videos of war crimes, The Times story is basically the latest attempt to assume that  whistleblowing and dissent must be rooted in pathology. So we hear yet again about Manning's conflicted sexuality, his clashes with his father, and some new gems, such as "he spent much of his childhood alone, playing video games or huddled in front of a computer."

I was fortunate to be in Fort Meade on June 3 when defense attorney David Coombs delivered his opening statement, and described the onset of Manning's struggles quite differently.
It was 24 December, 2009. He was 22 years young, in Iraq, his first deployment, his first unit. He was excited to be in Iraq, and he was excited to achieve his mission, and hopefully make Iraq a safer place.

The EFP [Explosively Formed Projectile] alert that went out on that day broke the silence of an otherwise calm Christmas Eve. EFP had claimed the lives of too many soldiers. So when an alert went out, everybody in the TOC [Tactical Operation Center] and in the SCIF [Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility] went into an immediate frenzy to get information.

PFC Manning was sent from the SCIF to the POC to find out what he could find out about the EFP. At that point all they really knew was that an element of the 210 was driving down a road that was rarely used and the lead element had been [inaudible to transcriber]

PFC Manning went to get some additional information but none could be found. They didn't have any updates, so he went back to the SCIF empty-handed. A few tense moments later came the welcome news. Despite the lead element being hit, no soldiers were killed, no soldiers were injured. Everyone in the TOC started celebrating, everyone in the SCIF started celebrating. Good news was welcome on any day, but especially on Christmas Eve.

A few minutes later came some additional news about that EFP, and the report indicated that as the lead element was driving down this road there was this civilian car in front of them, and that civilian car pulled over to the side, as was typical, to allow the convoy to go by, and they pulled over right in front of where that EFP was placed. The car had five occupants, two adults and three children. And that EFP went right through that car and hit that lead element. All five of the occupants were taken to the hospital, one died en route. Everyone in the TOC, in the SCIF was celebrating. Everyone was happy.

Everyone but PFC Manning. He couldn't celebrate. He couldn't be happy. The reason why is he couldn't forget about the life that was lost on that day. He couldn't forget about the lives and the family that was impacted on that Christmas Eve.

And from that moment forward PFC Manning started a struggle.
I may have missed it but I've never seen this story recounted in the mainstream media. It  certainly wasn't in today's Times. But there's a strong case to made that if Manning felt isolated in Iraq, it had less to do with the childhood video games than with the fact he didn't feeling like partying after an Iraqi child was killed.

It is amazing how little, more than 3 years after Manning's arrest, even well-meaning people know about the actual content that Manning leaked or his actual reasons for leaking.  For example, even among many of his supporters there's a sense that Manning leaked for the sake of transparency. But Manning, as least as I read his own words, believed in transparency as a tactic, not the end goal. He wanted to stop the U.S. from committing atrocities -- both of war and "diplomacy" -- in other countries and he used the only weapon he had at his disposal -- information -- to try to do so.

Michael Ratner has argued that one reason for the secret trial is that the government knows that Manning is such a sympathetic defendant.  I agree. Which is why it's so infuriating -- and telling -- that the Times would rather send its armchair psychologists to root through Manning's childhood than let his actions and words speak for themselves.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

My Sequel to Zero Dark Thirty

From Sunday's LA Times:
Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the man who imagined and directed the 9/11 attacks, was captured by the CIA in 2003. For the next three years he was subjected to the harshest treatment we could stomach. No other Al Qaeda operative in our custody was subjected to so much.
The result? KSM, as he is known within the intelligence community, revealed nothing about the most valuable thing he knew — Bin Laden's whereabouts. He did not, for example, divulge the name of the Kuwaiti courier who served Bin Laden.

This is not coincidentally the piece of information that sets "Zero Dark Thirty" in motion. Mohammed had trained the courier and knew of his connection to Bin Laden. Instead, he sent agents on hundreds of futile chases, hindering the hunt for Bin Laden rather than aiding it.


