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Forensic Reform, A Critical Criminal Justice Issue

 

Forensic Reform, A Critical Criminal Justice Issue

Forensic Reform: On the Agenda in the New Congress « Failed Evidence

I’ve written a number of times (here and here an here, for example) about the problems with forensic science laboratories in this country.  Just in the last few months, we’ve seen scandals hit labs in Massachusetts, St. Paul, Minnesota, and in Mississippi.  It seems that the parade might never end.

But today, news emerged that indicates that, just maybe, forensic reform might be on the national agenda.

The new Congress will, of course, be preoccupied with budget and fiscal matters, and also with the President’s efforts on gun control and an expected push for immigration reform.  But Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has announced that he intends to put forensic reform onto the long list of issues he will examine.  According to The BLT (the Blog of the Legal Times, which covers law and government in Washington), Leahy’s committee will be working on an ambitious agenda: immigration, national security and civil liberties issues (including the use of drones in both foreign and domestic contexts), and gun control policy, but that isn’t all.  “The committee will also focus on promoting national standards and oversight for forensic labs and practitioners,” BLT says.

Forensic Reform: On the Agenda in the New Congress « Failed Evidence

It is time for national standards in the field of forensic science. We have had forensic labs across the country involved in serious scandals and forensic testimony in some jurisdictions more comic than useful.

“David A. Harris is Distinguished Faculty Scholar and Professor of Law at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law.” His blog, Failed Evidence, Why Law Enforcement Resists Science, is a continuing statement for a vital reform.

James Pilant

From around the web –

From the web site, Think Markets: (An article by Roger Koppl)

The article says, “Justice Department officials have known for years that flawed forensic work might have led to the convictions of potentially innocent people, but prosecutors failed to notify defendants or their attorneys even in many cases they knew were troubled.” The DoJ begin investigating in the 1990s “after reports that sloppy work by examiners at the FBI lab was producing unreliable forensic evidence in court trials.” As the Post article chronicles, the investigation was very narrowly drawn in spite of evidence that problems were likely more widespread. When problems were identified, the FBI gave notice to the relevant prosecutors, but not to defendants or their legal representatives. To judge by the sample the Post was able to track down, prosecutors notified defendants in only about half the cases. This is not the first case of slow or inadequate notification.

From the web site, Wobbly Warrior’s Blog:

The FBI announced some time ago that their “bullet lead analysis,” in use for approximately four decades, was of no value.  They sent letters informing the @2,500 involved prosecutorial entities.  Those prosecutorial entities did nothing.  Law enforcement nationwide was aware of the FBI’s admission, and did nothing.  The American Bar Association was aware, and did nothing.  Aware that no reasonable reaction to their announcement had transpired, despite their color-of-law mandates, the FBI took no further action; a second letter to the actual inmates involved would have cost next to nothing.

And finally, from the web site, The Truth About Forensic Science:

Senator Leahy’s forensic science reform bill appears to be short on specifics and long on template.  Problems with forensic science are no doubt ‘low-hanging fruit’ for political purposes.  Nevertheless, it is encouraging that the 2009 NAS report is in fact on Washington’s radar.

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Ethics Bob and Zero Dark Thirty

Ethics Bob and Zero Dark Thirty

Ethics Bob

Ethics Bob

This is Ethics Bob’s take on the recent movie, Zero Dark Thirty. As with all of his work, it merits reading.

James Pilant

Zero Dark Thirty: Did torture lead us to Osama bin Laden? « Ethics Bob

For many years before Zero Dark Thirty, arguments raged about whether torture was acceptable, and the arguments turned largely on whether torture—euphemized into enhanced interrogation because torture is illegal—was effective. Arguing for torture was the CIA; opposing it was most of the FBI. FBI agents reported that detainees that were treated decently, even kindly, were founts of valuable intelligence until CIA interrogators took over and turned to torture, at which point the detainees clammed up.

Bigelow’s and Boal’s sources were largely CIA, so it figures that they were told that torture played an important role. Had their sources been FBI the movie’s depiction of the interrogations would have different.

So did torture lead us to UBL? I’m inclined to think that it was of little help, but I can’t really know. See the movie and keep an open mind.

Zero Dark Thirty: Did torture lead us to Osama bin Laden? « Ethics Bob

Here is the trailer –

What’s my take? Torture is against American and International law. If an American uses torture, he should be prosecuted for the crime or handed over to international authorities for punishment.

James Pilant

From around the web –

From the web site, Daily Speculations:

Is it worth a come-see? Assuredly. By the fanatic long lines even late at night, this is the pic to see. And probably 90% went out satisfied. But is it /all that/? Not so sure. Bigelow earns her stripes/, *The Hurt Locker*/ won Best Pic of 2008, and merited it. Moreover, probably few directors could have landed this baby as well as she. But somehow I think the hype is selling this sizzle more than the steak.

From the web site, People’s Blog for the Constitution:

Just to reiterate the consensus: torture did not help national security. The chairs of the Senate intelligence and armed services committees, in addition to a recent Republican presidential nominee and torture survivor, and the acting head of the CIA, have all publicly announced that the film’s depiction of torture exaggerates its usefulness.

In fact, as they have all confirmed, the information that led to the death of Osama bin Laden was gained through traditional intelligence methods, not the unconstitutional “enhanced interrogation” human rights abuses illegally concocted by former Vice President Dick Cheney, Ninth Circuit Judge Jay Bybee, and others.

Not only was torture unhelpful as an interrogation method, it was actively counterproductive: it fueled the recruitment of new terrorists by our nation’s enemies, and undermined our nation’s moral standing in the world, degrading the “smart power” that was responsible for our triumph over the Soviet bloc and the relative peace in the decades following WWII.

And, finally, from the web site, Indies Unchained:

In my opinion, Zero Dark Thirty does not glorify torture. The film is very objective. It shows us what happened and it’s up to us to determine how we feel about it. I think a lot of people are used to being told what to think and mistake the clinical representation of these events as condoning torture. However, showing and endorsing are not the same thing. A lot of people are misinterpreting what’s happening in the film, have already made up their mind before they’ve seen the film, or worse, actively lie about what happens in the film to better support their own arguments. After all, how can we confront them when we haven’t seen the film? Many have claimed this is the sequence of events in the film: Chastain’s character and the CIA physically and mentally torture prisoners, get information, find Bin Laden. This is not true. Chastain and the CIA torture a prisoner in the beginning of the film, but he gives them no information. Over and over he refuses to tell them anything. They get the information from him by tricking him.

You can argue the film says they were able to trick him because of all torture he was subjected to, but in a scene where Chastain watches countless interrogation tapes that involve and don’t involve torture the film goes out of it’s way to show that she found the same information from many people who were not tortured at all. Every prisoner that was tortured in the tapes said nothing. Plus, the film shows multiple terrorists attacks that happen while the CIA is still using torture techniques. Wouldn’t a pro-torture film ignore those events to perpetuate their pro-torture agenda? In the context of the whole film it seems pretty obvious Zero Dark Thirty is not pro-torture. Furthermore, the idea that is glorifies torture is asinine. These sequences are disturbing and sickening. There’s nothing enjoyable about watching these scenes, and if you understand cinematic language it’s glaringly obvious we’re meant emphasize with the people being tortured. The CIA agents are the monsters.

 

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