Monthly Archives: March 2011

You Would Never Confess to a Crime You Did Not Commit? Don’t Be So Sure

Disclaimer: The views expressed here at The Liberty Papers either by the post authors or views found in the comments section do not necessarily reflect the views of The Innocence Project nor its affiliates.

In support of our fundraising efforts for The Innocence Project, I have decided to dedicate at least one post per week over the next four weeks to the cause of criminal justice reform – many of which are the very reforms The Innocence Project are working to bring about. With just 2 weeks left of this fundraising campaign, 208 “Innocence Partners” combined efforts has raised over $10,000 of the $20,000 target. As of this writing, you readers have already donated $375 – 75% of our $500 goal! Thanks to everyone who has donated so far or plans to donate. Remember: your donations are 100% tax deductible.

One more brief note before I get into this post’s topic of false confessions. Just three days ago, Thomas Haynesworth became The Innocence Projects’ 267th exoneree and was released from prison after serving 27 years for three rapes that DNA tests and other evidence prove he did not commit (well, technically he was paroled; The Innocence Project is now trying to have his conviction overturned via the Virginia Court of Appeals or by a pardon from the governor who says he will consider pardoning Haynesworth).

False Confessions

A skilled interrogator knows all sorts of ways to persuade individuals guilty of committing a crime to confess. The problem is, the same interrogator’s methods can often persuade individuals who are innocent to confess as well.

But why would an innocent person confess to crimes as serious as rape and murder, you ask? This is some of what The Innocence Project has learned:

In about 25% of DNA exoneration cases, innocent defendants made incriminating statements, delivered outright confessions or pled guilty.

These cases show that confessions are not always prompted by internal knowledge or actual guilt, but are sometimes motivated by external influences.

Why do innocent people confess?
A variety of factors can contribute to a false confession during a police interrogation. Many cases have included a combination of several of these causes. They include:

•duress
•coercion
•intoxication
•diminished capacity
•mental impairment
•ignorance of the law
•fear of violence
•the actual infliction of harm
•the threat of a harsh sentence
•Misunderstanding the situation

The documentary series Frontline episode “The Confessions” (below) profiles a case where eight individuals were charged in large part due to five confessions for a rape and murder of a Norfolk, Virginia woman. Only one of the five confessions turned out to be true and the actual perpetrator admitted he acted alone.

Watch the full episode. See more FRONTLINE.

How can false confessions be minimized? One common sense reform The Innocence Project is pushing is simply passing laws which would require all interrogations to be recorded. If the men in the above case had their confessions recorded, the interrogators wouldn’t have the ability to have each rehearse their confessions until it fit with their theory. Every lie and every threat by the interrogators would be replayed for the jury to hear. Only then could the jury have a more complete context of the interrogation.

Additional Thoughts on Recording Interactions with the Police

In response to the above post, Tom Knighton made some very good points in a blog post of his own regarding mandatory recording of interrogations that bear repeating here:

Littau suggests simply recording interrogations as a tool for preventing false confessions as the jury would hear the whole situation and perhaps make up their own minds regarding the so-called confession. I’m going to go so far as to suggest this as a tool for protecting law enforcement officers, as well as suspects. Recorded interrogations can also tell that an officer didn’t coerce a confession, assault a suspect, or anything else they may be accused of.

Transparency is always preferable to non-transparency when it comes to government, even in the law enforcement sector. By recording interviews, an agency opens a window on the process and protects everyone involved.

As the old saying goes, there’s three sides to every story. In the criminal justice system there’s the suspect’s side, the state’s side (or referred sometimes to as “the people’s” side), and the truth. Recording all interactions between the police and the suspect provides something very close to the truth (I say close because even video evidence can be limiting due to a variety of factors).

Really I think that all police interactions should be required by law to be recorded if the person doesn’t have access to a lawyer at that particular moment (and even then, the interaction should be recorded unless the lawyer wishes otherwise). Every police stop, every search warrant, and every raid on a person’s home should be fully* recorded; resulting video should be kept unedited** so both sides can examine the evidence fairly.

Of course, this all assumes that the purpose of our criminal justice system is to get to the truth.

*In the case of police raids, something that Radley Balko advocates (which I agree with fully) is that every SWAT or police officer who takes part in a raid should be required to have a camera mounted on his/her person – preferably helmet mounted. This would present the events how they happened from multiple points-of-view.

**Editing, destroying, or omitting such a video should be considered a crime akin to any other tampering or destruction of evidence.

Where You at Now, Joe?

You know, as much as I disagree most of the time with Dennis Kucinich on so many issues, I respect him because he is principled and consistent regardless of who happens to be occupying the White House. That’s a hell of a lot more than what I can say about Joe Biden.

So where are you at Mr. Vice President? Are you going to prove us wrong and show us you are a man of integrity? Will you join Kucinich and the handful of other principled Democrats in questioning President Obama’s authority to bomb targets in Libya without any congressional approval of any kind?