The simple fact is you can't reliably separate the gold from the dross that torture yields. "He had us chasing the goddamn geese in Central Park because he said some of them had explosives stuffed up their ass," one FBI counter-terrorism agent said in frustration." 
We begin with the torture. A brutalized KSM resists and curses his torturers, but finally shouts out the goose plot.  The camera pulls back and we're in a room full of FBI agents who, we now realize, were watching the KSM interrogation on film.  A stern-faced senior FBI agent addresses the room.  "Gentleman," he intones, "We're going to need someone to look up inside a whole lot of geese's asses."

Boss FBI man scans the room, as the camera pauses over each young agent silently praying he won't be chosen for this distasteful task.  Until at last, we come to Adam Sandler, man-child, reading an Archie comic and blissfully unaware of all that's just transpired.

I"m still filling in some of the pieces, but here's what will definitely be in ZD 30-II: Wild Goose Chase:
  1. A montage of Sandler chasing geese around Central Park.  He's inept.  At one point, he trips and loses his watch, which was given to him by his father, an FBI legend whose dying wish was for his own boy to join the Bureau.  (Hint: The watch will play an important role later).
  2. Lots of hilarious goose poop jokes.
  3. Sandler befriends a goose, who he names Archie.
  4. A shy, lonely office worker, played by Zooey Deschanel, spends her lunch hours in the park feeding geese.  Zooey and Adam begin to notice each other.
  5. Adam and Zooey talk. She's not at all put off by his whole man-child schtick. After all, she's a little quirky herself. And they both love geese.
  6. Zooey and Adam fall in love. (Note: In a earlier version of this screenplay, Sandler falls in love with a goose, not a human.  Still wondering if this might be better.) 
  7. A head-over-heels Zooey comes early to the park to surprise Sandler.  She observes from afar as Sandler holds down a goose and looks up its asshole.  He looks up and sees Zooey looking aghast.  Heartbroken, she runs off.  He yells, "It's not what you think," and starts to run after her, but, just then, Archie crosses his path. The goose has a mysterious metal object protruding out of its ass.
  8. As Adam weighs chasing girl or goose, a sweet-looking boy approaches Archie with a piece of bread. It's time for the man-child to grow up.  He picks up the boy and squires him to safety.  Then he sprints and tackles the goose, and reaches up its ass and pulls out . . . his dad's watch.  With tears streaming down his face, he puts the watch on.  The camera pulls back to reveal a whole bunch of funny park-goers -- a tourist! someone on roller skates! a man with an afro! a drug addict! -- looking on in disbelief.
  9. Zooey refuses to see or talk to the man she believes is a goose-fucker.  Adam is sad.
  10. Adam sees Zooey in the park. Archie is with him.  She turns and it looks like she might give him a second chance when, out-of-nowhere, The Evil Muslim Terrorists grab Zooey.  
  11. Adam and Archie pursue The Evil Muslim Terrorists.  Holy plot twist! The Evil Muslim Terrorists are not Muslim or Terrorists. But boy are they evil.  It's one of KSM's torturers and the senior FBI agent who assigned Sandler to goose duty in the first place. Turns out they always had a grudge against Sandler's old man when he was at the bureau because he hated torture!  Plus, maybe some outlandish plot involving goose smuggling.
  12. Adam saves Zooey.  Now she understands.  
  13. Adam and Zooey get married.  Archie is the best man. KSM (Aziz Ansari, who else?) is at the wedding too, wearing his infamous white t-shirt.
  14. As the credits roll, we see lots of hilarious takes of KSM  being brutally tortured and making up other outlandish plots interspersed with scenes of Archie at the wedding getting really drunk and dancing with hot babes!  The closing joke: A hungover Lindsay Lohan wakes up, her bridesmaid dress crumpled on the floor of her trashed hotel room. She coughs . . . and goose feathers come flying out her mouth!
I'm convinced my sequel will be much better than the original.  Feel free to help me suss out the plot a little more in the comments.