Operation Condor-Era Argentine Dictator Gets Life Imprisonment

An Argentine federal court on Wednesday sentenced former military dictator Reynaldo Bignone to life imprisonment for his role in kidnapping, torturing and murdering anti-government protesters during the 1970s and 80s. Bignone, along with six other former military leaders, were convicted for “crimes against humanity.” He was also charged for human rights violations against conscripts of Argentina’s Military College that occurred between 1976 and 1977. Dubbed “Argentina’s last dictator,” Bignone ruled as president from 1982 to 1983, representing the country’s right-wing military dictatorship that arose during the Dirty War.

— source telesurtv.net

JPMorgan Chase to Pay $55M to Settle Housing Discrimination Lawsuit

JPMorgan Chase will pay $55 million to settle a lawsuit with the Justice Department accusing the bank of discriminating against more than 50,000 homeowners of color between 2006 and 2009. The lawsuit accuses JPMorgan Chase of violating the Fair Housing Act and Equal Credit Opportunity Act. As part of the settlement, JPMorgan Chase does not have to admit wrongdoing, and no bankers are facing criminal charges.

— source democracynow.org

what a wonderful country. justice for sale.

One Arrest in Every 25 Seconds

Tess Borden talking:

Human Rights Watch and the ACLU undertook this yearlong investigation into just how failed the law enforcement approach to drug use is. And what we found is, first, that the scale of enforcement is absolutely massive. Every 25 seconds, someone is arrested. That accounts for 1.25 million arrests per year, more arrests, as you said in the opening, than any other crime, three times more than all violent crimes combined, five times more than drug dealing. So, the scale is just absolutely incredible and devastating.

Secondly, we found that the consequences of those arrests and prosecution can be sometimes lifelong, not only for individuals, but also for families. On any given day in the United States, some 140,000 people are behind bars just because they possessed a small amount of drugs for their own personal use, while each day tens of thousands more are cycling through jails and prisons, struggling to make ends meet on probation and parole.

We also found that a conviction for drug possession, often at the felony level, because in 42 states small amount of possession can be a felony offense—we found those convictions can keep individuals, and sometimes, again, entire families, out of public benefits, such as food stamps or Section 8 housing. It can make it hard to get a job, rent a house, next month to vote. And for noncitizens, of course, it can result in deportation.

And then, we also found that the enforcement of these laws is disproportionately impacting communities of color and the poor, without justification, just to drill down there. We know around the country black and white people use drugs at equivalent rates, and yet a black person is two-and-a-half times more likely to be arrested for simple drug possession than a white person. In many states, that ratio is significantly higher. And absolutely no state is at one-to-one. So, a black person is more than five times more likely to be arrested for, again, simple drug possession for personal use than a white person in North Dakota, New York, Minnesota, Montana, Iowa, Vermont. Here in Manhattan, a black person is 11 times more likely to be arrested than a white person. Again, that’s despite equivalent rates of use. So, these are racial disparities. But more importantly, under human rights law, this is racial discrimination.

So I met 149 people, 64 of whom were in custody when I met them, so in jails, in prisons. And what I found across the board was that these are mothers and fathers, these are friends and family members, who have been taken out of their lives and for whom it’s really hard to move on after the fact of prosecution. I met people like Corey Ladd in the video, like Steven’s family.

To flesh it out a little bit, Corey Ladd has a four-year-old daughter. She’s going to be five. We saw the picture of her. She’s going to be five in January. He was arrested in December, before she was born. He’s never held her. He’s never played with her outside of prison. The first time he held his baby girl in his arms was in the infamous Angola prison in Louisiana.

This is possessing half an ounce of marijuana. His prior convictions were also for drug possession. And because he was considered under Louisiana law a habitual offender, because he had habitual drug use, he was sentenced to 20 years. Twenty years. And so, his little daughter, Charlie, now thinks she visits him at work, when they go to prison. She could be a teenager going off to college by the time he comes home. And she’ll know by then that prison isn’t where her dad works.

Nicole is a mother of three young children I met in the Harris County Jail in Houston, Texas. Nicole was detained pretrial on two charges, both for residue inside drug paraphernalia. The prosecutors could have prosecuted her for misdemeanors, but instead they sought felony charges. Nicole was detained for three months, away from her young children, away from her newborn. The little baby, who I call Rose, learned to sit up on her own, when her mother was inside. And Nicole’s husband brought Rose to the jail. And when you visit someone in jail, there’s glass in front of you, and you often have to speak through a telephone. And so, the baby couldn’t, you know, reach out and feel her mother. Nicole couldn’t hug her, couldn’t congratulate her, because the baby doesn’t understand how to use a phone.