So You’re A Dictator Who Wants to Remain in Power…

Besides the fact that the current regime in Libya is not a threat to U.S. national security, the role of the U.S. military ought not be engaged in strictly humanitarian missions, will likely lead to future humanitarian interventions, and can in no way be argued that such actions in Libya are somehow part of a greater “war on terror,” why else is military intervention in yet another Middle Eastern country a terrible idea? I will answer in the form of another question: what kind of message are our leaders sending the rest of the world when they decide to attack a country that has actually cooperated in the past?

This is exactly the point Jonathan Schwarz makes in his article in The Huffington Post:

In all the discussion about the current U.S. bombing of Libya, something important has gone almost unnoticed — the lesson the United States is teaching the government of every country on earth. That lesson is: no matter what, no matter the inducements or pressure, never ever give up chemical weapons or a nuclear weapons program. Doing so will not ensure that the U.S. does not attack you — on the contrary, it will make it much more likely.

[…]

In Libya’s case, Muammar Gaddafi announced in December 2003 that it was renouncing all WMD — Libya possessed chemical weapons, ballistic missiles and a nuclear weapons program — and invited international inspectors to certify its compliance. The U.S. declared that this “demonstrates that, in a world of strong nonproliferation norms, it is never too late to make the decision to become a fully compliant NPT state,” and that Libya would be “amply rewarded.” From the perspective of many governments, Libya is now receiving its reward, in the form of hundreds of Tomahawk missiles and the likely downfall of the regime that agreed to disarm.

I’m no more a fan of Muammar Gaddafi than I am Hugo Chavez, Kim Jung Il, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, or Robert Mugabe and I hope they will each have to answer to their own people someday. But even as despicable as these individuals are, they aren’t stupid (though arguably crazy in some instances). If you were one of these dictators, how do you think you would respond if you witnessed from afar the U.S. using its military might to topple a fellow despot who gave up his WMD program to satisfy the nonproliferation policies the U.S. had long pursued in the region? Would you be more or less likely to pursue a WMD program?

How could the Obama administration not recognize that this could undermine these nonproliferation efforts?

Schwarz believes that none of this was lost on those within the administration but was part of the calculations.

But here’s what no Americans know: the current attack on Libya is not an unforeseen glitch in our efforts to get them to disarm. Instead, it was the explicit policy of the U.S. to get countries to disarm so that we would be able to attack them.

This may sound ridiculous to many Americans. After all, no president ever puts it like that. Instead, they say: our enemies must disarm because they threaten the precious lives of our citizens! But in fact when talking to each other, U.S. government officials say it over and over again: we don’t oppose countries like Iraq, Libya and Iran having WMD because we’re scared they’re going to attack us with them. Instead, we oppose them having WMD because that would allow them to deter us from attacking them.

From there, Schwarz cites examples from a 2001 memo from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and several paragraphs from a paper entitled “Rebuilding America’s Defenses” written by a Neoconservative group called Project for a New American Century.

I don’t know how much this sort of thinking is in place in the Obama administration and couldn’t say if this attack on Libya is a result of such thinking or just plain old shortsightedness. Either way, this intervention is a horrible mistake and will have negative repercussions even beyond Libya itself.

Repost: Where Did The Anti-War Movement Go?

I wrote this originally on April 20, 2009 about Obama’s escalation of the war in Afghanistan. Now with Obama’s undeclared war in Libya beginning, I feel this is timely so I’m reposting it.

In the American Conservative, Antiwar.com editor Justin Raitmando (whom I often disagree with) has a piece detailing some more leftist hypocrisy concerning their Messiah and his plans to expand the Afghan War

The antiwar rally at the University of Iowa was sparsely attended. The below 30 degree weather might have had something to do with it, but Paul Street, a local writer and one of the speakers, had another theory, as the Daily Iowan reported:

Before the crowd of fewer than 20, Street questioned why the ‘left’ locals and university officials aren’t doing more to help in the protests against the war. ‘The big truth right now, whether this town’s missing-in-action progressives get it or not, is that we need to fight the rich, not their wars,’ he said, citing big corporations for wasting their technology and funding on war.

The big truth is that the antiwar movement has largely collapsed in the face of Barack Obama’s victory: the massive antiwar marches that were a feature of the Bush years are a thing of the past. Those ostensibly antiwar organizations that did so much to agitate against the Iraq War have now fallen into line behind their commander in chief and are simply awaiting orders.

Take, for example, Moveon.org, the online activist group that ran antiwar ads during the election—but only against Republicans—in coalition with a group of labor unions and Americans Against Escalation in Iraq. Behind AAEI stood three of Obama’s top political operatives, Steve Hildebrand, Paul Tewes, and Brad Woodhouse. Woodhouse is now the Democratic National Committee’s director of communications and research. He controls the massive e-mail list culled by the Obama campaign during the primaries and subsequently, as well as a list of all those who gave money to the presumed peace candidate. These donors are no doubt wondering what Obama is doing escalating the war in Afghanistan and venturing into Pakistan.

