Christopher Moraff

Trump's Plan to Fight the Opioid Epidemic Includes a Major Giveaway to this Pharmaceutical Giant

On October 24, President Donald Trump signed a package of bills into law aimed at addressing the overdose crisis, dubbed the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act. But critics say it might as well be called the SUPPORT Indivior Act—a reference to the maker of Suboxone (active ingredients: buprenorphine and naloxone) and Sublocade, the recently approved injectable version of the drug, designed to last a month. (Indivior projects Sublocade’s annual sales will eventually reach $1 billion annually.)

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Pennsylvania House Votes to Expand Death Penalty as International Controversy Mounts

On April 6, Sister Helen Prejean, author of the book "Dead Man Walking" and the inspiration for the 1995 film of the same name starring Susan Sarandon as a Catholic nun counseling a condemned prisoner, stood before a packed crowd at Chestnut Hill College in Philadelphia to tell her story and urge attendees -- especially young people -- to join efforts to end capital punishment in Pennsylvania.

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Pennsylvania Progressive Sestak Makes a Final Push to Beat Arlen Specter in Primary Election

For nearly five years Joe Sestak has worn the same bracelet on his arm; it's a colorful string of plastic beads that hangs slack around his left wrist, standing out against the subdued shirts and conservative ties he's otherwise partial to. But for the two-term congressman -- who on May 18 faces Arlen Specter in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate -- the bracelet may as well be the most important piece of his wardrobe.

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Architects of Healthcare Reform Face Critical Shortage of Primary Care Docs

This article originally appeared in the July 12 issue of The Philadelphia Tribune

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Jail Sentences for Cops Who Planted Pot on 92-Year Old They Killed in Botched Drug Raid

Three former Atlanta police officers were sentenced to prison time this week for the shooting death of a 92 year-old grandmother after breaking down her door during a botched drug raid.

Jason Smith, Gregg Junnier and Arthur Tesler received sentences ranging from five to 10 years on charges of conspiracy to violate civil rights resulting in death.

In November 2006, the officers -- all members of Atlanta's narcotics squad -- gunned down Kathryn Johnston inside her home. The police claimed to be acting on information they received from a confidential informant that drugs were being sold from the house. That allegation turned out to be false.

From the beginning evidence showed the officers manipulated a highly suspect system to justify an assault on Johnston's home.

As AlterNetfirst reported in April 2007, the cops began by planting evidence on a known drug dealer to solicit information about narcotics being sold out of Johnston's home; they then used fabricated testimony from a separate confidential informant to obtain a search warrant.

A terrified Johnston fired a single shot from a gun she kept when the police entered her home on a "no-knock" warrant; she hit no one. The cops responded with nearly 40 shots, killing her instantly.

The Johnston tragedy shined a spotlight on the cavalier use of informant information to obtain arrest and search warrants. The Justice Department launched a federal probe and, nine months after the shooting the House Committee on the Judiciary held a hearing on law enforcement's use of confidential informants.

"We've got a serious problem here that goes beyond coughing up cases where snitches were helpful," said committee chair Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) at the hearing. "The whole criminal justice system is being intimidated by the way this thing is being run, and, in many cases, especially at the local level, mishandled.  A lot of people have died because of misinformation."

Back in July 2008, I reported for In These Times on a epidemic of innocent people being sent to death row based on the information of paid or otherwise compensated snitches.

What I discovered is a disturbing trend in which police are increasingly abandoning traditional investigative work in favor of insider cooperation -- what experts call a "dumbing down" of police work.

"The drug war has eroded law enforcement practices," said investigative reporter Ethan Brown, whose book, Snitch: Informants, Cooperators and the Corruption of Justice, traces the genesis of the informant culture and its effect on communities.

Today, falsified informant testimony accounts for nearly half of all wrongful convictions in capital cases nationwide, according to data from Northwestern University Law School's Center on Wrongful Convictions. Since 1973, 129 innocent people were released from death row -- more than 50 of whom were sentenced to death based partly or wholly on false informant testimony.

"The government's use of criminal informants is largely secretive, unregulated and unaccountable," explained Alexandra Natapoff, an associate professor of law at Loyola University and one of the country's foremost authorities on the problems with confidential informants. "This lack of oversight and quality control leads to wrongful convictions, more crime, disrespect for the law and sometimes even official corruption."

Since the 2007 House Judiciary Committee hearing, little headway has been made in reforming the practice of using incentivized informants to send people to jail -- and, worse, execution.

According to the American Bar Association (ABA), 18 states now require corroboration of an accomplice's statements. Those that require corroboration for other forms of incentivized witnesses, however, are few and far between.

According to a statement from the U.S. Attorney's office, in addition to the federal civil rights conspiracy charge in the Johnston case, in 2007 officers Junnier and Smith pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and related state charges in Fulton County (Georgia) Superior Court. Pursuant to their plea agreements, they are scheduled to be sentenced in state court on March 5 to the same sentence imposed in federal court, with the sentences to be served concurrently.

Tesler initially declined to plead guilty and was indicted in state court on charges of violation of oath of office by a public officer, false imprisonment and false statements. He pleaded guilty to the federal charge on October 30, 2008. Each defendant was also sentenced to serve 3 years on supervised release following his prison term, and collectively to pay $8,180 in restitution for the costs of Ms. Johnston's funeral and burial.

Extraordinary Rendition on Trial

On Nov. 1, 2002, Bisher Al-Rawi, a citizen of Iraq, was preparing to board a plane at Gatwick Airport in London, en route to Gambia, when screeners found something suspicious in his luggage.

Al-Rawi, a permanent resident of the United Kingdom who worked sporadically as an interpreter for MI5, the U.K. counterintelligence agency, was traveling to Africa to set up a nut oil processing venture there, having spent the previous months obtaining the necessary permits and licenses from Gambian authorities.