Nicole eventually pled guilty. In exchange, the prosecutor dropped one charge, and Nicole got a felony conviction for possessing 0.01 grams of heroin inside a plastic baggie, inside an empty baggie. Nicole would do a few more months in prison, in a Texas prison, and then she’d get to go home to her children. But now she’d be a, quote-unquote, “felon.” Now she would be a drug offender. And so, Nicole tells me, beyond even the months behind bars, what this meant was she was going to be punished for the rest of her life. She was in school. She was seeking a degree in business administration. She said she’d have to drop out of school, because now she wouldn’t qualify for student financial aid as a felon and a drug convict, quote-unquote. And she would lose—I’ll hurry up—she would lose food stamps. She would no longer be able to rent in her own name. She would no longer be able to feed her children. And she said, “You know, this is my whole life right there.” And for what?

three states, including Florida, disenfranchise people for felony convictions for a lifetime. Many other states have some level of disenfranchisement, whether it’s for a period of years or while one is finishing one’s sentence. And so, Trisha said, you know, she—you know, she had recalled registering to vote and that that was now, you know, a relic of the past, a fond memory that she’d never be able to capitalize on. And people told me across the board that they felt as though, you know, this conviction, whether it separated them from the voting box or other benefits, meant that their voice didn’t matter, meant that they were no longer really a citizen who mattered in the United States. And for—as we look at next month, going into an important election, felony disenfranchisement is literally keeping out people out of our democracy. And we know that drug possession arrests are, you know, the number one cause of people entering into the system that could be disenfranchising them.

We know, 45 years after the drug war was declared, that it hasn’t stopped rates of drug use, and it hasn’t stopped drug dependence, as we see with opiate use right now. So we’re saying we need to invest in a stronger public health approach. We need more evidence-based prevention, education around the risks of drug use and dependence, and voluntary treatment affordable in the community. I do think there’s been a very commendable shift in some policymakers’ and officials’ language towards public health. I would just caution, though, that we don’t invest stronger into the failed criminal justice approach, when we’re—you know, we’re afraid of drugs in this country right now. And I think what we need to say is most people who use drugs don’t become dependent. You know, the opiate epidemic is devastating, and it is tragic. And those people, though, deserve a public health approach instead.

We’re calling for the decriminalization of personal use and possession of all illicit drugs. That includes marijuana. That includes heroin, methamphetamines, cocaine—all drugs. And what we’re saying, to be quite clear, is not that everyone should go out and use drugs. What we’re saying is, for those people who use drugs and don’t harm others, the criminal law is simply inappropriate. For those people who use drugs and develop dependence, they deserve—they have a right to a health-based approach instead. And the state can still use other laws in place if people do put others in harm’s way. We still, you know, criminalize driving under the influence for alcohol. We can treat drug use, personal drug use, like we do alcohol consumption.

Tess Borden
Aryeh Neier fellow at Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union.

— source democracynow.org

Chile’s “General Never Again” arrested for Caravan of Death killings

The former head of the Chilean Army, Juan Emilio Cheyre, has been arrested in connection with the extrajudicial executions of 15 suspected leftists in the early days of the country’s 17-year-long military dictatorship, installed through the US-backed coup led by Gen. Augusto Pinochet in 1973.

The detention and likely trial of Cheyre, who has continued to occupy a significant position within Chilean ruling circles after his 2002-2006 tenure as the country’s top uniformed commander, has exacerbated the political crisis gripping the government of President Michele Bachelet.

At the time the order for his arrest was announced, Cheyre was attending a meeting of the government’s council of advisors on Bolivia’s territorial challenge to Chile at The Hague. After his detention, he was forced to tender his resignation as one of the members of the country’s electoral board.

Cheyre was tapped as the chief of the army by former President Ricardo Lagos, who in 2000 became the first Socialist Party member to occupy the La Moneda Palace since Salvador Allende was killed there in the bloody coup of September 11, 1973. Bachelet, also a member of the Socialist Party, served in Lagos’ cabinet as health minister and later defense minister.

Cheyre played a prominent role in the so-called “democratic transition,” earning the nickname “General Never Again” after issuing a statement in 2003 affirming that the army was undergoing “a great transformation” and that it had “committed itself to never again committing violations of human rights.”