As Greg Sargent noted over at WhoRunsGov.com, a Washington Post-sponsored site, “Don’t look now, but President Obama’s announcement today of an escalation in the American presence in Afghanistan is being met with mostly silence—and even some support—from the most influential liberal groups who opposed the Iraq War.”

In response to inquiries, Moveon.org refused to make any public statement about Obama’s rollout of the Af-Pak escalation, although someone described as “an official close to the group” is cited by WhoRunsGov as confirming that “MoveOn wouldn’t be saying anything in the near term.” A vague promise to poll their members was mentioned—“though it’s unclear when.” Don’t hold your breath.

Another Democratic Party front masquerading as a peace group, Americans United for Change, declined to comment on the war plans of the new administration. This astroturf organization ran $600,000 worth of television ads in the summer of 2007, focusing like a laser on congressional districts with Republican incumbents. Change? Not so fast.

The boldest of the peacenik sellouts, however, is Jon Soltz of VoteVets, described by WhoRunsGov as “among the most pugnacious anti-Iraq war groups.” They came out fists flying, endorsing the escalation of the Long War.

According to Soltz, there is “much to like in the plan,” but his faves boil down to three factors, which supposedly represent “a stark departure” from the bad old days of the Bush administration. He applauds the administration’s recognition that “The military can’t do it all.” Yet we’re increasing the troop levels by some 17,000, plus 4,000 trainers to babysit the barely existent Afghan “army.” We’re going to send thousands more civilians—aid workers, medical personnel, and military contractors—to build the infrastructure lacking in Afghan society and promote fealty to the central government in Kabul. Schools, clinics, roads, and shopping malls will be built with American tax dollars in order to foster trust between the Afghans, their occupiers, and their government.

The so-called “anti-war” groups that popped up before the Iraq War were never anti-war. Many of their founders and leaders cheered on BJ Clinton’s wars in the Balkans and in Haiti. They were not completely anti-American or merely “on the other side” as some conservative and neo-libertarian bloggers accused them either. The “anti-war” movement was simply a rallying point for leftists and Democrat party hacks who needed to gain traction against a popular (at the time) President Bush. They needed to sow doubt about the Iraq War (the mismanagement of the war by the Bush administration helped as well) in order to have a wedge issue against President Bush. Naturally, they rooted for more American deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq and for American objectives to go unfulfilled, at least while Bush was president.

Now their Messiah has been elected and he wants to expand the Afghan War, possibly into Pakistan. What’s a leftist posing a peace activist supposed to do. Well, what all good leftists do, follow their leader, in this case the Messiah. He wants to send 17,000 more Americans into Afghanistan to bring democracy, destroy the Taliban, and put in chicken in every Afghan pot. He has not defined what “victory” is in Afghanistan, nor does he have a plan, short of nuclear war, to combat the Talibanization of Pakistan. If George W. Bush planned this, the so-called peace activists would have been the ones having Tea Parties on April 15.

Aren’t the so-called “peace activists” being just a tad bit hypocritical now that their Messiah is in the Oval Office and wants his little war?

Finally, I just want to point out, I do not intend to attack sincere opponents of US foreign policy and interventionism, like Justin Raitmando. I disagree with some of Justin’s positions and lot of his rhetoric. However I can respect Justin and most paleoconservatives and paleolibertarians as principled noninterventionists who oppose most if not all US military campaigns over the past two decades and longer.

It is the unprincipled hacks on the left who adopt the phony cause of “anti-war” when they’re out of power that need to be condemned.

I’m one of the original co-founders of The Liberty Papers all the way back in 2005. Since then, I wound up doing this blogging thing professionally. Now I’m running the site now. You can find my other work at IJ Review.com and Rare. You can also find me over at the R Street Institute.

Quote of the Day – Eyes wide shut?

In making the case for open and obvious centralized rationing, advocates claim that “we” must ration with “our” eyes open. From Beth Haynes at PJM:

That’s why Medicare needs the Independent Payment Advisory Board. Setting a cap on spending is the first step of rationing. The next is deciding who gets what medical care.

“Limited resources require decisions about who will have access to care and the extent of their coverage.” (Berwick, 1999)

As physician-blogger Dr. Richard Fogoros puts it: we can either ration overtly or covertly (“with our eyes open” or closed) — but ration we must.

The only problem with this is that a national central planner (or committee) can have their eyes wide open, yet will still be totally blind. No matter how hard you look, you can’t see a building that’s 3,000 miles away with the naked eye, can you? Centralized planners face the inevitable limitation of vision imposed by distance and the human being’s limited ability to comprehend information.

Technology increases the distance the planners can see, and allows them to comprehend more of what they see. But, contrary to the belief of the planners themselves, they’re still essentially blind. What the planners call careful, scientific decision-making I call groping blindly for solutions based on assumptions and personal preferences.

The fundamental truth forseeing the failure of Obamacare is that only individuals can ration well for themselves. Whatever centralized planners do, it’s with eyes wide shut.

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