It took four days for British authorities to conclude the object he was carrying was nothing more than a common store-bought battery charger. On Nov. 4, Al-Rawi was released from custody, but by then, a course of events had been set in motion that would launch Al-Rawi on a five-year Kafkaesque odyssey ending with his March 2007 release from U.S. detention at Guantánamo Bay. Unbeknownst to him, Al-Rawi was about to become the subject of a then-secret CIA program known as "extraordinary rendition."

In August 2007, Al-Rawi and a second man, Mohamed Farag Ahmad Bashmilah, a 38-year-old Yemeni citizen who underwent a similar ordeal in 2003, joined in an ACLU lawsuit against Boeing subsidiary Jeppesen Dataplan, alleging the company played a critical role in their renditions. A total of five plaintiffs are named in the suit, each of whom, it is alleged, was rendered with planning and logistical support from Jeppesen. The other three plaintiffs, Ahmed Agiza, Abou Elkassim Britel and Binyam Mohamed, remain in custody in Egypt, Morocco and Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, respectively. All five say they were subjected to an array of physical and mental abuse -- ranging from sleep deprivation to electric shock torture -- at the hands of their captors.

This is the second time the ACLU has challenged extraordinary rendition in open court. The first case was that of Khalid El-Masri, a German citizen who, in 2003, the CIA rendered to Afghanistan while El-Masri was vacationing in Macedonia.

The ACLU, on El-Masri's behalf, sued former CIA head George Tenet and several shell companies operated by the agency. In 2006, El-Masri's claim was dismissed after the U.S. government argued that a public trial would "present a grave risk of injury to national security." Last October, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case on appeal.

But the Jeppesen case is the first time a U.S. public company has been taken to task for its complicity in the rendition program.

According to the company's website, Jeppesen Dataplan is an international flight operations service provider that coordinates everything from landing fees to hotel reservations for commercial and military clients.

Evidence shows that a unit of the company, Jeppesen International Trip Planning Service (JITPS), provided logistical support to the CIA for the renditions of at least seven people, aid that the ACLU calls "critical" to the program's operational success.

What's more, the complaint alleges that Jeppesen intentionally submitted "dummy flights" to various aviation authorities in order to conceal the true flight paths of the rendition planes.

Among the witnesses for the plaintiffs is a former Jeppesen employee, Sean Belcher, who says that during his orientation as a technical writer at the company's San Jose facility, he was told by the managing director of JITPS that the company provided support services for so-called CIA "torture flights."

Belcher worked for Jeppesen for a little more than a month before resigning, five days after he learned of the company's CIA link, he says.

Jeppesen declined to comment in depth on the case, saying it was against company policy to discuss pending litigation. But in an email, company spokesperson Mike Pound dismissed Belcher's statement as "hearsay," adding that Jeppesen manages flight logistics and planning for thousands of organizations and people, and it is not necessary to know the specific nature of a customer's flight.

"In the event that we learn something about the purpose of a flight, our customers have the reasonable expectation that it will be held in confidence," Pound said. "We do not comment on any work done for any customer without their consent."

To litigate the case, the ACLU is relying on the Alien Tort Claims Act, a federal law dating from 1789 that gives U.S. courts jurisdiction over civil actions filed by foreigners who allege violations of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States. The same law recently enabled three Chinese dissidents to file suit against Yahoo for sharing information with the Chinese government that led to their arrests. Yahoo settled that case in December 2007 for an undisclosed sum.

If the Bush administration has its way, the Jeppesen case will never get that far. The government has filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, once again evoking the "state secrets" privilege.

Echoing its argument in the El-Masri case, the United States asserts in its filing that disclosure of details of the rendition program -- or even admitting that the plaintiffs were rendered -- "could be expected to cause serious and, in some cases, exceptionally grave damage to national security."

But the success of the motion rests largely on the government's claim that the rendition program constitutes a state secret, an assertion that is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain.

In its response to the motion to dismiss, the ACLU has presented roughly 1,000 pages of documents that suggest the CIA's rendition program was anything but a secret. Included are everything from actual flight plans to petitions for the release of specific detainees and reports on the rendition program from the European Parliament, the United Nations and the governments of Sweden and the United Kingdom.

"Since El-Masri there is more information in the public domain about the rendition program," says Ben Wizner, one of the ACLU's lead attorneys on the case. "Every month that goes by, it gets harder and harder for the United States to make a straight-faced argument that the rendition program is a black-box clandestine operation."

In addition, says Wizner, increasingly more of that information is coming from the federal government itself.

"You have the president publicly revealing, confirming and defending the rendition and detention program. You have [CIA Director] Mike Hayden giving speeches at the Council on Foreign Relations and going on Charlie Rose to talk about the rendition program.

"It is interesting to see the length the U.S. government is going to try and prevent any accountability for its contractors," Wizner says.

Requests for comment from the U.S. attorney that filed the government's motion to dismiss, Michael Abate, were directed to the Justice Department's public affairs office. Department spokesperson Charles Miller subsequently declined comment.

The Dark Prison

Days after his run-in with airport authorities at Gatwick, Al-Rawi flew without incident to Banjul, Gambia, where -- on a tip from the British -- he was promptly detained by local intelligence officials. Within a month, he found himself strapped to a stretcher in a CIA-operated Gulfstream V jet aircraft with no idea where he was being taken or by whom.

Flight records show that Bisher Al-Rawi was flown to Kabul, Afghanistan, where intelligence reports confirm that the United States detained him at a secret CIA facility known as the "Dark Prison" and later at Bagram Air Base.

In a sworn affidavit, Al-Rawi describes what happened to him upon his arrival:

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