While touted by the ruling establishment along with the Socialist Party and the country’s president as a triumph for “truth and reconciliation,” the statement was viewed by those who had been repressed and seen their friends and families murdered under the dictatorship as part of an attempt to bury the past and assure impunity for those in the security forces who had carried out these crimes. This impunity reached up to and including Pinochet, who died in 2006 without ever being tried for initiating Chile’s nightmare of mass murder, torture and political imprisonment.

Many of these critics now see at least some vindication in the arrest of Cheyre in connection with the so-called Caravan of Death killing spree carried out by the dictatorship in the immediate aftermath of the 1973 coup.

During the period from September 30 to October 22, 1973, the “caravan” consisted of a death squad of Chilean army officers headed by Brig. Gen. Sergio Arellano Stark that traveled from the south of the country to the north aboard a Puma helicopter, going from prison to prison to ensure that suspected leftists in the military’s custody throughout Chile were dealt with in a uniformly brutal fashion. They left in their wake roughly 100 victims who were brutally tortured and summarily executed.

At the time, Cheyre was a 25-year-old lieutenant and intelligence officer of the army regiment in the northern town of La Serena. After the arrival of the Caravan death squad, 15 political prisoners held there were dragged out to the base’s firing range and shot to death by army troops without even the semblance of a trial. Their bodies were then taken to a local cemetery and dumped into a mass grave.

In addition to Cheyre, eight other former Chilean army personnel have been charged in relation to the deaths.

While charges that Cheyre had been complicit in the killings and torture carried out by the dictatorship in La Serena had surfaced even before he was named head of the army, his reputation suffered a serious blow in 2013 as the result of an encounter on a television news program between the ex-general and Ernesto Lejderman, the son of a couple murdered by the military in La Serena in December 1973. Cheyre was implicated in handing the then-two-year-old child over to a convent with the story that his parents had committed suicide. In the course of the broadcast, he proved unable or unwilling to answer questions posed by the son of the murdered couple and the host of the program.

Amid the controversy that ensued, Lagos, the Socialist Party ex-president, came forward to insist that it was “unjust to judge him now for something he did as a 25-year-old lieutenant.” On that basis, a major share of those responsible for the crimes of the Nazis would have to be exonerated.

In addition to former members of the security forces who have testified to Cheyre’s active participation in decisions relating to the repression of that period, several of his victims have also come forward.

Nicolas Barrantes, 17 at the time he was detained and taken to the headquarters of the army regiment in La Serena, has identified Cheyre as his torturer with “100 percent certainty.”

“In an hour and a half of interrogation and torture, life passes quickly,” he told Radio Cooperativo. “There are fractions of seconds in which I see the mouth of the interrogator, and this mouth is engraved in my memory. The voice of this person is engraved in my mind. After 43 years, I can say that it is the same person.”

He said he was tortured horribly in an attempt to force him to identify the friends and comrades of his brother Marco, who had also been detained by the regiment, and to provide the location of arsenals of weapons in the area, of which there were none.

His brother was one of those summarily shot. “He was an idealist, a good man who wanted a more just Chile,” he said. “And these criminals killed him.”

Barrantes recalled seeing Cheyre nominated as commander of the army by the Socialist Party president in 2003.

“The ground went out from under my feet when Ricardo Lagos named him commander in chief, knowing that the Vicariate of Solidarity (a human rights arm of the Chilean Catholic Church) had informed the president that this man’s hands were stained with blood … President Lagos didn’t want to listen.”

Lorena Pizarro, president of the Association of Relatives of the Detained and Disappeared, said of Cheyre’s arrest: “He talked about reconciliation and now he is detained as an author of crimes against humanity. A violator of human rights was commander in chief of the army not under dictatorship, but under democracy.”

She described him as the “symbol of impunity,” an impunity that continues to exist in Chile.

Meanwhile, the present commander in chief of the army, Gen. Humberto Oviedo, responded to Cheyre’s arrest by declaring it “a concern for the institution,” adding, “we are confident in the presumption of innocence.”

— source wsws.org By Bill Van Auken

Swiss whistleblower Ruedi Elmer

Rudolf Elmer: the man who broke the Cayman bank secrecy law by publishing sensitive client data from Bank Julius Baer on WikiLeaks. Back in Switzerland Elmer was stalked by private investigators, publicly defamed and socially isolated. He lost his job three times and has no secure income. He is still prosecuted by the bank and by the State of Zurich. But he keeps blowing the whistle… for the break-up with an unjust system and the rescue of the public good.