Tag Archives: Law and Order

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Joining ISIS is Stupid. But Why Should It Be Illegal?

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“American Taliban” John Walker Lindh stripped nude and tortured after his capture.

 

There have been several high-profile arrests of wannabe jihadis who allegedly intended to fight with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, including three New York City residents last week, charged with providing “material support and resources…to a foreign terrorist organization.” They each face up to 15 years in prison.

Over the last year the United States has intercepted and arrested at least 15 young Muslims for wanting to join ISIS.

If I went to Syria to join ISIS, I could be arrested and charged with felonies that carry long prison sentences.

Why?

As citizens of a supposedly free country, Americans ought to be able to travel anywhere on the planet, and fight for any army we please, as long as that force is not at war against the United States. This, by the way, has been American law for the last 120 years.

Neither ISIS nor the United States have declared war against one another. (Since the U.S. does not recognize ISIS as a nation-state, they wouldn’t be able to do so.) Anyway, ISIS is more of a frenemy: the Obama Administration was still funneling money, weapons and trainers to the insurgent factions that metastasized into the Islamic State in their war against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad well into 2014. We still want them to beat Assad…or do we?

The Center for Constitutional Rights complains that the “material support” statute governing these prosecutions is overly broad because along with the USA Patriot Act it criminalizes “almost any kind of support for blacklisted groups, including humanitarian aid, training, expert advice, ‘services’ in almost any form, and political advocacy.” It’s downright absurd when the blacklisted “terrorist group” in question was a U.S. ally until last summer.

It ought to go without saying that I have no sympathy for ISIS. Their ideology is idiotic, medieval and repugnant. Among numerous other atrocities, they kidnap, torture and execute war correspondents — my colleagues. Last week’s video of ISIS fighters destroying archeological treasures at the museum in Mosul, Iraq had me shouting “barbarians!” at my screen. They’re disgusting.

But I am also disgusted by the U.S. government’s imperialistic campaign to trample the sovereignty of other nations in their attempt to dominate the entire world. Not only does the U.S. invade other nations without just cause, it routinely violates countries’ airspace with drones, airstrikes and assassination raids. The U.S. arrests non-U.S. persons for acts committed outside the U.S., kidnaps them, prosecutes and jails them in the U.S.

If you want to join the French Foreign Legion or the Australian Coast Guard or the Taliban or ISIS, it’s your stupid business — unless, as I said above, a formal state of war exists between them and the United States (which would be treason, punishable by death).

There is a long history of Americans traveling abroad to fight in foreign armies. American volunteers in the Abraham Lincoln Brigades defended the Republican government against Franco’s fascists in the Spanish Civil War of the late 1930s. In the 1980s thousands of American internationalistas fought on the Sandinista side in Nicaragua against American-backed right-wing death squads. Because they fought for left-of-center causes, they were accused of ideological subversion by reactionary government officials — but, thanks to an 1896 court ruling, they weren’t prosecuted.

Over 1000 Americans serve in the Israeli Defense Forces.

As with so many other basic legal precepts, your right to serve in a foreign army has been eroded since 9/11, marked by the prosecution imprisonment of “American Taliban” John Walker Lindh. Lindh joined the Taliban in 2000 and was captured by U.S. forces during the fall 2001 invasion of Afghanistan. He received a whopping 20 years in federal prison for “providing services” to the Taliban and “carrying an explosive” (which, as a soldier in a war zone, is hardly unusual).

At the time I was one of the few pubic figures — perhaps the only one — who criticized the Bush Administration’s treatment of Lindh, who was brutally tortured by American troops. Lindh, I pointed out, joined the Taliban before 9/11. Even after 9/11, the U.S. never declared war against Afghanistan — so he should have been repatriated without punishment.

Prosecutions under the “material support” statute escalated following the media’s passive acceptance of the lengthy prison sentence for Lindh.

Locking people in prison for the crime of youthful idealism/naiveté is a perversion of law and morality. They are not a threat to the U.S.

Young men and women who successfully make it into Syria and join ISIS shoot at Syrians and Iraqis. The only Americans they might endanger are U.S. occupation troops assisting collaborationist Iraqis — who are there illegally, in an undeclared war. What we think of ISIS is irrelevant; many countries are ruled by vile despots.

From a practical standpoint in this war for hearts and minds, throwing kids who have never fired a shot into federal penitentiaries for ridiculously long prison terms confirms the narrative that the West is at war not with Islamic extremism, but with Islam itself.

As an American, I hate to see us lose another right.

(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and cartoonist for The Los Angeles Times, is the author of the new critically-acclaimed book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan.” Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2015 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

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The System Works

The System Works

In both the cases of the police officer who shot unarmed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and the one who strangled Eric Garner to death in Staten Island, New York, grand juries and prosecutors bent over backward to consider evidence that they might be guilty. What if the system treated blacks suspected of killing white cops with the same deference?

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Changing the Man in Charge Doesn’t Change the System

Changing the Man in Charge Doesn't Change the System

Watching our millionaire president hobnobbing with celebrities at his luxurious vacation in Martha’s Vineyard as Ferguson, Missouri convulses in rioting after a cop shot unarmed Michael Brown, it’s obvious that electing a black president isn’t enough to change reality for millions of less privileged blacks. The only thing that separates Michael Brown from Barack Obama is a thin veneer of borrowed privilege.

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LOS ANGELES TIMES CARTOON: RoboSheriff

Minority Report

 

Computer algorithms drive online dating sites that promise to hook you up with a compatible mate. They help retailers suggest that, because you liked this book or that movie, you’ll probably be into this music. So it was probably inevitable that programs based on predictive algorithms would be sold to law enforcement agencies on the pitch that they’ll make society safe.

The LAPD feeds crime data into PredPol, which then spits out a report predicting — reportedly with impressive accuracy — where “property crimes specifically, burglaries and car break-ins and thefts are statistically more likely to happen.” The idea is, if cops spend more time in these high-crime spots, they can stop crime before it happens.

Chicago police used predictive algorithms designed by an Illinois Institute of Technology engineer to create a 400-suspect “heat list” of “people in the city of Chicago supposedly most likely to be involved in violent crime.” Surprisingly, of these Chicagoans — who receive personal visits from high-ranking cops telling them that they’re being watched — have never committed a violent crime themselves. But their friends have, and that can be enough.

In other words, today’s not-so-bad guys may be tomorrow’s worst guys ever.

But math can also be used to guess which among yesterday’s bad guys are least likely to reoffend. Never mind what they did in the past. What will they do from now on? California prison officials, under constant pressure to reduce overcrowding, want to limit early releases to the inmates most likely to walk the straight and narrow.

Toward that end, Times’ Abby Sewell and Jack Leonard report that the L.A. Sheriff’s Department is considering changing its current evaluation system for early releases of inmates to one based on algorithms:

Supporters argue the change would help select inmates for early release who are less likely to commit new crimes. But it might also raise some eyebrows. An older offender convicted of a single serious crime, such as child molestation, might be labeled lower-risk than a younger inmate with numerous property and drug convictions.

The Sheriff’s Department is planning to present a proposal for a “risk-based” release system to the Board of Supervisors.

“That’s the smart way to do it,” interim Sheriff John L. Scott said. “I think the percentage [system, which currently determines when inmates get released by looking at the seriousness of their most recent offense and the percentage of their sentence they have already served] leaves a lot to be desired.”

Washington state uses a similar system, which has a 70% accuracy rate. “A follow-up study…found that about 47% of inmates in the highest-risk group returned to prison within three years, while 10% of those labeled low-risk did.”
No one knows which ex-cons will reoffend — sometimes not even the recidivist himself or herself. No matter how we decide which prisoners walk free before their end of their sentences, whether it’s a judgment call rendered by corrections officials generated by algorithms, it comes down to human beings guessing what other human beings do. Behind every high-tech solution, after all, are programmers and analysts who are all too human. Even if that 70% accuracy rate improves, some prisoners who have been rehabilitated and ought to have been released will languish behind bars while others, dangerous despite best guesses, will go out to kill, maim and rob.

If the Sheriff’s Department moves forward with predictive algorithmic analysis, they’ll be exchanging one set of problems for another.

Technology is morally neutral. It’s what we do with it that makes a difference.

That, and how many Russian hackers manage to game the system.

(Ted Rall, cartoonist for The Times, is also a nationally syndicated opinion columnist and author. His new book is Silk Road to Ruin: Why Central Asia is the New Middle East.)

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Legalish

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President Obama says the NSA’s surveillance programs against American citizens are “transparent.” Indeed, there is a legal veneer — memos that validate them, secret courts that supervise them, a few Congressmen who are briefed — but true legality cannot be the result of secrecy. Welcome to the Age of Legalish.

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Hanging Around in Bangladesh

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Bangladesh isn’t some crappy Third World country like the United States, where capitalists can crash the economy and get away clean – and loaded.

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LOS ANGELES TIMES CARTOON: Si Le Gant Ne Va Pas

Sil Le Gant Ne Vas Pas

I draw cartoons for The Los Angeles Times about issues related to California and the Southland (metro Los Angeles).

This week: Sequester-related budget cuts to air traffic control could cause big delays at Los Angeles International Airport.

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